The Health Benefits of Gratitude

Good morning, y’all, and happy Tuesday!

As I wrote last week, my goal of late has been to focus on — and be grateful for  — the things I do have. That’s not to say that I want to ignore or not deal with the sadness of my preliminary diagnosis, but rather to acknowledge and process the bad stuff while focusing on the good stuff.

After all, the practice of cultivating gratitude has some pretty profound effects on both physical and emotional health. Some of those benefits include better sleep, improved mood, greater social connectedness, a greater tendency to exercise (!!!), deeper relationships, increased longevity, increased productivity…the list goes on.

According to a growing body of research on gratitude (some of which was cited in a recent article published on HuffPost), “those who view life as a gift experience a boatload of benefits, from a better mood to stronger relationships to better health and resilience. Gratitude, in a sense, is a muscle and as such requires exercise to stay fit and functional.”

In that same article, the author delves into some of the details on the research:

  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison …
  • In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) …
  • Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions …
  • Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.

I started keeping a gratitude journal in college, and it made a world of difference. Even though I don’t always write things down any more, I still have a nightly ritual of choosing five things from my day to be thankful for before I go to sleep. There are certainly bad days when it’s a struggle to come up with five new things — and when that happens, I have no trouble relying on gratitude for what I refer to as my Big Five: my family, my husband, my friends, books, and coffee. (Priorities, amirite? Basically, relationships, books, and coffee form the Holy Trinity of my life.)

While I have plenty of practice with a basic, baseline level of gratitude, I’m trying to kick it up a notch in order to help deal with the stress of these recent medical shenanigans. I’ve been making a concerted effort to focus on the things I do have — so, with that in mind, here’s a wee list of things I’m diggin’ and for which I’m thankful:

  • I said this yesterday, but it bears repeating: I’m so very grateful for all the kind comments, emails, and messages we’ve gotten from people in the wake of our news. Old friends from high school and college have come out of the woodwork on Facebook to tell me their own similar stories, and peoples’ kindness has been overwhelming.
  • Summer thunderstorms: I loooove me a good thunderstorm, and last night didn’t disappoint. We’re also due for another round of storms tomorrow night, and I might be just a tad excited (and by “a tad,” I mean absurdly) about it. Yet another awesome thing about our new apartment is that we have a great view of the westward sky, so when thunderstorms blow in, I’m able to stand at the window and giddily watch the lightning show outside.
  • Vitamin and probiotics gummies! Y’all, I’m a child at heart…and apparently in my taste buds, too. I saw Li’l Critters calcium and vitamin D gummies at Costco, and I ordered some Rainbow Light probiotic gummies from Amazon — and they’re the bomb diggity. I’m a goner when it comes to sweet, chewy candies, so the fact that these things taste candy-like while also being healthy as all get-out is a major win in my book.
  • The fact that one of my orchids is blooming: I love the sight of a happy plant, and this orchid is happy indeed.
  • My upcoming urban gardening project: I have 90% of the necessary supplies to set up my little herb garden on our deck! Now all I need are the seeds (they should be arriving from Amazon this week), as well as a plant stand. We’re scouring the ends of the earth for a reasonably priced, 4′ or higher plant stand; while I found a perfect one on Amazon, it’s a whopping $75…and we’d rather not shell out that much dough if we don’t have to. This weekend could very well involve a trek to Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot in search of the right thing, but I don’t mind dealing with the crowds in the name of setting up my wee herb garden.
  • There was an unacceptably long period of time (by which I mean about  one week, but it my gawd, did it ever feel like aaaaaaages) in which I ran out of my beloved Toasted Almond java from Le Target. Oy gevault, did I ever miss it. It was horrible, y’all.  I finally made it back to Target to re-stock, and each morning I find myself thanking the coffee gods that this wondrous stuff is back in my possession.
  • My dad happened to have a long-standing plan to visit DC this past weekend, and it was wonderful to see him — especially since it was at a time when I needed a little bit of extra bolstering. On Sunday morning we took a long walk on the Mount Vernon Trail and talked for hours about my possible diagnosis, my job, my hopes for the future, and a bajillion other things. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful family — the fact that I can spend hours having honest, open, and supportive talks with my parents and my brother is hugely awesome.

So, with all that in mind, I want to hear from you lovely people:

What are you thankful for?

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal?

What element of  the health benefits associated with gratitude do you find most compelling?

My New Mantra: Have Faith and Let Go

So, my dear readers, I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what’s going on lately. (As a forewarning, this is about to get pretty heavy and really personal.)

As you may recall, I’ve been having some rather epic lady-problems. I went to my doctor last week for some blood work, and she called me on Monday night with the results.

They weren’t good.

My hormones are completely out of whack, and I have a preliminary diagnosis of primary ovarian insufficiency, sometimes known as premature ovarian failure. She wants to run the blood work again in a few weeks, but if the numbers hold, I’ll only have a 5-10% chance of ever getting pregnant.

As someone who’s wanted to be a mom for as long as she can remember, this is devastating news. As my doctor gently told me what this meant, my heart began to race. My hands shook so much I couldn’t hold the phone. I felt like my throat was closing.

I was able to hold it together while I was talking to my doctor, but I fell apart as soon as I got off the phone. Brandon was still at work, so I emailed him and told him that he needed to come home. I then called my mom and wept. As soon as the phrase “ovarian failure” left my mouth, I collapsed into tears. Deep, guttural, wailing sobs wracked me for a solid two minutes before I could form words again.

I’m 32 years old. I was expecting to hear that I maybe had PCOS for endometriosis, but I never expected to hear that my ovaries might be closing up shop for good.

