Friday, December 21, 2012

Reconnecting with students

One of my favorite parts of my job is reconnecting with past students. I love hearing about their recent adventures and accomplishments... especially when Student Launch Pad has helped them on that path!

This week I was able to sit down with two Student Launch Pad graduates who have successfully finished their first semester of college. Talking to them about selecting clubs, extracurricular activities, and other new ventures reminds me of finding my own path in college... how long ago that seems!

On the Student Launch Pad blog, I will be featuring past students in a Student Spotlight section. I love being able to share their stories and honor their accomplishments!

The first Student Spotlight features Liz Earls:

As college students return home for winter break, many will be discussing future plans with their families. Questions like, “What should I major in?” and “What internships should I apply to?” will be frequent, with the uncertainties often causing stress. Yet, Liz Earls, a Student Launch Pad graduate, is starting the break excited about her future. She sat down with Student Launch Pad to give an update on her college experience so far.

To continue reading, visit the Student Launch Pad blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best Books of 2012: Gift-Giving

As my last installment of the best books of 2012 series, I want to recommend my top choices for books that make excellent gifts.

My primary choice is One Thousand Gifts, as I already talked about on the first day of this series. If you visit the website, there are also a lot of other great gift ideas to accompany the book, such as a devotional journal and book of photographs.

My remaining picks are divided according to who the gift is for:

  • For your mom, or a best girl friend:

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems

I received this book as a gift myself (after hinting that I wanted it last year!) and think it makes a thoughtful gift. Caroline Kennedy selected each poem and arranges them according to topic. She introduces each section with personal reflections connected to the poems' themes on the topic. Her selections are excellent and range from the Romantic poets to those of modern day.

"Poems distill our deepest emotions into a very few words - words that we can remember, carry with us, and share with others as we talk and weave the cloth of life."

  • For the aspiring author, or anyone who appreciates memoirs:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions of Writing and Life

Author Anne Lamott is simply hilarious. As she describes her writing process and publishing books, she brilliantly weaves in funny personal stories. For any aspiring novelist this is a great read for a famous writer's perspective on the deliberate and frustrating - yet freeing and rewarding - process known as writing.

"You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard."

  • For the social advocate: 

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

This national bestseller is a moving account of oppression around the globe. Journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, discuss how to fight global poverty with touching, sad, and inspirational stories of women worldwide. Among the shocking accounts that Kristof and WuDunn have witnessed are also stories of hope and practical tips on how each one of us can turn oppression into opportunity.

"Helping people is difficult and unpredictable, and our interventions don't always work, but successes are possible, and these victories are incredibly important... We may not succeed in educating all the girls in poor countries, or in preventing all the women from dying in childbirth, or in saving all the girls who are imprisoned in brothels. But we... remember a Hawaiian parable...

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. 'What are you doing, son?' the man asks. 'You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference.' The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. 'It sure made a difference to that one, he said."

  • For your dad:

Since this book made my top nonfiction pick, I won't summarize it again here. But this book is an interesting read that any business person would enjoy for understanding the choices we make at large and individually.

  • For the athlete:

This is another book from my nonfiction favorites, but it would be a great gift for any athlete, especially runners. The incredible training and races that these superathletes put themselves through is inspiring to read about.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Best Books of 2012: Fiction

I love a good suspense story... one of those where you have to keep turning the page. Although character development is also a must for a book to be considered an all-time favorite, this year I was more drawn toward reading engaging plots. Not that the following books don't have character development; it's just that their plots are what is most captivating.

I also enjoy historical fiction, which you'll see elements of throughout this book selection. Another common theme in all of these books? Family secrets. Can't get much more suspenseful than that!

Without further ado, here are the best fiction books I read this year:

Sarah's Key
By now you've probably heard of this book since it was made into movie. And I highly recommend the movie. But first, read the book! (Or if you've already seen the movie, still read the book!) This book takes place in Paris and alternates between present day and July 1942, the time of the French Vel' d'Hiv roundup in World War II. On the Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, a journalist writes an article about this day, and through her investigation begins to unravel her own family secrets. Author Tatiana de Rosnay brilliantly connects Sarah, a ten year-old girl sent to Auschwitz, with Julia, a reporter of today, and weaves their stories together. We are all products of our past...

This is the book that my friend Leah and I synchro-read together, so I've already written this review on it. To recap, it is about a woman, Emily, who escapes a broken heart by visiting her beloved great-aunt Bee on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific northwest. Emily discovers a journal, which sparks questions about her family and several surprises. As family secrets are uncovered, author Sarah Jio writes so that you want to get to bottom of things just as much as Emily does.

