Shifting health gears

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

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

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

BBQ chicken

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

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

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

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

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

Enchilada

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!

Thankful Thursday #21

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

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

This quote in particular stood out to me:

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

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

Week. Made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluators

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

Thankful Thursday #19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurley

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

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

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

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

But let me start back at the beginning.

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

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

full before

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

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

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

Paint stripping

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

Round 1

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

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

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

chair back

chair side

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

Ready to sand

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

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

Sanding detail

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

anded table

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

Priming

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

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

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

Primed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half chairs stained

Chairs

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

celebrate

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

light top

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

final table top

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

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

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

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

final

final 2

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

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

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

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

It’s the time of the season

In some ways, this week’s meals had a theme now that it’s one of my favorite times of the year: salsa season. Growing up my mom always made us homemade salsa in the late summer, and thankfully the middle took on that tradition (also thankfully aided with food processors). Pasta sauces for me are like salsa for her. Each time it’s a little different but every time it’s so damn delicious.

Salsa

I apologize for that poor photo quality. If I would have been thinking, I would have snapped photos after we made it on Saturday….but that wasn’t my priority. Taste testing very much was, though.

Since we started the day by purchasing 20 pounds of canning tomatoes at the farmer’s market, I knew my meals this week would need to have tomatoes involved.

The first meal was actually the one I’d intended to make last week — one pan balsamic chicken and veggies. Sadly asparagus wasn’t on sale, so I opted for green beans and threw in some tomatoes along with the carrots. I also paired it with chicken rice, though the chicken and veggies would have been just find on its own.

Balsamic chicken

I had to plan my remaining two dishes carefully based on leftovers (as you’ll see shortly), so last night I made cheesy pesto chicken lasagna spaghetti squash. It’s a mouthful but folks, I found a winner! Not that I really have staple dishes, but this would undoubtedly be one of them.

What I didn’t realize (though probably should have) is that you can pre-cook spaghetti squash. I almost did it Sunday night but instead baked it Monday between work and the gym. When I came home, it was a matter of making the chicken (I actually opted for ground turkey instead of chicken) and putting all the layers together.

Steps

About 40 minutes later and I had this deliciousness. While I was putting the mozzarella cheese on, I half wondered if I could have gotten away with shredded mozzarella cheese. This is definitely worth it. It melted to perfection. Plus I loved that I didn’t have to feel as guilty about spaghetti squash!

Final squash

In some ways it reminded me of swedish meatballs, though in part it’s because of the way I cooked it. Instead of buying pesto sauce, I purchased a packed and made it with the ground turkey. It added a ton of flavor, though next time I’ll likely mix some pesto sauce into the spaghetti squash.

The final dish is one I knew I likely wouldn’t get away with bringing to the office for lunch leftovers. I’ve never had fish tacos before, so given my access to delicious salsa, I decided to try blackened fish tacos with avocado cilantro sauce.

Instead of tilapia, I ended up going with mahi mahi since that tends to be my fish of choice. In addition to what was listed in the recipe, I also decided to make brown rice and also a corn, black beans and tomato blend to put on the tacos as well.

Taco fixings

The above photo isn’t great, but I love that there’s an add-on instagram app for photo collages!

Anywho, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the meal came together. I baked the fish according to the instructions (about 15 minutes), and that’s all the time it took to whip up all my taco fixings.

Fish tacos

I was pleasantly surprised by the avocado cilantro sauce. It was a really good pairing for the fish and I’m hoping it will stay relatively fresh for leftovers.

While it was good, I’ll likely stick with carnitas. Ever since I discovered how to make those (naturally with Chipotle’s copycat cilantro lime rice recipe), that’s been my meat of choice for tacos. I’d actually told the middle this past weekend that I’m not sure when I last made actual tacos with ground beef. Not that that’s a bad thing, though.

I’ll be honest that tonight’s dinner primarily ended up being chips and salsa, which didn’t come as a surprise to me. It’s a problem, quite honestly. Thank goodness salsa season isn’t too long or I’d really be in trouble! But for now I’ll just indulge and appreciate the good mix of recipes that came along with the purchasing of 20 pounds of tomatoes.

Beauty in Books 8 and the secret of life

I couldn’t entirely decide which direction to take this post, so I can’t promise it will be cohesive or flow well (and it definitely won’t be short). But it’s something that I’m slowly connecting the dots on in my own mind and wanted to share.

