Creating checkpoints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

deep dish pizza

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

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

Chicken gnocchi

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

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

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

Creating the first week

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

brene

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

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

Tuesday night

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

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

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

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

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

lunches

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

Taco casserole

Taco casserole dinner

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

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

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

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

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

A long December (and subsequent long post)

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

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

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

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

Create.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring on 2016!

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.

11990445_10100411394319694_2531344045778697365_n

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. ❤

Ladies night

This is probably a clear sign that I’m getting older, but given how energized I felt after a night of crafting, I’ll take it.

Last night a friend and I decided to have a girls night focused on making a canvas. It’s been something we’d talked about doing for months, and now we’re hoping to make it a monthly event (just in time for holiday crafts!). It was also nice to discover my canvasing skills weren’t too rusty. It’s been probably a year and a half since I’ve made any type of canvas.

We started with dinner — pizza in a crockpot. What was nice is I was able to whip everything up and throw it all in the crockpot before we ran to the craft store. As usual, I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, and I nixed the green peppers. I did throw in mushrooms and black olives, which are typically staples on my pizza. I toyed with the idea of throwing in pineapple but decided against it.

I also made a homemade sauce, using this recipe as a starting point. Of all the foods I’ve made, I’m fairly certain that pasta sauce is my favorite. There’s something magical about it (strange, I know). It’s different each and every time, but it always turns out delicious. And naturally we paired the pasta with some garlic bread.

Crockpot pizza

Next time I make it, I’d probably mix the noodles with the sauce prior to putting it into the crockpot. Although my leftovers may chance that approach. Having the sauce on top of the noodles instead of mixed in, I find, doesn’t dry the sauce out as much for leftovers. We’ll find out tomorrow!

After dinner it was time to get down to business. Before dinner we’d spent roughly an hour at Hobby Lobby trying to figure out what to make. Initially I was just going to mod podge a collection of calendar quotes that I had. Seemed like an easy way to get myself back into the canvasing game (plus I really need to do something with the stack of quotes on my desk…).

But then my brain went into over-drive, as it tends to do when I’m in Hobby Lobby. Plus I had Pinterest loading tons of sample DIY canvas projects. It took some time, but finally I settled on something for the dining room, using these as inspiration:

Inspiration

The color scheme came together a lot easier than I thought. I’d been wanting to incorporate more of an olive green into my house, and the blue helps tie into the living room rug. Plus these two colors offered such a nice contrast to each other.

Crafting

It was the writing part that worried me the most. I’ve used paint markers on a canvas with mixed results, and I didn’t trust myself to write it out with a paint brush. Thankfully in the aisle was an acrylic dimensional writer. It’s similar to paint you’d use on a shirt. After a few trial runs in pencil, I decided to just go for it.

Around that time, Hurley decided to join the party. The poor guy gets anxious during thunderstorms, so I had a sidekick for awhile.

Hurley

What I love about these projects is how quickly they can come together. The paint dries relatively quickly, so I was able to hot glue gun the letters on before going to bed (which these letters coincidentally spell out). I woke up this morning and fell in love with the canvases all over again.

Canvases

I may go back with the hot glue gun again or maybe even super glue to make sure the letters are really bound to the canvas. Once that’s done, though, I’ve got the perfect spot for it in my dining room. I’m itching to hang them up but know I need to be patient…

I’ll be sure to post more photos in a week or so. I may even have a photo of the canvases my friend was working on, too, since I loved her concept. More importantly, though, in a week I should be able to showcase the DIY project that middle and I have been working on (for what seems like forever now…). I literally am giddy about starting one of the last two tasks today!

Crock pot recipes to the rescue

I’m finally DONE!

May was rough, but I almost feel like that was a training program for the last few weeks. A series of deadlines and work travels had me burning the midnight oil and using up any ounce of brain capacity (not to mention free time) I had.

Thankfully on late Friday afternoon, I got to submit my huge evaluation report (48 single-spaced pages of pure text plus 27 attachments) and the evaluation plan for this next grant year (another 30 pages). It was exhausting, but the silver lining is that my love for evaluation runs deep. Even as I was submitting the report, I was thinking about how we could do it differently for next year. Quality improvement at it’s finest!

