Sunday, June 27, 2010

Green Salad with Sweet and Tangy Dressing

I made salad dressing! And, I liked it! Actually, the dressing wasn't anything fancy, since I picked a recipe that I could make with ingredients that I already had in the house. (In the future, I think I might try out a poppy seed dressing, but I honestly don't even know where in a grocery store you find poppy seeds. With the spices?)

Here's the salad that I made, which was modified from one I found on

Green Salad with Sweet and Tangy Dressing
(approximately 4 Weight Watchers points per serving)
  • Lettuce: I used a mixture of baby spinach and romaine
  • Feta cheese
  • Grape Tomatoes (these were just for Chris- I don't eat raw tomatoes)
  • Other good additions/substitutions for next time would be dried cranberries or crumbled bacon
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream (I used light)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • You can add fresh herbs, grated Parmesan or freshly ground pepper if you like
Combine salad dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well to combine, then drizzle over salad. Unused dressing can be stored in the fridge for about a week or so.

By the way, here's my jar with a tightly fitting lid. A baby bottle. Hmm, maybe I could invest in an actual salad dressing bottle someday, so that it would look more like the picture at the top.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Meal and Exercise Plan... Trying to Make it Back to the Gym

I don't know if this helps anyone else, but since it helps me, I'm continuing with the weekly menu and exercise plan. If you want to see how close I keep to my plan, you can just check back on the previous posts here or here. I've crossed out anything that I didn't follow through with, and added what I did instead. Yes, there's a lot that gets crossed out. Especially the exercise parts. I really do want to get better use out of my gym membership, but making it there always seems to be the lowest priority. I'll keep trying...

In case you were wondering, we eat a lot of leftovers because I tend to follow recipes as written, which generally yields at least six to eight servings. Chris and I only eat two of those servings at a time, Jake rarely eats more than a bite, and Brody only eats a small portion of my meal. So, that leaves lots of leftovers- not just for lunches, but also for a second dinner most of the time. I'm still not a huge fan of having leftovers for dinner (although I do enjoy it at lunchtime). But I am a big fan of not having to shop quite as often, or cook every single night, so leftovers it is.

Oh, and I still have more crock pot recipes to try out, so more of those this week.

Breakfasts: cereal, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit (red grapes, plums, yellow cherries, strawberries, bananas). I also want to try more recipes from a preschool cookbook we borrowed from the library, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes, especially Hide N Seek Muffins (with a strawberry in the middle), and maybe those blueberry pancakes that I didn't get to last week (if I pick up some more blueberries).We've already tried a few of the other recipes in this book, and I highly recommend it if you have young ones that like to cook with you. It's got the recipes written out, but then also a picture version for the kids to follow. Super cute, and fun.

Lunches: leftovers, fresh fruit


  • Dinner: Pork chops, baby red potatoes, green salad
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Yoga class Swimming
  • Dinner: Spaghetti with Puttanesca Sauce, whole wheat french bread and a side salad (spinach mixture, feta, dried cranberries)
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Pilates class (we also went to the park and I did some gardening)
  • Dinner: Chris will be at work, I'll be eating leftovers
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Walking None :(
  • Dinner: Leftovers
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Spin class
  • Dinner: leftovers Chipotle in the car on our way to Phoenix
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Kickboxing class
  • Dinner: leftovers Mom's spaghetti- YUM!
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Walking None :(  But does it count that I was still sore from kickboxing?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Food Waste Friday... It Could Have Been Worse

It's Food Waste Friday (see The Frugal Girl for my inspiration), which means that it's time to post all of the food that I am throwing away this week. It's an effort to hold myself accountable for the food that I have wasted (while attempting to save money and do something better for the environment). See my first post on this topic to learn why this is important.

This week, not so bad. Sorry that the picture's not great- I know some people are able to take fantastic high-quality pictures with their iPhone, but I am not one of them. (In related news, I have some photography books on hold at the library that I need to pick up- maybe I'll finally teach myself something about how to take a decent picture.) Anyhow, there's some green leafy stuff from the Farmer's Market that we just weren't able to use up before it wilted. In my defense, it's not as much as it looks like. And, I was totally planning to use those green onions but when I went to do so, they were soggy and floppy. Yuck. Oh, and I didn't get a picture of the two slices of moldy Swiss cheese. I don't even like Swiss cheese- double yuck.

But I am proud of myself because it could have been much worse. I used up all the basil we got from the Farmer's Market last week and made fresh pesto, and I used the stale sourdough bread (also from the Farmer's Market) to make seasoned croutons. I almost feel like a real chef. :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If Fiber Makes You Gassy, Please Keep It To Yourself

I was reading the latest post from the Creative Junkie (Andrea Chamberlain), who recently lost 40 pounds while on Weight Watchers. Which inspired me to write about some of the things that I  have been eating that have helped me lose 25 pounds (slightly less remarkable than her total, but still no tiny feat).

I should make a disclaimer first. To be honest, my weight loss wasn't really so much about what I ate, but more about what I DIDN'T eat. What I mean to say is, of course I (mostly) cut out the obvious high-calorie, not so healthy stuff like potato ships, ice cream, soda, and baked goods. And I tried to cook at home, making healthier meals with more vegetables and fruit. But mostly, I ate real food while maintaining some serious portion control (i.e. staying within my allotted Weight Watchers points).

With that being said, I know I have been posting recipes for meals here, but I think it might be helpful to list some of the snacks I have been eating while trying to lose weight. Oh, and don't expect me to be half as funny as the above-referenced post; Andrea is inappropriate and totally hilarious. But, here goes.

First, I did not drink a butt-load of water, as so many others profess to do when dieting. (By the way, I still dislike the idea of dieting, or at least calling it a diet. But, having spent the last three months on Weight Watchers and trying to live on only 19-21 points per day (my allotment went down as I lost weight), I must admit that I was sometimes hungry, and I cannot deny that I was dieting. But, as usual, I digress.) I realize that water is a healthy drink, and for some people, it may help them to feel less hungry. For me, it just helps me to feel bloated, which is not a pleasant state to be in. Besides, if you read this article, it talks about a review published in the American Journal of Physiology that found no evidence that people need to drink the often-recommended eight glasses of water per day. In fact, it dispels several myths, like "by the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated," "dark urine means dehydration," and "coffee, tea and soda don't count towards your hydration requirement." None of those appears to be true. Realistically, my 19-point daily allotment didn't give me much room to drink beverages with a points value. So yes, I cut out almost all other drinks besides water, and yes by default I ended up drinking slightly more water. But really, not so much.

I did, however, drink some diet drinks. I have always HATED diet soda and thought that if I had to resort to drinking diet, then it wouldn't be worth drinking soda at all. Which I still mostly agree with. But sometimes, you just need something other than water. Cue the Coca-Cola Zero Cherry. I think Coke Zero tastes the most like regular soda of any diet drink. No, it's not quite the same, and it tastes kind of flat in comparison. But the cherry flavor is the most drinkable diet I have tasted. How's that for a half-hearted endorsement? More recently, I have also started drinking some of the Sobe Lifewater Zero drinks, and I am definitely not in love with them, but they don't have the same gross STRONG artificial sweetener taste that most diet drinks do. And hey, a zero points pick-me-up is sometimes just what one needs to get through the day.

Nabisco 100 calorie snacks Mr. Salty Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzels. A delicious mix of sweet and salty, each of the 6 packs per box gives you just enough pretzels to satisfy the snacking urge. For just two Weight Watchers points, I get a delicious afternoon pick-me-up to keep me from turning into a starving, angry bitch before dinner. But they're apparently not for everyone, since Jake (who loves both pretzels and chocolate) won't touch them. Yay, more for me!

