key to happiness.

Last Thursday and Friday the organization I belong to at Cerner held their annual kickoff event. This consisted of an afternoon of team building (read: lazer tag, go karts and Whirlyball) at Power Play and an entire day of speakers, recognition and required interactivity. You know, the type of meeting where words such as leverage, perspective, shift and imperative are used liberally. It was exhausting yet fun to do something out of the norm. I really learned a lot about my org mates and what we’re all working on.

But the biggest highlight for me was a video our Chief Learning Officer, Rob Campbell, included in his speech. Rob explained how we spend 33% of our waking hours at work and if 100% of our waking hours are important, then we better make sure we’re happy during that 33%. He showed this TED Talk to reinforce the message. I highly recommend you take twelve minutes to watch it but here are the Cliffs Notes:

The majority of us believe if we work harder we will succeed and once we’re successful, we’ll be happy. However, that model is backwards, broken. Once you work hard enough to get that raise, land the promotion, hit your sales goal, the target is moved. Now you want to reach the next level, make more, sell more. Our brain never thinks we’re successful because it never truly reaches that goal post. As a result we get frustrated, unhappy, and begin to focus solely on the negative.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The best part is that we can reverse the cycle, train our brains to be positive in the moment. Once we learn to be happy with ourselves as we are now, success will follow naturally.

The training plan is simple. Do each of these exercises every day for 21 days to break the cycle:

  • 3 Gratitudes (write down three new things you’re grateful for each day)
  • Journaling (write one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours)
  • Exercise (a 30 minute walk is sufficient)
  • Meditation (sitting for five minutes in silence to clear your mind counts)
  • Random or conscious acts of kindness (send a positive email or note to someone each day to strengthen your social network)

After 21 days, thinking positively will become a habit. It will also cause a ripple effect that positively influences those around you.

I’m on day four of this practice. I’m excited not only to experience a shift in my mental state but also to have a list of great experiences to look back on in a month. My husband watched the video last night and started his journal as well. Care to join us?

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i love veggies

I’ve been a vegetarian with vegan tendencies for a while now. It’s actually easier than I ever anticipated. I always know I’m eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, many restaurants offer veg options and aside from the occasional ribbing from friends and family, most people are supportive.

Don’t get me wrong, I like meat. It’s delicious. Especially bacon. Mmmm, bacon. My reasons for going vegetarian are primarily health-related. Watching the movie Forks Over Knives and learning more about The China Study helped me realize eating a whole-food, plant-based diet could prevent and potentially reverse damage from two diseases I’m genetically predisposed to: osteoporosis and heart disease. Huge.

And then I watched Earthlings.

I’m not an animal rights activist. Far from it. I like animals just fine. But this movie put all living creatures into perspective for me. Why should a cow suffer for me to eat a hamburger? Especially if that hamburger is just slowly killing me and the environment anyway? Not worth it.

So yesterday I decided to become fully vegan.

Won’t be too much of a change anyway, I haven’t had cow’s milk or eggs since I went vegetarian and limited butter or cheese. I did have sushi on Christmas Day because, sushi. I know I can’t be perfect. No one can. If someone hands me a homemade chocolate chip cookie and I want a cookie, I’m gonna eat the damn cookie. As that doesn’t happen often it will be okay.

You may have questions. Here’s a quick FAQ:

Protein comes from plants too. Like beans, nuts, seeds and leafy greens. And none of that nasty saturated fat comes with it. Most people on a traditional western diet consume more protein than they actually need.

Calcium is found in leafy green and cruciferous veg, the almond milk I drink everyday and in the supplement I take every morning. And those sources don’t raise my acidity levels.

Yes, I eat salads. No, that’s not all I eat. I’m a pretty good cook and have learned I can veganize almost any recipe without losing deliciousness. Check out my Pinterest food board for inspiration.

Yes, sometimes I miss meat. On New Years I had a bite of summer sausage just because it looked so good on the plate. But you know what? It didn’t taste as good as I remember. Sometimes we think food tastes better because of the situations we associate them with. Summer sausage reminds me of all the fun New Years parties my parents threw as a kid. It was more about the memory than the meat itself.

Will I ever eat meat again? I don’t know. Never say never. I do have one simple request though. I won’t ridicule you for eating meat so please don’t ridicule me for not eating it.

That being said, check out this timely “tweet” my coworker “screencapped” from “my account.” Must be opposite day!

sarahkscoular tweet

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revising my resolutions.

It’s about that time when people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve made some in the past, usually keeping them to myself so that if I failed it wouldn’t really matter. No one could hold me accountable. Also, these resolutions were so generic and vague – stop procrastinating, get healthy – there was no way to tell if I was successful.

