Monday, June 30, 2014

Monthly Musings, June 2014

I pulled a Bobby pin from my hair last night that's made for red hair. I have two redheaded friends close by, neither lives with me, nor do they make a habit of styling their hair while they visit (as far as I know). Sometimes, being a woman sort of feels like being at summer camp. #thataintmine
I take my computer home every night, whether I plan to do work or not. I'm convinced that the day I don't, The Buddy will get sick and I'll be stuck with him, unable to be productive.
I'll admit to feeling slightly guilty for the way my house smells after I boil eggs. #itsnottoots
I need a break from doody duty. Forever.
When I'm sleep deprived, my attitude sucks. Like, REALLY sucks.
Tennessee Motto: The phrase "passing lane" means absolutely nothing to us.
I've been really mad at my Internet provider for a while. Cancelling mad. Today, they sent me a $20 gift card for no reason, but I have to remain a customer for 30 days following my request for the gift card to get it. I can stay a bit longer. #20dollaho

While watching me fold his big-boy underwear, The Bud pointed at them, saying, "Mama, a poopin' diaper!" #pottytrainingfail #dammit
There is a woman who sits on her front stoop, smoking a cigarette and playing on her cell phone every time I pass her house, which I do a minimum of 3 times each day. Tonight, she was there at 10:15 pm. One of us needs a hobby. #itsme

For the last 3 days, I've been telling every person I talk to that The Buddy went poop in the potty, instead of on my floor. Everyone. Friends, relatives, co-workers, the poor lady next to me in line at the grocery store... #cantstopwontstop

The Bud inexplicably started calling shadows (from trees, specifically) 'scary monsters' about a month ago. We soothed him and tell him what they were and talk about why trees were good things, but neither of us knew where the fear came from. Recently, I watched an episode of Carebears with him where one of the characters was afraid of monsters, which turned out to be, you guessed it, shadows from tree limbs. Carebears. What's supposed to be the most un-scary show in the world, is scaring my kid. Really, Carebears? Geez...#whocanyoutrust

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

To-Die-For Grilled Chicken Salad + Paleo Double Dark Chocolate Brownies

I used to be an emotional eater. Not in the sense that I would use food to anesthetize emotions or anything, but rather that my meal planning was dependent on the craving of the moment, which meant multiple trips a week to the grocery store to get whatever it was I wanted that day. When asked, "What do you want to eat for dinner?" my standard response was, "Depends on how I feel."

Phenomenal misappropriation of resources. 

Now that I'm doing all of my cooking one day a week, I have to be more deliberate about meal planning and shopping. Sadly, my cravings no longer have a say in the proceedings. Not so sadly, I'm becoming a more efficient grocery shopper and paying more attention to what we really like. If it's a meal that both of us particularly enjoyed, we put it in the regular rotation, meaning it's on the menu on a weekly or biweekly basis, until we get tired of it. The Buddy's verbal communication isn't quite up to speed yet, but his vote still counts. Whatever he will actually eat shows up every week, regardless of if we like it or not. Thank God we all love spaghetti.

From time to time, I'll share some of my faves here on the ol' blog so that you can partake if you're so inclined, and so I'll remember to put it on a note card for later. (We'll see if that actually happens).

To-Die-For Grilled Chicken Salad
I whipped up this salad to use some leftover chicken that we'd grilled. We loved it so much, it's a on our list as a summer time fave!

Yield: 4 Servings
2 lbs chicken breasts (4 large, 6 or 7 small), grilled and diced
1/2 c Newman's Own Italian Dressing
2 stalks of celery, washed and diced
4 green onions, washed and diced
10 red grapes, seeded and sliced in half or quarters
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 c crushed cashews

I typically work with leftovers that have been in the fridge overnight, but if you're doing this from scratch, it'll still work fine. Marinate thawed chicken breasts in italian dressing marinade for a minimum of a half hour (the length of time it takes for me to light a fire in the grill and for the fire to calm down to glowing embers). You don't have to use Newman's Own, but we love it. It's delicious, there's no high-fructose corn syrup and they donate the proceeds from their products to charity. Win-Win-Win. But really, it's up to you. I also think a jerk or tabasco marinade would be yummy, too. Spice it up a bit.

