1. Eliminate credit card debt. Done. With a balance transfer about to start accruing interest, we decided the best thing we could do was use some of our savings to pay off the remaining debt.
2. Take action every week. I kept this up for a couple of months, but like many, I lost steam.
3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.
Good enough! We didn’t finish the list, but we kept the book club going all year, so I’m going to treat this one as a success.
4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule. I managed the conferences, but didn’t manage much else. I have a couple of things that I want to work on this year, so maybe I’ll rededicate myself to this one in 2018.
6. PR at any distance. DONE. I blew away my 5K time in Champaign in April. I had hoped to PR in the half, but considering how hard I’d run the night before, I was totally fine with just finishing.
7. More regular visits with family. Done. The kid absolutely will not nap when we’re out in Rockford, so since he’s doing better with car naps (and in the car generally), we were able to make more day trips happen.
8. At least two blog posts/month. Technically done. By the numbers, this was a success, though posting dropped off pretty significantly after the beginning of the year.
10. Make time for monthly dates. Monthly dates didn’t happen, but we did manage some child-free time about every other month. In 2018, I would love for us to GET AWAY! OVERNIGHT! WITH NO CHILD! but that continues to be a tall order.
While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:
The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.
Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.
Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.
Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff. This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.
Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.
Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.
Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.
I haven’t kept up with the things I’ve been meaning to keep up with here. For example:
The new recipes we tried in May and June through the haze and hubbub of downsizing, moving, unpacking, and conference travel.
The races I ran back in April
The toddler’s latest obsessions
The books I’ve been reading (because I’ve actually been reading!)
I don’t have time or head/heart-space to do most of this justice right now, but I can do a quick mid-year check in on my 2017 resolutions:
Eliminate credit card debt.
Done. We hit our savings back in February to make this happen, and have been paying off balances each month. We’re still using our cards more than I would like, and are repaying our savings more slowly as a result, but we’re making it happen (and earning some travel points along the way).
Take action every week.
No, and I feel terribly guilty about that. At some point the many-times-daily asks for money overwhelmed me, and lacking an immediate way to prioritize, I shut down. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things.
Finish Brain Pickings book club list. This has been so much fun so far! I don’t expect that we’ll read all 16 books, but that’s just fine with me.
Incorporate professional development into my schedule.
I’ve gone to conferences, but that’s about it.
We’re in the final throes of night weaning right now. We had planned to do this months ago, but it didn’t happen, and then we were moving and didn’t push it, and then it sort of organically happened around my work trip. Progress!
PR at any distance. I destroyed my 5K PR back in April, then ran a painful half marathon the next morning. A PR at both distances was within reach, but I have no regrets about letting the second one go because the first one was so huge for me!
More regular visits with family.
This one is happening! We’ve seen my family about once/month, including a trip to Iowa for my grandma’s 99th birthday in May.
At least two blog posts/month.
I managed to keep up with this until last month. Not bad!
Try at least four new recipes/month. We’re still doing relatively well at this one. My parents gifted us with a Blue Apron gift certificate to help take some hassle out of moving meals, so that’s been a nice infusion of ideas. (We have free meal codes if anyone wants to try the service.)
Make time for monthly dates.
Thanks to the extreme generosity of our friends and my mom, we’ve been able to go out a few times, though definitely not every month. It’s progress!
I woke up this morning sick as shit. I don’t know where it came from, but it felt a little like several essential parts of my body got together and decided to put me in time out. You’ve been doing too much, they said, and it’s time to stop. I ignored the message for a while, but when I looked in the mirror at work and didn’t really recognize myself, it was time to go home. I took photos with my phone to prove the point; when I checked just now, they’re not there.
Last night Erin and I saw David Byrne and St Vincent at the Chicago Theater. We both had to temper our slight disappointment with the knowledge that this was David Byrne AND St Vincent, not Talking Heads. But the sound was fantastic and Chicago got on its feet and danced, and when they closed with Road to Nowhere, it was like something out of an old revival, hands in the air, voices united.
I’ve fallen into that city-dwelling habit of eating out too often while observing evolution in action in my crisper. Every couple of weeks, I buy a bag of produce from Edible Alchemy and dream big dreams about what I’m going to make – and then I devour the fruit while letting the zucchinis go soft, the potatoes grow eyes, the onions shed their dusty skins.
A week submerged in The Diaries of Anais Nin. I’m not sure that I can neatly summarize it. It’s been a complicated, emotional year, and so many of the things she described resonated with my experience while also being completely foreign to me. Perhaps this, from November 1933:
Allendy took pains to delineate my character, my true nature, my human attitudes, but it was by a process of oversimplification. The mold into which he tried to fit me came to a climax the day he suggested I should take love more lightly, give it less importance, to evade tragedy. That I should take a playful attitude towards it. It should be sweet and casual, easygoing and interchangeable…This was the natural conclusion to the formation of my human self, to normalcy; and if he was right about overcoming tragedy, par contre, he overlooked the deeper cravings of an artist, for whom deep full love is the only possible form, no simmering life but a boiling one, no small compromise with reality.
