Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Well, well, well. It seems that I have neglected this little blog baby. And oops, summer has done its thing and it's a week until fall begins. (Okay, fine. Summer is still very much doing its thing, as today's 80s forced me to turn the AC on again after a nice long break from it).
Alas, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. I had to laugh reading my last Top 5 post from spring. I wrote, of the concept of "alone time" in a house where no one really goes anywhere, "I do start to hyperventilate when I think about the fact that the kids will likely not be going back to school until next fall." Hahaha! Well, guess what?! It's next fall now and they're still home! (Insert alternating laughing and crying emojis here). They're doing distance learning until the end of September and then *possibly* moving into a hybrid model where they'll be in school twice a week and home three days a week. But all of that is dependent on our county's numbers, so really nothing is guaranteed. And I'm fine. Really. I am.
It's hard to believe it's mid-September and that we've been in this weird pandemic/quarantine mode for six months. And 2020 has only continued to get weirder and harder. And, guess what? With a presidential election in seven short weeks, I bet it's only going to get even crazier.
So what we all need is a Top 5 list, right? Haha, wrong. That's not going to help anyone, but I'm giving it to you anyway! ;)
I've got two newish podcasts that I'm enjoying and hope you will too.
The first is the Evolving Faith podcast, put out by Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu. These two, along with Rachel Held Evans, put together the Evolving Faith conference a handful of years ago. The podcast so far (and by so far I mean the five or so episodes that I've listened to) are recordings from last year's gathering. These talks are so rich and beautiful, and there's plenty of commentary from Sarah and Jeff which is also lovely.
The second podcast is List It with Jesse Carey. Carey is part of the Relevant podcast (also awesome) and he started this just recently. Full disclosure, I've only listened to one episode (his interview with Annie F. Downs), but the concept is super fun. Basically, each guest has a category of something to put in a list (for instance, he and Annie rated Food Network shows and HGTV shows). Then they compare their lists. I was wary of how entertaining it would be, but I loved it.
2) Olive and June
You guys, I drank the Olive and June koolaid. Kendra Adachi and Erin Moon made me do it. Both have been raving about the new fall collection (pictured). I didn't want to commit to all six colors and I already have a top coat that I love, so I got two--the fifth and sixth in this photo. I currently have one color on my toenails and one on my fingernails. And I love them! I'll definitely be getting more.
Anyone else watching lots of TV? We certainly did more at the beginning of the pandemic, and these days we're usually watching a Twins game, but these three are still some current faves.
Need a couple awesome, new recipes? Look no further. These are fairly recent additions to our rotation and they are both HUGE hits in our house.
Friday, May 01, 2020
First of all, I have been deeply influenced in this arena by Kendra Adachi at The Lazy Genius. If you're unfamiliar with her, I'd highly recommend checking out her blog or Instagram feed.
One of the things Kendra has helped me with is planning meals by using a meal matrix. It's something she has talked about before, but I didn't fully embrace it (at least not for every day) until quarantine time. I needed to make meals as brainless as possible so I could survive every other area of my life in this weird time. With a meal matrix, I am planning a month of meals at a time. For instance, I just switched to May, but here's what our April meals looked like:
My matrix is: random/leftover/pizza Sunday, pasta Monday, Mexican Tuesday, Asian/Middle Eastern Wednesday, breakfast Thursday, grilling Friday, and take out Saturday. (I started out the month planning on soup Friday and grilling Saturday, but we decided to start getting take out again, so I rearranged. Flexibility is the name of the game here). (Actual recipe links for a lot of this stuff at the end of this post!)
Having a plan for each day lets me choose from a handful of things for each category, and before I know it, the calendar is full. (Bonus, if you like the things you've had, the next calendar is super easy to plug things into!)