It's perhaps a little risky to include this on my top books already because I still have 15% left to read (it's obviously on my Kindle!). However, it has been such an enthralling book so far that no matter how it ends, it is worth a read. 

This is another book that combines family mysteries with historical fiction, and its plot spans generations of families. The main character, Laurel, witnessed her mother commit a crime when she was a teenager, and fifty years later digs into the past while her mother is on her death bed. The genius of author Kate Morton's plot is that the story takes you from pre-World War II England, through the blitz, to the 60s and then present day. Meanwhile, it weaves together three separate families, telling the story from varying perspectives. At each new character, my sentiments change regarding who deserves my sympathies, making you uncertain of the truth. Morton also includes dramatic irony as you begin to know answers to questions that protagonist Laurel is still searching for. To quote the Amazon review, "The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring."

This book explores the racism, violence, and conflict in Seattle when Japanese families were sent to internment camps during World War II. Yet amidst the chaos, author Henry Lee uses a friendship between Henry, a Chinese American student, and Keiko, a Japanese American student, to show that hope, friendship, and commitment are powerful forces, even during wartime. This historical fiction novel explores the story of Henry from present day back to the 1940s. Throughout the book, Henry seeks to come to terms with his father's nationalism while searching for an object that will reconnect him with Keiko, recalling memories of her family being sent to the internment camps. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best Books of 2012: Spiritual

Technically, I could have put these books in my "nonfiction" category from yesterday. Yet because my spiritual growth is a very important part of how I am being embraced by the journey, this category stands apart. I have read several devotionals and religious books this year, but I narrowed it down to these four because they are ones that I will reread and refer back to in years to come.

Although this book is written from a Christian perspective, I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about marriage, is engaged, is newly married, or wants to reawaken their marriage. Author Timothy Keller speaks raw truth about marriage, not sugar-coating the "profound mystery" of marriage (Ephesians 5:32) while still upholding it as "next to our relationship with God... the most profound relationship there is." He discusses how to love your spouse fully when expectations are unmet, when your spouse changes, and when your pride gets in the way... all necessary topics for a healthy, deep relationship with your spouse! It's so different from what our culture often tells us about marriage that it's worth a read.

"Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other. And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or wife in marriage." 

This book is a quick and engaging read, especially for history lovers. Again, whether or not you are a Christian, this book will interest you. Who is This Man? dives into the impact that Jesus had on history and life as we know it. Author John Ortberg shows how Christianity has impacted our education, charities, politics, architecture, and even feminism. It will change the way you view history, and certainly how you read the Bible.

"The historical impact of Jesus' thinking is so pervasive that it is often take for granted."

I wrote about Captivating earlier this year, and this book is written for any woman to read, young or old. It beautifully describes how God uniquely created women and that "the desires you had as a little girl and the longings you still feel as a woman are telling you of the life God created you to live." What are your longings? Or, if you are married, what are your wife's desires? Authors John and Stasi Eldredge show how every woman has a beauty to unveil. As I've stated before, by unveiling your beauty and being all of who you are, you also invite others to experience beauty - in you and in themselves.  

"A woman of true beauty offers others the grace to be and the room to become." 

I read a lot of Tim Keller, and listen to his podcast, so it's only fitting that two of his books made this list. King's Cross goes through the book of Mark, but it is not your typical commentary. I believe it will change how you read the rest of the gospels as it explores what the Bible has to say about Jesus. One of the most profound lessons that I learned in this book is how Jesus identifies with each of us on a personal level. Every miracle he performs and every person he talks to, he does with intention and understanding.

"Jesus always give you what you need, and he knows better than you what that is. He's the Wonderful Counselor... And because Jesus identified like that with us, now we know why we can approach him... Don't be too isolated to think you are beyond healing. Don't be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don't be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Best Books of 2012: Nonfiction

I've been reading (or at least skimming) over a dozen nonfiction books lately for my newest endeavor of writing a book. Most of these are nonfiction and relate to my area of work in student coaching. Yet, I also enjoy reading nonfiction books for the purpose and intention behind the story. The best nonfiction writers have a burden to share and passion to explore, which is true for this list.

A common theme throughout these three books is the tension behind how we were created and the choices we make. The interplay between our unique make-up and how we choose to use our giftings lends itself to the classic - yet compelling - "nature vs. nurture" debate.

