Learning to hit pause

It always surprises me that, at least for me, health is generally the first thing to fall to the wayside once stress hits. It generally means half-assed (or no) workouts, lack of sleep and, perhaps worst of all, resorting to quick and often unhealthy meals. And all of this only makes my stress/attitude worse.

I knew I was approaching a particularly stressful time with work. I’ve got two big evaluation deadlines on August 14, and unfortunately my schedule is also packed with trainings that take me out of the office — including 6-day one in California next week. You know it’s bad (though incredibly sweet and touching!) when co-workers start leaving you chocolate because they know all that’s on your plate… (Random side note: it was pure coincidence that they got me the same type of chocolate!)

chocolate

So like I said, my health tends to fall to the wayside (though dark chocolate is healthy, right?!). I’ve been trying to avoid these pitfalls with lots of planning, particularly when it comes to meals. Last week I kicked off my Monday with a one pan cheesy chicken broccoli rice recipe. It wasn’t overly time consuming and I had nearly everything on hand, which is always a bonus.

I swiped out the white rice for brown, and the extra sharp cheddar cheese is the way to go. It was a perfect blend, plus the broccoli cooked perfectly. It was so delicious that I ate all my leftovers throughout the week, serving it’s purpose quite nicely.

broccoli cheese skillet

Unfortunately I still managed to eat out almost every day last week, in part because I was at a two-day training where lunch was on your own. One dinner, however, was entirely worth it. I lucked out in that one of my college roommates was having a quick family getaway to Omaha, a mere 50 minutes away!

liz and kayla

I can’t even tell you what a kickstart that was to my week and attitude. Like she mentioned on her blog, we were laughing the second I got out of my car. It was amazing to me that despite how much has changed in the last seven years, we still had similar mannerisms, attitudes and depth to our conversation. Plus I got to meet her adorable baby boy!

What’s also been fantastic, so I’ll put in a plug for this, is that we write handwritten letters to each other. A few years back when I was doing the happiness project, I made it a goal one month to reach out to people I’d lost touch with over the years. Thankfully this fabulous lady was totally on board for exchanging letters. Not only is it a great way to stay connected, but it also gets me to slow down and reflect on my life. Certainly sending an email or facebook message would be much faster, as would just keeping up on one another’s blog. But I’m telling you, there’s so much value in writing a legit letter.

I’ll get off my soapbox now…

I used the weekend to regroup a bit, including more meal planning. Wanting to start the week off right again, last night I made a Korean beef quinoa bowl. I almost didn’t make it because my mind and body were shot after spin…but when I saw it only took about 20 minutes to make, I knew I could suck it up.

It probably isn’t technically Korean beef given I used ground turkey, but I think that’s the only modification I made. Throw in a side of veggies, and I was set within 25 minutes. I’m happy to say it was very much worth the effort — and now I’ve got relatively healthy leftovers for the week, too!

korean beef

I will say I added in a bit more soy sauce to better mix the quinoa and ground turkey, but otherwise the leftovers worked really well.

Although I can’t say I’m even close to creating a good work-life balance during stressful times, I’m definitely making more of an effort than I have in years past. Speaking of balance, though, I’ve got an adorable yellow laborador who’s ready to distract me with a walk and exciting game of tug. If nothing else, he’s a big proponent of striving for that work-life balance — and makes it easier for me, too!

(Turkey) sausage, chicken and ground turkey

It’s strange to me what a difference a year can make. I feel like last year around this time I was still getting my feet under me, slowly but surely adapting to my job and the community. Now I’m fully immersed in (what feels like) five dozen projects and assignments, whether they’re work or volunteer related. All I can say is thank goodness for coffee. And Hurley.

As a result, this blog post is primarily a snapshot of new recipes I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen… Meal planning has been essential for staying relatively sane (and hopefully healthy) throughout the week.

I’ll be honest that I can’t remember when I made the skillet beans and rice with sausage recipe, though I used a turkey sausage I already had in the freezer. I also swapped out white rice for brown rice…and topped it with a bit of cheese. It was a bit strange paired with green beans, but I wanted a bit more color and a vegetable.

The skillet was quite good. I feel like I’ve tried something similar, but I don’t think it had this type of bean incorporated into it. Definitely something I’d make again.