Reduced Fat Wheat Thins (Original, French Onion, or Garlic and Herbs). Are they as good as the regular ones? I have no idea. As far as I'm concerned, crackers are just a crunchy vessel for things that you want to dip them in- egg salad, soup, hummus. These ones taste fine, and you get 16 crackers for just two points.

Fiber One Bars Oats and Chocolate. The way that Weight Watchers calculates points involves some formula that takes into account the number of calories and grams of fat (more = more points), and the grams of fiber (more fiber = less points). No, the Fiber One bars aren't so yummy that I would eat them if I wasn't dieting, but at just two points each, they could fill me up for awhile. And for someone that never used to eat breakfast at all, they made an okay morning meal that I didn't get tired of eating everyday. Along the same line of adding more fiber to my diet, I found that it was super easy to switch to whole grain pasta and brown rice instead of white. Add more fiber, fill up your tummy, and bring down the Weight Watchers points values. It's win-win-win. But if too much fiber makes you gassy, then I can't help you there. Maybe not a win for everyone, after all.

Watchers Ice Cream Candy Bar. I suppose they can't call these Snickers bars for obvious reasons, but it's pretty much what they are. Made with a reduced fat ice cream substitute, of course, but so yummy that I could eat several a day. However, since they are three Weight Watchers points each (and not cheap, by the way), I can't really eat several a day, however much I would like to. These are a snack that I would eat even when not dieting. Some people also swear by Skinny Cow desserts (single-serve ice creams, sandwiches, cones, bars), and I tried several of those. They were surprisingly better than I expected, but in my mind don't hold a candle to the Ice Cream Candy Bar.

Unfortunately, I have to report that I never did not find a magic salad dressing, i.e. a low-fat, low-calorie delicious concoction that would make lettuce actually taste good. Although I tried several light dressings from Newman's Own (Balsamic Vinaigrette, Italian), a couple of different fat-free ranch dressings, and even Salad Spritzers (which taste like very watered-down salad dressing), at best they were just tolerable. My tastes run towards a full-calorie ranch dressing, but since those can be five to seven points for a two-tablespoons serving, I may never eat ranch again. So, I'm still in search of the perfect salad dressing, although I currently have about seven imperfect options in the fridge.

Now, I realize that most of this stuff goes against the advice of Michael Pollan's Food Rules (read my previous post for a review of sorts). Diet soda, reduced-fat foods, and anything that is artificially sweetened would be hard pressed to be counted as a "real food." Yes, I should be increasing the amount of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, and I have. Significantly. In fact, one of my most frequent snacks was five baby carrots and/or a quarter of an apple at a time (which is the most you can eat and still count it as zero points. Cheating? Maybe.) But it's hard to change my junk food-loving ways. Baby steps.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I may just be taking myself too seriously

I borrowed a book from the library, Blogging for Dummies, just to see what I could learn. No, I don't kid myself into thinking I could make a career out of this blogging thing. But I do find it amazing the wide array of crazy things you can borrow (for free!) from the library at any given time (in addition to the blogging book, I currently have at home a crock pot cookbook, Spanish cd's, preschooler books and many more). So I spontaneously grabbed this one off the shelf last week.

Anyhow, skimming the book didn't teach me a whole lot, but I did finally figure out how I could allow readers to sign up to have an email sent to their inbox when I post new content. You know, for those of you who feel that subscribing to a reader is useless because you still have to check there. I added it to the sidebar, but just in case that's not obvious enough, you can also click here: Subscribe to Time for a Change by Email.

Okay, enough of my self-promotion moment.

Again with the TMI

Those of you who read my previous post, Maybe Not Unthinkable, But Defnitely Unpleasant, know that I recently found out that it's time to strengthen my pelvic floor! In keeping with my full-disclosure policy so far, I figured I'd add one more thing to my "list" of stuff to fix. So, here it is.

My kegel exercise plan is to do a set of 10 (work up to holding each one for 10 seconds) when:
  • Brushing my teeth (standing up)
  • At red lights (sitting)
  • In bed, just before getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night (laying down)
Okay, now the hard part is sticking with it long enough to see some results...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekly Meal and Exercise Plan...the Crock Pot Edition!

I think my menu and exercise planning last week did help with keeping me on target (or at least close), though I didn't stick with it as well as I had hoped. So I think I'll try it again... This week: using the crock pot!

Weekday Breakfasts: cereal, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit (cherries, white nectarines, yellow peaches, blueberries, apples) and whole wheat raisin bread from the Farmer's Market. If I'm feeling adventurous, we might make the bread into french toast one day, or maybe make blueberry pancakes.

Weekday Lunches: leftovers, fresh fruit

  • Dinner: leftovers
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Walking with the baby in the stroller- maybe we should head to the beach and walk along the jetty? Some sit-ups and push-ups at home. Better than nothing, right?

  • Dinner: leftovers
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Walking with the baby in the stroller More gardening. The front yard is looking much nicer. :)
  • Dinner: Pork Chops and Red Potatoes made in the crock pot I never made it to the grocery store to pick up Lipton soup mix for the pork chops, so instead I made a recipe that I was planning for next week: Chicken Tacos made in the crock pot, refried black beans, Spanish rice with black olives. Turned out to be really delicious.
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Kickboxing or Muscle Strength class, depending on what time I make it to the gym None, really, I was trying to get the house cleaned. :(
  • Lunch: Tito's Tacos! Leftover taco/burritos
  • Dinner: probably leftovers, depending on what's left Pork Chops and Red Potatoes made in the crock pot, with a green salad
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Yoga class
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Yoga class if I miss it on Saturday. Zoo tour? We should be getting the most out of our membership before it gets ridiculously hot this summer. Pilates class.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Turning Food Waste Into Cupcakes (Tastes Better Than It Sounds)

It's Food Waste Friday (see The Frugal Girl for my inspiration), which means that it's time to post all of the food that I am tossing for the week, in an effort to document and hold myself accountable for the food that I have wasted (while attempting to save money and do something better for the environment).

This week: 1) a small box of animal crackers that I found in the back of the cabinet (which is why they didn't get eaten; they were lost in there). I don't know how long they were there, but they were so soft that they fell apart when touched, so I'm guessing quite awhile; and 2) a half of a container of deli-style sliced chicken that I found in the back of the cheese drawer, which is why it didn't get eaten. And how I didn't notice before it became this moldy is kind of surprising since I have been clearing out my fridge weekly. I guess chicken doesn't last as long as I thought.

As for the impending frosting disaster? Crisis averted. I tried, as suggested, to use up the large amount of leftover frosting by spreading it on graham crackers for dessert. It was yummy, but we don't really have dessert that often, so we kind of forgot about it after eating it once. So, instead I decided to use Frugal Girl's chocolate cake recipe, once again, but made them into cupcakes this time (and a few mini-cupcakes, too). My thought was that we would save some for Father's Day, and Chris could bring the rest to work so that they would get eaten. However, I decided to make them without cupcake liners because a) we didn't have any, and b) I figured it was better for the environment, anyhow instead of wasting the (what I thought would be) unneccessary paper. So I greased up the muffin tins, baked them at a slightly lower temperature for a much shorter cooking time, and then let them sit in the pan after removing from the oven. But, the cupcakes still stuck to the bottom of the tin. So I pried as much of them as I could out of the muffin tins, and realized that the bottoms were so crumbly that they would fall apart if decorated as regular cupcakes. Instead, I turned them upside down and put the frosting on the bottom of each cupcake. And sprinkled a few chocolate chips on top. Not a pretty sight, but still very yummy.