With that in mind, here are my top nonfiction reads this year:

This book explains the nature of habits, why they exist in the first place, and how you change bad habits or create positive ones. The stories, examples, and research that author Charles Duhigg draws on span a variety of fields and experiences, making it an engaging and fascinating read... Especially if you're interested in psychology in individuals, business, and society.

"This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs - and becomes authentic - it's not only real, it starts to seem inevitable..."

I originally started this book because I am a runner. However, I quickly realized that this book is about ultra-runners and super-athletes who compete in races that are hundreds of miles. (And I thought I was proud of finishing a half-marathon?!) There was not much practical application to my own running journey (unless I decided to embrace the barefoot running phenomenon) besides a few mantras of "Don't fight the trail" and "Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast." Instead, what kept me reading was the compelling story about the Tarahumara Indians who are the best runners in the world. Author Christopher McDougall creatively weaves the biology, research, and anthropology behind running into a culmination of "the greatest race the world has never seen."

"You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love- everything we sentimentally call our "passions" and "desires"- it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run." 

Let me start by saying that I do not agree with everything that this book proposes. I believe we were each created with unique passions and that these can play a big role in helping us finding work we love. However, this book was a refreshing read precisely because of its different perspective. It also raises some critical points about the necessity of cultivating skills and having a craftsmen mindset, which focuses on the strengths you have to offer. It also discuss building career capital, which is critical for advancing in any field. Therefore, this book made my top books of 2012 list because I believe it's an important read for my generation who is apt to give up when work is hard, rather than persevere and succeed in small but significant ways. 

"Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world - a crucial factor in loving what you do."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best Books of 2012 Series

I love to read and often have three or more books going at once, including fiction, nonfiction, religious, business, etc. I recently joined a book club, which my friend Laura started, and I am excited to start discussing books with other book lovers! (You can check out Laura's blog at Unpunctuated Life.)

Throughout this week, I am going to do a series on the best books I have read this year. (They won't necessarily have been written this year.) I'll break the books into categories, so you can expect to see the best (1) Fiction, (2) Nonfiction, and (3) Spiritual books I read. I hope you'll get some good gift ideas for fellow book lovers, or some own to add to your stack. Or, New Year's resolutions, perhaps?

But to start, my all time favorite book that I read this year was One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp. Ann writes beautifully and honestly, compelling you to take her joy dare.

I am usually not good at choosing "favorites." But this book has shaped my past year. I read this book in January and still frequently refer to it and think about its premise of gratitude.

Because of One Thousand Gifts, John and I keep a gratitude journal on our coffee table, where we write down daily thanksgivings. Although it seems like a small practice, the ramifications are significant. It is not only a record of all that we have to rejoice and be thankful for but it also has noticeably made me more joyful. How can I not be joyful when I am counting all of our blessings?!

I started the journal in March and am at 229 blessings... not quite to Ann's 1000 that she records, but it's not so much the number that matters; it's the practice. As I once read in a devotional, "Happiness depends on happenings," making it a fleeting and fickle emotion. Instead, joy depends on recognizing all you have to be grateful for - even the smallest or mundane parts of life, like my daily cup of coffee or having a washing machine.

What better way to start a new year than reading a book that could shape your perspective on life...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Food for Thought, literally

Cookies, peppermint bark, carols, Christmas trees, parties, presents... this is the typical list for Christmas preparations. I love all of these things, and this past weekend I made Christmas cookies with John, with cookie cutters, frosting, sprinkles and all! I also made peppermint bark, and even John who doesn't like peppermint, loves this bark.

But before I get to my recipe (it's hardly a recipe it's so simple) for peppermint bark, a little food for thought.

I was reading my Advent study for She Reads Truth and have been thinking about the purpose of Advent ever since this introductory paragraph:

The purpose of Advent: Amidst the noise, still your heart.

What a challenge among all the season has to offer with lights and trees and decorations!

Yet, this next part of the study resonated with me. We think of Advent as preparing for Christ's coming - which it is - but we often forget that this began long ago, at the beginning of the world, in Genesis. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they needed a Savior. And God promises them one, but not in the way we expect:

Only a God with an ultimate plan of salvation could transform this enmity into an act of grace. Although Adam and Eve turned from God, He desires to draw them back to Him. Meditate on this incredible grace today. Still your heart and prepare it to accept this gift of grace.

It's not that making cookies and peppermint bark, and decorating your Christmas tree (in our case trees!) take away from Advent. God desires for us to enjoy His creations and world! But see them as gifts and opportunities for fellowship with family or friends.

