Another life lesson

On Saturday morning I stumbled upon a Thought Catalog article about what you’re “supposed” to do before you turn thirty. Given my 30 Before 30 list (what’s on it as well as the general motivation behind it), I was intrigued.

This read came at an interesting point in my life. In fact, this particular quote is something that I’ve been grappling with the last few weeks: “… it’s so easy to feel like everything I’ve done only means something to me. Like I have yet to be impressive, yet to make an impact.”

Does anyone else feel me?!

I’ve been having lots of conversations lately about how, although I’m busy and feel like I’m leading a fulfilling life, I also feel like it’s very me focused. Working out. Spending time with Hurley/family/friends. Exploring Lincoln. Blogging. Reading. It feels like what I’m doing isn’t that substantial. Even my volunteer work doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving back to the degree that I can and should be (though I’ll have more updates on that later!).

So I did exactly what the author suspected:

If you’re anything like me you’re sitting there beginning to list your accomplishments, heroic moments, and obstacles you’ve overcome in the last year. Stop. Here’s the shocker. No matter what schools and business tell us about how important a resume is, we shouldn’t have to make a mental list of our accomplishments to remind ourselves we’re doing well in life. Living shouldn’t be about making a wonderful resume of life experiences; it’s about what you get out of them.

I admit I fall in that trap all too often. It feels like I need to be adding more accomplishments or life experiences to that list. Travel the world! Take more community education classes! Attend more meetup groups! It starts to feel like a lot of pressure, albeit internal, that doesn’t result in much satisfaction. At least not right now when I feel like my plate is rather full.

But our twenties are so far from being the end of it all, so let’s not wear ourselves out, or drown in bank account debt because of what we’re “supposed” to be doing. Sometimes I learn more sitting with a mug of tea talking to my girlfriends than I could meeting crazy strangers and traveling the world.

It’s also important to remind myself that everyone craves different life experiences and priorities fluctuate. And different doesn’t mean better or worse. It’s just different.

In some ways it boils down to the notion that comparison is the thief of joy. (Even though I know that, it’s not quite engrained in my head… Still working on that one.) I’m quick to feel jealous of the people who were profiled for all their meaningful work in the alumni magazine I got last week and of those with fantastic traveling/wedding/baby photos on Facebook. It starts to feel like my life isn’t much to write home about.

But the bottom line is that I like my life as it is now. I’ve gone through a lot of struggles and hard work to get to where I’m at, and at the end of the day, I’m happy. Who cares if I don’t constantly or routinely advance my resume or list of life experiences? I fall asleep with a sore body (love me some BodyPump!), a happy dog and a tired mind. Does it really get much better than that?

(Although I suppose that’s kind of like listing accomplishments. Like I said, it’s something I’m still working on…)

Three for three

A humid day probably wasn’t ideal for baking, but the cloudy skies and strong chance of rain made me feel like it was perfect timing. Plus the banana oatmeal breakfast muffins were so incredibly easy that I’ll undoubtedly be making them again.

I’ll admit I was nervous about these for two reasons. One, I didn’t have quite the amount of greek yogurt the recipe called for but didn’t realize it until I’d already started mixing everything together (though isn’t that a mistake I typically make?). Thankfully it didn’t seem to make a big difference, at least from what I can tell.

The other concern I had was using the food processor to mix everything together. Often for baking recipes it says not to overmix, and I figured the food processor would be overkill. But you know what? It did wonders! It seriously took all of 30 seconds to mix everything up nicely, which was especially helpful with the mashing of the bananas. While the batter looked a bit runny compared to other breads and muffins I’ve made, they turned out to be perfect in the end.

banana muffins

Later came a (hopefully) equally healthy dinner. It almost put the black bean casserole to shame, though I can’t quite figure out why. I didn’t even follow a recipe on this one, with the exception of the copycat Chipotle cilantro lime rice recipe. But even that one I barely followed. I just made basmati rice (surprisingly made a big difference) and then threw in lime juice and cilantro.

