Friday, February 5, 2016

7 Lessons in 35 Years

Tomorrow, I turn 35. It's a little bit hard for me to wrap my mind around that. While I know that 35 is certainly not old, it's older than I feel. Admittedly, some of my disbelief about turning 35 has to do with the fact that I haven't had some of the life experiences (namely, marriage and babies) that most of my peers have, at least in this region of the country. I know that the comparison game does me absolutely no good so rather than focusing on the things that are absent from my life at age 35, I am choosing to reflect on the many amazing experiences I've had over the last 35 years. Experiences like travel, professional accomplishments, marathons, etc.

In addition to the wonderful experiences I've had over the last 35 years, I've also learned a lot of valuable life lessons.  There are many I could list out but I thought I'd limit myself to 7 - one for every 5 years of my life.

1.  You do you.  This is a lesson that I've really come to learn in my 30's. The beauty of getting older, at least for me, is that you come to accept yourself for who you are and you stop apologizing for that. "You do you" means being unapologetic about who you are, what your priorities are, and how you choose to spend your time.  It's finding what works for you in terms of relationships, friendships, career choices, fitness, and other aspects of your life. I'm continuously trying to put this lesson into practice and I'm certainly not doing that perfectly, but I've made progress over the past several years.

2.  You are not your career. Even though, "What do you do for a living?" is often the first question a person asks when they first meet you, it does not need to be the number one thing that defines who you are. Granted, there is nothing wrong with working hard to advance your career and finding new ways to challenge yourself at work but it does become problematic when you are connecting those advances and successes to your worth as a human being. I started to realize I was falling prey to that line of thinking and over the past 1-2 years, I have worked to limit the extent to which my career defines who I am.

3.  Money spent on travel is money well spent. I have never regretted the money I have spent on travel and doubt I ever will. Traveling has opened my mind to new cultures and ways of living but it also makes me thankful for the life I have built back home. 

4.  ... But saving is important, too.  The counterpoint to spending money on travel is that it's also important to save.  I learned this lesson the hard way in 2013 when my job was relocated to Charlotte. The severance package was small and I did not have enough savings to feel comfortable with taking the risk of being out of work for awhile, so I felt "forced" to make that move. Since then I have really focused on saving so that I will never be in that kind of position again.

5.  You are responsible for your own happiness. I spent a good chunk of my 20's thinking I'd be happy when I had a different/better job, or when I was in a relationship, or when I was at my "happy" weight, or after I ran a marathon, and so on, and so forth. In my late 20's and early 30's, I learned that all those externalities shouldn't determine whether you are happy. I have made steps to create a life that makes it easier to be happy, like moving to an urban setting, but happiness truly has to come from within. I think this is an important lesson to learn before entering a committed relationship, because if you can't be happy on your own, being in a relationship is not going to fix that - at least not for the long-term in my opinion. While my relationship makes me happier, Phil is not responsible for making me happy - that's my job.

6.  Building your "tribe" is essential.  I've been through a lot of change over the last several years which has taught me that it's so important to have a wide range of friends with similar values to support you through the ups and downs of life. I've also learned that this tribe of people may change over the years in ways I wouldn't have imagined and that is OK as people grow and change, and grow closer or grow apart.

7.  Comparison is the thief of joy. Thanks to social media, we are so much more aware of what others are doing and, in general, I don't think this has a positive impact on our level of happiness. I try to remind myself that it's not fair to compare the reel of my life, which includes the good and bad moments, to the highlights of life that others are sharing on Facebook and Instagram. I have to remind myself of this very often as it's a conscious choice to not play the comparison game.

In closing, while I'm a bit weirded out by my age, I'm very excited to celebrate this birthday as I get to spend it on the beaches of Riviera Maya in Mexico with my love.  We'll be mostly disconnected from social media and such as we opted to not have wifi in our room so that we could really disconnect from the outside world on this trip. But I'm sure I'll find time to stop into the lobby to read my birthday emails and Facebook posts at the end of the day. I'm excited to spend the day soaking up some vitamin D, relaxing, reading, and doing whatever else strikes us as fun that day!

