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!

Four months to go…

My old college roommate had a blog post last week about being six months away from turning 30. It hit me that my milestone birthday is only four months away — a good reminder to check in with my 30 Before 30 List.

I was a bit relieved to find that 21 are officially done. Even better, the remaining are at least in progress. Not that it would be a huge deal or disappointment if I didn’t fully cross those off the list (there might be one or two where I don’t meet the full goal, like number of new states visited). Really this was just my way to not be so overwhelmed at the prospect of turning 30.

Although I have to admit I’ve still been feeling a bit uneasy about this next birthday. In some ways I don’t feel like I’m where I’d like to be as I approach the big 3-0. I’m not married or even in a relationship, I don’t own my own house or have kids on the horizon. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on the silver lining.

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I’m not necessarily where I envisioned being at this stage, but I’ve made immeasurable progress in recent years and when I look around, life is pretty damn good. My career is heading in a fantastic direction, I love the activities and organizations I’ve been able to participate in this past year or so, and I’m (clearly) crazy about my furbaby.

And in the meantime, there’s still lots more to accomplish and see in the world. Who knows — maybe I’ll even end up creating a 35 Before 35 List. Then again, maybe not….

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach In progress…I’ve got an excel file with my options and met with a life coach to talk through them
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! 
4. Find a work mentor DONE! 
5. Obtain a new job, ideally public health related DONE!
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career DONE!
7. Join a professional organization DONE!
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress…attending a panel discussion followed by a board matching event in a couple weeks

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE! And did a second one, too!
2. Learn to meditate In progress…attending a class on Nov. 5
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment DONE!
5. Log 2,000 miles DONE! Hit my final mile for it on 10/17/15

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! And still taking quite a few
2. Adopt a dog DONE! By far the best accomplishment on this list ❤
3. Have a technology-free weekend DONE! 
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE! About to do this for a play, too
5. Donate blood DONE!
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE!
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal DONE!
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 90 books In progress…20 more to go
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress…it would help if I would stop taking photos
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days DONE!
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress…three more go visit
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress…9 more to write and send
6. Participate in a book club In progress…the one I was supposed to join in October got postponed
7. Hit 500 blog posts DONE! My thankful Thursday post on the leadership institute put me at 500

New searching technique

I tried something a little different this week when I was searching for new recipes as I made my meal plan for the week. Typically I search for things on Pinterest like “healthy dinner recipes” or “low carb recipes,” depending on what mood strikes. This week, however, I searched for recipes that had great leftovers.

For some reason the first thing that jumped out at me was a crock pot ham and potatoes au grautin recipe. Following my grandma’s funeral when I was in middle school, I was overdosed on scalloped potatoes. For that reason, it’s rare that I crave something like this dish. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s probably more that I’m indifferent to it.

The one slight modification I made to the recipe is that I didn’t use reduced fat cheese. In part it was because I couldn’t find it at the store and there was no way I was using the fat free cheese. I think I settled on colby jack or mild cheddar — can’t quite remember which.

Cooking it on high resulted in dinner in about three hours, which was perfect timing for a walk with Hurley and a few household tasks. So it wasn’t too much carb overload (particularly for lunch leftovers at work, which would knock me out), I tried to make half of the plate veggies (with lemon pepper, since I love adding that to steamed vegetables).

potatoes

Thankfully the recipe was a success! Tomorrow I’ll be on day three of the leftovers and I have no doubt it will be just as good. It might be a recipe to consider again around the holidays when there’s leftover ham.

The second recipe would be good at any point in the year, though this cool (and glorious) weather seems to be perfect timing for it. Last night I whipped up taco soup, and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for this one. Mixing beef broth, rotel and cream cheese? I definitely had my doubts. Apparently they were unwarranted, though.

I did add two cans of beans to this as well and was tempted to add corn, but figured I would keep it relatively simple. I love that I could make it in about 20 minutes. Paired with veggie tortillas, this really hit the spot (especially with all the seasonings I added to it).

taco soup

The leftovers of the soup tonight were delicious, so Pinterest proved to be right again. In fact, I almost think the leftovers are better since it had a chance to thicken and the spices were more prominent. Heck, maybe searching this way will help me have more luck in not getting tired of leftovers so quickly… One can only hope!

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.

Ladies night

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

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

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

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

Crockpot pizza

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

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

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

Inspiration

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

Crafting

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

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

Hurley

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

Canvases

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

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

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

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!).

Cravings and favorites

Here it is, only the second week of June, and I’ve already made more new recipes than I did in all of May. Things are definitely starting to get back on track, and thank goodness for that!

For some reason I’d been craving Chinese food. With my goal of only eating out once each week, I thought it was safer (given it was only Monday…) to make my own dish. I decided to try skinny orange chicken with quinoa. I’m pretty sure I’ve made something similar to this, but the sauce on this was much thicker, which I appreciated.

Orange chicken

It didn’t quite get rid of my craving (I think because I wanted fried rice or lo mein noodles, but quinoa felt like the better choice) though I was really impressed with the leftovers. With such thick sauce, it was packed full of flavor up until the last serving of leftovers. At that point I’d also added some broccoli as well.

