Meals Plans, Grocery Shopping, and Other Adulty Things

Let’s talk about meal planning for a minute, shall we? I know, I know, super adulty, blah blah blah. Imma talk about it anyway because figuring out a system that works has been REVOLUTIONARY for my health, my wallet, my evening time management, and my sanity/anxiety about all three of those things.

Meal Planning_feistyharriet_April 2017 (1)

Once a week I make a meal plan and corresponding grocery list and then 100% stick to both. My super fancy format? I have a legal pad that is stuck to the side of the fridge with a couple of heavy duty magnets. I tried keeping notes on my phone/Google drive in various methods, but ultimately a legal pad with an attached pen has worked the best for me.The top page of my legal pad is a fairly detailed list of what is happening for meal time at my house for the next week. The second page of my meal planning notepad is always a running grocery list, so when I run out of sour cream or am getting low on quinoa or toilet paper I write it down and then pick it up on my next trip. When it’s time to go to the grocery store I have a list started and I never run out of toilet paper. Win-win. The third page is probably my best secret, honestly. It’s another meal plan for another week, Monday thru Sunday, which I fill out as I get inspired or as I have leftovers I know I need to use up, adding ingredients to the grocery list as I go.

Easy peasy. Well, kind of. It took me months to figure out my system and then train myself to stick to it. Lucky you, I’ve typed it all out here. I know. You didn’t realize Thursday could be so good, did you.

The first time you do this you’ll want to make a meal plan and grocery list at the same time so you know that you’ll have everything you need for dinner (and/or lunch and breakfast). On each week’s meal plan I make notes about what days we have Blue Eyes’ kids, and any commitments that may alter dinner plans. I also block out date night, and write down any work responsibilities or meetings that will preclude the need for leftover lunches. I also make little notes of day-before tasks like thawing meat or prepping something in advance; for example, if we are having taco salad on Tuesday there is a note on Monday to take the ground turkey out of the freezer to thaw overnight. When I get home from work and it’s time to make dinner I always know what I am making, I know the meat is ready to go, and I know that all the other ingredients are in the fridge/pantry. You’ve written out a meal plan and your grocery list, you take the list to the store and stick the meal plan to the fridge.

Viola! Adulty meal plan complete!

As the week goes on you start working on next week’s grocery list on page two; you are almost out of cumin, the bottle of salsa is running low, and the string cheese has been inhaled or abducted by mysterious fridge elves. You also decide you really want steak and asparagus next week, or you want to use up that ziploc in the freezer full of pesto you made last summer, or you are craving breakfast for dinner because omelets on Friday night is always a good idea. Write down these ideas as you get them throughout the week and page three starts shaping up nicely. The week goes on, your grocery list and next week’s meal plan are fleshed out. At the end of the week take a few minutes to finalize everything; rip off the first page (last week’s now complete plan) of your notepad, finish filling in next week’s meal plan and your grocery list, rip out the grocery list page and head to the store. And now, your new top page is your current meal plan and you can start all over again with grocery lists (page two) and next week’s plan (page three).

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Taaa-daaah! You did it! Not so hard, right!? The peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly what I need to do when I get home from work in order to get dinner on the table is glorious. Knowing I have everything I need to make that has been a game changer. And being able to plan out in advance for healthy meals made at home has really helped keep my grocery spending in check (another post for another day) and stick to my health goals (more veggies, less sugar, plenty of cheese).

 

 

 

 

P.S. I keep a list on the very last page of my legal pad with a bunch of our favorite meals that I can make without even thinking about it, so if I am struggling to finalize a meal plan I just flip to the back page and pick one or two of those to fill in any remaining gaps so I can finish my grocery list and just go to the store already.

P.P.S. A note on grocery lists: I write mine in the order I go through the grocery store; all the produce is together, all the meat is together, so are all non-food necessities like shampoo and soap and ziploc bags. When I go to the grocery I always follow the same route which conveniently mirrors my grocery list.

