October 30th – “Switch up routines with yoga, or weights, or meditation.”

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I didn’t do any of the exercises suggested by my horoscope, but I did add something new to my routine.

I’ve been out jogging or at the gym 5 times this week which wasn’t enough to make up for all the heavy meals I’ve had. Last week, I went out for Shanghai dumplings, made lamb shanks, and had dessert for breakfast.

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Recipe for lamb is at the end of post.

Did I mention that I made cookies last night too?

I definitely needed to do an extra workout yesterday!

I only got through the first 10 minutes of this dance video, but I plan on doing the whole thing tonight. This is a great for anyone like me who isn’t very coordinated. A lot of the work out videos out there are too fast, advanced, and frankly, DANGEROUS, for the average person.  I think many fitness classes don’t spend enough time warming up and speed through the movements in order to increase calorie burn. If you’ve taken yoga at a studio AND at the gym, you know what I’m talking about!

Based on this video, Ryan Heffington really knows his stuff and how to teach. It’s like having a real dance teacher at home!

***

Lamb Shank

2 to 4 lamb shanks

12 oz can of beer (preferable a stout/dark beer) OR red wine

12 oz can of beef broth (or half a box)

1/2 onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

½ can diced tomatoes or fresh

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

3 sprigs of fresh oregano

2 cloves minced garlic

A few tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

  1. In a large pan, brown lamb shanks (about 5 – 10 minutes) with some olive oil
  2. In a large pot, brown onions and garlic with some olive oil. Then add all other ingredients including lamb shanks. Bring to boil. Then simmer for 2 to 3 hours until meat is falling off the bone. If the sauce gets too thick or dry while simmering, add more broth and beer. It’s goes well with a side of mashed potatoes and your favorite greens!

 

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Apple Cider Caramel Cookies

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 cups flour

10 packets (1 box) apple cider powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 package (36 count) small caramels

 

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs and vanilla
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together
  3. Slowly add dry ingredient mixture to wet. Mix until just combined.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour
  5. Divide dough into 36 balls, flatten the dough balls, then wrap each caramel with dough.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 13 minutes. They’re ready when the caramels have fully melted and the cookies look flat.

Original recipe here

October 30th – is “another uber-lucky day. It’s time to launch new projects and start your next chapter.”

dsc06956The great thing about horoscopes is that it gives me a lot of encouragement, especially when I need motivation to work on projects. The hard part is keeping up with all the lucky days!

I often find myself scrambling to complete the work I’m doing and am not inclined to start on new projects until the old ones are done. I don’t want the “undone pile” to grow anymore! As a result, I have already MISSED 3 to 4 good days in the last 2 months. I’m not letting today’s auspicious day pass me by. Hey, if my horoscope tells me that I have an “uber-lucky” day, I better pay attention!

I’ve been stuck on a book project because I’m waiting to get some professional advice on purchasing an easy to use program for illustrating books. Much of the humor of my book does rely on the drawings, so I will need to hold off on that until my friend gets back to me.

Meanwhile, I do have another book project that I can start on today. I’ve been gathering “research” over the past 2 years by dutifully watching bad reality television a couple of nights a week. The project doesn’t require illustrations, so I worked on this today.

I had a long drive back into town, so I spent that time thinking/working on my book. It would be wonderful if I could listen to books on tape or learn a new language during all the hours I’m in the car, but I’m not an auditory learner. By the time I got home, I had about 10 ideas for sections in my book. When I opened my computer and started writing, I came up with 33! I guess today was my lucky day!

October 29th – “Sometimes the big questions are too hard to answer. They’re the ones worth posing.”

I’m a fan of big questions, but maybe I haven’t been asking the right ones lately.

Recently, I signed up for a creative professional coaching course. I started on the first worksheet today and it asked some big questions, if not the big question that’s been haunting me for a while.

What is your ambition?

My ambition is to be creative. That’s it. I don’t need to be rich and famous, have a million fans, or even get paid. I simply want to be able to express myself creatively.

I’ve always known the answer to this question, but have been struggling with it when thinking about it in relation to work. I have only recently begun to consider my ambition as part of my career and I think that clouded my judgement.