This year I’m using a technique I learned at work to make S.M.A.R.T. goals:

Run a 5K by April 21
Eat clean at least five days per week
Hold a five-minute plank by my birthday (February 16)

Each of these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. To prepare for January 1 I’ve started detoxing from my holiday sugar overload (lots and lots of vegetables) and quit my caffeine habit (again). Starting January 1 I will begin a Couch to 5K program, cross-training with yoga and a plank-a-day. I did my first plank today and only made it a paltry 48 seconds! Hey, at least it’s a start.

And now that I’ve told the world my goals I have to stick to them. What are your goals for 2013?

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thanksgiving success.

While I deviated from tradition in many ways this year, it ended up being one of the best Thanksgivings in recent memory. It’s also the first year I’ve had a bad ass camera so please excuse the gratuitous use of pictures in this post.

As I said in this post, I made a completely vegan meal aside from Bill’s turkey breast. For years I’ve used a stick of butter under the turkey’s skin but after seeing Shea Sylvia’s technique I brined the bird for 36 hours as well. Both Bill and our friend Dustin approved. I didn’t achieve a beautiful, caramelized color but the guys said it was moist and yummy.


I was a little nervous about my protein option this year but was pleasantly surprised by gardein’s holiday roast! I made a basting glaze of soy sauce, apricot preserves, dijon mustard, orange juice and coconut oil and roasted it over onion, celery, garlic and fresh herbs. The “meat” was moist, the vegan gravy was tasty, and the cranberry stuffing in the middle was delicious.

I made these dinner rolls the day before Thanksgiving. They were so delicious straight out of the oven I almost had to bake another pan. I used whole wheat flour and ground flax seed as an egg substitute (1 tbsp flax + 2 tbsp water, mix and let sit a few minutes). Much easier than anticipated. I will definitely make these again.

While I did miss the pound of bacon I usually use in my green beans, these almond beans were pretty satisfying. I skipped the olive oil, used 3 tbsp Earth Balance instead of butter (in the future I think I’ll use coconut oil instead), and only used one white onion. Maddie and I both gobbled these up.

Mashed potatoes are almost always found on a Thanksgiving menu but because my husband hates mashed potatoes (I know, I KNOW), garlic rosemary red potatoes have been a staple of mine for years. Typically I cube half a bag of potatoes, mince up 5-6 cloves of garlic, dice up a half stick of butter, chop up some fresh rosemary, mix it up with salt and pepper and bake for an hour at 400. This time I roasted two heads of garlic in olive oil for 40 minutes at 400, then squeezed the cloves and oil over the diced potatoes. I skipped the butter but the rest of the process was the same. Nom.

I have been a fan of Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce for as long as I can remember. Even slicing my thumb open on the can, getting five stitches and spending Thanksgiving in the ER nine years ago didn’t deter me from eating the can-shaped deliciousness. However, I found this recipe for cranberry pear sauce on skinnytaste and decided to make it from scratch. A few modifications though: 16oz of pomegranate juice instead of water, added the juice and zest of one orange, used 2 tbsp of honey instead of agave and let it boil down for a good 30 minutes. Maddie was practically licking her plate.

And the star of the show, Hasselback sweet potatoes. These are AMAZING. I (almost) didn’t miss the mini marshmallows! Be sure to spoon the gooey syrupy yumminess onto your potato when it comes out of the oven.

Now onto dessert. Bill doesn’t like pumpkin pie or traditional apple pie (how we’ve been married this long I really don’t know) so I wanted to experiment with something new. I found this whole wheat apple cranberry galette on Pinterest and figured with enough ice cream on top he might like it. He actually loved it even without ice cream! I used Earth Balance instead of butter and flax seed instead of wheat bran. I also used more apples (granny smith and golden delicious) and cranberries than called for, and upped it to about 1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar. Definitely on the tart side but so good. It has been perfect for breakfast for the past few days.

Pumpkin pie is pretty much my favorite dessert of all time. So much so, my mom made it for my birthday a couple times growing up even though my birthday is in February. I’ve tried all variations over the years but Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe will always be the gold standard. However, this one is pretty freaking good. I made my own oat flour by processing a cup of oatmeal in the Ninja blender, used raw honey instead of brown rice syrup and completely forgot the Earth Balance that was supposed to go in the batter. I think coconut oil would have worked perfectly in its place. The crust is spicy and nutty and the filling is nice and creamy. Very tasty. I made my own whipped cream out of coconut milk by following this recipe but added about a tablespoon of white sugar for sweetness.

Overall, dinner was a complete success! We’ve devoured the leftovers and I only have one plate left for lunch tomorrow. Just one short year ago I would never have dreamed about a vegan holiday dinner but now I can’t imagine going back.

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Wasting time.

Do you ever feel like you’re just wasting time?