My mom stayed on the phone with me until Brandon came home, and I buried my face in his chest as I choked out the words “ovarian failure” for a second time. He gave me a huge hug and held me while I continued crying. When I finally pulled away and was able to look him in the eyes, I could see that he was simultaneously sad, scared, and relieved.

“When you said you had bad news from the doctor, I thought you were going to tell me you had cancer,” he said. “I was really scared that I was going to lose you.”

That thought alone was enough to give me some perspective: this diagnosis is devastating, but it could be a lot worse. If nothing more, I can be thankful for that while mourning what would be lost if the diagnosis is confirmed.

This helped pull me, even if only briefly, out of the pit of despair into which I was rapidly sinking. It gave me something to hold on to. I decided, in that moment, that I must allow myself to grieve and mourn if the diagnosis is confirmed — but I also must hold on to a sense of gratitude for the things I do have.

For example: the diagnosis would be shattering, but it isn’t life-threatening. I have a husband whom I adore and who is the best partner I ever could’ve asked for. I have a wonderful, supportive, and loving family. I have dear friends who, when I emailed them to break the news, wrote back with some of the sweetest, most thoughtful responses I could’ve imagined.

After I talked to my parents again later that night, my Dad sent me a wonderful song that helped me climb a bit further out of that deep pit of sadness. It also forms the basis of my new mantra: have faith and let go.

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Now, a quick caveat: I don’t like to talk about religion here, because I’m a big proponent of the “to each their own” school of thought when it comes to faith, spirituality, and belief. (I mean, my mom was a world religion professor when I was growing up — and when your formative years are spent surrounded by people of just about every faith, you quickly realize that those different religions and points of view are all profoundly valid, valuable, and insightful.)  I’m disinclined do anything that could come across as preachy — so before I get into this song, I’d like to clarify that my intent is to talk about what works for me, not what I think other people should do. *Thus endeth my disclaimer.*

With that being said, the song my dad sent me is by Peter Mayer, a singer-songwriter from Minnesota. The song, “God is a River,”  felt like a cosmic hug when I needed it most. The lyrics felt particularly meaningful for me given my life-long love of swimming:

In the ever-shifting water of the river of this life

I was swimming, seeking comfort; I was wrestling waves to find
A boulder I could cling to, a stone to hold me fast
Where I might let the fretful water of this river ‘round me pass

And so I found an anchor, a blessed resting place
A trusty rock I called my savior, for there I would be safe
From the river and its dangers, and I proclaimed my rock divine
And I prayed to it “protect me” and the rock replied

CHORUS:
God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids
And a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage
And a peaceful, sandy shoal

God is the river, swimmer
So let go

Still I clung to my rock tightly with conviction in my arms
Never looking at the stream to keep my mind from thoughts of harm
But the river kept on coming, kept on tugging at my legs
Till at last my fingers faltered, and I was swept away

So I’m going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends

Acclimating to the motion, and a sense of being led
And this river’s like my body now, it carries me along
Through the ever-changing scenes and by the rocks that sing this song

God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids
And a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage
And a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is the river, swimmer
So let go

God is the river, swimmer
So let go

I have to let go. If the diagnosis is confirmed, I have to let myself be deeply, wrenchingly sad while simultaneously being grateful for what I do have and remaining steadfast in my faith that something good will come of this. I might not know what it is, but I have to let go and have faith that the river will lead to something good. I may be in the wild, raging rapids now, but I have to trust that I’ll be carried to the peaceful, sandy shoal in due time.

I need to wait a few weeks before going back for the second blood test, so I’ll be in a holding pattern until then. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll be inclined to be a hot mess until the next round of lab work comes back, so I’m going to rely heavily on my mantra for the foreseeable future.

Have faith, and let go.

Gettin’ My Goal-Setting On: Goals for June, the Summer, and the Big Picture

Ok, so I know I’ve mentioned this before, but…seriously, how can it possibly be June already?!

I’m flabbergasted, y’all. Bewildered. Thunderstruck. How did this happen? Didn’t Brandon and I move into our new place, like, a month ago? Insert sigh of astonishment here.

Astonishment aside, now that it’s June and summer is finally upon us, I started thinking about the things I’d like to accomplish during this month and beyond.

Making goals can be a tricky business. If they’re huge or unrealistic, it can feel like abject failure if they’re not achieved (especially if you’d have to be Superwoman on steroids to even come close to achieving them). Similarly, sometimes goals can change as we get more information/learn more/have more experiences – and, despite the good intentions of so many motivational speakers out there who carry on about never giving up, pushing harder, and doing more, all those messages can make a change of course feel like a failure.

Personally, I had that particular motif going on for a long time last year: I felt like a total failure for having worked so hard for so long, only to find out that the career I’d always wanted isn’t the right thing for me.

But then I realized: I had a change of heart because I have more information now than I did when I started out down this road, not because I’m a waste of resources who didn’t try hard enough. My old goals were informed by what I knew at the time, and what I learned over the course of the next 10 years led me to a very different conclusion than the one I’d reached when I was 22. This isn’t a personal failing on my part – instead, it’s simply due to the collection of many more data points that hadn’t been available to me before.

In any event, all that is to say that it’s important to remain flexible in goal setting. By staying flexible, we can amend our goals to account for new data – new information, new experiences, and new circumstances that we hadn’t been aware of before.

As for my own shiny new goals (jazz hands!), I broke them out into June goals, summer goals, and long-term goals, simply because putting them into one big list would make me feel overwhelmed like woah. I don’t know about y’all, but for me, overwhelm quickly leads to total paralysis, which means I accomplish a whole lot of nada, which makes me feel even more overwhelmed, which leads to me accomplishing even less. It’s a vicious cycle.