One Lazy Genius mantra that I really appreciate is to "plan your hot dogs." We all know that go-to easy meal that we end up making when the day has gotten away from us. Plan those in and they'll feel like so much more of a win than if it's just something you settle for. It could actually be hot dogs. It could be boxed mac and cheese. It could be frozen chicken nuggets. Whatever it is, plan for it and accept no shame from yourself or those you feed. ;)
One extra step I take at the time when I'm making my month meal schedule is to start my shopping lists for every week. I shop on Fridays, so I take a notebook and date each page for the Fridays of that month. Here's one of my pages for May:
So for each week's list, I basically sit down with the meal calendar and write down all the things I need for the dinners I've planned for that week. (Plus the basics that we get every week like milk, eggs, bread, etc). Then when I'm getting ready to shop for that week, I just need to fill in the staples that we're out of, anything I need to restock for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, and any nonfood items we need. It has proven to be so helpful, and very much worth the extra work on the front end.
Okay, this isn't rocket science. But the experience sure has changed in the last two months! So if you're finding the task overwhelming, hopefully some of this is helpful.
First of all, I tried REALLY hard at the beginning of all of this to only go to the store every two weeks. But I was finding that I still needed to go on the off weeks to get more milk and fresh produce. So I'm back to going every week. And I say "back to," but really it's a lot different from my big weekly shopping trip before quarantine, when I'd still be at the grocery story a couple more times between big trips because I forgot something or thought of something that sounded good. No more of that--now if I've forgotten something, we just have to deal without it until the next trip. (That has called for some creativity. One week I had chicken broth on my list, and when I got it off the shelf, I knew it was for soup. I forgot that I also needed it for a pasta dish. Then I discovered turkey stock in my freezer from Thanksgiving). :) Unfortunately, with stores running out of a variety of things from week to week, I have resigned myself to the fact that I really need to hit both Target and Cub most weeks. However, if Target is out of one thing, I either find a decent alternative or choose a different meal for that week. (A couple weeks ago they were out of canned coconut milk, but I wasn't about to make a trip to a second store just for that. So I got a carton of coconut milk--meant for drinking or cereal--and heavy cream and did half and half).
I'm not big on stockpiling, but there are some things that I pick up every week if they're in stock because I know we'll eat them. For instance, we eat a lot of pasta and rice. Gluten-free pasta has been very randomly stocked, so I pick it up at whatever store I'm at whether we need it that week or not. Same with rice, which I haven't seen for a while at Target. I keep those things on my list for whatever week we need them, and I still buy them if I see them, but I know that I have extra if they're out. Same with meat--I have chicken breasts and ground beef in my freezer in case the store is out of those when I go. But so far, I haven't seen a shortage of meat.
So you've gone shopping and now you're at home with bags covering every square inch of counter space. This is probably my least favorite part of getting groceries, but I'm learning to streamline the process. When I unpack bags, rather than put things where they belong right away, they go in one of three zones: the counter closest to the fridge gets everything that needs to go in the fridge and freezer, the counter closest to the pantry gets everything that goes there, and the dining room table gets everything that needs to go downstairs (where there are extra pantry shelves and another fridge/freezer).
Here's my fridge stash. Not pictured: the milk that went straight in the fridge when it got carried in, and the ice cream and frozen vegetables that went straight in the freezer.
And here's the pantry stash.
Leah made quick work of the dining room table stash before I could get a picture. (There's another tip--put these hooligans to work!)
Also not pictured from today's trip: LaCroix and soda that went straight downstairs, and bananas and onions/garlic, which are kept in (separate!) baskets on the counter. :)
Another tip as you're getting things into their zones. Deal with meat and produce that needs to be dealt with instead of just sticking it in the fridge to forget about it. In today's trip, that only involved wrapping the cilantro in paper towels and putting it in a ziplock bag (I'd do the same with parsley or green onions. And when I get celery, I wrap it in foil--it stays crisp longer). The meat I got today is all fine in the fridge until I need it. A few weeks ago I came home with chicken breasts for three different things as well as chicken thighs. Most of it needed to be frozen, but I took a few minutes to prep it before freezing it. That meant cutting the chicken thighs into pieces, slicing some of the chicken breasts for one dish, cooking and chopping some more of the chicken breasts for another dish, and cooking the rest to make chicken salad.
