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!

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.

Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 7.27.31 PM

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

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.

30 Before 30 halfway point

Well my friends, we’ve reached the halfway point! (And by we, I really just mean I.)

I’ve been meaning to post this for a few weeks (since technically it’s slightly more than the halfway now…), but I kept going back and forth on a few changes to my list. But regardless, from the time I initially published my 30 Before 30 list until my 30th birthday, I’m at the midway point. It’s almost hard to believe.

Hitting that mark did send me into a brief panic. It’d been more than six months since I blogged about my list and I haven’t been particularly good at deliberately working toward those goals. Thankfully, though, I’ve managed to make a lot more progress than I thought. Thirteen of the items are done (you can tell I’ve been focusing on my career as of late…) and I’ve made pretty good progress on nine additional ones. Not too shabby!

I did end up making a few more changes to the list, primarily in the interest of time but also because of where my motivations are at right now. I’m hoping this is the final list, but you just never know with me…

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! (Alzheimer’s Association and the public library)
4. Find a work mentor DONE! (First meeting was two weeks ago and we’re chatting again this week! I really think it’s going to be a fantastic match)
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 In progress… (Took an e-course through the American Evaluation Association and my mentor is going to help me draft a business plan)
7. Join a professional organization DONE! (AEA and the Public Health Association of NE)
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress… (Meeting with the young professional group since they organize a board matching event)

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE!
2. Learn to meditate
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment
5. Log 2,000 miles In progress… (currently at 1,094 miles)

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! (Yoga, Intro to Feng Shui and belly dancing. And they were three separate courses, not all in one…)
2. Adopt a dog DONE! (I mean, I make it pretty obvious I’ve got one now…)
3. Have a technology-free weekend
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE!
5. Donate blood
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE! (Happiness Summit in Lincoln on Nov. 8)
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal In progress… (I have a few entries done but I’m not sure at what point it constitutes being completed on this list)
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 100 books In progress… (45 down, 55 to go)
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress… (I’ve cleaned out nearly 2,000 photos from my computer)
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress… (three more to go)
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress… (17 done, 13 left)
6. Participate in a book club
7. Hit 500 blog posts In progress… (this makes 451)

Another life lesson

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

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

Does anyone else feel me?!

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

So I did exactly what the author suspected:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful Thursday #11

This Thankful Thursday post is going to be two-fold (and hopefully not too sentimental or self-involved).

Today I wrapped up my portion of regional meetings that I’ve done on a quarterly basis for almost three years now. In fact, my first week of work was spent traveling around for these meetings (but thankfully not presenting anything!), so it seems fitting that that’s how I’d spend my second to last week on the job.

I can still vividly remember my first night on the road that first week, wondering how I would cope with all the traveling I’d be doing on my own. Since that was something I’d never done before, I’m not exaggerating when I say I nearly had a panic attack thinking about it. (Turns out other people at restaurants feel more uncomfortable about me eating alone than I do, and up until a few months ago, many staff at hotels and the rental car company knew me by first name.)

I (naturally) did a lot of reflecting this week during my hours spent driving on the roads I’ve come to know so well in southern Missouri. Thankful doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, for all that I’ve learned and how far I’ve come (particularly in the land of acronyms and programs that I had absolutely no familiarity with prior to starting).

This week was also special because I got to present the big research project that Lindsay and I have worked on for the last eight months (and let me tell you, I’m really thankful that’s done!). I couldn’t help but laugh during the first meeting when, after I’d condensed 78 pages of information into a 20 minute summary, the only response was a wide-eyed “Holy cow.” My thoughts exactly. It was even more rewarding to hear someone during the fourth meeting respond with “You really do make data sexy.” It makes me feel like I’ve somewhat succeeded in getting people to see how important (and sexy!) data/research can be.

TOR

My growth and progress, however, wasn’t achieved alone. Far from it. I’ve had a supervisor who encouraged me to think outside the box and dive head first into great data analysis projects. I had a co-worker who became one of my best friends and proved to be my other half on countless reports and committees/workgroups. And I’ve got a handful of other supportive co-workers at the office who have fully embraced my analytical creativity, caffeine-induced productivity and occasional flare for dramatics.