A friend and I tag-teamed cooking this, and I want to say it was ready in 20 minutes or less. The ground turkey only has a bit of taco seasoning, cumin and red pepper flakes. Mixed with the copycat rice, black beans, tomatoes and corn, it was a refreshingly delicious Mexican dish. It didn’t even dawn on me until I had leftovers for lunch today that I didn’t add cheese. The flavor (probably thanks to the rice) was so great that I didn’t miss the cheese. Now that’s saying something.

lettuce taco

For dessert (as if I hadn’t already cooked enough on Friday) I decided to try a cheesecake greek yogurt recipe (and in the process found a homemade dog treat to bake for Hurley later this fall). I’ll admit I ended up doubling the amount of cheesecake mix so it had more of a cheesecake flavor. We paired it with strawberries, making it a light summer dessert. I like it, but I wouldn’t say I’m in love with it. It’ll probably just be something I toss into my greek yogurt occasionally.

Needless to say, I ended up with a very productive Friday afternoon/evening. I love when I get a solid block of time to try new recipes and share it with good company.

Dog days of summer

I wasn’t joking earlier this week when I said I have no idea where the time goes. This post is almost a week late already (which in some ways doesn’t matter since I’m going to be that crazy dog lady who shows off her labrador). Really it’s only the photos that are important (says the biased dog mama…).

Last Friday afternoon started with a bath. Well, technically it started with the dog park so he could get in a good swim before I took him to Canine Scrub. To say I love this local business is an understatement. They supply everything (and I mean everything – including an array of brushes, hairdryers, perfumes, ear cleaning supplies and the basics) you might need to give your dog a bath and they clean up after, which in itself is fantastic. Plus they post photos of the freshly cleaned canines on Facebook.

Facebook

I may have smothered him that night, not just because he was so incredibly soft that I couldn’t help myself, but because I knew the next night he wouldn’t be pinned to my side. The middle, her boyfriend and I were headed to Kansas City for Husker night at the Royals game (though I have to admit it was odd to be back in Missouri). Wanting Hurley to make a good first impression on his dogsitter, he got the dog park to himself at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. This guy never has a shortage of energy.

2014-08-09 07.01.35

Oh, and he also got a puppachino from Starbucks. It was the barista’s idea, not mine (surprisingly). I made him share with his cousin Mocha so he wasn’t the only pooch with a sugar high.

starbucks

The highlight of the weekend, though, was going to the Dog Splash event at one of the local pools on Sunday evening. Before they drain the pool, they let dogs swim to their heart’s content for two hours. I’m pretty sure it’s now Hurley favorite day of the year. This guy literally swam until he could swim no more. And he won hearts over with his tennis ball dedication and persistence. A few dogs didn’t retrieve their ball, at which point owners would come over to me and say, “Hey, will your dog get that one, too?” Hurley happily obliged.

dog splash

You could say he’s been a bit worn out lately with all his activity. It’s a good thing he’s not shy about making himself comfortable. And it means more cuddle time for mama.

sleepy

(I warned you the post wouldn’t have much substance. Just a crazy dog lady with too many photos…)

Adding to a favorite

It was no secret how much I loved the southwest black bean casserole. I decided to take it a step further with the southwestern quinoa and black bean casserole. There’s just something about the beans (the consistency, the pop of flavor thanks to the jalapeno) that keeps me hooked on these casseroles.

As with the initial casserole, I nixed the peppers and instead put tomatoes and corn on top. I did have a slight scare in that I didn’t measure how much quinoa I had. I dumped in the last of the bag, and unfortunately it was just short of what I needed for the recipe. The quinoa was a bit soggy, which impacted the casserole a bit, but not to the extent I thought it would thanks to all the seasonings and mix of flavors. Plus it got much better with the leftovers.

Casserole

I couldn’t resist throwing on the tortilla strips again, which offers a really great crunch. I’ve got two servings of leftovers remaining so I may also try using it as taco filling.

casserole 2

I’ll likely go back to the standard black bean casserole and/or perhaps try adding a cilantro lime rice. While I liked the quinoa, I wasn’t over the moon about it. It makes it seem more like burrito bowls I’ve made in the past, and at that rate, I prefer rice. Regardless of whether it’s a burrito bowl or casserole, though, I’ve definitely found a new way to make black beans!

Basil bright

Where has the time gone?!