When you're making your shopping list, make sure to get some fun foods too. My kids (and husband) are really into pudding cups lately. Also, as the months get warmer, we'll have popsicles and klondike bars in our freezer. I also make sure I have GF flour, sugar, brown sugar, etc so I can bake when I feel like it (or when the bananas on the counter are begging to be made into bread).
One more tip, just in case your family is like mine. Have a place where the rest of your family can write down things they want or need next time you shop. My people are getting used to the fact that I only shop on Fridays, so if they tell me something on Saturday, they know they will be waiting a week until they get it. I also try to ask them as I'm making my list if they have anything to add.
If you need a few new recipes, here are some from our April calendar above.
Sunday: if we do pizza, it's generally frozen. Gluten-free is a hassle to make, and GF frozen is pretty decent. Otherwise it's leftovers or just whatever random thing we think of.
I made a few meals' worth of meatballs and froze them, and then just used jarred sauce (I use a variation of Smitten Kitchen's meatball recipe--I basically just don't use veal)
The chicken alfredo is this recipe that I found a couple of years ago that we love.
The bolognese is an old recipe that I tweaked quite a bit and I can't find anything comparable online--but there are lots of bolognese recipes if you google. :)
The penne a la vodka is also a very old recipe, but I made Smitten Kitchen's recipe last year and liked it. I add Italian sausage and it's great.
For beef tacos, it's literally just ground beef and Ortega taco seasoning. :)
For chicken, I just make a big batch of it in the crockpot--chicken breasts, taco seasoning, and jars or cans of whatever you feel like. Most recently I did corn, black beans, and rotel. Freezes great and is super versatile--tacos, burrito bowls, nachos, quesadillas, etc.
Pork burrito bowls--pulled pork from Costco and whatever fixings you feel like. :)
Asian/Middle Eastern Wednesday:
The chicken stir fry is literally the recipe I grew up eating, so I don't have a recipe to link.
The chicken shwarma is brand new from The Lazy Genius and we LOVED IT SO MUCH.
The bulgogi pork was something I had at a potluck last summer, and the person who brought it shared the recipe with me. This one is very similar, except I used ground pork and skipped the pear.
The Thai chicken is an old recipe from a magazine, via my mother, but I found the exact recipe here.
The beef and broccoli is from Pinch of Yum. (I found it a little two sweet the first time I made it, so I've been decreasing the brown sugar. This week I halved it, and it's perfect). (We've also got this one on tap for May from PoY)
This one looks the most boring, but there really is some variety beyond just the word "breakfast" on the calendar. Sometimes we'll do an egg bake and some muffins. Sometimes we'll do fried egg sandwiches. But most of the time, it's scrambled eggs, either bacon or sausage, and either pancakes or French toast. (During normal non-quarantine life, this is the first meal to go if our week gets rearranged because everything is shelf stable enough to save for another time. So I plan for it every week, but we might actually eat it a couple times a month. But right now, the calendar is the law). :)
No recipes here. Grilling will definitely increase as we move into the summer months. But at this point, we're alternating between hot dogs/brats and burgers. We'll have chips and either salad or veggies/dip with it.
Take out Saturday:
My favorite. :)
Hopefully some of this was helpful. We're in this together, friends! And it's not forever. So we just hang in there. Have a lovely weekend! Minnesota, it looks like a winner!
Monday, April 20, 2020
We are in it, friends. We are starting week six of being at home, and it is no easy feat. So maybe you need some ideas of things that are helping me right now? Or at least we can commiserate together, right? Godspeed.
1) Alone Time
Spoiler alert: This doesn't exist for a lot of people right now, myself included. I am in a house with a husband working from home and three kids doing distance learning. And this introvert is far from thriving. So "alone time" looks different just about every day, and it's more often than not quite lacking. Thank goodness it's spring and not the middle of January, because getting outside every day is saving my life right now. I'm also getting really good at closing my bedroom door. I read or craft or just sit in the relative quiet and everyone can just stay in the rest of the house and let me do that. And it's fine. Really. I do start to hyperventilate when I think about the fact that the kids will likely not be going back to school until next fall. Because the timeline of me never being alone just gets longer and longer. But I'm okay. It will all be okay. (Breathe).
