Thursday, January 21, 2016

Coulon's Happiness Project 1.1-Boost Energy

Happiness Project 1.1-- Boost Energy

In my own personal Coulon Happiness Project, following the themes Gretchen Rubin lays out in her book the Happiness Project, See my original post on the Happiness Project, I am resolving to boost my energy! Although I think, this was largely accomplished last year when I resolved to eat more healthfully and start routinely exercising. It took me a while to get in the habit, but I finally did. Be that as it may, I think we can always grow and improve. As Rubin says in the last chapter of the book "You hit a goal, but you keep a resolution" So my goal was to eat more healthy and start exercising everyday. But goals can mark an ending or a finish line, and I didn't want to end or finish exercising, I wanted to keep it up! Here is quick excerpt from the book contrasting the goals vs. resolutions:

"It's something you resolve to do everyday, forever. Striving toward a goal provides the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness, but it can be easy to get discouraged if reaching the goal is more difficult than you expected.......with Resolutions, the expectations are different. Each day I try to live up to my resolutions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and fresh opportunity. I never expect to be done with resolutions, so I don't get discouraged when they stay challenging, Which they do"

January's Resolutions the Happiness Project:

Go to sleep earlier
Exercise better
Toss, Restore, and Organize
Tackle a naggling task
Act more energetic

I continue to resolve to eat healthfully and continue daily exercise. I don't get it right everyday. Believe me,  I failed miserably at making protein pancakes the other day! I don't get a sweaty, spin-my-head around workout everyday, but I do try to do some type of workout daily even if only a 10-minute ab workout. I noticed that as I incorporated healthier foods in my life and got in a daily 30-minute workout, I had an overall incredible boost in energy. I usually average about 6 hours of sleep a night. I know that now because I monitor my sleep with my new handy, dandy Fit-bit.  I know I need more sleep, but at the same time I don't feel sleep-deprived. In fact, I feel very energized. Probably the best energized I have felt in a long time! I also never nap. I am not much on napping because I noticed every time after a nap I felt this "sleep inertia". I became more drowsy and actually felt more tired and cranky after a nap rather than restored and rejuvenated. So I felt like the first two resolutions I could simply resolve to keep doing, I was already in a habit of it now.

However, the last 3 resolutions to boost energy, I could definitely resolve to do better.

Toss, Restore, and Organize:

Toss: Why do we have so much stuff, and why does it seem to keep accumulating!!

I was off of work on Monday for Martin Luther King Day and decided I would declutter my closets and lurking items that really was serving no purpose and brought no joy. I do this periodically throughout the year when I have some time alone at home. I would say I do a good declutering sweep three times throughout the year, and also right after Christmas, so essentially with each change in season (of course, that is if I lived somewhere that actually has all 4 seasons, but you get the point). So declutering was done after Christmas, but I still felt like we had too many "lurkers". We now had new stuff as well since it was right after Christmas. So "out with the old and in with new, go ahead, and toss a few"! I was able to accomplish my decluttering task on my day off in about an hour. Am I just that efficient!?NO!! Here's why...

Almost 2 years ago, I came across an intriguing blog called the Loving Simple Living. See blog here. I started reading this woman's story about how and why she and her family (2 kids) down-sized from a 2000-sq foot home to a 1 bedroom apartment. In fact, they first went to a larger apartment before down-sizing even further into a smaller one. It took them less than a day to pack up to make the move between the 2 apartments. I couldn't believe it! She has book and a handbook describing how they got rid of things by donating, selling, or giving things away. She also describes what they do, in fact, still own and why they chose to keep those particular items. After being extremely motivated by her blog, I went on to read other stories of simple or minimalist living. Its amazing how these people find genuine peace, freedom, and contentment by owning so little in regards to today's standards.

I never really liked clutter. Clutter always made me feel very uncomfortable, and a mess has always bothered me. I can remember when I was young if I went to a friend's house, I would voluntarily start tidying it up. It was like I couldn't play until their room was clean! I admit I might have been a strange child, but it only proves it's an innate characteristic of mine. I definitely get a good boost in energy and accomplishment when I declutter. So in the summer of 2014 I got rid of a lot of stuff. I donated about half my shoes and clothes, many home decor pieces I was holding on to for no reason, and several kitchen gadgets/items we never used or that we had multiples of in the kitchen.