What are some of the best lessons you have learned in life thus far?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Podcasts, Books, Miles and Looks of January

Oh January.  I greeted you with such excitement and you kind of let me down.  I was happy to see you go.  But I have high expectations for February as it includes my birthday, a trip to Mexico, and a visit to my parents' lake home!

Podcasts:

Modern Love Podcast, Episode 2.   I've been a long-time reader of the New York Time's weekly "Modern Love" essays, so I was thrilled when I learned that they were starting a podcast! They have a professional actor read an essay and then at the end of the podcast they interview the author of the essay. There are only 3 so far and they are about 25 minutes so you could easily catch up if you haven't started listening. My favorite of the three was episode 2 which is entitled, "Just One Last Swirl Around the Bowl." On the surface, it's about the death of a family's goldfish, but it's really about grief, mortality, and dealing with the loss of loved ones.

Books:

My reading was low in December but it bounced back big time in January, mostly due to the fact that I was not able to be as active as I normally am and I planned waaaaaay less which was glorious!  I read 9 books this month and my favorite was Kitchens of the Great Midwest, which I highly recommend! The starred ones counted towards the Read Harder Challenge.


Gratitude by Oliver Sacks* - 4 stars
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - 4 stars
A Pig in Provence by Georgeann Brennan* - 3 stars
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - 4 stars
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal - 4 stars **favorite**
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight - 3 stars
Blindness by Jose Saramago* - 3 stars
Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn - 2 stars
The Known World by Edward P. Jones* - 2 stars

Miles:

Oh boy, January was not a great month for working out due to my health issues. I really wanted to work on building my long runs but that was sidelined thanks to my RA. My total mileage for the month was 47 miles but I managed to go to yoga 12 times and did 5 other strength training workouts. Here's hoping that February is a much better month. I'm starting to question whether I will be able to train for and run this marathon given the state of my health these days... time will tell I guess.

Looks:

I guess January was the month for red as both of the looks I am sharing feature the color red! 

My first outfit features a red wool skirt that I got from J. Crew Factory during their black Friday sale which I paired with a Banana Republic button down. A girl at work had the same skirt and after I complimented her on it, she sent me the link and told me it was 50% off and said I should get it, even though that means we might be twins at work some days. I also bought it in a bright blue color.  


The second outfit features a pair of red cords that I bought at a Cabi party I attended in the fall. I paired it with a warm sweater I bought when I bought the skirt above as it was also 50% off. I wore this outfit on a double date in January when it was like -30 degrees outside with the windchill so I was all about being warm and having as little skin showing as possible!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rheumatoid Awareness Day

For most of the world, when they think of February 2nd, they think of Ground Hog's Day. But for me, today is Rheumatoid Awareness Day. When I was diagnosed with this disease, I knew next to nothing about it and I did not know anyone in my age group that had been diagnosed with the disease, so it is my hope that by sharing my experience with RA, I will raise some awareness and help others achieve an early diagnosis, which is the key to effective treatment of this chronic disease.

Since I've only had this disease for 2.5 years, I'm still learning how to talk about the disease with authority, but one area I can speak with confidence about is the diagnosis process. When I started to deal with the symptoms of RA in May of 2013, I consulted Dr. Google (like many of us do) and early on I saw that I had some of the symptoms of RA. However, the information I found online indicated that it typically affects women after age 40. I was 32 at the time and thought, "this couldn't be happening to me - I'm too young."  So I pushed aside the chance of an RA diagnosis. 

Then when I was home in August of 2013, I was in so much pain that my dad had to carry my suitcase upstairs for me because I could not grasp the handle. And my mom saw me cringing as I walked down the stairs in the morning due to the pain in my feet.  And my sister-in-law's ears pricked up when I commented about how the swelling in my hand had mysteriously moved from one hand to the other. My mom and sister-in-law both expressed concerns that I was exhibiting RA symptoms and strongly encouraged me to go back to the doctor again and demand that they get to the bottom of what was causing my pain and swelling. 