I made these dishes a week ago and am just now sitting down to blog about them. Apparently that’s a slight downside to having instagram — instead of blogging, I can post the photo once it comes out of the oven and call it good. But instagram doesn’t always capture my recipe modifications (or wit and charm) nor will it get me to my 500-post goal from my 30 Before 30 list (I’m only 75 posts away!).

But that’s neither here nor there. On to the recipes…

Last Monday I made baked caprese rigatoni. By the time I ate it for the fourth of fifth time, I was a little less in love with it. Initially, though, it was great. What helped is that the middle and I went to the farmer’s market the day before (it’s about homemade salsa time!) so I had fresh basil and local tomatoes as well.

Like the recipe suggested, I used diced tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and my own sauce of tomato paste and water. It was definitely a good mix so that it had more flavor than it would with just fresh tomatoes, but those make it seem a little less processed. I thought about adding italian ground turkey or chicken, which I think would have added a bit more to the leftovers. Otherwise it’s the cheese that really sold it for me.

Baked rigatonni

I’d planned to make the mozzarella, basil and corn quesadilla later in the week but didn’t want the basil to go bad before then. As a result, the very next night I decided to whip one up and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was able to make dinner. The downside? My quesadillas are not at all pretty.

I do wish this had a bit more flavor. The basil definitely stands out and the cheese holds it all together…but for some reason the tomatoes and corn didn’t pop for me. I’m not sure if adding salsa or black beans would do the trick or not. It was definitely worth a shot, but it’s not something I’m itching to make again.

Quesadilla

Although I loved fresh basil, I think I hit my quota for the month. At least it had lots of fresh flavor and color. And it’s got me back on a Mexican kick, so stay tuned for this week’s new recipe!

A good cause

A few months ago I started volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association. In some ways it was prompted by my desire to reconnect with the organization that started my career path in the public sector. I spent one summer as a volunteer intern with the South Dakota chapter and, through that, realized I was meant to pursue a career in nonprofits and public service.

What drew me to the organization in the first place was my own connection with Alzheimer’s. My grandmother on my dad’s side had Alzheimer’s, and I don’t think I have a single memory with her where she wasn’t impacted by the disease. While most kids my age seemed to have the quintessential grandparent experience (though the disease is more prevalent than I realized at the time), I had a grandmother who didn’t know who I was.

On Thursday night there was a kick-off for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to get everyone geared up and remind people why they walk. One of the activities at the walk this year is a “Why I Walk” board. Each person is encouraged to write on a purple footprint why (or for whom) they walk. This one caught my eye:

End ALZ

That thought has stuck with me ever since. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? As one of the speakers mentioned on Thursday night, wouldn’t it be great if, instead of a walk to end Alzheimer’s, we could instead have a walk to celebrate survivorship? It’s exactly what inspires me to walk and try to spread awareness about Alzheimer’s.

Given my family history, there’s a good chance that I or one of my sisters could end up with Alzheimer’s. But right now we’re scared to no end that it could impact one of our parents. I think that’s why “I walk so my kids never have to” is so impactful to me. I don’t know how my dad did it. I don’t know how millions of caregivers do it. All I know is that my heart would break into a million pieces if my one of my parents or a close loved one looked at me and couldn’t remember who I was and the lifetime of stories, experiences and love we’ve shared.

It’s one of those things that can keep you up at night, but unlike many chronic health conditions, there’s no real way to prevent it. That’s what’s scary. And that’s why I walk.

I mention all of this for a slightly selfish purpose. As a participant in the walk, I’m trying to raise funds that go back to the agency to provide resources and support to caregivers and advance research. Any donation helps. Or you’re more than welcome to join my team and can even do so virtually! (Dogs are even welcome at the walk, though since I’m helping with the walk I don’t think Hurley will be there to support the cause.)

If you’d like to make a donation or join my team, just visit my fundraising page. I promise you it’s going to a fabulous cause.

And with that, I’ll get off my soapbox.

Southwest sensation

Words can’t describe how much I loved the southwest black bean casserole I made last night. Holy Toledo! I was anticipating something similar to the spicy black bean tacos I fell in love with last month. Dare I say that this was slightly better?

I knew the timing would be tricky. As luck should have it, I have something going on every night this week. Monday night was the least busy and also meant I’d have leftovers for lunch.