So what I could improve on this year is to "Keep It Simple". This means that I strive to NOT buy things that I don't need or that I don't love. Do not buy multiples unless its the best pair of jeans I ever put my booty in. Don't buy things that do not serve any type of purpose. The purchase has to be functional, usable, or beautify my home is some way shape or form. If its going to stack, accumulate, jumble in a drawer, or just sit on shelf, then it doesn't need to be bought. Or at least if it is bought, it's given the "one-year" rule of thumb. If its not used to decorate my home, make life convenient, cloth my body, clean my house, or use in my kitchen, then toss!

Restore. I do need to restore some things this year that are just worn out and need to be replaced. My husband and I have been married 8 years, and some of the bath towels we got when we got married are certainly starting to show their wear and tear, as almost thread bare. That would be an example of something I need to restore. I also have to constantly restore the clothes in my kids closets and dressers because they grow out of things so fast. So again every few months (at each changed in the "seasons") I change out their clothes.

Organize. I organize quite often. Ok so I may let mail pile up here and there, but for the most part I try to keep things organized. I go with the "like goes next to like" rule. For Christmas, Dusty got this hamburger making kit from his mom with some seasonings, sauces, and a hamburger press device that is similar to a cookie-cutter, it presses the ground meat into burgers. We didn't really no where to put it in the kitchen because we are starting to get maxed out on space (even with all my attempt at decluttering)! So he causally tosses it in a cabinet above our sink that has our blender and Yedi cups.......yeah, that's not going to fly! I was itching for him to leave the kitchen so I quickly rectify this complete disorder that just took place in our kitchen throwing off the whole "like goes next to like" system. This is just the way I work, its sounds quirky, but "outer order lead to inner calm".

The BIG organization project for me right now is to organize my plethora of pictures form this past year. This resolution involves organizing all pictures and dowloading them all onto my computer and Shutterfly/Dropbox/Mpix accounts from the last year and half as well as stay current on organizing them for this year. I love making Shutterfly photobooks so I know this is something I just need to make time to sit down and do. In order to be a "treasure house of memories" these treasures will be worth the effort. Earlier this week, my daughter, Kora, and I looked at the Shutterfly books of the pictures from her first year of life. She laughed and relished looking at these books of herself. I want to make sure I capture these fleeting moments with them. I can only imagine how she will feel and love looking back at them when she is in her twenties or thirties. I appreciate that my mom makes scrapbooks, and she captured so many wonderful changes and experiences in my life. I need to to pay it forward to my own two kids.

And this leads into the next resolution....

Tackling a naggling task:

This is will be organizing those pictures, printing them, and compiling them into beautiful photobooks. The books are not the cheapest, but they are worth every penny for capturing and holding on to some of my most treasured items, and that is pictures of my kids and family. A moment in time they will never be again, and I don't want to completely lose it!

I will continue on with my January resolutions to "tackle a naggling task" and "act more energetic".......more to week!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Season of Squash!

Season of the squash has been my kitchen obsession this past fall and winter!

I have really experimented more with fresh, clean cooking, and squash has been a hidden gem for it. My only real knowledge of squash prior to this fall was summer squash you cut in circles and cooked in the microwave for 5 minutes. Again, by participating in my health and fitness accountability groups, I have been introduced to 3 new-to-you scrumptious squash that I never knew existed!

Spaghetti squash

So tonight I cooked spaghetti squash to eat with my turkey meatballs and tomato sauce. A fantastic way to go low-carb and not even really notice it. A year ago I didn't even know what a spaghetti squash was and never even noticed it grocery stores. I am amazed at how delicious squash can really be when cooked right and seasoned with the right flare of ingredients. I know many people cut their spaghetti squash in half, but I now cut mine in rings most of the time and rub the rings in about a tablespoon of olive oil with a little salt and pepper. Throw them in the oven for 40 minutes on 400 temperature. Bam! Perfect, non-mushy, spaghetti squash to replace your noodles or pasta.

