On turning 30

My 30th birthday came and went without too much of a quarter/mid-life crisis. There were definitely freakout moments, mind you, but it helped that there were lots of reasons to celebrate the new decade I’m entering.

I’ve been surprised at how frequently I hear that your thirties are often considered the best decade of your life. That’s (supposedly) when you get a lot more clarity about who you are and what you want out of life, and you aren’t afraid to set boundaries to live that vision out (or so I’ve been told). I almost get the sense that you get past the superficial view of how your life should look and instead appreciate what is.

In that respect, I’m excited to start my 30’s. It seems to go hand in hand with what my  “create” year is all about. I’ve recognized how important it is to cultivate attitudes, habits and a mindset consistent with who I want to be. It’s high time I stop wearing my busy badge all the time and calling that a life.

A couple weeks ago (on a day when I really needed to hear it) Liz Gilbert posted this fabulous message:

LG quote

I think it struck me because a lot of my twenties were spent trying to be someone who could handle everything (or as I liked to call it, being “well-rounded and dependable”). I wanted to be Superwoman because I thought it meant having a fulfilling/satisfying life, or at least that I wouldn’t miss out on opportunities. It seemed like a surefire way to make my mark on the world and embrace life to the fullest.

Not so much.

At times it was certainly rewarding and it looked pretty good on paper (again, that superficial stuff), but it also came with a lot of exhaustion and resentment. In fact, I think that’s why Gretchen Rubin’s secret to adulthood that “you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do” resonated so much with me. I was spending time and energy on things I wasn’t really designed to do or that I even enjoyed doing.

And this is apparently the stage in life when you start figuring that out. Perhaps not coincidentally, just yesterday this blog post articulated a similar message about turning 30 and reinforced Gilbert’s post. How are you going to spend your life? How do you shift from doing everything to focusing on the key things that bring fulfillment and joy?

What’s interesting is that I progressed on my 30 Before 30 list, I found myself picking up on that. It mattered less that I hit an arbitrary number of books and was more important that I read books that inspired me or changed my perspective on something. Whether I got to visit a new state or not didn’t matter. I was more excited about my travel companions and our shared experiences.

In some sense, it became more about the intangibles. Case in point: my new board of directors role. It’d been on my list to join a board, but before signing the dotted line, I attended two board meetings, had a meet-and-greet with the director and went to a fundraising event to make sure it felt like a good commitment. I didn’t just want to add something to my resume or cross an item off my 30 Before 30 list. I needed to be sure it was value-added to my life (and thus far it’s definitely been that).

That seems to be how my sisters approached planning my birthday weekend, too, which helped me focus less on my milestone age. Through some long-distance planning between the middle and the little, the celebration was more than I could have ever imagined. The sisters planned out three days of activities consistent with my “create” theme and full of events, people and canines I love.

Among other things, I got to go to the “I love my dog” expo with Hurley, managed to get through an escape room (which I’d never heard of before) with five minutes to spare, experienced a fabulously made drink at the speakeasy, got a pedicure, and went to Bottom’s Up, a yoga class offered at our favorite brewery in town. (Not bad googling for the little out on the east coast!)

birthday weekend

The weekend, and other celebrations throughout the month, were really about being in the present and spending quality time with people who love, support and motivate me.

That, my friends, is how you bring on 30.

Although there’s still a bit of apprehension, I think I’m actually ready to take on the new decade in life. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype.😉

(For those who are curious, there were five on-going goals on my 30 Before 30 list that I started but didn’t quite complete. And based on the content of this post, you probably guessed that I’m more than okay with that.)

Finding what works

As one of my gym buddies mentioned on facebook, a new months means a new opportunity to set new goals and/or revisit the ones you’ve already created for yourself.

Already I have slightly higher hopes for this month. We’re celebrating three birthdays (including my milestone — dun dun dun!) and I’ll take a trip up to see my parents for a three-day weekend. I also don’t anticipate having large work projects like I did last month, which should hopefully help with my balance. Somehow February always seems less daunting than January.

It was also nice to start the month off on a good note, though I suppose technically it was January. The weather was gorgeous (quite the contrast to today’s snow day) which allowed me to take Hurley to the dog park (and subsequently to get a bath) and get a long walk in the next day. Somehow the weather and increased activity helped give me a natural boost in energy to tackle things that had been looming on my personal to-do list.