I actually don't think the picture does the cupcakes justice for just how unattractive they are. You'll just have to trust me on this, I guess. Enough so that I would have been embarrassed to send them to work with Chris, so instead we will have to eat them all ourselves. Oh, the sacrafices which must be made to avoid food waste. I should note, however, that the mini-cupcakes all came out of their nonstick mini muffin pan pretty easily, and were especially cute when frosted and chocolate chipped. However, I don't have a picture of those because we already ate them all up.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maybe Not Unthinkable, But Definitely Unpleasant

I went to a kickboxing class at the YMCA this morning. That makes two days in a row that I put Brody into Child Watch and got a workout. Yay, me. Which probably means that I won't go again for the next six months. (At least, that's how it usually works.) But I do fully intend to keep this up...

Let me back up. Since I started Weight Watchers three months ago, I have lost almost 25 pounds and made it down to my goal weight. Yay, me! I am back below where I was before getting pregnant with Jake. I weigh what my driver's license says I weigh! I kinda thought that was never going to happen. Really, when I set that goal weight, I never thought I was actually going to reach it.

I ditched my everyday jeans awhile ago, and went down to my thinner ones. They're currently being held up by a belt, but it ain't pretty. So, I ordered some new jeans from Gap online (I love my Long and Leans, and I use our Gap Visa card for almost all of our purchases so that I can earn rewards points to spend at Gap. And if I order online, it lets me combine promotions, which they don't let me do in the store, so the jeans ended up costing me almost nothing.) Anyhow, before I digress into a full-on Gap commercial, let me tell you that I ordered the jeans in the next size down, and they arrived in the mail yesterday. And I think they're still too big.

All good news (well, except that I had to go back to the store and try to exchange my jeans). So I went to Gap to try on the jeans, and found that the next size down really did fit better. Feeling crazy, I decided to try the next size down from there. They were too small. I could button them, though, which was a nice surprise, but clearly they were not the size that I should be wearing, which I was totally okay with. So, apparently, I wear precisely half the size I used to wear, or half the size of the jeans that I squeezed into on my "skinny" days. (I am going back and forth as to whether or not I should just write what size this is, but I think I'm gonna stick with "not" in order to avoid alienating any people that fit into one of two groups: a) those that will read it and think, "She only wears a size X? That skinny bitch has no right to complain about anything!" and b) those that will think, "She still wears a size X? And she thinks that she should look good in a swimsuit?")

Which brings me to what happened next: I decided to try on a swimsuit. I must have been feeling cocky about my jean size (I know it's just a number, but it was such a nice, low number!). I say cocky because I have always, always hated swimsuit shopping; it's one of the worst things that a female has to experience. In the past, I have gone into fitting rooms with a dozen or more swimsuits, only to eventually emerge with maybe one that didn't make me want to kill myself. On a really good day. I don't know what possessed me to try it on a swimsuit on this day, but I did.

I fully expected to be less-than-thrilled about my nowhere-near-flat stomach. I've had two babies, and I am beginning to accept the fact that my stomach may never recover, no matter what I weigh. I'm trying to accept it, so I found a black (dark colors make you look smaller) tankini (to hide the tummy) that looked super cute on the hanger. And I picked out a larger size in the bottom than the top, because I was trying to be realistic. And it fit. But it made me want to cry. My bruised legs (I don't know why I bruise SO easily, but I do), my not-smooth thighs, my butt chunks hanging out of the swimsuit (Jake coined the term "butt chunks" and I still like it better than butt cheeks). And I have no boobs. Seriously, of the 25 pounds that I lost, I think 10 of them came from my boobs. And those of you that know me, know that my boobs never weighed 10 pounds, even during the pregnancy or breast feeding stages. So, they currently weigh about negative five pounds, give or take.

Needless to say, I did not buy the swimsuit. I tried not to sink into a depression because I really, really don't want to have body image issues. I just want to go back to being very happy about all the weight that I lost and how much better I'm looking in regular clothes. Or even nude. Just not in a swimsuit, apparently.

So I got to thinking. Is this really as good as it gets for me? I'm not getting any younger, and I have had two kids. I don't really want to lose any more weight, and in fact, Weight Watchers won't let me lose more than a couple more pounds before I would be considered "unhealthy" for my height. I know that I haven't been going to the gym, but I have been walking much more (while pushing a stroller, or even some days a double stroller with more than 40 pounds in it). I went through a period where I was exercising pretty regularly at home- sit ups, push ups, leg lifts, stretching, etc.- although I have kind of let that fall by the wayside over the last few weeks. And I'm eating much healthier. So I should be much healthier, right? And more physically fit?

Well, I decided that I needed to make it over the next hurdle, and actually head to the gym to find out. Yesterday, I spent some time on the stationary bike and then the elliptical machine. (BTW- Brody did not love being in the Child Watch program, but he tolerated it, well enough that I figured I could head back the next day.) I felt really good after exercising, and was experiencing an endorphin high well into the afternoon. But I was starving. Seriously, I only earned a few WW activity points by exercising, but I think I ate an extra 10. Kind of works against the goal of maintaining my current weight, but whatever. Maybe I just need to workout more regularly to get used to it.

Today, I decided to be even more adventurous and return to the kickboxing class that kicked my butt the last time I went, which was almost exactly a year ago. The one that is led by an ex-Marine who apparently NEVER tires. And I learned a few things about myself. I am really not in any better shape than I was a year ago. THAT was a huge disappointment. And, there are some things about my body that have not recovered from pregnancy. For those of you that have not given birth to two children vaginally, this may be TMI. But I know that some of you will understand when I say that I cannot do jumping jacks without peeing my pants. THAT was a surprise, and not a pleasant one. But, I figure it could be worse (if you don't believe me, check out this hilarious but slightly depressing post from another mom, And Then The Unthinkable Happened).

So, what does this mean? It means that, although I have reached what I thought was the magic number on the scale, I haven't actually met my goal of being fit, healthy, and satisfied with how I look in a swimsuit. It means that I have more work to do. And I'm okay with that, because I know that I'm still working on establishing more healthy habits that make my feel good about myself. (Even if I'm not okay with peeing my pants.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Menu Planning... Better Late Than Never

Okay, I'm trying something new here. Maybe I can plan ahead a little better and have a menu ready for the entire week, instead of trying to figure it out one day at a time. And if I include a plan for exercise, maybe I'll actually follow through. Will it make me more organized, require fewer trips to the grocery store, and get me to go to the gym? We shall see. Yes, I realize it's already Tuesday, but I'm trying, okay?

Menu Planning:

Breakfasts: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, vanilla yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Lunches: Leftovers, fresh fruit (peaches, cherries, apples, nectarines, strawberries, bananas)

  • Ribollita Light Soup
  • Grilled cheese (sourdough bread and mozarella)
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Zoo We actually ended up hanging out in South Pasadena
  • Chicken and Bok Choy stir fry with brown rice
  • Exercise/outdoor time: ? Actually, none :(  Spent the day at work, instead.
  • Chris has a work function, so I think I'll just have leftovers
  • Exercise/outdoor time: YMCA (stretch class? or maybe the elliptical?) stationary bike and elliptical
  • Cheesy Italian Penne Shepherd's Pie
  • Green salad So tired of salad- I don't like any of the six salad dressings in the fridge
  • Exercise/outdoor time: YMCA (kickboxing or pilates class, depending on what time I make it there)
  • Leftovers (probably Shepherd's Pie) Chris came home early and we went out to BJ's Brewhouse- YUM!
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Walk with Brody and Delaney in the double stroller to... ? Sadly, no walk as the babies ended up having opposite nap schedules, but we did spend a little time outside in the backyard. And we went to Target after dinner and parked really far away, does that count as exercise? (Still sore from kickboxing class yesterday)
  • Maybe leftovers, maybe eat out, or if we're home, maybe French Dip Sandwiches with Sweet Potato Fries (but I'll have to make another trip to Trader Joe's first)
  • Exercise/outdoor time: Pacific Beach clean up in the AM, park playdate in the PM
Sunday is Father's Day... need to come up with some ideas...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir Fry
Serves 4 (Weight Watchers- 6 points per serving)
Total Time: 25m

This recipe is modified from the Real Simple website, mostly to add more veggies that I picked up from the Farmer's Market. I suppose one could argue that it's really not an authentic Chinese recipe if it's using a store-bought BBQ sauce, but it's simple, and made from stuff that I have on-hand. And besides, it's yummy.

