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.)

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.

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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.

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!

Four months to go…

My old college roommate had a blog post last week about being six months away from turning 30. It hit me that my milestone birthday is only four months away — a good reminder to check in with my 30 Before 30 List.

I was a bit relieved to find that 21 are officially done. Even better, the remaining are at least in progress. Not that it would be a huge deal or disappointment if I didn’t fully cross those off the list (there might be one or two where I don’t meet the full goal, like number of new states visited). Really this was just my way to not be so overwhelmed at the prospect of turning 30.

Although I have to admit I’ve still been feeling a bit uneasy about this next birthday. In some ways I don’t feel like I’m where I’d like to be as I approach the big 3-0. I’m not married or even in a relationship, I don’t own my own house or have kids on the horizon. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on the silver lining.

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I’m not necessarily where I envisioned being at this stage, but I’ve made immeasurable progress in recent years and when I look around, life is pretty damn good. My career is heading in a fantastic direction, I love the activities and organizations I’ve been able to participate in this past year or so, and I’m (clearly) crazy about my furbaby.

And in the meantime, there’s still lots more to accomplish and see in the world. Who knows — maybe I’ll even end up creating a 35 Before 35 List. Then again, maybe not….

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach In progress…I’ve got an excel file with my options and met with a life coach to talk through them
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! 
4. Find a work mentor DONE! 
5. Obtain a new job, ideally public health related DONE!
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career DONE!
7. Join a professional organization DONE!
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress…attending a panel discussion followed by a board matching event in a couple weeks

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE! And did a second one, too!
2. Learn to meditate In progress…attending a class on Nov. 5
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment DONE!
5. Log 2,000 miles DONE! Hit my final mile for it on 10/17/15

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! And still taking quite a few
2. Adopt a dog DONE! By far the best accomplishment on this list ❤
3. Have a technology-free weekend DONE! 
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE! About to do this for a play, too
5. Donate blood DONE!
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE!
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal DONE!
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 90 books In progress…20 more to go
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress…it would help if I would stop taking photos
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days DONE!
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress…three more go visit
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress…9 more to write and send
6. Participate in a book club In progress…the one I was supposed to join in October got postponed
7. Hit 500 blog posts DONE! My thankful Thursday post on the leadership institute put me at 500

Thankful Thursday #19

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a Thankful Thursday post. I figured I should tackle this while it was still fresh in my mind instead of waiting until I’m back to my high-strung self.

Last week (a week ago today, actually) I went on vacation with the sisters. We’ve decided that every three years we should have a sisters trip (our first one was three years ago to London) and this year we (somewhat last-minute) decided to venture to Cape Cod.

We didn’t learn our lesson with London in that we didn’t do a ton of research leading up to the trip (doing so would have helped me know in advance that despite being called Martha’s Vineyard, there aren’t many wineries or even wine tastings available…). But that was part of the beauty of the trip. (Plus it helped that Cape Cod was small enough and technically in the off-season to where it didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as London.)

This week I’ve been thankful not only for the time with the sisters, but also having the opportunity to get away to really recharge my batteries. I realized that the last non-work trip I took was almost two years ago when I went to Denver with the middle.

Not to say I don’t have opportunities to relax if I don’t travel. One of the unique, shall we say, components of my personality is my inability to cool it. (Let’s just be honest about that fact.) Even when I took two days off work after submitting the evaluation report, I used that time to work on my table, run errands and do chores I neglected that week. I was the girl in college who skipped class to do work for other classes or extra-curriculars.

It’s something I’m trying to work on, but definitely showcases the necessity of a trip like this, at least at this juncture in my life. From the time I left work on Wednesday afternoon until I got back to the office on Tuesday morning, I didn’t check my work email. (!) I didn’t make a grocery list for the next week (though I thought about it) or give a second thought to chores and other responsibilities. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t on an adrenaline rush of caffeine, stress and/or endorphins. It was probably a good break for my mind and my body!