So when I got back to Charlotte, I made yet another appointment with my primary care physician and told her that something did not seem right. I had seen her several times over the course of the summer but she had diagnosed my pain and swelling as tendinitis. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with RA after my blood work was reviewed and I was physically evaluated by a Rheumatologist.

It's not a coincidence that Rheuamtoid Awareness Day falls on Groundhog's day. As the founder of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation says: "(You can) compare disease onset to the moment the groundhog comes out of his hole to look for his shadow. It's impossible to predict how aggressive the disease will be or whether treatments will be effective. The six weeks that the groundhog forecasts correspond to the short window of opportunity for people with rheumatoid disease to get early diagnosis and treatment, which has been shown to be a crucial component of positive outcome."

While I hope that none of my readers are impacted by this disease, my hope is that by sharing my symptoms and experience with this disease, it will raise the awareness and help someone else get diagnosed during that short window of opportunity so that they, too, can effectively manage their disease as I have been able to.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What's Saving My Life Right Now

Kathleen of Kapacino recently shared a post of what she's loving lately, which turned me onto a new book-themed podcast (bringing the total number of book podcasts I listen to to 6!) called What Should I Read Next. I love the host's voice and the thoughtfulness of her recommendations so much that I decided to poke around her blog for a bit. I stumbled across this post where she talks about a practice of keeping a list of things that are saving her life right now. Here is an except from her post in case you don't want to read the whole post:

"Most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, if asked. Some of us are overwhelmed with hurry and worry; some of us face crushing poverty; some feel paralyzed, unable to move.

But few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. (Yet) it’s too good a question to not revisit every once in a while: what are the things—big or small—that are saving us?"

Admittedly, January was a challenging month for me. Between a cold turning into a sinus infection and my RA flare - which impacted me both mentally and physically - I faltered a bit in the first month of the year.  I was so excited for the start of a new year as it brings so much promise for new experiences and the pursuit of new goals, but January felt like it lacked forward progress and instead the RA flare was a crushing reality check that I have a crappy disease.

I want to leave behind those icky feelings that emerged in January and start fresh this month, so when I saw that Anne encouraged her readers to share "what's saving their life right now" on February 1st, I decided it was the perfect time for me to play along!  Before I share my list, I want to emphasize that my life is great.  Yes, January was tough for me, but I realize that my blessings FAR outweigh the challenges in my life. I'm still the happy person I normally am - January just put a bit of a ding in my armor.

Here's a list of some of the things saving my life right now.

Phil and Miss Oscar.  Of course my list has to start with Phil and Oscar.  Spending time with them is the best part of every week. I feel a sense of peace and calmness when I am at Phil's house, and Oscar provides lots of laughs and entertainment. We fawn over her the way new parents fawn over a new child, I think.  She definitely prefers Phil to me - big time - since he is the giver of treats, feeds her, and cleans the litter box, but that makes me appreciate the times she snuggles up to me even more.

Supportive family and friends.  What would I do without my family and friends?  While I don't see them as often as I would like, I completely feel their love and support. My mom and little sister have done an especially good job of checking in on me as they are both nurses (my mom doesn't work as a nurse but she'll forever be my personal nurse!) so they have a good understanding of the challenges and symptoms of RA.

Reading.  Where would I be without my love of books? As George R.R. Martin so aptly said, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once." I'm so thankful for the escape that reading provides. There's nothing quite like cozying up on the couch with a good book.

Yoga.  I never really thought I'd become a lover of yoga as I thought I might be too impatient of a person to enjoy it. But I've been practicing regularly since November and it has been so great for me. It's still a challenging workout (because, for instance, ALL the planks!) but it's also very calming and soothing for me.  Best of all, though, is getting to practice yoga in a heated room - which I especially appreciate during this time of year.