  • 2 cups of cooked brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 six-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 4 heads baby bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup store-bought barbecue sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Cook the rice according to the package directions. (Trader Joe's has an Organic Brown Rice in their freezer section that cooks deliciously in the microwave in just 3 minutes.)

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add carrots, celery and garlic to the skillet. Cook long enough to soften the vegetables, about 5 minutes. Add the bok choy and chicken broth. Cover and cook until the bok choy is just tender, about 3 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, barbecue sauce, sugar and scallions. Add to the skillet and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet and cook, tossing, just until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with the rice.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes about 18 muffins (Weight Watchers- 3 points per serving)
Prep Time: 10m

This is a recipe that I have modified from many different ones. The banana taste is not too strong, and there are just enough chocolate chips per muffin- feel free to add more if you like them more chocolaty. The original recipe also included half a cup of melted butter with the other wet ingredients, until I accidentally left it out one time and thought the muffins still turned out to be just as good (and healthier). Add it back in if you want a richer muffin. We go no-nuts here, but that's just because Jake wouldn't touch them if they contained nuts.

  • 2 bananas (well-ripened)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place paper muffin cups in tin, or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Mash bananas in a medium bowl using the back of a spoon. Add eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk, and mix on medium speed until well blended.

3. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in chocolate chips (and nuts if desired).
4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the banana mixture. Mix with a spoon until just blended.
5. Spoon the batter into muffin cups until they are about 3/4 full. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes (12-15 minutes for mini muffins). Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can a person live on just chicken fingers, mac 'n cheese and peanut butter sandwiches? Apparently.

Jake: "Remember when we went to that festival the other day?"
Me: "Which festival? We go to a lot of festivals." [Kind of true.] "The Sanitation Department [i.e. garbage trucks]? The fire station?"
Jake: "No, not a festival, actually... you know, that place where we got all the beautiful food?"
Me: "You mean the Farmer's Market?"
Jake: "Yeah, the Farmer's Market."

I LOVE that Jake can appreciate the beauty in fresh fruits and vegetables. And we DID buy a lot of colorful, fragrant, beautiful food from the Playa Vista Farmer's Market on Saturday- nectarines, cherries, strawberries, swiss chard, red chard, bok choy, carrots, celery, basil, fresh-squeezed orange juice and sourdough bread. I really wish I had thought to take a picture, it was all so beautiful. (The picture above is from Playa Vista Farmers' Market's Facebook page). BUT... I know that even though Jake can appreciate the beauty of all of this healthy food, it will be a struggle to get him to even try a taste of most of it.

How did my kid become such a picky eater? I can honestly say that I don't really know. As a baby, Jake ate anything. Pureed baby foods were pretty much anything-goes. I never found time to make my own baby foods- I was working, and bringing him to work with me, so it was like I had two jobs simultaneously. By the time I got home, that last thing that I wanted to do was make baby food, so I just bought the organic premade stuff, figuring that was better. As he got a little older, he transitioned to non-baby foods okay, too. At least, I think he did. I can remember him eating bits and pieces of my food. But, that was also the time that I wasn't really cooking at home, so we were picking up food pretty much every night. And honestly, when I was eating a burger and fries, it wasn't exactly the kind of food that I wanted to feed to my baby (or toddler, as he got a little older). So, I guess that was the beginning of when I started making him his own meals.

I wanted his food to be healthy, but also convenient. I wasn't cooking at home, so I wasn't making time for frequent trips to the grocery store. If I bought fresh fruits or vegetables, I would need to go to the store fairly often in order to keep the house stocked. So, I started buying freeze dried fruits and veggies. Trader Joe's has some good options- strawberries, mangoes, bananas. [Jake never liked the chewy dried fruits, only the ones that are freeze dried and crunchy.] Oh, and Snapea Crisps. Costco carries Brothers-All-Natural, which makes great freeze dried apples and pears. Whole Foods carries a brand called Just Tomatoes, and Jake has always loved their freeze dried peas (also the bananas, strawberries and mangoes). And Sensible Foods makes a great freeze dried corn (which I buy through Amazon). Jake always loved the freeze dried stuff, and it never went bad, unlike fresh fruits and veggies, which he might eat one day and then refuse the next. It was just the easiest way to get him to eat healthy food.

Besides freeze dried foods, Jake will (now) consistently eat chicken nuggets, french fries (although we don't cook them at home), and pizza. Sometimes macaroni and cheese (if from a box), bean and cheese burritos, cheese quesadillas, or a peanut butter sandwich (but absolutely NO jelly). He'll sometimes eat fresh grapes, strawberries and apples. And he drinks most fruit smoothies or juices. Oh, and bread and crackers. And pretty much any kind of dessert. Did I miss anything? I don't think so.

So, now that I AM actually cooking at home, and relatively healthy foods, I'm not sure how to get Jake to eat what I cook. I know, I know, if I really want him to eat what I cook, them I won't give him another option. But have you seen my kid? He's super skinny already. I'm certain he would choose NOT to eat at all, rather than eating something that he doesn't like.

And also, I'm not sure how much Jake's dietary preferences might be related to actual food allergies. It took me a long time (like, until adulthood) to realize that I have oral allergy syndrome, which basically means that I am mildly allergic to many raw fruits, vegetables and nuts. I used to think that I just avoided foods because I didn't like them. But once I started trying to make myself eat a wider variety of foods, I realized that the reason I didn't like many of them was because they make my throat itch, my lips tingle, or my tongue swell. Mangoes, bananas and avocados are some of the worst for me, to the point that I have actually felt like my throat was swelling shut when I ate too much. But I also react to a lesser extent to raw cucumbers, tomatoes, citrus, berries, melons, almonds, cashews, celery, carrots, peppers, potatoes, pears, kiwi, nectarines and plums. I mean, that's practically everything, right? So, what are the odds that Jake's picky eating habits are also related to mild food allergies? Pretty good, I think. I'm not saying that it explains ALL of his pickiness, but I do think it's likely a confounding factor.

When Jake had his last birthday, we had a new rule, "Four year-olds try things." This worked for awhile, to get him to at least take a bite of the less-desirable foods. But we rarely get past that first bite, even now, 10 months later. Most of the time, he's already started shaking his head no and making a gross out face AS he's putting the food into his mouth. So, what now? In two more months, is it, "Five year-olds try at least five bites"? Or, "Five year-olds eat what their parents eat"? Because I have a feeling, if that's the case, then we'll all be eating chicken nuggets and fries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The One with the Impending Frosting Disaster

It's Food Waste Friday (see The Frugal Girl for what inspired me to show you pictures of this), which is something I've been keeping track of for the last couple of weeks. This is my third post of all the food that I am tossing for the week, in an effort to keep track and hold myself accountable for the food that I have wasted (while attempting to save money and do something better for the environment). I'm actually a little sad that I haven't made much improvement so far, but I'll keep trying.