Later in the week I thought about making the black bean tacos I made about a year ago that I absolutely loved. As I scoured pinterest for the recipe or something similar, I found honey-lime sweet potato, black bean and corn tacos. Given I love all those things, I decided to give it a whirl.

What was really nice about the recipe is it literally took me 15 minutes. In part it was short prep time because I didn’t bake or broil the sweet potatoes. Instead I sautéed them on the stove along with the onions. I got back from a run with Hurley around 7, and I was eating by 7:20. That’s my kind of prep.

sweet potato taco

In part I mention the prep time on the tacos because, despite being a rock pot recipe, this recipe took a bit longer to pull together than I thought, though it’s entirely of my own doing.

 

Somewhat as a sidenote, I love Swedish meatballs. Love them. Growing up, one of my mom’s friends made fantastic Swedish meatballs and I always wondered what her secret was. My version was simply browning meat, adding in the sauce packet from the grocery store and milk, then mixing it with egg noodles. Good, but definitely not anything to write home about.

Monday evening I decided to try slow cooked Swedish meatballs. As I mentioned, I made the process a bit more complicated for myself. For starters, I decided to make own meatballs using ground turkey. It didn’t take long, but it’s usually a bit messy (at least for me) to blend in all the seasonings and bread crumbs so it’s thoroughly mixed.

I also made the decision to make my own gravy. They were the packets from HyVee, mind you, but it was half the price of the jars of gravy and seemed a bit more legit since I’d be “making” it. And making gravy demands my full attention. I’ve been accused of ruining Thanksgiving or Christmas gravy one too many times, count, so that’s one cooking task where I don’t dare multi-task.

Once it was all in the crockpot, it was smooth sailing. I got back from my 5K training with Hurley and the kitchen smelled heavenly.

Swedish meatballs

I’ll admit I wasn’t as over the moon with it as I thought I would be on Monday night. Then today for lunch I had leftovers. Holy Toledo. So delicious! The gravy/sauce thickened up and it was the perfect blend. Even in the photo from Monday night you can tell the sauce is a bit runny and didn’t really stick to the pasta. But today it did. I still can’t get over the difference between the two. If it increases the odds of me finishing off leftovers, though, I’ll take it!

Then came my favorite recipe — healthy blueberry banana bread. Blueberries were on sale at the grocery store, and berries are something I can rarely turn down. I’d already done my typical blueberries in oatmeal, cereal and salads. Why not bread too?

Blueberry banana bread

I think this was one of my first times using applesauce in bread, and it turned out surprisingly well. But then again, it’s got blueberries and oatmeal. What’s not to love (at least for me)? It’s proving to be the perfect snack at work, too (very needed today given I was in back-to-back meetings for seven hours today).

And given my long day, I’m off to curl up with Hurley, a mug of hot tea and a new book. Perfect soon-to-be-stormy evening.

2015: Living with intention

Unlike last year, where I struggled with what word would best shape my goals and mindset for the new year, I’ve known for about three months what I wanted my word to be for 2015. This year I want to focus on living with intention.

Intention quotes

In some ways it builds on the things I talked about in 2014. I’m naturally very goal-oriented, but I want to be sure that the things I’m pursuing are in line with my values and ambitions. I don’t want to use goals as a scapegoat to where I have a false assumption that I’m progressing in something. What’s worth my time and energy to really put my heart into? Does how I spend my time, money and energy reflect my priorities?

Part of that process will be deciding what my priorities are and to what degree I invest myself in those areas already. It certainly ebbs and flows, depending on what’s going on at work or with my schedule (traveling, holidays, etc.). But am I giving Hurley the time/attention he needs? When I do allot time for work or other projects, is it getting my full attention? Are the relationships I have healthy?

I’ve started some of that reflection through the leadership institute, which is how I further confirmed that one of my core values is “well done is better than well said.” I want 2015 to be about living that value. If my health is important, then I want my actions to reflect that. It’s ridiculous how many times I say things like, “I should stretch more” or “I need to spend more time volunteering.” Instead of saying those statements (over and over and over again…), this year I want to actually do something about it.

To help with that, I’ve started a journal to jot down those “should” statements. What’s been on my radar that I just haven’t gotten around to for whatever reason? And I’m not documenting it as a way to have another to-do list. In some ways it might be that, but moreso I want a way to see what it is that I’ve said I’m going to do. What’s holding me back from doing those things? Time? Money? Or are they things I feel like I should do but don’t really want to? In some cases, I may just have to accept that something isn’t a priority for me or not something worth my time/money/energy.

For things that are a priority, though, I want that start being intentional about making it part of my life or at least making progress in that particular area. That’s where because I said I would came in handy. In fact, I made one of my goals for 2015 a promise to make sure I put my money where my mouth is.

because I said I would

Their facebook post from earlier this week got me even more jazzed up about my focus on intention this year:

promise

I know there are a lot of naysayers when it comes to making resolutions, and admittedly it does seem strange to have this obscure date where you create them. But the sentiment couldn’t be more true: my health, my goals, my ambitions are not a joke. What am I doing to make progress on those very things? How can I step up and start doing all the things I say I would like to do?

That’s what 2015 will be about for me. It’s time to start living more out of intention instead of habit, to actually do the things I say I’m going to do. It’s a big undertaking and it will take some time and self-reflection, but like the year of daring myself, it’s exactly what I need.

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