Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 Goals: Half-time Check-In

The year is over half over (!!!) so I thought it would be a good time to check in on how my 2016 goals are coming along.

1.  Health and Fitness

- PR at the YWCA women's triathlon.  Status = Not able to complete due to my hip surgery. :(

- Run a sub-4 hour marathon at Grandma's marathon. Status = Not able to complete due to my hip surgery. :(

2.  Personal growth

 - Identify an organization to volunteer with and volunteer on a consistent basis. Status = In Process. I decided to volunteer in an adult ESL classroom through Minnesota Literacy Council. In June I started to volunteer as a classroom assistant on a weekly basis and I am loving it!! I usually work with the beginner class and our students are a mix of Latinos and Somalians. It's given me a whole new level of appreciation for the things I take for granted. I know things are not perfect here, but being born in the U.S. is like winning the lottery as we have so much freedom, opportunity, access to health care and safety/security compared to other parts of the world.

3.  Reading

- Finish all of the books on my nook.  Status = In Process. I've read 3 books but still have 1 more to read.

- Read 12 physical books that I already own.  Status = In Process. I've read 6 books so am on track to complete this goal.

- Complete the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Status = In Process. I've completed 15 out of 24 tasks.


4.  Mental health

- Have one "shouldless" day a month and blog about it. Status = In Process. I've managed to have a shouldless day 5 out of the 6 months so far this year, so I have a little bit of catching up to do.

***

All in all, I feel like I'm doing pretty well with my goals. I won't achieve the health and fitness ones, but that's out of my control. Out of everything I've set out to accomplish this year, I have the most pride/sense of satisfaction about starting to volunteer on a weekly basis with an organization with a great cause.

Did you set any goals for the year? If so, are you on track to complete them?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Currently: July

I can already tell that July is going to be a fast and furious kind of month!  Here's what's going on in my world these days!

Reading: The One-in-a-Million Boy. This was on Modern Mrs. Darcy's summer reading list, so Amber and I decided to both read it and we will have a 2-person book club discussion about it in August!

Loving: meals from our grill. Now that we have a gas grill, most of the meals we make are made on the grill. This past week I experimented with this kabob recipe (with the modification of eliminating the cheese) as I'm trying out kabob recipes in preparation for the book club I'll be hosting in late August. They were really good and it was a good way to use up some of my fresh Greek oregano from my plant on our deck, but I think I need to try a few more recipes before deciding on one!


Thinking: about what color to paint the doors of our house. I've decided that I need to do something about our egg yolk yellow doors. I'm leaning toward painting our doors a rusty red color, like the color in the photos below, as hopefully that will go well with our two-toned dark brown/cream siding. This house is about a block from us and I keep hoping I will catch the owners while they are outdoors when I'm out for a walk so I can ask them what the brand/name of the color is!



Feeling: frustrated with the pace of my recovery from hip surgery. I hit a bit of a set back earlier this month as my hip flexor started to act up, so I had to stop biking and using the elliptical. I'm trying to add some biking back but I biked for 30 minutes yesterday and I don't think my hip flexor liked that very much.  Le sigh. My therapist said this is totally normal and that recovery is different for everyone but I'm starting to feel like I'm never going to be able to run again. I know that's a dramatic thing to say but running is still just so far off and I miss it so much. 

Anticipating: combining business with pleasure on my next 2 business trips. Today I fly to DC and will get to see Becky and her husband Ben, and meet Parker! Then next week I fly to Chicago and get to see my friend Nilsa and her family! They recently moved so I am excited to check out their new home.

(Still) Watching: my garden grow each week and loving it!  When I got back from my week at the lake, I was able to pick my radishes, which I enjoyed on my salad last week. This past weekend I started to pick some beets, which I roasted and will eat on my salads this week. I can't wait for my beans and cucumbers to start to grow! I've got some peppers that will be ready to eat once they turn red, and there are tons of tomatoes that need to ripen. I'm totally digging  this whole gardening thing!




Working: on getting Phil on board with the list of house projects I'd like to do before the end of the year. We have different decision-making styles as I make decisions fast and want to cross things off the to do list quickly whereas he has a 'percolation' decision style as he needs to mull things over. He's on board with me painting the doors, though, and hopefully we can agree on which rooms in the house to paint and what color to paint them. I'm lobbying to paint both bathrooms and our dining rooms.

