Summer 2016 Recap: Highs and Lows

“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head,And whispered to her neighbor- -Winter is dead.”

This is my daughter’s last full week of summer break. Although fall doesn’t technically begin for a few more weeks, once the school bus rolls up, summer is essentially over. (Cue the sobbing.) Summer, 2016 is, sadly, in the books. Here’s how it went for me:

Highs

  • I started a blog! But you already know that. Thank you so much for reading!! And for following me on Facebook. And Instagram.
  • I came close to achieving the balance of regular, fun activities for my daughter, without driving myself crazy, that I described here. Every day wasn’t a barrel of monkeys, but I feel good about the amount of socialization, fun, and educational activity my daughter got this summer.
  • I read some great books. I didn’t read a single book that I didn’t enjoy, but some were better than others. Overall, I’d have to say The Nest was my 2016 summer-reading favorite.

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  • Summer camps were a success. My daughter has a long history of disliking summer camps of all kinds – even the ones she clearly enjoyed. (She’s an anxious homebody. I wonder where she gets these traits…) This year we tried two new camps – theater and art – and she has said she’d like to do both again next year. Whew!
  • We all survived the LONG drive to Bar Harbor, Maine, and back. We split the drive up over two days, but we drove home all at once, and those 9.5 hours in the car almost broke me. Fortunately, I’m able to read in the car, and we brought a bunch of DVDs for our daughter to watch. And we stopped at one of the many conveniently located New Hampshire Liquor Store rest areas.
  • I went to some great shows at SPAC. My husband has a contact in the SPAC box office who has gotten us free tickets for orchestra and ballet shows there the last two summers. This year we saw one New York City Ballet show, and a fantastic Philadelphia Orchestra show. Then I balanced out that culture by taking my daughter to the Kidzbop show last week.

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  • I ate lots of ice cream and kettle corn. Thanks, Dairy Haus, Humpty Dumpty, Plum Dandy, and Broadway Kettle Corn!

Lows

  • Getting my daughter to read and practice math was a near-constant struggle. I registered her for several summer reading and math programs, to keep her motivated to practice her skills over the summer. She was enthusiastic for about a week, and after that it became like pulling teeth.
  • My garden was something of a let-down. I didn’t get things started early enough, and I didn’t dedicate enough time to gardening throughout the summer. As a result, my veggie-garden yields were pretty low, and my flower gardens are full of weeds.
  • I didn’t bring my daughter to several places I intended to. I had planned to bring her to a variety of new-to-her local landmarks and attractions this summer, but we didn’t make it to any of them. What can I say; I’m a creature of habit.
  • The new behavior system didn’t create much behavior change. I created a summer positive-reinforcement plan to get my daughter to adopt some new (and overdue) habits this summer. Like the summer reading programs, she was very motivated for a couple of weeks, and eventually lost interest. Next up: a fall negative-reinforcement plan!
  • I ate way too much ice cream and kettle corn. Damn you, Dairy Haus, Humpty Dumpty, Plum Dandy, and Broadway Kettle Corn!

How was your summer? What were some of your highs and lows?

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Monday Meal Plan

Monday Meal Plan

I do not enjoy cooking, I’m not a creative person, and I consider grocery shopping to be a real chore. As a result, for around 18 months, I religiously created a weekly (dinner) meal plan for my family. On Sundays, I sat down with the calendar for our week ahead and my favorite cookbooks and recipes I’d recently found online, and jotted down a list of what we’d be eating for dinner for the next seven days. At the same time, I put together my weekly grocery shopping list. I dreaded doing this every week, but it made my life a lot easier. I no longer found myself at 4pm, wondering what on earth I was going to make for dinner. I no longer came up with an idea, only to discover that I didn’t have all of the ingredients I needed. I no longer ran to the grocery store three times a week.

So, a reasonable person might ask why I stopped this sanity-saving drudgery activity. I don’t have a good reason, other than that I got tired of forcing myself to do something I dreaded, every. single. week. But I find new school years invigorating, and I’m excited to get back to a more scheduled and organized way of life. Thus, the weekly meal plan is making a come-back! And publishing them here will give me some accountability, so thanks for coming along for the ride!

