Creating the first week

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

brene

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

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

Tuesday night

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

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

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

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

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

lunches

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

Taco casserole

Taco casserole dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Focus and finish

Tis the season (too soon?) for making progress on my 30 Before 30 goals!

Today I officially registered for my 5K. Cue panic.

GOTR

Technically I’ll be ready, but I’m still nervous. Especially since I saw there’s a 40% chance of rain/snow that day… But what can you do? Chances are the 5K in South Dakota the day after Thanksgiving won’t have favorable weather. Or favorable conditions physically given it’s the day after Thanksgiving.

This is going to be a mental test more than anything and not necessarily in the way that I thought. My frustration is that while I’m definitely gaining endurance, it doesn’t feel like I’m improving on speed. That probably comes with time and more training, though.

And to be honest, it wasn’t until the 5K got closer that I even cared about that. The mental struggle used to be convincing my legs to keep going when normally I would just stop.  I think what shifted my mindset is knowing the 5K is with other people. In the last two months, I’ve only done one of my runs with someone else (unless you count the three gorgeous labs I’ve had at various times). Running on my own helps me pace myself and focus on completing it, making the mental aspect easier to handle.

Perhaps I’ll surprise myself, though, and having Lindsay there will probably work in my favor. I  keep thinking back to the librarian’s comment that I shouldn’t make it bigger than it is. It’s not about how fast it’s done — it’s about accomplishing it. That’s the ultimate measure of success I was looking to gain. The fact that I’ve stuck to training for two months is already great in and of itself (and in 6 days I can cross off the training part of the goal!).

I’ve also been making strides on other goals, like marking another homemade card off my list. I’m about one-third of the way through my goal of making 30, and as promised, I thought I’d share the final products. I almost feel like it’s cheating to count the top left and top right separately since they’re so similar, but we’ll see how the remaining cards go before I decide to tackle an “extra” one.

Cards

For the next batch I’m hoping to get a bit more creative so it has more of a professional feel.  I haven’t attempted anything fancy yet since I have very limited crafting tools/supplies (but thankfully my mom has a lot from her years of scrapbooking so I’ll have to raid her craft area when I’m home for Thanksgiving…).

I’ve also got two more major goals in the works that I should hopefully get to give updates on in the near future. One is meant to be a Christmas gift so I’m moving it higher on my priority list. Between that and the 5K, I’ve decided my mantra for the next few weeks is going to be “focus and finish” (props to the co-worker who shared the phrase with me!). It’s time to get ‘er done, as they say. Or something like that.

A (very) mini-vacation

A weekend getaway (though technically it was only 30 hours, give or take) was exactly what I needed.

There’s a cabin about two hours from Columbia that Lindsay goes to every summer that I’ve been wanting to visit as well. No internet, no cell phone service, no distractions. But how could I not be content with a lake, good friends, the gentleman, great food (including freshly picked blueberries!), books and a gorgeous chocolate lab?

I was fortunate to have a few mini-vacations this spring/summer but this trip was rewarding in a different way. This time there was no schedule or even decisions to make (aside from which book I wanted to read and where I’d want to sit to get optimal sun exposure). Even though we were only there a short while, we both commented on the drive back that it felt like we’d been gone a lot longer. And in my mind, you can’t really ask for a better outcome for a weekend trip.

Lake

L&L

While we were there we decided to try new recipes in the quaint kitchen. Lindsay had been wanting to make spring rolls and I spotted an easy pad thai recipe, though I knew I’d be the judge about whether it was actually easy. I’m happy to report that the only real difficulty we had was finding the right ingredients.

I only made two modifications to the dish — I didn’t use crushed peanuts since I’m not a fan (and I don’t think the others are huge fans either) and I didn’t have any Sriracha. I was tempted to buy it, but rarely do I buy the optional ingredients.

Thankfully the two missing ingredients didn’t make a difference. I was really impressed by how much it resembled pad thai from a restaurant. And it looked great as well:

Pad thai

The spring rolls were also fabulous, though Lindsay will probably blog about those. In the future I’ll probably add chicken, vegetables and/or pineapple to the pad thai since it felt like it was missing something, but I’d definitely make this again. I still can’t get over how simple it was!

After such a relaxing weekend, it’s been a struggle to get back to being productive and functional. It was even a bit overwhelming to check facebook this afternoon, which actually prompted an interesting conversation with my adopted grandmother. She’s been reading The Blue Zones and one of the key components is disconnecting from technology to give yourself the break you really need. I’m starting to see why. Must make a note of that for a future monthly goal…

Connecting the dots

While we were at a conference last week (it’s actually a bit ridiculous how excited I still get about data analysis and research…), Lindsay commented that she doubted she would be getting her MPA if she hadn’t met me. After the initial aww reaction/shock, I thought of the one who encouraged me to apply to grad school in Missouri. The school wasn’t even on my radar and I know if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here (particularly since she mentioned it just a few days shy of the application deadline).

Naturally, I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What makes it even crazier is that I didn’t really intend to stay in Missouri after my MPA. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend over lunch about how we never pictured ourselves staying in Missouri after finishing school. Three years later for her and two years later for me, we’re still here. Because of that, though, I got to meet Lindsay (and thank goodness for that!).

Where would my life be without those series of decisions? At times it completely baffles me how different people can shape your path at different points of your life. And somehow it all connects and makes sense. I know I’ve quoted him before, but Steve Jobs knew what was what.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Being a research nerd and a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, I also love her quote that “That’s the thing about a human life-there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.