Skillet

The buffalo chicken taquitos recipe I vividly remember making. I spent a day working at home a few weeks ago because Hurley managed to injure himself (we’re still not entirely sure what or how, naturally). The morning started out with a frantic call and subsequent trip to the vet (and we got another one later in the week). I made this recipe for lunch while I was home but didn’t have much of an appetite for it, though not because it wasn’t tasty. It’s almost like the buffalo chicken chip dip I like to make for the Super Bowl in a tortilla shell and baked. Can’t really go wrong with that!

buffalo chicken

Later that week I decided to try a cheeseburger casserole. With this recipe I also subbed in turkey for the red meat, and I also picked up some brown rice penne pasta from Trader Joe’s. I’ve recently become obsessed with that store, in part because I’m on a sparkling water kick and they have fantastic liters of raspberry lime sparking water. At least I’m staying hydrated in this heat!

Although I was a bit hesitant to add sour cream to it (primarily because I don’t associated sour cream with cheeseburgers), it turned out really well. And in all honesty, I think it’s the onion soup mix that brings it all together. It’s absolutely a good fix for when I’m craving something like cheeseburger soup in a different fashion.

cheeseburger

My post comes full circle with my most recent recipe — cilantro-lime chicken with rice and black beans. It’s almost like a burrito bowl but has almost a casserole type consistency (at least for me). I’d been craving some type of lime chicken after my co-worker talked about tequila lime chicken tacos she made the night before. This seems like an easier and (hopefully) healthier alternative.

What was also excited about this dinner is I got to use my new plates! The middle, her boyfriend and I had a weekend getaway to Kansas City, complete with a stop at IKEA. Four hours (and thankfully not too much money) later, I had a few new items for the home, including a new set of dishes. I probably should have been more conscious of that when I took a photo of the skillet, but I’m sure they’ll be featured in plenty of future photos… Spoiler alert, they’re purple. Go figure.

cilantro lime

I’d like to say my schedule is freeing up a bit to allow for a bit more blogging, but unfortunately that won’t be the case until about mid-August. Although I am hoping to have my newest DIY project to talk about soon! It’s been the biggest undertaking the middle and I have done to date…but I’m hoping it will be worth all the effort. Fingers crossed!

Oh, and I’m also happy to report Hurley is doing much better. He’s back to walking on all four paws and without a limp. Naturally now that he’s able to resume his walks as normal (though still no runs or the dog park), it’s been insanely hot outside. But that just means we wait a bit later to take our strolls. It’s hard to say no to this handsome little guy.

Hurley

Beauty in Books 8 and the secret of life

I couldn’t entirely decide which direction to take this post, so I can’t promise it will be cohesive or flow well (and it definitely won’t be short). But it’s something that I’m slowly connecting the dots on in my own mind and wanted to share.

About a week ago the middle and I were watching Girl Meets World (you can laugh, but the show is surprisingly good and very reminiscent of our TGIF days). One of the episodes focused on discovering the secret of life, which Cory Matthews claims is simply that “People change people.”

In some ways that’s very true. I couldn’t even begin to count how many people have shaped and influenced me, whether they’re family members, teachers, colleagues or even dogs. Throughout my entire life, people have absolutely changed me.

I’d argue, though, that another big secret of life (and one I think we often forget) is that you can change yourself.

A few years ago, when I was probably 40 pounds heavier and hadn’t fallen in love with group fitness classes, I asked the middle if she could ever see me, honestly and realistically, running a 5K. After a few moments passed, she said no. I can’t remember her exact explanation, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that while I probably physically could someday, I didn’t seem to have the gumption to actually train and accomplish it. And she was right. At my size, I honestly didn’t believe I could.

Liz

(As a total side note, I sent this to the middle and the little about two years ago as part of our Woof Wednesday health motivation emails. The little replied with a “From what corner of hell are you dragging these out?” Reading it still cracks me up! And I should probably apologize for now making it public…)

Flash forward to yesterday, where the middle and I ran a 5K together. It’s my second one, though this one had far less training on my part but surprisingly a much faster time. That’s change, my friends.

Kolor Run

I firmly believe you can change yourself, but I think it’s important to know yourself first. A co-worker and fellow life chatter of mine has a quote on her desk that we often reflect on that, in some ways, applies here — to be a good leader, you have to know people. To know people, you have to know yourself.