Taking vitamins is hard

I’m trying to create healthier habits in my life, I eat mostly vegetables (and cheese), I am finally to a place where I’m regularly exercising and not despising it. I wear sunscreen always, and I decided that it probably wouldn’t hurt if I started taking a multi-vitamin. So, I bought a bottle of vitamins formulated for women (it doesn’t really matter which one, honestly, I bought the bottle that was on clearance because that is how concerned I am, but hey, baby steps to start). I’m supposed to take this vitamin with a meal and because I always eat breakfast I decided that would be as good as any other time.

Yesterday I made myself healthy breakfast (omelet with spinach and tomatoes from the backyard) but by the time I remembered about the vitamin I was out of my drink (I ALWAYS drink filtered water in Arizona, and always with a squirt of flavoring because the water here is cringingly bad (Especially to someone like me who was literally raised on mountain spring water our town collected from a burbling fountain coming out of the bottom of a granite mountain.).). Ok, so, fresh drink. Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, right?

Ahem.

I added a little orange-tangerine flavor to my 24 oz bottle and grabbed the Brita pitcher out of the fridge. When I started pouring water the little plastic flap that covers the spigot fell into my tangerine sauce. I sighed and went to fish it out, getting bright orangey sauce all over my fingers, turning my nails orange (that’s….probably not very healthy). I rinsed off the little flap thingie and when I went back to finish pouring I knocked the pitcher which bumped my bottle which fell to the tile and sprayed orange droplets everywhere.

I maybe cursed a little and reached for the Clorox wipes, I wiped up all the orange droplets on the tile, and then used a little elbow grease on some other spots that I probably should have paid more attention to the last time I mopped.

….when was the last time I mopped the kitchen? Two weeks ago? Three? Uh, it might be longer than that. Eeek, that’s gross.

Some of the orange drops landed on the kitchen mat by the sink, which as an indoor/outdoor mostly plasticy rug I can clean relatively easily. I started scrubbing the worst spots with more Clorox wipes using the last in the canister. To the laundry room for more wipes.

While I was there I changed a load and started folding the towels as I pulled them out of the dryer, I sorted the dirty pile of the floor into the right bins and cleared off the top of the dryer. Why was I in here again?

Oh. Clorox wipes. Right. I swear I’m losing my ever-loving mind.

Back to the kitchen, hmmm, that rug really probably needs a good bath from the hose, actually, the orange isn’t coming out very well. I take it to the patio and turn on the hose, there are still a few spots that are staying orange…hrrm…. Baking soda! I could use some baking soda on it to get this stain out!

I put the hose on a dry spot in the grass and go back to the kitchen to make a baking soda paste, which I also rub on my orange fingernails and am surprised at how quickly it removes the stain. I probably need a manicure sometime soon, or at least should deal with those cuticles, eeek.

I rinse the baking soda paste down the sink and then remember I needed it for the rug. Batch #2 of paste (good thing baking soda is cheap) and outside again to deal with the rug.

The stain comes off just like that and I start watering my little plants, the squash and tomatillos and strawberries and beans are looking really good and I’m glad I moved the basil to a spot where it will get a little more sun! I pick up some of the trash that is always blowing into the corners of our yard and tidy up the seating area of the patio. I should probably check on the new plants in front as well.

The field of peppers I put in a few weeks ago seem to be doing well (literally, it’s almost 30 pepper plants, I believe “field” is the right descriptor here) and the musk melons should cover that bare spot nicely when they start sending out trailing vines. Dah, the front yard is looking so good! I can’t believe how much of a difference adding plants to our formerly solid gravel yard has made! Hot pink bougainvillea, bright yellow daisies, and rosemary and aloe and marigolds and petunias! Swoon!

Some of the gravel is lumpy and mounding weird, so I grab a rake to smooth it out. Then I track down the big sweeper broom to brush all the little rocks off the driveway and sidewalk and back into the gravel pit, I hate stepping on those in my bare feet.

Which…also, I need a pedicure. Oops. That sounds like a great plan for later this afternoon, I have a new deep orange polish that would be perfect for summer.

Orange.

