Friday, September 30, 2011

One Step at a Time

Sometimes when things seem overwhelming, I focus on taking one step at a time.  When my calendar is booked back-to-back all week or all month, I try to view it one day--or even one hour--at a time.  What do I have to do right now?  What's immediate?  Everything at once is just intimidating... but one thing at a time is manageable and provides small victories along the way.  I can think, I completed something. I checked something off my list. I did one small thing.

This approach can apply to many aspects of life--work, home, school.  When you are working to accomplish a large project, each step is a step forward, a step closer to the end goal (even if it feels like a step back sometimes!).  Tonight, I was looking around at our condo and noticing all the little things.  Although I feel like making updates to the condo is a never-ending project, we've done A LOT since moving in: painting, furnishing, decorating, and most importantly, just living--really making it our own.

The condo is still a work-in-progress, but the room that feels the most "done" (is it ever truly done?) is our master bedroom.  We recently hung some pictures we took during our travels to Europe.  (Scott snapped the one on the left while studying abroad in Spain, and I took the two on the right while visiting Ireland with two girlfriends from high school.)  It's amazing how hanging pictures or frames or anything on the walls can make a room feel so much cozier.  Anyway, I'll let these images speak for themselves...those little details really add up to something--in this case, our home.

For reference, this is the "before" picture of our master bedroom, taken on our first day as homeowners.  Brown walls (yes, that's a dark brown accent wall), bedside lamps on the wall, mirrored closet doors, flimsy trim and baseboards... we've come a long way, baby.

And now let's focus in a bit... to really take a look at the small details, the things I love, the "one step at a time" of this process.

Lacquered boxes: HomeGoods
Candles and candlesticks: HomeGoods and Marshall's
Pillow: HomeGoods
Lamp: HomeGoods; bedside table: Pier 1
Gold pillow: Sears; Turquoise & white pillows: Honey Pie Design
Mirror: HomeGoods
Containers: HomeGoods

Candlestick: HomeGoods most likely
(thanks, Mom... you've passed on your addiction!)
Frames on right: Michael's
You might recall the updated campaign dressers, the DIY upholstered headboard, the vintage leather armchair from Chic Antique, or those turquoise and white pillows, an Etsy purchase from Honey Pie Design.  So I suppose I revealed some of the small victories along the way...

After this bedroom tour, I think it's nearing my own bedtime.  So glad it's Friday.  In the mindset of "one step at a time," I plan to treasure each moment of this relaxing fall weekend.  Hope you all do too!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 5 Recap

Yes, this is my Week Five recap... though it's really been three weeks since my last Make-Ahead Meals post.  During that period, I've had time to try two new meals.  Once the Labor Day weekend was over, my calendar kicked into high gear, hence the lack of dinner-making.  Between getting home late from class two nights a week, some weekend meals out and a trip to South Bend last weekend for the ND game, these Make-Ahead Meals were stuck in the freezer a bit longer.

Explanations aside, I've got two scrumptious meals to share.  (And just wait until my next--and final--Make-Ahead Meals post... a fun twist is in store!)

Warm Chicken Salad
Building block: pulled chicken
(This recipe calls for arugula, but we were out of any type of salad or lettuce, so Scott kindly picked up a bag of what was available at the corner Walgreens...)

Pork Chilaquiles
Building blocks: pulled pork and tomato sauce

This meal went really well with a marg!
Good news: the full collection of Make-Ahead Meal recipes is available online.  Find all the recipes and ingredients for the building blocks and 20 meals at Every Day with Rachael Ray's site.

*I'll be updating past posts with recipe-specific links for easy access to ingredients and step-by-step instructions--so you can make any and all of these meals yourself!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mom Knows Best

Scott and I are hanging out on the couch, splitting a bottle of pinot grigio.  It's been a long week, but this morning started with a very insightful email from my mom.

I've learned over the years that Mom really knows best.  It might have taken a freezing-cold night camping with the Girl Scouts without my winter coat because I refused to listen to her suggestion to take it along... but I have since trusted her advice (for the most part!)