Oh, and I officially have one month under my belt with the Day One app! I’ll have to decide if this is going to be a daily thing throughout the full year (I’m leaning toward it just so I’m in the habit of reflecting on the silver linings of the day, much like a gratitude journal).

Day One

I’m still limiting the number of new recipes I try. I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been and how content I’ve been with having the same lunch (granted with variations) each week day. Although I enjoy cooking, cutting it in half has been fantastic.

Last week I made shepherd’s pie, which is a new recipe for me in that I haven’t made it myself (I’ve had it a few times with others, though). Who knew you could create semi-mashed potatoes without having an electric beater or masher?! That was the perk to this recipe. As always, I threw in more vegetables than the original recipe called for, but it always pays off.

Shepherds pie

I’m still torn on shepherd’s pie. I think because it reminds me a cross between pot roast and tator tot casserole, and I prefer both of those to shepherd’s pie. But it was nice to mix things up a bit.

pie2

Last night, in preparation for the snow day, I decided to try a stromboli recipe. My downfall with this (similar to burritos) is that I try to include too much so wrapping it is a bit difficult. In addition to the italian sausage and turkey pepperoni, I also included mushrooms and black olives. I wanted to add in pineapple but I knew I’d be pushing it.

The dough ripped a bit but surprisingly it came out in one piece.

Stromboli

I’ve decided it may not pay to be fancy. In other words, I’m probably better off sticking with a regular pizza or the pizza casserole I tried the other week. But either way it’s another easy recipe I wouldn’t have to look up in a pinch to make dinner.

Here’s to a new month, accomplishing goals and finding opportunities to hit the reset button (like today’s snow day)!

Creating checkpoints

For being a short week it felt incredibly long. As predicted, the newness of the year has worn off and I was reminded of why I selected “create” as my word in the first place.

Thankfully I think the four changes I’ve talked about thus far have made a small difference. I’ll admit that what’s been frustrating is that I think the tool that would help me the most (passion planner) is the one that’s been the most difficult to fully incorporate, though I recognize that’s primarily on me.

I’ve made a concerted effort to sit down on Sunday nights and look at my work week. I like picking out what I want the focus of at least three days to be, somewhat based on meetings and deadlines. Unfortunately it’s been hard to hold true to that. My weeks often end up being more reactive than proactive, and that’s where the tension starts.

To say I get pulled in a lot of directions in a given week is an understatement. My position is responsible for evaluating eight interventions, partnerships and team structure for two grants. How do I better prioritize and balance those areas? What committees and workgroups best align with our work? Which meetings are truly essential for me to attend?

One of my goals this year is creating opportunities for better focus and natural energy. Typically at the end of the day, I’m exhausted. One day this week I had six hours worth of meetings. In a row. On any given day I could have to focus on school health, self-management programs, medicaid data matching and health disparities. How do I minimize the mental drain and more effectively tackle my work?

It’s something I know I have to continue working on, which is why I think the passion planner could really help. I might need to take some time this weekend to figure out how to better utilize the planner to approach my weeks (a true evaluator!).

On the plus side, the passion planner is responsible for one great change. One of my personal goals for the month was to try BodyFlow at the gym. Part of creating the life I’d like is diversifying some of my workouts. Not only did I get to BodyPump this week, but the middle and I gave BodyFlow a shot (it helped that my regular spin instructor had a sub…).

I’ve fallen in love with BodyFlow. It’s a mix of yoga, pilates and meditation. My body is really stiff and tight with all my cardio efforts, so this should be just what I need. Plus I walked out of there feeling like a million bucks. Definitely a way to have more natural energy and better focus.

I’ll also mention that it’s helped quite a bit to scale back on my cooking. It’s really simplified things to plan on a soup, salad and/or sandwich for lunch each day, and surprisingly I haven’t grown tired of it yet. Plus I don’t have the dreaded task each weekend of trying to find new recipes to try. My meal planning time has essentially been cut in half.