What also helped are the great conversations I had with the sisters about intentionality and prioritizing as a way to stay true to the type of life you want to lead. I’ll probably have more on that later, but it played a huge role in my perspective coming back home.

By the time I got back to work on Tuesday morning, I was almost zen. I wasn’t trying to multi-task or fall into the adrenaline trap. That may change in the next week or so, mind you, as deadlines pop up and projects escalate. But for now, I’m taking things one task and one meeting at a time.

I’m thankful for the renewed efforts to control my schedule instead of letting it control me. When everything is a priority, nothing is. The beauty is that it’s up to me to set those priorities. I certainly got a reminder of what those are through my long weekend trip.

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The only downside is that I didn’t have Hurley around. You could say we’re making up for lost time…

Hurley

It probably goes without saying that he’s one of my top priorities. ❤

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

August was apparently a big month for me in terms of completing projects. After I finished my big evaluation report for work, I used the couple of days I took off to focus on finishing up the never-ending DIY project.

This is by far the largest DIY project the middle and I have taken on to date. And I should be clear right up front that this would not be complete without her. It was a true labor of love that tried our (but mostly my) patience every step of the way. If she weren’t my voice of reason, this would very likely be in pieces at a bon fire. There were points where it got that ugly.

But let me start back at the beginning.

When my parents downsized earlier this year, they decided to get rid of my mom’s crafting table, which was previously our family dining room table. I’d always loved the gorgeous pine wood and figured I could spruce it up a bit for my own dining room. (I tried to find a photo of our original table, but most included unflattering photos of the middle and I’m not about to make those public given how much she contributed to this project).

My mom has also been intrigued by painting furniture, so she decided to paint it blue before passing it on to me given how worn down it was.

full before

Normally something like this would work in my house, given I have a pink entertainment center, a teal desk and love color. Thanks to Pinterest, though, I fell in love with a particular style. The minute I saw it, I knew that’s what I wanted. This was a close second since it would match the style of my table a bit more.

And thus the project began. The weekend after Memorial Day weekend, the middle and I started the process of stripping paint – which let me tell you, takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought. All I can say is thank goodness for the middle. She searched which type of paint stripper was best, so at least we had a fantastic product. (Seriously, if you ever need to strip paint, which I hope to never do again, buy this. It doesn’t burn you at all or smell terrible).

For the first round we lathered the paint stripped all over the table and chairs, covered it with garbage sacks and let it sit overnight. (We also did her wine rack too, which took considerably less time.)

Paint stripping

Initially we were excited by the results. Peeling it off was actually kind of enjoyable, particularly when we could see the wood coming through — even under the original blue of the chairs.

Round 1

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I became substantially less excited. There were areas the paint stripper dried, making it difficult to make much progress. Also, trying to strip paint off a table top, four table legs and six chairs in one afternoon? Not at all smart on our part… Lesson learned: take it one or two pieces at a time.

Over the next few weeks we continued to chip away at the paint, trying to get as close to the original wood as possible. It helped to have the spray-can version of the paint stripper. We’d lob it on a section of a chair, wait a couple minutes and then keep peeling away. We also tried another brand of paint stripper, but given the number of times I burned myself even using gloves and trying to be careful, it wasn’t worth it. The orange wonder seemed to do the trick on it’s own.

I won’t lie that I had a handful of weak moments where I thought about just buying new chairs for the table. Having to deal with this level of detail (particularly on the chair legs and the design on the chair back) was just too much. So many curves and crevices. Plus it was incredibly messy (I will say mineral spirits helped with that a bit). And this was just phase one!

chair back

chair side

Somehow after a few weeks (probably because of the middle…) we prevailed. We’d reached a point where we’d stripped about all that we could, signaling it was time to move onto the next phase of the project: sanding.

Ready to sand

The middle also saved the day in borrowing tools from her boyfriend’s family so we could have two electric sanders. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like trying to do it by hand with sheets of sanding paper.