Oh! I forgot to take my multi-vitamin! Dangit! It says “take with a meal” and breakfast was hours ago and I’ve been doing all this work since then….I guess it’s time for elevensies. I make myself a snack and retrieve my drink and settle down for another episode of The Great British Baking Show. And vitamins. Because, my health.

Yesterday morning was very much a “if you give a mouse a cookie” kind of morning. Being healthy is hard work, ya’ll.

Tales from the couch, episode 1

You guys, I went on a delightfully wonderful trip back home to Salt Lake and came home practically floating from spending so much time with My People (wedding, baby shower, surprise 40th birthday party, dinner with family, lunch with friends, hikes with friends). And then I got WHOMPED with a nasty cold, like, down. for. the. count! for days! With nasty congestion and coughing and a ridiculous amount of phlegm. TMI? Eh, I’m sorry. Kind of. I am so glad I’ve been able to work from home a few days, alone with my Kleenex and DayQuil and disgusting noises.

You’re welcome. I’ll be here all week. Literally. Here. On the couch. Various laptops on my knees and a small pharmacy at my feet. I also started watching The Great British Baking Show and I have THOUGHTS! and FEELINGS! about it.

Firstly, how do you have a CAKE BAKING competition in a CIRCUS TENT with inconsistent temperature and a dozen blazing ovens, and literally, buckets of rain right outside that is affecting your humidity. I mean, I’m not a professional bakestress or anything, but I do know that stuff like that effects BAKING stuff like pastry and cake much more than if you were sautéing veggies or grilling shrimp or something. (Also? Altitude, which is never a thing in England, but still, you know, if you’re keeping track of what affects baking, add altitude to the list.)

Secondly, in the first five minutes I started dry heaving because every single baker has messy and unruly hair, I swear not a single one knows what a health code violation is in. I can just imagine long frizzy hairs from every single one of them dropping into the batter and frosting. Like, I don’t need them to wear hairnets or anything, but a smooth ponytail, maybe a cute little braid here or there, a headband perhaps, and for the love, people, USE A BOBBY PIN! Ladies AND gentlemen of the baking industry, get your hair out of your face while you’re mixing, mmmmkay?

Thirdly, this show is absolutely not helping my resolve to not eat any sugar until Blue Eyes and I head to the Caribbean beach…I mean, I would like to dust off my baking skills, or at least spend a sunny morning in a little cafe with a delicious array of filled croissants and mini cakes and things. So good for my heart and soul, NOT a good plan for my beach bod aspirations (snortlaugh).

Are you a Great British Baking Show fan? Do you also obsessively watch fancy food shows? Jury is still out on the former, but I’m definitely guilty of the latter.

If we went to lunch…

If we went to lunch_feistyharriet_March 2017I love meeting friends for lunch, I love the quick download/upload of life things and thoughts and frustrations and struggles, both trying to pack in the most important pieces into an hour-long break. Although this doesn’t happen as often as I would like due to schedules and kids and work and distance and all the things, if you and I were to meet up for lunch, this is what I would tell you.