Although I did try a new recipe this week — deep dish pizza casserole. It was a quick process and reheating it the oven for leftovers made it fantastic. Next time I might make my own crust, though it was nice that I could roll it out and it fit the casserole dish perfectly. And I’d likely get more creative with my toppings. I added in black olives, mushrooms and turkey pepperoni. I really wish I would have though to pick up pineapples as well, but there’s always next time.

deep dish pizza

I was also proud of myself for sending a new recipe to the middle that I knew I shouldn’t make just for myself. Half of it would get thrown out because I’m not great at eating leftovers, especially when it comes to soup (at least when it’s a new recipe and I’m not sure how much I’ll like it).

Thankfully on Tuesday night while I was at a board meeting (hopefully an exciting update on that next month!), the middle made chicken gnocchi soup. Particularly with the cold temps and snow, it really hit the spot.

Chicken gnocchi

I’ve only tried a bite or two of the gnocchi soup at Olive Garden, but other than being a bit creamier than this recipe, the middle and her boyfriend said it’s pretty comparable. It almost reminded me of a chicken and dumpling soup. Definitely something to have on my radar for a good winter dish.

Although this week was a bit trying for me, I’m also proud that I’ve been taking time to check in with myself so I can readjust (which I think is where the Day One app really comes in handy — and I’ve officially journaled for 22 days now!). I’m getting better at recognizing the triggers that formed the habits and patterns I’m trying to break so that I can have better balance and energy in life. Even though it’ll take work, I’m not ready to throw in the towel on my new year’s goals and perspectives. As we say on our team, onward and upward!

But first I’m going to hit up a BodyCombat and BodyFlow class to get me in the right headspace.😉 When all else fails, there’s always a good workout and cuddle time with the pup.

Creating the first week

I think I’m in the honeymoon phase, if you will, of the new year (and not just because I finally have a functional laptop!). I actually think Brene Brown described it perfectly on facebook the other day:

brene

This week I’ve been slowly getting back into the routine while incorporating my new habits. I love using the Day One app each evening and I think my nightly routine may pay off over time. Thinking back, there was only one evening where the alarm had to prompt me to start gearing down for bed (and I was so proud for wrapping up what I was doing and actually getting ready for bed).

I’ve become more conscious of the time and have found myself starting the process much earlier. Monday night right after dinner, for example, I curled up on the couch with Hurley and Brene Brown’s book while a fireplace Netflix video played on my television. Way more enjoyable than trying to be productive!

Tuesday night

Even better is that I’ve been in bed by 10:15 every night this week. That’s huge for me.

I’ve also made another change in the new year in an attempt to simplify my life a bit. For lunches, instead of bringing leftovers, I’m aiming to stick to salads, soups and/or sandwiches. I’ll admit I’ve resisted this kind of approach for quite some time. I worried (and to some degree still do) that I’ll tire of it quickly. How am I going to stick with the same types of food day in and day out?

By having variety, that’s hopefully how. I decided to start off with a bang this week, which may or may not work in my favor with this new habit.

On Sunday evening I got everything ready — hoagie buns and avocados along with Tupperware for cracked pepper turkey, spicy mustard, cabbage and black olives for sandwiches. I prepped the salad as much as I could with lettuce, mandarin oranges and a hardboiled egg, then used Tupperware for my homemade dressing (purchased a blueberry vinegar and it’s fan-freakin’-tastic) and sunflower seeds.

It took some time, but I had everything ready for nearly the whole week’s worth of lunches. And what I really love is that everything seems so fresh when it comes time for lunch. It only takes a couple minutes to get everything put together, and I’m way more excited about this lunch than I ever was for a majority of my leftovers.

lunches

What’s also nice is that it’s cut down on how much I’m cooking, which certainly adds to my evenings. Last night, for example, I made a turkey taco casserole. It took probably 20 minutes to throw together before it baked (I added in the kidney beans).

Taco casserole

Taco casserole dinner

Even though I started cooking right when I got home from spin class, I didn’t sit down to eat dinner until shortly after 8. By the time I’ve eaten and cleaned up, I barely have any evening left to enjoy. That’s partially how I end up burning the midnight oil, since it’s not until nearly 8:30 or 9 that I can start cramming in my non-cooking tasks for the evening.

