Vittles and Visions

It never fails that when I’ve been on a not-cooking binge, I circle back around, getting highly motivated and ambitious to prepare meals that taste good and are at least slightly less bad for our health. It was a quiet weekend around our place, which made it easier to spend time menu-planning and grocery shopping.

It wasn’t just general guilt about our poor eating habits lately that had me focused on what we’re consuming. Jack had a routine blood draw last week. He has these done in order to keep an eye on certain indicators in his body that may be impacted by his autoimmunity and the medications he takes to manage it. He’s had trouble keeping his liver numbers in a good place and last week we learned they are elevated again. And while this could be due to his medications, we also know there might be things he can do to make positive changes on his own, such as lose a few pounds. Just another reason to pay more attention to what we’re putting in our bodies.

So Saturday morning found me sitting at the kitchen island with my laptop, surrounded by cookbooks. I decided to create a spreadsheet of some favorite meals and listed them along with the specific ingredients needed for each. The plan is to build on this spreadsheet so that I’ll ultimately have a quick-pick list of meals that’s also an easy reference for my grocery list. I included a few new recipes from an InstaPot cookbook I recently bought, and I made two of those meals this weekend. On Saturday I made Thai Pumpkin Chicken Soup, which we both deemed to be interesting though it’s probably not something I’ll make again. Jack had two helpings of last night’s Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili and he also took it to work today for lunch. I really enjoyed that one as well and it will definitely go on the list for future meals.

Hopefully all of this will help us stay on top of our nutrition a little better from now on, though I think I’ll still give meal kits a try. There are weekends when Chesney and Farm Boy come to visit and the whole food thing falls apart because I’d much rather have fun with them than spend time at the grocery store. But even that is just a matter of planning ahead somewhat.

In other news, we were supposed to return to our bowling league this weekend after it was shut down in November thanks to COVID. Jack and I opted not to participate in the second half though. Since his health has seen some pitfalls in recent months, we just felt it was best to play it safe. Plus, bowling under the current restrictions (masks on, limited mingling with friends, and having to leave as soon as the games are done) just takes away all of the fun.

It’s hard to stay busy and entertained sometimes with all of the official and self-imposed restrictions on ourselves. Our kids have continued to visit periodically, but otherwise we’ve been fairly careful. As much as I look forward to the weekends after working all week, they often start to feel long and boring before Monday comes around again. I wanted to give myself a good project to fill the quiet this particular weekend. I’ve never made a vision board before, but I’ve been contemplating making one since the year began. Last week in a team meeting, a coworker shared the one she had been working on and it made me ambitious to get started myself.

I checked out a few how-to articles and then made a stop at the dollar store yesterday to buy a board and some double-sided tape. Thankfully, Jack had a stockpile of outdoor magazines and catalogues from the past year that he had yet to recycle. I spent the afternoon clipping words and images that spoke to me. After dinner, I got to work organizing my clippings on the board and then securing them in place. The effort reminded me of art projects I’d done in my school days which made me feel just a little bit silly. But I didn’t really care. It was an enjoyable way to spend a quiet, cold evening. Certainly way better than zoning out in front of the television. I’m not sure the end result truly qualifies as a vision board, but I was proud of it anyway. It ended up being a sort of potpourri of goals, inspirations, positive messages, and things that are simply important to me. It includes references to family, faith, and the outdoors, as well as ambitions about writing, work, and fitness, all things that I strive to improve with each day that I live. I know when I look at it, I’ll see words and images that are uplifting and inspirational.

I’m really happy with it. And who knows? Maybe this will become something I do at the start of each new year from now on!

This is Me Not Cooking

I probably should be cooking. It’s that time of day to be making something for dinner, and Jack will be home in a while, most likely wanting to eat. I have a love/hate relationship with the preparing of meals. I actually don’t mind cooking. In fact, I kind of enjoy it. It’s the menu-planning, grocery-list-making, and shopping that I can’t get excited about. I neglected to do those things last weekend which makes it difficult to know what to make for dinner now. So I’ll probably wait until Jack walks through the door and say I’m going to make grilled cheese sandwiches or pancakes. To which he might say, “Why don’t I go get Chinese instead?” To which I will say, “Okay.” I love breakfast for dinner, but he doesn’t. And I can eat healthy-ish again next week, right?

I am seriously thinking about trying out one of those meal kit subscriptions. Then I can just fill in the other food necessities with a Target run now and then, because who doesn’t love going to Target? And yes, I have tried just ordering my groceries for delivery. I realized afterwards that even when I make a list, when I’m actually in the store I pick up a lot of things I didn’t think about during the list-making. And so I miss those things when I order groceries. Why does food have to be such a necessity? And also, why do we have to like it so much?

Also contributing to my lack of culinary motivation is the fact that it has been a week! I’ve just worked two full weeks in a row, which I think we can all agree is a hard habit to get back to after the holidays and all of their slow-downs and time off and such.