In comes Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It essentially outlines a range of research about building and sustaining habits, in part based on your personality. This is a succinct version, but I was struck by the four tendencies she outlines at the beginning of the book. Not surprisingly, I’m an obliger. (The middle is likely a rebel, which is why she did a whopping two runs before showing up for the 5K yet still kicked butt.)

That’s when things started clicking for me. A little more than a year ago I posted about my weightloss journey and mentioned a big part of my success has been because of group fitness classes. Finding physical activity I love to do did make a big difference. But do you know what I think made a bigger difference? Having that external accountability from the instructor and others in the class.

“Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate — to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such a deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. … Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do.” (pg. 22)

Even though I love kickboxing and spin, a huge motivator for me is knowing I’ve got instructors who will ask where I’ve been if I’ve missed one too many classes. Heck, I love that my old kickboxing instructor in Columbia “likes” all the activities I log on MyFitnessPal. It’s why I religiously track my workouts in Excel and love my FitBit. I need that external accountability. In the case of the 5K, it was having a specific date for the run and knowing the middle was counting on me.  That’s what works for me (though knowing this years ago likely would have saved me a lot of time and energy…).

There’s another concept within the book that really resonated with me as well. It’s this notion that often our habits and behavior are in line with what others think of us and what we think of ourselves.

“Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identify, and from there, our habits. If I say, ‘I’m lazy,’ ‘I can’t resist a sale,’ ‘I’ll try anything once,’ ‘I never start work until the last minute,’ or ‘I’m lucky,’ those ideas become part of my identity, which in turn influences my actions.” (pg. 239)

Just a few sentences later I had another a-ha moment: “For years, I thought of myself as someone who ‘hates exercise,’ but at some point I realized that I hated sports. … Thinking of myself as someone who ‘enjoys exercise’ allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.” (pg. 240)

That’s exactly how I was. It required a mindset shift on my part. Just because I disliked sports and gym class growing up didn’t mean I had to dislike all exercise for the rest of my life. Hell, I’ve reached a point where I almost identify myself as a jogger (and I say jogger because running still seems a bit too intense and implies that I’m fast, which is again an identity thing). It almost reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continually tell yourself you’re not able to do a 5K and, chances are, you’re not going to be able to.

It’s all incredibly fascinating to me, but the thing I always want to keep in mind is that it’s still up to me to make that change. I show up. I push myself. I make it part of my life. I’ve had and still have people supporting and motivating me, but ultimately it was me that had to change. And I think that’s why Rubin’s book resonated with me so much. It’s about recognizing your preferences, identifying potential pitfalls and barriers, then finding ways to work around it so that you can create an environment and lifestyle that’s consistent with your goals.

Perhaps knowing that you can change yourself isn’t such a big secret to life. Maybe it’s just that we need a few tricks up our sleeve and reminders of our amazing capability to do so. And I definitely had a good reminder of that yesterday.

Food oddities

A blog post on a Saturday night? Only because my hope is to crawl into bed early tonight so I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 5K tomorrow… Woof.

Tonight I was trying to avoid eating out so that I could stick to my goal of eating out only once a week this month. In comes the slow cooker pulled pork recipe. I think I’ve tried a similar recipe, though this one included chicken broth.

I couldn’t find sugar-free BBQ sauce like the recipe mentioned, so I opted for a new mesquite flavored one. Definite win.

Pulled pork

To complement the pulled pork (though I was tempted to put it on my sandwich) I made an apple and poppy seed coleslaw. As a confession, I love coleslaw. Like I’ve been known to go to the grocery store just to pick up a container of coleslaw… I was a little nervous to try this tangy variation, but it turned out to be fantastic. I did cheat a bit, though, and got the coleslaw mix instead of getting the cabbage and carrots individually. Seemed a bit easier and more cost-effective.

Apple coleslaw

I also couldn’t resist fresh green beans and that really hit the spot. Another food oddity of mine? Putting lemon pepper on most vegetables. I kid you not, it’s delicious. Plus it was a really great contrast to the coleslaw.

Final meal

I’m not sure if that’s what you constitute as carb loading (or if that’s even a thing for just a 5K…), but the dinner was perfect for a Saturday night in this evening.

Cravings and favorites

Here it is, only the second week of June, and I’ve already made more new recipes than I did in all of May. Things are definitely starting to get back on track, and thank goodness for that!