Fall has arrived right on schedule. Last night the thermostat dipped low. It is 6:45pm in my living room, and my space is illuminated more by my laptop than by the waning sunlight. Laurie said that we’re losing 2 minutes of daylight each day. But still the ice cream truck sits on the corner, and I dream of swimming in the lake and of all of the summer things that didn’t happen amidst all that did.
Six months in Chicago, and Jeremy said that it sounds like I’m home. Two and a half years in Ann Arbor. Two years in DC. A year each at MPub and Kresge, two years at Gelman. Five years in this goddamned profession. Six years in a relationship, seven months out. I love Chicago. Chicago exhausts me. I’m envious of friends who have recently moved to quieter places. I worry that my life here will burn me out. I don’t know.
St. Patrick’s Day was epic this year, but not in the ways that it tends to be epic, at least in a college town. My housemates had invited people over for brunch, but many of them didn’t come, and so we found ourselves with a number of bottles of champagne, a gallon of orange juice, and a whole lot of leftover bacon and waffles on a 75 degree day in the middle of March. I sat on the porch and wrote letters. Chris took a conference call. Rachel played video games. The two of them spun poi while I sat on the sidewalk and took photos. We drank all of the champagne, texted Kat to come home, ended up in a cuddle pile on the couch with the dog and the cat. The next day, Chris emailed me to say:
Seriously, you’re amazing. I’m glad you’re in our lives, regardless of how short the waltz. Keep saying yes, yes, yes to drunken nights and beautiful people.
I’ve taken that to heart in the months since, and have been saying an emphatic yes as often as possible. This has included:
Yes to a movie on an impossibly hot day. And so I saw The Cabin in the Woods, which I would’ve never seen otherwise but really enjoyed – and had the occasion to go to the gorgeous Logan Theater for the first time in very good company. The same thing would happen later in the summer with Your Sister’s Sister (at the State with Shana and Javan) and The Hunger Games (at the Logan with Carrie).
Yes to seeing the jellyfish at the Shedd with Karina and her adorable cousin, who later listed ‘meeting Elizabeth’ among her favorite parts of her weekend in Chicago.
Yes to fancy lady sleepovers where we lounge around in vintage slips with martinis and ridiculous movies. These weekends at the Uptown Beach House were some of the highlights of the summer.
Yes to biking around the city to meet friends for cocktails – and hopefully much more of this to come now that Orange and I are back together.
Yes to going to shows. I don’t care who it is. And so I saw Café Tacvba with Karina and had a great time even though I speak basically no Spanish and even though someone dropped a beer on my head. And I saw Cameron McGill with Carl for the first time in ages, and experienced an intense – and intensely wonderful – flashback to 2005. And I went to Lollapalooza as Karen’s +1 and we wandered the grounds and saw some music but mostly just enjoyed the free drinks and the beautiful day.
Yes to borrowing books and long bike rides and neighborhood walks and free ice cream from sympathetic vendors.
Yes to nights out when my bad mood made me inclined to stay in (thanks, Annette).
The author takes on the following Slow topics: The Age of Rage and Do Everything Faster situate the Slow movement in opposition to our increasingly mechanized, routinized, and optimized lives. He points the finger at Ford and Taylor for pushing us in the direction of ‘time sickness’, and quotes Milan Kundera: “Our period is obsessed with the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered, that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out that tiny trembling flame of memory.”
Slow Is Beautiful then introduces the Slow movement and its proponents: individuals, groups, and societies that are exploring different ways of living, finding precedents in the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, and the Arts & Crafts movement, among other, more contemporary examples. I think it was around this point – 50 pages in – when the capitalization of Slow started to wear on me.
Food: Turning the Tables on Speed: A lot of knowing nods while reading this chapter. We all lived in Ann Arbor, the Portlandia of the Midwest. We knew about or were involved with SELMA. We went to the farmers’ market. We had or dreamt of having gardens. We prayed at the great altar of good food. We know and value this stuff, but I’m willing to bet you rolled your eyes at least once.
Cities: Blending Old and New: In lieu of discussing this chapter on new approaches to urban planning that favor pedestrians, mixed use spaces, and the ever popular ‘third place’, I present a Talking Heads interlude:
Mind/Body: Mens Sana In Corpore Sano: meditation, yoga, SuperSlow weight lifting, and other physical activities that join mind and body in deliberate, slow motion. I read this chapter while completely zoned out after 90 minutes of aggressive exfoliation and massage at King Spa. My mind and body were totally disconnected, and I couldn’t have been happier, though had I put this book down at this point, I might have, in fact, been happier in the long run.
Medicine: Doctors and Patients: anyone who has spent any time utilizing the American health system could have written at least half of this chapter. Every week for the last two months, I have spent three hours at the orthopedist’s office. Of those 180 minutes, 5 each were spent with the x-ray technician, the nurse practitioner who took my vitals, and the doctor who told me that everything was basically the same as the previous week. Slightly more time was spent with the person who applied and removed my cast(s). And this doesn’t reflect the amount of time spent on the phone with the incompetent practice of my primary care doctor, as each visit to the approved specialist requires a separate referral. When you’re working with a system built on billable hours, usual and customary charges, and enormous malpractice premiums, it’s hard to see any other way out. Also homeopathy and alternative medicine are cool.