This whole concept was, oddly enough, a conversation I had with the individual I spent time with at Project Homeless Connect a week ago. Neither of us have many regrets or spend much time thinking about how things could have been (which I actually really admired about the individual). It’s not even that we made all the right decisions — it’s that we put those decisions in a larger context, if that makes sense. We trust that it all connects.

In reality, there’s probably no way to really know with absolutely certainty what decisions or variables are right, but I’ll always contend that all the choices I’ve made have been the right ones for me. It could be naivety, but I don’t like to entertain “what if?” thoughts. Even thought I’m an overly-cautious, Type A perfectionist, I’m not a coulda-woulda-shoulda gal. Maybe in a few circumstances I am, but on the whole, I’m with Steve. If you trust in yourself and the connection of everything, it really does make all the difference.

And that’s my deep thought for the day.

How I Spent my Weekend

I won’t lie – after I made the declaration that I was throwing out the to-do lists and responsibilities for this weekend, I panicked. It was a toss-up as to whether I would feel invigorated or lost. Would I even know what to do with myself? And did it count if I still had mental to-do lists running through my head?

Thankfully I had fabulous weather and even more fabulous friends. It was actually slightly ironic that on Saturday I did end up sitting by the river. It turned out to be a perfect day for the winery.

On Saturday I didn’t do a single “productive” thing. I made myself brunch (family vacation last summer made me an expert pancake maker), read while drinking coffee and spent the day out and about with friends. Instead of working out, running errands and cleaning, I got to enjoy the winery, dinner with friends and a show for a local band.

And the best part is I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. At no point did I think about what else I should have or could have been doing or even what the next week would have in store for me.

Today I did succumb to getting a few things done – namely zumba and grocery shopping. I may have been determined to let my mind and body relax this weekend, but I wasn’t about to start the week off on a bad note by not getting at least those two things done.

Outside of that, though, I didn’t guilt myself into doing anything productive. I read, wrote, cooked, relaxed – basically everything that overcast, rainy days are intended for, and it was fabulous. I don’t know if I’m fully ready to tackle the week, but at least I feel like my weekend was actually a weekend. I need to make that happen more often!

It is what it is

I’ve decided that’s my life motto for an indefinite period of time — it is what it is.

It’s pretty apparent to most people that I’ve got a Type A personality. I like control, I like to plan, I like knowing what’s next so that I not only know what to anticipate, but I’ve also got a Plan B and Plan C. If I see something I don’t like or want to improve, I set out to fix it.

And you know what? It’s exhausting.

I also think it makes me a basket case.

The thing is (amazing what kind of revelations you can have at the gym), it’s impossible to think I can control that much, and I certainly shouldn’t be trying to do so. Not only that, but it also wreaks havoc on my mood and attitude, which isn’t at all conducive to my happiness project.

Take today, for example. We got half an inch of snow, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal. I grew up in good ol’ SoDak and I know how to handle snow. Unfortunately, I forget that being in South Dakota meant we were ready for winter weather and Missouri isn’t always on the ball. Instead of accepting it (picture a calming “it is what it is” mantra), I instead feel my blood pressure rise and frustrations brewing on my commute to work. By the time I make it to the office (still by 8:00, thank you very much), I’m flustered and not at all ready to take on the day.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You should see me with things that really get the better of me. Like I said, basket case.

So I decided it was time for a change. While I was pondering my new life motto, I actually thought about one of my favorite Elizabeth Gilbert quotes:

There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I can read and eat and study. I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life-whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts.

I can choose my thoughts. I can choose to fill them with profanities as people get a little too brake happy on slick roads, or I can let it go. I can choose whether I’m going to let it ruin my day or instead I can choose to see the positive – there’s a perk to living in South Dakota!

So I’ve decided that it is what it is. I can’t change how other people drive or how they communicate with me or carry out their business or lives. I can only control my thoughts and reactions. And let’s be honest – I probably have enough crap going on in my own life that I don’t need to concern myself with all the other outside noise.

At the end of the day, it is what it is.

My education

I spent the last two days at the Missouri Association for Social Welfare’s annual conference. It’s always a different experience when you’re helping put on the conference instead of just attending, but let’s be honest, it’s not too hard to get me fired up and inspired. By the end of it, I had yet another renewed focus of what my role is and why I do what I do.

These past few months it feels like with the more conferences I go to and the more service events I help out with, the more grateful I am for my parents and my upbringing. Just like with Project Homeless Connect last Friday, the last two days were spent hearing heart-breaking stories and discussing how we can make a difference.

And let me tell you, people – these are not things grad school teaches you or prepares you to face.

Lately I’ve been reminded of one of the readings I did for a class probably a year and a half ago. It was an interview with Mechai Viravaldya about his public health efforts with family planning and STD prevention in Thailand. At one point in the interview he made this comment:

As a youngster, I was taught by my parents, who were both physicians, that they expected something sensible out of having spent all this money on the education of their children, something that would make the world a little bit better and would help a few people. Their admonition to me was, ‘If people like you work only for money, who will help the poor? We educated you to help other people.’ This was the mandate and life understanding that I received from my parents. Through public service, I have worked to repay that debt to them ever since.

I love that I have the opportunity to do what I do, which is what I wrote about in my gratitude journal yesterday (as a side note: if the idea of a gratitude journal at all intrigues you, I highly recommend doing it – I love it!) At times, the line of work can be overwhelming, emotional and feels like an uphill battle. It’d be easy to be cynical or to stop listening to the heart-breaking stories. But that’s not what I went to school for or how I want to live my life. I’ll just have to learn to bring a box of kleenex and a stack of thank you cards to future conferences and service events…

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