I did all my slicing and dicing before yoga, thinking that might speed up the process once I got home. The only down side was that my hands smelled like garlic all through class. Small price to pay for how quickly I was able to cook/sauté everything before throwing it in the oven, though. And I will say I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need my food processor to get the beans to be the right consistency. Cooking them on the stovetop for a few minutes made mashing them up a breeze.

As expected, I did make a few modifications to the recipe. I didn’t use the green pepper and forgot about the green onions. I also didn’t throw in the bacon, in part because it unintentionally didn’t make my grocery list. At the last minute I decided to add corn because, as the middle likes to say, we are in Nebraska.

Knowing I couldn’t trust myself with a bag of tortilla chips, I opted to buy tortilla strips and used that to top the casserole instead. Fabulous idea.

What really sells the casserole is the flavor in the black beans, which shouldn’t be a surprise given it has garlic, onion, jalapeno and red pepper flakes. But everything about this casserole is delicious. Especially with the tortilla chips, it doesn’t disappoint on flavor or color.

Casserole

It likely won’t win any points for presentation, at least if it’s made by me. Primarily I think it’s because there isn’t really a binding agent aside from the black beans at the bottom. It’s not like a lasagna where it layers nicely and stays together. But you can’t deny it looks delicious when it’s fresh out of the oven.

black bean casserole

What I also love is it’s versatility. I could add rice to make it more of a casserole or burrito bowl. I could make tacos with it, or have it as a chip dip at a social gathering. I’ll have to experiment more with this dish given I’m undoubtedly going to make it again!

Challenging thoughts

I’ve been playing Devil’s advocate with myself the last day or two, so naturally I thought it warranted a blog post.

This all started when I joined Instagram for the #100fitdays challenge. One of the perks is that I now have slightly better photo editing capabilities right at my fingertips. And really that only matters for my photos of Hurley.

Hurley

I’m having mixed thoughts about the #100fitdays challenge itself. Initially I liked the idea of finding one health “success” each day so that I didn’t take an all-or-nothing approach (I love that this article dispels that “comply or die” health mentality). It seemed like a good way to start changing my mindset so that I can be more holistic with my health. The little things — good or bad — add up over time. Why not focus on incorporating more good, whether it’s drinking water or getting more sleep, into each day?

As I’m finishing up Day 11, though, I’m less convinced it’s helping me gain a better mindset.

For starters, I don’t know that I’ve necessarily made healthier options or choices, though that could be because it’s still early on in the challenge. I’d be going to the yoga and BodyCombat classes regardless of whether I had this challenge. The only difference is now I’m documenting it with some public accountability. That alone almost makes me feel like a bit of a poser. I went to yoga, which is great, but what people don’t get to see is that before and after class, I parked it on the couch for an episode of The West Wing.

Where I really struggled, though, is that life gets in the way yet there’s now an added pressure, even if it’s self-imposed. Last night Hurley hurt himself in a very dramatic fashion (and all for a squirrel…). I called the middle to get a second opinion about whether he needed to be rushed to the vet. Even though it didn’t warrant that type of emergency, I didn’t want to leave him home alone.

But what did that mean for my #100fitday challenge? I’d been planning to go to the gym that evening and all the sudden I had a choice to make. And you can bet I chose Hurley.

That situation seemed timely given just the day before I read this article about how, in some ways, these types of social media challenges can have a negative impact for that very reason:

Her thoughts were dominated by all of the numbers she entered into her phone: Did I run enough miles? Did I run them fast enough? Did I eat too many calories today? “There were just too many numbers in my head,” Lyonnais said. “I didn’t want to look at an egg as being 70 calories. I needed to look at it as something that’s nourishing and good for my body.”

What’s tough is that the number fixation is already there for me. I track my FitBit numbers. I track what I’m eating. I track my physical activity not only in an Excel document but also MyFitnessPal so that it syncs with my FitBit. Now don’t get me wrong, I love having data and being able to look at trends… but when is it too much when it comes to your personal health?