About a week ago the middle and I were watching Girl Meets World (you can laugh, but the show is surprisingly good and very reminiscent of our TGIF days). One of the episodes focused on discovering the secret of life, which Cory Matthews claims is simply that “People change people.”

In some ways that’s very true. I couldn’t even begin to count how many people have shaped and influenced me, whether they’re family members, teachers, colleagues or even dogs. Throughout my entire life, people have absolutely changed me.

I’d argue, though, that another big secret of life (and one I think we often forget) is that you can change yourself.

A few years ago, when I was probably 40 pounds heavier and hadn’t fallen in love with group fitness classes, I asked the middle if she could ever see me, honestly and realistically, running a 5K. After a few moments passed, she said no. I can’t remember her exact explanation, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that while I probably physically could someday, I didn’t seem to have the gumption to actually train and accomplish it. And she was right. At my size, I honestly didn’t believe I could.

Liz

(As a total side note, I sent this to the middle and the little about two years ago as part of our Woof Wednesday health motivation emails. The little replied with a “From what corner of hell are you dragging these out?” Reading it still cracks me up! And I should probably apologize for now making it public…)

Flash forward to yesterday, where the middle and I ran a 5K together. It’s my second one, though this one had far less training on my part but surprisingly a much faster time. That’s change, my friends.

Kolor Run

I firmly believe you can change yourself, but I think it’s important to know yourself first. A co-worker and fellow life chatter of mine has a quote on her desk that we often reflect on that, in some ways, applies here — to be a good leader, you have to know people. To know people, you have to know yourself.

In comes Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It essentially outlines a range of research about building and sustaining habits, in part based on your personality. This is a succinct version, but I was struck by the four tendencies she outlines at the beginning of the book. Not surprisingly, I’m an obliger. (The middle is likely a rebel, which is why she did a whopping two runs before showing up for the 5K yet still kicked butt.)

That’s when things started clicking for me. A little more than a year ago I posted about my weightloss journey and mentioned a big part of my success has been because of group fitness classes. Finding physical activity I love to do did make a big difference. But do you know what I think made a bigger difference? Having that external accountability from the instructor and others in the class.

“Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate — to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such a deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. … Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do.” (pg. 22)

Even though I love kickboxing and spin, a huge motivator for me is knowing I’ve got instructors who will ask where I’ve been if I’ve missed one too many classes. Heck, I love that my old kickboxing instructor in Columbia “likes” all the activities I log on MyFitnessPal. It’s why I religiously track my workouts in Excel and love my FitBit. I need that external accountability. In the case of the 5K, it was having a specific date for the run and knowing the middle was counting on me.  That’s what works for me (though knowing this years ago likely would have saved me a lot of time and energy…).

There’s another concept within the book that really resonated with me as well. It’s this notion that often our habits and behavior are in line with what others think of us and what we think of ourselves.

“Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identify, and from there, our habits. If I say, ‘I’m lazy,’ ‘I can’t resist a sale,’ ‘I’ll try anything once,’ ‘I never start work until the last minute,’ or ‘I’m lucky,’ those ideas become part of my identity, which in turn influences my actions.” (pg. 239)

Just a few sentences later I had another a-ha moment: “For years, I thought of myself as someone who ‘hates exercise,’ but at some point I realized that I hated sports. … Thinking of myself as someone who ‘enjoys exercise’ allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.” (pg. 240)

That’s exactly how I was. It required a mindset shift on my part. Just because I disliked sports and gym class growing up didn’t mean I had to dislike all exercise for the rest of my life. Hell, I’ve reached a point where I almost identify myself as a jogger (and I say jogger because running still seems a bit too intense and implies that I’m fast, which is again an identity thing). It almost reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continually tell yourself you’re not able to do a 5K and, chances are, you’re not going to be able to.

It’s all incredibly fascinating to me, but the thing I always want to keep in mind is that it’s still up to me to make that change. I show up. I push myself. I make it part of my life. I’ve had and still have people supporting and motivating me, but ultimately it was me that had to change. And I think that’s why Rubin’s book resonated with me so much. It’s about recognizing your preferences, identifying potential pitfalls and barriers, then finding ways to work around it so that you can create an environment and lifestyle that’s consistent with your goals.

Perhaps knowing that you can change yourself isn’t such a big secret to life. Maybe it’s just that we need a few tricks up our sleeve and reminders of our amazing capability to do so. And I definitely had a good reminder of that yesterday.