I’ll be honest that I lost a little motivation during this phase. Especially with the detailing sander, it took a lot of focus and I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress. It was exciting to see the wood smoothing out so well, though.

Sanding detail

At this point we put the table on hold for awhile. I knew, though, that we had to finish the project sooner rather than later (if only because my sister and her boyfriend would want to park in their garage at some point…). My motivation perked up again when the middle sent me this picture while I was on my way back home from my training in California that first week in August. Isn’t is insane how much difference sanding can make?!

anded table

And with that, it was time to start priming. The middle even created a great corner to make sure I could spray without ruining anything in her garage or the driveway (which I may have done during the paint stripping phase…).

Priming

Naturally nothing with this project was easy. After spending a full afternoon taping around the spokes of the chairs and covering the seats (to avoid getting any paint on the wood we planned to stain), I loaded up the paint sprayer and was ready to power through priming. Except nothing happened. In 50 minutes all I managed to accomplish was two strips of wood on the bottom of the table top.

I called it quits, coming back the next day with a new paint sprayer. Long story short, that sprayer was a bit too powerful (one of the chairs is a lasting reminder of that…) and thankfully the old one started working. In the course of an afternoon, I knocked out all the priming. Finally it felt like I was seeing progress!

(And as I did with my entertainment center, I’ll put in a plug for paint sprayers. Absolutely worth the investment, especially on projects like this!)

Primed

That weekend was also when I narrowed down my paint options. Guys, I had no idea how many shades of off-white there were! It was incredibly overwhelming. I knew I didn’t want any color tint to it (gray, blue, pink, etc.). I also didn’t want it to be too beige or tan, since the wall color in my living room borders on a creamy yellow. Plus my two sources of inspiration had pretty crisp white.

Finally I settled on bone. I won’t lie — I had my doubts once it was painted. It was was a bit more white than I intended, though the middle mentioned that perhaps doing a gray or cream primer may have helped make that more subtle. (I say that like it’s a tip to remember in the event I’m ever crazy enough to take on an endeavor like this again.)

Selecting a stain also proved to be a struggle. I didn’t want to go too dark, since I already feel like the wood in my house is overwhelming dark. But I wanted something that had just enough contrast to the white. After three trips to Menards, I finally found a shade I liked: hickory.

That brought on it’s own moment of panic. The stain I loved was a gel stain, which I’d never worked with before. (To be honest, it’s not like I’ve worked with much stain anyway. I’ve only done my coffee bar and that was under the supervision of a pro…). And the employee just kept saying, “It’s all about what you prefer.”

I decided to be brave and run with the gel. We started by putting a pre-stain on all the furniture. Then came painting on the gel…which promptly resulted in me googling tips for applying gel stain. The directions said to wipe the excess after three minutes, but that resulted in a not-so-ascetically-pleasing (read: ugly) finish. We (and by we I really mean I) almost scrapped the gel stain idea, but I’m thankful I didn’t.

One tip that helped is the comparison that liquid stain is like spreading butter on toast. Gel stain is like spreading peanut butter on toast. So long as we had the right consistency, we didn’t have to wipe the excess after three minutes.

About an hour later, the staining was done. And that’s when I really fell in love.

Half chairs stained

Chairs

In the next day or so, we made final touch-ups to the stain and the white paint on the spokes near the seat. I will say that if you’re ever in this type of predicament, definitely paint before staining. It might have even been that day that we polyurethaned all the chairs (all the days of working on this project started blending together after while). But finally, something was done! So we celebrated.

celebrate

We saved the table top for the very end. This is where staining really counted. I’d feel okay about screwing up the bottom of the table or even one of the chairs. But the table top is really where I needed to bring my A-game.

light top

Once the stain dried, I was a bit anxious when I saw how streaky/uneven it was. The middle used some mineral spirits on it the next day, which helped a tad. We also applied a second coat, which seemed to even it out quite a bit. Finally, a week and a half ago, the middle applied the polyurethane to the table top. There was no turning back!

final table top

This past Saturday morning I applied the final coat of polyurethane to the table. The final step should have felt substantially more rewarding. Why was it not, might you ask? I discovered a flaw in my plan. Googling confirmed that, unfortunately, oil based polyurethane will turn white paint yellow.