  1. I will be downright giddy about how much I love my new job. No, but for real. This has been a total game changer for me and the happiness and light-heartedness from having a healthy work balance is invading every other part of my previously grumpy life. I feel like I can breathe again! I know I’ve talked about this a few times here in the last couple weeks, but it’s just SO DIFFERENT and SO MUCH BETTER than where I was!
  2. I’ll tell you that for the first time in over a decade I finally have a job at church, something to do other than sit by myself on the back row. I will be working with the young women, ages 16-18, and I cannot IMAGINE a job that is better for me. I’m only a few weeks in, but I can already tell this is exactly where I need to be.
  3. I’ll probably gush a little bit about my new “Plan Out Your Life, Harriet! (Or At Least The Week)” plans that are centered on a spiral bound calendar-notebook planner book (that I bought on clearance, because, of course). I have a full month calendar view, plus a double spread for each week with a couple of categories I can fill in, one for appointments, one for my daily housekeeping To Do lists, and one to schedule out my other goals like writing and exercise. I have really loved getting a better handle on when I need to do what to stay on track with my priorities, it’s amazing how much easier and more effective this is for me with a paper and pen version over an app.
  4. I’ll ask you what you are reading, and then tell you about the last book I read and loved, which is “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War” by Joseph Loconte, which talks about how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were WWI veterans AND bffs, and how they used their experiences in the horrific trenches in France to influence their writing, specifically, the ancient wars of Middle Earth and Bilbo and Frodo’s quest; and the world of Narnia with great evil and goodness in each character. This was SO fascinating and made me want to re-read the Lord of the Rings books AND the Narnia series.
  5. Depending on how our conversation goes, I may get brave and tell you that for the last several months Mr. Blue Eyes and I have been going to couple’s counseling, and it has been so hard and so worth it in every way. We have been married for five years, but those five years have been unconventional in every possible way, living in different states for the majority of our marriage, dealing with court battles to have more contact with his kids, moving stresses, new job stresses (between the two of us we’ve had 5 jobs in 5 years)…it has been a roller coaster. A few months ago we reached the point where we both knew we needed some outside and professional help and we have both been trying to learn how to be a better spouse and a more healthy and well-rounded person, friend, and sweetheart.
  6. I doubt I’d make it long without squeeing about this next thing: as a five-year anniversary present to each other we decided to go on our first real vacation since our honeymoon. We’ve been on trips to see family (NOT the same as a vacation), and we’ve been on many long weekend adventures, but an actual week-long vacation just the two of us? Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. This spring we are going to BELIZE and GUATEMALA and I am so very excited about the whole thing. We’ve got almost everything booked, just doing a little more research on one of the ancient Maya ruins we want to explore. The first half of our trip will be spent on a tiny little island off the coast of Belize, it’s so teeny that cars/trucks are not even allowed, just bicycles and golf carts and fish tacos and beachy sunsets viewed from a hammock. It will be so dreamy! The second half will be spent in the jungle in Guatemala with howler monkeys and ancient ruins and possibly some time in a canoe!? Ya’ll, I am ridiculously excited about this adventure!!

 

 

 

 

PS. The lunch pic up at the top is from a delicious lunch at Serial Grillers, a delightfully macabre food truck turned brick-and-mortar restaurant in Tucson. You can order a Sweeney Todd, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or a Jason (meaty OR vegetarian!). Recommended!

Confessions of a Bookaholic: Brains

Book Reviews- Brains and Neuroscience

I have a thing with learning more about how the brain works,. I love reading books about weird medical industry outliers, and I love reading neuroscience stuff about how neurons fire and misfire and are mapped and re-maped, and I love love LOVE when the an author can write about how and when the right brain and left brain come together (see: Proust review below). It’s hard to find a really engaging armchair neuroscience book, and I’m not saying that one of the following six is that book, but you will most likely enjoy one of the first three.

(Unless you’re a psychopath, the only read The Psychopath Inside, and start a club with author James Fallon (nope, not Jim, James) because he’s kind of a psychopath too. Oh, sorry, should have given a pre-emptive “spoiler alert!” there. My bad.)

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, by Josh Hanagarne (5 stars). I loved this book in every way. Hanagarne’s love of books, his struggles with Tourette’s, his thoughts about family and faith. This felt so real, so honest, and so completely refreshing, despite having some truly difficult pieces about Tourette’s and the causes, treatment options, and prognosis. Hanagarne works in my home library, the main branch of the Salt Lake City library, and he discusses lecture series that I actually attended and describes the glorious architecture, AND IT IS STUNNING! All sky-high windows and open spaces and modern sculpture, it’s one of my favorite places downtown. So, immediately I loved this book more than I probably should have (after 2 pages) because of the location in my heart-home. However, I also deeply appreciate Hanagarne’s respect for his faith, but also his hefty dose of reality about it. The Mormon church has some truly beautiful doctrine (that is not in the very famous, bawdy musical), but there is also a lot of weird cultural stuff, some tied to doctrine, some that isn’t but is pervasive in Mormon areas. It’s a tricky line to walk, but he handles it perfectly without lampooning the church or the faithful, and without trying to convert the reader. (I had zero idea going in that the author worked in one of my favorite buildings or that he was Mormon, and his love for my home and his treatment of my religion was such a delightful surprise and certainly contributed to how much I loved this book.) Hanagarne focuses on his Tourette’s diagnosis and how it affects his life, some of the treatments options he tried, ranging from truly bizarre to extra scientific, and the ways he learned to deal with repetitive short-circuiting of his brain. (Technically this book is more memoir than scientific brain treatise, but my blog, my rules, so whatever.)