 
Grateful: that I was in the financial position to buy a new car last week and that I made a decision that I feel good about. I purchased a new Toyota Camry last weekend. Similar to my purchase of my Accord, I went the practical route and selected a car that will hopefully last me for 10+ years. I wasn't excited about buying a new car as cars and driving just aren't my thing, and it's hard for me to get excited about purchasing a depreciating asset. That said, it is nice to have a new car with new features like blue tooth and a rear camera. I'm most excited about being able to listen to podcasts over the sound system in my car as that wasn't something I could do in my old Accord!



Phil took a photo of me with my new car to commemorate the purchase!

Listening:  to Pandora's Hipster Cocktail Station. This station is THE BEST. It's a mix of older, classic songs by artists such as Frank Sinatra and newer songs by artists such as Ray LaMontagne.

Wishing: time would slow down. I know it's cliche to say this, but I can't believe it's mid-July already. I love this time of year so much as I love warm, sunny weather and I just want the days to slow down so I can really focus on enjoying this season. Granted, part of the reason that time is flying is that I am really over-planning my weeks. I am probably due for another 'plan free' week soon.


What are you anticipating, loving, and listening to these days?

Friday, July 15, 2016

10 Year Later - Remembering a Life Changing Experience

I'm ending this week with a heavy post, but a post that is very important for me to share, as it was an event that has shaped my life.

10 years ago today, I was at work on a Saturday, counting down the hours until I could go home when my mom called and tearfully told me that my cousin Chris had taken his life. I remember sitting at work and sobbing over this news. I knew of others whose lives had been touched by suicide but nothing can prepare you for having it impact your own life. There are no words to describe the sadness my extended family felt over the loss of a great young man, or how helpless we felt as we watched his immediate family deal with this tremendous loss.

I will never forget the homily that the priest gave at Chris's funeral. He talked about how Chris was going through some difficult things and he asked each person in the congregation to stand up if they would have been willing to talk to Chris and help him through the difficulties he was struggling with. It was overwhelming to watch every single person in that huge, packed church rise to their feet. The priest then told the congregation to look around and to remember that we are never alone and that there are always people who care and are willing to help you out in your time of need.

The message from that homily has stayed with me, and will always stay with me. In my 20s, I went through a period of depression. It was a difficult stage of my life. There were some pretty dark moments and times where I felt such a sense of despair. But through it all, I remembered that I was never alone. That homily message and the memory of seeing hundreds of people rise to their feet gave me something to look back on to remind myself that I was not and will never be alone. Luckily the period of depression is behind me and I am in a much better place now, but that message will always stay with me.

I've moved 5 times in the last 10 years, but after each move, the picture of Chris that the family sent out in the thank you cards after the funeral goes on the top corner of my fridge. 


It is a reminder to never forget this dear person that we lost. It is a reminder of the lessons I learned through his passing. It is a reminder that we are never alone and that there is a sea of people who care.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Scenes From My Week Off: Adele and Lake Time

My week off got off to a great start last week as I went to the Adele concert with a good friend on Tuesday night. I've been a huge Adele fan for years, so I was so excited to go to her concert. She put on an absolutely amazing show! I would definitely see her in concert again!


Not the best photo, but it was tough to take photos during the concert. In this picture, Adele is center stage and her orchestra is playing behind her.
On Wednesday morning, I was up bright and early and drove up to my parents' lake home. My Chicago brother and his family had arrived the day before, so I got them to myself for about a day which was nice.

I was hoping to be a bit more active during my vacation, but at my Tuesday PT appointment, I was told that I need to stop biking and using the elliptical for a couple of weeks as my range of motion isn't improving enough and I might be developing tendinitis in my hip flexor. Le sigh. So I only went for one walk and did my PT exercises every day. #lame

My niece, Anna, kept me company while I did my PT exercises. I taught her how to do bridges.
It was great spending time with my niece and nephew. I wish we lived closer to each other but living far apart just makes me appreciate the time I get to spend with them!

