Monday, July 30, 2012

Prepping for Back to Schoo/Work: Routines

So as I may have mentioned before/is viewable in that little profile blurb to the left -->, I'm a teacher. More specifically, a high school English teacher. All teachers would probably agree with me that a major component of classroom organization is ROUTINE. Kids love routines - even older kids that don't like to be called kids, a.k.a. teenagers. Heck, it's human nature to prefer routine - there's comfort in familiarity and the expected, and it makes life easier to know what to do in certain situations.

Love this, but didn't make it. Fitting, though.
That said, I've never been great at establishing routines outside of the classroom. Or, I guess I should say I've never been good at establishing EFFECTIVE routines. I routinely wait until the last minute to do things or hit the snooze button - so it's not like I don't have routines, they're just routines I don't want. ;p There's some dysfunction in my personality that rebels against the idea of HAVING to do things; it drives me nuts, and at the same time I'm like "UUUUGH DON'T WANNA." Now I'm trying to be better.

Since I'm a grown-@$$ woman and need to get my shtuff in order, I've been trying to get used to a morning routine. I'm currently working at a camp for international students, and I teach ESL in the mornings, so it's similar to the scholastic setting to which I'll return in about 3 weeks. (In other news, HOLY CRAP I ONLY HAVE 3 MORE WEEKS TO PREPARE.) So I've been trying to create a routine in the mornings that I can work with, and get used to it for the next 3 weeks so I can ease into the school year, rather than it be a big ol' shock, y'know? The first weeks of school are always tough when you're getting used to the routine again, so the easier I can make it on myself, the better.

This is the morning routine I'm trying to establish:
  • Wake up, 10-minute workout (yes, just 10 minutes - I'm easing myself into it)
  • shower, hair and make-up done
  • make and eat breakfast
  • take Daisy out for a nice walk (about 20 minutes)
I've been getting up about 2 hours before I need to leave for work for this routine... it's way more time than I need, but I like it because I don't have to rush. Which, when I leave for work at 8:30, isn't so early... but in 3 weeks, I'll be leaving for work at 6:30. Getting up 2 hours earlier, which would be 4:30... yeah, I don't know. Might need to work it into 1.5 hours earlier. Probably could save myself some time by jumping out of bed, not dilly-dallying on my phone trying to wake up.

So far, I've managed all but the workouts. Heh. I need to work on that, obviously - so that's my focus this week; the idea is to get 3 separate 10-minute workouts of decent intensity done morning, noon, and late afternoon (like when I get home from work). Eventually, I'd like to up the workouts to 20 minutes. It's not a vanity thing - it's literally doctor's orders... but I've never been one to workout for the sake of working out, which is why I'm trying to do it in short spurts. (Unless I find a class I like, then on days I take an exercise class I'll excuse myself from the other workouts as long as it's equivalent to the time I'd normally workout.) Again, though, this is why I've given myself some time to establish this routine - the more habitual it is when school starts, the less problematic it will be to keep it up, hopefully.

The other routine I'd like to establish is a kitchen-related one. First is that I want to prep my lunch at the same time I'm making dinner, like get dinner in the oven/prolonged cooking time, and in the in-between time, prep whatever I need for lunch the next day so it's ready to grab and go in the morning. I would also like to take that in-between time, or after eating time, to do the dishes. I have good weeks and bad weeks of doing the dishes daily, but I also hate the dishes piling up. They still DO, but man do I hate it. ;p

The biggest thing I'm fighting here is myself and that natural reluctance do things that I HAVE to do, or that I'm EXPECTED to do; I'm not normally a rebellious person, but basic housekeeping/chores has always been something I've fought. Yet I prefer living in a cleaner house and having life be a little easier, so I need to do little things throughout the week rather than big overhauling things once in a while, which is more exhausting and frustrating. Right? Right.

Makes perfect sense, and yet I still drag my feet kicking and screaming. I am noticing a little less kicking and screaming, though. Maybe I'm finally growing up!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Prepping for Back to School/Work: Food

So one thing I've been struggling with for years is my "chore" of cooking dinner. We've gotten better about limiting our buying of meals instead of cooking, but that's partly been because I've been home more often to cook. Even then, I still stick to fairly simple meals; I like to cook (and certainly LOVE to eat), but I'm not a huge fan of super-complicated cooking most of the time. Sometimes the prep is worth it, obviously, but usually I'd rather pay other people to do it. ;D

So what does a gal do when she's the only one in the family who can make food taste good, but she's got a 2-hour commute and an 8+-hour a day job?

Plan, prep in advance, and cut yourself some slack.

Here's how I usually deal with cooking during the week; It's not always consistent, but for the most part this strategy works well for us.

