A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

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.

Intentional about intuitive eating

On Sunday as I was meal planning for the week, I came across a slow cooker creamy chicken crock pot recipe. It looked delicious and really simple to throw together. Plus it reminded me of a dish a friend made for me (with pasta instead of rice) during my last week in Columbia that I loved. (It’s hard to believe that was exactly a year ago!)

I did my typical, “okay, how healthy is this?” questioning before deciding whether to put it on the docket. I was torn since it called for cream of chicken and cream cheese (kind of selling points for me since it’s likely what makes it delicious…) and no vegetables (though they could be added). Should I find modifications? Find a different recipe?

And then to my surprise, I decided I didn’t care. I put it on the list and made it Monday evening. In addition to the can of cream of chicken, I also used cream of mushroom. (The blogger is right — with more chicken, two cans helps.) The smell alone when I walked into the house after spin class was worth it.

Why the shift? It’s primarily because in the last week or two, I’ve been focusing on intuitive eating (you could say it’s another area where I’m trying to be intentional). It’s something the little talked about while we were home for the holidays, and a rockstar I got my MPH with posted this article about it on her facebook page. (I rarely put plugs out there, but if you’re interested in healthy living topics, Real Nutrition and Fitness LLC is beyond fantastic!) The article drove home the point that by saying I probably shouldn’t have something because it wasn’t healthy, I was actually creating an unhealthy view of that food.

With intuitive eating, nothing is off-limits. It’s similar to the “everything in moderation” approach to eating without that moderation restriction. It’s about eating to fuel your body and knowing when you’re full. What I also love is that it’s about having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t need to beat myself up or somehow justify having a dish that had cream cheese (I don’t want to estimate how many times I’ve said or even written on my blog, “I know this isn’t all that healthy but…”).

Plus I was able to balance the meal out, and that’s what really counts. I paired the creamy chicken with brown rice mixed with quinoa (a genius idea from a co-worker!) and loaded up on veggies as a side. So really, the “unhealthy” thing I was torn about only constituted a portion of an otherwise healthy meal. And it was delicious to boot! Comfort food without being too heavy, which I always love.

creamy chicken

Last night I also did a balancing act of sorts (with trying to make half my plate veggies) when I tried an oven-roasted sausage, potatoes and peppers recipe. This is comparable to another recipe or two I’ve tried, but it’s the first time I’ve used banana peppers (which I love!).

I’ll confess that banana peppers were the only peppers I used, but it turned out to be just the right amount of flavor for me — primarily because I used chipotle and pepperjack chicken sausage. So delicious! The leftovers were equally great, too. What was really surprisingly is that I only used salt, pepper and garlic powder as seasonings. The strong flavor from the peppers and sausage made me a bit thankful I didn’t throw in red pepper flakes.

sausage potato pepper

I’d say intuitive eating is definitely winning this week (though it’s still an interesting mindset shift I’m trying to make). It also doesn’t hurt that I’m getting way more steps now that the weather is gorgeous and Hurley gets double the time walking. We don’t mess around with this spring weather and extra hour of sunlight!

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…

Intentional living space

I’ve been somewhat quiet about my word for the year, though I can assure you it’s not because I’ve forgotten about it or put it on the back burner. I’d be lame and say it’s because I’m trying to be intentional about what I post about my pursuits, but that’s not the case either.

Having to move did throw me for a loop in terms of kicking off the year. The things I thought I would get to focus on in terms of intention (time and energy were the big ones) fell to the wayside a bit. But it’s also been a perfect opportunity to be intentional about something a little different — and something I probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Right now I’m trying to be intentional about my living space.

Last week I took a community education class on feng shui, which was actually my second class on it with the same instructor because I find her so engaging. Plus it’s an interesting way to think about home décor and de-cluttering. One of the big points she stressed (though I’ve heard it elsewhere before) is that everything in your house should be useful, sentimental or beautiful. When I walk into my house, does it feel like home? Does it reflect me? Are there any items that spur negative emotions (the example the instructor gave is high school year books if you hated high school) that I can toss or donate?

Despite purging quite a bit last year when I moved to Lincoln, it’s ridiculous how quickly stuff can accumulate again. And thankfully this time around my level of sentimentalism (if that’s even a word) has decreased a bit since my move this time is 5 minutes instead of 5 hours. I can be more intentional about what stays and what goes. Have I actually used all my clothes, kitchen items and crafts in the last year? Am I honestly going to look through my economics or foundations of new governance notes again?