Ergo: lists upon lists, broken out by time frame!

 

June goals:

  • Plant an herb garden on the porch
  • Find some good GF granola recipes that I can reliably use each week (this is part of an effort to save some dolla dolla billz on groceries, because my beloved Udi’s GF granola costs a pretty penny)

 

Summer goals:

  • Form two new habits:
    • Lift 3x per week
    • Planning out and drafting blog posts on the weekend so I can have more time during the week; we do this with our meal plans, so I’d like to do the same with blog posts
  • Make GF everything bagels — I miss everything bagels like mad, but I have yet to see them sold anywhere. So, I’m going to have to take on this task myself!
  • Hike the Manitou Incline when I’m in Colorado on vacation
  • Figure out a cost-effective way to promote the blog (if any of you lovely people have any suggestions/ideas/guidance, I’m all ears!)

 

Long-term goals:

  • Continue saving money – we’ve been working on this, and it’s going well so far. I’d eventually like to open a CD or high-yield savings account too.
  • Write, write, write…with the objective of eventually being able to make it my job:
    • Continually build readership on the blog
    • Eventually get to the point where I have enough readers to warrant sponsorships, ad revenue, etc.
    • Pick up freelance writing jobs
  • Start a family
  • Explore the idea of setting up an Etsy page in order to sell some of the collages I love so much. I don’t think of myself as an artist, because I can’t draw/paint to save my life — but I do love these collages. I don’t think I’d make much (or any) moolah off of this little venture, but it’d be a fun creative outlet.
  • Learn how to do my own graphic design in Photoshop

 

What are your goals – for this month, the summer, and the big picture?

Which ones excite you the most/make you the happiest?

Do you break your goals out into short-, mid-, and long-term lists?

Friday Recap: The Great Crock Pot Experiment and a Protein Bar Review

HAPPY FRIDAY! The weekend is once again almost upon us, and I’m pretty effing excited.

I’ve got big (well, insofar as my grandma-status goes) plans for this evening: I’ve got a phone gabbing session scheduled with a family friend in Colorado as soon as I leave work, and then I’m gettin’ my hair did this evening. I’m going to a place near our new apartment, and it got great reviews on Yelp…so here’s hoping they handle my tresses well!

As for the Great Crock Pot Experiment and Operation: Time Management, overall I feel like this week was a win.

On the time management front, I felt much more on top of my schedule — and even though I often needed to push my morning workouts into the evening, it wasn’t hard to do. Dinner was ready as soon as I got home, which meant that working out didn’t feel all that daunting (there’s something about working out after chopping veggies and cooking that feels waaaaaay more onerous than just working out and then eating dinner).

I also really appreciated being able to rely on frozen/pre-chopped veggies, which made my life a lot easier. I saved a ton of time and effort by just opening up a bag of veggies (as opposed to rinsing, peeling, chopping veggies, and then washing knives and cutting boards), and I seriously enjoyed that.

 

As for the Great Crock Pot Experiment, the results were a mixed bag. Our verdicts on the recipes were thus:

Enchiliada Casserole: Meh. Kind of dry yet mushy, and pretty seriously lacking in flavor. I might try this one again with significant modifications, but I’m not sure.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic: We weren’t a fan. Brandon wound up ordering pizza instead.

Beef Carnitas: A good one! We approve!

Mediterranean Chicken: This was a monstrosity. It was straight-up deplorable, y’all — which, considering that I make this on the stove all the effing time, is a fairly spectacular fall from grace for this dish. I choked down my serving because I felt bad wasting so much food, but Brandon couldn’t get past the second bite.

The fact that the Crock Pot recipes were 1 out of 4 is, um, really demoralizing!

It looks like I have a steep learning curve to climb before I really get the hang of cooking things other than hearty winter soups and stews. (I bust out the Crock Pot all the time in the winter, and I have no problems with chili/tortilla soup/insert fall or winter food here — but apparently other entrees are a different matter.)

But learn I shall! In the words of the crazy restaurant owners whose Facebook meltdown went viral, I WILL PREVAIL! I WILL TRIUMPH!

In the interest of continuing to find ways to cut back on cooking time, I checked out some cookbooks from the library for a bit of culinary inspiration. I won’t be able to go Crock Pot-crazy every week, but if we can find good recipes that I can prep on the weekend, then that’ll definitely help. In the library mix:

 

Light and easy dinners

 

I looooove Ina Garten, and I’ve heard good things about Ellie Krieger — so, I’m excited to try these out!

I have to admit that I especially love all things Barefoot Contessa. She seems so down-to-earth, kind, and creative, so she seems like the sort of relatable woman I’d want to be friends with. Did you know that she used to be a budget analyst at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before embarking on a massive career change? How cool is that?!

On a separate note, I’ve been trying to increase my protein intake as part of TNROLFW. To that end, I decided to try out three different kinds of protein bars this week, just to experiment and broaden my protein-y horizons.

I scoured the offerings at Whole Foods, and I eventually decided on these three: Luna Protein in Mint Chocolate Chip flavor, a Perfect Fit Protein Cookie, and the Quest Bars I keep hearing about.

 

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The reviews?

The Luna Protein Bar was uh-maaaaay-zing. I’ve desperately missed Luna bars in the 5 years that I’ve been gluten-free, and I was beyond excited when I saw that they had a GF line of products. I haven’t tried the other flavors, but the Mint Chocolate Chip was delicious! It tasted just how I remember Thin Mints tasting, and I wolfed it down.

