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.

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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.

Arizona Home Tour: Master Bedroom and Bathroom

It seems like I’ve been fighting yellow-tan walls for at least a decade, and when we moved into our Arizona house that battle continued: everything was yellowy-brown. It felt like every single room was wall-to-wall cardboard, and turning on lightbulbs only exacerbated the problem. In the last year Mr. Blue Eyes and I have painted almost every single wall in our home in grays or blues and I cannot tell you how much lighter and brighter and COOLER it makes everything seem.

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When we moved in, our bedroom consisted of yellow-tan walls and a mattress on the floor. Slowly we’ve upgraded and updated and while it’s not exactly the way I’d like it–I still have dreams of a live-edge headboard–it is SO MUCH BETTER than where we started. A California King bed and new bedding, dressers and book cases, cool gray and navy blue paint, a gallery wall of some of my favorite photographs…it truly is a whole new room. There is a large archway from our bedroom to the master bath, so everything there needed to be updated as well with grays and blues and a little bit of hot pink, because, why not.

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This is one of my favorite little spots in the house. I took the photo of the Brooklyn Bridge, the yucca print is from Bison Paper Company, and that gorgeous oil painting is by Cristall Harper, a gift from Blue Eyes that I love more than anything he’s ever given me.

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A place for all my dangly earrings, my rings are in the little cups, and Picasso’s Don Quixote. Love, love, love.

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Why yes, I did move a half-dozen books off my bedside table just for the photo. Ahem.

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I don’t know if gallery walls are still “in” or not, but I can’t find a better solution for getting all the art that speaks to me in a place I can see it every day. I took most of those photos over the last several years, and it makes me happy to have so many memories right on my wall.

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The gray walls and leafy plants make this feel almost spa-like, which makes my mornings feel a lot less oppressive (I am NOT a morning person. At all.).

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Part of me feels like it has taken 1,000 years to get our house transformed from yellow-tan-cardboard to something that doesn’t make my eye twitch; I keep reminding myself that I’ve lived here for 9 months, and having the vast majority of the house 90% “done” is a huge accomplishment. The other pieces will come together in time, and until then, at least I have a few little sanctuary-like spots where I can breathe.


Arizona House Tour: Home Office

I have lived in Arizona for six months now and while my very first order of business upon unloading the moving truck was to set up my home office, I am only just getting around to taking photos of the almost-done version. It’s not done-done because, to be honest, I doubt any house project of mine will ever be truly finished, I’m always dreaming up new updates and changes, but at some point you’ve got to just say this is close enough and move on, right? I spent very little money on this room, like, less than $100 including paint. I am quite pleased that the leftover hodge-podge from my Salt Lake apartment translated so nicely into a completely different space and set-up here.

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This room gets some truly lovely light due to a well-placed north-west-ish facing window, I actually have not been bothered by the lack of overhead lighting here, yet. I have some task lighting, but I rarely use it during the day. The natural light is soft and white and lovely. The before of this room was a boring builder-brown box, but a coat of pale smoke-blue paint (Flint Smoke by Behr) transformed it into a cool, soothing space. To be honest, I kind of wish I’d gone with the shade slightly mintier, but I’m not so torn up about it that I want to repaint.

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This full-wall desktop (and dual screen set up!) has been glorious, it’s actually two IKEA table tops put together, one trimmed slightly to fit the space. I wish they were purchased at the same time and were actually the same color, but I wasn’t willing to throw the perfectly acceptable, 2-years-old version out and then pony up another $60 for the EXACT same thing. I use the left side for my work and writing, the right side (a bit smaller) is my little painting space with some storage underneath for files and paperclips, camera equipment and painting supplies. I had all the artwork already, it was just a matter of pulling the most fun, brightest pieces from my stash and getting them arranged into a gallery wall. I clearly am still missing some pieces, that Target frame definitely needs a photo in it and the blank canvas on the right could probably use a little paint. But! I love that these are the images I look at every day: a big Matisse (left), a few of my own paintings and photos, a Picasso print (black/white portrait in the middle) that could have been based on my profile, Andy Warhol’s butterflies, and a few family snapshots.

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The opposite wall from my desk is all bookshelves, most layered two rows deep of novels and non-fiction on my favorite subjects. I had these Expedit/Kallax shelves from IKEA in my Salt Lake apartment, which is why they don’t all match either. (I’m trying really hard not to be bothered by the 1″ taller center section and just go with it, but honestly, it sometimes really bugs me.) The art on top was also pulled from my collection, some prints, some original oil paintings (by me or legit artists), one watercolor done by my niece when she was 3, all in the bright colors I wanted for this room.

