Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review: 2015 Goals

The anticipation of the crisp, fresh start of a new year has a goal-oriented gal like me practically salivating. As a lover of lists, I love setting goals (not resolutions - I'm not a resolutions person) for the new year. But I can't set my sights on what I want to accomplish in 2016 without reviewing my 2015 goals!  Here is how the year shaped up for me.

1.  Work on resolving my sleep issues.  DONE! Out of the goals I set for 2015, this was the most intimidating goal and I didn't make any progress toward it until July when I went off Ambien. I had taken Ambien every day for nearly 2 years so it was extremely difficult to adjust to a drug-free solution to my sleep issues. Luckily the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that the sleep doctors recommended worked and I am now sleeping much better. I still have further progress to make but I'm proud of the fact that I am now off of Ambien.

2.  Tackle a list of purging/organizational projects. DONE! I focused on this goal during the cold, yucky winter months and completed projects such as purging my book shelves, organizing recipes, cleaning out my financial documents filing box, and cleaning and organizing my closet. I also moved in May which forced me to do yet another purge of my belongings. It felt great to lighten my load!

3.  Complete the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. DONE! I had so much fun doing this challenge. It pushed me to read books I wouldn't have read if not for this challenge. Did I love every book I read for this challenge?  No (I'm looking at you, Sense and Sensibility). But I'm still glad I did it and look forward to participating in the 2016 challenge. 

4.  Read 12 books that I own. DONE! I still have MANY more unread books to read, but it was nice to read 12 books that I owned. As I finished each book, I either mailed it to someone that I thought might enjoy it or I donated it, thus continuing the book purge that I started at the beginning of the year when tackling my organizational projects.

5.  Employ a "Buy One Give One Away" approach to all book, clothing, and kitchen gadget purchases. DONE.  For the most part, I didn't exactly do this in tandem (i.e., I donated a bunch of books/clothes early in the year and gradually added back pieces throughout the year). I did achieve the goal in tandem when it came to my kitchen, though.

6.  Complete a sprint tri. DONE. I completed my first spring tri in August and had a great time doing it!  I look forward to doing more in the future! 

This post feels a little braggy since I achieved all of my goals, but many of them required a lot of work and dedication on my part. Also, for me, the trick to achieving my goals is setting the right number. I've learned that I can only really focus on 5-6 BIG goals. For some people, it works to set 5-6 goals/month, or possibly more, but that approach just doesn't work for me as I'd be setting myself up for failure or would feel overwhelmed/stressed out, especially since I am an "upholder" so when i set a goal, I'll do all I can to finish it.  I think the key to achieving your goals is knowing yourself well enough to know how to set yourself up for success - and that looks different for every person.

Next week I'll be sharing the goals I set for 2016!

Have a safe and happy new year, everyone!  Here's hoping that the year to come is a great one for one and all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year in Review: 12 Best Books of 2015

December is one of my favorite months of the year for many reasons - one of which is the plethora of "Best Of" lists that are floating around in the interwebs. I especially love the best books of the year lists as I'm always curious to see what made the cut for other readers.

As of the writing of this post, I've read  whopping 84 (!!!) books which is the most books I have likely ever read in a year, edging out my record of 79 books in 2013. I read a lot of really awesome books this year, but here are the 12 best books, in no particular order.  I'd confidently recommend all of these to other readers.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Truth be told, I'm typically not a huge Kristin Hannah fan as some of the books I've read by her felt like the kind of chick lit that makes my skin crawl a bit (e.g., weak and/or helpless female characters). But after hearing others rave about this book, I decided to give Hannah another shot and I am so glad I did! This book falls under the category of WWII historical fiction but what I loved about it was that it mostly focused on the courageous women who did what they could to fight the Nazi's in ways both big and small.

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - Everyone and their mom loved this book, and I loved it, too. It's a psychological thriller that will engage you from the get-go. Some have compared it to Gone Girl as it is a page turner that features an unreliable narrator but unlike Gone Girl, the author is not utilizing the unreliable narrator to manipulate the reader.

3. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez - This book is a great book to read to gain an understanding of what it is like to come to the U.S. as an immigrant, and if there was ever a time to put yourself in the shoes of an immigrant, now is that time. In this book, we meet several different families that have immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Mexico and Panama. The families come to the U.S. for varied reasons but the common thread among those reasons is to provide a better life for their families. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person but the book comes together seamlessly. It will make you think about how all the seemingly insignificant decisions we make every day form the path our lives will take.

4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - This is another immigrant story as it about a Nigerian woman that immigrates to the U.S., spends about 13 years in the U.S., and then returns to Nigeria. It will make you think about race and our class system. It's a bit long and dense at times but worth the read.

5. The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan - Shifting to a lighter book, this novel tells the story of the woman behind the ubiquitous "A Diamond is Forever" campaign. Besides learning about the life of the woman that came up with that slogan, the book also follows 4 other stories which are interconnected. The stories are all about relationships, engagement rings, and the diamond industry.

6. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar - This is the 3rd book I have read by this author and I loved it just as much as the other two. In this book we meet Lakshmi. She has attempted to commit suicide so is working with a therapist named Maggie. The narration shifts between each character and the book is about the lives of both women as well as their patient/therapist relationship. Both characters have flaws and make poor choices but the author writes about them in a way that helps the reader to feel compassion for both women.

7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - Of the books that made my best of list, this is definitely the most "high brow" as it firmly falls under the category of literary fiction. That said, it is excellently written so while the writing techniques went over my head at times, I still loved the book. It tells the story of a marriage and is broken into two parts: the first part is told from the husband's perspective and the second party is told from the wife's perspective. The book left me thinking about how what others observe when viewing relationships from the outside is only the tip of the ice berg. It also raises the question of - how well can you really know another person?

8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - I typically am not a huge fan of short story collections, so the fact that this collection made my best of list speaks to how well it was written. Sometimes short stories feel inaccessible and I struggle to feel connected to the characters since they are somewhat brief but that was not the case with this book. For the most part, the stories all made me feel something and I was sad to see each one come to an end.  The writing was so very beautiful - it's likely a book I will re-read down the road.

9. The Martian by Andy Weir - This is a book that I likely would not have read if not for the Read Harder challenge as the cover and topic (space) wouldn't have appealed to me, but I ended up loving it! The voice of the main character is hilarious and the book was so engaging. I also saw the movie and it was probably one of the best book adaptations I've seen!

10. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg - This book made the long list for several awards, so I decided to check it out and am so glad I did. This novel manages to be both a quiet story and a story that takes the reader by storm due to the heavy subject matter (the tragic and sudden loss of a woman's daughter, soon-to-be son-in-law, boyfriend and ex-husband on the eve of her daughter's wedding). The story is told from multiple points at view and at times it is hard to keep the cast of characters straight, but it somehow works - really well. I was really sad when the book came to an end as I wanted to hear more of the story and how the characters carried on, which is the mark of a good book in my opinion. In some ways, the feel of this book reminded me of the book "Every Last One" by Anna Quindlen, so if you enjoyed that book you should check this one out.

11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - I read this book in one sitting during a read-a-thon in January. It's one of those books that has become a "Swiss army " recommendation as it's a book that I feel confident recommending to anyone regardless of their reading preferences. It's a gripping page turner with an ending that was stunning for me. It's classified as young adult but don't let that classification turn you away as I think a person of any age will enjoy this.

12.  Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng - This was a great book that grabbed me right from the beginning. It's about a family dealing with the mysterious death of their daughter. The author shows us the aftermath of her death as well as the days, months, and years leading up to the time of her death. It addresses topics like racism, the sacrifices parents make and the weight of expectations of parents. I felt a sense of dread while reading the book and it's one I have continued to think about. It's a great book club book as there are so many topics and issues to discuss.

I can tell that I really focused on reading more diverse books in 2015, thanks to the Read Harder Challenge, as my best of list features a lot of women writers with diverse backgrounds/countries if origin.