Cut the squash in rings and place on parchment paper

The picture above is the squash cut in rings and baked on parchment paper. The dish was a bacon, goat cheese, spinach, and spaghetti squash recipe. Oh man it was so good. I am not even a big bacon-eater, but this was mouthwatering. Spaghetti squash with bacon, spinach, and goat cheese!
This was an amazing spaghetti squash burrito bowl! Spaghetti squash burrito bowl

Acorn Squash

This is such a great little squash to pair as a side dish with really any dinner and could replace a roll or garlic bread. It goes nicely with like a turkey meatloaf or a lean beef entree. It even makes a great snack. My first experience making it was out of the Autumn Calabrese's Fixate cookbook (which is an awesome cookbook to have by the way if doing the 21 Day Fix! Fixate cookbook). Cut them in half and place the squash cut side down on baking sheet. Bake 30-35 minutes or until tender. Then the Fixate recipe calls to add a little butter, maple syrup, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg! Bake another 15-20 minutes. Sensational squash! Here is a similar recipe for roasted acorn squash
Here I put turkey meatball spaghetti over a roasted acorn squash

Butternut Squash

Last but certainly not least....butternut squash! Yum, my kids even really like this one. They even ask for "sposh" (rhymes with Josh) when I make it. You can cut up the squash into cubes and roast it with a light coat of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste, or you can completely transform it into "candy butternut squash"! Keep reading....
Honey Cinnamon Butternut Squash....the kids love!
The honey cinnamon butternut squash is so easy and scrumptious, deli-umptious! If that is even a word? Willy Wonka phrase I think?

Honey Cinnamon Butternut Squash:
Cut squash in cube-sized 1 inch pieces. Caution*** It can be hard to cut up a butternut squash! So be careful, have a sharp knife, and don't do it alone if possible. Have a kitchen buddy in case of an emergency! 
Toss cubes in 2 tablespoons honey, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, and bake on 375 for 20-30 minutes (until tender). Or you can try a soup with the squash!

Butternut squash soup and roasted carrots

We made a butternut squash soup in our new Instant Pot pressure cooker (black friday find!), and it did come out very good. Although I have to be totally honest, I am not a huge fan of butternut squash soup, I love tomato basil soup, but this is not one of my favorite ways to eat the squash. The Fixate cookbook also has a interesting butternut squash soup that is complimented with pepper jelly and spiced yogurt. Sounds incredibly strange, but when I have all the ingredients on me, I may try to do it!

So I hope you find these "diamonds in the rough" of the grocery store (especially if shopping in the rough throngs of Walmart) and enjoy them as much as I did. If you have a favorite squash recipe with any of these varieties of squash or others, please please share! Also don't forget with all these you have to core out the seeds, but you can roast them for snacks too! 

Good night and always grateful!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Project it really all just a decision?

Because I'm Happpyyy!! Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.....Because I'm happy...clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth!!

The song Happy by Pharrel Williams, which was the featured song for the Despicable Me 2 movie, is playing through my head as I write this blog post. I am bobbing my head just a little too. I have been thinking a lot about happiness here lately. For a few reasons:

First, as I am discovering my love for a new health and fitness lifestyle and participation in my health and fitness accountability groups, I found I have become a more happier and contented person. You might think "why does your family and kids not bring you such happiness, or your job?" They do! Of course, my family brings me much happiness! But always the deep thinker, I discovered I had been missing (or at least neglecting) a huge part of me that I didn't realize was such a huge part of me. When I joined my health and fitness challenge groups, a passion for health, fitness, and wellness started oozing out of me, and now the flood gates are opening!

Secondly, before the Christmas break, I received an email from a veterinary colleague with this article about a 92-year old lady's take on happiness. I was so touched by Mrs.Jones's beautiful and wise words regarding happiness. Amazing Advice on Happiness at 92-years old. She describes that happiness is a decision, or choice, that you make everyday. She states in the article:

"It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.” 

Mrs.Jones also shares with us to  "Remember the Five Simple Rules to be Happy" which are:
1. Free your heart from hatred
2. Free your mind from worries
3. Live simply
4. Give More
5. Expect less

And lastly, in November, I finished Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin which I have mentioned in other posts, see New Year, New You. I was so intrigued and inspired by this book as well as her extensive research and observations on habit formation, that I went on to read one of her other bestseller's the Happiness Project. The reason you may see many post from me on her work and why I started my facebook group "Be Better, Be Happy" is because I felt like I related to this author on so many levels. I too was someone who went all through college and gained a professional degree only to realize I didn't have an extreme passion for my chosen profession. I enjoy veterinary medicine. It can be fun, rewarding, and challenging. However, I am not what you would call passionate about it. In fact, I really don't practice medicine anymore. I work in research support and compliance at LSU, which I can explain in another post one day! No, I am just realizing some other things that I am truly passionate about, and those are healthy living, fitness, an active lifestyle, reading, and writing. I may never become a professional writer, and that's ok, but I can still make writing a hobby. A hobby, no doubt, that will bring me much happiness! Hence this blog (and future ones to come).