Verdict:

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The Perfect Fit Protein Cookie was ok. I think I was expecting a legit cookie, which probably raised my hopes and set the bar a bit too high. I suspect that if it was just a straight-forward protein bar, my expectations would’ve been lower and I would’ve been pleasantly surprised by how cookie-like it was — but since it’s marketed as a cookie, my brain had a hard time reconciling this information with my taste buds. I kept thinking “Aw man, this cookie tastes like a protein bar! Oh, wait…”

Verdict:

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The Quest Bar was surprisingly delicious! I tried the Coconut Cashew flavor, and I was really impressed. When I opened it up and saw that it looks alarmingly blob-like, my first thought was “Really? This is what everybody raves about? This looks heinous!”  I then veeeeeeery skeptically tried a teeny bite…only to be wowed by the sweet and salty taste. It’s effin’ good, y’all! I also wolfed this one down, which is really saying something.

Verdict:

 

Anyways, I’m off to do this morning’s workout (kickboxing + more lifting) — but I hope everyone has an awesome morning! TGIF, people. 🙂

Have you ever tried Luna Protein or Quest Bars? 

 If so, what flavors do you like?

 What are your favorite cookbooks?

Do you have big weekend plans? (I’m dyyyyyyyying to see the new Star Trek movie – SO EXCITED!)

Friday Fun Times: Five Things I’m Diggin’ This Week

Good morning, and TGIF! (*Does Friday-induced happy dance*)

In celebration of the fact that it’s Friday, I figured I’d do another post to highlight all the things I’ve been loving on/excited about this week.

1) Although the tote I bought from Target a few weeks ago managed to break and thus meet its demise shortly after I bought it (booooo), I was able to return it without any problems. I then picked up this bag as a replacement, and I also replaced my old wallet, which was starting to fall apart a bit. To say the least, I looooooove both the new bag and the new wallet — the blue and turquoise are so pretty, and they seem so seasonally appropriate! I may or may not get a bit giddy every time I look at them.

 

Bag and wallet

 

2) The Firestarter Sessions is blowing my mind, people. This book is seriously awesome. I also recommend checking out Danielle LaPorte’s website (she’s the author of this wondrous tome); as Taryn put it (quite perfectly, I might add), it’s like reading a conversation with your best friend.

Apparently Danielle LaPorte is launching a magazine in September and is accepting writing submissions — and as you might have guessed, I’m itchin’ to submit something for their consideration. (*Starts wiggling in desk chair out of sheer excitement*) It’s scary, and the “Oh God, I can’t possibly be good enough – there’s no way I’ll get anything but rejected” voice of fear is acting up like nobody’s business — but I’m just going to channel my inner Kanye and tell that voice that “Imma let you finish, but I can write the best submission of all time!” Ok, it won’t be the best submission of all time — but it will be from the heart, and that’s the best kind of writing I can possibly do.

3) Fitness updates: I ran 2.5 miles on Wednesday afternoon and donated my Charity Miles to Every Mother Counts (an organization I greatly admire). In my quest to do something meaningful with my life and to feel like I’m making a contribution — albeit a small one — to making the world a better place, Charity Miles has become one of my favorite go-to sources of action and inspiration. Being able to get my sweat on while helping to raise money for causes I believe in has, for me at least, been seriously awesome.

 

 

I also did more FitnessBlender and Yoga Downloads workouts this week. I did Yoga Download’s Yoga Sculpt class last night, and then I busted out Fitness Blender’s cardio kickboxing this morning. I loved them both!

I’ve also recently decided to embrace a standard of fitness that has more flexibility than I’ve allowed myself to have before. I was kicking myself for not having enough time to cook meals, work out for 45 minutes a day, and blog in my spare time — but all that scheduling insanity started really wearing on me. In light of that, I came to the conclusion that it’s ok to keep my workouts around 30 minutes each.

The fact is, blogging makes me incredibly happy, and writing brings me more joy than any job ever has — so I want to make time to do it. If it comes at the expense of those last 15 minutes of exercise, then so be it.

 

 

4) ELF cosmetics: While I was at Target, I was doing some reconnaissance in their cosmetics section as part of my hunt for new eyeliner and new eye shadow. (My collection has been rapidly diminishing, but I hate spending moolah on obnoxiously overpriced cosmetics, even at my beloved Target.) Lo and behold, I saw that ELF products are between — get this — $1-$2. I’m not kidding. I just about had to scrape my jaw up off the floor. I got two eyeshadow sets and one eyeliner pencil for $5 total, which felt like the cosmetics coup to end all cosmetics coups. It was astonishing.

 

ELF

 

5) A mailbox full of goodies: This month’s InStyle and Birchbox arrived on the same day. If that isn’t worthy of a whoop of excitement, I don’t know what is. A certain someone — whose name may or may not be Lillian — might have also picked up a bottle of rosé at Costco yesterday (because this person is super classy like that, and she obviously has really high-brow taste in wine). This person might be really excited to read InStyle while drinking a glass of vino after work, possibly while deep-conditioning her hair with one of the Birchbox samples. #SorryI’mNotSorry.

 

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I hope y’all have an awesome day — and of course, I’ve got questions for you lovely people:

What’s your favorite way to unwind on a Friday night?

Do you have any big or exciting weekend plans?

{Obviously, this is the really important question} Do you like cheap wine from Costco or Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s? (Please tell me yes and that I’m not the only one around here who’s the total opposite of a wine connoisseur?)

