January Highlights

Sunday, January 27, 2019

This month is a month of birthdays in my family -- my mom, my dad, John and his nephew are all born in January. Needless to say there was a lot of celebrating. We started out with a picture perfect day in Omaha with my family. It was somehow 65 degrees and sunny so we ate brunch outside at Saddle Creek Breakfast Club and then spent the rest of the day at the Omaha Zoo. I haven't been there as a family in at least a decade so it was fun to see all our childhood favorites again with our parents. John's birthday was a low-key affair this year. His actual birthday was a Wednesday so we just carried on as normal, but on the Friday after we got takeout, made some drinks and a cake and watched Dazed and Confused because he was appalled I hadn't seen it before. What can I say? I've hardly seen any movies! The next day we met up with his family to celebrate both his birthday and his nephew's birthday with some sushi. It was my first time having vegetarian sushi, and it was delicious. I even think I like the veggie miso better! The last birthday celebration of the month is tonight with my family. We are having a joint dinner celebration for my mom, dad and John. We're brining a vegan paella, the rest of my family is making their own non-vegan food and we're all having the same cake recipe I made for John's birthday earlier because it was seriously the best cake I've ever baked. We always have very lively get togethers so I'm looking forward to it.

Unrelated to any birthday celebrations, I finally got to go out to dinner with my friends! We had been trying to arrange a holiday timed get together since prior to Christmas, but everyone's various illnesses and bad weather kept forcing us to cancel, even our grandma-status reservation of 4:30pm on a Sunday! Finally we were all healthy and warm again so we headed to a Monday night reservation at Sebastian's Table, an old favorite restaurant that recently reopened after years of being closed. If there's one thing my friends and I are good at it's racking up a sizable bill at tapas restaurants (or really any restaurant if we're being honest). I'm happy to confirm that the brussels sprouts are still delicious, the sangria is still just as good as ever and that their (vegan!) paella is fantastic. I don't get to see my friends a lot because we're all pretty busy with work and life and starting to get more and more spread out, but every time I do see them I have a fantastic time full of laughs and inappropriate jokes. I'm truly grateful for all of them.

Outside the social realm, I've been enjoying a few other random things this month. Just like last year, John and I are doing Yoga With Adriene's 30 day yoga series that she releases every January. We haven't been keeping up with every single day, but it's been so good to get back on the mat, start thinking about how I feel in my body and start to get some flexibility back. I am hoping we carry on the habit into the coming months. Alongside yoga, I have been doing workouts from Zanna Van Dijk's Sculpt Guide. I've really liked the structure and how you can choose you workouts each week. It keeps me from getting bored, and it's it's a nice boost of motivation to have a new workout guide to work my way through.

Another big change we tried out this month is Veganuary. I am quite pleased that it's actually been a lot easier than we thought it would be, especially when going out for meals. We found a lot of new favorite meals from this month's recipe adventure, discovered that pretty much all the veggie dishes we were eating at restaurants already are accidentally vegan and we're currently planning to remain vegan as much as possible from here on out!

Lastly, just some general feelings I've been loving. This month we've had several snow storms, and while that makes the outside unbearably cold, it also makes for a very beautiful, peaceful scene. I've been working at home a bit more because of the weather, and it's lovely to watch the snow fall while you're working. The home feels extra cozy and you get to enjoy all your favorite hearty meals like chili and casseroles. Just don't make me go out and scoop again please. The serenity of the winter wonderland outside also seems to have settled into me. I am feeling very at peace with just taking days to do nothing, or skipping a workout if I'm just too tired. We've been sleeping in a lot, breaking our routines more and just generally living how we feel rather than according to a plan. It's not how I typically feel at the beginning of the year (normally I'm raring to go with a to do list in hand), but I'm not mad about it. I've even somehow managed to make more decisions and plans for our wedding than at any point before this, as if somehow being more relaxed about everything has made my mind clearer about what I want, and more determined to actually make it happen. I'll take it!

Well that was quite the ramble. I hope you guys have a great last few days of the month, and I'll see you next time!