The bean burrito and fries are Jake's meal from Paco's Tacos. As you probably know by now, Jake hates leftovers, but I saved them because I thought Brody would eventually eat the burrito, at least. But after a few attempts at reheating it for him, I realized perhaps my 15-month old is not such a fan of leftovers, either. The cauliflower and broccoli really should have gotten finished off, but they suddenly had black spots on them, so I wasn't risking it. And I seem to have burned out on salads because I couldn't force myself to finish off the big bag of spinach, even though it has been my favorite (actually, my real favorite is the ET TU Caesar Salad kit with red leaf lettuce, but that's not exactly healthy. Maybe I should try the light version). Oh, and that bag of peas. I hate peas; they're disgusting. Chris is not so fond of them, either. Jake will ONLY eat them if they're freeze dried. And Brody apparently only likes them if they're in processed baby food, and even then, not so much. I thought I could just keep presenting them and eventually they would get eaten. Instead, I mostly ended up with peas on the floor.

Now, before I end up with a ton of what was once-delicious Whipped Cream / Cream Cheese Frosting being thrown out next week, can someone please tell me, what do you do with leftover frosting? I made a really fantastic Chocolate Cake (not from a box) (thanks again, Frugal Girl), and it was the perfect icing. But now I have a ton left over. The only thing I can think of is to spread some on saltines for a sweet snack. Which sounds yummy, but slightly white-trashy (no offense to anyone who does this). And not exactly healthy or helpful when you're calorie-counting. Any ideas?

I haven't been too impressed with many of the Weight Watchers recipes I've found

Weight Watchers online has a nice feature in that it includes a list of many recipes that are relatively healthy, and generally pretty easy to prepare. Often, the recipe is for something that is generally considered not-so-healthy (like cheeseburgers), but Weight Watchers provides ideas for making it better for you with different ingredients and smaller portions (like using ground turkey, and making smaller "sliders"). I've tried a few of the recipes that were not so yummy (how can a chicken with broccoli and garlic stir fry go wrong?), and I think way too many of them are focused on snacks and desserts to be useful to me (since I'd prefer to save my WW points for the actual meal). But I thought I'd post a few of the recipes that we have enjoyed. 

(POINTS® Value: 3)

Servings: 4 (1 wedge per serving)
Preparation Time: 8 min
Cooking Time: 12 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Terrific for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Serve with sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and fresh basil.

  • 2 spray(s) cooking spray
  • 1 small shallot(s), chopped
  • 2 large egg(s)
  • 4 large egg white(s)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) grape tomatoes, cut in half if large
  • 1/2 cup(s) crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp dried bread crumbs (Panko are light, coarse bread crumbs available in the Asian section of the supermarket, but other bread crumbs work, too.)
  • Fresh basil for garnish, if desired

Preheat broiler.

Coat a large heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet with cooking spray; set over medium heat. Add shallot to skillet; cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, egg whites, salt and pepper; stir in tomatoes and shallot.

Coat bottom and sides of same skillet with cooking spray; set over medium heat. Pour egg mixture into skillet; cook until almost set, loosening edges of frittata occasionally, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over eggs; top with bread crumbs.

Place skillet under broiler, 4 inches from heat; broil until cooked through and panko browns, about 30 seconds to 1 minute (watch carefully to avoid burning). Remove from broiler immediately and let sit for 1 minute; cut into 4 wedges. Sprinkle with fresh basil if desired.

(POINTS® Value: 4)

Servings: 9 (about 1 1/2 cups per serving)
Preparation Time: 12 min
Cooking Time: 15 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Packed with beans, sausage and spaghetti, this soup delivers a big hearty taste. Top with minced pickled peppers for extra flavor.

  • 31 oz canned white beans, small variety, drained and rinsed
  • 2 spray(s) cooking spray
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/8 oz fresh sage, about 3 to 4 medium leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
  • 1/2 pound(s) cooked chicken sausage, Italian-style, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes, with puree
  • 1 Tbsp canned tomato paste, or to taste
  • 2 1/2 cup(s) water
  • 3 cup(s) canned chicken broth
  • 1 tsp table salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 oz uncooked whole-wheat spaghetti, broken into small pieces

Puree half of beans in a blender; set aside.

Coat bottom of a large soup pot with cooking spray. Add oil; heat over medium heat. Add sage and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sausage; cook, stirring frequently, until sausage starts to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add pureed beans, whole beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, broth, salt and pepper to pot. Bring soup to a boil; stir in spaghetti. Continue cooking soup according to time specified by pasta manufacturer.

Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes.

(POINTS® Value: 3)

Servings: 4 (about 1/2 cup per serving)
Preparation Time: 10 min
Cooking Time: 10 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Forever a classic, our egg salad is light and delicious. Made with low-fat mayo, Dijon mustard and chives, it’s perfect as a sandwich filling or served over greens.

  • 4 large egg(s)
  • 2 large egg white(s), you’ll have to boil these as whole eggs and discard the yolks
  • 2 Tbsp chives, fresh, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp reduced-calorie mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/4 tsp ground paprika for added flavor and color, if desired

Place eggs in a medium saucepan and pour in enough water to cover them; set pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes; drain and place eggs in an ice-water bath.

When eggs are cool enough to handle, remove shells. Discard yolks from two of the eggs. Chop remaining whole eggs and whites into bite-size pieces.

Transfer eggs to a medium bowl. Add chives, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper; mix until blended.

Checking off my list

In case you missed them from my previous post, here's the list I made last week of my 10 Personal Commandments:
  • Act how I want to feel
  • Accept others for who they are
  • Don't keep score
  • Say "thank you"
  • Practice active listening
  • Get outside everyday
  • Lighten up
  • Do it now
  • Get enough sleep
  • Choose happiness
I have been working on my daily checklist to see how well I am doing at following my own rules (yes, it's an actual checklist that I mark everyday; I need a way to hold myself accountable). When do I get credit for each one? Well, since the point is for me to actively think about making changes (and I realize that I am still learning and not perfect), I give myself a check if I find myself stopping to think and applying one of my resolutions at any point during the day. So, maybe I didn't say "thank you" at every opportunity during the day, but if I did specifically remember to do it at some point during the day, then I give myself credit.

So far, I'm averaging about 80% per day. Which isn't bad. But, considering my criteria of having to do each thing only once per day, I really feel like I should be able to achieve 100% more consistently.

I'm having a really hard time with "Get enough sleep"- I have done that less than half the time. Sometimes, it's a good excuse, like I was out on a date with my hubby, and then got up with the baby in the morning and let the hubby sleep in. But, most of the time, my excuse is something along the lines of we have to finish this marathon series finale of LOST because I can't wait one more day to find out how it ends! Luckily, we're hitting the end of television season and I don't have any new shows planned for watching during the summer season. Hopefully I can start to do a little better with getting to bed at a good time.

I'm also not doing as well as I expected with my resolve to "Get outside everyday". I don't know why this is so hard for me, except that there always seems to be something else that is more important, like running errands or cooking or cleaning. Maybe I need to set aside a certain time of each day to go for a walk? Or maybe I need to plan a weekly schedule at the beginning of each week, with new places to visit?

The ones that I have done well are "Act how I want to feel", "Practice active listening", and "Choose happiness". Three of the most important ones, so now I just need to work on doing them more consistently throughout the day.

Oh, and I found some help with my commandment to "Do it now". Once again, from Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project: her One-Minute Rule. It's simple: if a task can be done in a minute or less, it must be done immediately. Coming in from the car: instead of throwing my jacket down next to my purse, hang it up immediately. Sort mail and discard junk mail as soon as it comes into the house. After finishing up a snack: put the bowl in the dishwasher. Checking email: if it'll take less than a minute, respond immediately. Make the bed in the morning. Put away my shoes. Wipe off the bathroom mirror. The idea is that all of these little tasks get taken care of right away, instead of building up until the whole mess seems unmanageable. And theoretically, this will leave extra time for some of those bigger tasks that there's never enough time for. Honestly, I'm not sure if it's working for me yet, but it's an interesting mindset. I think if I started with a clean house, this might work a little better, so I'll have to get back to you next week, once I've had the chance to get some cleaning done.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Delicious (and Healthy) Recipes

Since I included the delicious pasta salad recipe in my last post, I realized that I haven't yet shared a great SUPER EASY recipe from my friend Amy that we've been having at least a couple of times per month lately. French dip sandwiches with sweet potato fries- healthy, yummy and so quick to make- everything I look for in a weekday meal. And since I'm posting this, I also wanted to include Shana's recipe for crock pot pork chops and potatoes, and a yummy pasta version of shepherd's pie. If you guys have other recipes to share, send them this way!

