Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who's Telling Your Story?

Last year I heard about bloggers who chose one word to focus on for the New Year. I liked this idea, but I didn't want to arbitrarily select a word.

Yet have you ever had those moments where the same point or thought keeps being emphasized? Through conversations with friends, an article you read, a scene you remember from a movie, or other daily interactions, the same theme continues to move to the forefront of your mind. I personally believe this is often God nudging us to listen.

For me, this past Sunday at church the two words "grace" and "courage" continued to resonate in my mind.

I've been reading through the Soul Detox devotional with the She Reads Truth community. The questions that this study forces you to confront (in conjunction with Scripture) have been so thought-provoking, such as "What are some of the causes of toxic thoughts in your life?" and "Why is it easier to think toxic thoughts than it is to focus our minds on the truth?" and "What types of words do you tend to speak most - toxic or life-giving?"

I began meditating on the words that I not only speak to others but what I tell myself. Are toxic thoughts affecting my inner narrative?

And then yesterday on the way to work, I listened to Michael Hyatt's podcast, "Change Your Story, Change Your Life." He discussed this same topic, saying: "Inside your head and mine, there is a narrator. He or she is constantly telling us stories. These stories shape how we perceive reality." These stories can determine how we act because we start to believe what we tell ourselves, for better or for worse.

And then a friend in my book club sent her daily tip for the "Best You Ever," an email blurb she sends each day. Yesterday's tip was to remember "that the language you use can have a profound impact on whether you will manifest a positive or negative outcome for yourself. Think of the words you use as setting your intentions."

Again, I thought to my two words.

Grace: Give myself grace. By telling myself that I have so much to do with starting my company that I cannot possibly get everything done, I won't. By telling myself that I have to do everything perfectly in order to build up a good brand for my company, I will make myself anxious. Instead, I need to accept grace and remember that my identity is not in what I do. I believe that my identity is in Christ. His grace covers me. By recognizing this blessing I can change my inner voice. I am re-writing my inner narrative to focus on the joy of doing what I love and on the opportunity to speak into students' lives.

Courage:  By accepting grace, I am able to let God's strength work through me. I have a new confidence and assurance. "He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me... For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12). Giving myself grace doesn't mean that I give myself permission to slack off. Instead, I have a new courage to approach my work with a joyful boldness. 

So I ask you a question from Soul Detox, "How different is your life when you focus your thoughts on what is true and good rather than on toxic thoughts?"

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soup, Salad, and Seconds

I've been promising creative recipes with veggies, so here you go!

The first is another delicious salad, inspired by this Kickin' Kale Salad recipe.

Kale Salad

Serves 2 
2-3 cups torn kale leaves
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 can cannellini or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2-3 Tbsp. capers (or you can use green olives, cut in half)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Olive oil, enough to coat salad when tossed
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Mix it all together! Kale actually tastes better when it sits for a little bit with the olive oil and lemon, so don't be afraid to toss the salad a half hour or so before serving.

A delicious addition to this meal is a wintery soup, like roasted cauliflower soup. This recipe was inspired by this recipe from Cooking Light.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4
1 head of cauliflower florets
2 tsp. olive oil
Dash of salt
4 slices of bacon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup almond milk (or half-and-half)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 Tbsp. sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil and salt. Arrange in single layer in jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 40 minutes or until tender and browned. Stir once after 30 minutes.
  2. While cauliflower cooks, cook bacon in grill pan. Remove from heat and crumble once bacon is cooked through.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pot. Add onion and garlic, saute 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cauliflower, stock, and water to pot. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  4. Remove from heat, stir in milk. 
  5. Blend mixture with immersion blender - a new Christmas gift that I've loved using!
  6. Top with almonds and parsley. 
This soup is so creamy, you wouldn't guess that it's made from a vegetable! 

We have the soup and salad from this post's title, but where's the seconds? 

Round II: Roasted Cauliflower & Potato Soup

As another option, you can make the cauliflower soup into potato soup. I had leftovers from the cauliflower soup that I froze. A week or so later, I added quartered Yukon gold potatoes, chicken stock, onion, thyme, a bay leaf, salt and garlic to a Dutch oven. I let it simmer for 35 minutes then added in the cauliflower soup. I let it simmer another 10 or so minutes. Top with bacon crumbles, cheese, and green onions if desired. Voila... Delicious new soup!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Fit Adventure into Your Marriage

Early this Fall, I wrote about "How to Keep Your Marriage Adventurous," and it's been one of the most viewed posts on BeEmbraced. Since it seems to be a topic that is important to many people, here's a way that John and I have recently started to fit adventure into our marriage.