Sunday: A slow-cooker meal; I'll usually make a big recipe and freeze the leftovers for a future Monday meal
Monday: an easy pre-made meal, either from our own frozen leftovers or frozen dinners from the store, like orange chicken and brown rice & veggies from Trader Joe's. Basic heat n' eats, because Mondays are exhausting enough on their own.
Tuesday-Thursday: Simple-to-prepare meals, usually a protein and vegetable (maybe some carbs if I've been good). If I'm especially organized
Friday & Saturday: Free days - since we usually have plans on the weekend, it's just easier to assume we won't be eating at home; since we eat home the rest of the week, we budget for it. Plus, usually one of those meals is at a friend's house, so we only have to pay for something to share with our friends.

What I NEED to work on is making my breakfasts and lunches while also cooking dinner - that way, I don't have to wake up earlier or starve/spend money. It's a habit I need to work on - usually there's enough time between when I start cooking to when the food is done that I could easily get my food for the next day done as well, so I plan to start doing that. Of course, I plan to work out and eat more veggies, but the plan takes a while to come to fruition - although the veggies are happening more often!

The point is, I'm trying to figure out ways to make my life easier while also meeting our basic needs - but in a cost-effective manner. It's a balancing act of convenience, responsibility, and budget. It's worth it to spend a little money for ease on the weekend IF we've been good the rest of the week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yay/Boos: 4th of July edition

On my locked-up previous personal online journal, I used to do what I called "Yay/Boos", which was listing the latest going on in my life and ranking them as either good things (Yay) or bad (Boo). Yes, I know, fairly obvious ranking system - I over-explain. Here we go!
  • Yay! My life is busy again - with purpose! I have work stuff that needs to be accomplished, which makes me excited about the future while also feeling like I have self-worth. 
  • Boo. Unfortunately, my ridiculousness likes to manifest itself in procrastination, which means I get a little bit done every day, but not as much as I should. I also have been using "work" as my excuse to not work on the around-the-home projects I wanted to complete this summer. The only thing preventing me from doing both are my own lame excuses and feeling the "need" (not a need at all) of relaxing before work kicks in around mid-August. No one to blame but myself for these setbacks.
  • Yay! I just got a mild kick-in-the-butt to get some stuff done NOW, as I've been given a deadline of sorts that will force me to work. I needed it - I procrastinate, but I work well on deadlines. 
  • Boo. Deadlines and work stuff resulted in my having to bow out of a project that I'd committed to previously. My reasons for bowing out were legitimate, but I shouldn't have agreed to doing it in the first place. I upset someone, which as a natural people-pleaser I hate doing, but I have to own that they have a right to be upset and I also have to own that I did, in fact, screw up a little on this one. 
  • Yay! 4th of July-related: our friends the S's hosted a BBQ that was really fun. We really like our local circle of friends, and the location of the S's house is remote enough that we were actually able to watch several different firework shows, then play with our own (legal) fireworks while we listened to a (very well-selected) playlist at loud volume without disturbing any neighbors - it's that remote, haha. It was such a great night. Lots of laughs, good food, good times!
  • Boo. It got chilly when it got dark, so brilliant me thought it'd be a good idea to have a small cup of coffee to help keep warm. I'm still awake about 3 hours later. I really need to fully quit the caffeine and never partake of it again. 
  • Yay! A portion of the BBQ was also spent discussing our upcoming camping weekend. I'm so excited for it - I haven't been camping since I was in high school (not counting actual summer camps - those don't count since you have a bed ;D). I'm not exactly an outdoorsy type, but I do enjoy hanging out outdoors, and the basic hanging out outdoors. It's the hiking that doesn't appeal to me as much (well, super-lengthy ones, and only because I'm out of shape). 
  • Yay! I had to make fruit salad for the BBQ today, and even buying the "cheap" fruit resorted in a ton of leftovers that didn't even go in the (very large) salad. The salad was completely gone by the end of the BBQ, so now I have tons of delicious extra fruit for snacking but not in an overwhelming amount! (Small related side-boo: the store I went to didn't have blueberries, and I bought the yellow necatrines instead of the white ones, therefore not making my "Red White and Blue fruit salad" idea. But it's nitpicking, really.)
  • Boo. Came home, people are being morons on the internet (not directed at me, thankfully), and it made me have anger feels. I didn't troll or anything, but it still annoyed me. 
  • Yay! I had some fun craft inspirations recently, and it makes me want to get to craftin'. I haven't had true crafting motivation in a while, so it's nice to have it again. 
On that note, I have some list-making to do for the next few days, so I'm going to do that.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What Works For Me: Learning to Love My Veggies

Ok, so here's the thing.