What were some of the best books you read this year?  What are you currently reading?  I'm reading and really enjoying The Goldfinch!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Highlights!

I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday weekend!  Ours couldn't have been better as Phil and I got to spend Christmas together and got to see both of our families. Here are some of the highlights!

- First and foremost, spending the holiday with this guy!

- Meeting some of Phil's extended family on Christmas Eve.  I had met all of his immediate family but it was fun to meet his aunt and cousins.  Everyone was so welcoming.

-  Eating lots of delicious food!  From tacos on Christmas Eve to a traditional Christmas meal of turkey and mashed potatoes on Christmas Day to soups made with leftover turkey and ham, and lots of food and treats in between. We definitely ate well throughout the holiday weekend!

- Hearing Phil's mom say how nice it was to have another woman in the house for Christmas.  She only has sons so she really enjoyed shopping for me and also appreciated having some extra help in the kitchen.

- Watching Oscar enjoy her first Christmas. There was a lot of excitement for her between a banana filled with catnip, the laser pointer Phil's brother got her, and all the bows and wrapping paper and such. 

She loved the catnip-filled banana!

After she came down from her catnip high, she snuggled up in front of the fireplace and watched us open gifts.
- Getting to see my parents, my grandma, 3 of my siblings and their spouses, and one niece and four nephews.  I barely took any pictures but I did capture a selfie with my nephew Charlie on Christmas night.

- Going for a run with my sister, Abby.  It was snowy and pretty slippery out there but it was fun to fit a run in!

- Being spoiled with lots of great gifts from our parents.  They were so very (overly) generous!

My parents know Phil well!

What were some of the highlights of your holiday weekend?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Fun

This weekend was filled with lots of holiday fun!  I started off by celebrating Christmas with Phil on Friday night. We had a "Feliz Navidad" theme for our meal as he requested lentil enchiladas, since that is one of his favorite meals out of everything I'd made for him. We also had some Mexican rice with it. I made the enchiladas and he made the rice so it was a team effort!

When we started dating, I established a tradition of baking something together when we celebrate Christmas. Coming up with gluten free recipes is tough but it's nice to have a fun activity to do together. This year we made chocolate chunk cookies. The recipe was VERY particular as you had to measure most ingredients out to the gram. I've mentioned before that I fall under the "upholder" tendency (see a description of the tendencies here) and Phil asked if this recipe came from an Upholder cook book because he thought the detail of the recipe was to the extreme. Hahaha. We each rolled out a pan of cookies and put them in the oven.  Phil's are on the left, mine are on the right.

Let's pretend the ones on the right were supposed to form a Christmas tree

#disappointing Turns out this recipe was NOT compatible with air bake pans. Lesson learned. The good news is that they tasted good, even though my pan was NOT presentable.

After enjoying some cookies for dessert, we went back to Phil's place to open presents.  Oscar enjoyed playing with the wrapping paper and ribbon!

On Saturday morning, I was up and at 'em early for a Holiday run with my running club. I wore a red coat to be festive. It was so cold - only 9 degrees when we started!  I warmed up quickly but was glad when our 7 miles were done!

This is how you dress for a run when it's 9F. The less skin exposed, the better!
On Saturday night, Phil and I went to his work holiday party which was really fun. He works with a lot of people around our age and I've gotten to know them well over the years so always enjoy attending their holiday party. Since it was fuh-reezing on Saturday night, I opted to wear a dress with sleeves.

On Sunday, I got a bunch of stuff done around my place and finished up my wrapping. It feels good to enter Christmas week feeling prepared for the fun ahead!  We'll spend Christmas Eve with Phil's extended family and Christmas Day at his mom's. Then on the afternoon of Christmas, we'll head to my parents so that we can get there in time to have dinner with my family, and will stay there until Sunday afternoon!  This is the first year that Phil and I are celebrating Christmas together - I'm really excited to spend the holiday with him and our families!

The Christmas season has been fast and furious for me, but it's been a great one. My mailbox has been full of greetings from friends and family both near and far...

Holiday mail is the best kind of mail!
 And there is an abundance of presents under my tree to share with family and friends.