After the holidays and all of our travels (and I still have one more trip to write about!), John and I have been trying to get back into a routine. While that word sounds boring even just typing it, routine can actually help facilitate your sense of adventure in the new year.

This past week, John and I set goals for 2013, and one of our first ones was to have a planning meeting the first weekend of every month. Sounds dull for a marriage goal. However, the motivation behind a goal is the purpose of setting it in the first place. So why the planning? Because in addition to wanting to have fire pit nights with neighbors, game nights with friends, and other get-togethers, date nights are a top priority.

An afternoon in the park is always a great date idea
Our goals for dates are:
  • Have a date night (or afternoon) outside of the house at least once every three weeks
  • Have a date night inside the house at least once every two weeks
  • Go on a walk together at least once a week
One of the new goals that we incorporated this year was to have date nights inside the house. Although we have dinner at home with each other most nights of the week, it's fun to plan some adventure into the evenings. Movie nights are great, but this year we wanted to get creative with our dates.

A date night last year: Watching the Gwinnett Gladiators (and the ice was pink for Breast Cancer Awareness)!

For example, on Monday night we had a fancy dinner at home together. The past week had been busy with John traveling, me having my first book club meeting, John playing basketball, and us having friends over Saturday and Sunday nights. With both of us off of work for MLK Day, we decided to have a date night - without leaving the house. We made a nice dinner of grilled fish, roasted acorn squash with brown sugar, red lentils, salad, and complete with red wine. We dressed up in nice clothes, turned on the Frank Sinatra Pandora station, use our china plates and crystal glasses, and John brought home flowers for our table. And afterwards, to keep in the evening's theme, we caught up on Downton Abbey of course!

Our dinner date, using our nice china and crystal! 

What made this date night even more enjoyable was that we planned it in advance, allowing me to look forward to it all week. It also made it no hassle, knowing I could plan for the dinner when I went grocery shopping a few days before.

So there you have it: how planning can actually add adventure into your marriage. Otherwise, life seems to fly by without scheduling how you can incorporate fun date nights with your spouse.

What about you - what fun at-home dates have you had? Do you plan on setting goals with your spouse this year?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fitness Friday: Half Marathon Training Plan

One of my "Fresh Start" goals for the new year is to eat more veggies, and I shared a yummy salad recipe last week. More delicious salads and creative veggie recipes to come (cauliflower soup was actually a winner!), but today is Fitness Friday! The other part of my "body" goal for the Mind/Body/Spirit Fresh Start is training for the Country Music Half Marathon in April.

When I ran this half marathon in 2011, I followed Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training Program for novices to a T. The plan suited me well as I completed the half marathon 4 minutes under my goal time. However, the last three miles were torture. Since I only trained up to 10 miles, that last push to the finish was very difficult, mentally and physically.

This time, I intend to train to 13 miles, so come race day I have the confidence that I can do it. I also have planned a training schedule that is longer, allowing leeway for vacation and busy work weeks.

I am running this half marathon with four other girls in Atlanta, so I am actually looking forward to starting training since it's a good excuse to hang out with everyone! Being the goal and achievement-oriented person that I am, I designed a training plan for us to follow. It is so motivating for me to cross the days that I train off of the calendar and watch myself get closer and closer to the goal.

Below is the training schedule that I put together. You'll notice that it is very similar to Hal Higdon's Novice 1 plan, but with personalized tweaks. (As a note, I am not a professional trainer, I am just sharing my plan in case it inspires you to train to for a half marathon too!)

I planned on starting training this week, but it has been raining almost non-stop for the past four days, so I've relied on workout DVDs instead. That leaves this weekend for catching up on my runs since it's supposed to be sunny at last!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Travel Journal 3: D.C. Adventures Continue...

Today's travel journal is a quick recap of the rest of my trip to D.C. After Heather's fabulous wedding, four of us stayed in D.C. through New Years with our friend Aysha who lives there.

I had not been to D.C. since my 6th grade field trip there, other than briefly stopping through on a road trip. So I was very excited to see some sights and explore the city not with a school group.

The day after Heather's wedding we helped her pack up and get everything in a U-Haul for her and Chris's move to Florida... Well, let's be honest, the girls were all recapping the wedding together while the guys did the heavy lifting! That evening, the five of us girls staying in D.C. went on an evening walk to the White House, World War II memorial, and out to dinner/exploring in Georgetown.