For some reason I’d been craving Chinese food. With my goal of only eating out once each week, I thought it was safer (given it was only Monday…) to make my own dish. I decided to try skinny orange chicken with quinoa. I’m pretty sure I’ve made something similar to this, but the sauce on this was much thicker, which I appreciated.

Orange chicken

It didn’t quite get rid of my craving (I think because I wanted fried rice or lo mein noodles, but quinoa felt like the better choice) though I was really impressed with the leftovers. With such thick sauce, it was packed full of flavor up until the last serving of leftovers. At that point I’d also added some broccoli as well.

Later in the week I thought about making the black bean tacos I made about a year ago that I absolutely loved. As I scoured pinterest for the recipe or something similar, I found honey-lime sweet potato, black bean and corn tacos. Given I love all those things, I decided to give it a whirl.

What was really nice about the recipe is it literally took me 15 minutes. In part it was short prep time because I didn’t bake or broil the sweet potatoes. Instead I sautéed them on the stove along with the onions. I got back from a run with Hurley around 7, and I was eating by 7:20. That’s my kind of prep.

sweet potato taco

In part I mention the prep time on the tacos because, despite being a rock pot recipe, this recipe took a bit longer to pull together than I thought, though it’s entirely of my own doing.

 

Somewhat as a sidenote, I love Swedish meatballs. Love them. Growing up, one of my mom’s friends made fantastic Swedish meatballs and I always wondered what her secret was. My version was simply browning meat, adding in the sauce packet from the grocery store and milk, then mixing it with egg noodles. Good, but definitely not anything to write home about.

Monday evening I decided to try slow cooked Swedish meatballs. As I mentioned, I made the process a bit more complicated for myself. For starters, I decided to make own meatballs using ground turkey. It didn’t take long, but it’s usually a bit messy (at least for me) to blend in all the seasonings and bread crumbs so it’s thoroughly mixed.

I also made the decision to make my own gravy. They were the packets from HyVee, mind you, but it was half the price of the jars of gravy and seemed a bit more legit since I’d be “making” it. And making gravy demands my full attention. I’ve been accused of ruining Thanksgiving or Christmas gravy one too many times, count, so that’s one cooking task where I don’t dare multi-task.

Once it was all in the crockpot, it was smooth sailing. I got back from my 5K training with Hurley and the kitchen smelled heavenly.

Swedish meatballs

I’ll admit I wasn’t as over the moon with it as I thought I would be on Monday night. Then today for lunch I had leftovers. Holy Toledo. So delicious! The gravy/sauce thickened up and it was the perfect blend. Even in the photo from Monday night you can tell the sauce is a bit runny and didn’t really stick to the pasta. But today it did. I still can’t get over the difference between the two. If it increases the odds of me finishing off leftovers, though, I’ll take it!

Then came my favorite recipe — healthy blueberry banana bread. Blueberries were on sale at the grocery store, and berries are something I can rarely turn down. I’d already done my typical blueberries in oatmeal, cereal and salads. Why not bread too?

Blueberry banana bread

I think this was one of my first times using applesauce in bread, and it turned out surprisingly well. But then again, it’s got blueberries and oatmeal. What’s not to love (at least for me)? It’s proving to be the perfect snack at work, too (very needed today given I was in back-to-back meetings for seven hours today).

And given my long day, I’m off to curl up with Hurley, a mug of hot tea and a new book. Perfect soon-to-be-stormy evening.

Starting fresh

I knew going into May that the month was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And I was absolutely right. Although I’m finally feeling like I can catch my breath, my brain is still playing catch-up (aided heavily by coffee). Long story short, this blog post is a bit lengthy but provides mostly includes snippets and photos (primarily because I’d been updating it throughout May so I wouldn’t lose the recipe links).

As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, the month started out with travel frustrations and a sinus infection that knocked me on my ass. I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt that sick. It did, however, provide the perfect opportunity to try a spinach tortellini tomato soup.

Tomato tortillini

My view is probably a bit tainted in that I couldn’t really taste anything. I think I just prefer soups that have a bit more substance, though, so making it more like a chili would be more up my alley. At least it hit the spot for my sore throat.

I tried to get up and running the next week with helping the middle paint and move into her new house. It also coincided with work picking up for our CDC site visit. To keep myself going that week, I made a slow cooker turkey and wild rice casserole. I figured it was a good way to have some comfort food while also getting in some protein and veggies. It was hard to talk myself into eating leftovers after a long day, but it was much easier than having to whip up something else and less expensive than eating out (again).

