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!

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!

Transition time

This week my body seemed to be utterly confused. I’m one of those crazy people who tends to turn on the Christmas music after Halloween (I figure there’s a short window for enjoying it so I may as well take full advantage of it). The 70 degree weather made it difficult to even attempt anything related to Christmas, though in no way was I complaining about that!

In fact, it meant I nixed the gym quite a bit to take Hurley on long walks along the trail instead. I figure I’ve got the next 5+ months to hit up spin and BodyCombat classes. How many opportunities am I going to get to make this guy’s day (aside from my typical smothering and spoiling, that is)?

Doggie Trail

Regardless, meal planning gets a bit tricky with the shortened daylight. I opted for a crockpot recipe on Monday so it would require minimal prep time while allowing me to eat dinner at a decent time. This time the winner was a beef stroganoff recipe that caught my attention.

I did appreciate the minimal prep, and it’s the first time I think I’ve ever used cream of onion before (which I’d recommend for dishes like this). This dish seemed to have a lot more flavor than previous stroganoff recipes I’ve tried. I’d been tempted to add peas or some type of vegetable to it (instead of having it on the side or with a salad) but sometimes you just have to let yourself indulge.

Stroganoff

In retrospect I would have cut back on some of the cream (either the cream of mushroom or halving the cream cheese). I’m not sure if my stomach can’t handle creamy foods as much or if I just know the impact heavy foods have on my energy level/workout ability, especially having it as leftovers for lunch. It may be that I picked up on it after day four or five of leftovers, though. I really do need to start cutting some of the recipes I try in half…

On Wednesday I tried an entirely new recipe for me — mini muffuletta meatloaf. I’d never come across anything like this, and it sounded delicious. I did switch out the pepper mix and instead used a black olive bruschetta I found at the grocery store. And I used ground turkey instead, which altered the flavor a bit. I also decided it would be less messy on my end to just cook one loaf.

Meatloaf

I was pleasantly surprised by the recipe, though I shouldn’t have been given all the flavors I love. It was also relatively quick. One thing that typically deters me from recipes like this is trying to find side dishes. I wasn’t quite as successful this time (salad and green beans), though I should have paired it with a baked sweet potato. Oddly enough, I think it would have been a good flavor combination.

The goal for next week is to have meals that are slightly more well-balanced. I’ve realized I tend to gravitate toward Mexican dishes since it’s easier to incorporate a range of foods (vegetables, grains, protein). Perhaps that’s what I’ll find on the docket for next week (along with putting up my Christmas tree since we have a holiday on Wednesday)!

A daring year

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is coming to an end. I’ve been reflecting a lot on where I was last year compared to this year, and I honestly don’t think I could have picked a better word/theme for my year. In fact, I’m almost sad to see it go. Maybe that’s why it only seemed fitting to have one last daring act — chopping my hair.

haircut

I was hoping for something a bit more meaningful or truly daring to end the year with a bang, but for those who know my history with the terrible haircut circa 2009 (I called the little and cried because it looked like a mullet…), this is pretty big. I mean, we’re talking nearly 7 inches off the back. The fact that I legitimately love it is the cherry on top of my year.

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what 2014 was going to hold for me. Last year was a struggle. All I really knew was that I needed a change. And I can still vividly remember having the song that inspired the word daring come up on my iPod as I was driving to Lincoln for a night with the sisters before heading home for the holidays. I needed something to snap me out of the funk that I’d been in for the latter part of 2013.

“It’s me talking to myself and I think a lot of times I feel stagnant and stuck in the same place,” says Jon. “And ‘Dare You to Move’ is kind of a song for myself to get me up and get me moving and tackling a new part of life.”

Daring was what I needed.

A few months ago I came across an article (and I’m so glad I copied this since the link doesn’t work anymore!) about overcoming obstacles. This particular passage seemed to best capture my sentiments:

My point is, shit happens. Randomly. But here’s an amazing human capacity: We can use virtually any experience as a catalyst for hopelessness or growth. We can see the world as if everything is meaningless or as if everything is meaningful. Each of these positions is equally untestable. So we get to choose.

Many came to say their “bad luck” helped them find strength and resilience they didn’t know they had. They seemed genuinely joyful, transformed in real, measurable ways by terrible mischances. But this positive outcome never happens by accident. Turning a culpa into something felix is a deliberate act of focused attention.

That’s what my year of daring became. It took hard work and deliberate action to usher in a new part of life, to get myself unstuck. It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine, but underneath even the bad days or experiences, there was genuine joy. I mean, how could there not be when I come home to a furbaby?! And such a handsome one at that!

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I’ll be blogging more about how all of this translates into my theme for 2015 (as if there was any doubt that I would…), but somehow it seemed appropriate to start that transition today. Tonight the little flies in and we get to have a sisters night in Lincoln before heading home for the holidays. And unlike last year, I’ll already be in Lincoln, comfortable in my cute rental house with Hurley after spending a day at work talking about evaluation and chronic disease prevention. Even though this has been my life for eight months, it still blows my mind.