The WWII Memorial was so  pretty at night with all of the lights and fountains! 
Showing our school spirit for Vandy!
(From left to right: Alex, Aysha, me, Alex, and Leah)
The next day, we walked by some more highlights, including my favorite stop: the Library of Congress. How beautiful! The inside was stunning, and it was also incredible to see Thomas Jefferson's library. The book worm in me could have browsed all of his books for hours. In his words, "I cannot live without books."

The beautiful Library of Congress

The Capitol
Afterwards, Aysha taught us how to use the Metro, which was super easy even for directionally-challenged me.We walked around several cute neighborhoods and ate at a delicious Turkish restaurant for lunch. That afternoon, Alex, Leah, and I headed to the National Museum of Natural History while Aysha brought (the other) Alex to the airport. The museum was a lot of fun to explore, from seeing the dinosaurs to the gems/Hope Diamond.

Turkish vs. American coffee... cheers!
For New Year's Eve we decided to relax. After getting dressed up for all of the wedding festivities, it was nice to celebrate the evening in sweat pants! We each made a favorite dish of ours, and had a wonderful home cooked meal of salmon, brussels sprouts, and avocado quinoa for dinner.

It was a perfect girls getaway and so wonderful to catch up with college friends!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Travel Journal 2: D.C. Wedding Weekend

After our trip to Orlando for Christmas, we returned to Atlanta on the 26th for John to start his busy week working on the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Of all of his projects at work, this event is the biggest. Since he would we working the entire week through New Years, it was perfect timing for me to go to Washington D.C. to be the Matron of Honor in Heather's wedding, who is a dear friend from college!

After working on the 27th and feverishly doing laundry and packing (from D.C. I would be heading straight to Tahoe, but more on that in a later post!), I left for D.C. on the 28th. Remember that sweet surprise birthday dinner that John planned in Orlando? I really appreciated his forethought since the 28th was my birthday and we wouldn't be able to celebrate together. 

I arrived in D.C. just in time for the bridesmaids/close friends luncheon. It was so much fun to honor Heather and celebrate with each other.

Yay for being the token blonde! The bride is Heather, who is in the middle of the picture.
We then went back to Heather's parents' house to get ready for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. The dinner was lovely, and it was special watching the slideshow of Heather and Chris through the years.

Bridesmaids and bride at the rehearsal dinner
Then, wedding time! We spent the morning getting pampered as we had our hair and makeup done. The entire time we were getting ready, it was snowing outside of the window... so pretty. We danced and sang to 90's music to get pumped up for the big day ahead. I was so impressed my hair was actually able to stay curly the whole day and night too!

We then headed (in a limo!) to the reception place for some pre-wedding pictures. With the newly fallen snow it was simply beautiful.

Vandy bridesmaids: Me (Matron of Honor) and with curly hair!, Aysha (Maid of Honor), and Kathryn
With the bride
We always have so much fun together!
The ceremony was also special since it was complete with parts unique to Heather and Chris... like Heather high-fiving people down the aisle and the pastor making jokes during the sermon. One highlight: In the busyness of the day, I forgot to get Chris's wedding ring to give to Heather during the ceremony. Thankfully, the Best Man had both rings, so I had to awkwardly reach across and get the ring from him for the exchanging of rings, oops!

The reception was just as fun as the newly married couple! It started with some appetizers before we were served a delicious dinner. Aysha and I, and the Best Man, gave our toasts, and then it was time to dance! It was so good to catch up with Vandy classmates and dance the whole night. We did take a break to snap some pictures at the photo booth too. It was a wonderful wedding weekend!

That would be me with the goofy sunglasses on
A few of us stayed in D.C. through New Years after the wedding and had a great time exploring the city and hanging out. More to come on the second half of D.C. in a later post!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fresh Start: Exciting Salad

Part of my fresh start to 2013 is wanting to eat and cook more vegetables - more in both quantity and excitement.