Knitting.  Every winter, I rediscover my love for knitting.  I have a problem with feeling guilty when I watch TV, and I also have trouble staying awake when watching movies or other shows with Phil during the weekend, but knitting solves both problems as it allows me to feel like I am being productive while watching TV and it keeps me from falling asleep!  Plus the rhythm of my clicking needles is very soothing.

Coffee.  I heart coffee.  So much.  I love it even more when I sharing it with a friend. One of my closest friends lives close to Phil so I've been trying to stop by with coffee or meet her at a coffee shop on my way to/from Phil's lately and those catch up sessions are the best.

Going to Mexico.  We leave for Mexico on Friday and knowing that I have this vacation to look forward to has been a life saver lately!  I can't wait to spend 5 days relaxing on the beach with my favorite person.

Gluten free cheerios.  Random, I know, but sometimes little things in life can really be life savers. While I love cooking, sometime I just want to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner. I'm so glad General Mills figured out how to make GF cheerios as that is one of my favorite kinds of cereal! 

Mild winter weather and longer hours of daylight.   The temperatures have been around 30F lately which feels glorious after the cold spell we had in January. I've been able to wear my light fall jacket to work instead of my heavy down one. The days are also getting longer which means it's not dark when I walk to and from work anymore.

Repetitive prayer.  While my sleep has greatly improved, I still struggle to fall asleep at times and repeating prayers over and over (Our Fathers and Hail Marys) seems to help as I often times fall asleep in the middle of saying prayers.

All of you.  Yes, you, the people reading my blog.  I love reading your comments and I'm so grateful that my blog has allowed me to connect with so many like-minded and wonderful people across the globe!

What's saving your life these days?

Friday, January 29, 2016

TGIF

Happy Friday, everyone!  I hope everyone had a great week!  I'm very happy to greet the weekend today!  Here's how my week played out.

The high of my week was getting together with a friend I used to work with for lunch. I saw her at a wedding in December but I hadn't had one-on-one time with her in many months. It was so great to catch up!

The low of my week was ... nothing really stands out which is great because January has not been my best month due to the health issues I've had.

A book I am reading is The Known World by Edward P. Jones. This Pulitzer-prize winning novel is mostly about a freed slave who goes on to own slaves (I had no idea that actually happened!). There are many other stories woven in along the way, so at times I've had a hard time keeping track of who is who but overall it's been an interesting read. I've owned this book for 5+ years and am glad I'm finally getting around to reading it! It will also count toward the read harder challenge for the book set before 1900 category.

A recipe I am making this week is this enchilada casserole that I saw on Huffington post last week which I am making tonight.  I had leftover tortillas and enchilada sauce from the enchiladas I made last week so it's a good way to use up the leftover ingredients!

For my workouts I went to power yoga on Monday, did a strength training workout on Tuesday, went to yoga sculpt on Wednesday, ran with a friend on Thursday, and today is a rest day. Tomorrow I will run with my club and then on Sunday I'll go to a power yoga class. This is my first week of normal workouts since early January.  I'm being careful about how much I am working out and the intensity of those workouts as I know my body is still in a bit of a fragile state due to my RA flare. Normally I'd like to do 2-3 sculpt classes a week and 1 power yoga class (in addition to other workouts) but right now I am switching it around to 2-3 power yoga classes and 1 sculpt class until I feel more confident that my body has fully healed.

The best money I spent was on some bare minerals foundation and eye shadow. Gone are the days of getting cheap make-up from Target as I now realize that some things, like facial products and make-up, are worth spending a bit more money on.

My plans this weekend include staying in tonight and making dinner for Phil. Tomorrow I am going to run with my club in the morning and then in the evening, Phil is taking me to the recording of A Prairie Home Companion as an early birthday present!  I am sooo excited for this as two of my favorite artists, Ben Folds and Brandi Carlile, are guests on the show!  Afterwards we'll go out for dinner somewhere in St. Paul. On Sunday I'm going over to Phil's mom's as I am going to make dinner for her and Phil.  When I made dinner for her last fall she was so excited that she told pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, which I thought was so cute.  Since it meant so much to her, I am going to try to make dinner for her once a quarter.  Last time I made something that was way too spicy so this time around I'm making my favorite chicken pasta dish.