Daring is definitely what I needed.

Pre-holiday eating

With the holidays coming up next week, I wanted to be efficient with my meal planning for this week (read: I only wanted one trip to the grocery store and minimal food to worry about going bad). Thankfully I found two recipes that fit the bill and provided great leftovers. Type A planning for the win!

My dinner on Monday night was a bit risky. I probably should have known better than to attempt the recipe, but I’ll say upfront that it turned out to be a better success than I anticipated.

There’s a Chinese food place in Lincoln that I can’t get enough of — like if it were socially acceptable (and really, just easier on the pocketbook and waistline), I’m pretty sure I would be there weekly. The other night I was craving their lo mein but decided to attempt a chicken lo mein recipe in place of it.

I struggled with the snap pea pods. Not that I don’t like them, but they didn’t seem to be the green stuff (for lack of a better word) I typically find in lo mein. The middle wasn’t sure what it might be either, so I opted to use spinach instead. I also added mushrooms since I had them for a recipe later in the week as well as green onions.

lo mein

It wasn’t restaurant quality, but I was pleasantly surprised. And the leftovers were great too, which is what really counts. Someone at the office (not knowing I just heated up leftovers) even asked who ordered Chinese food. I’d consider that a win.

Tonight I switched gears a bit and made slow cooker risotto.

Holy. Cow. I’m absolutely making this again.

I’ve tried making risotto before, so I’m not sure if it’s because it was made in the crockpot or with arborio rice (normally I’d just use brown rice) or what. All I know is it really hit the spot.

For the most part I followed the directions – at least when it came to the liquids. I didn’t want to overshoot the heavy cream or even the cheese. The modifications I made to the recipe were only an attempt to add color and a bit of nutritional value. While I was sautéing the mushrooms, I added in the extra spinach I had and also green peas.

I was also surprised it took two hours from start to finish. It’ll be perfect for nights where I’ve got a class at the gym — especially on nights where a glass of wine is in order.

risotto

Since I’ll likely be indulging quite a bit next week, I probably should have focused a bit more on the health factor. But isn’t that what the new year is for?! More on that later… I promise I have more substantial posts in the queue!

Hibernation prep

I have to admit I’ve been a bit of a grump lately. The culprit? Mother nature.

On more than one occasion last week, I wondered what in the world possessed me to move to Nebraska. Last weekend featured 50-degree days that were perfect for the dog park. By Tuesday, however, Hurley and I could only go out for about 15 minutes because we’d reached single-digit temps. How did this happen?? All the sudden I’m in search of snow pants and a full-on face mask so I can get Hurley out on walks in this god-awful weather (though once it warmed up enough to actually snow it was more bearable).

Clearly six winters in Missouri made me weak.

But whining and complaining about it isn’t going to make the next five months any easier. This weekend I decided to confront winter head on, knowing that the cold temps and snow are here to stay.

With the help of the middle (and not so much the canines…), I got plastic insulation on most of my windows. I also put up thermal curtains in my bedroom and purchased heavy-duty door mats to help with the wet boots and Hurley tracking in snow and mud. Oh, I also put air in my tires. First time I’ve ever had my low tire pressure light come on before. Thanks, mother nature.

I also got an offer I couldn’t refused. Since my neighbor and I share a driveway, he offered to do my half this winter using his snowblower. I’ll take it! (Though by my second shoveling outing this weekend I’d developed a system to make it relatively efficient should I want the workout.)

As the weekend came to an end, I let the aroma of beef stew fill my nicely insulated house. The craving came on Saturday when one of my old kickboxing/spin classmate (I couldn’t think of a more appropriate word) posted a photo of her beef stew on facebook. It seemed like a perfect kickoff to winter. I looked at half a dozen recipes or so on pinterest before decided on this crock pot beef stew recipe.

There were a few modifications I made based on my own preferences. I’m not a huge fan of beef stew meat, so I opted to just get half a pot roast. I also didn’t include celery (since I knew I’d likely just pick around it) and threw in green beans and mushrooms. And I must say, it was nice to have a full size crock pot.

stew

The flour at the end really did the trick in thickening up the stew. Initially I wished I would have cut down on the beef broth (in part because I only used one pound of beef instead of two), but it was a good ratio in the end. Great comfort food with a nice mix of vegetables. Plus it puts canned soup to shame.

beef stew

Hopefully winter won’t be so bad after all… At the very least, I know I won’t have to be under house arrest for days on end. I forget that snow doesn’t phase people here. But I may opt to hunker down with Hurley anyway.