That also brings up an affiliated goal. For each new recipe I try, I want to make something (or ideal a few things to have a better ratio) I already know. I’ve already created a list of 10 meals that don’t require me to look at any recipe — pasta dishes, tacos, homemade pizza, etc.  This week, for example, I made the spaghetti and turkey meatballs recipe I tried a couple weeks ago. Made it on Sunday and used the leftovers for dinner this week.

I really went back and forth on whether this was something I wanted to do. As much as I love cooking and trying new recipes, it’s not necessarily conducive to my lifestyle anymore. I got into the habit of trying two new recipes a week when I lived in Columbia. At that time, though, I didn’t have a dog and the only gym classes I went to were on Sundays, Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Life now is very different, particularly in terms of my schedule. I want time in the evenings to be with Hurley and there’s a specific class at the gym I could, if I wanted to, attend each day of the week (and I make a point to get to the classes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings). That puts more restrictions on how much time I have to actually cook. And quite frankly, I’m tired of eating at 8 or 8:30 in the evenings. With leftovers for dinner instead of lunch, I’m eating by 7:15. It adds almost a whole hour to my evening (which I think Hurley already appreciates given he’s not thrilled mama is back to work).

Like I said, I could just be in the honeymoon phase of the new year. Regardless, though, I’m already enjoying the new habits that are freeing up my time and helping me feel a bit more balanced. I’d consider that a success for week one!

A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Great recipes, terrible technology

This will have to be relatively short and sweet given my technology malfunctions. I’d been wanting to blog about this since Wednesday, but my personal laptop has been on the fritz for a week (right now it won’t even fully boot up…) and my work laptop was with our IT department up until about noon yesterday.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been wanting to make a concerted effort to be intentional about the meals I’m making. (In other words, it’s time to ditch the reliance on crockpots and get back to cooking given I actually enjoy it.) Although I got the baseline recipe, if you will, from Pinterest, the other two meals I tried this week came directly from the author who inspired me to make the change.

I have to admit that I’m really proud of Sunday’s meal — one pan chicken with white wine and olives. In part it’s because I’d had an offer to go to HuHot and I turned it down in lieu of cooking a homecooked meal (primarily so I could have leftovers at lunch the next day). I’d been a bit nervous about this since I’m not a fan of dry white wines and chicken thighs tend to be hit or miss for me. But it was a lot of fun to pull together.

chicken bake

What I did love was having the lemons bake on top of the chicken! I’ve seen that a handful of times but just never did it. I probably shouldn’t have added the kalamata olives, but the carrots were a nice addition to the recipe.

chicken bake (2)

The leftovers weren’t quite as good, though it could be that it just lost some of it’s appeal in my Tupperware container and using a plastic knife. But I have to say, going back to cooking was a much-needed shift. And I hardly used a can of food this week!

Tuesday  night is when I started with my baseline recipe of mini buffalo chicken tacos. For some reason I have trouble buying frozen foods like chicken tenders or pizza. Instead, I did a quick google search and found a decent recipe for homemade chicken tenders. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I could whip those up — and adding buffalo sauce to the egg mixture seemed to help give it even more flavor.

chicken tenders

I also found a quick recipe for coleslaw dressing. I’d picked up broccoli coleslaw mix at the grocery store instead of buying a pre-made option.

FullSizeRender

Oh baby. This was delicious. The one downside is that the leftovers aren’t quite as good. My coleslaw ended up a bit soggy (especially by yesterday’s lunch) and the chicken tenders (not surprisingly) don’t stay crispy. But the flavor was still there and it was such a nice twist on tacos. I actually think this might make for a good salad so I may have to experiment with it a bit more.

I’m glad I held out on my final recipe until later in the week. Wednesday was an incredibly long day at work and I was so looking forward to spin class that evening. I knew it would recharge my batteries — plus I hadn’t been in two weeks. Sadly a traffic jam meant that, despite leaving 40 minutes before the class started, I was barely at the halfway point of getting to the gym when it was time for class to start.

I made my way back home feeling angry (livid is probably a better word…) and defeated. And what better way to set the world right than with a one pot cheesy spaghetti and meatballs.