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That chair is from my grandparents and is ridiculously comfortable. One day I will actually take the time/money to recover the mustard-yellow cushions instead of tuck a gray fleece blanket around them, but today is not that day. A big pillow and this little corner turns into my most favorite research spot during the day, and reading corner at night (with appropriate task lighting). A diamond-print fuzzy rug covers up almost all of the brown carpet, which one day will be replaced by something….less brown.

And there you have it, the 80 square feet where I spent the vast majority of my time. I have never actually gone to a coffee shop or library to work, most of my day-to-day projects revolve around document creation and data research, and that is just SO much easier to do on a dual-screen than a single, tiny, laptop screen. In fact, I have difficulty functioning when I have to use my laptop screen only to work, I guess I’m super spoiled with the two big monitors to move windows/spreadsheets around and check and triple check facts and figures as I create documents and write reports.

A few words on working from home: Six months ago I started working remotely for my company. In some ways, working from home has been absolutely fantastic, but in others it has been really, really hard. I have been really careful to maintain regular “office” hours, to get up and get dressed and “go to work.” I take a mid-morning break for 10 or 15 minutes, a solid hour for lunch, and another 10 minutes in the afternoon to do some stretches or make a smoothie  milkshake  smoothie, or whatever, but for the most part, I am at my desk during regular business hours, just like I would in my office in Salt Lake. I don’t work from my bed, or the couch, nor do I stream Netflix on the side. In that respect, actually, working remotely hasn’t bee that different than being in my corporate office, I just wear fuzzy slippers a lot more often. The functions of my day-to-day job are easily accomplished via a remote situation, but I miss being in an office, I miss the in-person interactions with my co-workers, I feel like I am losing out on a lot of spur-of-the-moment projects and initiative, and I spend the vast majority of my time completely alone. That part really really sucks. Yes, we have conference calls and video chat and instant messaging and a variety of social media channels where I can connect with some of my more favorite coworkers, the ones who really are personal friends at this point, not just colleagues, but for me, it’s just not the same.

I also feel like I should point out that I am missing out on the opportunity to find and make work-place friends or meet colleagues, and that has been hard too. When you work 700 miles from your co-workers, but are not at all in an industry that translates across state borders (I work for a state agency, my colleagues are ALL state employees in other Utah agencies in some way, very few are outside of state government or administration), how do you make work friends? It’s been a lot harder on me than I thought, not having a group of friends nearby.

Do you work from home? Do you have a dedicated office space? Are there any tips I should definitely know about that seem to be missing in my working-remotely situation?

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At home with Harriet: the backyard before & after

When Blue Eyes and I moved into this house the yard was kind of a disaster. Whoever lived here prior to us moving in was, well, generally pretty disgusting. The house had been empty for over a year, and whoever flipped it didn’t do a super thorough job of getting rid of the grossness. In the yard, they decided to just put gravel in most places, with one very VERY sad palm tree in the front yard, and a couple of new palmy-frondy plants in the back. The real estate listing photos mostly showed a newly cleaned and possibly resurfaced pool, the rest was literally just crushed rock. We have a lot of property, but with this kind of, um, “xeriscaping” it was completely unusable.

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Prior to tackling the backyard (the front yard will be next year…or the year after) I did a lot of research on different types of trees and plants that do well in the blistering desert heat, and how to keep flowers and vegetables alive through the endless summer. I also decided to look at Google Earth and see if there was any evidence of what the previous family had as far as landscaping.

Um….that was a mistake. Our yard was, without question, the grossest one in the neighborhood. The gravel that I really dislike is a step up from the scruffy dirt and weeds and the drained, yellow-puddle-left-in-the-bottom swimming pool.

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Yep. The worst in the neighborhood. There are a couple of enormous shade trees in this image that have all been cut down for reasons I cannot imagine. WHY!? STOP GETTING RID OF SHADE TREES! THIS IS THE VALLEY OF THE SURFACE OF THE SUN! SHADE = NECESSARY!!!

Blue Eyes and I definitely had our work cut out for us. We went back and forth on the backyard. He wanted low maintenance, I desperately wanted a patch of grass. Without it, I knew I would never go outside. We compromised with a small patch of grass, several raised boxes for vegetables and what-not, a new patio, and a handful of trees.