I wanted to share her email with you all too (I highlighted some of my favorite nuggets in bold).  Read on for a mother's wisdom...
Easter 2010... (I'm the bottom left...the shoe with tulle!)
It sounds to me like most of us right now are very overwhelmed with life. I wish I had the magic answer to make all this anxiety disappear but unfortunately that is not the case. Some of life's worries can be avoided by planning ahead and prioritizing what is important in life but some are inevitable. Try not to set yourself for failure though. We are human and have a limitation as to how much we can get accomplished in a day or week. We are very compassionate and driven people who hold ourselves to very high and sometimes too high expectations. Here are some tips:

1. Step back and try to look at the big picture. Will this really matter in 5 or 10 years? In the heat of the moment getting that report done on time or making a perfect meal for guests seems so stressful but really will the world come to an end if I get a B or use already prepared food instead of making everything from scratch? See what stresses in your life could be avoided or lessened by making some changes to how we approach each day. I have come to realize that if I run errands after work and get home at 7:30 it is not realistic to think that I can accomplish the long list of tasks I have. Instead of staying up past midnight and then being wiped out the next day, I try and either plan my week to have one errand day or try to get my home tasks done first and then do errands later in the week. Or if I decide to go to Home Goods for a quick errand, I have to realize that the "fun" of browsing may make me more stressed out and have to decide if it is worth it. Not sure if this makes sense...

2. I know that I have tried this approach some time with success and other times not, but when you are in a situation that you cannot really control the only thing that you can control is how you react to it. There are some frustrating and aggravating people in all of our lives. We are not going to change them as much as we hope and try, so the only thing we can do is try to change how we interact or react to them.

3. Here is when I will again sound like Pollyanna but life really is good. Try and step back and concentrate on all the wonderful blessings you have in your life. We have a loving family, friends, food to eat, a warm bed to sleep in, good education, gainful employment (for some of us) and relatively good health. This is what really matters. Sure, life is going to be filled with challenges but with the Lord's guidance we are able to tackle them. Sure, we will make mistakes but it really is OK.

I am here for all of you to vent and I hope that this helps but if there is some way to alleviate life's stresses and not keep getting ourselves into the same situation repeatedly, let's aim to do it. Take a deep breath, take in the beauty of nature, and count your blessings.

Love ya, Mom
Mom and the girls goofing around... Christmas 2010
My family is close, so we all share in each other's happiness and stress.  Things like perfectionism and anxiety seem to run in our blood.  But I'm so blessed to have my parents and sisters (and Scott!) to lean on when I am stressed, upset, or uncertain--and we have a heck of a lot of fun together.

My mom's email today was especially interesting because her words can apply to the various issues my sisters and I are currently facing in different ways.  It was certainly a reminder to focus on what is truly important in life...

On that note, I have to thank God for protecting my sister J today.  A semi truck cut her off on the highway and crashed into her car.  Miraculously, she was physically unharmed... I can't even think about the alternative.  It hits close to home since my other sister A and I had our own incident with a semi back in 2005: after being cut off, we had to brake quickly, hit ice and spun out into a snowy ditch.  We were shaken but not physically hurt, thank God.  Those d*** semi trucks!

I really don't know what I would do without my sisters.  They each bring a unique joy to my life and make me smile on a daily basis. And thank you, Mom and Dad--for listening and understanding and being there.  (This post may be sentimental, but I swear it's not the wine!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Club: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

How is it already nearing the end of September?  And I've only posted a couple of times all month.  It's back to the crazy reality of work + school + life (which includes parties, weddings, football, family and friends).  I am not complaining--just want to let you all know I haven't forgotten about the blog!

A week ago, it was my turn to host book club.  With everything going on, I felt like I had to throw the food together... and I was disappointed that I didn't have time to try a new recipe... and I worried I didn't make enough for our group of five.  But you know what?  Everything went well, and we had a good time discussing the book and other "current events" in our lives (like E's sabbatical to teach for a year in Africa and Mexico!).  Just goes to show that worrying, over-planning, and being too hard on yourself doesn't help anything.