'Tis better to give than receive.

This will be my last post before the holiday, so for those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends!

How are you celebrating Christmas this year? If you don't celebrate Christmas, do you have any fun weekend plans for this week?

Friday, December 18, 2015


This week was my "less busy" week but it somehow ended up feeling very busy!  'Tis the season, I suppose. Here are some of the highlights from my week.

The high of my week was spending time with Phil. I didn't see him much last week due to my schedule so it was nice to get some extra time with him!

The low of my week was Nothing stands out as a low which is great!

A book I am reading is Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova for my January book club meeting. Genova wrote Still Alice, which I loved, so hopefully this book is good as well!

A recipe I made was this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats. If you like artichokes, I highly recommend it.  It only took 30 minutes to make, so is great for a week night meal.

For my workouts, I did strength training workouts on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, a power yoga class on Monday, and yoga sculpt Wednesday. I went to sculpt this morning (even though I was soooo tempted to sleep in), I will run with my club tomorrow, and I'll go to a power yoga class on Sunday.

The best money I spent was on a long weekend getaway to Mexico over my birthday weekend in February! We had so much fun in Jamaica last December so decided to do a warm weather getaway again. Our last couple of vacations have been more busy/go go go, so we are both looking forward to relaxing on the beach!

My plans this weekend include celebrating Christmas with Phil tonight. We'll make dinner, bake cookies together to share with our families (if they are edible - you never know with GF baking) and open presents. Tomorrow I am running with my club and then going to brunch with everyone after the run, then video chatting with some of my favorite people. That evening we will go to Phil's work holiday party. Sunday will be spent "adulting" and going to yoga in the evening.

What was the best money you spent this week?  What are your weekend plans?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fun Times of Late

The last week has been very busy but also very fun and it's included lots of time with some of my favorite kiddos!  Here's a glimpse of some of the highlights of the last week.

On Monday, I headed out to my brother's house to watch my nephews for the evening as my brother and his wife got back late from their weekend getaway (my parents watched them over the weekend).  I hadn't had them to myself since back in June so was well overdue for some one-on-one time.  We went out for dinner at a Thai restaurant (my nephews have such well-developed palates thanks to their parents exposing them to lots of food)!

After dinner we went back to their house and played 3 different board games:  a Scooby-Doo jenga-type of game, uno attack, and Zingo.  They basically put themselves to bed and I just had to let them know when to turn their lights out so it was an easy peasy and fun babysitting gig!

On Tuesday night, my college girlfriends and their kids came over for the annual gingerbread decorating party that I host each year.  We've had this tradition going for over 6 years and it's one of my favorite nights of the year.

Anything goes as "aunt" Lisa's. I think we have a picture of Elliot getting a mouthful of frosting every year!

The kids and I with our finished houses!
Later in the week, I flew to Chicago for a holiday party and for the first time I was able to squeeze in some time with my brother and his family that live in the Chicago area.  I worked in the office on Friday and then took the train out to them.  It was very cute to see how excited they were to see me when they picked me up at the train station!

On Saturday, my sister-in-law had planned a brunch with her family and Santa showed up!  It was fun to see the kids sit on his lap and make their requests.  I was impressed by how short their lists were, though, as they mostly asked for one thing each.

I was there for less than 24 hours as I flew home on Saturday night but I am so glad I was able to see them.

I got home around 7:30 on Saturday night and then spent the rest of the weekend soaking up quality time with Phil as we barely saw each other last week thanks to my crazy schedule.  It was very nice to end the weekend on a low key note and thankfully the week to come will be much quieter!

What were the highlights of the last week for you?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Currently: The December Version

Aside from feeling a bit worn out my schedule, here's what currently happening in my world!

Reading:  The Boys in the Boat.  Phil's mom said it was one of her favorite books of the year so I had to check it out as she is a former English teacher with great taste! I'm about half way through and am really enjoying it!

Loving: the glow of my tree. The mild winter weather we've had. Knowing that I'll get to see all of my siblings and their kids between now and Christmas.

