Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

It's no secret, I love Christmas. I love the spirit of the season, I love the decorations, I love the tree, the shopping, the baking, the celebrating, the love shared among family and friends, and I especially love the traditions.

My very favorite Christmas memories are those magical years back on Cohocton Place when everything was just right. When thinking back to what made Christmas, well, Christmas I think about the traditions that we had as a family. Other than receiving the JC Penney Wish Book in the mailbox and dog-earing every single page so that I might start crafting my letter to Santa and my wish list for my mom and dad, I don't remember much before Christmas Eve. As a family, we spent the day cooking, cleaning, and preparing for a house full of family and friends (in between we'd squeeze in a trip to the store with dad to finish up his last minute shopping...). Evening would come and our house would be buzzing with people. My mom hosted an open house every Christmas Eve and it was this that really made the holiday for me. I got to see most of my cousins, neighbors, and lots of family friends. We exchanged gifts, ate far too many cookies, and got to spend time with each other sometimes for the only time that year. Sometime during that night, Santa would swing by and hang for a little bit on his way around the world.

The party would wrap up, we'd clean up, and I'd shuffle off to bed so that Santa could return and leave our presents under the tree. As a child I was pretty frightened of the idea of a strange man entering my home, no matter how generous he might be. Because of that fear, I always slept on the floor of my brother's room on Christmas Eve....even up until 5 or so years ago. We'd wake up at some ridiculous 4am....and we were allowed to go and get our stockings from the fireplace and open them together. Of course, this was my parents' brilliant plan to keep me from jumping on their bed before dawn. It was pretty awesome.

Christmas morning we were up bright and early, presents open, hung around a bit, and then jumped in the car to head to the Tonks Family Christmas dinner. It was like Christmas Eve all over again! More food, more family, more presents, and more fun. I remember getting back in the car after our time at my aunt and uncle's house and just being so depressed that it was all over.

I can't remember exactly when everything changed but sometime in the last 5 or so years our Christmas routine stopped being routine. Cousins moved, aunts and uncles relocated, marriages, babies, and so on all started re-crafting what Christmas meant. I'm not going to lie, it took me a couple of years to be okay with it and I'm still not completely there but this year I'm able to reminisce and be nostalgic for years past while appreciating the present and all of the great things to come.

This Christmas is the first in my life that I did not travel home for the holidays and I've been surprisingly okay with it. Maybe it's because being away from home makes the absence of those old traditions less difficult and maybe it's because I'm so excited to be celebrating Christmas with my husband for the first time. Don't get me wrong, I wish my brother and his family were here and I miss the family and friends I won't get to see this holiday season but I know it'll only be a short time until I will get to hug them and wish them well in the new year. Tonight, Christmas Eve, my husband and I hung out with my parents and watched football, baked cookies, and had a great dinner of make-your-own pizza, salad, and a Rocky marathon. We'll get up tomorrow, have a delicious breakfast (recipe here..), open some presents, go pick up Parker, and get ready for a houseful of Phil's family. It's the first time in several years that I'm excited for some new traditions and that this has truly felt like Christmas. For that I am thankful.

Here's to a very merry Christmas to you and your family and to all of the traditions, both new and old, that make your holidays special!

True Confessions

Over the last couple of weeks I've had an epiphany of sorts. When you really boil it down, blogging is a lot like working out. It requires routine, discipline, practice, goals, and so on. The longer you go between visits to the gym, the harder it is to get back in the door. Other things creep in and take the place of that time that you set aside for your workout and it's almost embarrassing to face all of those people who you "abandoned" over the course of your hiatus. The same is true for the length of time in between posts. Blogging gets put on the back burner during the busy-ness of life and then it's almost embarrassing to return and admit to your followers that you really slacked off.

During the last couple of weeks I've been caught up in all of the fun celebration and excitement of the holiday season. My husband and I are celebrating our first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. and it's the first time in my life that I've not traveled home for the holidays. We are hosting my parents and many of my husband's family members at our place for Christmas dinner. There have been holiday parties, engagement celebrations, hockey games, Pinterest projects, shopping, and so on and all of that has swooped in and taken the place of my typical gym and writing routine.

So to confess, I've slipped off the wagon and I'm getting back on by first getting back into my writing routine and then getting back into the swing of things at the gym and with my diet (after Christmas, of course!). I hope that you'll continue to follow along!

