Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A tree in a snowstorm

On the tree outside my window, squirrels jump onto snowy limbs and a cardinal perches just long enough to collect white dots on its red feathers. The tree's trunk divides the white landscape in two and its branches stretch into the snow-speckled sky. For a Florida girl (an even for a now-Atlanta girl) this is a scene to soak in.

In the nearby park, parents show little ones snow for the first time. Children (and adults!) sled down the same hills that I ran over the day before. Yet here in our backyard, the quietness of this beautiful landscape almost feels lonely.

It's often the same feeling when you're pursuing a dream. When there's lots swirling around you, the chaos can be disorienting. Standing strong like the tree in a snowstorm sometimes feel solitary.

I want to encourage you today that you're not alone.

Whatever dreams are tugging at your heart are there for a reason. The road will be bumpy but just take it all in. See the beauty in the chaos. Reach out your limbs and share your dreams with those close to you.

And let the Light illuminate whatever covering you're hiding behind. Keep soul-ly stretching toward your One focus. He planted that dream in your heart, and others will rejoice in seeing the Ultimate Dreamer in you.
Today I'm linking up with Holley Gerth's Coffee for your Heart

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Warms meals, cold nights: 2 new recipes

Out of one of my favorite books of last year came one of my favorite recipes so far for this year.

Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine recipe for Real Simple Cassoulet cannot be beat. I wasn't even sure what a cassoulet was before I started making it, so John and I were curious to see how it'd turn out. It ended up being a delicious, hearty, sweet dish that is perfect for a cold night. It's easy enough to make, serves a lot, and would even be a wonderful dish to serve for a casual, winter dinner party. Here's my take on it:

1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 links pre-cooked Italian chicken sausage (my favorite is Trader Joe's), chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 tomato, chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. European butter, melted

  1. Heat a dutch oven over medium-low heat, add olive oil and onions, stirring occasionally until they are almost caramelized. 
  2. Once onions are done, add the sausage, chicken broth, vegetables, beans, thyme, salt, pepper, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and cover. Let simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  4. Heat oven to 400 degrees while cassoulet simmers. 
  5. In a bowl combine the bread crumbs, parsley, butter, and 1 clove of minced garlic. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over top of cassoulet.
  6. Place cassoulet in oven and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until top is golden.

For Christmas, I received the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which has gorgeous photos. Some of the recipes seem a little complex at first glance, but the one below is very easy and tasty. It was the first one from the cookbook that I tried, and it's a keeper. While Smitten Kitchen's photo is so much more beautiful, these tacos were still delicious!

My take on Smitten Kitchen's Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos

1 large spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeds scooped out
Juice from 1 lime
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt
Corn tortillas
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chicken broth
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 link precooked Trader Joe's jalapeno chicken sausage, diced
1/4 cup white onion, diced
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco, optional
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash, halved side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Cook for 40 minutes or until done (soft enough to scoop insides out).
  2. While squash cooks, add beans, onion, sausage, chicken broth and a dash of cayenne, pepper, and salt to a pot. Let simmer, covered, until softened about 20 minutes.
  3. Once squash is done, let it cool slightly then using a fork, scrape the squash flesh into a bowl. Discard the skin.
  4. Wisk lime juice, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt together in a small bowl. Pour over squash and toss together to coat.
  5. Assemble tacos by placing beans, squash, cheese, and cilantro on top of tortillas. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wisdom from a chocolate: How you spend your days determines how you live your dreams

If you're a Dove {dark} chocolate lover like me, you know the excitement of unwrapping the chocolate, careful not to tear the tin foil. The chocolate is creamy, rich, and delicious and the message on the wrapper makes the sweetness linger a little bit longer... even if most of the messages are a tad dramatic or trite.

Yet as I savored a Dove chocolate the other day, the wrapper's message stood out. It simply stated,
"Engage, embrace, enjoy."

It caught my attention because it included my blog's namesake, but then I began thinking how the message actually included some wisdom. I love when unexpected people, places, or things reveal something to you.