Amy's French Dip Sandwiches
(makes 4 sandwiches, 6 WW points each)
  • 1 package sliced roast beef
  • 1 can low-sodium beef broth
  • Dried onion (optional)
  • Pepper, garlic, salt seasoning if desired (I just use Montreal Steak Seasoning)
  • 4 sandwich rolls (whole wheat hot dog buns from Trader Joe's are perfect)
  • 4 slices of cheese (optional, provolone or Swiss are great)
1. Toast rolls. (I throw them in the oven, and after they are toasted, I add the cheese so that it can melt.)

2. In a small saucepan, bring broth with dried onion and any other desired spices to a low boil. (I actually just do this in the microwave.)

3. Assemble sandwiches by dipping roast beef briefly into the broth (about 30 seconds) and stuffing into rolls.

4. Serve with broth on the side to dip (au jus).

Sweet potato fries make an easy, yummy side with this meal. The pre-cut sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's are perfect for this- just toss with a teaspoon of olive oil and any desired spices (again, I just use a little Montreal Steak Seasoning). Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (turn them halfway through). They turn out soft and nicely browned, but if you prefer crispy fries, I'm told that you just need to coat them with a little egg whites before baking (I haven't tried it myself).

Shana's Pork Chops a-la-crock pot

  • Thick sliced pork chops (number depends on size of crock pot)
  • 1-2 packets of Lipton onion soup, dry mix
  • Worcestershire sauce (to taste- use liberally)
  • Water
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
Place pork chops, onion soup mix, Worcestershire sauce and enough water for gravy (pork chops should be immersed) in crock pot in the morning. Add enough pepper to create a lovely peppery layer at the top of concoction. Leave enough time to cook chops on high for 30 minutes before leaving. After 30-60 minutes, set crock pot on low setting and set timer for as many hours as you’ll be gone (preferably 6-10). Pork chops can be frozen if you plan on leaving them in for a long time, but thawed chops are usually more tender. Shana has also been known to throw in some red potatoes in for the last few hours. Enjoy!

Cheesy Italian Penne Shepherd’s Pie
(Serves 6, 8 Weight Watchers points per serving)

From Rachel Ray's website, modified slightly to have less fat- more time consuming than I prefer, but I can make it over the weekend and freeze it for an easy weekday meal. This Italian version of a Shepherd's Pie is so healthy and delish. It uses ground turkey instead of lamb, and has added zucchini and carrots for a veggie boost!

• 1/2 pound mini penne or any mini short-cut pasta
• Salt
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1 pound ground turkey
• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 3 medium carrots, diced
• 1 medium zucchini, diced
• 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
• 1 cup chicken stock, divided
• 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup shredded provolone

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place a large pot filled with water over high heat and bring up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once boiling, add some salt and the pasta, and cook until al dente according to package directions. Heads up – reserve one cup of starchy water before draining the cooked pasta. Drain well and transfer pasta back to the cooking pot.

While the water is coming up to a boil for the pasta, place a large skillet over high heat with olive oil. Once the oil starts to ripple, add the ground turkey and break it up into small pieces as it cooks using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher. Cook until the turkey is nice and brown, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the veggies and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, 1/2 cup chicken stock, half of the reserved starchy water, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Continue to cook for 10 more minutes, stirring every now and then.

While the veggies and turkey are cooking, place a medium-size sauce pot over medium heat with the butter. Once the butter melts, add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly so the flour doesn't burn. Whisk in the milk and the rest of the starchy pasta water and chicken stock, bring up to a simmer and cook until thickened. Once thick, turn off the heat, add the cheese to the pot and stir until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the bottom of a large, oven-safe baking dish with the turkey and veggie mixture. Meanwhile, add the cheese sauce to the reserved pasta in the pasta pot. Stir to coat then transfer the cheesy pasta to the baking dish. Spread it out to cover the turkey mixture evenly. Place in the oven and bake until the top is golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Food Waste Friday and Updates

Here's my food waste from this week. Actually, I don't think it's quite as bad as it looks. About a quarter of container of raspberries- it makes me a little sad that we couldn't get to all of them before they got really mushy and then moldy. I learned that I should not buy fresh fruit right before the weekend (at least nothing that will spoil quickly), because we don't eat enough snacks and meals at home to use it up before it goes bad (seriously, they were gross by Monday). A small scoop of mashed potatoes- I meant to feed those to Brody since I thought he would like them, but apparently forgot about them in the back of the fridge. A slice of pizza- I blame Jake for that since it was his pizza, and he refuses to eat leftovers. He says, "Leftovers make my head hurt."

All of the other little containers were ones that I just recently pulled out of the freezer. As I was packing lunches for Jake and Chris this week, I started to wonder what had happened to all of our little plastic bowls. Then I remembered that a few months ago, I decided to make homemade baby food for Brody. Which he refused to eat. I tried feeding them to him again this week, and when he refused, I tried to get our friend Delaney (who's 17-months old) to eat them. No luck there, either. I guess I am just not a good baby food maker. So, those are the containers of pureed carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, white beans and bananas which the babies would not eat.

We did manage to eat up a lot of other leftovers, though, so I am happy for that. Well, mostly happy- there were a couple more things that maybe should have made it into the food waste picture. Trying out a new recipe, I cooked way too much pasta salad with chicken and veggies at the beginning of last week, right before Chris went to Canada for a few days. (I swear it was really yummy, though- check out the recipe at the end of this post). I just couldn't eat that all myself and grew tired of pasta salad everyday. When Chris returned, I sent the rest of it to work with him in a to-go container, with instructions to find a homeless person to donate it to (he works on Hollywood Boulevard, I'm pretty sure that would be an easy task). I haven't asked him about it yet, but I really doubt he did it. My guess is that it's currently going bad in the refrigerator at his work. (Edit: Chris read this post and was offended. Although I meant to imply that I probably did a poor job by making too much food, and likely wasted more food than I was accounting for, he took it to mean that I thought he did a poor job and wasted the food by not giving it away. Actually, he gave the pasta salad to the janitor (custodian? does that sound better?) at work.)

And then there were some chicken wings from Fresh Brothers, which Chris ate even though they were more than a week old, and had sat out on his desk at work when he didn't eat the lunch that I packed for him one day. That night, he was vomiting and didn't make it to work the next day. I still don't think it was food poisoning since Jake had the same issue a few days before (and threw up on Chris in the middle of the night), and I just had the same problem a few days later. But still, it's making me a little wary of leftovers past their prime.

Along with clearing out leftovers, I've also been cleaning out other clutter lately, namely in my email inbox. I get a ridiculous amount of email each day, and a lot of it is just junk. Which I can quickly delete, but it still takes up time, especially since I compulsively check my email just about every time my phone notifies me of a new message. So, it's been taking far more time than just deleting it, but I've been unsubscribing from all of the lists that I should never have gotten on in the first place. Even the ones that go directly to my "spam" folder, since I also spend time checking that, just to make sure that an important email didn't accidentally get directed there. Hopefully, this will eventually save me time in the long run. But, I'm even more proud of the fact that I have cleaned out the non-junk from my inbox, too! I try to respond to emails pretty quickly, but I have a habit of saving tons of emails- things I want to remember to check into, things that I have found interesting, things that I think I may need to refer back to. And then they just sit there in my inbox forever, and I have to scan through them each time to figure out which ones are ones that I still need to respond to. So, instead I created a few sub folders for emails that I really do need to save, and deleted the rest. Now, I have only three emails in my inbox- two which are work-related things that I need to take care of, and one about plans for this weekend. And I can just open my email and see in a glance what's new and what I need to complete.