I also can’t forget all the fabulous agencies and people I’ve worked with along the way who are making a huge impact on the clients they serve. No way could I do the work that they do on a daily basis (my heart would break too easily). The meaningful relationships I’ve built with these agencies far exceeded my expectations. While I was teaching them how sexy data can be, they were teaching me that data is more than just numbers — they’re people.

I’ll be honest that I didn’t see my career starting with homeless services. But now I wouldn’t trade that experience and knowledge for anything, especially given all the stereotypes and misconceptions that are out there regarding homelessness. Public health is my passion, but homelessness now has a special place in my heart.

It’s just another reminder that everything happens for a reason, and for that I’m immensely grateful.

30 Before 30 List

After lots of deliberating, adding, deleting, googling and asking anyone and everyone for suggestions, I’ve finally completed my 30 Before 30 list! I can’t say I’m 100% satisfied with it, but I think it captures a majority of the things I’ve talked about accomplishing or wanting to do and just haven’t done yet.

In addition to my initial difficulties with setting goals, I was also concerned about making sure my goals were something I could work toward, accomplish and then cross off my list. Quite a few of the 30 Before 30 lists I came across had items like “get in the best shape of my life/get down to my goal weight” and “meet someone famous” and “travel the world.” They may be great goals…but how do you measure that and determine if you succeeded? How do you know you won’t actually end up being in the best shape of your life when you’re 32 or that you’ll put on 10 pounds a few months after hitting your goal weight? (I think my program evaluation and CDSMP training has given me a bit too much exposure to goal setting do’s and don’ts…).

That doesn’t mean I was perfect with my goals, though. I will confess that I’m “cheating” in two areas on my list. One goal actually has three sub-bullets, primarily because they’re (at least in my mind) somewhat related and I didn’t want to count them as three separate goals (plus I’m an over-achiever, so if it means I technically have 33 goals, then so be it). Then for my book goal, I’m using my birthday this past February as a start date to make it an even three years.

What really helped in creating my goals was categorizing them. Before I had my four sections, the list was too overwhelming to even look at and I knew I needed this to be a document that didn’t scare me every time I looked at it. It also helped in creating all my googledoc tracking logs (and it’s actually rather sad how excited I get to set those up…).

And now for the actual list (as always, I give way too much background before getting to the point…). I didn’t list all of them, in part because some will eventually be gifts and others are personal. In the interest of brevity, I also didn’t include an explanation or my thought process behind why items are on the list. I figure I can always provide that later on (ideally when I’ve accomplished them).

Career
1. Become a certified life coach
2. Publish in some capacity — byline on a research project, newsletter, etc.
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit organization
4. Find a work mentor
5. [Personal]
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K (real nervous about this one!)
2. Get a personal trainer
3. Give up pop for 90 days
4. Buy a bike
5. Get a full physical / health assessment
6. Go vegetarian for 30 days

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class
2. Adopt a dog
3. Have a spontaneous weekend getaway
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself
5. Travel abroad
6. Stay at a bed and breakfast
7. Go to a non-work related conference (writers workshop, blogging conference, etc.)
8. [Personal]

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 100 books
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos
2A. Make travel boxes for all my major traveling excursions
2B. Start and complete a sisters photo album
2C. Clean out the clutter in my room at my parents’ house
3. Create a recipe book of all the dishes I’ve tried and would make again
4. Hone my photography skills (take a class and/or read through a guidebook, though step one is to get a decent camera…)
5. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total
6. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends randomly throughout the year
7. Watch at least half of the movies on the IMBD Top 250 movies list (currently at 82)
8. Finally organize my iTunes
9. Participate in a book club
10. Hit 500 blog posts (this post makes 293)

And there you have it!

Like I said, I don’t know that I’m 100% satisfied with the list, but I’m still really excited (though admittedly nervous) about each of the goals I’ve set. Plus now that I’ve blogged about it, it means it’s officially time to start working on crossing items off my 30 Before 30 list. I’ll probably provide updates every couple of months, but in the meantime, wish me luck!

