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!

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!).

Intentional scheduling

As I’m trying to establish somewhat of a new routine, my focus of being intentional is shifting from my house to my schedule. (Primarily because I no longer have to dedicate my free time to packing or unpacking boxes!) I’m trying to be more strategic in how I schedule my days to hopefully maximize my productivity and balance.

A few weeks ago my life coach had me track my energy levels throughout the week. Using the energy levels log template I found on this website, I created my own tracking system in excel (naturally…) and was really surprised by the results. I actually found that on days when I work out at 5:30/6 p.m., I’m usually at a level 7 or 8 while I’m working out. The hour leading up to it, though, I’m only at a 2 or 3. No wonder I have to muster up a lot of motivation and accountability to get myself to the gym!

Having this information allows me to be more intentional about when I tackle certain things in my life. I shouldn’t aim to start a new project at work or make a personal budget on a day or during a period of time when I naturally have lower levels of energy. Those are the times when I can focus on less draining activities, like laundry or organizing my work inbox.

Not that there is always that flexibility or option, though. I can’t schedule every meeting I have during periods of high energy/engagement. But I can make small tweaks. I’ve noticed, for example, that my energy level really drops right before lunch. My solution? Scheduling my walking break with a co-worker around that time.

What was also an interesting discovery for me is that there were times when I would have high energy levels (in part due to coffee…) but couldn’t really capitalize on it because I didn’t have much focus. Those were times when I’d try to tackle half a dozen things but not really accomplish anything (probably because I got overwhelmed by having four draft emails, two excel spreadsheets and three word documents open).

As luck should have it, I was reflecting on all of this around the time that I was reading Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson. (My life coach was inspired to become a life coach because of this woman, so naturally I had to read a few of her books, too.) It helped me have another “a-ha!” moment when it came to focus and my need to cultivate that more:

“Teaching yourself to stay focused on one project, goal or opportunity at a time will not only allow you to be more productive and effective, it can also challenge you to go more deeply into the task at hand and bring forth more creative insight and wisdom. Too often we try to ‘cover all the bases,’ respond to every opportunity, or provide every possible service that someone might need, in hopes of striking success. But the truth is, long-term, sustainable success often comes from the ability to stay focused on one project or goal at a time.”

That’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about in the coming weeks, particularly at work. On any given day, I’m dealing with at least five different program areas. On Thursday afternoon, for example, I had back-to-back meetings. The first focused on evaluating early childcare education nutrition standards, the second on data collection for our diabetes prevention program evaluation plan and the final on patient-centered medical home clinic transformation.

I don’t mention that to complain or toot my own horn. I love the diversity of my job and the fact that I’m helping evaluate so many different facets of chronic disease prevention and control that collectively could help individuals lead healthier lives. But I can tell you it takes a toll on my energy levels and what I feel I’m giving to each program.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t always control when all my meetings or webinars are scheduled. What I can control, though, is how I spend my non-meeting time at work. Perhaps on Mondays I focus just on school health and on Tuesday I look at our diabetes prevention programs. Would creating a structure like that enable me to be more intentional and focused with the projects I’ve got at a given time?

That will be my area of focus for the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll move on to the larger focus of my life schedule since it does extend beyond just work. I love that Richardson mentioned that we try to cover all our basis and offer any service to others in hopes to gaining success. Hello, well-rounded over-achiever! In fact, one of the current “assignments” from my life coach is to identify all the balls I’m juggling and look at which ones (whether it’s volunteer opportunities or specific classes at the gym) I might be able to drop. I’ll have to plan for that activity when I’ve got a higher level of energy…

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!

10806448_10100264753389294_5910232377486287663_n

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.

A week of normalcy

Despite the typical doldrums of a Sunday evening, I’m breathing a sigh of relief for the upcoming week. Hurley and I won’t know what to do with ourselves! Last week (naturally when I was out of town) was the last session for my community education yoga class on Monday night and the chronic disease self-management class I was teaching on Wednesday nights.

Compared to what it’s been for the last few weeks, my schedule looks surprisingly empty (and it’s very needed). This freedom, however, left me feeling a little overwhelmed when it came to meal planning. I didn’t have to plan out the distribution of my leftovers as extensively as I’ve had to in the last couple months. It was also strange knowing I had two extra nights during the week to actually cook a meal instead of having salad or cereal.

Complicating matters a bit is that I really wanted to get back on track with healthy eating. Last week I spent four days in Atlanta for work, and sadly workouts in a hotel gym don’t even come close to canceling out the food indulgences.

(As an aside, I had a total fangirl moment when I got to the CDC for our grantee meeting/conference. And you can about imagine my excitement at being in a room to network and brainstorm with dozens of evaluators, where I was introduced to this accurate graphic).

evaluator

Although the trip was a great learning experience and full of fabulous food, I came back feeling not so healthy after lots of cheat meals, if you will. My goal for this week was to find recipes that would give me the comfort food I was craving without all the carbs and calories. I knew I was taking a slight risk with spaghetti squash carbonara, but it seemed to fit the bill.

I was thankful for a relatively straight-forward recipe. Actually, I think what complicated the prep process were my own additions of onions and peas, since that’s generally what I think of when I picture carbonara. I couldn’t get the bacon to be quite as crispy as I was hoping (perhaps because it was turkey bacon?) but in the end, I must say I was pleasantly, pleasantly surprised with how the dish turned out.

carbonara

It’s definitely a dish I’ll be making again, especially since it only requires me to pick up a few ingredients. It almost made me chuckle to think of how often I’ve been eating spaghetti squash in the last few months. Who would have thought the girl who initially blogged about not caring for it now makes it two or three times a month?