I do so much. I get up between 4:45 and 5 each day, do yoga with Bill, shower, get ready, wake Maddie, make a smoothie, pack my lunch, snuggle Maddie, get dressed and drive an hour to work. Work. Drive an hour home, dishes, dinner, dishes, snuggle my family, pack my lunch, wash my face and go to bed by 10.

And maintain a nine year marriage, social life and rocking body in there.

The tiny bits of time where I’m not doing all those things I just want to SLEEP. Zone out. Shut my brain off. But I have a four year old daughter that has no ‘off’ switch. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m taking advantage of that. I do find ways to relax – twitter, facebook, pinterest – but as much as I love you guys, nothing beats the love of my family. I have to learn to shut you off. Put down my phone, the iPad, my laptop. Run around and be absolutely stupid with Maddie.

The thing is, for as put together as I may (or may not, depending what you think of me) seem, I’m a terrible procrastinator. “It’ll be ok, I can get that done tomorrow.” “On Friday.” “Next week.” Every day I get home and think, “it’s ok, you worked hard today, take a night to just relax.” Same thing the next day. “Eh, you can go do that next weekend.” And finances or events happen or the weather changes or stupid DST, there’s always an excuse.

But who knows what will happen next week. What about right now? This very moment is the only one I’m guaranteed.

Ironically, I just spent the past 45 minutes writing this on an iPad. It’s ok, I’ll start making changes tomorrow.

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Hands down, Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. Growing up it meant spending time with my massive family while watching grandma ArLee orchestrate the entire meal flawlessly. Except for that one time when the turkey went bad and my aunt yelled the F word at grandpa. But you get the idea.

Anyway, my love of cooking was inspired by my grandma and I have carried on a number of her traditional dishes throughout the years. Green beans with bacon is tops on that list. However, this will be the ninth Thanksgiving dinner I’ve cooked as an adult and I’ve decided to make a few changes. First of all, in previous years we entertained friends and family but this time it’s just us three. Secondly, it’s my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. Lastly, Bill and I have gotten into great shape over the past year and don’t want to derail any of our efforts this holiday season. Save for his mom’s Chex mix. That will be eaten heartily the second it arrives.

When I decided to go vegetarian several people asked, “but what about Thanksgiving?” I told them and myself, “of course I’ll eat turkey on Thanksgiving.” How could I not? I make the world’s best turkey – with a stick of butter and herbs under the skin and seasoned salt on top – it’s juicy and delicious and heaven on earth. But over the past few weeks I’ve been cultivating healthier, vegan recipes for my menu and eating turkey with vegan sides started to make less and less sense.

So this will be my first annual vegan Thanksgiving. My typical menu requires about two pounds of butter and a pound of bacon so obviously this is an adjustment. I’m still making a turkey breast for Bill but Maddie and I will share a gardein holiday roast. Instead of bacon in the green beans I’m caramelizing onions and toasting almonds. My usual buttery, sugary, marshmallow-y yams will be replaced with Hasselback sweet potatoes. For extra protein, I’m making these garlic mashed potatoes. Instead of can-shaped cranberry sauce, I’m making cranberry pear sauce from scratch (using pomegranate juice instead of water and adding some orange zest). I’ll bake my own vegan dinner rolls with whole wheat flour. For dessert we’ll enjoy a pumpkin pie with pecan crust and a whole wheat galette with apple and cranberry.

And now I’m salivating. I’ll report back next week with pictures of the whole spread.

Thursday needs to hurry up and get here! I can’t wait to start a few new traditions while carrying on the most important ones – being thankful for my health and the love of my family.

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A few oldies but goodies

I spent the past three days in my hometown visiting family and reconnecting with old friends. While it turned out to be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, this weekend at home became a lesson in platitudes.

Life is too short to live with regret.

Quit saying maybe, someday, tomorrow. If you want to do it, do it now.

If you’re not happy, change something.

Tell people you love that you love them. Often.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I typically live my life this way but after a 3-day carb fest, my stomach reminded me.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it.

And my personal mantra: Everything happens for a reason.

Because of these lessons I woke up this morning with a completely different mindset. It’s better late than never, right?

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My heart is stupid, yo.

Remember last year when I spent the afternoon in the ER?

I’ve dealt with Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs) every single day since. Sometimes these flutterings are mildly annoying, other days it feels like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. Earlier this year my doctor had me wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours to ensure the PVCs were non-damaging; at the time I was told my results were normal. As such, I just learned to live with it.

A few weeks ago I went to our onsite clinic for my annual checkup. The nurse started checking my vitals but my blood pressure wouldn’t register on the automatic sphygmomanometer (didn’t really need to use that word, just wanted to see if I could spell it). After the third try it registered at 90/60. Then she manually checked my pulse and found it was around 35 (normal is between 60-100). She clipped the little oxygen thingy onto my finger and it confirmed a pulse of 35. She asked me if I felt ok and quickly hooked me up to an EKG just to make sure I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t. In any case, my doctor referred me to a cardiologist the following week.