Thinking:  about my goals for 2016.

Frustrated: by the fact that Donald Trump is still in the running for the Republican candidate and that he continues to do so well in the polls. I normally would try to watch some of the debates so I could get a feel for the candidates and their views on things but I can't handle listening to him so I have watched zero debates. I wish he would go away. Forever.

Feeling:  excited for the Christmas season and way more prepared than I usually am at this point as my Christmas cards have been mailed, all of my presents have been bought (mostly online) and most are wrapped and under the tree!

Anticipating:  spending time with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew this weekend.  I don't get them to myself very often so am looking forward to seeing them, even though it will be for less than 24 hours!  We'll be doing an early Christmas and I really hope that my niece and nephew like the books I picked out for them (I have a policy of only buying books for my nieces and nephews; I feel they get more than enough toys).

Watching: the Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I have been working through the seasons for about a year now but am only on season 3 but I really want to get through them now that I know that they will be releasing a new season on Netflix!

Sad:  about the state of our world. Terrorist attacks, gun violence, poverty in other nations, you name it. There's a lot to be sad about and sometimes I feel quite hopeless about the things that are happening in our world.

Working: out 6 days a week and doing a variety of things such as running, yoga, and strength training!

Grateful: for so much.  Phil, my family, my friends, my health, a warm home,  financial security, and the list goes on and on.

Listening: to Adele's new album.  It's amazing. 

Wishing: that time would slow down a bit. It scares me how fast this past year went!

What are you anticipating, watching, and grateful for these days?

Monday, December 7, 2015

On Schedules and "Shouldless" Days

The holiday season is upon us, which means that for many of us, our schedules are jam-packed with social occasion, shopping and other holiday preparations.  Take this week for example.  Tonight I am babysitting nephews, tomorrow night I am hosting my friends and their kids for our annual Gingerbread decorating party, Wednesday night I have my work holiday party, and then on Thursday I fly to Chicago to attend the Chicago holiday party.  I'm staying in Chicago until Saturday so that I can spend some time in the office on Friday and hopefully meet my friend Nilsa for a post-work coffee on Friday afternoon, and then I will head out to my brother's, who lives about an hour outside of Chicago, so I can spend some time with them and celebrate an early Christmas with my niece and nephew.  I fly back on Saturday evening so that I can spend some time with Phil on Sunday and do things like grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry. 

Here's the thing.  My week is filled with things I want to do, but some weeks my days are filled with things I feel I should do.  And I've come to realize that sometimes when I say yes to too many things in a week, the things I wanted to do when I say yes start to feel like things I have to do or should do, and I struggle to live in the moment and enjoy the things I've committed to doing.  I realize this is a total first world problem, but I've been over-filling my schedule for months upon months (or really for years).  Instead of talking about how I really should find a way to plan less, lately I have felt motivated to shift from talking about it to doing something about it.

If you ask Phil, he'll tell you that these days I will commonly start a conversation by saying, "So I was listening to this podcast and..."  But it applies to my current conundrum.  Earlier this year, I was listening to the episode of Death, Sex and Money where Anna Sale interviews the actress Ellen Burstyn.  I embedded the podcast below for those who are interested in listening to it (which I highly recommend as it's filled with all sorts of wisdom). One particular part of the podcast that stuck with me was Ellen Burstyn's explanation of "shouldless" days.  Rather than trying to paraphrase what she said, here is Ellen's explanation of what she means by "shouldless" days.

"I’m very lazy. I have what I called should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV, and eat ice cream, I get to do it … Should-less days, I recommend them. Because, what I figured out is we have wiring. I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m not doing something. God you’re so lazy—can’t imagine whose voice that is? And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want."

This is something that I really want to try to implement into my life because I struggle with feelings of guilt when I have a "lazy" day and I want to try work on reversing the hard wiring in my brain that tells me that I should always be doing something. Because the reality is that we live in a world that absolutely glorifies the idea of being busy.  Think about how many times a day or week you hear someone talk about how busy they are.  Don't get me wrong - I think it is great to fill our lives with things that we enjoy doing and 80% of the time, that's the kind of life I want to live.  But the other 20% of the time when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted, I want to be able to give myself the gift of a "shouldless" and commitment-free day without feeling guilty or feeling that I am being lazy.