Now, onto my bark recipe:

Peppermint Bark

1 10 oz bag of white chocolate chips
1 10 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips 
1 cup (give or take) of Trader Joe's peppermint bark baking bits 

  1. Line a small cookie sheet with tin foil or parchment paper. 
  2. Put white chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Melt in the microwave for 1 minute, stir chocolate, then melt in increments of 10 seconds until chips are completely melted. Pour chocolate over lined cookie sheet, spreading out evenly with a spatula.
  3. Sprinkle half cup of peppermint baking bits (or enough so that it evenly covers in a light layer)  over white chocolate. 
  4. Put semi sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Melt in the microwave for 1 minute, stir chocolate, then melt in increments of 10 seconds until chips are completely melted. Pour chocolate over white chocolate, spreading out evenly with a spatula.
  5. Sprinkle remaining peppermint bits over dark chocolate.
  6. Let harden on counter for about 2 hours, then break into pieces. Store in airtight container.

The peppermint baking bits are what really make this bark delicious because they have white and dark chocolate chunks and fudge with the peppermint. But if you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby, you can take 24 peppermint candies, put them in a freezer bag, and hammer them into smaller bits.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree, Take Two

To inaugurate the month of December, John and I trekked back to Yule Farms for our annual cutting down of our Christmas tree. At this time last year, I had just started my blog and wrote about us beginning our tradition of chopping down our tree. To remind you of last year's adventure, the day involved lots of laughs at the run down tree farm, complete with lukewarm apple cider, a poem celebrating Christmas trees, and free stuffed animal "ornaments" to hang on our tree. 

So naturally we headed back for more laughs this year with our friends Malorie and Jason, who came along last year too. The farm experience was just as hilarious as last year as the guys pulled our cart and carried our saw in search of our perfect trees. 

On the lookout for the perfect tree...
Malorie and I watching as the guys assess the trees
 Since we are now in house with very tall ceilings, John was very excited to get a big tree this year. I was concerned about the width of the tree and was certain that the one his eye was on would be too large for the spot we'd chosen in our house. Yet since geometry and spatial reasoning are not my strong suits, I gave in.

The tree took about 10 minutes to saw down because it was so large, and then Jason and John broke out in a rash all over their arms from trying to saw the thing down.

John proudly conquered cutting down our tree!
And then when we returned home (after taking 20 minutes to tie the tree to the roof of the car), it took 45 minutes to secure in our stand. Jason held the tree upright while John tightened it in the stand. Meanwhile, Malorie and I were rearranging our living room furniture because the tree took up half the room. It blocked the entire entrance to the dining room, and the angel would have been knocked off the top by the fan. 

Needless to say, this tree was MASSIVE.

12 feet tall and way too wide. Now affectionally called the Devil Tree. 
Right after Malorie and Jason left to decorate their own tree, John turned me saying, "I hate it. It's awful." It was rather lopsided, and we would have to get a big ladder in order to hang lights and ornaments. But we decided to go make dinner and think on it. 

Then, CRASH. 

Tree down
The tree came falling down, barely missing the ceiling fan, clay nativity set on the mantle, and our lamp. But nothing was broken miraculously, and no ornaments had been hung yet. 

Next thing I knew, John was dragging the tree outside to our yard. He'd had enough of the "Devil Tree." We hopped in the car, headed to Lowe's, and picked out a beautiful 6 foot tree. We watched in awe as they sawed the bottom off evenly for us and trimmed the bottom branches. SO EASY. We folded the seats down in my SUV, threw it in, and had the tree up and decorated in no time.

Our new smaller but beautiful tree!
Our friends are still laughing, comparing our story to the Christmas Vacation movie. And my parents think it's hilarious that I never fully appreciated the work that went into cutting down our tree when I was a kid. 

So if you know anyone in need of a 12 foot Christmas tree in Atlanta, we have one sitting in our yard that they can take free of charge!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fit Friday: Sweaty in 30

For this Fit Friday workout get ready to sweat!

In only 30 minutes you will have worked your whole body, boosted your metabolism, and blasted fat away. Yet with all these benefits comes some glistening, so get your towel, dumbbells, and water ready.

0:00-10:00 Fit Sugar's Full Body Workout from Pop Physique: This is a great way to start getting your muscles loosened up and ready to work.

10:00-20:00 Fit Sugar's Metabolism Boosting Workout: This workout uses weights and compound exercises to get your heart rate up and tone your muscles.