Those tend to be more rational questions, though. This time (although I’ll preface that it sounds a bit new age….) I’ve been aided by what I learned in my feng shui classes and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to focus on how I feel about objects. (Again, I know it sounds strange.)

As an example, though, I love my custom-built kitchen counter (hello new coffee bar!) and my entertainment center (which will likely become a new color in the next couple weeks). Those are pieces that were crafted with hard work and family, that are specific to me and what I love. You couldn’t pay me to give those things up in the move.

But there are also items that I’m not crazy about or that don’t necessarily bring out those positive emotions. That’s where I’m trying to be more intentional about sending them on their merry way.

With seemingly perfect timing, just a couple days ago someone on facebook posted a #40bagsin40days challenge. I immediately decided to embark on it to help with this process. Not only will it help me with packing and setting up my new house, but it will also help me accomplish my 30 Before 30 goal of going through my photos and computer files. The focus of just one area a day (though the next few days are about to get hectic with that), helps me take baby steps and not feel so overwhelmed with all the clutter (though it’s primarily the electronic clutter that’s driving me nuts). Just yesterday I whittled my work inbox down to nine emails. NINE!

But I digress.

I think part of the reason I was so resistant to moving is that I love what my home became. For the first time since leaving my parent’s house a decade ago, I feel like my living space finally reflects me and the things I love. But my hunch is that will happen much faster in my new home. I’ve been given another opportunity to purge and be intentional about what goes where — with more space and a sunroom!

your home

If only the long process of packing and physical moving didn’t come first…

Summer “goals”

I often go back and forth on the need for goals (not the long-term ones, mind you, but more along the lines of the monthly goals I had last year). Although I love creating them, it’s important to make sure that they’re meaningful, that I’m not just using it to fill some void or distract me from the larger goals I really want to pursue but seem intimidating.

A few weeks ago I got an email from the librarian that managed to light a fire in me again. Without fail, he’s always asked, “What’s the next big thing for Liz?”

Great question.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve necessarily become complacent. I prefer to look at it as giving myself a breather once I made the big move, particularly after getting Hurley. Although I’m the type of over-commit and get overly involved, I wanted to instead take it slow in developing my own routine and getting comfortable with my new surroundings.

All that being said, it’s time for me to be more diligent about embracing the good life. So I did what I do best: I googled, researched, made lists, and put 10+ books on hold at the library. It was through that process that discovered the Packing Light book, which then led me to the author’s blog. While I was skimming that, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I got to this post. It was exactly what I was doing.

It was my intention to come up with a list of summer goals. In fact, I’d already started a draft post with about half a dozen goals. But then I decided enough was enough. As the author so eloquently stated, “What I’m talking about is how, at some point, you have to stop asking, stop researching, stop polling the audience, and start living.”

That’s what I intend to focus on this summer.

Instead of being specific and laying out all my goals for the summer, I’ve decided my approach will be to try 12 new things. During my research phase I created a googledoc of different places, events and organizations to check out to feel more connected to the community. It could be as simple as trying a local coffee shop or as intimidating as going to a meetup group activity (because I naturally joined three during my crazy googling spree).

It’s also my intent to have some of these new ventures be connected to larger goals I have on my 30 Before 30 list or as part of my year of daring myself. That includes things like taking up a volunteer activity (turned in my application for the library last week!), learning yoga (starting with the basics, not just by jumping into a class) and joining a professional organization.

Particularly given the range of activities, I didn’t want to specifically say I’d do one new thing for each week of the summer (and really, I’m not sure if it’s actually 12 weeks, but that’s about what I remember and seems like a good number). In part I avoided that since I knew I would beat myself up if, by week five, I didn’t accomplish something for that specific week. Plus I already know two of my events will occur during the same week. I didn’t want experiencing Lincoln to be too rigid or stressful.

The bottom line through all of this is that it should be fun. I don’t want it to be a chore or something on my to-do list. I want it to be a way to start living the good life in Lincoln. It already started with a bang on Friday night at the minor league baseball game. Gorgeous weather, a new friend and an exciting game. Not a bad way to kick off my summer.

2014-06-13 21.00.23

One down, 11 to go!