Turkey rice

The three days of the site visit proved to be exhausting but oddly enough energizing. It was great to put faces with names and have two-way dialogue about our work. I’m not one who’s typically comfortable tooting my own horn, but I also had a fantastic #careergoal (as they say) moment during that visit. Twice (on the first day, no less) CDC staff jokingly asked if I would move to Atlanta. I also get to be part of a pilot evaluation project, which I’m beyond excited about. Have I mentioned I love what I do?

I’m also still loving my involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association. The third week in May wasn’t as hectic work-wise but volunteering picked up with two evening meetings (naturally it was the only month where both the committee meetings fell in the same week). One of those, however, was primarily a crafting meeting. My committee decided to create promotional fans for the Jazz in June events that we have a booth for each Tuesday night in June. I love having such a creative bunch!

ALZ fans

Then came the really hard part of the month. One week after the middle moved, my parents started their moving process. (We almost hit the trifecta given I moved just two months ago, so lots of life changes.) This one was a bit harder in that we’d been there for 23 years. It’s hard to say goodbye to your childhood home, especially with how much we all loved it, but there’s some excitement in the opportunity for a fresh start. Last weekend we also squeezed in a wedding and family photos, which turned out super cute. I especially love this sisters picture, taken by Perry Imagery. The funny thing is all three of us saw a similar photo on pinterest and loved it. Before we even had a chance to suggest it, the photographer lined us up and got the shot.

sisters

Needless to say, last week I’d reached my limit. Not even coffee helped refuel my mind or body. Enter the sour cream noodle bake. Comfort food that’s simple to make and reheats well. It was almost a cross between spaghetti pie and the lasagna skillet I made a couple months ago. The sour cream was an interesting twist, but I didn’t not like it. It certainly kept it creamier than I think it would have been otherwise for leftovers.

Pasta

Heading into the weekend, I finally started to get back on track. I even tried a Jazzercise class (though much prefer my Combat and spin classes, which were pretty hit and miss in May…) and started spring cleaning my house given it’d been relatively neglected for a month.

And through it all, I snuggled up on Hurley any chance I got. He’s been a trooper with all my schedule fluctuations and traveling. (If he doesn’t look overly happy in that photo, it’s because he isn’t. He was picking on his cousin so mama stepped in to break them apart for a few minutes. The fact that he stayed in that position for a few minutes is pretty impressive.)

Hurley

To say I’m ready for normalcy again (if there even is a normal) is an understatement. I’ve decided to give myself a fresh start this month, focusing heavily on self-care. I’ve also made it a goal (for health and financial reasons) to only eat out one time each week in June. Oh, and there’s also that 5K in two weeks. Because who wouldn’t let the middle talk her into training for a 5K in the midst of everything else? YOLO?

Marathon May, completed.

(I almost feel like I should quote Chevy Chase from Christmas Vacation — “Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”)

Thankful Thursday #18

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last week, it’s that mother nature always wins and it certainly has a way of putting things back into perspective.

My adventures started last Thursday. I’d been traveling for work and was more than ready to head home to my furbaby. Mother nature intervened. An hour before we were supposed to board, an announcement came that an incoming flight (the plane we were supposed to take) was struck by lightning. It was re-routed and they weren’t sure when it would arrive in DC.

As the hours passed, we realized there was no chance we’d make our connecting flight and nothing could get us remotely close to Lincoln. We retrieved our luggage to head back to our hotel for another night. Although I was beyond disappointed, I also felt a little lucky. I wasn’t on a plane that was struck by lightning. Could you even imagine? And instead of spending the night in a terminal, I got to go back to a hotel and had great conversations with my co-workers over a much-needed beer. The experience definitely bonded us in a way that nothing else could have (including the contagious giggle fits the following morning as we got more plane delays).

When we landed, I can honestly say I’d never been more thankful to be in Nebraska — particularly since the middle picked me up at the airport with a fountain pop.

Perhaps because of my long stint in the confined terminal of an airport for 12 hours, I ended up coming down with a head cold Saturday night. I honestly don’t know the last time anything knocked me on my ass this hard. Even today I’m still carrying around a box of Kleenex and Sudafed.