First, a few guidelines:

  • My meal plans are a framework. While I might say that we’re having pot roast and mashed potatoes on Monday, I just might make it on Wednesday, instead, if that ends up making more sense for our week. I’m crazy like that, people.
  • My meal plans are dinner-only. My husband rarely eats breakfast, and I’ve got making school and work lunches down to a pretty simple system. It’s dinners that are a struggle for me.
  • I aim to make reasonably healthy, well-balanced meals most of the time, but sometimes a high-fat, high carb, and/or high sodium dinner will show up on my meal plan. Please avert your eyes, if necessary.

Okay, without further ado, here’s this week’s plan!!

Monday: Pasta Florentine (This is my somewhat loose interpretation of Chicken Florentine Pasta from Ree Drummond.)

Tuesday: Southwestern oven omelet with toast (Brinner – breakfast for dinner – is one of my absolute, favorite dinners! What I make depends a bit on what’s in the fridge and freezer, but pancakes, bacon, and/or eggs are generally involved.)

Wednesday: Macaroni and cheese with squash from my garden (m&c recipe from Real Simple Easy Delicious Meals)

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I LOVE this cookbook.

Thursday: Leftovers (Can you hear the angels singing??)

Friday: Chicken enchiladas (I don’t like chicken very much, unless it’s in small pieces and covered in sauce and cheese. Plus, I have a bunch in my freezer, that I have to use up.)

Saturday: Grilled fish, farmers’ market veggies, and couscous (Why does cooking on a grill seem so much easier than cooking in the kitchen??)

Sunday: Burgers on the grill, with leftover veggies

Do you meal plan? What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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My Favorite Cocktail

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For the past few months, I’ve been downing the same cocktail every night. It’s become a ritual, ever since it was recommended by my doctor. I take 400mg of CoQ10, 500mg of magnesium oxide, and 200mg of vitamin B2. Shaken, not stirred.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that I was getting terrible headaches that lasted for three days, every four weeks. Upon consultation with my doctor, I was informed that they were “menstrual migraines”, my body’s fun reaction to the monthly estrogen drop. (I have to pause here and ask: is there an uglier word in the English language than “menstrual”?? Maybe “blouse”, maybe “moist”, but I give “menstrual” the edge.)

These headaches are incredibly painful, and completely unresponsive to anything over-the-counter. I tried Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve, and Exedrin Migraine. Nothing helped in the slightest. Since the headaches last for three days, I dreaded their arrival. They also started popping up at other times throughout the month, and added sinus pain on the side of the face they dominated. I tried over-the-counter sinus medication, which also didn’t help.

There are many places I feel modern medicine still has a lot of work to do, but it seemed impossible that it had nothing else to offer for headaches. I decided to see a neurologist who specializes in headaches and pain management. He informed me that I have migraine headaches, and after ordering blood work and a brain MRI to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong, he prescribed a medication that works pretty well, called naratriptan. The problem is that it has to be taken during a short window before the headache really takes hold. If I miss that window, the medication doesn’t work. However, my doctor also advised that good sleep hygiene, running daily, and a cocktail of supplements had been demonstrated to help migraine-sufferers. My sleep hygiene is decent, I haven’t run in two years, but I’m a supplement-taking rock star!

While I was a little skeptical about the potential benefits of taking these supplements, I’ve definitely noticed a difference since I started. The frequency of my headaches has not changed, but the intensity has diminished greatly. I now experience them as more of an annoying, background pain that’s unpleasant, but tolerable. And since they come one-two times per month, and each last for three days, that’s a major improvement in my quality of life. Cheers!

What’s your favorite cocktail?