I made homemade Reeses (that may have looked horrible and mushy, which was strange considering how many times I have made them in the past... but the peanut butter/chocolate combo never fails to taste amazing).  Then I rolled up some Tortilla Rollups without measuring anything for the filling, and I gave the Artichoke Ranch Squares from my birthday party another try.  A couple bottles of wine, and that was all we needed.

As for the book, Heaven is for Real, we chatted about how most people are likely skeptical of the story but that it was interesting and inspiring to read.  Coming from a religious background, I felt like I had more of a connection to the faith aspect of the story even if some parts seemed a little too closely and perfectly tied to scripture.  Other people had a tough time believing the little boy had experienced heaven at all and thought the events may have been exaggerated.

I was just glad that everyone felt open and willing to share their thoughts, even though anything related to religion can be touchy.  It's one of those stories that is thought-provoking and reassuring in a way--for me, it reinforced that God is there for us, regardless of whether Colton really went to heaven or not--but it's also one of those stories that is what you make it.  What you get out of it depends on what you bring to it--your background and beliefs and everything else.

For next month, we'll be reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  Let me tell you--I started reading our latest pick last night and after about 40 pages, I was sufficiently creeped out (amazing how words can have that power!).  Interestingly, it's actually considered a "young adult" reading level.  As for the story... after listening to his grandfather's stories of the orphanage in which he grew up and later witnessing his grandfather's death, Jacob seeks answers and confirmation of the truth.  A unique aspect of this book is the photographs scattered throughout, which the author tracked down and used to shape the story as he wrote it.... haunting and mysterious images that capture the tone and mood. 

via Review: Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011
As a kid, Jacob formed a special bond with his grandfather over his bizarre tales and photos of levitating girls and invisible boys. Now at 16, he is reeling from the old man's unexpected death. Then Jacob is given a mysterious letter that propels him on a journey to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. There, he finds the children from the photographs--alive and well--despite the islanders’ assertion that all were killed decades ago. As Jacob begins to unravel more about his grandfather’s childhood, he suspects he is being trailed by a monster only he can see.

A haunting and out-of-the-ordinary read, debut author Ransom Rigg’s first-person narration is convincing and absorbing, and every detail he draws our eye to is deftly woven into an unforgettable whole. Interspersed with photos throughout, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a truly atmospheric novel with plot twists, turns, and surprises that will delight readers of any age.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Five-Year Plan for a Happy Life

In the September issue of SELF, one of the feature stories "Do You Need a Five-Year Plan?" maps out tangible steps on how to create your own five-year plan.  Of course, life has twists and turns, but according to this article, research proves that the happiest people have "clear-cut goals, both short- and long-term, in a variety of areas, including friendship, love and helping others."  And isn't that what life is truly about?

For a planner like me, the thought of building a five-year plan sounds intriguing.  I've got ideas about the next couple years, but seeing a slightly bigger picture gives me the freedom to dream a little.  I don't have to get it all done in a short period of time.  I can give myself the flexibility to change paths along the way, to build up to bigger goals, and to really find what a fulfilling life means for me personally.

The author of the article, Erin Zammett Ruddy, writes about how being diagnosed with cancer caused her to reevaluate her own life plans (believe it or not, I am such a dedicated magazine reader, I actually remember reading about her journey dealing with cancer years ago--I believe it was featured in Glamour).  Of course, near-death experiences can really put your priorities in order.  But anyone can benefit from taking a few quiet moments to ponder the future...

It's as simple as scribbling down your dreams.  That act alone can make you more conscious of the world around you and opportunities to move towards your goals.  What's most important is the "joy of striving," not necessarily the end achievement (though that usually feels pretty good too!).  The key is to make your goals challenging and specific.  Push yourself to really dream, and know it's okay if you have to adapt along the way, change paths or put a dream on hold for a bit.