20:00-30:00 Fit Sugar's Blast Away Belly Fat Workout: Get ready for lots of cardio to blast that fat!

If you want a longer workout, repeat videos 2 and 3. My guess is that whether you do these videos once or twice, you'll be feeling the burn tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Christmas Table and Lentil Stew

After we returned from a great Thanksgiving trip to North Carolina, I immediately turned on the Christmas music and started decorating! We aren't getting our tree until this weekend, but until then we have multiple nativities up and a decked out table!

Now onto what to serve... Want a tasty, healthy, yet hearty meal after Thanksgiving week? I have just the recipe for you!

This lentil stew is so delicious while being filling and healthy. It's also quick and easy to make.

Spicy Lentil Stew, inspired by Tasty Kitchen

Serves 4
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound chorizo sausage
2 jalapenos, chopped
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils
2 cups chicken stock
Ground black pepper, to taste
6 cups fresh chopped kale
Mexican blend cheese, for topping


  1. In a big pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in garlic and onions, letting caramelize for 10 minutes. Add the chorizo, stirring constantly until it browns and is almost done, about 5 minutes. 
  2. Add in the jalapenos, beans, tomatoes, lentils, chicken stock, and pepper, stirring to combine. 
  3. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft.
  4. Add in the kale, and let simmer for 5 minutes or until kale wilts. 
  5. Serve with cheese, if desired.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving NC Trip

Last Tuesday, John and I headed to North Carolina for our third annual Thanksgiving with the Shack/Wells families. It was another wonderful time of reconnecting with family, eating delicious meals, sitting by the fire, hiking, and of course some competitive games in the mix.

Tuesday: On Tuesday, we arrived in the afternoon and relaxed, catching up with my parents and John's sisters and parents.

Wednesday: On Wednesday the fun began as John's aunt, uncle, two cousins and grandparents arrived bringing the attendance to a grand total of 14! I spent the morning making our traditional Thanksgiving dishes with my mom before spending some time relaxing by the fire and playing Scattergories with the rest of the family.

Thursday: On Thanksgiving our feast began at 1pm, and before eating John's dad read a great quote on gratitude by William Faulkner: "Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." I love the idea that gratitude brings a sort of electric energy to life, brightening the day. And I am so thankful for families who enjoy spending holidays together.

Our Thanksgiving meal was complete with smoked turkey, oven-roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, the Wells shiitake mushroom gravy, traditional gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, bread rolls, and our choice of 5 different pies - complements of Grandma Shack. I also contributed my gluten free pumpkin bars to the mix. After our delicious feast, we needed some exercise so we headed outside in the beautiful weather to throw the football and for a competitive game of Bocce ball. After two rounds, Mom and Dad were named the champs!

That evening, John and I headed back to my parents' cabin, where we were also staying, to play Scrabble. The winner this time? John, who finally upset my Scrabble wins!

Friday: On Friday, we got up for a 9:30 hike with John's parents and uncle. It was another sunny day with a gorgeous view at the top of Rock Mountain. We arrived back around 1pm for a some lunch and relaxation before dinner that night. My parents had everyone over for an Italian meal of grilled vegetables, smoked mahi mahi, and pasta. Emma then performed an amazing concert for us with songs she's written, and afterwards we played a couple games.

Saturday: I worked on Student Launch Pad (after sleeping in!) while John headed into Asheville with some of his family to see the new Lincoln movie. Everyone returned in time for us to cheer Florida State on, and thankfully we had a delicious meal to look forward to after a disappointing loss.

For dinner, John's cousin Abby made us a wonderful Southern meal of pulled pork, green beans, balsamic tomatoes, potatoes, and mocha chocolate mousse with caramel brittle... yum! We all hung out after dinner, working on a puzzle, talking, and watching Home Alone.

Sunday: John and I ate a big omelet breakfast that my dad made for us before heading to Buck's Coffee Shop with Amy and Emma. We headed back to Atlanta after lunch and began decorating for Christmas... one of my favorite activities!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Student Launch Pad: Preparing to launch!

I am passionate about coaching individuals and groups to their highest potential. I love witnessing someone discover how they are uniquely gifted and finding ways to integrate those strengths into their work and life. BeEmbraced is all about being embraced by the journey, and my current adventure is with Student Launch Pad!