Being Productive At Work

Sunday, January 20, 2019
It's been a few weeks now since we all emerged from our holiday cocoons, squinting into the florescent light overhead and fidgeting with our non-elasticated waistbands, wishing for the return of our forgiving sweatpants. I don't know about you, but getting back into serious-business mode after such lovely, relaxed time away is always pretty hard for me. I'm easily distractible, a bit tired and longing for a responsibility-free life. Alas, I need to eat and pay bills, so it's back to the grind for me.

How I'm Staying Productive At Work

Make a daily tasks/goals list: When I drag myself into the office and the last thing on my mind is actually doing work, I've found that setting out a short list of things to accomplish by the end of the day gets me more in the mood to do things. Nothing too ambitious or I'll feel overwhelmed, and conversely not just a list of a couple tiny tasks or I'll breeze through it by 10am and go right back to feeling uninspired. I like to use Todoist to make my daily list, and even to organize bigger task lists for projects. The "karma" points you get for completing tasks and getting streaks of days meeting your goal makes it a little more motivating too!

Work some, then rest some: I tend to be the kind of person to get sucked into a task and forget about the rest of reality. I'd happily carry on doing whatever I'm doing, not thinking it's adversely affecting my work. It's only until I spend too much time thinking about something that after a short break I figure out in a few minutes do I realize that hey, maybe breaks are good even if you think you're in the middle of something. When I've got something big I need to tackle, instead of plowing ahead I break it into chunks and tackle it using the Pomodoro technique. Work for 25 minutes, take a few minutes of break, repeat three more times and then take a longer break. It's a great way to get a lot done but still give my brain a little break and time to dream about all those holiday cookies I'm missing.

Create a focused environment: I work in a fairly openish office, and my team's room is right next to a room where people are constantly making calls throughout the day, doing webinars or working on something together. Not to mention we're in a basement office under two restaurants that spend the mornings tenderizing meat right above us, rolling in carts of food that manage to sound like jet engines and cooking with gas from their squeaky gas meter. Believe me, I need all the help I can get staying focused. I throw on my big on-ear headphones to show people I'm trying to get some real work done and I either throw on an episode of Annie Mac's Friday night radio show or a dance station on Google music if I want some energy to get me through the task, or I'll open up Noisli, a customizable background noise app if I need to think hard about something. My favorite mix is a little thunderstorm, some crackling fireplace, and coffee shop. If I'm really trying to set a mood, I'll throw on BBC Radio 4 really quietly on top of that as well.

Reflect: On Friday late afternoon when I'm really dragging, I like to jot down a couple things that worked well or that I accomplished, as well as a couple things that weren't so great. Celebrating what I managed to get done gives me a little motivation boost, especially if I leave it where I can see it again come Monday morning. Analyzing what didn't go so well, and more importantly what were the reasons it was happening helps me recognize things to change or experiment with next week so I don't repeat my same mistakes.

Staying Organized

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The beginning of the year is always so full of all these grand plans. We're busy setting goals and intentions, making dietary changes or starting new exercise plans. Maybe you're also having minor panic attacks about wedding planning like I am. Whatever it is, we all seem to have something big-picture on our minds during these first few weeks. I personally love that fresh start feeling and the desire to shape up your life, but I'm also finding it to be a bit chaotic. I have slimmed down my goals since years past, but I'm still spending a good amount of my very little free time at night working on something new, whether that be attempting to find good vegetarian caterers in Nebraska or trying to organize the next DIY at John's house for the weekend. I'm really relying on all the little routines I've got going on to keep life humming along with some semblance of organization and allow me to focus on some of my bigger goals but not lose traction with everyday things. This is my ode to those routines:

Pre-Planning My Workouts - Oh how quickly would I stop going to the gym if I was faced with choosing it every single evening. Instead I plan my workout days (usually it's just Monday - Thursday) every Sunday and sometimes even the exact workouts for those days so that instead of fighting the desire to go home and zone out on the couch once 5pm rolls around I just head straight to the gym because the decision has already been made for me. Thanks past self! This month has been especially fun and easy to plan workouts because I got Zanna Van Dijk's Sculpt Guide and I am just starting it. It's set up so that you pick your workouts from a handful of weekly options, so you never get bored and you actually can pick something that fits well with your schedule. It's great so far!