Starting fresh

I knew going into May that the month was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And I was absolutely right. Although I’m finally feeling like I can catch my breath, my brain is still playing catch-up (aided heavily by coffee). Long story short, this blog post is a bit lengthy but provides mostly includes snippets and photos (primarily because I’d been updating it throughout May so I wouldn’t lose the recipe links).

As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, the month started out with travel frustrations and a sinus infection that knocked me on my ass. I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt that sick. It did, however, provide the perfect opportunity to try a spinach tortellini tomato soup.

Tomato tortillini

My view is probably a bit tainted in that I couldn’t really taste anything. I think I just prefer soups that have a bit more substance, though, so making it more like a chili would be more up my alley. At least it hit the spot for my sore throat.

I tried to get up and running the next week with helping the middle paint and move into her new house. It also coincided with work picking up for our CDC site visit. To keep myself going that week, I made a slow cooker turkey and wild rice casserole. I figured it was a good way to have some comfort food while also getting in some protein and veggies. It was hard to talk myself into eating leftovers after a long day, but it was much easier than having to whip up something else and less expensive than eating out (again).

Turkey rice

The three days of the site visit proved to be exhausting but oddly enough energizing. It was great to put faces with names and have two-way dialogue about our work. I’m not one who’s typically comfortable tooting my own horn, but I also had a fantastic #careergoal (as they say) moment during that visit. Twice (on the first day, no less) CDC staff jokingly asked if I would move to Atlanta. I also get to be part of a pilot evaluation project, which I’m beyond excited about. Have I mentioned I love what I do?

I’m also still loving my involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association. The third week in May wasn’t as hectic work-wise but volunteering picked up with two evening meetings (naturally it was the only month where both the committee meetings fell in the same week). One of those, however, was primarily a crafting meeting. My committee decided to create promotional fans for the Jazz in June events that we have a booth for each Tuesday night in June. I love having such a creative bunch!

ALZ fans

Then came the really hard part of the month. One week after the middle moved, my parents started their moving process. (We almost hit the trifecta given I moved just two months ago, so lots of life changes.) This one was a bit harder in that we’d been there for 23 years. It’s hard to say goodbye to your childhood home, especially with how much we all loved it, but there’s some excitement in the opportunity for a fresh start. Last weekend we also squeezed in a wedding and family photos, which turned out super cute. I especially love this sisters picture, taken by Perry Imagery. The funny thing is all three of us saw a similar photo on pinterest and loved it. Before we even had a chance to suggest it, the photographer lined us up and got the shot.

sisters

Needless to say, last week I’d reached my limit. Not even coffee helped refuel my mind or body. Enter the sour cream noodle bake. Comfort food that’s simple to make and reheats well. It was almost a cross between spaghetti pie and the lasagna skillet I made a couple months ago. The sour cream was an interesting twist, but I didn’t not like it. It certainly kept it creamier than I think it would have been otherwise for leftovers.

Pasta

Heading into the weekend, I finally started to get back on track. I even tried a Jazzercise class (though much prefer my Combat and spin classes, which were pretty hit and miss in May…) and started spring cleaning my house given it’d been relatively neglected for a month.

And through it all, I snuggled up on Hurley any chance I got. He’s been a trooper with all my schedule fluctuations and traveling. (If he doesn’t look overly happy in that photo, it’s because he isn’t. He was picking on his cousin so mama stepped in to break them apart for a few minutes. The fact that he stayed in that position for a few minutes is pretty impressive.)

Hurley

To say I’m ready for normalcy again (if there even is a normal) is an understatement. I’ve decided to give myself a fresh start this month, focusing heavily on self-care. I’ve also made it a goal (for health and financial reasons) to only eat out one time each week in June. Oh, and there’s also that 5K in two weeks. Because who wouldn’t let the middle talk her into training for a 5K in the midst of everything else? YOLO?

Marathon May, completed.

(I almost feel like I should quote Chevy Chase from Christmas Vacation — “Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”)

Thankful Thursday #18

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last week, it’s that mother nature always wins and it certainly has a way of putting things back into perspective.

My adventures started last Thursday. I’d been traveling for work and was more than ready to head home to my furbaby. Mother nature intervened. An hour before we were supposed to board, an announcement came that an incoming flight (the plane we were supposed to take) was struck by lightning. It was re-routed and they weren’t sure when it would arrive in DC.