Until next time...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A matter of convenience

It's all work and no play, right? Well how the heck does that leave any time for planning and packing healthy meals and snacks? The fast food industry didn't get rich just because. It's just so hard to plan ahead accurately and it feels like there's barely enough time in each day to get all of the "must-do" list done, let alone plan and prepare food for the next day.

One of my favorite Sunday activities is planning meals and grocery shopping for the rest of the week - I know, call me crazy. However, no matter how carefully I plan it's the execution that I always screw up. I'm too tired one night to pack lunch for the next day and I run out of the house, lunch money in hand. I forget that I've got a late event at work that doesn't allow me to get home until after 8pm. I mean, who wants to start cooking and then clean up the kitchen after 8pm? A last-minute invitation to do something out with friends derails our at-home dinner plans. The deck is not stacked in our favor.

So what do we do? I'm certainly no expert but I've got a few strategies that I've employed in the last couple of weeks and they seem to be working for now. Take a look and see what you can try and add things that work for your and your family as well!

1. Only plan dinners for 3 nights. I know that sounds ridiculous. That doesn't mean that we only eat at home 3 out of 7 nights each week.We typically eat out twice a week. Planning for 3 nights allows for at least one night of leftovers and another night to raid the pantry and/or fridge and create an "unplanned" dinner of stuff that needs to be used up. This has drastically reduced the amount of food waste we create (i.e. food that has gone bad because planned meals have gone uncooked and uneaten) and has freed up space in our refrigerator.

2. Pull out the crockpot on Sunday. My husband makes fun of my slow-cooker obsession but I just can't get over how easy it is to make a huge meal in the crockpot with barely much thought or work. It means that we always have a tasty hot meal at home on Sunday night and then the leftoevers can be a part of the week's meal plan or can be packed for lunches. Bonus: you can freeze meals for much-later convenience.

3. "Baked" potatoes/sweet potatoes. I distinctly remember a conversation with my husband after a couple of weeks of me creating new and exciting meals from a number of different recipes, cookbooks, food network shows, etc. It was simple. He made the statement, "you know, we could just eat a piece of chicken and a potato every once and awhile." At first, I was offended. Then I realized how right he was. Why was I trying to be inventive every night? It was stressful and time consuming...and oftentimes expensive. Now, at least half of our meals contain a protein, salad, and a potato. It's usually a sweet potato for the added nutritional bonus (which you can...and more about in the Reader's Digest article here.). It's so stinking easy. I take a sweet potato, wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap, and stick it in the microwave for about 7 minutes. BAM, done. In the meantime, I am fixing whatever else our dinner encompasses and dinner's done in 10 minutes.
Side note: Same prep idea can be used with really any vegetable. I have a very picky spouse who is basically allergic to anything green. I prefer not to make multiple options with dinner so I go with a compromise and that's usually a sweet potato and salad.

4. Bake multiple pieces of chicken, pork, beef, etc. Our favorite is taking a pack of chicken, putting all of the meat in a baking dish, covering with a jar of salsa, and baking in the oven on 350 for up to an hour depending on your oven. We eat two meals (one can be lunch) off of one pack of chicken and it's delicious. You can use the same strategy with pork, beef, fish, tofu...whatever floats your boat.

5. Rice. When in doubt, put it over some brown rice. That's what I do with many of our leftovers. Chicken and broccoli with a potato on Monday night? How about chicken and broccoli with soy sauce (or any other ideas for "saucing" it up) over brown rice on Wednesday night?

How do you plan ahead without going crazy? I'd love to hear your solutions and ideas!

Until next time..

Saturday, December 3, 2011

One of those weeks

Have you ever had just one of those weeks? You know the kind. When you're grumpy about everything and you really don't feel great about anything. Yeah, well this week was one of those and because of that, I really neglected you all.

Nothing felt like it was working or going right this week. Work was frustrating for no good reason, I felt like no matter how much I worked out or paid attention to what I was eating my clothes still felt tight and icky, my husband and I were too busy to hang out with each other, the house was (and still is) a wreck, there's no food in the house and we ate every meal out, I haven't done any writing since Monday and on and on.

I guess the most important things on days/weeks like this is to not mope around, eat crappy food, and lounge on the couch. A good morning at the gym (like today!) gets those feel-good endorphins going and taking a few hours to straighten up and get things right will make everything fall into place. Because when you really look at it, I'm a lucky lady and I don't have much to feel grumpy about. It's time to pick it up, look around, and smile about all of my blessings.

So it's getting back on track and staying motivated to live well that's got my focus now. Next time you have one of those days remember, it's okay. Just don't let it linger long enough to derail all of the good work you're doing!

Until next time...