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My Friday Favorites

Friday Favorites

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens… Happy Friday!! Today I’m sharing a few of my Friday favorite things:

Electricity. Sometimes, it’s the little things… On Tuesday, our power went out just before 1:30 in the afternoon. A power outage is never ideal, but because we have well water, it means basically means we lose our water supply. (A small amount of cold water remains in the tank, so I could at least wash my hands when I needed to.) Most power outages are pretty brief – an hour or two, at most. But on Tuesday, the power remained off until almost 8:00, for a total of 6.5 hours!!! In addition to being without access to anything that requires electricity – hello, A/C! – and a normal water supply, my car was in the garage. Despite watching a few YouTube videos about how to manually open an automatic garage door (shout out to my sister for suggesting this), I was unable to open the door and leave my house. This was unfortunate, because I was supposed to pick my daughter up from camp at 4:00. Thankfully, my husband was able to leave work early and get her. While I was waiting for them to come home, all of the smoke detectors in our house starting going off, presumably because the batteries had been drained. To escape the deafening noise, I went outside and sat on our front steps. While there, I looked to the side and noticed a very large bees’ next in the ground next to the steps. It was an all-around, banner afternoon! But the power finally came back on, my husband showed me how to manually open our garage door, we replaced the batteries in the smoke detectors, and I’ve been enjoying my hot showers since then with a renewed appreciation for electricity.

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This cookbook. While the power was out on Tuesday, I randomly grabbed the Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Meals cookbook from my collection, and started paging through it. I quickly realized that I was in possession of the best. cookbook. ever, and couldn’t believe I’d never realized this before! (A big thank you to my husband, who I’m pretty sure gave me this book for my birthday, about five years ago!)

I do not enjoy cooking in the least, so I try to keep the meals I make as simple as possible, while still feeding my family reasonably healthy and tasty food. This cookbook is made for people like me. The ingredient lists are short and include store-bought shortcuts, like puff pastry; the directions are simple and clear; and the food looks delicious! Some of my favorite recipes include Easy Ice Cream Cake (made with ice cream sandwiches – genius!!), Curried Rice with Shrimp, and Lasagna-Style Baked Ziti. I can’t wait to try the recipes in this book!!

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The seasons. My sister shared the frightening image above with me this week, and if it’s correct, winter is going to be back with a vengeance this year. I dread almost everything about winter – the cold, the darkness, the ice – but I still love the change of seasons. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a little over a year, and I really missed the changing seasons. Having lived in the Northeast virtually all of my life, seasonal change is inextricably linked with the passage of time for me. In the Bay Area, everything always looked pretty much the same – no autumn leaves, no glistening snow, no return to life in the spring. So while you’ll hear me complaining about winter from November through March, I know couldn’t live without it.

What are some of your favorites today?

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There’s an App for That!

I’m definitely not an early adopter of technology. My first smartphone was an iPhone 4S, and I used it for over three years!. (That’s definitely not a record, since my father is still using his iPhone 4!) Similarly, I shied away from downloading and using apps until fairly recently, but now I’m hooked! In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, my husband was looking at my phone and commented, “You have a ton of apps!” I have social media apps, news apps, money-saving apps, and selling apps. I’m always amazed at all the number and variety of apps available! These are some of my current favorites:

Social Media Apps

  • Facebook. I check Facebook several times every day, it’s just a part of life. I first see most news headlines there, and I love that I can keep up with people from lots of different times and places in my life. I have a personal page, as well as one for this blog. (hint, hint)
  • Instagram. I’m not much of a photographer myself, but I love looking at other people’s pictures. I tend to follow others whose posts fall under the headings of food porn, flower porn, and/or scenery pron. I don’t have a personal Instagram account, but I do have one for this blog. (hint, hint, again)

Money-Saving Apps

  • Savingstar. I’ve been using this app for several years, and have received over $243 in cash back. I especially love this app, because once it’s set up, it’s basically effortless to use. As long as I scan my loyalty card at stores like Hannaford, CVS, Price Chopper, and Rite Aid, I receive cash back on my eligible purchases. If I want to work a little harder and scan my receipt, I can get cash back on my Target purchases, too.
  • Ibotta. This one requires a little more work, so I don’t use it quite as religiously. Still, it’s a pretty easy way to get a little cash back on my groceries every week. (Thinking of signing up? Use referral code rbkhnjf to get your $10!)
  • Checkout 51. This one is my least favorite, since there aren’t many offers on products I purchase. However, I typically get a $0.25 credit every week for my produce purchases with this one.