For the uninitiated chicken-cooker, grill breasts 3 to 5 minutes on each , then give them a good poke. If it's done, the flesh should give easily. Also, take a look at the fluid that oozes out. If it's clear, they're done and still juicy. That's what you want. If they still ooze a bit pink, flip them again and cook another 2 minutes on each side. Cool them, dice them and set them aside.

Combine chicken with celery, grapes, green onions, mayonnaise, herbs and cashews. Mix, chill if you prefer, and serve. I serve it on a bed of mixed greens, but it's also great on toast, or with tortilla chips.

Paleo Dark Chocolate Brownies (or as I call them, So Good, Your Head Will Explode). To insure that you completely blow your caloric intake for the day, this little ditty I bit off the blog, Civilized Caveman. There's been a lot of talk about paleo cooking/eating lately and while I personally don't have any medical or moral concerns that keep grains and dairy out of my diet, some of the recipes I've seen make it look like a damned tasty option! We love chocolate, so when I saw this recipe I had to try it. Hope you like it, too, but be careful: grain-free or not, these things are NOT good for you, especially if you do what I did and have them with vanilla ice cream (eek!). Not paleo, but oh, so good!

Yield: 18 (or 1, if you're very motivated)

2 cups of almond butter (can use sun-butter, cashew, macadamia nut butter or a mixture to total 2 cups)
3 eggs
1 c raw, organic honey, melted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 c dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c Enjoy Life chocolate chips, melted (can substitute dark chocolate bar)
1 very ripe banana
Preheat oven to 325 Degrees F. In a standing mixer or large mixing bowl, blend your almond butter and eggs to make a smooth batter. Add the honey and the vanilla and mix well. Add the salt, baking soda, then SLOWLY add in the cocoa powder to avoid getting it all over. Fold in the melted chocolate and banana and mix well. I freeze over-ripe bananas to use in my baking. If you do this, put a frozen banana in a ziplock bag in a bowl of warm water to thaw while you make your mixture. Works well.  
Grease a 13x9 inch baking dish with oil (I use coconut) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.