Halloween spirit

Given the middle has a knack for holiday sweaters, last Friday night we had a sweater crafting party in preparation for Halloween. Given how much I love pumpkin everything (but also simply because I found a bright orange sweatshirt that would make it super easy to make…), I decided to run with a pumpkin. And naturally a goofy one.

pumpkin

Had I been smart, I would have printed the pumpkin and then traced it onto paper instead of trying to free-hand in (in part because I’m type A and want consistent, accurate measurements). That’s typically what the middle does and what I did for the one or two Christmas sweaters I crafted with her last winter. But thankfully the pumpkin was simple enough to create. I just traced out two eyes and the mouth on black felt.

felt

All it took was a little fabric glue and I was set. The result was lots of “that’s so cute!” at work. Perhaps because the pieces are larger (and because I only have three), it felt a bit more intact, for lack of a better word, than my other holiday sweaters. I suppose it’s true that less is more. Although not for the middle. Hopefully she blogs about her Halloween sweater, too. You can definitely tell she’s got a gift (or maybe it’s just patience, which I don’t possess a lot of while crafting) for making them!

sweatshirt

Now to get back to my pumpkin spice coffee…

Festivities and food

As luck would have it, Hurley ended up going to the vet on his birthday. Something at the dog park (the vet suspects he got stung) caused an allergic reaction. His snout swelled up and hives showed up on his head. He looked so pitiful! All I wanted to do was squeeze his little chubby swollen face (as did most of the veterinary staff and other visitors because of how sweet he looked, particularly being glued to my side).

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All I’ll say is that the vet is lucky she got a calm mama (I wasn’t feeling so calm internally…) and he got lots of cuddles that night.

By yesterday morning he was feeling much better. Although I normally love the 4th of July festivities with lots of fireworks, Hurley does not (same is true for thunderstorms because of all the loud noises). We decided to keep it low-key with good food and fun yard games.

I love using gatherings as an opportunity to try new dishes. I knew I wanted to try a strawberry salsa, but there were so many different variations. Ultimately I decided to try this strawberry salsa with cinnamon sugar chips, which turned out to be a great decision (although I cut the amount of strawberry preserves in half since it seemed to give it a less fresh taste).

salsa

As you can probably tell from the photo, I kept my strawberries in the food processor a little too long (that thing is such a huge timesaver, though!). But overall it was a big success. The middle was going to use it for a party she’s got today, and I’m definitely going to throw it into my rotation of snacks — once I find a slightly healthier alternative for chips and minimize the sugar in the salsa.

Knowing how much the middle loves broccoli salad, I also tried this quick and easy broccoli salad recipe. It was super easy to follow, and my only modification was using turkey bacon. The salad definitely needs to be chilled in the refrigerator. I was nervous when I first mixed it together because there was so much liquid (even after I drained some of the water), but by the time we got it out for dinner, it was the right consistency and mix.

broccoli salad

Particularly with the gorgeous weather, I’d deem this 4th of July a success. I’m not sure what Hurley’s take on it was, though. He’s still in bed trying to recuperate from all the activities and festivities…

Food love

It’s been awhile since I posted, but you know I couldn’t let a holiday pass without doing at least something a little creative.

I’ve always been a sucker for Valentine’s Day, in part because I’ve never really connected it to being a singles awareness day or anything like that (probably because when I was growing up I woke up to cute cards from my mom on the bathroom or kitchen counter).

When I spotted this on pinterest a few weeks ago, I knew it would be perfect for work. It was a bold move nixing the chocolate, though other co-workers made up for that. Plus I love a good pun and play on words. I opted for a larger tag so that I could write a brief note on the back for each lady, which I thought would overpower the fruit, but I think it turned out cute.

fruit

The food indulgences continued into the evening with a “Drinks, Dips & Dessert” potluck (because who doesn’t love those three things, especially when you’re sharing it with fabulous friends)? It was hard to narrow it down to just one dip, but in the end I opted for a warm caprese dip.

caprese dip

This dip was fantastic! It was great with both french bread and also crackers, though I think near the end we were all just stealing bits of the cheese. Next time I’d add throw in a few kalamata olives, but otherwise I thought it was the right combinations of flavors.

I fully intended to just make the caprese dip, but as I was grocery shopping the night before I decided to throw caution to the wind and started googling.

I’d had my heart set on some type of cheesecake dip for whatever reason. This cherry cheesecake dip was the starting point, though mine ended up being quite different. First, I cut the cool whip in half since other recipe had equal parts cream cheese and whipped cream. Since I wanted it to be a dip, I nixed the graham cracker crust as well. The final change was that I used strawberry pie filling, primarily because it was $2 cheaper but also because that sounded a bit sweeter than cherries.

So really, I mostly came up with my own recipe. It doesn’t look all that fancy or nice, particularly in my tupperware, but it was a-mazing! Just looking at the picture is making me crave it. Even the lady who doesn’t really care for sweets loved it. Success!

cheesecake

We thought about making cute pink or red drinks, but you know what else is red? Wine. Why make it harder than it needs to be?

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