Kolin and me
Besides soaking up lots of family time, I also ate lots of good food. My sister-in-law made homemade tortilla chips on the grill - I'll definitely be making some in the future when I have leftover corn tortillas!

My sister-in-law Emily, (wo)manning the grill

The delicious Mexican meal we enjoyed on Thursday night!
There were also card games...

My dad looks angry in this photo but I swear he was having fun!
...bean bag toss...


....time with my sister (who has been mistaken as my twin in the past)...


...and time with this guy!


This was the longest stretch that I have spent at the lake in quite a long time, and it was just what the doctor ordered! Of course, the weekend ended on a sour note as my car broke down 20 minutes into my drive home. I found out on Monday that the transmission is shot and the cost of repairing it exceeds the value of the car, so I will be buying a new car this week. Womp, womp. But despite that crappy end to the week, it was still a wonderful week off!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Scenes from my week off: our 3rd of July BBQ

Happy Monday! I'm back from my relaxing staycation slash lake vacation! I had a great week off but it ended on a crappy note as my car stopped working about 20 minutes into my 3 hour drive back yesterday, and was completely undriveable so I had to have it towed. I'm pretty sure the problem is with the transmission so I think I will likely be buying a new car this week.  Womp womp.

But let's focus on the positive, because aside from the crappy car experience, the week was awesome. I thought I'd share some photos from my week off, starting with photos from the BBQ we hosted on July 3rd.

We had a good mix of people at our BBQ as there were some of my book club friends and some of Phil's high school friends, a college friend, and his friend from work. We had 13 people total, which was more than we were anticipating when we planned it as so many people tend to leave Minneapolis on holiday weekends to go to lake cabins (as was the case with my college friends!). Even though some people had never met before, everyone socialized well and had a good time.

First off, this is what party planning looks like when you are super anal like I am. I got this from my mom, although I will say she doesn't use an excel spreadsheet to plan out her grocery shopping like I do.  ;)

Alllll the lists keep me organized and feeling in control!


The appetizer and drinks table. I made corn & bean salsa and a white wine sangria that was finished off with prosecco. We also had beer, white wine, some liquor for mixed drinks, and sodas.
No one went home hungry! Besides the salsa we served as an ap, we made burgers, brats, potato salad, carmelitas (I highly recommend these bars and they still tasted great with the substitution of GF flour), and we sliced some watermelon. Our guests each brought a dish to share so there was a TON of food!
Our spread, minus the burgers that were still on the grill when this photo was taken!
Oh and I have to mention that we included a food waste receptacle so we could compost any food waste. Phil says I am the composting queen as I am sooo into composting as much as we can!


The 4th of July was more low key for us as we were pretty tired out from hosting. Phil used the leftover salsa and a brat to jazz up the eggs and hash browns he made for breakfast.




Phil golfed on the 4th, I did laundry and did some organizing around the house, and then we got together that evening with friends to play cards, which was a fun way to end the long holiday weekend!

Do you enjoy hosting people for parties? Are you a super anal party planner like I am or do you tend to go with the flow?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Podcasts, Books and Looks of June (+ another bonus article)

Happy July! Happy Friday! Today is an especially happy Friday for me because I have next week off! It'll be a mix of a staycation and lake vacation as I'll be in Minneapolis Saturday-Tuesday and at the lake Wednesday-Sunday. I can't wait!

Here's my recap for the month of June. Similar to last month, I'm skipping a recap of my workouts because yaaaaaawn. And I also added an article that's worth reading, especially for fellow Midwesterners as you likely have some reserved men in your lives.

Podcasts:

On Being: The Myth of Closure - In this podcast, the host interviews Professor Pauline Boss. Boss specializes in grief and loss, and one of her areas of expertise is "ambiguous loss." An example of ambiguous loss is losing a person mentally, but not physically, which is what happens when a loved one suffers from dementia. Phil lost his dad to Alzheimer's and several of my friends have lost parents, so the topic of grief and loss is pertinent for me as the better my understanding, the more I can support those who have lost loved ones. One thing I really loved about this podcast was her emphasis on the fact that we can not expect closure when we lose a loved one; instead, it's something we will grieve for the rest of our lives. I also thought it was interesting how she emphasized that the 5 stages of grief were never meant to apply to the living - they were designed as a framework for those preparing for death to deal with the reality of dying.