I think the saying stood out because at this time I was setting up the dream jar that I received for Christmas. I was considering my focus for the New Year and how I wanted to be intentional with my days because how you spend your days determines how you live your dreams.

Engage.  What dreams for your life have been planted in your heart? How do you desire to add value to this world?

  • First engage yourself with those ideas. Why do you have these dreams?   
  • Then engage others. Who can help you with your dream? Who can you bring on board to your vision so that it becomes their own as well? Who can hold you accountable to the work that will precede the dream? 
  • Next, engage your calendar. How will this dream come about? What daily or weekly actions do you need to take to realize your dream?

Embrace. If you're like me, I have many dreams that I feel drawn toward. Which one(s) are you going to embrace right now? Some dreams are for a season so which one is for this season in your life? 
  • Remember, even though it's your dream, it won't always be easy. Be embraced by the journey.
  • Remember why you're pursuing your dream. Keep your focus on the reason (the past journey that led you to the dream) and on the vision (the future journey where you are headed). This focus will keep you motivated in the present.

Enjoy. Since we live in a broken world, paths to your dream will be blocked. People will oppose your ideas. This confusion can often lead to doubt, which can produce despair. Instead:
  • Celebrate the successes along the way. One practice that I want to implement is a time of reflection at the end of every week. Marking your accomplishments (however small) will prevent time from blurring together and will show you what traction you are making toward your dream. 
  • Celebrate that you get to work toward your dream. Be grateful for the opportunity to dare greatly.

Being fully engaged toward a dream, embracing it as your own, and enjoying the roller coaster journey will make you stand out in only the best way possible. Because not many people have the courage to embark on a journey after their dream. Many will stop halfway. But your engagement with and excitement over your dream radiates through you, and this makes you beautiful.

Today I'm linking up with Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don't let your To Do list define you

As I was reviewing some coaching blogs this morning, I came across a question that I thought would trigger some interesting discussions: "If I gave you an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?"

When I try to answer this question for myself, I get overwhelmed. There is so much I'd want to fit into an extra hour every day. Part of this dilemma is probably attributed to my top strength on StrengthsFinder 2.0 being Achiever. I derive a lot of satisfaction from being busy and productive. This is the double-edged sword of your strengths. 

With an extra hour, I'd see more friends throughout the week, I'd write in my journal every day, I'd experiment with more recipes, I'd brainstorm ideas for a book, I'd go on a date night with John, I'd have our neighbors over for dinner...

All of these things are good and are pursuits that I desire to fit into my schedule in 2014. But I can't possibly fit all this into one hour, or one day for that matter.

This simple question made me pause to consider my response to how I do spend the hours I have during they day. Oftentimes, if I don't accomplish all of the things on my list, I feel like I haven't made progress on my goals. The start to 2014 has felt like a whirlwind, and I've noticed this thinking creeping in. 

After returning from Florida, I needed to get the house in order, organize, put away Christmas decorations, and start making plans for leading my small group, catching up with friends I hadn't seen, and spending time with John. I also wanted to stay on top of my goals, make progress on my business, and intentionally write more. These are all things that I enjoy, but I felt overwhelmed with my growing To Do list. Then the freeze and broken pipe hit, putting everything on pause for most of the week. So this week feels like playing catch up instead of being proactive. 

But then I read this from Holley Gerth: "You can be free from continually pursuing more and yet never feeling like enough." 

And I wanted to encourage you (because I need to give myself this encouragement!) that you - and I - are more than a To Do list. I think it's important to set goals and track your progress, and in fact I wrote a blog post about this today over at Student Launch Pad. But tracking your progress doesn't mean you should be defined by your productivity. Measuring your progress helps you stay on top of your goals that will hopefully lead to a transformed life. But you are not the measure of your progress and shouldn't measure yourself based on how much you accomplish in a given day. Again, I'm writing this more for it to sink into my own soul and to fully remember that you and I are deeply loved. 

Neither accomplishments or lack of accomplishments can add to or subtract from that love.