2) Multiplying fractions
Just kidding! Fifth grade math sucks. I don't want to change that mixed number into an improper fraction. I don't want to talk about mean, median, mode, and range. I don't want any of it! And guess what? I'M A TEACHER. But guess what else? I have never wanted to homeschool my kids. (Preschool with Will last year doesn't count). Knox McCoy refers to it as the separation of church and state. I am a better mom if someone else can be in charge of teaching you. But hey, that's not the way things are working right now. Luckily, our kids are really rocking the distance learning thing. Jackson is pretty much on his own--he wakes up early and gets it all done in a couple of hours. Leah's teacher is doing a little more than required, since the fifth grade team recognized that the flex learning boards (the only requirement from the state for K-5 right now) are not doing much to prepare these kiddos for entering middle school. So they are sticking with some of their actual curriculum, which I 100% agree with and support, but it does require more help from me. And Will has a variety of things to keep him busy and engaged. He mostly loves reading books and seeing his teacher's and friends' faces on Google Meet. Today he jumped online during his teacher's office hours and was the only kid on, so he used his time with her full attention to show her all the Lego vehicles he'd made this weekend. And God bless Mrs. Loney, because she actually sounded very interested. ;) Which brings me to my next item....
God bless teachers! Who in the world could have ever predicted that this is what teaching would look like this year? There is so much that is new and frustrating and just plain weird, but they are handling it with such care and grace. We are so grateful. But, MAN, are we going to enjoy seeing teacher in real life at some point again!
4) Cross Stitch
I have some crochet projects right now too, but cross stitch was new for me and it's super fun! I put a podcast in my earbuds and sit and stitch. I got a couple cute kits from Mid-Century Maude on Etsy, but I've also ordered some more materials and I can't wait to get them. I also ordered a Paint by Number that has yet to ship, but that will be another nice little craft. :)
I mean, it's a good thing I like being in my kitchen because I feel like I've cooked 8,000 meals this month. We don't generally eat out very much, but I think the fact that everyone is here for every meal and snack every day makes it feel like all I do is cook and clean up. One thing that is saving my life around meals right now is the Lazy Genius' concept of having a meal matrix. I'm all for meal planning, but this makes it even easier, which I think we all need right now. You basically assign a type of food to each day of the week. For instance, my April meal plan looks like: pasta Monday, Mexican Tuesday, Asian/Middle Eastern Wednesday, breakfast Thursday, soup Friday, grilling Saturday and random/leftover Sunday. This will change as we head into more summery months (lots more grilling, less soup), but it's working right now and that's all that matters. So if that's helpful, I highly recommend it. :)
I quit social media in September. I got back on Instagram in November, but I didn't get back on Facebook until last week. And frankly, I'm "back on Facebook" in the sense that my account has been reactivated. I'm not loving much about being back, so I'm keeping my distance. :) But there are some accounts on Instagram that are just making me happy lately, so if you're not following these yet, go check them out.
@tanksgoodnews (lots of feel good stories)
@jimgaffigan (he has a nightly "Dinner with the Gaffigans" that moved from IG to YouTube. It's gold)
@somegoodnews (this is John Krasinski's baby and it's amazing)
@simoncholland (he's just funny)
@dustinnickerson (also very funny)
@davebarnesmusic (again, funny, but also very musically talented)
@jenhatmaker (she's showing us all the real life feelings and just making life easier by being normal)
@nathanwpylestrangeplanet (the silliest little cartoons)
@anniefdowns (she's been quarantined a little longer than the rest of us because she was actually exposed--she's fine--but she has some very real feelings about everything too, and it's refreshing)
@adriennehedger (also a cartoonist--she draws about her real life family and they're hilarious)
@josielewisart (local--to me--artist, but she also posts hilarious Tik Tok clips on her stories and honestly, that alone is worth the follow)
@nataliegrant (she and her husband do a "Song a Day" in IGTV and it's always so moving)
On the topic of social media, if you are following people who are not helpful during this time, you need to go unfollow them. If you have people who are telling you how to use this time and be productive, you can say bye. Or just mute them for a bit. If you follow people with wildly different political views than you and normally you can navigate that divide but right now it's just too much, let it be too much and let go for a while. I promise it will do wonders for your mental health. For real.
