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!

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!

Variations on old recipes

I’m trying to get back into the routine of meal planning. Apparently I’d be just as likely to find an appetizing recipe on my blog as I am on pinterest, since both my recipes this week are variations of dishes I’ve already tried.

Sunday was a perfect crock pot day so I made beef and broccoli. I didn’t realize until I started this post that the previous beef and broccoli recipe I tried was essentially the same. Perhaps it means it could be a staple dish for me?

Like I mentioned in my post from April (my pre-Hurley days, which is mind-boggling to think about!), I love how simple it is. It literally takes 10 minutes of prep time, if that. I’m generally not a huge fan of stew meat, so I opted for a different cut of steak. And I added the broccoli in a little earlier than the recipe called for so it wasn’t quite so crunchy, if you will.

This one was also a little soupy, though that’s on me. I added a bit more beef broth than I should have since I had extra steak in there and I wanted to make sure the leftovers didn’t dry out too much. Had I followed the directions, I bet it would have been the perfect ratio.

beef broccoli

And two days later, I can vouch that it makes for great leftovers. This may have to be a staple dish for me after all!

Maybe it’s the weather, but I decided to go with another crock pot recipe tonight. And what better meal than soup when the high for tomorrow is supposed to be 1 degree? So sweet potato, chicken and quinoa soup it was! (As a side note, I’m pretty sure this blogger is going to be my go-to for meal planning. I was on her site for all of ten minutes and already have three recipes I want to try!)

This recipe reminded me of the sweet potato and quinoa turkey chili I fell in love with last year. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, I loved this soup. Like it was really, really hard to stop after one bowl.

I made two modifications, mostly from a lack of focus on my part. I ended up only using 4 cups of chicken broth (since that’s what the size of my container was) and didn’t peel the sweet potatoes. But otherwise everything else was super easy to throw together and the timing was perfect. I came back from the gym and it didn’t take long at all for me to warm up after being out in the cold.

soup

For dinner I actually paired it with some sweet potato tortilla chips I got on sale at the grocery store. It almost made me forget that it feels like 2 degrees outside (according to the weather channel) and is snowing. Almost. Thank goodness for great crock pot recipes!

Sauce and marinade marvels

You know it’s bad when you start plugging in the ingredients of your recipe into MyFitnessPal as you’re eating it just to see how much damage you did… But I could only resist pasta dishes for so long. This one pot red pepper and sausage alfredo tempted me too much (in part because the blogger’s recap reminded me of me and I could completely sympathize with her “is this recipe going to turn out??” concerns).

I should throw in the caveat right up front that I made a quite a few modifications. Like more than I normally do. I’m also afraid to call it a red pepper and sausage alfredo. I didn’t use the red pepper puree (used tomato paste instead) and used mozzarella cheese instead of the two listed on the recipe (minor oversight on my part). I also swapped out the spinach for kale and added mushrooms. That doesn’t quite outweigh the creamy goodness, but it’s a start.

And when it was all said and done? De-licious! It was comfort food and then some. (And by some I mean it was really, really hard to stop after one serving because my taste buds couldn’t get enough.)

pasta

Even the leftovers on this pasta dish are fantastic. The sauce stays creamy, the noodles didn’t dry out. and the red pepper flakes stand out even more. Dare I say the leftovers were just as good as the fresh-from-the-pot dish?

Despite the temptation, I knew I couldn’t eat it for lunch and dinner on Tuesday. Enter the skinny pineapple teriyaki pork chops.

[Insert typical statement about me not following the recipe…] My modifications this time were primarily due to poor planning. I discovered I didn’t have soy sauce (at least not half a cup’s worth) for the marinade. So I did what I do best — made my own concoction based on previous recipes. What was left of the soy sauce was thrown in with the brown sugar, garlic, honey, dijon mustard and worcestershire sauce.

I did stop by the grocery store on the way back home to pick up soy sauce to add to the marinade, but really I don’t know that it would have made a whole lot of difference. Despite outward appearances, it was amazing. It helped that I put the pineapple in the marinade and cooked that for a bit before putting it on top of the pork chops. There’s just something about grilled (or I guess sautéed, in this case) pineapple that I love.

Porkchops

I can’t take credit for the rice. Since it was BodyCombat night, I knew I wouldn’t want to spend too much time cooking or I wouldn’t eat until after eight. This steamers bag seemed to do the trick…

Blogging briefs

I’ve been torn about how much to blog about my #intentionalblogging challenge. It’s been helpful, though I’m not sure how interesting it is for my readers (not that blogging for 21 straight days would have been all that interesting either…). I figured a middle ground would be to write a brief synopsis of what I’ve done and discovered throughout this process.