Inspirational Woman: Samantha

Good morning, everyone! It’s been a while since our last Inspirational Woman interview, so I’m proud and excited to introduce y’all to Samantha (AKA: Sam, Samoo, Muumuu) — one of my former roommates, a dear friend, and a major source of inspiration.

After five years of working in her comfortable but decidedly not gratifying career of graphic design, Sam found herself feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. After some soul-searching, she decided to make a huuuuuuuge change of course and pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant.

I still remember the phone call where she told me she’d finally figured out what she wanted to do, and my gut reaction was “That makes perfect sense — she’d be damn good at that.” Sure enough, she dove into doing all the things she needed to do (and believe me, there were a lot!) in order to take her life in a totally different direction. Fast forward six years, and she’s busy kicking butt as a PA and is in a much happier place.

Here’s her story.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat inspired you to take action towards your goal/dream?

I realized I was not happy with the chosen profession I was in at the time. I was comfortable, but I was unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and generally unhappy with both my job and my career. As I realized this, I also realized I had control over what I did with my life – and that because I had control over where my life went, I was going to take charge and find a career that would genuinely make me happy. I explored different career paths that I thought might interest me, and before long, I decided on medicine. Since my previous career was in graphic design, I started taking some pre-reqs in math and hard sciences so I could go back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant.


What have been the high points and the low points?

The high points: I am much more satisfied now. [Side note: Sam is a seriously badass PA in an ICU, which isn’t exactly a low-stress gig. She’s awesome at what she does, which involves making life-saving decisions under high pressure while dealing with a bajillion different – and often competing or conflicting – variables. If, God forbid, you ever find yourself in an ICU, you’d be one lucky guy/gal to have someone like Sam taking care of you.]  The low points: I gave up a lot of time. The time I spent in school was time that was dedicated almost solely to my pursuit of a new career. The rough part is that this seems to have been to the detriment of other areas of my life (most notably, finding love/getting married/starting a family).


What obstacles have you encountered?

Especially early on, it was hard to give up a paycheck (and the lifestyle I had grown accustomed to with one). It was also hard to give up my free time especially when that translated to maintaining friendships, dating, etc.


Do you have a support network and/or personal cheerleaders who have helped you in this process?

My parents and friends were really helpful. They listened to me when I was struggling, boosted my confidence when I was unsure I had the ‘stuff’ it took to get to the end.  It also helped to have school friends that could commiserate with tough experiences and validate feelings that popped up along the way.


What have they done to encourage you and help you move forward?

They remind me of my strengths. They remind me I am not alone. They refresh my memory as to why I set down this road in the first place, and they help me renew my desire to get to my destination!


If you could give advice to women who are either trying to find the courage to pursue their dreams or are at the beginning of their own journey, what would it be?

There are no wrong decisions, so don’t waste energy regretting what’s already done. You have control of your life – if you’re unhappy, root out why and make your best attempt to remedy it. Although it can be scary and intimidating, you can make a change. So: if you think you need one, go for it!  A good friend had a great magnet on her fridge with a motto that I subscribe to: Leap, the net will appear. This helped give me the reassurance and strength I needed to take a big risk in making a huge career change, and it has definitely paid off.

LEAP and the net will appear, Via Facebook ~ Words of Wisdom. Trust your instincts - they are there for a reason. #quotes #beinspired

WIAW: Short Weeks and GF Strawberry Pancakes

It’s Wednesday – huzzah! Seriously, four-day weeks are approximately eleventy bajillion times easier to deal with than full five-day workweeks. Mondays away from the office are the bomb diggity (well, isn’t that the understatement of the year), and starting the week on Tuesday makes life a lot easier (ok, that’s probably the runner-up for understatement of the year).

I motion to create a four-day workweek as a matter of policy! Who’s with me? Viva la revolucion!

Ok, so maybe that’s slightly (only slightly) unrealistic. Failing the ability to do that, I’ll just revel in the fact that it’s Wednesday and get my WIAW on. Thanks as always to Jenn over at Peas & Crayons for being the hostess with the mostess!

Peas and Crayons

I started the day with my usual coffee and GF toast:

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I have to confess: I’ve been using the same photo of this for months. Why? Because I eat the same thing every morning. Lame, I know.

After the gym, I had my (also usual) smoothie with kale, mango, blueberries, protein powder, and banana — and I bottled half of it to take with me for lunch.

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(Sing to the tune of “Message in a Bottle” by the Police): I hope that someone gets my, I hope that someone gets my smoothie in a bottle…

 But really, why am I carrying on about smoothies when breakfast on Saturday involved one of the most glorious weekend meals I’ve ever had?

Four words, y’all: GLUTEN-FREE STRAWBERRY PANCAKES.

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THIS. I’m drooling just thinking about these.

To say that I chowed down on these would be another massive understatement. As you can see, I don’t usually do regular maple syrup — I’m a bit of a weirdo that way (among, um, many other ways) — but I’m all about strawberry jam. Strawberry pancakes + strawberry jam = bliss.

We used the boxed pancake batter from King Arthur Flour, and it was divine. This was, hands-down, the best GF pancake flour I’ve ever had. In the nearly five years since my Celiac discovery, I’ve tried a ton of different GF flour brands — and King Arthur is far and away the best. You could say they take the cake. (Sorry, that was awful. I can’t help myself!)

The directions call for 2 eggs and melted butter or vegetable oil, but in the interest of making them low-fat, we omitted the oil/butter and used 1 whole egg + two egg whites. We tossed in about a cup of diced fresh strawberries in honor of springtime, and omigodyouguys, they were delicious.

Truth be told, there’s a very good chance that I’ll make another batch this weekend and take them to work with me throughout the week. Pancakes at work would be awesome.