Today I'm linking up with Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart

Friday, January 10, 2014

Frozen Pipes & Fit Friday Circuit Training

Like most of the country (except Florida I'm looking at you!), Atlanta had freezing temperatures this week. With John out of town, I relied a lot on the generosity of neighbors and friends (and my dad on what he started calling the "Home Helpline") to deal with frozen pipes. When one burst underneath our house, friends came to the rescue to help me turn our water off (thankfully Dad had told me what tool I needed to buy ahead of time). Another friend let me shower at her house and everyone was offering their assistance, homes etc. I'm so blessed by our community here!

With John calling our builder, the plumbers who did our house originally were able to come repair the pipe that day. Since I had a class that evening, my next door neighbor stayed up until 11pm after I got home to help me turn my water back on and test everything out. I'm happy to report that as of now everything is working properly and there seems to be no damage! Plus, I'm very thankful that John is home now too!

Although I had no time to exercise while dealing with the house issues, this cold weather in general has encouraged me to switch my workout routine to the indoors. Plus, I received some awesome workout equipment for Christmas! Take a look at my workout room below, updated with an exercise bench, kettlebell, new shoes, a bosu ball, and new workout DVDs.

To test out my new bench, bosu ball, and kettlebell I did the following workout:

Here are links or explanations to the exercises:

Side to side bench steps: Stand with left leg on bench. Reach right leg to the right to touch the ground. Swing right leg behind standing leg to touch the ground on the left side of the bench. That equals 1 rep. Repeat on the same leg for 12 times then switch legs.

Lunges with bicep curl: Lunge forward on your right foot while curling your bicep. Step left foot forward to lunge with the left leg while curling your bicep. Repeat 15 times per leg.

Push up and curl in on stability ball - Watch the first video on this link. I added a roll-in after the push-up by drawing my knees toward my chest then rolling the ball back into pushup position.

Step up on bench with shoulder press - I left the curl out and went straight to the shoulder press

Kettlebell bench row - The second exercise on this link.

Glute roll-in on stability ball - Fourth video on this link.

Swimmer on bosu ball

I hope everyone is staying warm and has a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My 2 Themes for 2014

Last January, I chose the words Grace and Courage to guide my year. Those words were nudged towards me until I took notice and embraced them as a defining narrative for my life. Throughout ups and downs of 2013, it was humbling to continue going back to those two words until they steeped inside of me. Little did I know how much I would rely on the encouragement and truth that they offered, especially as John and I battled through his health issues last year.

As I was reading an Advent devotional last month, I felt the Spirit prompting me toward two new themes for 2014. Remembering how much I relied on my Grace and Courage words from last year, I was hesitant to entirely jump on board with two new lessons. And yet, here I am declaring 2014 as the year to “Pray Big” and “Dare Greatly.”

Dare Greatly

The theme to "Dare Greatly" is influenced by my favorite book of last year, Daring Greatly. And ironically it is very connected to my word "Courage" from last year. As author Brene Brown says, "Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It's about courage." 

Then when I read Holley Gerth's first Coffee for Your Heart prompt, I knew these were the encouraging words that I wanted the people I care about (you!) to hear as they begin a new year. 

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart

Daring greatly in this new year doesn’t mean that I have to embark on a grand adventure in the world’s eyes. Instead, by intentionally seeking more of what God already has planned for me day-by-day, I will live His great adventure. As Holley Gerth says in her book You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream, “It’s not about what you do as much as how you do it. It’s about pursuing life with passion and purpose and going with God wherever he leads.”

What about you? Do you dare to grow in your desire for the daily adventures that God is calling you to? 

I want to encourage you today that wherever you are in life and wherever you spend your day, you can dare greatly right where you are. Join me in pursuing vulnerability over fear. In knowing your worth. In believing that you are enough. If we truly showed up everyday believing that we are enough, we could be excited about our daily opportunity to dare greatly. The journey would become a daily destination in and of itself in pursuit of ways to love others boldly and follow where the Spirit leads right where you are.