Let me just say that a young, fit person gets a LOT of strange looks in a cardiologist’s office.

After listening to my story and checking my heart, the cardiologist explained what’s happening. Apparently the heart is supposed to beat from the top down; when I’m experiencing a PVC it beats from the bottom chamber upward. This causes my heart to not pull in enough blood to push it out strongly to the rest of my body (hence the low blood pressure and pulse). While benign, he wanted to do some further testing to see how frequently these happen and to confirm my heart is still strong. That morning I received an echocardiogram and was fitted with another Holter monitor.

Today I received my test results.

The echocardiogram showed my heart is very strong and healthy. No concern there, thankfully. The Holter monitor confirmed I am experiencing very frequent PVCs – very frequent being defined as > 10,000 PVCs in 24 hours. In the 24 hours I was connected to the monitor I experienced more than 33,000.

So I have two options. I can take a medication that may slow them down but will also make me very fatigued. What working mother of a four-year-old needs that? Or, I can just deal with it and get an echocardiogram once a year to make sure my heart is still strong. Needless to say, I’m going with that option.

I’m relieved there is nothing serious wrong with my heart but at the same time I’m kind of pissed. I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life and yet I have to deal with heart problems! Maybe I’ll just do what my teammates suggest – start eating bacon at every meal.

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free camera!

A little over a year ago my friend Luke Schnoebelen introduced me to MindSwarms. It’s a cool website where you participate in video surveys and earn money for your responses. It isn’t easy to qualify or be accepted to the studies but I apply for every single one. A few weeks ago I was accepted to a Tech and Activity survey and I quickly recorded my responses.

The survey asked me how I use my smart phone. Like most people in this digital age, my smart phone is just another appendage. I was honest, spoke about how I feel like I’m married to my phone sometimes, and how I use it to capture moments in my life and share them socially. I also talked about how I want to throw my phone against a wall on a regular basis because it SUCKS. In a few days $50 was deposited in my PayPal account and I went on my merry way.

About a week later I received a follow up email from MindSwarms. Apparently the company that ran the study was Microsoft and they really liked my honest answers. The marketing team behind their Windows phone wanted me to upload the pictures from my smart phone and offered another $50 to do so. If they liked my pictures they would send me a DSLR Camera (to keep), have me take pictures of my life for the next two weeks, send them those pictures to potentially use in print advertising, plus give me a $200 Visa gift card.

Did I do it? Well duh.

My DSLR came in the mail today. I’m 99% sure the reason they liked my pictures was because of Miss Madeleine. How could you not fall in love with that sassy girl? In any case, I have a brand spanking new camera and two weeks to take a bajillion pictures. Sorry friends, I will be chasing you down with a media release to sign. But it’s cool, you may end up on a billboard somewhere!

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If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s baking cupcakes. And Maddie’s birthday cupcakes were no exception. Typically I make strawberry cupcakes with mixed berry buttercream frosting, or what my husband refers to as “the best cupcakes he’s ever eaten in his entire life.” He also used some inappropriately graphic language to describe what he’d like to do to them but I’ll spare you that mental picture. This year I decided to make two varieties. I made the strawberry ones of course, but to ensure our vegan daycare provider could enjoy some too I tried a new chocolate recipe I found on Pinterest.  Even vegan skeptics said they were exceptional! I’ve had so many requests for the recipes I decided to share them here. Enjoy!

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

I added a mashed banana to the recipe, substituted applesauce for the oil and used stevia in place of sugar. For the ganache I used lite coconut milk (be sure to use canned, not the kind in the refrigerator section) and Guittard dark chocolate chips.

Strawberry Cupcakes with Berry Buttercream Frosting

Betty Crocker’s Silver White Cake and Buttercream Frosting recipes are tried and true classics but of course I add my own spin. I made the silver white cake as instructed but swapped a mashed banana and 1/4 cup applesauce for the Crisco. Once the batter was complete I folded in a pint of diced, macerated strawberries, then filled cupcake liners 3/4 full and baked them for 18-20 minutes at 350.

Maddie always asks for purple frosting because that’s her favorite color. As I’m not a big fan of artificial coloring, I found a way to make it purplish naturally. I thawed some frozen blueberries and blackberries, about 15 each, and ran them through the food processor. Then I used a fine mesh strainer to extract the juice. I used the juice in place of most of the milk listed in the frosting recipe but everything else is the same.

I’m embarrassed to admit how many cupcakes I’ve eaten in the past 48 hours. But can you blame me?

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