You'd think this quarantine would be making me read more, but it's not. I mean, I read a lot and I'm still reading a lot, but I'm not reading more than a lot and I guess I assumed I would be. I blame the cross stitch. Anyway, here you go. (And guess what? I don't have the time or energy to find photos of book covers for all of these. Sorry. That's just real life. If you are a visual person, go google them yourself. Sorry for being bossy). ;)
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor is such a lovely writer. I read and loved her Holy Envy in the fall, but I knew she had other books. This book is "A Geography of Faith," and she recounts how she encounters God in her everyday life.
The Dutch House and Run by Ann Patchett
Before this year, I'd only ever read Bel Canto by Patchett. I loved it, but I never came across anything else by her. The Dutch House came out last year and it's just beautiful. Then I ran out of library books and remembered that I'd gotten a copy of her Run at a book swap last year, so I read that and loved it as well. I'm just a big fan of Patchett. She writes so beautifully and makes it seem so effortless.
Dad's Maybe Book by Tim O'Brien
I read O'Brien's The Things They Carried years ago and loved it. This book is more memoir about his life as a dad, which didn't happen for him until much later in life. It's funny and poignant and sweet.
Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
I read and loved Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires I believe last year. She is a food writer and was the food critic for the New York Times (which was the topic of Garlic and Sapphires). Plums recounts her ten years as the editor in chief at Gourmet magazine. It will make you want to cook fancy food or visit a fancy restaurant. Or both.
I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
This was an Anne Bogel ("What Should I Read Next" podcast) recommendation, and it did not disappoint. It shifts between the 1950s and the present, and the story is so beautiful and intriguing. She's another writer who makes the craft seem so easy.
Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel
Haha--speak of the devil. :) Bogel's other two books (Reading People and I'd Rather Be Reading were so lovely, so I promptly preordered this when I saw it months ago. And I'm so glad I did. It was so good, and it's also oddly timely for this weird world we're living in!
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
I've never read anything else by Moyes (I think I saw the movie for one), but my dad dropped this off a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it! It's based on a true story about a group of women who run a traveling library in the mountains of Kentucky. Super interesting story.
BONUS: Books that are coming soon that I'm super excited about!
Jen Hatmaker's Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire comes out TOMORROW! Yes, I will be watching for the UPS truck all dang day. I am just a fan of Jen's. She's just real and honest and funny and I can't wait to read this.
Chris Heuertz's The Enneagram of Belonging comes out in a month. Heuertz wrote The Sacred Enneagram, which is one of my favorite books on the Enneagram. We also got to see him at a conference, and a lot of what he talked about was "from his next book," and guess what!? The next book is almost here!
Knox McCoy's All Things Reconsidered comes out in June, and I loved his The Wondering Years so much, so I can't wait for this one.
Kendra Adachi's The Lazy Genius Way comes out in August. I have been a Lazy Genius follower for a few years, and I am SO happy that she's finally got a book!
WOW. The end. Thanks for reading. Here's to surviving this weirdness. In in together, friends.
Saturday, February 01, 2020
But now I'm sitting with the sun on my back on this first day of February. How are we holding up, friends? We're a little over a month into winter. The days are (slowly) getting longer. Unfortunately this past month marked the cloudiest January on record in the Twin Cities. But we have sun and 40 degrees in the forecast for Sunday, so we'll survive. ;)
I'm starting to substitute teach, so my time won't be AS free moving forward, but I've had lots of time the last few months to watch movies and read books, hence the "books and movies only" format this time through. When we first got married, Dan and I hosted an Academy Awards party for almost 10 years straight. It was great fun, and we made it a point to see as many nominated movies as we could. Well, with three kids (and more nominated movies in the best picture category now), that hasn't happened for years. Until now. :) Still taking advantage of Emagine's Tuesday deal, I have knocked out a bunch of Oscar-nominated movies, and it has been awesome. And of course, I'm always reading something, so there are plenty of books to report as well. I seem to have gotten on a nonfiction kick, but there are a few novels as well.