I’m not entirely sure mother nature is to blame for that one, but it was definitely a fluke thing I had no control over. I had no choice (quite literally) but to curl up with Hurley and give my body the rest it needed. No work (though I tried until my boss sent me home), no workouts, no nothing. There’s never an ideal time to go get sick, and this week was no exception. Somehow it was what I needed, though. (Now if only my voice would go back to normal…)

Speaking of Hurley, my big moment of thankfulness occurred last night. The middle closed on her new house last Thursday and we’ve been painting ever since (though she’s been burning the midnight oil way later than me).

Last night storms were in full force. As we were upstairs painting the spare bedroom, we were literally just having a conversation about how storms aren’t as fun and exciting when you’re an adult (in part because I’ve got an anxious dog) when we heard the tornado sirens. Dropped jaws and silence.

Why am I thankful? This is the first time we’d been painting at her house and actually had the dogs with us. Also thankfully, we only had torrential downpour, crazy lightning and loud thunder. (Although a house just a few blocks north of her was struck by lightening.) Tornado or not, you can bet one of us would have been in the car trying to get to the pups.

They weren’t to keen on the sirens or being confined to the basement, and they definitely weren’t crazy about the weather. But they were safe and with us. And after awhile, the babies were sound asleep.

doddies

Mother nature certainly makes you stop and count your blessings. When you realize how much control you don’t have in life, you appreciate the good fortunate and luck you do have.

Different takes of cheese(turkey)burgers

I swear I’m still among the living — albeit with a hectic schedule and a computer on the fritz (fingers crossed it’s not a hard-drive issue…). It helped that the two recipes I tried last week weren’t really worth writing home about (or more literally, writing a blog post about). This week was a different story.

The next best thing to a crockpot recipe on a busy night is one that I can prep prior to going to the gym. Monday night I got to do just that with this chicken burger recipe made with spinach. It took probably 20 minutes to prep (primarily because it required bringing out my food processor, though I don’t know that that’s a must) before being refrigerated for two hours. I think refrigerating it makes all the difference, not just in terms of flavor, but because it helps the burger keep it’s form a bit better.

Once I got home from spin class, it took literally 20 minutes to whip it up with the salad and all. I used the middle’s approach to making her heavenly grilled cheese — slow and steady. I cooked the burgers on medium heat and covered them at the end to make the cheddar cheese melt a bit better. So delicious and full of flavor!

Chicken burger

The next night I went for comfort (in part since our weather has been more fall-like than spring) with a cheeseburger soup recipe. I tried a similar recipe back in November but with the crockpot.

I can honestly say this one blew that out of the water, I think because it was a lot thicker. It almost had the consistency of chili or beef stew. Plus I hadn’t thought about topping it with croutons (although it even says on the crouton bag that you can put it on top of soup…) and that made it even better. I did throw pickles just into my bowl to see if I still liked it (and the answer is yes).

Cheeseburger soup

I’m happy to report on day 3 of chicken burgers and day 2 of soup, I’m still loving both recipes. And on day 5 of computer issues, I’m finally not freezing and stalling every two minutes. Major progress this week!

Thankful Thursday #17

I’d say it’s been one of those weeks, but it feels like I’ve been saying that for about a month and a half now. Blogging about what I’m thankful for seemed to be a good mental break to help me refocus my energy and remember to take a step back.

Work. Although it’s been a source of my stress, it’s also been for very good reason. I had my one-year anniversary two weeks ago, which we naturally celebrated with coffee. I’ve often heard you hit your stride at the one-year mark, and I think that’s proving to be true. Plus now that we’re through grant season, the evaluation duties really kick into high gear. I’ve been working on an environmental scan tool, a partnership assessment survey and half a dozen Excel files. It’s exhausting, but I’m one happy camper.

Alzheimer’s Association. Last month I kicked off my role as a committee chair for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The other day we had our second planning committee meeting, and last week was the first meeting with my specific committee. It’s been SO fantastic to be working with such an engaging group of energetic people. Like I’ve been legitimately surprised by how much I’m enjoying my time with them. I’m being reminded all over again of why I love this organization and pursued a career in nonprofits/public service. (As a side note, feel free to join my team or make a donation!)

Family. There are super exciting changes in the middle’s life (I’ll wait for her to share that update — all I’ll say is it involves paint!) and I got to spend a low-key Easter weekend with my parents. Have I mentioned how much I love being closer to my family?! Even after a year here, it’s not something I take for granted. (And I did have a phone date with the little last week. She may not be geographically close, but her humor and perspective makes my day infinitely better.)