Sisters vacation

As promised, a quick entry about London.

Long story short, I feel like the sisters and I deserve an “I Survived London” t-shirt.

By no means was the trip bad. Actually, now that I’ve had time to process and look back on the vacation, it was actually quite a success. We started out with a bucket list of 32 things to do/see in London and we were able to cross off 20. Not bad considering we technically only had 4 days in London (one day was spent in Paris and another was shot due to traveling misfortunes, if you will).

Many people have asked why we chose London. For starters, we were limited in where we could travel. We were coordinating our trip to coincide with the end of the little’s study abroad program, and due to the Schengen Treaty, we ideally wanted a country where she wouldn’t need to apply for a visa. Plus we wanted to be in a place where English was the primary language since it was our first international trip together.

The deciding factor, though? The Harry Potter studio tour. Naturally we hit that up the first day (which was technically our second, but due to the little’s terrible luck with delays flights and the jet lag the middle and I had, the day we got there was pretty well shot).

Fireplace

The next few days were a little overwhelming, probably in part because we didn’t research and plan as thoroughly as we could have (although it’s difficult to coordinate via skype conversations given busy schedules, not to mention vastly different time zones). I think what it boiled down to, other that the little’s terrible luck with literally all modes of transportation, is that it wasn’t what I expected. What you see in Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary? Not quite the same. Although the Westminster area is relatively close to what I pictured.

The highlight of our trip (which admittedly seems a bit ironic) was our day (technically 6 hours…) in Paris. Beautiful sites, amazing weather, delicious crepes and a gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower. We got to see it in the daylight just as the sun was going down, so it was perfect timing. I think all three of us were on cloud nine watching the Eiffel Tower light up as we ate crepes and baguettes in a nearby park. That moment literally made the whole trip worthwhile for us (again, ironic given it was a London vacation).

Paris

Thankfully, though, we hit a groove on our last day. We (and by we I really mean the middle) mastered the tube, we felt relatively comfortable with the currency and stuck to a short and specific set of bucket list items (as opposed to day following Harry Potter where we tried to tackle the whole freakin’ city with the aid of a hop-on, hop-off bus tour – although we naturally chose the not so punctual company, either). For once we didn’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated with London. Success!

I think the greatest success, though, is how well the sisters got along and stuck together. Particularly given how crammed our living quarters were and how much time we spent with one another, it could have turned ugly. And that’s not to say there weren’t frustrations and mini breakdowns, including my own. But I couldn’t have picked better ladies to have such…interesting, shall we say, adventures with in London. They made the trip worthwhile for me, bad luck and all. Plus now we have fantastic stories to share (like why we only got 6 instead of 9 hours in Paris…which out of respect for the little won’t be blog material).

And just to be on the safe side, we’re going to start planning our next sisters trip. It’s likely years away, but lesson learned: you can never plan too much for international travel. Take that to the bank!

“The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.” Kendall Hailey

Gearing up for December

I couldn’t be more thrilled that December is here. Not only does it mean the hectic month of November is over, but it means I can really start looking forward to the holiday season (although being able to wear sandals with this 50-degree weather has me thinking it’s spring… I’ll be in for a rude awakening when I actually have to pull out my winter coat).

Primarily because of everything going on last month, I feel a bit out of sorts. I’m still trying to get my body to figure out some concept of day or time, and yesterday’s workout was a bit harder than it should be (although walking around London counts as exercise, right?). My sisters trip to London was definitely an adventure, but in some ways it feels like I need a vacation from my vacation.

In an attempt to get my life back on track, I’ve surprisingly been re-energized by focusing on goals. It’s (sadly) been awhile since I’ve had my monthly goals or really given any thought to the monthly action plans I created for 2012. Looking back, I’ve done pretty well with most of those goals just naturally, but there’s nothing like checking something off a list or putting one of those clothepins in the jar. I like that feeling of accomplishment, and with a new year just a few weeks ago, I figured it was the perfect time to end the year with a bang.