So if the extremely successful actress Ellen Burnstyn can do this, so can I.  And so can you.  For me, "shouldless" days will be filled with things like reading in a local coffee shop, listening to podcasts, going for a walk in my neighborhood, attending a yoga class, or watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. For me, "shouldless" days will likely contain mostly solo activities as I am an introvert that needs her alone time to recharge my battery, but "shouldless" days may look completely different for someone else.

As we move into a new year, I'll be setting some goals as I always do, and one of those goals will center around "shouldless" days.  Hopefully by putting some structure around having a goal of carving out more time for myself, I'll get better at naturally doing it and not feel guilty about it.  

Do you struggle with over-planning and over-committing?  If not, do you have any suggestions for someone like me who struggles to say no to things?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Wishlist 2015

It's December which means the holiday season is upon us!  Luckily the majority of my shopping is already done - from the seat of my chair, I might add.  For a hater of shopping malls and such, online shopping is a GODSEND.  While my shopping is mostly done, I know other (ahem, mom) are thinking about what they will get me, so I put together a little wishlist.  I always feel like posting a wishlist makes me seem a little bit materialistic but I also know that my mom needs ideas.  Plus, perhaps those of you are trying to come up with wishlists of your own will gain some inspiration from what made my list!

Here's is a selection of things I'd be happy to see under the tree this year.

Item #1 - Cast Iron Skillet - I often come across recipes that require an over-proof pans and I do not own one that I really like.  I love my Lodge-brand dutch oven so imagine I'd love their cast iron skillet as well.  I also like that they have that little rubber sleeve (which must be purchased separately) that you can fit on the handle!  Sure a potholder would work, too, but it's nice that it stays put!

Item #2 -  Polar Heart Rate Monitor - I have a Garmin that I always wear while running but I would love to have a heart rate monitor to wear when I am strength training or doing yoga as I'm curious about what my heart rate is doing and would love to see an estimation of calories burned.

Item #3 - Medal Rack - I have ran a lot of races over the years but all the medals I have accumulated reside in a bin under my bed.  It would be nice to display them in my bedroom.  Plus I love the quote on this particular medal rack.

Item #4 - Under Armour Running Tights  - Colder weather is upon us which means it's running tights weather.  I have one pair of running tights but could always use more as I can layer and also use them when cross country skiing. I asked Facebook friends for recommendations in November and many recommended Under Armour. I recently tried these on at REI and really liked how they fit!

Item #5 -  Reflective Vest - This is the dorkiest thing on my wishlist but since it is dark at night when I am running and will be for quite some time, I should be wearing a reflective vest!  I do use a headlamp which helps but a vest would make me even more noticeable to others.

Item #6 - A pretty scarf - I heart this scarf so much.  I tend to be a pretty boring dresser when it comes to colors but this would provide a fun pop of color!

Item #7 - Some pretty bowls - So clearly I'm a little obsessed with mustard as I would also love a set of these bowls!

I am not at all surprised that 4 items are fitness-related!  And of course while it would be nice to receive any of these things, I would still have a wonderful Christmas if no presents were received.

What is on your holiday wishlist this year?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Meals, Books, Miles and Looks of November

Hello, December!    November was another awesome month.  Here's a glimpse of how I spent the month!


Million Years Ago by Adele - For the second month in a row, I'm sharing a song from Adele's new album (which is amazing).  This live performance shows how incredibly talented she is!