Hurley. He will always be at the top of my Thankful Thursday list, but this week he’s especially high on the list. For starters, his paw is fully recovered! The poor baby sliced one of his paw pads the Sunday before Easter, resulting a trip to the vet Monday morning and nearly a week of keeping it wrapped. Pitiful doesn’t even begin to describe how he acted for most of the week (but I have to confess I loved the extra cuddles). The second reason is a slightly happier note — we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary on Sunday! I met him a year ago on the 12th and my life has never been the same. One year (and six vet visits…) later, I’m insanely crazy about this yellow labrador. I think the feeling is mutual, too.

Hurley Bear

Perhaps it’s time to get back to keeping my gratitude journal. Once the move hit, that habit fell to the wayside. This was definitely a good reminder that stopping to count your blessings and take stock of what’s going well is a much-needed energy boost and attitude adjustment. But Hurley’s been awfully good at that as well. <3

Beauty in Books 7

I’d been pondering the best way to talk about my experience at the leadership institute two weeks ago, but it’s hard to put into words. This weekend I read Scary Close by Donald Miller, and that seemed to be fantastic springboard to reflect on another way I hope to start being more intentional this year.

Prior to going to the mid-year retreat for the leadership institute, we read Immunity to Change. (Technically this post could almost be Beauty in Books 7 and 8!) It has a number of case studies, which made it a long and somewhat repetitive read, but it’s been fascinating to put some of the principles into practice.

Essentially the authors contend that there are two ways we can approach change. The first (and most common because it’s easier) is a technical fix. If we’re bad at public speaking, the technical change would be attending a workshop or signing up for more speaking engagements. If you’re trying to lose weight, the technical fix is eating less and exercising more.

Generally, though, those technical changes fall short of what we really need to make a true change. Instead we should be seeking an adaptive change, which is more focused on the mindset. More specifically, you start to explore those underlying fears and assumptions that make you hesitant in the first place. What holds you back from public speaking? Are you afraid of coming off as dumb? Of not appearing well-versed or eloquent? And where did some of those fears originate?

The authors encourage individuals to find those underlying (and often false) assumptions and beliefs so that they can begin to start challenging those in small ways. It’s a way of asking yourself “what’s the worst that could happen for speaking up?” and over time realizing it’s typically not the worst case scenario you envisioned.

How does all of this relate to the leadership institute? On the second day we got the results of a 360 leadership assessment, which is feedback on eight specific domains from your boss’s boss, boss, peers, direct reports and an “other” category. Using that information, we each identified our “blind spots” for leadership, selected one particular area to work on and dove into discovering what our underlying assumptions are that hold us back within that area.

The catch and challenge is that we did this in groups of four. Three times. We actually had to vocalize our weaknesses and explain where they came from, often delving into emotional territory.

But let me tell you, this was life changing. It’s a huge opportunity to practice vulnerability and authenticity.

That’s why Scary Close seemed like such a fitting read for me. It’s hard to show up and be seen for who you really are, not just the mask you sometimes wear. As Miller did and captures throughout his book, it’s important to explore why you wear a mask in the first place. His book, to me, was almost a memoir of putting Daring Greatly and Immunity to Change into practice. And this statement seemed to illustrate why it’s so important to me:

“Can you imagine coming to the end of your life, being surrounded by people who loved you, only to realize they never fully knew you?” (pg. 140).

Similar to that, Miller also mentioned that “if we live behind the mask we can impress but we can’t connect.” (pg. 171) It really makes me stop and think about how I’m presenting myself to the world, and even those close to me. My 360 results shows that above all else, I place a high value on my relationships with people. But to what degree am I genuinely connecting versus impressing and trying to have all the answers? And if I’m not showing my real self, why?

It’s still a work in progress for me. As Miller points out time and again, this is not an easy feat. “It involves deconstructing old habits, overcoming the desire to please people, telling the truth, and finding satisfaction in a daily portion of real love.” (pg. 217) But it’s so worth it. Slowly be surely, I’m learning that it’s okay to let my guard down and that real love (with anyone, not just in the romantic sense) isn’t conditional. That alone has been a bit lesson for me.

And if there’s one thing I’ve really learned from this whole experience, it’s this:

“Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” (pg. 22)

Somehow we just have to muster the courage to put it out there and be seen. And that’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about moving forward.

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