Proust was a Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer (5 stars). I have wanted a book like this for a VERY long time, Lehrer writes eight essays about groundbreaking artists and their work as it is reflected in neurology principles, most of which weren’t discovered and principle-ized until well after the artist’s work was published (and, more likely, the artist was long dead and gone). He discusses four novelists and their topics of writing (Walt Whitman, feeling; George Eliot, freedom; Marcel Proust, memory; and Virginia Woolf, self) and how each of those topics have direct neurological roots that Whitman, Eliot, Proust and Woolf clearly define and explain long before scientists discovered the proof. The other four chapters discuss similar principles of how we as a consumer experience art (Auguste Escoffier’s amazing epicurean creations; Paul Cezanne’s use of color and form and light; Igor Stravinsky’s music; and Gertrude Stein’s use of language) and then goes on to define the neurological process that allows us to enjoy and crave umami, or how a Stravinksy symphony affects our brain differently than Wagner or Beethoven. This bridge of art and science was glorious in every way and I think I must own this book to flip back through my favorite sections again and again.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport (4 stars). For the most part, I really loved this. I think Newport has a lot of really great suggestions and research. His rant about social media got me a little “meh”…never does he provide as an option the idea that you limit your social media consumption through a specific strategy, it’s either all-consuming or you delete your accounts. So, that was annoying. (Example: I log out of all social media apps when I’m done scrolling so I never receive notifications to distract me. Is it a pain to have to sign in? Not really, it takes 2 seconds. Not receiving push notifications from Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Whatever has GREATLY reduced my attachment to and time wasting through social media. Win-win.

Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks (3 stars). I like Oliver Sacks, his book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” was pretty great; but this book is….it’s meh. He seems to prance over some of the deeper causes of hallucinations, he refers to larger segments he’s written about this case or that patient or this syndrome/disease/whatever in another book–he seriously cross references his own books a TON–and his definition of hallucinations ranges from drug or alcohol-induced episodes, to concussions, to allergic reactions, to legitimate deeply rooted psychological issues, to nightmares and PTSD. It’s…it’s just too broad without enough deep science to back it up. Not my fave.

Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, by Dan Hurley (3 stars). This was okay, but not great. The basic premise surrounds whether or not there are activities or exercises we can do to strengthen our brains and make us smarter. The short answer: yes, to a degree. Things that make your brain run smoother and faster can increase it’s capacity: listening to classical music stimulates neurons, but only a little. Getting enough sleep and plenty of exercise strengthens your neuro-network, but only a little. Brain-stimulating puzzles and play can increase your capacity, but only a little. In combination, you may be able to increase your brain power a little bit, but only by a few IQ points. Now. If you have had some kind of brain trauma there is a lot more room for improvement, healing, and growth, but no one wants to wish crippling brain trauma on a person in order to prove “get smart quick” schemes.

The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, by James Fallon (2 stars). The first two thirds of this book I quite enjoyed, I mean, it’s an interesting twist to have an actual psychopathic neuroscientist (who is in denial about his psychopathic brain) be writing a book about psychopaths and their behavior. The last third, however, Fallon begins to really drill down into his own behavior and psychopathic tendencies, his mania and relationship patterns….and, he’s a SUPER ass. Writing a memoir reflecting on all those things makes him more of an ass, not less of one. It was almost unreadable, to be honest. If you’re looking for a better book about psychopaths, I’d recommend Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test” instead.

Other Brainy Recommendations:

More books about brains and neuroscience.
All book review posts on ye olde blog(e).