For some people, ambition and job may be directly linked, but it’s important to remember that the two are different. Ambition is what you want out of life, and a job is what you get paid to do. Last month, I made a list of what I wanted from my next job and it might be a good idea to stick to it.

While it would be ideal to do creative work and get paid for it, it has never been essential for me. I’m not sure what led me down that path, but I had been doing pretty well (mentally and financially!) when I didn’t try to combine work and ambition. In fact, forcing the two things to go together makes me feel stressed out, less creative, and like a failure!

Did I really get multiple arts degrees with hopes to make money? No! So why should I let that bother me now?!  Horoscope, you are truly wise!

October 27th – “Challenge yourself to have a good day within budget”

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I don’t like budgets and I don’t do budgets. It’s a good thing that I don’t need one! I don’t splurge very often, but like most people, I do have a few bad habits.

One of the things that I do splurge on are croissants. I have one or two every month. According to an Australian satiety study, croissants are the least satisfying food that you can get. With that said, is it worth spending $3-$5 on a well-made croissant? I say yes!

Making croissants is labor intensive and is an art. It takes precision, patience, and experience to make a good croissant. I possess none of those traits.

I started work on a morning bun dough yesterday, so I skipped the bakery today. Morning buns are basically cinnamon rolls made with croissant dough, so they’re pretty awesome. I wish I had invented this 2 in 1 pastry!

Unfortunately, I didn’t wrap the dough up properly and parts of it were dried up. I made the dough in haste, so the butter didn’t laminate properly either. It looked pretty crackly and hideous. I’ve only made croissants once before, but knew enough to be able to tell that the dough wasn’t right.

I didn’t want to trash the dough, so I picked off the patches of dried dough and folded it two more times. At this point, I didn’t think it would matter if I followed the rest of the tedious procedure or not. I decided to do my own thing.

I flattened the softened dough, added a bunch of brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon. Then I rolled it back into a log and cut it into pieces.  I really should have refrigerated it at least one more time, but I didn’t. The rolls went straight into the buttered muffin tin, and with a quick brush of egg wash and sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, it was ready to go.

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35 minutes later, the morning buns came out. They actually turned out okay! The texture wasn’t the perfect consistency, but it’s definitely a morning bun! I’m glad that I trusted my intuition and gave up on the directions.

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If you’re interested, here is the recipe I sort of used. I didn’t follow 90% of the directions and didn’t measure any of the filling. I already ate two of them, so I think it passed my fail proof recipe test!

October 26th – “Lay the groundwork first.”

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At first glance, today’s zodiac was clearly mocking me! I’ve spent the past year laying groundwork on a number of projects, so I don’t have trouble in that area.

Was it really telling me that I needed to start more projects? That didn’t sound right because I already have TOO MANY pots on the stove.

I was stumped, so I did what I normally do – look at another horoscope or zodiac prediction. One horoscope informed me,

Speed through the details and you’ll miss something important. Read the small print!

Hmm…there was no small print in the five word sentence, but maybe I didn’t think deeply enough about the zodiac reading.  What groundwork haven’t I done yet?

In the middle of eating a mint cookie sandwich, it hit me. I need to work on my portfolio. I’m going to a networking event next week and it would be very helpful to put one together. I’ve avoided this task because I’ve been indecisive about pursuing this particular career path. I’m still unsure about working in that profession, but if I am going to meet people next week, I better be prepared!

Immediately, I started panicking because of the 5 day timeline. I didn’t think I had enough time to create something out of nothing and didn’t know where to start. I couldn’t focus, so I focused on something I could do. I made dinner.

I decided to lay the groundwork for a good meal by using fresh basil, lettuce, and apples from my garden.

I made a pesto fettuccine,

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and goat cheese walnut apple salad.

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At the end of dinner, I felt calmer and clearer about what I needed to do. Just like cooking, good groundwork requires good ingredients.

For my portfolio, that was me. There’s no amount of research and reading that I can do to make my work look better. I am representing myself and have everything I need to make it happen.  I went into my old files and discovered that I already did my homework. During the next few days, all I need to do is arrange and put my ideas into a unified package.