I noticed that a lot of students were wasting valuable time and tuition dollars pursuing mismatched majors and careers in college. 53% of college students change majors 2 to 3 times, contributing to the over 50% of students who are taking longer than 6 years to graduate. Each additional year it takes to graduate will cost on average another $19,171 of tuition money, depending on whether it is a private or public university.

I want to reverse this trend and teach students how to apply their strengths and find their “sweet spot.” What if students knew how their unique combination of strengths, passions, values, and personality fit into a major or career?

Too many adults started down a career path that wasn't a good fit to begin with and now feel stuck. Instead, I believe that you can balance your passions with the practicality of making a living. In fact, your strengths, passions, and values all work together for success. 

I would love your support and for you to follow us on Twitter @StdntLaunchPad and like us on Facebook at Or check out our website. Thank you to everyone for the encouragement you've already provided and your ongoing support!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Start of Year 2 of Marriage

John and I aren't even a full month into year two of marriage, but I can already see how it's going to be different - in a good way.

Thankfully, our 10 year friendship prior to marriage, 14 month engagement, and excellent pre-marital counseling made our first year of marriage a lot less of an adjustment than I had expected. 

However, I was recently telling a friend who is about to get married that one of the big transitions into marriage that I had was seeing myself reflected every day in John. By this I mean seeing how my every word and every action impacted someone else. It was like walking around with a mirror in front of me all day. And unfortunately that mirror oftentimes revealed my selfishness, my imperfections, my pride. 

And the funny part about recognizing my self-centeredness was that it still made me focused on myself. In trying to will myself to be less self-focused, I was perpetuating the problem. 

Going into year two of marriage, I have a better perspective of where my focus needs to be. Even if I set my gaze on John instead of myself, growth would stagnate. Instead, we must both look to something higher than ourselves. 

It's the upside-down Gospel where our marital foundation is found not by looking below to where our own feet are taking us, but above. 

Is looking down making you dizzy?
Set your heart and mind on things above (Col. 3:1-2)

Thankfully, I am blessed with a husband who is gracious, patient, and loves me for the imperfections. Together we have grown throughout our first year of marriage, and it has already been exciting (and often funny) to reminisce on first year "bloopers" me crying when I burnt John's favorite cookies  on his birthday, or John getting frustrated when I beat him in a game of Scrabble.

Going into this second year, I am eager to reset my focus. Yes, it is important to take stock of your relationship with your spouse. However, if you constantly assess your marriage, you'll quickly become obsessed with everything that is not quite perfect enough to qualify you for "the best marriage ever." We are broken people in a broken world, so playing the game of perfection will only result in frustration. You must see a higher purpose. What is God calling you to as a couple that you couldn't do alone?

I want to intentionally remember that my sinful nature is made pure only through Christ.
Colossians 1:22

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fit Friday: Total body at home circuit

Today's workout will work just about every muscle in your body. Be prepared to sweat and be sore the next day... only the best kind of sore though, when you know you've done your body good!

I recently made this workout up when I didn't want to run or do a workout DVD, and I ended up loving it because of all of the variety. It will keep you moving and on your toes - no boredom here!

You'll need about 5 - 10 pounds weights, a stability ball, and a medicine ball. Be sure to warm-up/cool down and stretch before and after the workout.

To see examples of the exercises, click on the following links:

Wide squat with overhead press
Lateral front raises: Same as the link below but to the front
Lateral side raises
Skull crushers on stability ball: Lying on a stability ball will also work your core. You can use dumbbells for this instead of a barbell.
Stability ball knee tuck ...and add a pushup when you're in the plank position

Leg curls on stability ball
Hip thrust on stability ball
Stability ball side leg lift
Back lunge with front kick

Toe touches with medicine ball or holding a dumbbell
Russian twists with medicine ball... hold a medicine ball or dumbbell to make it more challenging
Bicycle crunches

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recipes for Chilly Days

This past week was the annual Chomp and Stomp Chili Festival in Cabbagetown, a neighborhood close to us. John and I biked to our friends Brant and Anna's house and walked over to the festival with them for bluegrass music and all you can eat chili. Local restaurants as well as ambitious individuals make their best chili, and you can sample as much as you want. It was all very delicious with some unusual types like brisket chili, smoky vegetarian, and one sweetened with maple syrup.

It was an usually warm and sunny day, so we met up with several friends, sat on picnic blankets in the park, and enjoyed the music and festivities. After all that spicy chili, we cooled off with King of Pops popsicles - the best!
Anna and me at the Chili Festival
After the beautiful weekend, we were greeted this week with chilly and rainy weather, which left me craving some more warm, hearty food. As a result, I've compiled some more fall recipes that I've made this week... enjoy!