Aaaaaaanyways, on to my other meals. Snacks are identical to last week’s (what can I say? I’m a creature of habit!): Greek yogurt with GF granola, celery, apples, Pamela’s bars (which, BTW, are freakin’ delicious — I highly recommend them), and Mary’s Gone Crackers with Alouette garlic and herb cheese.

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I’m alarmingly predictable.

Lunch this week has been brought to you by the good folks at Progresso. I know canned soups are a serious faux pas in the healthy living world, but they’re my go-to staple when I’m pressed for time. Nobody’s perfect, amirite?

Lentil soup
Memo to the marketing people at Progresso: y’all should probably go ahead and make “Time is of the essence” your new motto.

It hasn’t been a cooking-from-scratch week here, um, at all. Dinner was brought to you by the good folks at Trader Joe’s: I baked some tomato-basil chicken tenders with a chopped onion and a wee bit of white wine, garlic powder, oregano, and Parmesan, and served them with steamed veggies. For a meal that took almost no effort whatsoever, it was darn good. (Thank you, Trader Joe’s, for being freakin’ awesome.)

Confession: I love cooking, but right now I’m a huge fan of meals that require very little time or effort. Some might call that lazy, but I prefer to think of it as being highly efficient. One of the side effects of having a full time job, an awesome husband who I want to spend time with and talk to, a gym addiction, and a love of writing is that I don’t have much of any free time on my hands during the week. So, if I can find ways to save time while not sacrificing much in the way of health/nutrition, I’m all about it.

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(Read in the Homer Simpson voice) Mmmmm. Chicken and veggies. Gaaaaahhhh.

My other great food love this week? Berry Berry Kix. They’re GF, preservative free, and effing delicious.

A quote from Brandon: “My wife loves Berry Berry Kix berry berry much.” My God, I love that I found a man who busts out puns as prolifically as I do.

Fact: I have a cereal addiction. I effing love it, and I might have a bowl (or two…or three) every night for dessert.

I hope everyone has an awesome Wednesday! So, my lovely fellow bloggers, tell me:

How do you save time during the workweek? What’s your favorite cereal? What do you like to put on your pancakes – are you a maple syrup person, or do you have alternative toppings?

hahaha
A little bit of mid-week humor because, y’know, Wednesday.

WIAW: Mostly Matching Socks + A New Recipe

When I was a little kid, all I wanted out of life was to be a grown-up. I’d be free to make my own decisions! I’d be independent! I’d be my own woman!

I wouldn’t have to spend all day with mean girls just because they were the only girls in my class, I wouldn’t have to take another math test ever again, I’d be able to study what I want and read what I want and eat what I want. Sure, there’d be bills to pay and work to do, but it meant that I’d be responsible for my own life and totally in control! Life would be a picnic!

Well.

As it turns out, actually being a grown-up is weird. I know, I know: I’m 32 and I should be all adjusted to adulthood and whatnot. But I have to say: it takes some getting used to.

Yesterday the lovely Meghan from After the Ivy League hit the nail on the head when she said that she feels like her real life happens outside of work. My reaction?

Amen, sister soultrain. PREACH.

One of the weirdest things about working a 9-5 job (and, um, probably adulthood writ large) is the extent to which all the stuff I love, enjoy, or just generally need to do happens outside the office. Writing, cooking dinner, working out, hanging out with Brandon, calling my parents, ensuring that I have clean clothes to wear…the list goes on, and it’s all stuff that definitely can’t be done while I’m in the office.

This makes the minimal waking hours I spend outside work particularly special, but it also means that I run around like a headless chicken trying to get stuff done. Must cook article! Write dinner! Put the laundry in the oven! Wait, what?

As one of my dear friends so aptly put it, “I’m persistently amazed that I manage to arrive at places dressed, on time with mostly matching socks. It’s the little things we have to appreciate.”

Yes and yes.

For this week’s WIAW, here’s a rundown of some of the dishes I managed to throw together — all while wearing matching socks, no less, so I can feel good about that much. Adulthood win!

Anyways, on to the main event — with thanks to Jenn from Peas & Crayons for hosting.

Peas and Crayons

Breakfasts:

Coffee and toast before the gym, followed by green smoothies galore (made with kale, Vega vanilla almondilla powder, banana, almond milk, and honey) and, on the weekend, an egg white omelet with monterey jack cheese:

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Lunches and Snacks:

I get all giddy around lunchtime when I’m faced with the prospect of another meal (you know you love food when…), but the lentil soup I’d made for the week was a spectacular flop. So, in light of that culinary fail, I decided to throw together some salad for my lunches. What you don’t see here is that said salads involve loads of chicken, chickpeas, grapes, red onions, and shredded carrots. Giant salads = bliss.

Snacks include apples with almonds, Mary’s Gone Crackers with Alouette garlic and herb cheese, Greek yogurt with Udi’s GF granola, and loads of fruit. Oh, and cereal. But that goes without saying, does it not?

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Dinners:

This is where things get interesting. When I’m pressed for time, I tend to throw things together and create meals based on what we have available (while we usually plan out our meals for the week, sometimes it’s just too steenkeeng hard to stick with the plan once I get home from work at night).

Exhibit A: Late last week, I was pressed for time after I got home and didn’t have time to cook the originally planned meal. We had a package of pre-made chicken tikka masala on hand for precisely this sort of situation (thank you, Costco), so I added some organic frozen spinach and served it up with some GF pita bread. Et voila!