Books: 

I read 7 books in June. My favorite book was Wonder. It's a middle-grade novel but I think most adults would benefit from reading it. I loved its message of "being kinder than is necessary." The starred books are books I read for the read harder challenge; the bolded books are physical books I already owned so those count toward my "read 12 books I own" challenge for 2016.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton - 3 stars
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens - 3 stars
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed by Meghan Daum* - 2 stars
Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons - 2 stars
Wonder by R.J. Palacio* - 5 stars
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie - 3 stars
Momo by Michael Ende - 3 stars

Looks:

After a couple of months of feeling blah about my looks, I have a couple of outfits to share!

Last month I bought a couple things from Cabi, including these bright citron-colored pants. I am sure that some people think this color is obnoxious, but bright-colored pants are my jam!


My second look doesn't feature anything new. I got the top from Stitch Fix last summer and the skirt is a Banana Republic skirt that I have had for many years. I like the color combination of the khaki and bright blue, and of course I love that the top is striped!



Bonus Article:

How my dad's reserve prepared me for life with Minnesota men - This short essay about reserved men perfectly describes the kind of men my dad and Phil are. They are quiet and reserved and not prone to big shows of emotion, and they prefer to show their love through actions, not words. The paragraphs below really express the essence of how my dad and Phil express their love.

"This is how my dad expresses himself: It’s not that he never says “I love you,” it’s that he feels the truth of it more in action than in words. (If my) Dad heard I needed something that he could provide, ... he quietly provided it. He is allergic to making a show of something, even when there is legitimate sentiment behind it. In Dad Land, you must never mistake a lack of words for an absence of feeling. In fact, it is the opposite: The more intense the emotion, the less likely you’ll ever hear a word about it. So you have to pay attention. 

... I have to remind myself to listen to the actions of the Minnesota men in my life, because the expression of their affection and loyalty is so underplayed. Everyone is so circumspect. No one wants to make anyone uncomfortable with an outpouring of emotion."



Happy July, everyone!  Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends and Happy 4th of July to my American friends!  I'm taking next week off from blogging so will check back with all of you when I return from my time at the lake.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What Should You Read Next?

In my world, there's no such thing as a season for reading, because I read voraciously throughout the year. However, I recognize that the concept of "summer reading" is very real for others. Maybe it's the longer hours of daylight, the fact that many people take vacations in the summer, or the time spent by water, but it seems like a time of year that begs us to set aside our work and chores and spend some time with our nose in a book!

A co-worker recently asked me for some book recommendations for an upcoming vacation to Europe. I thought I'd share the recommendations I made in case some of you are looking for your next great read! These are all back-list recommendations so should be available at the library immediately!

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda - I read this book over 4 years ago, but it's still one that comes to the top of my list when people ask for a book recommendation. It's about a mixed-race couple that adopts a child from India. The author does a wonderful job of expressing the intricacies of adoption, especially an international adoption. Read this is you want a thought-provoking, engaging novel with excellent character development.







The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson - I usually avoid the thriller genre as I'm kind of a chicken when it comes to scary or intense story lines. But when a former co-worker with great taste in reading recommended this book, I had to check it out.  It's a gripping, creepy thriller that captivated me from the first page to the final sentence of the book. Read this if you are looking for a psychological page turner that will keep you up past your bedtime.







The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez - This is a sad and moving story about a Mexican family that emigrates to the U.S. to seek better medical help for their daughter who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. The point-of-view changes from chapter to chapter which makes it especially engaging. It will make you think about chains of events and all the somewhat insignificant decisions we make every day that form the path our lives take. Read this if you want to attempt to gain some understanding of what it is like to come to the U.S. as an immigrant.





We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - This is technically a young adult book, but don't let that characterization hold you back from reading it if YA isn't your thing. This is a fast-paced intriguing read about a family that gathers at a sea-side home every summer. Read this if you want to be completely swept away by a story.  








What are some books you commonly recommend to others? 

P.S. If you are looking for more book recommendations, I recommend checking out the podcast, "What Should I Read Next." There is a different guest each week and the host makes recommendations based upon 3 books they loved and 1 book they hated. I would love to be a guest on the show someday!