Life’s not so hard after all!

*****

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Here are my recipes.  I don’t measure, so quantities are ESTIMATES only. Please adjust according to your own taste!

 Pesto

1 large bunch of fresh basil

2 – 3 cloves of garlic

2-3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon of pine nuts (almonds are a good substitution as well)

Olive oil

A few dashes of salt

Equipment Required: food processor or knife

Directions:

  1. Throw everything into the food processor except for the olive oil and salt. Pulse until everything is ground up. If you are using a knife, chop everything up until you are tired! It’s totally fine if you have a lot of big pieces. It’s rustic!
  2. Add olive oil until you get the consistency that you like.
  3. Add salt to taste.

 

Goat Cheese Salad

4 cups Lettuce, arugula, or spinach

1 large Apple or pear, sliced

½ cup Walnuts

½ cup crumbled goat cheese

1 tablespoon Honey

½ tablespoon butter

 

Dressing:

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons Olive oil

1/2 to 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Honey to taste

Equipment Required: pan to cook walnuts

Directions:

  1. Make dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients except honey. Add honey to taste. If you like a thicker sauce, increase the amount of Dijon mustard.
  2. Toast walnuts: Heat pan and put on med to low. Add butter, then walnuts. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add honey and turn off stove. Stir until combined.
  3. Add all ingredients to salad!

October 25th – “You’ll have the desire to make a fresh start in your life.”

dsc06897My life is a mess. I mean that in every possible way.

The best way to start fresh is to get rid of all the old stuff that isn’t relevant to my current life anymore. This includes people, thoughts, and things. The first two are hard, so I decided to start with the last.

Things are easy for me remove because I’m not as attached to material goods as I am to ideas and people. I cleared off my desk and made room on the shelf for new books. I’m saving the closet for next week, so the next purge was the refrigerator.

I have had a few dozen apples sitting in my refrigerator for over 2 months. It hasn’t done anyone harm by occupying the bottom drawer, but it has become another thing on my “to do” list that hasn’t been addressed. Every few days, I expend mental energy thinking about how I’m going to cook these apples, but haven’t gotten around to making it a priority. Today, I put an end to it.

I have a long list of baked goods I want to make that don’t involve apples so I decided to do find another use for them.

First, I made apple sauce. All you have to do is chop them up and boil them until they’re soft.

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Then you mash them with a fork or a potato masher. That’s it!

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Then, I made dried apple chips. This was also super easy. I sliced the apples, threw them on a pan with parchment paper, and baked them for about 2 hours in the oven at 230 degrees. For extra flavor, cinnamon is a good addition.

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My apple problem has been solved! I’m ready for my next challenge!

October 24th – “Forces around you are pushing you off track…What bravery do you need now?”

I like it when my zodiac and horoscope predictions coincide, but I’m not always sure how to interpret it! I have been thinking about work a lot lately and have been feeling a sense of urgency in this aspect of my life. There are many external influences beyond my control and I think I need to assess my situation and make decisions on what to do next.

Over the past year, I started quite a few creative projects (including this blog) while working part-time. I quit The Worst Job Ever (TWJE), so it was a good opportunity to try out new ideas and do work I wanted to do for a change. Now that I’m ready to create a different lifestyle for myself, it’s time for me to complete these projects.

I certainly could have finished these projects earlier, but had a number of reasons for not doing so. One excuse for procrastinating was that I simply wasn’t ready for a new job. The logic in my head was:

finish projects —> more free time —> do more paid work —>  find a full-time job  —-> get a new job that might really suck —> feel trapped!

Since TWJE, I have been afraid to commit to a new job because I don’t want to feel stuck in a bad situation. I know that I’m being dramatic and overly cautious, but I’m sure someone out there can relate.

In reality, my side projects and new job opportunities are totally unrelated. It’s silly that I’ve linked these two things together in a causal chain. It’s more likely that this will happen:

finish projects —> feel fulfilled —> new ideas —> start projects —>   finish projects —> feel fulfilled

It’s clear that I’ve been exhibiting self-sabotaging behavior lately, so I better stop! If I can’t be brave today, when will I be?  I know I get tremendous satisfaction from completing my own projects, so I will commit to getting my mini-books and paintings done by the end of the year.