You guys, I had no idea meatballs could cook in the sauce like that! Game changer. I’d also never considered adding ricotta cheese to my typical spaghetti dish. I have to say that I’m a fan. Although I didn’t find the noodles used in the actual recipe (I wanted to but my attempts at the grocery store were in vain). Instead if was my typical whole wheat angel hair pasta.

spaghetti

Although it took a little bit more time post-gym, it was nice to be back to cooking. We’ll see what the recipes for next week hold. Given my faulty and intermittent computer opportunities, meal planning may be particularly challenging. (Not good given it’s a task I dread each weekend anyway but I do it because the benefits are ten-fold during the week!)

And on a completely unrelated note, Hurley met his new cousin last week. Swoooooon! This was one of the only few non-blurry photos of them since they kept rough housing. It gets a little overwhelming (and I would not be surprised if they knock over the middle’s tree at some point…) but it wears him out, which makes me a happy mama.

IMG_6730

Shifting health gears

Fruitless as it may seem given we’re only a few weeks away from another holiday, I decided to get back on the health wagon. Thanksgiving was a much needed break with lots of indulging — even for Hurley and the family dogs.

2015-11-26 11.57.14.jpg

What was also nice is I was able to listen to a great audiobook on my drive up and back. The book (It Was Me All Along) caught my eye while I was in Cape Cod and it seemed to be what I needed to light a fire under me again (and it was incredibly relatable given my own weight loss journey). In fact, I even skipped my normal spin class last night to go to BodyPump with my favorite combat instructor! I won’t lie, my entire body hurts right now and stairs are a real struggle. However, it was well worth it. Time to mix things up with my health routine.

In some ways this renewed focus also impacted what I chose for recipes this week. I knew I wanted to focus more on protein since I’d really been indulging and carbs (not to mention sweets). Sunday night I put a BBQ chicken quinoa recipe in the crockpot. It was relatively simple to throw together, and I loved how well the chicken shredded after just three hours in the crockpot. It may not look all that appetizing, but I can assure you that it was.

BBQ chicken

I should mention the olives were just something I threw on the plate because I was craving them… They didn’t particularly fit the flavor, but I didn’t care.

My recipe the following night, though, did allow for green olives. I was nervous having two similar recipes back-to-back, but I really wanted to try the slow cooker enchilada quinoa recipe.

To mix it up slightly, I actually used a beef roast instead of chicken (great choice, in hindsight!). I also minimized the cream cheese given the recent experiences I’d had with my crockpot dishes calling for cream cheese. I didn’t want it to dominate since I love Mexican food without too much cheese in general.

It took a bit longer for the beef to cook, so I almost wish I would have started that on its own. What was great, though, is that I seasoned it the night before so it had the perfect mix of spices.

In part because I wanted a bit more heartiness to it, I did half a cup of quinoa and half a cup of brown rice. (The other reason I’d done that is because that’s all the quinoa I had left…). I barely even noticed the rice when all was said and done, so I might add more of that in the future.

Enchilada

It was like a thoroughly mixed burrito bowl, and in my opinion you can’t go wrong there. The less healthy addition is the lime tortilla chips I used. All in moderation, though…

This week I’ve also decided that I’d like to make more of an effort to branch out of my cooking rut as well. Although the crockpot can be a lifesaver during the week, I also miss cooking. Thanksgiving certainly reminded me of that, but so did the dishes I made this week (though they were quite delicious).

In a crockpot, all the flavors blend together and nothing really stands out, and oddly enough it was the audiobook that made me come to that realization. The author talked about balsamic glazed vegetables and feta cheese sprinkled on spinach salad and buffalo chicken pizza. It sounded so delicious and…clean, for lack of a better word. Crockpot recipes, while convenient and often delicious, don’t feel as fresh and light to me. It might take a bit more planning on my part, but I’m hoping I start limiting my crockpot use.

Beyond that, I’m also aiming to be more intentional (given that is my word for the year…) about where I’m finding my recipes. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is great and will still be where I start my recipe search. But I also recognize that I hate and am terrible at tracking what I eat. It seems like such a chore to me and I get really bitter about it. That being said, I feel like if I can be more cognizant of  the nutritional content of dishes before I make them, it might make at least a small difference.

We’ll see how these efforts go. As I said, it may be a bit fruitless given the holiday season is upon us. But sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot, and my motivation certainly peaked thanks to this book.