In my opinion, these are the "must see" group. And I'm not going to give a summary or anything--most are well-known enough or you can google. ;) (I'm also including how you can watch them right now)
And a couple honorable mentions (not necessarily must-see, but I definitely enjoyed them!)
Like I said, lots of nonfiction. I know that's not everyone's cup of tea, but some real gems here:
The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. This was Sarah Bessey's first book club pick for 2020, and the library happened to have a copy. It was so fantastic! The relationship between these men is just so sweet, and I thoroughly enjoyed their back and forth.
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs. I believe I reviewed When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi a couple years ago. The Bright Hour is a similar concept--Nina is living with terminal cancer and writing about life in the face of death. It's beautiful and poignant and heartbreaking. (Also, random happy story, Nina's husband and Paul's wife are now together).
From Scratch by Tembi Locke. This book will make you want to go to Italy. Or at least cook like you're in Italy (which is possible, thanks to the recipes she includes in the back). The book goes back and forth between Tembi's first trip to Italy in college, where she meets her future husband, to her trips back to Italy after his death.
The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King. All about Fred Rogers, who is really one of my favorite people. I finished this in November and saw the movie a couple weeks later. Highly recommend doing both. ;)
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Bryan is an attorney who represents people on death row. Most of the book recounts his experience with Walter McMillian, who has been wrongly convicted of murder and is facing death row. The book is now a movie, which I have yet to see, but I've heard it's amazing as well.
Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. This was an intriguing and refreshing read. Francis has much experience in the mega-church scene, but he started exploring what Jesus intended "church" to look like (and explored the model of the early church) and decided to leave his church and start a home church, which he still does today. It's a very interesting look into what we have made church and how we can "come back" to what church was meant to be.
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey. I loved Bessey's Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts, but this one might be my favorite of hers so far. Her writing is honest and fresh and so lovely. I want to be her friend. ;)
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff. I somehow, months apart, requested two different books about 9/11 from the library. I don't remember who recommended this one, but the other was Fall and Rise, which was green-lit by Jamie on the Popcast. Crazily enough, the two books came to the library for me at the same time. I decided to only read one, and since Fall and Rise was considerably longer, I chose this one. The oral history format was really fascinating. Graff has collected hundreds of firsthand accounts of 9/11, both from interviews he conducted himself and from accounts that already existed in other collections. He put them together chronologically, which is just amazing and so interested to read about the day as it all unfolded. I will always be fascinated by 9/11, particularly the miraculous stories of survival in the midst of so much loss.
And some fiction:
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was hesitant to read this because 1) it was SO hyped up, and sometimes I end up not liking books that everyone else LOVES (I'm looking at you, Daisy Jones and the Six) and 2) I haven't loved Gilbert's nonfiction that I've read (Eat Pray Love and Big Magic). But I'm so glad I picked this up anyway (or, more accurately, added it to my holds at the library and picked it up months later when it was finally my turn). Anyway, the story is delightful and quirky and so so fun. (Fair warning, there's kind of a lot of sex--nothing terribly graphic, but it's there).
Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt. This is a super fun kids' fiction read. If you've got kids (or just enjoy kid lit yourself, no shame), I highly recommend it. Nicki is an orphan who gets to join a family entering witness protection as a way to escape some criminal relatives. Really enjoyable.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Set in the south in the 1960s, the book follows Elwood to Nickel Academy, a school for boys after he's caught unknowingly riding in a stolen car. The school turns out to be quite different than he expected and alters his life forever. Heartbreaking and eye-opening.
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. Firefighter Cassie relocates to Boston to help take care of her mother and ends up taking care of herself too. Really sweet story of love and forgiveness and courage.
Okay, friends. Happy watching and reading. And happy winter. :)