DSC00796Exhibit B: Earlier this week, I planned to cook pork chops topped with caraway seeds — but as I was prepping the dish, I realized that we had apples and carrots that I wanted to use before they went bad. On a whim, I threw them into the mix with some onion and garlic — and happily, the dish wound up being pretty effing good (especially considering the improvised additions).

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I really liked the combination of the savory garlic and onions with the sweet apples (as far as I’m concerned, you can never go wrong with garlic and onion), and it wound up being a great compliment for the pork chop. Here’s the recipe:

  • 5 pork chops, sprinkled generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and caraway seeds
  • 2 cups sliced apples
  • 1 diced onion
  • 10 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350. Place the pork chops in a heavy baking pan. Mix the apples, carrots, garlic, onions, oil, vinegar, white wine, salt and pepper in a bowl, then pour around the pork chops. Generously sprinkle the pork chops with salt, pepper, garlic powder and caraway seeds.

Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer stuck into the center of each pork chop reads at least 155-160.

Serve and enjoy!

What are your go-to meals/cooking tactics when you’re pressed for time? Do you rely on pre-made goodies? Do you throw together improvised meals?

Of Meltdowns and Coping Mechanisms

First: That infuriating moment when you just spent 40 minutes editing a post, only to have WordPress log you out and not save any of your changes. *HEADDESK* Mental note to self: must write and edit posts in Google Docs before putting them into WordPress. Oy vey.

Ever have one of those days when you find yourself at the mercy of a colossal freak out which, much like a totally unforeseen and utterly devastating natural disaster, comes out of nowhere and leaves you stunned and weepy? That was me earlier this week.

I know this is a serious 180 from my usual type of post, so I apologize for being all Debbie Downer here — but all my worries and frustrations pulled a Captain Planet and combined forces to produce a meltdown of Chernobyl-like proportions. Since writing is what keeps me sane and helps me work through whatever it is that’s upsetting me, I’m going to get my catharsis on in this post.

Source: http://www.kdge.com

First off, I’m incredibly homesick. I miss my family, I miss the West, and I miss the laid-back lifestyle that exists out there. There are so many things about DC that I find absolutely exhausting: the breakneck pace of life, the cutthroat competition, the total lack of a sense of community, the exorbitant cost of living…the list goes on.

Life in DC is just plain hard. The infrastructure here was built for the city’s population circa the 1950s, but there are a few million more people living here now than there were 60 years ago. Resources are scarce, and competition is tight. By and large, people here are much more concerned with their own self-advancement than they are with, say, helping other people or doing the right thing.

Simply making a living is difficult here. DC was recently rated as having the highest cost of living in the U.S., which isn’t all that surprising given the obscene amount of money a person has to shell out just to find a place to live that isn’t a crack den. We lucked out — big time — in finding our apartment, and I feel incredibly glad that we live where we do.

However, this is where the big stuff comes in: the high cost of living and intense competition for resources mean that it’s really hard to have a family here. Waiting lists for daycare tend to be in the range of 12-14 months at a minimum, and even once you get your kid into one of the coveted daycare slots, you should expect to pay somewhere between $1500 – $2000 per month. This is the sort of thing that strikes fear into my heart, since I very much want to have kids. Our families both live thousands of miles away, and although they’d love to help out, the lack of proximity means they won’t be able to help out much with child care.

This, friends, is the crux of my freak-out. I want desperately to have a family, but I don’t know how we’re going to afford it. I mean, we can wait until we’ve saved more money and can afford the huge hit to our monthly expenses — but I’m 32, and, well, let’s just say that my dairy products aren’t getting any fresher. Oh, and have I mentioned that my biological clock is going off like Big Ben on steroids? Because it is. The extent to which I get verklempt when I see a baby (even if it’s just on TV) is either comical, or pathetic, or both.

The high cost of living here also means that it’s going to be really hard for me to pursue my dream of making a living as a writer. I’d have to bring in the sort of income granted only to big-time published authors in order for my dream to be viable here, and that scares the bejesus out of me.

Basically, yesterday all these things combined and turned my brain into a swirling mess of freak-out. I wound up in the most epic of downward spirals:

How will we ever afford to have kids? We’re nowhere near our parents, so we can’t rely on them to help out with childcare. How will we ever afford to do anything? Will we always live in a place where there’s no sense of community? What if we turn into all the families I see around DC who are burned out, miserable, and unable to spend much of any time together because both parents have to work long hours in order to make a living? What if I wind up never having time to write? It’s one of the main things that brings me a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness! Omigod, nothing is going to work! We’re going to be destitute and miserable, our children will be unhappy because we’re going to be overworked and unable to spend any quality time with them, I’m never going to be a writer, and everything is going to be a mess!

Cut to a picture of me wrapped up in a comforter, sitting on the couch, and sobbing hysterically.

Having held onto my title as the queen and reigning champion of the ugly cry (made all the worse by the fact that this happened after work, so I wound up with a tremendous case of raccoon eyes thanks to the running mascara), I’m now at a point where I’m coming up with coping mechanisms. I have to figure out a way to feel okay about staying here, since this is where we need to be for now.

At this point, there are a few key things I can focus on: 1) the fact that our living situation is much better after our recent move, 2) the fact that we have a great group of friends here, 3) the fact that there are almost certainly solutions to the quandary about having a family — we just have to be creative about it, and 4) I can have faith that these things often work out well in the end.

First, since moving into our new place, our quality of life has gone up dramatically. While it’s a bit smaller than our old place, it’s both nicer and cheaper (and I get to take the bus instead of dealing with the Metro, which is a huge win). We’re also able to save some dolla dolla bills, which helps facilitate my long-term dreams of having a family and doing more writing.