To help me with this process, I’m going to go back to “piling” organization and keep all my projects in sight. I did this in graduate school and it was very effective in keeping me on track.

For those of you who don’t do this, it can work well for creative types who get distracted by lots of ideas. Click here for a more detailed explanation. Here’s a summary:

  1. Forget conventional filing and organize your projects into piles on your desk or any other surface you have.
  2. Write down project deadlines on a calendar where you can see all 12 months.

I also signed up for a free course for training creative professionals. I’ll let you know if I recommend the course when I’m done with it in 8 months. I don’t know if this will be my cup of tea, but I’m sure I’ll learn something from it!

October 22nd – “Today will go well if you have no financial dealings with others” and “could be hot tub day.”

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Best in Show is one of my favorite movies. It’s a mockumentary about people who take their canine companions to compete in dog shows. The movie came out in 2000, so I’ve been curious about what real dog shows are like for a long time. I decided it was time to find out!

The first thing I was greeted with the sight of RVs and the sound of hair dryers. Then came the dogs and I was not disappointed!

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This one really looked like a stuffed animal. I think it’s a Bichon?

Here are some French Mastiffs/Bordeauxdogs,

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Saint Bernards,

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Beagles,

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and of course, the Poodles, miniature and standard.

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There was an obedience competition as well. The dogs had to stay sitting/down for 3 minutes while their people left the building. This little dog in the middle plopped down right away.

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After two minutes, another dog joined him. All dogs passed!

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No day would be complete without some dog show merchandise. Here’s what they had to offer.

I might have been inclined to buy a denim dog shirt (c’mon, who doesn’t want one!), but my horoscope told me to have no financial dealings that day, so I didn’t it. I’m sure I can live without it.

As predicted, I had a great time at the show and made it back home before dark. I don’t have a hot tub, so I took a relaxing bath after my two hour drive. I thought that was the perfect way to end the day, so I went to sleep super early at 7 pm.

That night, I dreamed about cats. I guess my next stop will be the cat show!

October 21st – “Everyone gets to be greedy every now and then, and today is your day.”

img_8464It’s never too late to celebrate a birthday! My friend’s 40th birthday was over two weeks ago, but I am celebrating it with her today. We only see each other a few times a year, so this was a good opportunity. I don’t often give gifts to friends and family, but I do enjoy a sharing a good dessert. I was too lazy to make anything last night, so I picked up a few things at the Hong Kong bakery near work.

From top left going clockwise: pineapple bun filled with egg custard, coconut bread, curry beef puff pastry, and bbq pork puff.

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If you’ve never had Hong Kong style baked goods before, their pastries are heavily influenced by the British since Hong Kong was a British Colony. They have their version of British favorites like creamed horns, iced buns, mille-feuille, tarts, and Swiss rolls.

I also got some flowers.

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These are obviously for her, but I get to enjoy them as well. I’m very frugal and rarely spend money on indulgences like this for myself. I would LOVE to have flowers at home, but I would feel guilty. When I get them for someone else, I feel happy. While it may seem generous that I spend my money on others rather than myself, there is an immeasurable benefit that I receive from gift giving.

Because I only give gifts to people who aren’t expecting them, I never expect a gift in return. When obligation is removed from gift giving, it becomes something that I want to do. Moreover, I just learned that it’s common to get HIGH from it!

In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

Gift giving and charity doesn’t have to come in the form of money or chocolate chip cookies. In fact, the time that one gives to another can be the more valuable. Sometimes gifts come in the form of helping a neighbor watch their cat, listening to the stranger vent about a bad day, or teaching a kid how to ride a bike.

One of my favorite gifts at the moment is the FREE parking space that I was given across the street from work. A friend offered her extra space to me when she realized that I worked right next door to her. I commute from my little town to a crowded city, so it’s really an incredible gift. It’s amazing how much I value empty space! Thank you! Maybe in return, I’ll surprise her with a basket full of kittens!