As the hours passed, we realized there was no chance we’d make our connecting flight and nothing could get us remotely close to Lincoln. We retrieved our luggage to head back to our hotel for another night. Although I was beyond disappointed, I also felt a little lucky. I wasn’t on a plane that was struck by lightning. Could you even imagine? And instead of spending the night in a terminal, I got to go back to a hotel and had great conversations with my co-workers over a much-needed beer. The experience definitely bonded us in a way that nothing else could have (including the contagious giggle fits the following morning as we got more plane delays).

When we landed, I can honestly say I’d never been more thankful to be in Nebraska — particularly since the middle picked me up at the airport with a fountain pop.

Perhaps because of my long stint in the confined terminal of an airport for 12 hours, I ended up coming down with a head cold Saturday night. I honestly don’t know the last time anything knocked me on my ass this hard. Even today I’m still carrying around a box of Kleenex and Sudafed.

I’m not entirely sure mother nature is to blame for that one, but it was definitely a fluke thing I had no control over. I had no choice (quite literally) but to curl up with Hurley and give my body the rest it needed. No work (though I tried until my boss sent me home), no workouts, no nothing. There’s never an ideal time to go get sick, and this week was no exception. Somehow it was what I needed, though. (Now if only my voice would go back to normal…)

Speaking of Hurley, my big moment of thankfulness occurred last night. The middle closed on her new house last Thursday and we’ve been painting ever since (though she’s been burning the midnight oil way later than me).

Last night storms were in full force. As we were upstairs painting the spare bedroom, we were literally just having a conversation about how storms aren’t as fun and exciting when you’re an adult (in part because I’ve got an anxious dog) when we heard the tornado sirens. Dropped jaws and silence.

Why am I thankful? This is the first time we’d been painting at her house and actually had the dogs with us. Also thankfully, we only had torrential downpour, crazy lightning and loud thunder. (Although a house just a few blocks north of her was struck by lightening.) Tornado or not, you can bet one of us would have been in the car trying to get to the pups.

They weren’t to keen on the sirens or being confined to the basement, and they definitely weren’t crazy about the weather. But they were safe and with us. And after awhile, the babies were sound asleep.

doddies

Mother nature certainly makes you stop and count your blessings. When you realize how much control you don’t have in life, you appreciate the good fortunate and luck you do have.

Thankful Thursday #17

I’d say it’s been one of those weeks, but it feels like I’ve been saying that for about a month and a half now. Blogging about what I’m thankful for seemed to be a good mental break to help me refocus my energy and remember to take a step back.

Work. Although it’s been a source of my stress, it’s also been for very good reason. I had my one-year anniversary two weeks ago, which we naturally celebrated with coffee. I’ve often heard you hit your stride at the one-year mark, and I think that’s proving to be true. Plus now that we’re through grant season, the evaluation duties really kick into high gear. I’ve been working on an environmental scan tool, a partnership assessment survey and half a dozen Excel files. It’s exhausting, but I’m one happy camper.

Alzheimer’s Association. Last month I kicked off my role as a committee chair for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The other day we had our second planning committee meeting, and last week was the first meeting with my specific committee. It’s been SO fantastic to be working with such an engaging group of energetic people. Like I’ve been legitimately surprised by how much I’m enjoying my time with them. I’m being reminded all over again of why I love this organization and pursued a career in nonprofits/public service. (As a side note, feel free to join my team or make a donation!)

Family. There are super exciting changes in the middle’s life (I’ll wait for her to share that update — all I’ll say is it involves paint!) and I got to spend a low-key Easter weekend with my parents. Have I mentioned how much I love being closer to my family?! Even after a year here, it’s not something I take for granted. (And I did have a phone date with the little last week. She may not be geographically close, but her humor and perspective makes my day infinitely better.)

Hurley. He will always be at the top of my Thankful Thursday list, but this week he’s especially high on the list. For starters, his paw is fully recovered! The poor baby sliced one of his paw pads the Sunday before Easter, resulting a trip to the vet Monday morning and nearly a week of keeping it wrapped. Pitiful doesn’t even begin to describe how he acted for most of the week (but I have to confess I loved the extra cuddles). The second reason is a slightly happier note — we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary on Sunday! I met him a year ago on the 12th and my life has never been the same. One year (and six vet visits…) later, I’m insanely crazy about this yellow labrador. I think the feeling is mutual, too.

Hurley Bear

Perhaps it’s time to get back to keeping my gratitude journal. Once the move hit, that habit fell to the wayside. This was definitely a good reminder that stopping to count your blessings and take stock of what’s going well is a much-needed energy boost and attitude adjustment. But Hurley’s been awfully good at that as well. ❤

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