For breakfast, pour a bowl of this delicious granola with some almond milk, and heat it up in the microwave for a warm start to the day!

Pumpkin Granola

Pumpkin Granola
Makes 3 2/3 cups
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (gluten free if making GF version)
1/4 cup ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped almonds (or slivered almonds)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Spread oats and quinoa on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Toast in oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove oats from oven, pour into bowl and add flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and raisins.
  4. Reduce oven to 300 degrees.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine honey, pumpkin puree, oil, spices, salt, and vanilla. Pour over oats and stir with a spatula.
  6. Spread mixture evenly onto baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. 
  7. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet.
This next recipe I made for dinner one night, but it made delicious lunch leftovers! I've shared a spaghetti squash recipe before, but this one is more like your typical spaghetti dish.

Spaghetti-style Spaghetti Squash 

Serves 4
1 spaghetti squash, halved and deseeded
1 onion, sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
Dash of red pepper flakes
1/2 Tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 15 ounce can of diced, roasted tomatoes 
1 cup spinach
Parmesan cheese, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place halved and deseeded squash on greased baking sheet, with cut sides down. Bake for 30 - 45 minutes (depending on size of squash) or until inside is tender.
  2. Once squash is done, remove from oven and let cool.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan and add onion and garlic. Caramelize onions over low heat for about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Increase heat to medium. Add in mushrooms and spices. Cook for an additional five minutes.
  5. Add in spinach and tomatoes; let simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Scrape flesh out of spaghetti squash with a fork into a large bowl. 
  7. Add tomato mixture into bowl with spaghetti squash, and toss to combine.
  8. Top with cheese if desired.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mission > Identity

When you sign a letter or an email, the closing line is often a brief but telling summary of the content.

When I sign off with
...I am usually writing to a family member or close friend. "Sincerely, Stephanie" is more formal, and "Thanks so much, Stephanie" indicates a note of appreciation or requesting a favor.

My box of wedding letters
Yet when I read through Paul's letters written to the early church, I tend to skip over his greeting to get to the heart of his words. This time, as I read through Colossians with my She Reads Truth study, we intentionally paused at the first verse of Paul's book: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace and peace from God our Father."

In this greeting, Paul announces who he is and who he is writing to - much like our salutations and closings in our letters. He defines himself as an apostle, one sent by God for a mission. His conviction and boldness in this calling made me think, How do I define myself? 

How we define our identity is obviously important because we act out of who we are. Yet so often we take on identities without pausing to assess whether we want to define ourselves this way.

For instance, in the book Creative Nonfiction, author Philip Gerard discusses the importance of defining yourself as a writer without any qualifiers. He points out that before you can be a writer, you must believe you are one. Writers recognize the moment when this happens because "their ambition for the writing becomes more important than their ambition to become writers."

Excerpt from Creative Nonfiction
In other words, it is how Paul begins his letter: I am an apostle sent on a mission because of God's will. His ambition for his mission becomes more important than his identity. In other words, his identity is God's plan for his life.

The problem with the world's notion of "finding yourself" is that it continually points to you. Paul shows us that our true identity must point to Christ. Yes, each of us has a high calling on earth. But this confidence is not because we are so grand as to deserve to make a difference but because we serve a King who mightily works through us.

An excerpt from the She Reads Truth Colossians study.
Be still today and let Christ work through you.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Orlando Trip in Pictures

John's and my time in Orlando this past week was a work/fun combo trip. Work because John had an event on Halloween to oversee and that required prepping part of Monday and most of Tuesday. I also took the opportunity to meet with my marketing and website contacts that are helping me develop my company. And fun (obviously) because we got to spend time with both sides of our families!

Here's the recap of the weekend in pictures:

Friday: Arrived in the evening and had dinner with John's family.

Saturday: Universal and Islands of Adventure... Including (my favorite!) Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the new Rip Rocket Roller Coaster!

From a previous Islands of Adventure trip... it wasn't this warm outside this time!

That evening, the Shack's had a big group over for dinner, and it was so fun to catch up with everyone.

Sunday: Shopping with my mom... no pictures, just soon-to-be Christmas gifts!

Monday: Half day of work then enjoying the beautiful weather, especially since last time I was in Orlando it was rainy and muggy. John and I spent most of the day with my parents.
Rainy view of my parents' backyard on the last trip to FL
Beautiful, sunny, and crisp weather this time!