At least the week is off to a good start. This girl is definitely ready to get back into a routine. Maybe that will help convince Hurley he doesn’t need to be my shadow (although let’s be honest, it’s incredibly sweet and endearing).

Hurley

Savory success

I had to consider the spicy black bean tacos I made on Wednesday night a success for a couple of reasons:

  1. I bought and used a whole green pepper. (I even threw some in a salad!)
  2. My food processor was finally used for something other than banana ice cream.
  3. Except for one meal (when I was at a mini-conference for work), I ate vegetarian for six days.

To be honest, these weren’t in the forefront when I decided on the recipe. I saw it on pinterest, it sounded good and I put it into my weekly lineup for meals. And thank goodness I did.

While I followed the directions for the black bean portion, I did make one swap to the corn salsa. Instead of the red peppers I used three tomatoes. I figured it was more like a salsa that way and I’m not overly fond of red peppers. Just to be safe, I only used a portion of the jalapeno and onion.

To say I loved this is an understatement — and that’s saying something. There was a crunchiness to the black beans that almost made it better than ground beef or turkey. And the salsa? Fantastic! I actually ended up adding more to my tacos because it was so fresh and full of flavor. It will definitely be one of my staple summer dishes.

Screen shot 2014-06-12 at 10.18.53 PM

Another perk is that, between that and the Tuscan chicken skillet minus the chicken earlier in the week, I ended up eating primarily vegetarian.

Doing that wasn’t entirely unintentional, though I don’t have plans to become a vegetarian. I recently finished reading Gutbliss and thought I’d make a more concerted effort to focus on fruits, vegetables and beans. It also didn’t hurt that at a mini-conference on Wednesday (coincidentally my only meal including meat this work week), Dr. Ann gave the luncheon speech. Her guidance isn’t all that different from the standard dietary guidelines. What sold it for me was her focus on the brain and the impact nutrients (or lack thereof) can have on it. Since my brain is my money-maker, I hopped back on the health bandwagon full force.

(As a side note, I’ve opted to not blog about every book I read. Some aren’t all that pertinent to my theme or worth writing about, with Rob Lowe’s autobiographies being an example. Although I will say he surprised me as a writer. Those two books weren’t even on my radar until I was drawn into an excerpt about sending his son off to college. I was surprised by how moved I was reading it and that it was so relatable to my own experience, minus it being his son.)

Thankfully I’ve found a recipe that hits the mark when it comes to nutrition and taste. I made more corn salsa this afternoon with the remaining ingredients and even the middle is now obsessed with it. Let’s hope this health kick lasts, if only for an opportunity to find equally fresh and delicious recipes.

Thankful Thursday #12

welcome

I am so thankful that my move (for the most part) is done! I ended things on a great note in Columbia and am excited to start the next chapter.

In all honesty, it wasn’t nearly as difficult or rough as I anticipated (at least physically, since goodbyes are never easy). The packing tips I found on pinterest helped me pack way more effectively than I would have otherwise, and I got to spend quality time with some of my favorites in Columbia.

And to top it off, I had a surprise visit from the little (another thing I’ve been incredibly thankful for this week)! For some reason the middle and her boy were hell-bent on hitting the road as quickly as possible on Saturday. Little did I know it was because the boy was picking up the little at the KC airport and they’d been planning this for weeks. I’d share the video of the reunion, but I’d spent the morning loading up a rental truck and am in tears for most of the clip…

My first few days have been busy yet relaxing. I’ve gotten lots of quality sister time and since I haven’t started work yet, I’ve been able to dogsit my adorable niece (not only does my place allow dogs, but I’ve got a fenced in backyard, so you know it’s only a matter of time before I’ve got a dog of my own!). I’m sure many more trips to the dog park are in our future, especially now that spring is officially here (though I’m not holding my breath on that one…).

Mocha

This is definitely going to be a good move for me. Now if only I could finish unpacking and get into a routine…

Thankful Thursday #11

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

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

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

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

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

TOR

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

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

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

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

Daring switch

As some may already know, I got some exciting news recently. This year is all about daring myself to do more and be more, focusing on myself and what I really want out of life. And this is definitely a big step in the right direction.

In just three weeks I’ll be packing up my entire life and moving to Nebraska to start a new position as a Chronic Health Evaluation Coordinator (does this scream Liz or what?!). I’ve definitely got some mixed emotions about the life changes, but there’s not a shadow of a doubt that this is the right next step for me.

I mention all this primarily because for the last couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about the purpose of my blog. Namely, the title.

life after school

(Is it sad I wouldn’t want to change the name because I really enjoy the banner photo?)

At this point, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m navigating life after school. Even though it’s only been a few years and a number of my friends and the little are still in school, I feel removed from the whole school bit.

That wasn’t the case three years ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long!). I started this blog exactly one week before starting my current job. I’d just finished grad school, and while I wanted to blog because I was participating in Juneathon, it was also meant to capture my transition into adulthood, in part because I’d only known school. What does one do without class schedules and homework?

According to my blog, a lot of cooking, crafting, and life chatting.

Is that the purpose of my blog? If it is, how do I succinctly describe that? I’ve been trying to come up with something clever or creative, but nothing comes to mind (so any suggestions are absolutely welcome!). And in some ways I think it’s a struggle because more often than not, I blog for somewhat selfish reasons. It holds me accountable, it helps me process what’s going on in my life and gives me a writing outlet to share my experiences and inspirational factoids. It’s never been about having a ton of followers or making a name for myself.

What I do know, however, is that my focus and goal is no longer about defining myself as someone other than a student. I’ve already gone beyond that (and much to my surprise, I find I still don’t have as much free time as I’d like…).

Maybe I’m over-thinking it and it doesn’t necessarily need a specific focus. But that’s what makes me the type A optimist. In that respect, some things never change.

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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