Embracing the good life

Three years ago to the day, I started this blog (hard to believe, huh?). While initially I hadn’t intended to revamp my blog on this specific date, it did provide a good deadline to actually make the switch…

A couple months ago I wrote about changing the concept of my blog. Although the content wouldn’t change much, the theme of navigating life after school didn’t seem to apply anymore (seeing all the recent Facebook posts/photos about finals and then graduation very much reminded me of that). Plus I wanted a layout that seem a bit more bright and bold (mission accomplished!).

The struggle was trying to find a new theme or concept, particularly since the content would be more or less the same. How are recipes, DIY/craft projects and life chat musings summarized in a creative or witty way? Nothing jumped out at me. I did find some inspiration from Dwell on Joy and Lizzy Writes, and while it seemed comparable to what I blog about, it almost seemed too professional and structured for me. Sometimes it feels like there’s no rhyme or reason in the topics and life ponderings I blog about. I guess I’m just not as settled, for lack of a better word.

Throughout the searching, though, one idea was always in the back of my mind. A day or two after mentioning I wanted to change my blog name, Lindsay suggested making it about the good life. Since I was moving to Nebraska (where the state motto is The Good Life), it seemed like a good fit in embracing my new surroundings and life. And undoubtedly, I’ve been able to capture new DIY projects for my house and love showing off my fur baby.

It didn’t seem concrete enough until I ran across this article. (It’s Are You Making the Most Out of Life? Here’s How You Can in the event the link doesn’t go directly to the article.) Mistake number two sold it for me — you can’t put the good life on hold.

That captures what I’m trying to embrace now. You really can’t put happiness or your health or experiencing life on hold. Despite knowing that, it’s still a struggle for me (which is partially why I made this year about daring myself). My mentality has always been “first I’ll do this [finish a project, save money, workout, etc] and then I can enjoy (fill in the blank).” I’ll travel when I have more money. I’ll take that class when I have more time. I’m generally one to play it safe.

But as the old saying goes, if you wait for the right conditions to do something, it’s probably never going to happen.

Case in point: Hurley. I’ll be honest that I didn’t feel entirely ready to take on a dog of my own (particularly since it happened in a 72-hour window). It requires time and money that I hadn’t adequately planned for and it felt rushed given I’d only been in Lincoln for a month. But had I waited for the right conditions, I wouldn’t have my baby bear. He brings a level of happiness to my life that I absolutely couldn’t get anywhere else and he’s been the perfect addition to my life (and my doggie niece’s as well).

And really, it works because I’ve been able to find a good balance. That’s why I loved that the article’s summary point was that “the Good Life is a balance, and must be, because there isn’t a finish line.”

One of the big aspects of navigating life after school was realizing that, for the first time, there wasn’t a finish line in my life. I wasn’t working toward the end of a semester or degree. And when I tried to have self-imposed finish lines through goals, there wasn’t the sense of fulfillment I thought there would be. You accomplish the goal (like getting a dog), but then what?

That’s what my blog captures — the “then what” part. It’s my attempt to find balance and meaning, to embrace and enjoy the life that I’m incredibly fortunate to have, whether it’s through cooking or crafting or a Thought Catalog article I can’t help but share. Goals will always be important to me (and no way am I going to ditch the 30 Before 30 list!) but I also recognize the need to stop putting life on hold by hiding behind those goals and having a more well-rounded life, if you will.

So although it technically started two months ago, I’m officially embracing the good life! With my Type A tendencies that are heightened by all my coffee consumption, of course.

Before 30 mantra

The other day I realized that I’ve spent a lot of time blogging about recipes and food (nine of my last ten, to be exact…). That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but I miss the more interesting posts about DIY projects and life musings. I promise I have a few things in the works (primarily life chatty related, but hopefully craft related, too). In this meantime, hopefully this will suffice.

I’ve been re-visiting my 30 Before 30 List (don’t worry — no changes from the most recent version) to see my progress. With that on the brain, you can bet I wanted to read the 30 Things You Should Learn By The Time You Turn 30 article. I particularly like the third comment/lesson:

Good and bad things don’t happen to you, they just happen. Sometimes, the bad guy wins. Sometimes the hero doesn’t get the girl. I promise you that no one is sitting around conspiring to make you miserable. Life happens. It’s how you deal with the bad stuff and how graciously you accept the good stuff that makes you who you are.

Seems cliché, but that’s probably what makes it true. Thankfully that’s the shift in perspective I’ve had in the last year that perhaps comes with age.