In my own pursuit of happiness (not to be confused with the movie the Pursuit of Happyness featuring Will Smith as I am not about to solve the rubik's cube and move up in corporate America), I am going to attempt to do my own sort of happiness project! I will focus on the areas of life covered in the the Happiness Project book, but I will tweak it to be my own. Rubin actually encourages her readers to do their own happiness project and gives you resources to do it on your own or with a group. Why am I doing this? It's not that I am unhappy by any means. In fact, this is probably one of the most happy times in my life. I have a strong faith, supportive husband, two precious kids, a nice home, loving parents, a good job..... I have a lot to be grateful for! I am doing this because.....why not? This could be fun, eye-opening, an area of personal growth, and perhaps I could spread happiness tips and tricks to others. And it will keep me doing something that contributes to my happiness......writing! So once a week I am going to do a blog post on the events of my own attempt at a happiness project.

In the introduction of the The Happiness Project called "Getting Started", Rubin states her 12 commandments. Ok, not like the ten commandments we got from God for which Moses brought forth to us down from Mount Sinai. Those aren't the commandments I am talking about, and I am not trying to be sacrilegious here. Its personal commandments that help you stay focused on what makes you, and keeps the people around you, happy. Personal mottos, maxims, adages, or mantras if you will. For those of you reading this who are of faith and/or a Christian as I am, this certainly can be favorite bible verses. Some of Rubin's 12 commandments were:

Be Gretchen
Act the way I want to feel
Lighten up
No Calculation
Be Polite and Be Fair
Spend Out

By the way, I am not trying to emulate Rubin here. I am still going to make my happiness project fall in line with my own personal values and faith. This is just an author whose work happens to resonate with me, and that I believed was very interesting and thought-provoking. If you read this book, its not advocating any type of religion or belief system. She does mention several aspects of religion and beliefs, but only as it applies to the contemplation of one's own happiness. She covers some aspects of Buddhism as it relates to happiness, but one of my favorite chapters is when Rubin describes her discovery and utter intrigue of the life of one of her happiness icons, or "spiritual master", whom happen to be St.Theresa of Lisieux "the Little Flower". Don't worry, I won't get preachy, but to not have some aspect of my faith infused in this project, well, it would be set up for failure. It would fail because it wouldn't be truly me...which is the first commandment. Be Diana.

Take note that Rubin mentions pursuing happiness is not necessarily a selfish ambition. Two of my favorite quotes from her book regarding happiness:

“The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It's more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.” 

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” 

So here are my 12 commandments (and some of hers I liked so much that I stole them for my own):

Let Go, Let God
Be Diana
Just do it
Be grateful and content
Enjoy the process
Lighten Up
Follow through
Keep it Simple
Remember the Serenity Prayer
Be more generous
Show up
Spread joy and love

Throughout the book, she explains how she incorporates these personal commandments in her daily life and in the pursuit of understanding happiness. And I will explain mine as I go too.

The Happiness Project was a year long endeavor, January to December, with each month covering 12 different areas of life seeking or improving on happiness.

January: Boost Energy-Vitality
February: Remember Love-Marriage
March: Aim Higher- Career
April: Lighten Up- Parenthood
May: Be serious about play- Leisure
June: Make time for friends- Friendship
July: Buy Some Happiness- Money
August: Contemplate the Heavens- Eternity
September: Pursue a Passion- Books
October: Pay Attention-mindfulness
November: Keep a contented heart- attitude
December: Boot Camp Perfect- Happiness

So with the fresh start of new year, we will see how the Coulon Happiness Project goes! If you would like to read this book and start your own happiness project. Here is the link to the book on Amazon. Also I am curious if you came up with a personal commandment, maxim, mantra, scripture, or motto to live by, what would it or they be?