Yes, you read that right. White paint will turn yellow, which is exactly what happened to my chairs.

I kid you not, I about broke down in tears right then and there. I reached the finish line, but it wasn’t the table I’d worked so hard to rehab. But I was also the first to admit I was burnt out on the project and no way in hell was I started over on those chairs.

Thankfully, the lighting in my dining room is dark enough that you can’t really tell it’s yellow. It looks more like the off-white I’d been envisioning, though I’ll likely reassess whether I want to repaint it when I move at some point in the (hopefully not so immediate) future. But I still have to admit it looks fabulous in my dining room — especially with my newly created canvases!

final

final 2

I love the burst of white in my dining room and the contrast the stain has to the white (well, technically yellow…). It definitely matches the look I was going with, so I’d consider this a major Pinterest win (minus the yellow, of course).

And just a few more photos for good measure — is this transformation not amazing?!

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

With that, I’m retiring from DIY projects for the time being. As my mom jokingly says, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but is hasn’t been real fun. But I will say I am pretty damn proud. (And another big shout out to the middle!) I think this ups our DIY cred.

Quite the ordeal

Let me tell you, making this tamale pie recipe over the weekend was quite the ordeal — and not because of anything I did.

Given I’m on a salsa kick, I was excited to try this new recipe since it includes another one of my favorites: cornbread. Plus this was the first time I’d made it from scratch. Even when I was getting groceries earlier in the day I was tempted to just get a box of cornbread mix, but I figured since I had the time, I should give it a shot.

The cornbread was baking as I finished with the ground turkey. I’d also decided to add black beans and a bit of enchilada sauce to that as well for more flavor. Five minutes before the cornbread was done with the first round of baking, my power went out.

What are the odds?

The oven was warm enough to where it baked the cornbread as well as it could have. The edges were starting to brown and it had a good consistency to it (so thank goodness I went with the 9×13 pan or it might have been too thick). I added on the enchilada toppings and waited. And waited some more.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I weren’t already hungry, smelling how fantastic it already smelled and smothering a dog during the hail portion of the storm. Have I mentioned how much poor Hurley hates storms? He wasn’t quite as intrigued by the size of the hail as his mama was…

Thankfully an hour later, the power came back on and Hurley could relax (at least a little). My first order of business was preheating the oven to get my tamale pie going again. Twenty minutes later, I finally had dinner.

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Not that I was expecting it to, but I’m happy to report it didn’t effect the flavor of the dish. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the pairing. Certainly I’ve had corn tortillas with tacos/enchiladas/etc. so I figured it would have a similar taste. The cornbread was much more prominent but still incredibly delicious. I may actually add this to the lineup of staple dishes I make (not that I tend to have many of those, though. I guess I’m just a sucker for trying something new each week).

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Although it was somewhat of an ordeal, I will say I was lucky in that the power was only out for an hour and while it was still (relatively) light outside. Other people in my spin class the next morning had it much worse…

Speaking of ordeals (since you all know how much I love to take and post photos of my little bear), Hurley also had a big to-do of his own this weekend. A trip to the dog park on Saturday morning kicked his allergies into high gear. An oatmeal bath and benadryl didn’t do the trick, so back to the vet we went (at their insistence).

Selfie at the vet? Why not. At this point I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve had in the last year and a half. Although the silver lining to this is I’m slowly getting over my fear of going to the vet. Hurley, on the other hand, is less typically less than impressed (he hams it up quite a bit in the waiting room, though).

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 9.00.54 PM

There was also one more big development this weekend (after overcoming several, several ordeals), but you’ll have to wait another day or two for that reveal. 🙂 I can’t wait to show it off!

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

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.

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?”)

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