For awhile my life mantra, if you will, was “it is what it is.”  I’ve since (thankfully) softened that approach. Not that it was a bad one persay, but the underlying message was moreso a “well, I can’t control what other people do or say so I just have to learn to deal with it and focus on controlling my attitude.” Not particularly helpful (and obviously my Type A control issues are quite prevalent…).

Instead what I’ve been discovering is a different cliché that’s becoming my new mantra: you get what you give.

If I portray a bad attitude or mood, that’s likely what I’m going to get in return. If I sit around and sulk, that’s not going to change the situation. Not that there isn’t a time and place for a good pity party, and I’m not going to fake being in a fantastic mood if I’m mad at the world. But like the lesson above, it’s how you deal with things that makes you who you are. “It is what it is” almost lets me blame the world. “You get what you give” puts it back on me.

There’s another quote I discovered recently that’s somewhat connect to that notion: “When you have a bad day, a really bad day, try and treat the world better than it treated you.” I don’t have to be brimming with positivity every minute of the day. Life happens, and there’s going to be good and bad. That’s life.

I guess with my new perspective, I’m just hoping to put more good out into the world than I am bad. It’s time to be a better giver, not just accept that it is what it is.

 

giver

Thankful Thursday #13

I’ve been meaning to get the Thankful Thursday posts going again, but it’s felt a little overwhelming with everything I’ve been thankful for as of late. I can’t even really explain how lucky I’ve been, especially with how well and quickly things came together this year. Suffice it to say I’m still eternally grateful about being a doggie mama who’s seven minutes away from the middle and has the job she’d described as her dream/ideal position for the last five years. Rarely do I forget to count my blessings.

Phew. All that being said, I can get back to the simplicity of this series.

Today I’m thankful for something relatively small. And I literally mean small: my FitBit.

There are certainly pros and cons to it. It’s a product that’s gotten a lot of hype and there’s a lot of chatter about which brands/products are better and if it’s really worth it. I wasn’t even aware of it until my dad put it on his Christmas wish-list, at which point I immediately put it on mine.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. I do know that it does wonders for me, though. As someone who loves data and setting goals (especially when it comes to health and self-improvement), this little device is perfect. It allows me to track my amount of physical activity (or lack thereof) and sleep (or again, my lack thereof) on a consistent basis to see how I’m doing.

I wrote earlier this year about what an eye-opener my FitBit was in those first few weeks. I’m all about health and consistently get to the gym. But that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good when the rest of the day I sit. And sit. And sit some more. I wasn’t leading quite the active lifestyle I thought I was, and that became very apparent.

That’s when lap-walking at the office became a thing. A few times a day, myself and whoever was feeling up to it would walk laps around the board room (I would not at all be surprised if we wore a path down on the rug…). It’s a habit that continues for me even now. Right around mid-morning each day, my new counterpart (also another L name, which makes me chuckle a bit) and I lace up our tennis shoes and walk laps in the basement of our building. Beyond just getting in those extra steps (and believe me, they add up), it’s also a great time for brainstorming, de-stressing and just chatting. And that change helps with my overall health, not just the physical activity.

When I got my weekly stats email just a few days ago, I couldn’t help but be thankful that my dad got me a FitBit for the holidays. Granted, my higher numbers are also impacted by the nicer (on some days, anyway) weather, having to park in a parking garage two blocks from the office and having Hurley as a walking buddy. But even so, it’s pretty great progress that I attribute in large part to my FitBit. We’re talking double and triple some amounts compared to my first week.

Jan fitbit

 

fitbit

I’d like to think the lap walking and concentrated effort to walk more (and throughout the day instead of just relying on one workout) would continue without the FitBit. But I can almost guarantee that if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be as committed. There’s something about seeing those numbers and getting that weekly email that keeps me motivated. (Now if only I would be more goal-oriented with my amount of sleep…)

Coincidentally enough, on the day I decided to blog about my FitBit, I got an email about a new red FitBit Flex. Not only am I obsessed with the color, but some of the proceeds (albeit small) go to the American Heart Association (heart disease prevention is one of my areas of interest in public health). To say I’m tempted is an understatement, in part because I want to see if I like it better than the FitBit One I currently have. Today I convinced myself to be thankful for what I have and not buy the new FitBit. But tomorrow is a new day…

Regardless of the brand or specific product, though, I’m thankful I’ve got this little gadget. While I can’t say it’s translated into weight-loss, it definitely makes me more aware of my overall health and helps me improve it. It might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely a great tool for me.

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