Tuesday: Another work day, and then I took a break for lunch to meet one of my lifelong best friends for lunch. Her lunch hour flew by because we were having such a good time reconnecting.
Alex and I after lunch
That afternoon I squeezed in a quick workout before the Shack's and Wells had dinner together.

This leopard print carpet at my parents' house makes for a fun at-home workout!

Wednesday: John had his event at Arnold and Winnie Palmer hospitals, so I got a haircut and worked a little more. That evening, my sister-in-law Emma celebrated Halloween with us. We roasted marshmallows in the fire pit and watched some Seinfeld episodes... a perfect way to end our trip!

Thursday: We returned home and arrived to a 55 degree house... apparently Atlanta got a lot colder than Orlando did! We didn't know the heat wasn't set up when we moved in, so while we waited for someone to come fix it, I made vegetarian chili and my pumpkin muffins for us to warm up with for dinner!

Vegetarian chili

Thursday, November 1, 2012

15 Workout (15 reps, 15 minutes)

When we were in Orlando this past week, I wanted to squeeze in a quick workout before dinner one night. Since I wanted to maximize time with family, I wanted an efficient yet hard workout to power through.

The result is my 15 workout... efficient and effective!

15 reps of each exercise
2 sets
= 15 minute total body workout

Links on how to do each exercise are below. Be sure to modify where needed. For instance, if you can't do 15 push ups, just do the knee tucks. Or use lighter weights if you need to. 

Burpees - get your heart rate going!
Stability ball knee tucks with push up - add the push up to make it great for the abs and the arms
Jumping alternating lunges - hold 5 pound weights in each arm to get a good burn; do 15 per side
Dumbbell chest press on stability ball - use about 10 pound weights in each arm
Bicycle crunches - the slower you do these, the more the burn; do 15 per side
Triceps bench dip - great for the arms
Bird Dog - a yoga move that really works the abs; do 15 per side

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fajitas Night!

Since John had a business trip in Orlando, we took the opportunity to make it a long weekend and visit family. This weekend was a lot of fun, including catching up with friends and spending a day at Universal/Islands of Adventure! I am also using this time to meet with the company down here that is helping design the website for my new company. 

Due to our busy yet fun schedules, today's post is a quick recipe of a meal John and I had recently: Fajitas!

Steak Fajitas and Guacamole

Serves 4
1 pound of skirt or flank steak
1 large bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced or diced
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sour cream
Shredded lettuce

Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 avocado
1/2 red onion, minced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tomato, chopped
Ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
Corn chips

  1. Combine marinade ingredients and blend together in a food processor. Place steak in a freezer bag and pour marinade ingredients over it. Keep refrigerated for two hours.
  2. To prepare guacamole, remove seed and peel from avocado and roughly mash it with a fork. (Keep it a little chunky.) Add in remaining ingredients and gently mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in refrigerator until ready.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan over low heat, and add onion and garlic. 
  4. While onions are caramelizing, grill steak according to desired doneness.
  5. When steak is finished and while it is resting, add in remaining vegetables and cayenne pepper to onion mix, turning heat to medium. Cook vegetables for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. Cut steak against the grain into strips. 
  7. Prepare fajitas to liking, adding desired toppings. Serve with guacamole. Enjoy!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pumpkin Recipe Round-up

'Tis the season for all things pumpkin!

To send you off into your weekend on a fall note, here is my roundup of pumpkin recipes featured on BeEmbraced.

And as an extra special treat, I've included a delicious pumpkin square recipe (gluten free of course). I made these when we were having someone over for dinner, and by the end of the night we had devoured all of them. (John had seven, which is evidence that the vegan/gluten free quality didn't get in the way of taste!)

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Squares, inspired by Shape Magazine

1/2 cup gluten free all purpose flour (such as Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/2 tsp. xanthum gum
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp. almond milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extra
1/2 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly coat 8x8 pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine dry ingredients, then add in wet.
  3. Pour mixture into pan and spread until even.
  4. Cook for 20 minutes... or I cooked them 17 minutes and they came out deliciously gooey! 

Pumpkin Recipe Roundup 
Pumpkin Muffins (gluten free)
Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal
Pumpkin and Chicken Black Bean Soup
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup
Pumpkin Protein Cookies (gluten free)

If you're in search of other pumpkin recipes, head on over to my BeEmbraced Nosh & Kitchen Pinterest page... probably half of the recipes I've pinned feature pumpkin!