Clearly, everyone who spent most of December using up soon-to-expire vacation time is now back in the swing of things and wanting to get work done. And I felt this. And even though I just read a really helpful book called Calm the F*ck Down, my coping skills still need a lot of work. There is just so much to be done all of a sudden. I felt all the stress and anxiety this week. And there was that thing yesterday when someone said to me, “Don’t give this a second thought. It’s not a criticism in the least. But before you say something like [that thing I said] in an email to this group, just run it by me first.” That thing I said was just me talking like I talk and it was nothing. Really nothing. It was just me saying how I had something to provide to the group but I wanted to refine it first. And even though I was assured that I should not give the assessment of that thing I said a second thought, I allowed the insinuation that I somehow gave others the idea our team is less than perfect (which we are) to stress me out to the point I couldn’t stop worrying I would fail miserably on everything else job-related from now on. Everything on my to-do list suddenly seemed insurmountable and I felt like I should have had it all done yesterday, even though much of it isn’t due yet. And by the end of yesterday I just wanted to dissolve on the couch.

Of course, by the time I woke up this morning, I was asking myself why I’m so crazy sometimes. And everything looked well and manageable today. And I was no longer taking personally the assessment of the thing I said.

Also, on Monday I thought I might have COVID. So that did not help with the goal to reduce my habit of worrying. I started sniffling and sneezing at 5:00 am and it continued ALL DAY LONG. When Jack came home from work and heard me sneezing, he asked, “You got COVID, or what?” He was joking, of course. But of course, I hadn’t thought I might have the virus until he said what he said. And the thing about being in this pandemic is that, at least for me, every little thing in my body that feels the slightest bit off suddenly makes me think I might have COVID and I’ll infect others and it will be bad, oh so bad. (Can I just get that vaccination already?)

But it was not COVID. I woke up on Tuesday morning and nothing. No sniffles. No sneezing. Literally nothing. So all I can think is that I was allergic to something in the new sweater that I wore on Monday without washing it first. Definitely not COVID, but probably the fault of Old Navy.

All this makes me really grateful that I have a three-day weekend ahead. I am really going to need it after working two whole five-day work-weeks in a row. Maybe I’ll spend the extra time planning some meals and going to the grocery store so that next week I can cook again, and also eat like a person who wants to stay healthy and live longer than a few more years. That’d be nice, huh?

Best Things

img_4159I was just thinking that the best thing about today was the sunshine. Blazing, almost blinding at times sunshine.

And the brilliant blue sky.

And the sound of chirping birds filling the air as I stepped out of my car upon arriving at work today…

…Taking a break from a challenging day to enjoy a walk around the pond with a coworker/friend. Sun on our skin. A slight breeze and fresh air. Catching up on one another’s weekend doings and forgetting, for fifteen minutes, about the things going wrong back inside the office.

An email from my oldest with a picture attached. Sharing his past weekend’s adventure.

“I think I want to spend more time at the North Shore,” his message said.

I opened the picture and replied, “Wow. Can I come with next time?”

And, “Is that you in the photo?”

“Yup, that’s me,” he replied. “Fighting a fish. Or a rock.”

Spontaneous cooking at home once I’d left work and picked up Mom. I hadn’t thought tonight was going to be one of my nights. Jack is at work for the evening, so … nothing planned for dinner.

“I’ve been thinking about making your goulash,” I said to Mom as she settled in the living room chair waiting for Wheel of Fortune to begin.

“Oh, that sounds good,” she agreed.

“You’ll have to remind me what all goes in there. It’s been forever since I’ve made it.”

Ground beef, onions and garlic cooking in frying pan. Salt and Pepper. And after the meat had browned and was sizzling, stewed tomatoes and some pasta.

“Put a few tablespoons of ketchup in too,” she reminded me.

Mom wanted a slice of buttered bread to accompany her meal. I said that reminded me of dinners at Grandma’s house, where there was always a plate of sliced white bread and plenty of butter with every meal. I pulled some cantaloupe out of the refrigerator and put that on the table too. Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but it was hot, and it tasted good. Then again, food always tastes better when you’ve got someone to enjoy it with.

Just a really good day…

c’est la vie

During the later half of last week, there was rain, rain and more rain. Spring is gradually pushing winter out of the way, as evidenced by the mama ducks I noticed hanging around the building at work. They’re probably making nests in the landscaping, the pond being just a few yards beyond the parking lot. One of the ducks made me laugh as she paced in front of the glass doors, peeking inside and eyeing up employees coming and going from the nearby copy room.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I awoke to a fiercely howling wind. Or maybe it was Lucy all snuggled against me that woke me. While still sleeping, I’d unconsciously sacrificed my own comfort for hers. All of my blankets  had been pulled off of me and were pinched beneath her. I was shivering, curled up in an unnatural position and had a clear ache radiating up my neck and into my head. Lucy makes herself comfortable like this when she’s cold and wants to warm up. Good thing we love that dog so much, ’cause sometimes she pushes her limits!