Meal Planning & Prepping - If left to my own devices, I would eat a bowl of cereal for every meal and probably not even be that mad about it. There are too many different cereal options in this world to ever get bored! Unfortunately bodies actually need these things called nutrients. Who knew? Planning my meals in advance is my own hope at actually managing to consume enough vegetables, and even then I still struggle with it. This habit has been drilled into me since I was a child (my parents also meal plan) and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Budgeting - Every week I log all of my unplanned (aka not bills) purchases in my weekly spending tracking spreadsheet, which helps me keep a rolling total of how much I've spent throughout the week and year versus how much I've allotted myself. I also have a little routine that I complete every time I get paid which helps me stay on track for savings goals, remember to pay off my credit card, and track my financial progress. Without doing this I'd be wondering where all my money disappeared to while swimming through a pool of tissue paper from Sephora bags.

Bullet Journaling - I've already mentioned my Bullet Journal, but seriously it's become my second brain. When your mind is all over the place, it's great to have a place to unload it all and know it'll be there when you've forgotten it. It's a perfect place for completing all those other routines I've just talked about, and it's even better for seeing all the various things your brain thinks is important and recognizing they're not. What's the best way to get your todo list done? Make it shorter. My Bullet Journal has actually helped me a lot with prioritization and that's been the biggest weight off my shoulders. If you haven't started one yet, just go do it!

My Veganuary Menu

Sunday, January 6, 2019

This year I'm joining a few hundred thousand of my closest friends and participating in Veganuary! It's my first time ever being strictly vegan so I'm a little nervous but ultimately really excited to be trying it out. Luckily for me, John is also joining in so I'll have him to lean on when I'm feeling tempted *eyes the box of birthday donuts in the break room at my work*. To make things easier on myself, I selected a month's worth of meals in advance so all I have to do each week is schedule which ones I want to make and put together my grocery list. We're about a week in and so far it's all going swimmingly and I haven't felt like I'm missing out on anything at all. Even the donuts. Without further ado, here's my meal plan!

I've picked 5 regular length recipes and 2-3 longer or more involved recipes for each week in January. I'm taking this opportunity to explore a few of the cookbooks I got this year, so all of the recipes come from 3 (fabulous so far) cookbooks.

*Isa Does It - Isa Chandra Moskowitz
**Chloe Flavor - Chloe Coscarelli
***BOSH! - Ian Theasby, Henry David Firth

Week 1
Chandra malai kofta* (If you love Indian like we do, you've got to make these.)
Phyllo pot pie*

Smoky incan stew*
Creamy carbonara*** (The marinated mushrooms in this were amazing and I don't even really like mushrooms)
General tso’s tofu** (Seriously better than any take away I've had so far. And really easy.)
Sloppy Chlo’s** (Tasted exactly like regular sloppy joes!)
Sweet corn chowder**

Week 2
White wine risotto*
Sweet potato gnocchi with brussels sprouts and tarragon cream*

Tempeh meatballs and spaghetti*
Cast iron stir fry*
Shepard’s potato***
Tortilla soup**
Creamy korma***

Frying up some vegan kofta!

Week 3
Nirvana enchilada casserole*
Nacho night*

Tempeh orzilla*
Spinach and black bean burrito bowl*
Fiesta mac and cheese**
Takeout sesame noodles**
Chipotle sweet potato kale soup**

Week 4
Tamale shepherd’s pie*
Peri Peri hasselback potatoes*

Cheddary broccoli soup*
Tempeh agrodolce over grilled polenta*
Lemon garlic fava beans w/ mushrooms on rice*
Creamy tomato-basil spaghettini**
Down home curry*

Week 5
New england glam chowder*
Creamy seaside pie*

Roasted potato and fennel soup*
Lentil quinoa stew with kale*
Panang curry (thai peanut sauce and red curry, chickpeas and sweet potato)*
Nice spice rice***
Vegan ramen bowl**

I'm already sure I'll come out of this month with a few more staple recipes and I'll be sure to update you on which ones were the favorites and what I think of each cookbook in general. If you feel like joining in in whatever way you can, whether that's just 1 vegan meal a week or going all in, you can still sign up for Veganuary here! Hope you've had a great start to your 2019 so far and see you next time!