Also, an update about my attempt to stop checking email in the car- I have finally made some progress there. I have made it a habit to check my email right before I leave the house, so that I won't be as tempted to do so in the car. And then, if I find myself still tempted, I borrowed a Learn Spanish CD from the library, so I just turn that on to distract me. Honestly, I don't think I'm learning much, but it's keeping me safer.  :)

As for my 10 Personal Commandments, my anal-retentive self decided that I needed more of a reminder, and a way to hold myself accountable for actually following them. So I made a checklist with all 10 of them in columns across the top of the page, and then a row for each day of the month. I checked off 70% of them yesterday. I hope to do better today.

In case you're interested, here's that pasta salad recipe from my friend Debi, with a couple of little things that I altered. I wish I had taken a picture to share with you- it's quite colorful and pretty. It makes A LOT, so feel free to cut the recipe in half to avoid food waste.  ;)

Pasta Salad with Chicken and Veggies
(8 servings, 6 WW points each)
  • 1 ½ cups broccoli, florets, steamed
  • 1 ½ cups cauliflower florets, steamed
  • 1 cup asparagus, steamed
  • 1 package (12 oz) vegetable radiatore (spiral) pasta from Trader Joe's, cooked per package instructions (or any other spiral pasta will do, but this three-color one is fun!)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • ½ cup sweet red pepper (if desired, I may leave this out next time)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
  • ½ cup Newman’s Own Salad Dressing, Balsamic Vinaigrette
Steam cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus. Cook pasta per package instructions. Toss all ingredients together and refrigerate. Makes about 8 servings (1 ½ cups each).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choosing Happiness, My 10 Personal Commandments

I'm tired of fighting, nagging and feeling exasperated at home, mostly with my kids, but also sometimes with my husband. No, it's not all the time, but it feels like it's far more often than it should be. Inspired by The Happiness Project, I've been working on a list of personal commandments to help with this. These are different, and far more general than my original list of things that I wanted to change over this year (my "original" resolutions from the first blog posting, like losing weight, eating healthier and getting more exercise). These new commandments are more like inspirations for ways to live. For now, here's my list (BTW, I hope I am not just blatantly stealing too much from Gretchen Rubin, but I have found her approach quite inspiring lately):

1. Act how I want to feel-
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
-Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh

In my mind, "Act how I want to feel" has two meanings; the first connotation being that I can empower myself to act happy, which will in turn help me to actually be happier, and the second being that I should treat others how I want to be treated myself.

Let me clarify- I don't think that unhappiness has no purpose, and that you should repress your true emotions in order to "make" yourself act happy. I think if you're feeling unhappy about something, it's worth examining those feelings in order to determine what changes can be made. I mean, that's what prompted me to start blogging in the first place, and to resolve to make changes in my life. But sometimes, you really can just "choose happiness." It's been shown that simply smiling has actual health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins and reducing stress, not to mention helping to improve your mood and being contagious to those around you. So, why not practice smiling, if it's good for me and can actually make me happier?

The second meaning of "Act how I want to feel" is little more than The Golden Rule of "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." I'm not talking about this in the sense of being a good Samaritan, but more in terms of my own everyday relationships. If I want my marriage to be sweet and romantic, then I must make an effort to do the little things that make it so. This doesn't come naturally to me, but I'm trying to be more thoughtful and anticipate needs. When Chris took the red eye to Canada, I surprised him with a travel pillow, wrapped up and put in his backpack with a little note. Yesterday, he was home sick from work, and I downloaded the new Jack Johnson album to add to his iPhone play list. (Okay, that one's also for my benefit, but still, Jack always makes me feel better.) This morning, it was apple pancakes for breakfast. These little things are important, maybe more important than the "big" events like birthdays- people enjoy unexpected treats more than expected ones. But I find it harder to do the little things on a daily basis. I mean, I feel like I do a ton of things for our entire family- cooking and cleaning and laundry and taking care of the kids. All day, every day. But those are definitely not the things that romance is made of. Sometimes it's hard to find the energy for anything more, but I think it's important to try. Hopefully being more thoughtful on my part will inspire others to reciprocate, but I must try to do it without keeping score (see Commandment 3).

2. Accept others for who they are-
"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color."
-Author Maya Angelou

In theory, I am all for celebrating diversity, and valuing the uniqueness of each individual. So, why then does it drive me crazy when people don't act the way that I think they should? I get frustrated, or even angry when people (like my husband and children) don’t do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it, and how I want them to do it. It drives me crazy that Chris does everything so slowly, and not how I would do it! He's always late for everything, and can't estimate how long anything is going to take him. He doesn't make decisions quickly, when I want an answer immediately. Even stupid little things like not being efficient in how he gets ready in the morning, or not changing lanes when he's driving. Or the worst, when we're playing back a TV show on the dvr and he doesn't get the commercial skip just right. ;) Why do these things drive me crazy, and why to I still try to change these things about him, even after almost 11 years of marriage?

I have a couple of theories about why these things irritate me. One, I can be a bit of a perfectionist. I would rather do everything myself than have it done not up to my standards (and my highest standard always seems to be efficiency- if something is done well, but slowly, it still drives me crazy). But I also get frustrated about "having to do everything myself," even though I know that it's my own fault. I think it really boils down to a need/desire for control.

The second theory is that the things which we don't like in others are often a reflection of what we don't like about ourselves. I'm not sure if this fits very well in my description about what drives me nuts about Chris, except that I am holding him to the high standard of efficiency to which I hold myself. Let me give you another example with Jake. He's bossy. When he wants to do something at preschool lately, he doesn't ask the teachers (and give them the opportunity to say, "no" or "not right now"), but instead tells the other kids that it's time to do it, like turning on the hose and starting water play. Yes, I can frame this in terms of the positive, and be grateful for his leadership qualities and his great ideas. And I am really proud of him. But, I also get frustrated when he thinks that he gets to make all of the rules and decisions, and doesn't automatically listen to the adult who is in charge. Am I really concerned about Jake, or am I more concerned that his bossiness is a reflection of my own?

Either way, accepting others for who they are is a really difficult thing for me. And that difficulty definitely leads to some of the nagging in our house. I know that I cannot change Chris to do things more efficiently and to be on time, as people can only change themselves. I can continue to feel exasperated, or I can laugh and say, "That's who he is." And more importantly, I shouldn't want him to change, as I should be able to accept my husband and kids for who they are, and and love them unconditionally. In the end, I can only change myself (and the way I let it affect me).

3. Don't keep score-
"When one loves, one does not calculate.”
-Saint Therese of Lisieux

In my head, I am always thinking things like, "I cooked dinner and did the dishes, the least Chris could do is take out the trash without me needing to ask." Or, "I took care of these kids all day long, HE really should be able to put them down to bed without my help." But do I ask him to help with something specific? No, I just get mad when he doesn't automatically do it, or resent him for not doing it as well (or quickly) as I would have.

On her Happiness Project blog, Gretchen writes about "unconscious overclaiming". Here's how it's explained: "It turns out that we unconsciously overestimate our contributions relative to other people's. Because we know and value our own contributions, we exaggerate how much we've contributed and undervalue what other people do. In one study, when business-school students in a work group estimated their individual contributions to the team effort, the total was 139%." I'm trying to use this info to remember that I probably do a lot of unconscious overclaiming, or maybe don't even notice the things that Chris contributes (as I'm sure he doesn't always notice all that I do). I will try not to "keep score," and to remember that we each contribute in different ways. And if I feel like I need help, ask nicely.