Monday, June 9, 2014

PWP, Part Deux

I'm now entering the 8th week of my solo-parenting adventure. (yippee!). I haven't been sure if I'd make it at various points but I have, The Buddy is still alive, and W and I are still holding hands. We may be passed out, exhausted at the dinner table while we're doing it, but I still call it success!
Now that I consider myself a war-hardened veteran, I can offer a few more tricks I've learned in the trenches:
#1. Don't start potty training in earnest when one partner is away. In this case, one truly is the loneliest number. You'll spend the week (or whatever your solo interval may be), frustrated, disgusted and repulsed, trying to keep your floors, upholstery and self, dry and poop-free--and your partner, bless them, will not get it. Not because they don't care or aren't invested in the success of this venture, but because they haven't developed the hard, outer shell that you have from all the pee puddles and poop atrocities you've weathered. Nor have they spent hours watching the kid's every move (think guerilla reconnaisance, complete w/camo face paint) getting in tune with what constitutes the kid's "poop face." When they come home, you'll spend as much time training them as you do the toddler. I almost murdered W the time he innocently suggested we put The Bud in a diaper to nap because it would be easier cleanup if he wet the bed. Yeah. And why don't we just undo all the effort I've put in the last two weeks, so you don't have to change one sheet. I've changed all the sheets, buddy. Don't you dare put him in a diaper! Needless to say, he never made that mistake again. It's exhausting and if we hadn't been under the gun to get The Buddy trained by the 1st of August, I never would've attempted it alone.
#2. You can't do all the things. A weekend is only two days long. In our case, Friday or Saturday (or both) will most likely include a gig. Somewhere in there, we have to find time to do house chores, make all our meals for the week, and Sunday is usually packed with church stuff from 7:30 am to 1 pm and we're not even Pentecostal. Maybe we'll sleep and eat in there sometimes, too. For the first few weeks, I planned and fretted over family time and the need to "do something" so I could feel like we were having quality time together. It wore us all out, emotionally and physically. The point of quality time is to make the most of the opportunities you have, not to make the most opportunities, especially when we've got so much other stuff going on. It's better for everyone that I've figured out the difference.
#3. If your situation allows, do all of your cooking for the week at once. I've been doing it for 7 weeks and I might even keep it up after W comes home for good, it's been so helpful. I spend 3 hours making 3 bulk meals--one crockpot, one oven and one stove top--then I let them cool, pack them in single-meal servings and refrigerate or freeze. The only thing I prepare at meal times during the week is a veggie, a salad, fruit or dessert. Dinner is on the table 20 minutes after The Buddy and I get home (the length of one cartoon) and clean up is a cinch.
If that plan doesn't work for you, tweak it as you see fit. Cook an extra couple servings of your favorite meals for a week and freeze them for quick dinners the following week. If you don't care for leftovers, make three meals, then plan a couple of slough meals you don't have to cook, like frozen pizza or takeout if it's in your budget. Try a food swap with a couple other busy friends. Each of you makes a double batch of one easy to freeze meal each week and swaps what you've made with the other two. One set of ingredients, one cooking event, and you get three meals! Or, invest in a crockpot with a timer and start researching yummy meals that require 15 minutes or less of prep, and virtually cook themselves. has a great section of tried-and-true crock pot meals that you can check out. We try to eat almost completely unprocessed whole-food meals and I've never struggled to find yummy recipes that we all love on there. Just type in the ingredients you want to use and go!
#4. Take people up on it when they offer to help you. I struggle with this one, not entirely because I'm a control freak who doesn't like looking needy. I also tend to have tunnel vision when I'm worn out. When I'm running on fumes and someone offers to lend a hand, I can't imagine that they wouldn't feel as weighted down by whatever part of my burden they've offered to lift, as I do. Truly, I don't want to make someone else's life harder in order to get my breather. What I fail to understand in those moments is that those Good Samaritans' resources aren't tapped out like mine are. That's why they can help. Chasing after my 3 year old for an hour, getting the oil changed in my car or doing a load of my laundry (hint, hint) won't affect them the same way it does me when I'm trying to do all those things at once.
Also note: your partner counts as a helper, too. It may seem easier to do it yourself than to explain to them what needs to be done and I get that, but truly, it's not. Would you rather be passively pissed at the Love of Your Life because (s)he is watching TV, blissfully unaware that you're running around taking care of the to-do list in your head, or spend the extra 20 seconds to share that list with them so everything gets done and you're not the only one doing it? You're thinking, it's the principle of the thing, Leida! They see all the stuff there is to do, why should I have to dictate it to them? You may be right, but that ain't gonna help you rest any sooner or make you like your partner any better. I've discovered that W prioritizes rest better than I do (*cough*he's lazy*cough*), but that he is happy to help, if asked. So, I ask. Principles can wait til I'm sitting down, sipping my first glass of wine.
And finally, #5. Take a day off, if you can. This seems like a no-brainer, so I must have no brain because it just occurred to me this week. I have ample vacation days from work, so it's totally ok to take days off in the middle of a work week, send The Bud to daycare and enjoy a Me Day every once in a while. Yes, I'm talking to you. And to me. To all of us who are running on fumes and think vacation days are only for projectile vomiting. Rest is so important, people and we need it! My goal is to get a Me Day scheduled this week.
Who's with me???

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What's A Girl Gotta Do to Get Some Help Around Here?!