I'm starting to decorate my nook space upstairs. Welcome to my little writing area.
Above my writing desk, I've hung these quotes to reinforce my two themes.
Part of praying big will be memorizing Scripture with Ann Voskamp's project.
The other quotes are from Holley Gerth.
Pray Big

For me, I know that I can’t dare to follow the dreams God has for me without lifting up big prayers. I can't dare to love my neighbors, seek mercy and justice for the city of Atlanta, and joyfully work every day without praying big. Consider joining me in this too? And we can watch the powerful results when we take steps of faith, dare to believe we're already enough, and step out on this incredible journey.

What is your theme for this year? 

For a step-by-step process on how to turn your themes into goals and your goals into daily actionable habits, read my Student Launch Pad blog post here

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The holidays in 13 pictures

Before I write about my dreams for 2014, I want to reflect on the blessings of this holiday season. I spent 12 days in Florida (hence being MIA from this blog) and think it's always important to pause and be thankful before diving ahead into the new year.

Our Christmas season started off better than last year's because we went straight to Lowe's for our Christmas tree instead of risking getting another "Devil Tree." (If you don't know what I'm referring to, then you can read about last year's debacle here.) We also had a fun White Elephant party with the funniest gift award going to our friend Will, who blew up photos of John's and my faces from 9th grade Homecoming and put them on ornaments. A close second was a life-size knight made of tin... it was a fun night!  
Before our White Elephant party, posing in front of our tree that is still standing: success!
Laura, me, Caitlin, and Amy  
The funniest gift
When John and I headed home, our time in Orlando was filled with family and friends, including many annual traditions such as candy making with Grandma Shack, a Shackelford family/friend reunion complete with an intense volleyball match, singing Christmas carols with Dad playing the piano, and riding in the truck bed to see the lights on Christmas Eve. 

Candy making with Amy and Claire
Post candy making with Grandma Shack
Bundled up before the truck ride
In addition to these traditions, we also had an incredibly fun night celebrating my 25th birthday (early) with a lot of high school friends. It was wonderful that so many friends were in town and that our families could be a part of the celebration too! The next day, I took Mom to the Orlando Ballet Nutcracker for her Christmas gift, and we enjoyed a nice dinner beforehand.

With John and Emma before my birthday dinner
A wonderful reunion of old friends
So blessed to have amazing parents and in-laws!
At dinner with Mom before the Nutcracker
Then on Christmas, John gave me an incredibly thoughtful gift. He commissioned my friend Becca to paint my poem Gathering Hope on a canvas. She's been working on it since October and I had no idea! Plus it's beautiful and I can't wait to hang it in our home. 

The day after Christmas John headed back to Atlanta for his work with the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Since he's always so busy that week, I stayed in Orlando and caught up with more friends. Aysha and Alex drove from Tampa for a short visit and it was great to catch up on the boat like past college times! My mom and I also had a wonderful brunch with Kim, Isha, and their mom's and again it was just like old times and so fun to catch up on everyone's adventures post-college.

Sophomore year of college to now: Aysha, me, and Alex
Senior year of high school to now: me, Kim, and Isha
After brunch with Isha and Kim, Mom and I picked up Dad and headed to celebrate my grandfather's 80th birthday. Despite having a bad cold, it was great to spend time with several family members. From lunch, Mom, Dad, and I drove to Vero Beach where we spent the night and next day before boarding Dad's new boat Rhythm 'n Blues. The weather wasn't sunshiney Florida, but I enjoyed sleeping, recovering from my cold, and finishing my third book since being back in Florida.

On the 31st we took the boat to West Palm Beach for an (almost) annual tradition of watching the fireworks. Watching the fireworks from the water gives us a front row view which didn't disappoint! And while trying to stay awake to midnight, we of course watched the Chick-fil-A Bowl. On the 1st I flew back home to Atlanta where John picked me up and took me out for a nice New Year's Day brunch... a wonderful way to kick off 2014!

Fireworks from the waters of Palm Beach