I was thinking that this was a lighter reading month for me but then I went back and counted and realized I read 8 books!!  My favorites were Fates and Furies and Did You Ever Have a Family, both of which were nominated for the National Book Award.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - 3 stars
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - 4 stars
Rising Strong by Brene Brown - 3 stars
After you by Jojo Moyes - 4 stars
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs - 4 stars
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma - 3 stars
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan - 4 stars
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg - 5 stars


I focused less on running this month so only logged 53 miles which I am OK with as this is the running off-season for me due to our cold weather and short hours of daylight.  My goal for the month was to do 30 workouts in 30 days which I succeeded in accomplishing as in addition to running I went to 12 yoga classes and did 11 strength training sessions for a total of 33 workouts!  I expect the next couple of months to look like November did, especially since I decided to treat myself to a 3-month unlimited membership to Core Power Yoga.  Yes, it is expensive but since I don't pay for a gym membership for the other 9 months of the year, I figure I can justify it!


I only have 1 outfit to share this month as I was lazy about taking photos of my outfits.  But the one outfit I am sharing is one I love!  It's the dress I wore to Alli's wedding, which I got 50% off at Banana Republic (as usual).  Excuse the ugly hotel room background in this photo!

And my last look is my new hairdo!  I didn't take much length off but I darkened it for the winter months.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Highlights

Happy Monday!  I hope everyone had a great weekend! Mine was awesome! Here are some of the highlights with photos sprinkled in.

- Cuddling on the coach with Oscar on Wednesday night.  She was fixed at the end of October and has been way cuddlier since then, which we are loving.  She has SO much personality, too.  I think she thinks she is a human in this photo.

Hey, will someone pass me the remote?
- On Thursday morning, I ran a 10k race around one of my favorite local lakes.  I PR'd at this race which means I PR'd at every distance I raced this year which is pretty cool!  It was in the 30s that morning and snowing so was a pretty time to be out running and the perfect way to start my day!

- We spent Thanksgiving at my brother's, who lives in a suburb of Minneapolis.  The food was amazing and the company was even better!  Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite meal of the year!

- My contribution to the meal was the veggie tray and dips and a shredded brussel sprout salad, which I highly recommend!

There is so much crunchy goodness in this salad!

- On Friday evening, I hosted my family and Phil and his mom for a lasagna dinner.  It was great for our families to meet after hearing so much about each other.  The food all turned out great (you'll have to take my word as I forgot to take photos) and it wasn't too crowded in my 800 square foot condo.

The tables all set up and ready for my guests!

My 3 nephews cuddled up together on the couch after dinner.
- On Saturday morning I ran 10 miles with my running club.  It was 18 degrees when we started but there was no wind and it was sunny so it was actually quite pleasant (or as pleasant as winter running can be).  We rewarded ourselves with a delicious post-run brunch!

- On Saturday evening, Phil and I had dinner at his mom's.  Since we had eaten a series of heavy meals over the past couple of days, she prepared a lighter meal of chicken tortilla soup and corn bread, which was delicious.  I heart soup!  After dinner, I looked through Phil's baby book.  It was so neat to see pictures and read about his development milestones and such.  I could see how bits of his personality came through very early in life!  We capped off the night with 3 games of Yahtzee - all of which I lost!  Womp, womp.

- On Sunday afternoon, Phil came over and helped me decorate my tree.  After that, we went to Yoga Sculpt at Core Power Yoga, which is the hardest class!  He has a free 2-week pass so hopefully we'll get a chance to go a couple more times.

Is there anything better than the glow of a decorated tree?
- To cap off the weekend, I made Iowa Girl Eat's recipe for Chicken Wild Rice soup, which was delicious!  It's Phil's favorite kind of soup, so he was a happy guy.  It'd be awesome with leftover turkey!

Family, our furry friend, delicious food, festive decorations, and time spent outdoors - what more could a girl ask for?

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

Today I am thankful for my family.

It's hard to find the words to appropriately sum up how thankful I am for my wonderful family.  I have a large family as I am one of 5, all 4 siblings are married and 3 out of 4 siblings have had a total of 7 kids.  When I was growing up, the size of my family annoyed me at times as it meant a crowded dinner table, long waits for the bathroom (we had 2 for a family of 7, but one was mostly for my parents), and the ongoing battle for my parents' attention.  However, now that I am an adult, I love my big, at times loud, and loving family.