4. Say thank you-
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."
-Writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton

I'm trying to remember to say "thank you" for the little things, and to remember to actually BE thankful (mentally). Doesn't it feel good when someone notices something that you've done and said thanks? It's also something that I've learned in parenting, that if you want to reinforce a certain behavior, it helps to give very specific praise. So, instead of saying, "Good job" when Jake cleans up his toys, I can say, "Thank you for picking up your toys. The house looks much cleaner, and now I'm not stepping on toys when I walk through the living room." Or telling Chris, "I really appreciate that you took out the trash tonight. It was starting to bug me that it was overflowing, and you allowed me extra time to answer emails. Now I'm ready for us to spend time together."

Remembering to say thank you also reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for. I've recently started a Gratitude Journal- writing down the little things that I appreciate each day. You know, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, something funny that Jake said, an old favorite song that randomly came up on shuffle. Just thinking about those things makes me feel a little happier, and writing them down gives me something to  reflect back on later as a reminder. It's also a reminder that life is not about being efficient, multi-tasking, and checking things off my to-do list. I need to slow down, look around, appreciate beauty and live in the moment.

5. Practice active listening-
“The first duty of love is to listen.”
-Philosopher Paul Tillich

It's easy to only half listen, especially to my children. I can be so busy trying to do everything at once- cooking dinner while cleaning up the kitchen as I go, or checking my email while letting the kids play in the bathtub- that I don't take the time to really listen to them, while Brody's telling me that he's hungry or Jake's telling me about his day at preschool. And then what happens? That's when they start splashing in the bathtub to get my attention, or arguing over having to share toys. Or Brody starts pulling all of the dirty dishes out of the dishwasher and throwing them on the floor. It's a reminder for me to stop what I am doing, and come down to their level. To listen to their words and observe their body language. To "listen" for feelings and reflect them back ("Wow, it sounds like you were feeling really frustrated about that."). To ask for clarification, and show empathy. And to figure out what it is that they are really trying to express- whether it's a need for connection (my attention), independence (he wanted to be able to do that himself), or choice (he wanted to eat something else for dinner). Sometimes, especially when my kids are having conflicts with one another, it's easy to quickly skip to trying to "solve" their problems, when sometimes all they really need is for me to listen while they express emotions. Instead, I should be trying to do a better job of asking questions and encouraging them to talk. It's amazing how competent they can already be in solving their own problems.

Active listening is something that I need to do better in my marriage as well. Chris doesn't often talk about how he's feeling or what's going on at work. Usually, he says that he has too much stress at work and he just wants to forget about it by the time he gets home. But, there are times when he's grumpy and I know that he's thinking about work. And I've also noticed that I go into "problem solving mode" the infrequent times that he does talk to me about work. I really just mean to be helpful, but it's quite presumptuous of me to imply that I could solve his work problems. And I think what he really needs is just to be heard, to "get it off his chest." I need to remember that active listening is not about solving problems for someone else, but just about hearing the other person and reflecting back their feelings.

6. Get outside everyday-
"Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees."
-Poet Karle Wilson Baker

Maybe some people are happy to stay home all day in their pajamas, but I have come to realize that I am not one of those people. Since I am not working much, it would be quite possible for me to stay at home almost the entire day (until picking Jake up from preschool). But it doesn't put me in a very good mood, and I find myself running errands just to get out of the house some days. What I've recently realized though, is that it can really improve my outlook to get outside and spend a little time in nature. Walking. Getting some exercise. We live in such a beautiful part of the world, where I can visit the beach, pier, boardwalk, mountains, parks, all within just a short drive. I need to remember to take advantage of the perfect-almost-everyday weather of Los Angeles, and head outdoors.

7. Lighten up-
"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt. Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth."
-Writer Mark Twain

A good way to have more fun is to act more fun. It definitely works with my kids. If I'm laughing, they're laughing- whether we're wrestling and tickling, blowing raspberries, or making funny faces and sounds. Sometimes it's hard to remember to play everyday. Act silly. Play music (loudly) and sing along. Dance. I want to be the mom that plays in the sand, jumps in the puddles, and does cartwheels in the grass. Much has been written about the importance of play in child development, but I think it's just as important in parent development.

8. Do it now-
"One of these days is just a day of the weak."
-Motivational Speaker Greg Hickman

I don't consider myself a big procrastinator. Not that I don't ever put things off until tomorrow, but I do prefer to tackle things on my to-do list sooner rather than later. But there are some things that I just ignore, somehow thinking that they will fix themselves. Like sleep training the baby. He's sleeping better through the night (most nights), but it's still so difficult to get him down to sleep in the first place. And I've been saying forever that it's time to do something about it. But there's always an excuse- he's sick (or seems like he's coming down with something), we have people visiting, or we're about to go out of town. But the reality is, I'm afraid that if we change anything, it will actually get worse for awhile, and I just don't want to deal with losing more sleep (even if it's only temporary). He's now 15 months old, and if we had started sleep training months ago, this would be a non-issue, and we would have saved so many more hours of sleep for him and ourselves in the long run.

Another example: the curtain rod. The walls of our house are made out of plaster. Which, it turns out, is very crumbly. When we screw something into the wall, we have to use anchors to make it actually stay, and even that doesn't always work well. We have a curtain rod in our extra room that is starting to sag. It's just not well anchored into the wall. To the extent that, if one of the kids yanked on the curtain, the whole rod would probably fall down on his head. And almost everyday, I see this and it annoys me. But it's been weeks, and still I have not gotten around to fixing it. The problem is that I'm not entirely sure how I'll fix it, without removing the whole thing and drilling new holes in different places. If I had just taken care of it weeks ago, it would no longer be an issue, but instead, it's something that bugs me almost every day.

One website that I have found very helpful is, a site that offers support and advice for decluttering, establishing better habits and routines, and maintaining a tidier home, especially for people living in "CHAOS" (can't have anyone over syndrome). Sometimes, the task seems too overwhelming, and those of us that are perfectionists don't ever both to start since we know we won't have the time to do the task to our standards. FlyLady encourages "babysteps" to start slowly and establish new routines. She also maintains that you can do anything for 15 minutes, so set a timer to get started, and when the timer goes off you stop, even if you didn't finish the task. In all likelihood, you'll realize that there's a lot that you can accomplish in a short amount of time, and even if it's not perfect, at least there is progress. Perfectionism leads to procrastination, and there's no time like the present to get started.

9. Get enough sleep-
"Sometimes the most productive thing one can do is to sleep.”

Most adults don't get as much sleep as they need on a daily basis, and numerous studies have highlighted the health problems associated with a lack of sleep. (See a recent post from my friend Vince which discusses the importance of sleep.) A study from the University of Michigan found that getting more sleep can also improve your happiness. “Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night,” according to study author Norbert Schwarz, PhD. Almost anything is easier when you've gotten enough sleep- including practicing active listening, being playful, or tackling an unpleasant project. My difficulty is in getting myself to go to bed at a decent time. I can be yawning and ready for sleep at 7:00, while I'm getting the kids ready for bed. But later, my second wind comes, and I don't want to go to bed.  It's hard to give up that time of night when the kids are asleep, and I can choose for myself anything that I want to do, uninterrupted. But I definitely pay for it the next day.

10. Choose happiness-
“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
-Novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Yes, I realize that I kind of already covered this in my first commandment, "Act how I want to feel." But I think it's the most important one, so it's worth putting it out there again. And, I like that it rounds out the list for a nice, even 10 Personal Commandments. Even if I forget all the others, I just need to remember to "Choose Happiness."