Needless to say, I took the weekend (and the first two days of the week) to celebrate and let my mind relax. As an aside, if you’re near a Cheesecake Factory, you should try the blueberry white chocolate cheesecake. It was delicious, and both of us were surprised when our server told us they were taking it off the menu. I may need to venture there again before that happens…

cheesecake

My efforts to stay somewhat healthy amidst the stress didn’t pan out quite like I’d hoped, though what can you do? At least I tried to get a few homemade meals in the mix. I started last week with a crockpot beef stew. Despite the heat, for some reason this sounded like it would really hit the spot.

Plus this was the first beef stew recipe (I think) where I’ve used mushrooms. I actually sautéed them first, but otherwise I followed the recipe as is (this is also one of the first beef stew recipes where I’ve used tomato soup). Paired with sourdough bread, I definitely had some home cooked comfort food to get me through the week.

beef stew

This weekend I made parmesan chicken in the crockpot. I meant to make it earlier in the week, but better late than never right? It was something I’d been craving the week before during my work travels, but it was never on the menu. Thankfully this was really easy to whip up, though normally I think I’d prefer making my own spaghetti sauce.

It probably doesn’t make a huge difference, but I used chicken tenderloin. It seemed to make it easier to coat the chicken to have a good chicken to breading ratio, and it made it a little easier to eat. I threw this into the crockpot before going to work on a DIY project (should hopefully have that post up in about two weeks – it’s been a long time coming!), which made the house smell fantastic by the time I got back with the dogs.

parmesan chicken

It’s also nice that you throw on the mozzarella cheese right around the time you start making the pasta (I went with whole wheat linguine), so the timing works out really well.

parmesan chicken2

The next item on the docket? Meal planning for the week. Now that I’ve let myself splurge and get off schedule for the last few weeks, it’s time to buckle down and get more intention about life (more on that soon!).

Learning to hit pause

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

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

chocolate

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

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

broccoli cheese skillet

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

liz and kayla

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

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

I’ll get off my soapbox now…

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

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

korean beef

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

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

(Turkey) sausage, chicken and ground turkey

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

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

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

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

Skillet

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

buffalo chicken

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

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

cheeseburger

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

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

cilantro lime

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

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

Hurley

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?”)

Keeping it simple

Easy is the name of the game for the next two weeks. And probably for a few days beyond that if I’m being honest.

I gave myself a mini-break by spending the three-day weekend with the parents. Now with my move only 10 days away (and I have yet to pack a single thing…), it’s time to get down to business. Plus getting back early Monday afternoon meant I wanted to keep my trip to the grocery store super short and sweet.

For my dinner last night (and thus leftovers for the rest of the week), I tried a crock pot spinach and mushroom lasagna. It required a bit more prep work and dirty dishes than my other crock pot recipes have, but it was absolutely worth the effort.

In part because it was on sale, I used whole wheat lasagna. I also decided to use Italian ground turkey in the spaghetti sauce layer, which I think makes a great difference. Once the sauce and the ricotta/spinach layers were ready, the lasagna was easy to assemble. Plus my crock pot is almost the perfect size for lasagna noodles. The only ones I really had to trim were along the long edges.

Two hours later, I had this beauty.

crockpot lasagna

Probably because it’s smaller than the 9×13 casserole I’d normally use for lasagna, the layers were much thicker. It didn’t feel as thin and flimsy, for lack of a better word, as lasagna often seems to be when I make it (which quite honestly isn’t that often). This crock pot lasagna actually reminded me of a thick piece you’d likely get at an Italian restaurant, but made right at home.

The ricotta/spinach layer was just as delicious as the mushroom/ground turkey layer, plus it was a great way to get in extra vegetables. And all together, it was the perfect blend.

lasagna

Even the leftovers were fantastic — so much so that I don’t think I’ll have any problem eating it for the rest of the week.

Now if only I could motivate myself to start packing… Hurley’s just such a good distraction, especially since he’s so sleepy and cuddly from his weekend adventure!

Hurley

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