When I wandered into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, I noticed the yard was dusted in snow. The wind continued to howl, and Lucy spent the morning sitting and looking curiously out the patio door. Last week when Chesney was home, she’d pulled an adirondack chair out of the shed – some cheap plastic thing the former neighbors had gifted to her when they moved to their new home. Chesney had plunked the chair on the deck with the intent of sitting outside in the sunshine before realizing it wasn’t really that warm. She abandoned the idea altogether, but of course, never put the chair away again and it’s been on the deck ever since. Yesterday, the wind pushed it back and forth across the wooden decking all morning long. Lucy was fascinated, her head  moving right to left, over and over as her eyes followed the drifting chair.

Another week has come and gone too quickly and I find myself surprised that it’s already April. Middle son, Ryker turned twenty-five yesterday! We celebrated with a breakfast of birthday donuts and then he took off to spend the day with his buddies at the Northwest Sports Show, and an evening celebrating with friends. After a couple of weeks of asking Ryker what he might like for a present, and receiving no response, I told him yesterday if he didn’t come up with something, I was going to buy him new jeans (because he desperately needs some that aren’t torn, covered in  grease, or smell like asphalt.) He said that was fine. Proof that he’s not a kid anymore. Clothing is an acceptable gift.

The last couple of weeks at work have been incredibly busy. One team member was out on vacation last week, and the remaining two of us had additional time-sensitive projects on our plates. That meant extra hours and no lunch breaks. On Friday, after an exhausting and stressful week,  our boss pulled us aside to acknowledge our efforts and express appreciation, not only his own, but that of the management team above us. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. We’re ready to do it all again on this week!

In the midst of keeping my head above water at work is the constant battle to have something resembling dinner when I come home at the end of the day. This has become especially important because several times a week, I invite my mom to join us. I want to make sure she’s eating a decent meal on a regular basis. And that means we can’t just skate by, like we often used to, with everyone just finding sustenance in whatever’s in the fridge or cereal cupboard.

IMG_4101Problem is, after almost 28 years of marriage, I’ve finally realized that taking charge of dinner is just not Jack’s thing – even though some of his weekends fall during the week and he’s free all blessed day long! And even if he’s working the day shift and arrives home hours before I do. (But I’m not complaining, really. The man does laundry!) Jack’s more than willing to get take-out or go out somewhere, but I try not to agree to those options too often. However, consistently preparing a variety of enjoyable meals while working all day is a challenge for me. I make use of the crock-pot as much as possible, but one day last week, I realized I could prep something in the morning, and just leave simple instructions for Jack so things would be well underway by the time I got home. I used our kitchen doorway messaging system to leave instructions. (Who needs technology?) Jack says he almost didn’t see my notes! Luckily he did, and we enjoyed some tasty country-style ribs, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

I don’t like the way the days are just ticking by lately. I’m still fighting a tendency to continuously look ahead and worry about what’s next, still always feeling like there’s never enough getting done. In the back of my mind, there’s usually the idea that I’m not stopping to enjoy simple pleasures often enough. Today, an entire (mostly) unscheduled Sunday lies ahead. I have a lot on my to-do list, but I’m going to really try to just be in this day and enjoy it.

Make these brownies. Then make s’more.

I don’t generally get my recipes from Faceb00k, but this seemed just too easy. And I needed a dessert. I’ve made them three times now. People love them. I mean LOVE them. And I mean everyone! 

The FB recipe for S’mores Brownies included a video, but I promise, you don’t need it. What you will need is:

  • a 9×13 inch baking pan
  • a box of brownie mix (Be sure to get the kind that makes enough to fill a 9×13 inch pan. My preference is any variety that includes the words rich and fudgy.)
  • about 4 standard sized Hershey Bars… plus extra for eating along the way
  • jumbo marshmallows

Assemble your brownies:

  1. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan. (Use Crisco and not a cooking spray. Trust me on this.)
  2. Mix the brownies according to the package directions.
  3. Pour half the brownie batter in the pan and spread it until the bottom is covered.
  4. Snap the graham crackers in half and layer the squares over the batter. (Don’t put so many in that they’re “wall-to-wall” in your pan. It’ll be too much. Again. Trust me.)
  5. Break the Hershey Bars into sections and layer them over the graham crackers.
  6. Arrange a nice pattern of jumbo marshmallows over the Hershey Bars.
  7. Drizzle the remaining brownie batter over the top.

You should end up with something that looks like this:

IMG_3982

Bake the brownies according to the package directions.

IMG_3983

Let them cool. Cut into squares. Then serve them and accept accolades for being such an amazing baker.

IMG_3989

p.s. There won’t be leftovers.