What was the high of your week?  What are your plans for the weekend?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Try This at Home Tuesday: Shredded Brussel Sprout Salad

Greetings and happy Tuesday!  Here we are in the final week of January which means I have one last salad recipe to share with you. It's been fun to focus on salads for this past month. I've learned a couple of things along the way but the biggest lesson I learned was that I should never buy salad dressings again because they are cheap and easy to make and taste WAY better than the processed ones I used to buy.

For my final week of salads-for-lunch, I made a  Shredded Brussel Sprout Salad. I had made this as a side dish for Thanksgiving but it's hearty enough to stand on it's own as an entree salad. I did make some modifications, though, such as substituting roasted butternut squash for the pear and toasting the almonds. I also added some chicken for protein and celery for extra crunch.

The balsamic maple dressing for this salad is sooooo good and very easy to make.  I doubled it so I'd have enough for 4-5 salads:

2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. EVOO
1 T. pure maple syrup
1 t. dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste


Shredded brussel sprouts are such a great substitution for greens as they area  bit more hearty and will be more filling than lettuce, I think. 

It's been fun to focus on salads for the last month. That said, I'm looking forward to switching back to warm and savory dishes, especially since I crave warm things during this time of year. But this challenge showed me that salads can be filling and enjoyable on their own. 

What are you planning to eat for lunches this week?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Year of Less: My February Purge

Since the start of the year, I've seen many posts from fellow bloggers about their one word mantra for 2016. It's always interesting to hear the word that others choose and how they go about turning that one word into action. After thinking about it, I decided that my one word for 2016 is lessLess saying yes to things I don't truly want to do.  Less feeling guilty about saying no to things I don't want or truly need to do.  Less accumulation of physical possessions.  Less worrying about things that are out of my control. Hopefully by focusing on less, I will make room for more. More time to invest into the relationships that matter most to me. More time to invest in the hobbies that bring me joy. More of a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. Throughout the year, I plan to share how I am incorporating my one word into my everyday living.

Sometimes these one word mantras are a bit philosophical and not exactly measurable. But there are aspects of my one word mantra that are measurable - like looking around and seeing less physical possessions. Which is why my focus for February will be on possessions. I've moved quite a bit over the last several years which always results in a purge when I begin the packing process. But I look around my small 1 bedroom condo and know that more can be done. Then earlier month I was listening to The Minimalists podcasts and they mentioned a minimalism game. Here is how it works:

"For a month, you must get rid of one thing on the first day. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash."

Sounds a little bit extreme, right?  But also kind of fun if you are the kind of person who is looking for a fun and unique way to get rid of possessions you don't need. I decided that February is going to be my month to play this game. If I make it through the entire month, I will have shed 435 items.  I told another friend about my plan to do this, and her and her husband were so excited by the idea of this that they started that very day and are now on day 14. It's nice to know another person that is doing it as we've talked about the kind of things we are going to get rid of and she's talked about how good it feels to get stuff they don't need/use out of the house.

I've already had a couple of people tell me that this is so extreme and impossible and that no one, besides a pack rat or hoarder, has 435 things to get rid of. Anyone who has been to my home can attest to the fact that I am not a pack rat or hoarder, but I still think I can come dang close to finding 435 things to donate or throw away.  So in February, I'll be checking in mid-month and at the end of the month to share what exactly I've gotten rid of.

I'm really excited to take on this challenge. I find that the older I get, the less "stuff" I want and this will provide an organized way to get rid of some of that stuff.  If this has sparked your interest, I challenge you to join me!  Maybe you won't make it through all 29 days but at a minimum you'll end up getting rid of some things.

Where do you stand on the accumulation of things? Do you find yourself wanting less as you get older or is the opposite true for you?