Lap dogs

Apparently I’ve started a new tradition for myself. Last year I did the exact same thing on a Sunday evening — put bacon cheeseburger soup in the crockpot, officially switched my pandora station to Christmas music and decorated my tree. (I should also mention that this was last Sunday evening. I’m apparently a bit behind…)

I also took it as an opportunity to trial-run some Christmas photos with Hurley. He’s not super impressed, but my goodness does he look handsome!

Hurley Xmas

This is probably my third attempt at bacon cheeseburger soup (and heaven forbid I use the same recipe). Hands down, this was definitely my favorite rendition of it. It’s cheating a little since I technical combined two recipes. I started with this recipe as the base and incorporated parts of this one to avoid using half-and-half. It could also be because I used italian sausage instead of ground turkey since it was on sale, and I also used a block of cheese as opposed to shredded cheese. I’ve also decided the sliced carrots are the way to go, and celery was a great addition, too.

Regardless of what made this the winning dish, it was delicious!

Cheeseburger soup

The rest of the week was a blur between work and also trying to learn more about a board of directors. As part of my 30 Before 30 list, I went to a board matching event on Veterans Day. It’s more or less a speed dating approach to meeting nonprofits in the area. I really connected with one director who runs a programs for women experiencing homelessness (double win!), so this past week I not only attended a board meeting but also their big fundraising event. It seems to be a promising match, so stay tuned!

Then more excitement came — I’m a doggie aunt again! Meet Millie Vanillie Bean (to match her older sister Mocha Jo).

Millie

I seriously can’t get over how small and light-weight she is! It’s also strange to have to watch where you’re walking. Hurley’s pretty present (especially in the kitchen), but this 5-month old girl is so small that I’m afraid I’m going to step on her. You can barely feel her resting her head on you or standing on your lap. That will change as she grows (and I know all too well that goes with my little bear) so I’m taking advantage of it while I can. I think it goes without saying that Miss Millie will grow up surrounded by lots of love and cuddles, not to mention some fun-loving labrador mentors.❤

Hurley hasn’t met her yet, so we’ll see how he reacts to the news. In the meantime, I’ve kept him busy with holiday photos. He was surprisingly better this year than he was last. It only took about 30 minutes tonight, which may as well be a record for us. When he sat on my lap and gave his aunt this look, though, I knew he was done.

Screen shot 2015-11-22 at 9.46.02 PM

I also confirmed he’s not a fan of his jingle bell collar… At least it’s just a once-a-year event, right? And it pretty much secures his place on the nice list (though I’m probably a bit really biased when it comes to this guy).

Needless to say, we’ve officially kicked off the holiday season in our household!

Transition time

This week my body seemed to be utterly confused. I’m one of those crazy people who tends to turn on the Christmas music after Halloween (I figure there’s a short window for enjoying it so I may as well take full advantage of it). The 70 degree weather made it difficult to even attempt anything related to Christmas, though in no way was I complaining about that!

In fact, it meant I nixed the gym quite a bit to take Hurley on long walks along the trail instead. I figure I’ve got the next 5+ months to hit up spin and BodyCombat classes. How many opportunities am I going to get to make this guy’s day (aside from my typical smothering and spoiling, that is)?

Doggie Trail

Regardless, meal planning gets a bit tricky with the shortened daylight. I opted for a crockpot recipe on Monday so it would require minimal prep time while allowing me to eat dinner at a decent time. This time the winner was a beef stroganoff recipe that caught my attention.

I did appreciate the minimal prep, and it’s the first time I think I’ve ever used cream of onion before (which I’d recommend for dishes like this). This dish seemed to have a lot more flavor than previous stroganoff recipes I’ve tried. I’d been tempted to add peas or some type of vegetable to it (instead of having it on the side or with a salad) but sometimes you just have to let yourself indulge.

Stroganoff

In retrospect I would have cut back on some of the cream (either the cream of mushroom or halving the cream cheese). I’m not sure if my stomach can’t handle creamy foods as much or if I just know the impact heavy foods have on my energy level/workout ability, especially having it as leftovers for lunch. It may be that I picked up on it after day four or five of leftovers, though. I really do need to start cutting some of the recipes I try in half…

On Wednesday I tried an entirely new recipe for me — mini muffuletta meatloaf. I’d never come across anything like this, and it sounded delicious. I did switch out the pepper mix and instead used a black olive bruschetta I found at the grocery store. And I used ground turkey instead, which altered the flavor a bit. I also decided it would be less messy on my end to just cook one loaf.