Day 2: Subject, Theme & Objective

For this we were supposed to drill down our subject (what you blog about), theme (your specific area of focus) and objective (what you want to accomplish). This is something I’ve struggled with for awhile and will probably continue to do so. I’d say I primarily blog about my life as a twentysomething and what I’m doing (DIY projects, 30 Before 30, reading, cooking) to enhance it and/or find more meaning. Worded like that, it seems like an incredibly tall order. It also doesn’t seem very specific, but I think I’m able to strike a good balance in the range of topics I cover and how I present it.

The objective is admittedly a bit selfish. I’m a firm subscriber to the belief that “I never know what I think about something until I write about it.” My journal allows my to have a more stream-of-conscious, emotional outpouring of what I’m going through at that particular time. With blogging, though, I’m able to distill information and see the bigger picture. What did I take from a particular book or article? What goals am I working on and why? What lessons have I learned?

Through all of that, I hope to connect with and inspire others. Maybe not through specific actions, goals or advice, but rather through the encouragement to think about the big picture. What does “the good life” encompass? I’m also a firm believer that well done is better than well said. I don’t just want to talk about great plans I have for my life. I want to actually show people how I’ve been able to move forward, overcome obstacles and what my sources of inspiration were throughout the process. I guess it’s my small way of dabbling into life coaching, blog style.

Day 3: Finding my Voice

This was another one of those exercises where I read the challenge and I wanted to blow it off. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Is the message/voice I’m hoping to portray actually coming across as that? My response rate (nerd alert) wasn’t terribly high so I probably didn’t get the full impact of it, but I still appreciate the concept. I was supposed to ask five people to describe me and/or my writing, then write something that embodies what people have said.

Like I said, my response rate was low. But given those responses and also conversations I’ve had throughout the years with people about my blog, it seems to be a genuine depiction of who I am. I talk about the things I love and the things that inspire me with humor and (supposedly) a natural flow of conversation. And really, that’s what I strive to do.

I want my blog to be a conversation. Unbeknownst to me until I was part of the leadership institute, one of the things I value in my own life is approachability. On a professional or personal level (so whether we’re talking evaluation concepts or DIY projects) I want people to see me as approachable. That’s something I hope my blog embodies — a sense of genuine conversation and connection. Hopefully the actual writing portrays that, but if not, I feel like I’m on the right track now that I’ve discovered more clearly what I want my blog and message to be about.

Day 4: Why Blog? 

I lucked out in some ways because the launch of my blog was part of a Juneathon challenge. For thirty days I was supposed to run (or do some form of physical activity, since running wasn’t — and still isn’t — my thing) and then blog about it. That’s probably how I started to develop the mindset that a blog was a way to hold myself accountable.

As that wrapped up, the blog became a way to capture that transition from school to the “real world.” Without school and extra-curricular activities dominating my life, where was I going to focus my energy? What were my hobbies and interests? Based on other books and blogs I’ve read about the twentysomething experience, I’m not alone in that search and that identity struggle. Blogging was a way to feel like I had a roadmap and was making progress in something.

Now I think I blog to promote intentional living — striving to find that myself and encouraging others to do the same. How am I going about creating the type of life that I want? What does the good life mean to me? It also captures the ups and downs of that search. I’m not an expert and don’t claim to have all the answers. My blog helps keep me humble and, as I discovered through the day 3 activity, allows me to relate to others.

Like I said, it’s a tall order, but that’s where my interests seem to fall and writing about those topics comes naturally to me. And let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot easier and more fun to write this than research papers (though I suppose I still do a variation of those from time to time…).

Day 5: Break from Writing

This was very needed, especially given I was in the car for a good four hours. We were also challenged to post comments on five other blogs. Connecting with the blogging community is a bit outside of my comfort zone, so this was a good challenge. I probably didn’t total five comments, but I did visit a dozen or so new blogs.

Day 6: Blog a List

That will be forthcoming. I’ll confess I’m cheating a bit with the list, but it very much holds true to what I blog about and has been a staple feature for about a year now. (Any guesses on what this list is?!)

This #intentionalblogging challenge has definitely been a bit more challenging than I envisioned, but it’s also been incredibly helpful. Lots of introspection, primarily done during the writing of this very post (so maybe it is a good thing I decided to create a brief synopsis of how the challenge has been going). One week down, two more to go!

About DakotaLizzie

My fears were correct in that I apparently didn’t fully understand the #intentionalblogging challenge. Instead of blogging for 21 straight days, participants are challenged to focus on one specific thing on their blog each day to enhance it. Day 1 focused on the about me page.

My initial reaction this morning was, “eh, who cares?”

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I thought about the 171 (now 172) followers and the fact that I only know maybe two dozen of them in real life. It makes sense if I’m bearing my soul on my blog, I may as well give a little background and biographical information.

Enter the About DakotaLizzie page. It’s very much still a work in progress, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The theme I’ve selected in wordpress isn’t making it easy to make the page link clearly accessible (like scroll to the very bottom of the page and in the right corner you’ll see a drop down menu that will allow you to get there…). Regardless, it’s there and I’m feeling really good about it.

If I’m going to be intentional about my blogging, it may as well be about the whole thing, right?

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