October 19th – “You can put a creative spin on an old problem and come up with an original solution.”

An afternoon jog or walk is one of my favorite things to do when I’m at work. It’s not something I practice when I’m at home because…well… let’s face it, I’m probably having a second lunch around that time! Midday runs are particularly enjoyable because I get to catch up with friends who work nearby. I hear about their latest adventures, get cooking tips, and give bad relationship advice.

There wasn’t any bad relationship advice today, but my friend did revive my interest in something old. She told me about a storytelling event that she attended recently. The Moth is a monthly series that happens throughout cities in the U.S. The events are like open mics, but the stories told must be true and do not follow a stand-up format. The current trend of stand-up focuses on short jokes that do not relate to one another, rather than telling one cohesive story. I had considered trying stand-up a few years ago, but never tried it because I don’t tell jokes well. I can be funny, but I lack the quick wit to create my own jokes or the desire to tell someone else’s.

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Storytelling on the other hand, is another craft of its own. My experience with storytelling started in an unlikely place. Like many people, I was terrified of public speaking. Unlike many people, I decided to do the worst/best thing possible by joining the forensics team. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for (and didn’t believe in) extracurricular activities for my siblings and I, so anything I wanted to do had to be free and occur mostly during school time. Forensics qualified. If you don’t know what forensics is, it has nothing to do with CSI. If I did that in high school, I’m sure that would have dramatically changed my direction in life! Forensics has to do with speech and debate.

I wasn’t organized or smart enough for the debate team, so I tried dramatic interpretations. This was pretty much the same as storytelling where you acted out different characters by changing your voice and body language. The main difference was that I did this for competition and it was brutal. Imagine high school kids trying to win something! In each competition, you performed your speech for 3 rounds. If you were good enough, you got into the final. Just like sports there were also State, National, and Invitational tournaments.

When I started, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a pretty good actress, but couldn’t find the right stories to tell. My first year, I didn’t choose wisely and performed a story that was just plain boring in every possible way. The second year, I got a good monologue, but I couldn’t make it believable that I was a mother who accidentally killed her own kid by ramming her car into him in the garage. The third year, I got an even better piece where I intentionally killed my own kids as a form of revenge for a “cheating” husband. Yes, this was Euripides’ Medea, and yes, now that I am writing this, I realize how ridiculous it sounds! How did I not see that these stories for not a good fit for me?! I had and still have no maternal instinct whatsoever. Finally, the fourth year, I found A Piece of My Heart, a tale about a young nurse who deals with life and death during the Vietnam War. After 4 years of practicing lines and facial expressions in front of a mirror, I finally made it to state championships with A Piece of My Heart.

As a teenager, I learned a lot from forensics, especially on how to overcome my fears and how to work through challenges. Looking back on it now, there are many more lessons that I can learn from it today. I realize that even though I was capable (and maybe even good) at performing, it took the right role for me to really excel. It didn’t matter how much I liked Medea, it just didn’t fit me, and I was never going to win.

The same can be said for my career or lack thereof. I’m a competent worker, but I’m not going to do well if I don’t fit in with the company/organization/institution. Perhaps it’s time to change my strategy and find more like-minded people that I can work with. I haven’t figured out what that is yet, but I think I will soon.

Sometimes I spend so much time talking about cats, food, and jogging that it doesn’t feel like I’m doing any significant. However, I can tell that I’ve already benefited a lot from this process. As a non-linear thinker, writing, no matter how trivial, helps me organize and process my ideas. I have at least 10 different thoughts going on in my mind at once and it’s often hard to filter through everything. Consequently, I am a terrible impromptu storyteller because I forget essential details to a tale and constantly have to back track. This makes it super confusing for any listener!

When I started writing today’s post, I thought it would about my plans to go check out storytelling events and work up the courage to perform at one. I’m definitely still going to do that because it is fun, will probably help me tell better stories, and improve my writing. Now that I’m near the end of the post, it’s clear that there are more things I need to work on, but they are related in many ways. I’ve only begun to remove the debris that is blocking my paths, and will continue going for lunch time walks until I find my way to one.