News Apps

  • NPR News. I’m a bit of a podcast junkie, and I can access all of the NPR apps from here, as well as recent news stories.
  • NPR Planet Money. I like that I can choose individual financial news stories to listen to.
  • WAMC. This is my local public radio station, and they have some great programming that I can listen to here. I especially love The Roundtable, Vox Pop, and The Media Project.

Selling Apps

  • eBay. I go through phases of selling things on eBay, and then feeling like it’s too much work. I’m currently in a selling phase, and the app is really handy.
  • Kidizen. I’m dabbling in selling some of my daughter’s outgrown clothes with this one. In my opinion, the fees are fairly high, but I’ve had a couple of sales
  • Fam Styled Child. This is another one I’m trying out for selling my daughter’s outgrown clothes. The fees aren’t bad, but it’s a pretty basic app. I’ve had one sale since I started using it a few weeks ago.

How many apps do you have on your phone? What are some of your favorites?

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What’s Up Friday

Happy Friday!! It’s been a while since I’ve written, so here’s an update on what’s going on with me: (I borrowed and adapted this post’s format from the What’s Up Wednesday posts at Joyfully Prudent.)

What I’m Loving: Summer!!! While the back-to-school sales are proliferating, and mums and pumpkin spice coffee are starting to pop up at local stores, I’m still in complete summer-vacation-mode. Winters are long and cold here, so I look forward to the warmth, color, light, and life of summer for far, too long to wish away a nanosecond of summer.

What I’ve Been Up To: In addition to prepping and packing for our upcoming vacation – and tidying the house since my in-laws will be cat-sitting while we’re gone – I’ve been shuttling my daughter to and from theater camp this week. I also met a friend for lunch, took my car in for service, and ran some other errands.

Whats We’re Eating: We’re headed to Maine for vacation on Sunday, so I’m trying to use up as much of the stuff in our fridge, as possible. So far this week, we’ve had pasta with grilled squash from my garden, BLTs, stuffed peppers with couscous, and pork chops with green beans, for dinners. Tonight I’m planning to make chicken satay for the first time, with jasmine rice and broccoli. That should clear out all of the veggies and proteins in the fridge, so I think take-out is likely on Saturday…

What I’m Reminiscing About: I’m not sure why, but this week I’ve been thinking a lot about my sweet cat, Tony, who died in January. He was a complete mush, and truly a special guy. I adopted him and his sister, Sophie, when I moved to California in 2000. Sophie is 16, and still hanging in there with me, but I miss my buddy, Tony.

What I’m Dreading: The end of summer. Also, I’m a little concerned about how the seven-hour drive to Maine is going to go…

What I’m Excited About: Eating lots of amazing seafood in Maine. I cook seafood on a somewhat-regular basis, but usually stick with swordfish, salmon, and shrimp. In Maine, I plan to stuff my face with fried clams, lobster rolls, scallops, and other forms of seafood. I. Can’t. Wait.

What I’m Reading: I just finished reading, Before We Visit the Goddess, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been really happy with all of the books I’ve read so far from my summer reading list. In addition to a stack of recent issues of The New Yorker, I’m bringing, The New Countess, on vacation with me.

What I’m Listening To: I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to several NPR podcasts (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Codeswitch, etc.), Sorta Awesome (which has been on hiatus and I really miss), The New Yorker: Politics and More, and a couple of personal finance podcasts, including Listen Money Matters, and Afford Anything. When I’m alone and doing things around the house, I’m almost always listening to one of these podcasts.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Finishing packing on Saturday, going to bed early, and getting up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to leave for Maine.

What I’m Planning for Next Month: September is always busy for our family. I return to my part-time job in the career center at Union College, and my daughter returns to school. Extracurricular activities start up again, so we have a new routine to learn. Because I love fresh starts and routines, I actually look forward to September every year – with the exception of the whole summer-ending thing…

What about you? Have you gone on vacation this summer? Are you ready for fall, or still hanging onto every second of summer?

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