I recognize the fact that the holiday season is not a time of joy for everyone as some have lost a parent or loved one or may have other family dynamics that make the holiday season a time of stress or sadness.  I feel so fortunate that that is not the case for me.  Of course no family is perfect, but I am lucky that despite the fact that we have many unique personalities, we love and support one another and genuinely enjoy the time spent together.

I'm looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow with Phil, my parents, and my 2 brothers and their families.  We'll miss my 2 sisters and their families that won't be there, though!

What are you thankful for today?  I hope everyone has a safe and happy weekend and to those living in the U.S. - Happy Thanksgiving!! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

Today I am thankful for my amazing network of friends.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have such a large network of supportive friends. I've made friends from so many different phases of my life - college, past jobs, through blogging, through running, and the list goes on and on.

I have spent much of my life single but I think one of the blessings of being single is that I have developed very strong female friendships in my life.  That is not to say that those who marry young can't have strong female friendships; it's just different when you are going through life without a partner to rely on, as it forces you to rely on others in your life.  And I think that learning to rely on a network of people is a healthy lesson to learn in life. 

I am thankful for the friends that I've met organically through running, work, college, etc, but I'm especially thankful for the friendships that blogging has brought to my life.  Blogging has allowed me to connect with people who have similar interests, personality traits, and values.  Having a blog definitely makes a person feel more vulnerable, but I have found that the shared experience of being vulnerable seems to deepen the relationships that are formed.  

What are you thankful for today?

Monday, November 23, 2015

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

Today I am thankful that I am able to run and race again.

After being diagnosed with RA in 2013, I thought that running and being active were a thing of the past for me.  I was so relieved when I was able to tentatively return to running in 2014. 2014 was a rebuilding year as I was careful about the number of miles I ran and the only race I did was a low key trail half.

My confidence was rebuilt in 2014 so I decided to challenge myself in 2015.  It was a great year for running as I PR'd at a 10 mile race in March.

And then I PR'd again in April at my half marathon.

Perhaps this shirt is my lucky shirt as I ran both PRs in it!
Then in August I tackled my first sprint tri and had a great time!

While visiting Amber in Kamloops, I did a fun and challenging 21km trail race!

And then in October I ran my 4th marathon. Running a marathon was something I thought I'd never do after my RA diagnosis so I am so thankful that I was able to.  It was great to run it with John and my run club buddy Megan.

This was around mile 20 so we were still smiling at this point!

At the finish line with John
Besides racing, I got to run in some really beautiful places, like Chicago...

... and the beautiful Princeton, NJ area.

Running is such a huge part of my identity so I am so thankful that I am back at it!

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, November 20, 2015

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

Today I am thankful for the amazing travel adventures I've had over the past year.

Since last year I've traveled to...

... Montego Bay, Jamaica with Phil to celebrate our friends' wedding.

... Santa Barbara with Phil for a long weekend full of hiking, time outdoors and delicious food!

... Rocky Mountain National Park with Kyria for a weekend packed with beautiful hikes and great non-stop conversations!

... Kamloops, BC where I FINALLY got to see where Amber lives!  We hiked, ran trails, ate yummy food, and had lots of awesome conversations.  I also got to know her husband Eric better (he's awesome, too!).

Seen on a run on the trail system near Amber's house.

Enjoying a shady part of the trail race we did together!

Enjoying wine and aps on a gorgeous day!
... Miami with my mom, sisters, and sisters-in-law. I love our tradition of going away every other year!

... Boston with my honey to visit our friends.  I also got to see Kelly on this trip!

... Philadelphia with Phil for 1.5 days of exploring before heading to...

... Lambertville, NJ for Alli's wedding.  I failed to take many pictures of our time in Lambertville, besides the one below. Suffice it to say that it was a very charming and beautiful area!  And besides watching Alli get married, I also got to see Becky and Mandy!  Win-win. 

The Delaware River valley was stunning!

Phew, that is a lot.  It was definitely the year of "small" trips as all of these trips were done over long weekends.  I feel very blessed to have been able to go to as many places as I did, but traveling is a priority for me so it's something I definitely budget for!

What are you thankful for today?