Yesterday, I called my Internet provider from my phone and was put on hold with an estimated wait time of greater than 10 minutes, due to "higher than usual call volume." Yeah, right. We all know that means there are only 3 reps answering phones on a call load that requires 7 to 10. Do more with less: the motto of corporations everywhere. 
Normally, faced with that long of a wait, I switch my phone to the 'speaker' setting and settle in for the wait. No big deal, I'm a good multitasker. There's plenty I can do while I wait. Besides, hold music is getting better. It's like listening to my favorite radio station while I chop veggies or fold laundry and I mark an item off my to-do list at the same time.
This time, I was on my way to get my son from daycare, a commute that typically takes 40 minutes in light traffic. I expected my call to last at least 20 min once I was talking to an actual person. Add the unknown variable of a "greater than 10 minute" wait, and I ran the risk of arriving at daycare while still on the phone with a rep. Didn't like them odds (cancellation was on the table, so I also wanted the leverage of time to wait out the inevitable back and forth that would come when I expressed my intent). Besides, once I'm with The Buddy, I prefer--and need--to be able to focus on how his day went with the sitter, then on quality time with him in the few hours we have before bed time.
There may be some who take exception to me talking on the phone while I drive. To you, I say as sweetly as I can muster, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn what you think. I get up early, work all day, then spend 3 hours in the evening with my man-cub. Then I fall asleep. My evening drive to daycare is the single hour each day during business hours when I'm alone, not being paid to do other things, and don't have to worry about someone gargling bleach or jumping off something high and breaking his face if I'm not watching. I use it to make and return phone calls. Got a better method? I still don't care.
Anyway, I digress.
I've suspected for a while that most customer-driven industry holds the new customer as priority one. As a customer, I define myself as, "loyal." I stick with products that work well for me, until they're changed or discontinued. I've used the same cell phone company since I got my first phone in 1999. I don't fall for the bundling promos at the mall, offering me $100 cash and free service for a year if I will switch from A Company to B Company. Not because I don't love a deal, but because I'm not willing to expend the time and effort to make a switch unless I have a legitimate complaint that I have already tried (and failed) to get resolved on at least one occassion. It's my sense of efficiency and fair play at work. That's why I get annoyed when I don't get the best that whatever company I'm working with has to offer. You've seen it: promotional cut-rates of service, free equipment, rebates and other perks are typically available to new customers but almost never to existing customers, regardless of the length of time you've been a customer. I've hung on long holds to discuss an issue with a service provider enough times that I've begun to wonder if my being an existing customer drives how timely the response is to my concerns, too. It makes sense. They always read me the number I call from to verify if it's the one linked to the account, so they know who I am before they talk to me. It stands to reason the phone system can shift me into the "long wait for existing customers" phone queue. I decided to test my theory. While on hold on my phone, I called the same customer service number from another phone not associated with my account to see what would happen.
I held my breath when the automated system engaged, then gave a disbelieving snort when I heard that my estimated wait time was...wait for it...2 minutes. While I was still on hold "for greater than 10 minutes" on my other phone.
The actual wait was less than 30 seconds. And the rep I spoke to was surprised I wasn't calling to set up a new service. Unbelievable. I was pissed enough to play hard ball (relentlessly) on my concern. It took every bit of my 40 minute commute, but I didn't stop until I got exactly what I wanted. A better service package for less money, and a thirty-day out clause if I wasn't completely satisfied with what I was paying for. They deserved it.
I realize that my single experiment doesn't make for good science. I'd need to get the same outcomes on a series of calls during different times of the day/week to prove for sure that this wasn't a fluke, but let's be honest: ain't nobody got time for the scientific method, son! I had to write this post at 3 am because, sadly, that's the only time I'm awake when my son isn't! I'd love to hear about others' experiences if any of you finds time to try the same thing, though. If you do it, shoot me a line and tell me how it went.
I've told you all I know. You're welcome.