So this week I tried two new salads that are a long way from the typical lettuce, carrots, and tomato. These salads are so scrumptious that they could stand alone, though for dinner I paired one with fish and quinoa. I also made to sure to make extra so I had leftovers for lunch! The first of these recipes is below:

Sweet Potato and Orange Salad from Cooking Light
Inspiration from this salad came from my go-to source, Cooking Light

Serves 4
1/2 Tbsp. dried rosemary 
1 tsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 oranges, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 of a red onion, vertically cut
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds
1/2 bag of spinach, kale, and swiss chard mix (I get mine from Trader Joe's)

Dressing: This will make extra to save for another salad
3 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. ground spicy mustard
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
Sea salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Combine first four ingredients and toss to coat. Place sweet potato mixture in jelly-roll pan. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, and then bake another 15 minutes or until potatoes are roasted.
  3. Remove from oven, and combine sweet potatoes with remaining salad ingredients.
  4. Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and stirring with a whisk. (Or use a handy dressing mixer like I got for Christmas! See picture above.)
  5. Drizzle about half of the dressing over salad and toss to coat. 
To make a complete meal, pair this salad with grilled and seasoned fish with a side of avocado quinoa.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Travel Journal 1: Orlando

It seems so long ago to be writing about what John and I did over Christmas, but for all those who are curious here is a quick snapshot of our wonderful time in Orlando!

We saw lots of friends and family during our week in Orlando, so here are just a few highlights:

  • Being surprised by John with a nice dinner for an early birthday celebration ...Definitely didn't see that coming, and I was surprised to see my best friend, parents, and in-laws at a table with balloons ready for the celebration!

  • Making candy (including pull candy, peanut butter balls, and fudge) for the first time with John's grandma and then watching the Simpson's Christmas movie with the family, also for the first time... I can't believe I'd never seen this before!
  • Enjoying an extravagant dinner homemade by Dad with his side of the family. Along with including several courses, such as truffle-infused risotto and calamari salad, we also had a wine pairing to go with each course. And the conversation with family was also wonderful! 

  • Watching Mom get in a tractor bed after being "peer pressured" by her sisters! I won't show the entire video here, but suffice it to say that it's hilarious.
  • Reunion with our high school graduation class. After not seeing a lot of our former classmates for 5 years, John and I really enjoyed catching up with everyone at a local pub. 
  • Having my best friend, Alex, join in on almost all of our family get-togethers! 

And a few other notable memories:

  • The annual ride in the truck bed to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve with John's family
  • Playing volleyball with John's side of the family
  • White elephant gift exchange
  • Fire pits
  • Watching a Christmas movie with my sisters-in-law... and laughing about its cheesiness
  • Mani-pedi with Mom
  • Hanging out with my lifelong friend, Isha, at a vegan, gluten-free restaurant - great food and great company!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fresh Start

BeEmbraced is back and ready for a fresh start! I haven't blogged in a while because I have been out of town for almost three straight weeks traveling. Travel stories and pictures will be on the blog soon, updating you on Christmas in Orlando, a wedding/New Years in DC, and a family ski trip in Tahoe!

Since Christmas decorations are still up and there is a lot of laundry to be done and emails to catch up on, I'll keep this post short.

I have always liked January because it forces you to be intentional and look ahead to the new year. My fresh start to 2013 focuses on spirit, mind, and body. Rather than setting resolutions (we've all heard the statistics that only 8% of people keep them!), I plan to take small but powerful actions in each of these three key areas.

Spirit: I am currently going through the She Reads Truth Fresh Start study, which gave me the idea for seeking fresh starts in important areas of my life. The clincher so far? Hearing Moses' confident words as the Israelites flee for their lives from the Egyptians: "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." 

You only have to be silent. I will be reflecting on how I need to still my heart and let God fight my battles.

Body: Last year at this time, I did a week of clean eating to set healthy habits in 2012. This year, you can expect more healthy, clean recipes that feature a lot of veggies. I love the sweetness of fruit, but I want to be intentional about creatively incorporating more vegetables into our meals. I'm a little tired of steamed broccoli as our green veggie, so expect more kale recipes and exciting experiments with swiss chard and the like! John and I will continue eating vegetarian once a week - and I'd like to up this to twice a week... we'll see how it goes!

I have also signed up for the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, which I ran two years ago. Several of my friends in Atlanta signed up too, so it'll be a fun girls weekend in April! It'll also be a great way to stay in shape and catch up as we train together.

Mind: As I've mentioned in a recent post, I joined a book club. The books we have selected for the first three months are already in different genres than I typically read. Even if I don't love all of the books, I am going to finish them in an effort to learn something new. I also intend to be more current on the news, and I know reading the paper on my new iPad (a big, surprise Christmas gift from my hubby!) will help this cause.

Any thoughts on these "fresh starts" areas? Any tips to help me in these efforts? Did you set goals for yourself? Feel free to share!