Source: uncyclopedia.wikia.com

We also have some awesome friends here, and that counts for a lot. DC might not be a naturally friendly place, but we do have friends from grad school, friends of friends, etc., who are fantastic people and who form sort of a family-away-from-family that we feel lucky to have. This group of people is definitely unique to DC, and we wouldn’t have that anywhere else.

Although I’d love nothing more than to have a family and make a living with my writing, for now I’m going to focus on the good: the fact that I get to write here and at Girls Gone Sporty. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to make a living as a writer, but at this point, I’m grateful just to have the opportunity to write.

As for kids, well, I have no idea how that will work out. I know we’ll need to be creative in finding solutions to the issues of cost, childcare, etc. — but I also feel strongly that this is the sort of thing that I just have to hand off to a higher power and hope that the right plan of action will become clearer as time goes on.

Let Go and Let God
Source: Pinterest, obvi.

Although it probably sounds campy, I find that whenever I’m faced with a situation that seems bigger than I can handle on my own, I feel a lot better when I basically hit the forward button in my mental email queue. It looks a little something like this:

To: God/The Universe
From: Lillian
Subject: FWD: Freaking out about having a family in DC. This is way more than I can figure out on my own. Please help!

Whenever I do this, I’m able to have faith that things will work out and that everything will be ok. I’ve seen this phenomenon pan out time and time again in my 32 years, and I trust that it’ll continue.

And because life is cool like this sometimes, yesterday this essay from Tiny Buddha showed up in my email — and ehrmagherd, was the timing ever perfect. It helped drive home some of the key points on all this: namely, that I don’t have to determine, plan for, and rigidly adhere to a strategy for how all this will play out.

I’ve gotten much better recently about letting go of my attempts to control everything, but occasionally my “MUST MAKE THINGS HAPPEN EXACTLY AS PLANNED!” tendencies creep back in. In reality, though, I don’t have to do this — and, furthermore, I can have faith that this process will unfold in ways I never could’ve expected, but in ways that lead to happy, healthy results.

Follow your bliss...
Are you stunned to learn that this also came from Pinterest? Of course you are!

Taking steps, even small ones, in the direction of my dreams, is enough. I can take things one day at a time, and I can keep my mind and heart open to unexpected opportunities, possibilities, and solutions. Knowing what I want is enough, even if I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work out. And that’s okay.

What helps you cope when you find yourself amidst an epic freak-out (and, um, I’m not the only one who has epic freak-outs, right? Please tell me I’m not alone in this boat)? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you know what you want, but you’re not sure how to make it happen? This is the sort of thing where peoples’ stories go a long way towards helping others, so I’d love it if you leave a comment and discuss!

Overcoming Perfectionism: The Matter of Mindset

First and foremost: HAPPY FRIDAY!

Yup. That about covers it.

It’s been a nutty week, but in the wake of Tuesday’s post on perfectionism, the wheels in my brain started turning. The wave of responses made me realize that a ton of us are doing battle with the demon of perfectionism — and if our collective misery with this motif is any indication, the perfectionism seems to have the upper hand.

Once I realized this, I had a little epiphany: I want to figure out why so many of us feel an overwhelming need to be perfect.

I want to get to the root (or roots, since it’s probably a pretty complex thing) of this and figure out how to de-claw the beast. To mix my metaphors, it’s probably not possible to slay the dragon and make perfectionism go away altogether, but it might be possible to at least mitigate it.

So, I started doing some research. (What can I say? I’m both a nerd and the daughter of a professor — so I’m fairly certain that a love of research is woven into my DNA.)

While there are probably many, many things that factor into causing perfectionism, the first thing I read about is the issue of mindset. What’s mindset, you ask? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place!

First, it’s an awesome book by Carol Dweck. (Here’s the Amazon link. You should buy it. Seriously, it’s worth every penny.)

Source: richerlife.com

As Dr. Dweck discusses in the book, after years of both teaching psychology and basically doing a metric ton of psychological research, she realized that there are two fundamental mindsets that people tend to have: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

I’ll get to the growth mindset in a moment, but here’s a compilation of quotes on how she describes people with the fixed mindset:

Believing your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

[For people with a fixed mindset] Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I look like a winner or a loser?

In the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.

[In the fixed mindset], it’s crucial to be perfect right now…because one test — or one evaluation — can measure you forever. … That’s why they must succeed perfectly and immediately. Who can afford the luxury of trying to grow when everything is on the line right now?

Ok, so after reading the first few chapters of the book, I basically felt like Dr. Dweck had spent untold hours hanging out in my head and recording snippets of my inner monologue. I’m a classic case of a fixed mindset person, and holy mother of God, is it ever exhausting and  effing miserable.

The growth mindset, by contrast, is

“based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

Que the lightbulb going on over my head. I’d never thought of it this way. Never. I’ve spent the bulk of my life being deeply entrenched in the fixed mindset, and it never occurred to me to focus on growth, cultivating new skills (I’m one of those people who, if I’m not immediately good at something, I get frustrated/righteously pissed off and walk away), or, y’know, cutting myself some slack.

Source: fitfluential.com

But ehrmagherd, y’all: once I started reading more about the growth mindset and the growth-focused approach to life, I felt like a huge weight was starting to lift off my shoulders. A burden I’ve been carrying around for 32 years started to lighten. It was pretty astonishing.

With tall that being said, I’ll obviously write a lot more about the growth mindset, other sources of perfectionism, and how to overcome it — and, in fact, I plan to do a whole series of posts on this. So, here’s to a) the weekend, and b) the upcoming Overcoming Perfectionism series!