Meatloaf

I was pleasantly surprised by the recipe, though I shouldn’t have been given all the flavors I love. It was also relatively quick. One thing that typically deters me from recipes like this is trying to find side dishes. I wasn’t quite as successful this time (salad and green beans), though I should have paired it with a baked sweet potato. Oddly enough, I think it would have been a good flavor combination.

The goal for next week is to have meals that are slightly more well-balanced. I’ve realized I tend to gravitate toward Mexican dishes since it’s easier to incorporate a range of foods (vegetables, grains, protein). Perhaps that’s what I’ll find on the docket for next week (along with putting up my Christmas tree since we have a holiday on Wednesday)!

Thankful Thursday #21

Last week was a very bucket-filling week for me from a career standpoint (followed by a great visit to see the parents over the weekend). Oddly enough, as the week wrapped up I found myself crafting a Thankful Thursday post in my head about my job/career, and I figure there’s no time like the present to make it happen.

It seemed somewhat fitting that one of my dad’s recent blog posts featured an article about passions and priorities. While we were skyping with the little on Saturday, she referenced this article my dad posted, saying it was basically one long, non-sugar coated lecture saying get your shit together. Naturally I had to read it.

This quote in particular stood out to me:

If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.

Last week essentially confirmed that for me. On Thursday I gave a day-long training to six local health departments about developing their evaluation plans for our grant and provided evaluation tools I’ve developed for our other grant. A majority of my tools are in Excel because I’m able to sort, filter, use fantastic functions, color-code, etc. One girl actually came up to me during the break and said she was having a fangirl moment over one of my tools.

Week. Made.

But how many people in the world get excited about things like that? I forget other people don’t think like I do or get energized over the exciting potential of a well-designed Excel file (assuming it has quality data, of course). Heck, a handful of people on Thursday alone made a “god bless evaluators” comment. They think it’s overwhelming and don’t even know where to begin.

I, on the other hand, literally become giddy when I think about developing surveys or conducting assessments or getting a new set of data to better understand programs, organizations and systems, particularly from a quality improvement perspective. And yet another meeting today confirmed I’m one of the few who actually gets excited about those opportunities.

After a great training, I got to spend the next day at a conference put on by our regional chapter of the American Evaluation Association. I kid you not, I was enthralled from the time the speaker started at 9 a.m. and was almost sad to have to duck out at 2 to get Hurley. One of the leading evaluators in the nation spoke about a newer framework of evaluation and I took pages upon pages of notes (and added about a dozen books to my ‘to-be-read’ list).

What was exciting for me is that I realized that his framework is inherently how I approach evaluations, and it’s very much how I function within our current program. Even a few of the evaluators in the room mentioned that this profession is getting to be less about having a set a technical skills (aka: knowing statistical packages) and moreso about facilitating, documenting, tracking and pulling varies pieces together to understand the full context of whatever it is we’re evaluating. That’s my bread and butter!

Sad or strange as it sounds, those two days I just kept thinking that people always talk about how “you just know” when you’ve found The One. That’s how I feel about my career. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else — at least not at this juncture of my life or with this level of enthusiasm.

And I have to say that I’m beyond grateful for that. Not many people are as fortunate, and I certainly recognize that. I love that I’m using a skillset and mindset that comes naturally. Spending a day in excel and piecing together information to generate evaluation reports is energizing to me, which perplexes most people. But that’s also how I know that I’ve found what I’m passionate about (and the fact it’s paired with public health is just the cherry on top). Granted, it’s still hard to explain to others what it is I actually do…

Evaluators

Regardless, I’ve found myself growing exponentially grateful for the path that led me to evaluation, not to mention the handful of professors and mentors who’ve helped me hone my skills and abilities. Although don’t get me wrong — there are still good days and not so great days at the office. No job is perfect. But I do know that this type of position is perfect for me. That’s worth acknowledging everyday, not just Thankful Thursday!

Categories

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 242 other followers