I can’t say I have a solution to this conundrum. I’ll continue with the #100fitdays challenge with the understanding that it’s not going to make or break me. Sometimes the healthy choice is to stay home and do what you need to do for your own sanity. I think just having an awareness helps so that I don’t let the numbers rule my life. Hurley already does that. <3

New challenge

From the moment my old kickboxing/spinning instructor posted this link for #100fitdays on facebook, I knew I had to commit. How could I not?

The question was which venue. I didn’t want to constantly be posting on Facebook and I didn’t necessarily want a public Twitter account (I feel like I get a ton of spam follower requests there).

In came Instagram. I’d already been toying with the idea of getting it since one of my co-workers raves about it. Why not test the waters with the app with this challenge?

What primarily attracted me to #100fitdays is that it’s focused on making one healthy choice each day. Often times I feel like I get overwhelmed when I think about living a healthy lifestyle — avoid too much Diet Coke, make sure to get in a hard/good workout, eat three healthy meals, drink plenty of water. The list can be never-ending for a Type A overachiever like myself. It’s exhausting and somewhat defeating.

And not that I won’t strive to do most of those things on a daily basis, but I think the beauty (at least for me) is that with this challenge, I can focus on one “win” each day. Maybe I get in eight full hours of sleep on a work night. Perhaps I try a new workout class or a super healthy recipe. The little successes add up, and I also think it helps build momentum to keep making those healthy choices day in and day out.

It may get redundant to post a photo each day, but I’m hoping that’s an accountability piece that I don’t necessary have right now. And if nothing else, it’ll be a good venue to post even more photos of my yellow labrador and his BFFL (best friends for life) Mocha. They’re just too cute!

H&M

Feel free to follow along my #100fitdays journey with the icon below. Or just check out the dog photos. He already helped me with Day 1.

Instagram

Beauty in Books #5

I hadn’t intended on blogging about the book I finished most recently, but given it’s been on my mind ever since I finished reading it three days ago, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Last weekend I picked up 10% Happier in the same manner I’d picked up my previous book (it wasn’t until after I posted that I realized I forgot to give you the title — 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess). In other words, I thought I would skim a few pages or read a chapter or two before calling it good, allowing me to move on to the next book on my to-read stack. Instead, I got hooked.

I’ll be honest that I didn’t read the portions about his journalism career as closely. But it was his journalism background and training, if you will, that made me appreciate the book. As many of the goodreads reviewers noted, it was nice to have that objective look at self-help theories, programs, etc. He was able to talk about, through interviews and research, which self-help concepts seemed legit and which ones are primarily (pardon my French) bullshit.

Like others, I was also surprised by his genuine interest in meditation and personal growth throughout the memoir. It’s something I’ve toyed with over the years, and I think the author got me back on board for trying it again in the near future. His insights made me see it in a new light in that it’s not all about that zen feeling.

“It’s not that I never got annoyed anymore. In fact, when you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away. As the Buddhists liked to point out, everyone wants the same thing – happiness – but we all go about it with varying levels of skill.”

And isn’t that what navigating the good life is really about? At least for me, anyway. And how many times have I talked about finding (and perhaps more importantly keeping) balance in my life?

“In the midst of these intense work sprints, when I had less time to sleep, exercise, and meditate, I could feel my inner monologue getting testier, too – and I didn’t have the wherewithal to not take the voice in my head so seriously. I looked tired in my live shot this morning. I need a haircut. I can’t believe that Facebook commenter called me a ‘major clown.’ The ego, that slippery son of a bitch, would use fatigue as an opportunity to sneak past my weakened defenses.” (pg. 204)

Not that I think about it in terms of the ego, but it’s something I can absolutely relate to (though minus the meditation aspect). When I’m not getting enough sleep (which sadly happens more often than not, despite the at times staggering numbers on my FitBit) or when I’m not working out consistently, my attitude and mental state is less than stellar.

Mostly I think this book was a good reminder to find a way, whether it’s through meditation or journaling or physical activity, to stay balanced and in the present. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the to-do list and worries and insecurities. But as one of my favorite quotes found on pinterest goes, you can feel those emotions without unpacking and living in them. Life doesn’t necessarily have to be as hard as I make it out to be. Sometimes you just need to breathe, using whatever skills brings you happiness. Perhaps meditation will be mine someday after all.

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