Here are some steps suggested in the article (I edited the explanations down a bit, and the italics are my thoughts):

1) Look back and learn. Jot down five past accomplishments you love thinking about.
This step can set you up with confidence and help you understand what makes you happy.  I thought of accomplishments such as graduating college, buying a home, getting into graduate school and pursuing my master's degree, writing a novella and beginning a novel, and starting a business.  (Is getting married an accomplishment? Because that's something I love to think about too!)  Recalling these moments reminds me that I can do things I may not have even imagined or hadn't truly planned out years in advance.

2) Brainstorm like crazy.  Set a stopwatch for 10 minutes and list everything you want to do with your life, however out-there or ambitious, without holding back.  Ask yourself three questions to focus your thoughts:
- Is there anything I've left unfinished that I'd like to complete?
- Are there classes I'd love to take or skills I'm dying to learn?
- Are there ways I want to give back to others?

3) Reflect on regret.  Scan your megalist and ask yourself, If I'm exactly where I am today five years from now, which of these goals would I most regret not pursuing?  The answer to this question will help you edit your list to the most meaningful aims.  Why five years?  That's long enough to make major strides but short enough to imagine how you want your life to look.

4) Dissect your top goals.  Ask yourself, Is this something I want for myself or something others want for me?  What will achieving it do for me?  How will it make my life more fulfilling?  In what ways will it help me create my ideal existence?

via SELF
From there, the article talks about how to map out smaller steps towards your goals (daily, weekly, monthly).  And it notes that it's okay to be flexible and make changes in your plan.  After all, it's YOUR life...

I thought this was an interesting exercise and a neat way to look at planning.  It guides me to see a bigger picture than just next month or next year, and helps me focus on what is truly important--now and five years from now and beyond.

One of the pull-quotes did a great job of boiling the full piece down to one sentence: Striving for goals is good, but savoring the process along the way to achieving them is key to fulfillment.

To read the full article (which is definitely recommended), you can find it in the September issue or on SELF's website.  Here's to the next five years!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 4 Recap

It's been a week since I last posted, and now I have another Make-Ahead Meals recap for you all.  I like to mix it up and not write about the same topic twice in a row, but sometimes life happens :)

With this long weekend, I've been savoring each moment of relaxation with friends and Scott, enjoying the sunshine and a bit of fall-like weather.  And in anticipation of the new school quarter starting this week, I've also tried not to be too hard on myself.  I don't need to be productive every second, not right now when I have some extra time.  Over the weekend, I slept in, read for fun, watched some football (ugh ND...) and a movie, went out to a nice dinner with Scott, spent time with friends, took a long walk, and saw Carrie Underwood live at an outdoor concert.

So in honor of giving myself a break, here's this past week's recap of meals.  Enjoy--because we sure did!

Pork Fried Rice
Building blocks: pulled pork, rice pilaf

Swiss Chard with Bacon and Eggs (minus the swiss chard...couldn't track it down at the grocery store... ha)
Building block: roasted peppers

Roast Pork-and-Veggie Burritos
Building blocks: pulled pork, roasted peppers, rice pilaf

All three of this week's meals were very good.  The pork fried rice tasted just like fried rice is supposed to taste--yummy.  The bacon and eggs were fabulous served over roasted peppers and onions--and garlic bread!  (Maybe it's crazy, but I've only ever made eggs scrambled--or baked in a batter--so cooking them any other way was new for me.)  And the burritos were the perfect combination of cheesy inside and flaky outside... plus the heartiness factor was high (black beans, rice, pork, AND veggies).

Aside from our make-ahead meals, I also mixed up a football favorite--Cheeseball--and a great dip, just right for a lowkey day on the couch--Buffalo Chicken Dip.

It's an easy recipe: Spread an 8-oz. package of cream cheese in the bottom of an 8x8 pan.  Toss two 5-oz. cans of chicken (drained) with buffalo sauce (I love Frank's red hot sauce) and layer onto the cream cheese.  Sprinkle blue cheese crumbles on top and warm in a 350-degree oven until bubbly and melted, about 15-20 minutes.  Another option instead of blue cheese: use shredded cheese and a bit of ranch dressing.  I stirred everything together after I warmed it in the oven and spooned the dip into a bowl for serving...  It's addictively delicious!


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