As I've mentioned before, I have to change my eating habits for health reasons - mainly working on cutting out the unhealthy carbs, which are basically all the white (and DELICIOUS) ones. Ideally, I'm aiming to eat as few carbs as possible at dinner (so I'm eating the healthy carbs during the day, when I'm more likely to burn off energy), which means I need to sub those carb-y side dishes that I'm used to with vegetables.

The "problem" (because, let's be honest, if it ain't famine, homelessness, or warfare, it ain't really a problem) is that The Hubs and I are semi-finicky eaters and only like certain veggies. Actually, I am semi-finicky while The Hubs is FINICKY. I have reliable veggies that I like - salad greens and spinach, cucumbers, celery, carrots (raw only), broccoli, green beans,artichokes, cauliflower, and asparagus... that's about it. Some of those veggies The Hubs will eat, and even then he'll only eat them certain ways (like the carrots have to be cooked, and he only likes asparagus if it's roasted). I'll try veggies that I didn't like previously to see if my tastes have changed (because sometimes they have), but it's rare that they change, and The Hubs is even more resistant to changes. For the most part, though, I either steam them or eat a salad. I esp. enjoy lunch salads (I'm so trying the mason jar salads when work starts back up... Mmmm!)

That said, if we're going to eat veggies as our main side at dinner, I'd like to find some decent variations on them. Here's some methods I've tried so far, and recipes I've found that I'm planning to try!

  • Pureed - Works like a charm so far, but I've only tried it in stuff that's sauce-based. But, I mean, seriously, in the veggie meat sauce I made, the veggies are all so minute that I can eat vegetables in which I hate their texture - like peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes! I'm trying this trick next with a Jambalaya recipe that is otherwise delicious-looking except for the peppers and tomatoes that are only chopped - they will be pureed to be easier to "choke down" for Mr. and Mrs. Finicky.
    See? You can't even SEE all those veggies - and it is LOADED with them!
  • Roasted - So far I've only tried this with veggies I already like, with one exception - my friends the P's had us over a few years ago for Xmas Eve dinner, and they made roasted brussel sprouts. I hesitated at first, because I'm not a huge cabbage fan, and the only way my folks made them was boiled (and they smelled AWFUL). But I tried them, and they were DELICIOUS. Of course, I haven't had them since, but I have a recipe "pinned" on Pinterest to try. Basically, I want them as crispy as possible. My favorite roasted veggie so far has been roasting broccoli - it tastes like broccoli tempura without all that pesky battering process. YUM. 
  • Grated - if I can get away with grating a version of an "icky" veggie, I will. I tried a recipe for a Thai peanut-style chicken  in the slow-cooker, which was not that great. BUT it called for grated zucchini as part of the recipe, and I'll be darned, you can't taste it. I've also made zucchini pancakes, which was also highly enjoyable. 
Recipes I'm excited to try:
  • Green Monster Spinach Smoothie - it's supposed to taste like a delicious smoothie, and I'm willing to give it a shot because I like spinach raw AND cooked, so I figure with it's mild taste I won't notice it and the texture isn't a problem in the first place. Plus I get a load of vitamins, protein, and fiber in one drink? Um, SOLD. I'll report on how it tastes! If it tastes good and whirs up fast, I'm thinking it'll be a great easy breakfast when I start teaching!
    It borders on disturbingly green, though.
  • Crustless Spinach and feta pie - Hmmm, spinach and cheese. Gee, sounds like a tough choice. I'm thinking this will be great next to some grilled chicken. Mmm. 
  • Vegetable "pasta" - I want to try this because I had a delightful meal at a really nice restaurant in NYC years ago (which I can't remember the name of, except that it was really long and old-sounding and I think it was in the East Village) that was basically the same type of veggie "pasta" with this great tomato sauce, shrimp, and parmesan cheese. I was skeptical that I'd like the veggies, but with the sauce they were great! I figure it's worth another shot. 
  • Zucchini tots - I like this as an alternative to zucchini pancakes, which have a lot of breading. This seems like it'd get more zucchini, less carbs. What a fun side dish to go with burgers - hopefully it'll help me cut off the potatoes. 
  • Mashed cauliflower "potatoes" - I haven't tried these before, but my friends who have say it's worth the effort. I love cauliflower, so I can't really seeing going wrong. Cheesy cauliflower pancakes are worth a shot as well. 
I'm actually excited to try all these new veggie recipes - esp. the smoothie and the "tots"! As you can see, I've got some options to make me eat more veggies, but I'm open to ideas! Please share your favorite ways to prepare veggies, I'm begging you. The simpler the better, 'cuz I'm a lazy cook. ;D


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