This month I primarily want to focus on purging and organizing – both broadly and specifically (if that even makes sense). I need to start with the basics, which namely includes my closets, shelves and desk, which is where I always seem to struggle (particularly now that it’s a craft area as well). By the time the new year comes around, I don’t want a lot of stuff weighing me down or cluttering up my apartment. I can’t promise I’ll tackle it once and for all, but at least for a few weeks or months I’ll have some order to the mess that is currently my spare bedroom/craftroom.

Then I want to get down to the nitty-gritty, which primarily pertains to books (and probably more once I put more thought into it). It’s a little sad thinking about how many books I own and haven’t read. On my bedside stand alone, I have 5 books I’ve been meaning to read and also 2 library books. That wouldn’t be bad until you consider that I have three other bookshelves and my Nook… Not that I’ll be able to part with any books. I think it’s just time to take stock of the books I need to read and start tackling those before I have another massive splurge at the library or used bookstore. Thankfully winter provides the perfect opportunity to leisurely reading.

A lot of this need/desire for organization is fueled by reading Happier at Home (I actually read it for a bit on my first flight and it prompted a great chat with my seat-mate Helen, who was also coincidentally traveling for her own sisters trip). One month was focused on making her home more functional and comfortable, and getting rid of the items that weren’t useful or didn’t have much sentimental value helped not only organize her house, but also made her feel better mentally. After last month, that sounds like exactly what I need.

The other message from her book that’s resonated with me lately is picking a theme for the new year. Lindsay also uses this concept, with her word for next year being “expand.” I’ve got a pretty good idea of what mine will be for the next year, but given that I came up with it in about 45 seconds, I want to give it a bit more thought. Stay tuned!

Monthly action plans

I finally made my new year’s monthly action plans bucket! It’s a mouthful to say, but I love it.

I was inspired by a bucket my sister found on pinterest last week. I actually found a jar at Michael’s for about $3.00, and I was easily able to slip scrapbooking paper inside the container. I’d been really nervous about whether I would find a jar/container that I could get a 12×12 piece of paper fully around it, but with this, I had about an inch to spare.

What’s really great about it is that the paper  is interchangable, which I don’t think is the case for the one on pinterest. I bought two different paper designs and ultimately decided on this one, not only because I love the word love, but also because the black stickers would show up better. And thankfully pen worked quite well on the clothespin! I’d tried a thin Sharpie marker first, but that bled, so I’m glad I found something that worked.

So without further adieu, the bucket:

Like I mentioned earlier this week, the goal for my new year’s action plans was to find things that would enhance my life, not leave me feeling like a miserable failure. My bucket has 10 clothespins reflecting things I’d like to do each month, although I just ended up adding two clothespins (#11 and 12) that are about half the size of the one in the photo:

  1. Read 1 book (ideally more, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?)
  2. Try a new recipe
  3. Take on a new craft project
  4. Volunteer (visiting my adopted grandmother could count, but I’m hoping to go beyond that each month)
  5. Meditate
  6. Add to my quote journal (love quotes but I’ve barely even touched the fabulous journal I have for writing down memorable ones…)
  7. Call my parents (need to start getting away from email and embracing the phone)
  8. Make time for me (take an evening or day to spend however I choose — crafting, reading, writing)
  9. Put money into my savings account
  10. Budget/summarize spending (time to cut down on the amount of money I’m spending on caffeine…)
  11. Call the middle sister
  12. Call the little sister

Like I mentioned, I added the two smaller clothespins after I took the photos. I was initially going to do a “Call sisters” clothespin along with the rest, but it ran into the Action Plan wording. Plus if scheduling didn’t work out to where I could only chat with one sister, could I count it as a completed goal? Too many ‘what if…’ questions came to mind, but I wanted to make sure they were a monthly goal since they’re my girls and I want to make sure I’m making more of an effort to chat with them on a regular basis. So I compromised, and it still stayed an even number. Phew.

While there are still a few other over-arching goals I’m hoping to accomplish in 2012 that aren’t on this bucket, I figure this will keep me accountable or at least remind me to have a life outside of work and responsibilities. My workout log is set and now my action plan bucket is finished. Definitely ready for the new year, albeit a few days late.

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