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The trees went in first, a Willow Acacia on the west side to eventually shade my office window, a lime tree, pomegranate tree, and grapefruit tree. I am ridiculously excited to see tiny baby limes and grapefruits on those citrus trees! We will have a very, very small harvest this winter, like, maybe three or four grapefruits and about a dozen limes, but I am thrilled about their future! Ditto the pomegranate, which had gorgeous flowers but lost it’s fruit due to moving-stress.

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Tiny baby limes!

Blue Eyes spent several weekends building me a solid set of four raised garden boxes. I filled them up with seeds and veggie starts and am anxiously awaiting the day the green tomatoes are ripe and the peppers and zucchini are ready to be picked. The squash and watermelons won’t be ready until later in the summer (that is, if they don’t roast to death first). I have been picking basil, rosemary, and oregano leaves every few days to add to my kitchen experiments. Those tiny little veggies bring me a ridiculous level of happiness. We planted mid-March, but next year I think I’ll start them as seeds inside about Christmas time, there isn’t really a frost here, so I could probably plant in February and be juuuust fine. (Garden tomatoes in early May? YES PLEASE!)

Arizona Backyard After 3_feistyharriet_May 2016The tomato patch!

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A few weeks ago we had a break in the already blistering summer heat, and with weekend temps in the 70’s and low 80’s we decided to pour the patio. Now, Blue Eyes is a civil engineer and things like “pour a concrete patio” don’t scare him. I was super nervous. It was just going to be the two of us, and the patio is….not small. As he was doing the math and adding up the number of bags of cement mix we’d need…I started to genuinely question if we shouldn’t just hire it out. Blue Eyes made a few calls, our large gate to the backyard was just a few feet too narrow to get the smallest cement mixer truck through. So, we were back to the DIY route.

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We rented the largest cement mixer Home Depot has (you need a pick-up truck to pull it) and ordered four pallets of cement mix: 60 pound bags, 56 bags per pallet =  THIRTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS OF DRY CEMENT MIX! And then some. Hoooooo boy. We dug up the gravel, and the weird brick stripe in the center of the back yard, and pulled the weeds and leveled the ground as much as we could. Blue Eyes built the frame we’d use to keep the wet cement contained, and we set our alarms for ridiculously early the next morning.

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To make a batch of cement you dump two 5-gallon buckets of water into the mixer, and 13 bags of cement mix. A few minutes later it’s ready to go, you dump that mix into the wheelbarrow and trundle it over to the soon-to-be-patio. Dump, spread, smooth, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Each batch made about three heavy wheelbarrow’s full of cement, and we made batches all damn day. ALL damn day.

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Dump, spread, smooth, repeat.

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We finished up about 3:00 in the afternoon, both soaked with sweat and concrete water, flecks of cement in our hair and embedded in our skin. Truly, Blue Eyes took the brunt of the damage, I can lift a 60 pound bag, but I can’t lift it to my shoulder and dump it into a spinning cement mixer. I tried, bless me, I tried, but I nearly fell in to the mixer, or got my arms caught in the paddles, and it just…no. I hoisted and opened and filled and mixed, but Blue Eyes is the one who, literally, did most of the heavy lifting.

Our patio is not perfect, we are not professional patio pourers, but it is the exact shape I wanted, it will be lovely with big pots of flowers and some pool chairs and maybe a black and white stripey umbrella for a little more shade. I have plans for twinkly bistro lights and, after the heat of the summer, maybe one of those little fire pits and a couple of chairs.

That same week a load of sod was delivered for the rest of the backyard. Blue Eyes finished up the sprinklers and laid all the grass himself. We rigged up some shade cloth to shield the south-west facing garden beds from the Arizona sun, and my little vegetables are still going strong. (We still need to finish off those boxes, they’ll get a layer of mortar on the front so you don’t see the cinderblock seams, and finished off with flat wood planks along the top.)

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We have a real backyard! One that we can use for at least most of the year. Heavy on using the pool side during the summer/daylight hours, and the rest during the not-as-sweltering part of the year (so, November-January). I will be slowly adding more plants and pots and things, but for now? I’m going to kick back with a very cold drink and enjoy it.

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Mr. Blue Eyes deserves a standing ovation and a pony ride for all his hard work. I tend to dream up mostly doable things, and he usually figures out how to make it happen. That man is a dream boat, I tell you.

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My First Foray Into Minimalism

I have never been one to relish the major clean outs, stripping my shelves and cupboards down to their bare essentials and then pretending like this is my new normal. I mean, I like things to be clean and tidy, and I love knowing the exact location of my things, but I don’t have a compulsion for empty space. Empty space kind of gives me the heebie jeebies. I want my home to be full of art and books and warmth, I want delicious cooking smells and plants in various stages of lushness (and, honestly, a few in the “trying to resurrect” stage, because, let’s get real). I want layers and texture and color, I would be a really bad minimalist.