Sex: A Lover with a Slow Hand: did you know that Sting is into Tantric sex? And that you can have better sex if you actually communicate with your partner and try to understand his/her body and desires? And I quote, “It was a revelation. I really had no idea that there was another approach to sex that was about giving time to each other, about bringing your head and your heart completely into the sexual relationship.” Whaaaaat.
Work:The Benefits of Working Less Hard: After decrying the recommendations of Taylor etc, the author then advocates working smarter, not harder, and more efficient rather than longer hours. Hmm. I’m also reading Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek, which makes the same, albeit considerably more self-satisfied, argument.
Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest: we work too hard, and we play even harder. I’m guilty of the latter, if not always the former. Slow activities like knitting and gardening and reading books can help. I was fascinated by the part about how contemporary performers play classical music too quickly, but it quickly devolved from there into high-art Slow Music concepts. Moving on.
Children:Raising an Unhurried Child: None of us currently have children, and I don’t know if any of us are planning to procreate, so our responses to this chapter will likely be more smug than those of actual parents – however, I agree that like adults, kids today are too damned busy. However, childhood is a relatively ahistorical phenomenon, so while we may have fond memories of endless summer days riding bikes with our friends instead of studying languages and being ferried to volunteer gigs to build our college application profiles, it really isn’t that long ago that we would’ve all been working in the factory or on the family farm. So what’s the happy medium?
There’s a lot to be said for the Slow movement. I feel like this summer has been a constant, unrelenting reminder to slow down, to be intentional, to make connections, to live simply. But the people who need that advice probably aren’t going to indulge in 300-or-so self-satisfied pages of case studies of couples who have slowed down – and those who don’t probably don’t also need another reason to pat themselves on the collective back.
My friend Amber has posted about the Coupon Mom strategy for coupon savings, which involves things like maximizing your savings with store membership programs and planning your shopping around matching days. Amber’s tried this approach, and while she was able to save money, she also found that in order to really work the program, you end up buying a lot of processed stuff that she – and I – doesn’t really want to eat.
One of my problems with coupons is that they rarely apply to non-processed foods. Why aren’t there coupons for milk? Apples? I suppose that’s what the weekly circulars are for – tracking the store that has the best price on these staples. But you know what? I have neither the time nor the energy to drive all over town to save less than a dollar on a half gallon of milk or a pound of apples. Perhaps I would feel differently if I were feeding a family of five and going through two gallons of milk each week – but then I would have three other people to keep track of, which would cut into my strategic shopping time!
I’ve always been a coupon clipper, but since moving to A2, I’ve been much more vigilant about clipping and printing, planning our shopping, etc. Our favorite grocery store sends out monthly coupons – usually 2-3 for 10-20% off your total purchase – so we use those along with product-specific coupons and in-store discounts to knock $5-20 off of our weekly grocery bills. They send additional rewards certificates and discounts based on spending – in fact, I just received an email with a 15% off coupon while writing this post.
Shopping at Plum Market isn’t as cheap as going to Kroger or Aldi, both of which are within a mile of our house. We could probably save a few dollars extra each week if we shopped at Meijer, or if we went to each store to get the best deals. Which brings me to a central dilemma about food shopping: cost versus quality.
Plum Market’s product selection is comparable to Whole Foods, but their prices are a bit lower. Plum is a Michigan owned and operated company, and in every aisle you can find products made in state, if not in town. My shopping basket this last week included organic celery ($1.49/pound), organic honeycrisp apples grown in Michigan, and half-priced day old bread from Zingerman’s ($3 for a large French round). The apples were among the best we’ve ever had. Half of the bread will last us upwards of a week, the other half will go in the freezer for another week’s worth of meals. I had a $10 rewards certificate, a 15% off coupon, and $5 worth of product coupons. I could get these things for marginally less money elsewhere, but by shopping at Plum, I’m support local business and industry while also buying high quality products for us.
By not running around to chase sales, we build loyalty points at a single store, resulting in those $10 rewards certificates – and in a small but useful relationship with the store itself. Our impulse buys are restricted to one store, not two or three. We know the product selection and price range, which also includes knowing when products are cheaper elsewhere – for example, we stock up on Annie’s macaroni and cheese from Amazon Subscribe and Save and on frozen pizzas at Trader Joe’s – rather than buying those items at a higher price at Plum. We eat really good food at home without breaking the bank – while making responsible shopping and eating choices. In the long run, those things are more important than a few extra bucks here and there.
I’m taking Spain’s victory today as an excuse to declare a new challenge for myself: cook my way through the Spanish cookbook that has been lingering on my shelves for at least five years.
Over 150 recipes, some of which I’ve made, many of which will provide new and interesting challenges. I’m allowing myself to skip 10, with extra special dispensation given to pulpo gallego in honor of Paul the psychic octopus, who called the game in favor of España. ¡Viva España! ¡Viva Paul!