That all being said, I know there are a lot of ways I can reduce my Stuff and eliminate some of the triggers for acquiring more. Prior to moving to Arizona I spent ten glorious years living in an enormous penthouse apartment, in addition to two bedrooms and a full sized dining room AND a large living room AND a good sized kitchen, the attic space of the building I lived in had been converted into a loft of sorts with huge skylights and hardwood floors. It was glorious up there, and the access was from my apartment only. It was mine, all mine, to do with as I pleased. It was my library and my creative space and our guest bedroom and our storage space and an extra TV space…and none of those areas had to overlap. The loft was ENORMOUS and it took 10 years to fill it up with furniture and bookcases and throw pillows and storage boxes of decorations and camping equipment. So, that means, that for 10 years whenever I upgraded something in our downstairs living space, the upstairs got a new object, I never tossed anything that wasn’t broken. When we moved I cleaned out everything, pick up truck after pick up truck of forgotten Stuff, unnecessary furniture, and a tremendous excess of side chairs made the final exodus from my house to the thrift store, friend’s homes, and a few sales to strangers.

Here in Arizona our home is full but not stuffed, there is plenty of open space and the right amount of furniture. There are a few pieces I’d like to replace, eventually, but for the most part the house is delightfully furnished, and there are only a few things in the garage that need to be eliminated (sell, toss, donate). I attempted a month with no extra spending, and will probably do that again in the near future.

Which brings me to a new project. I do not need any more Things, no more Stuff. However, I also know that drastically reducing my bookshelves or my closet (again) will not actually bring me an increased measure of joy. I use what I have enough to justify storing it, and bookshelves full of books, walls full of art, and lots of extra pillows and blankets bring me joy. Having a comfortable home brings me joy. So, I’m trying to reduce in other ways, and it’s been a little tricky to figure that out (and, of course, I read a whole stack of books about it). In the last few months these are the steps I’ve taken towards a more minimalist life:

I have eaten 98% of the food that I buy instead of letting it sit until it goes bad and throwing it out. Food waste in the United States is overwhelming, something like 40% of purchased food is thrown out. I do not want to contribute to that statistic. So, I make a meal plan every Sunday and go grocery shopping on Monday, and then stick to that plan for the rest of the week. I plan in leftovers for my lunches and regular date nights with Blue Eyes. I’ve love cooking delicious things, and I’m pretty good about making just enough for our needs. I am going to try to keep this up the rest of the year (my life?). It seems a point of incredible pride that in the last 2 months I’ve only had to toss 2 sweet potatoes that were bad, a handful of strawberries that I left in the fridge too long, and two or three containers of leftovers. Winning!

I have not purchased any new books. This is HUGE for me, huge. Now, I have bought a few books, but all of them were used and less than $5, including shipping (where applicable). I also actually got a library card and have been using it at our SUPER pathetic library branch, it’s really one of the saddest book places I’ve ever been. I still have books in my house I haven’t read, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time and a season for the books we read, and sometimes, the time isn’t right now. Don’t mess with me on my books, it’s a  battle you cannot win. You also cannot with the e-reader battle, so don’t bother. Just pat my head and tell me “good job” for library patronage and eschewing brand new books.

I have unsubscribed from every junky email I’ve received. Did it suck? Yes. Was it worth it? So, so much. It took me a few hours initially to go through all the junk emails from the last few months, unsubscribing as I went. And then once every week or two I will spend 5 or 10 minutes doing it again. But the sheer volume has dwindled to almost manageable, instead of 40 or 50 a day, it’s like 10 a week. Getting rid of all that crap in my inbox has made me immeasurably less anxious about opening my email.

Ok, so when you list it out and there are only three things in a grandly titled post, such as “My First Foray Into Minimalism!” it seems super anti-climactic. Who uses the word “foray” in the first place, I mean, really. Snobs and hipsters, that’s who. Well, maybe I’m a snob, maybe I am altogether too proud of myself for some paltry little achievement on the pristine, sparkling minimalist scale. But, it’s a big deal for me. And it’s a deliberate step towards a different kind of life, and for me, that always happens in baby steps, not grand gestures or cold-turkey behavior changes.

What about you? Are you on the KonMari bandwagon? Another minimalist bandwagon? Or do you shun the bandwagon and march to your own drum? (Why so much music metaphor, Harriet!? Sheesh!)

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