Mental Dumbbells – May 2012

Wow, looking back I read A LOT this month. I suppose setting the goal of finishing 50 books in the next year was a strong motivation to read 8 books this month. However, in doing so, I have realized how much I’ve missed reading over the past few years. Now, instead of watching TV, I find myself curled up on the couch with a book. I’m loving every second of it.

 

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

Since I’m on my own ‘Happiness Project’ of sorts this was an easy buy. I liked following Gretchen’s progress throughout her year, and she had some goals that I hadn’t even thought of. Easy, and fun read for anyone that is looking for motivation to make a few changes in their life.

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Imagine: How Creativity Works

I was feeling a little lacking in the creative department early this month so I picked this up on a whim while browsing Target. It was an interesting read that goes into the neuro-science of creativity (without being as boring as it sounds).

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The Imperfectionists: A Novel (Random House Reader’s Circle)

I think I need to read this book again to really get everything out of it. I honestly didn’t get it for the first half, but once I figured out that it was telling the story of a newspaper based in Rome from start up to closing through the eyes of everyone involved, it was actually quite brilliant. Very well written. It reminded me of a puzzle that I want to go back and do all over again.

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Water for Elephants: A Novel

This one had been on my kindle for a long time. I bought it when it was on some sort of super sale and just never got around to reading it. I love the LOVE story…but I hated the animal cruelty.  I almost put it down a few times because some of the animal stuff is just awful, probably true, but awful. Is the movie as graphic as the book for the animals? I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m just not sure I could handle it. [Although I did imagine Rob Pattison as the ‘hero’ throughout, so that wasn’t too bad a visual].

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The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to Thin

LOVED this book. I probably have 15 different ‘diet’ books on my bookshelves, but this one actually made sense for me. I’ve been following the eating plan now for about a week and I’ve lost 10 pounds so far. Yes, it’s mostly water weight, but it’s still 10lbs. The rules are easy to understand (not necessarily easy to follow), but outline a healthy eating, weight loss plan that works for me. I can also see building on this once in maintenance mode and using it as life long healthy lifestyle.

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Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Eh, not my favorite book this month. Probably because I’ve heard most of it before. I suppose it’s one of those books that you need to read at the right time, because it just didn’t sink in for me this month. However, I did like the format and will keep it so that I can reference the different sections (i.e relationships, work, family, money, etc.) as I need them in the future. 

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Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography

Also LOVED this book. I’m a big Bear Grylls fan so I didn’t even think twice when I saw it at Barns & Nobel. I finished it in a few days and enjoyed the whole story. He shares bits from his life from childhood to now, and the writing is similar to how he talks on his TV shows which I found endearing. He’s funny and incredibly honest throughout. Definitely recommend if you’re a fan…or if you just want to hear amazing stories of someone that has climbed Everest, and survived SAS training. 

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Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

Ugh…I don’t know what to say about this book. I’m sort of sorry I spent money on it out of sheer curiosity. Alyssa Milano’s tweet probably sums it up best…

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Ok, let me try my recap…

Little miss innocently ignorant, meets gorgeous arrogant asshat…they have lots of hot (mostly kinky) sex.

I’m sorry but even though I kind of like the arrogant asshat in the end (what is wrong with me!), the writing in this book sucks. I almost put it down after chapter 2 because I was so annoyed by the bad editing…and I hadn’t even gotten to any of the ‘juicy’ parts yet. There’s a really interesting love story in there, if you can get past the porn. I can’t bring myself to buy the second book since I’m still partially pissed that I spent money on this one. Has anyone read the 2nd book? Is it worth it?

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What are you reading right now?

CSA Box #5

Guess who’s back?

Brother and Sister Beagles

Yep, I have the little beagles again this weekend! So far, all the pups have done very well together, no alpha male fights like last time. Before they were dropped off yesterday morning I took a quick trip to the Farmer’s Market to pick up my CSA box. The weather was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, cool and breezy, I loved every second of it.

Turns out showing up at the farmer’s market when they first open is the way to go. I didn’t have any trouble with parking like I usually do, and was able to get in and out since I had to get back home quickly. I even had time to swap out a few items from the box. Usually I just take whatever comes in the selection, and enjoy trying new things; however, this week I had already planned out my meals and the cabbage and beets just didn’t fit into any of the meals. I knew I wouldn’t eat them so I swapped them for some tomatoes and some more spinach.

CSA Box 5

The goodies:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach (x2)
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Broccolini
  • Oranges
  • Avocados
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Strawberries (they forgot to include them in the box)

CSA Box 5

CSA Box 5

I also picked up a bouquet of flowers, but I’m an idiot and killed them in one day. I set them in a vase right as I got home just to free up my hands, but then forgot to go back and remove the plastic and add water. Doh!

Oh well.

A few people have asked if I am still doing the $40 grocery challenge…yes and no.

I am still keeping a budget, but I have raised it for the time being as I have changed my eating lately. I recently read The Skinny Rules by Bob Harper, and it is a great example of what I would like my life long eating lifestyle to be like. He lays it out so well, that it gave me the nudge I needed to get back on track. Not to mention I’ve dropped 10 lbs in the small period of time that I’ve been following the rules so far. Sure, it’s mostly water weight…but who cares. It’s 10 pounds! So while I shift over to a better eating plan, I find that I’m only buying meat, dairy, grains, or fruit/veggies. If you are a couponer, you know it is incredibly hard to find coupons for these types of things. I’ve been trying to find the happy medium of shopping sales and bulk at Costco to keep the costs low. Once I figure out a good balance, I’ll share more. To give you an example of what my shopping list looks like these days, here’s what I bought this week. All of the below cost $62 and I shopped at Albertsons, Trader Joe’s, and Henrys to take advantage of as many sales as possible.

  • Chobani Plain Yogurt (32oz) – I split this myself into smaller containers for everyday eating
  • Ground Turkey
  • Chicken Breasts (6)
  • Whip Cream
  • Eggs (1 dozen)
  • Pita Bite Crackers
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Snow Peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Green Beans
  • Bananas (4)
  • Cilantro Dressing
  • Apples (8)
  • Blueberries (4 pkgs)
  • Strawberries (4 pkgs)
  • Parsley (1 bunch)
  • Sweet Potatoes (2)
  • Clif Bars (5)

I’ve also been using the FoodSaver to extend the life of things outside of the CSA veggies. For example, as a household of one, I only eat a few pieces of bread a week, so I pull out what I need and Save/Freeze the rest. Now a loaf of bread will last me a month instead of having to buy a new loaf each week. I do the same with hard cheeses (cheddar/parm) which I buy from Costco.

Have you read The Skinny Rules? What did you think?

 

Shared with: In Her Chucks

30 in 30 Update– Learning Italian

Remember this little resolution list? Where I resolved to do 30 things in my 30th year?

Yeah, well I’m excited to start working on a big item on the list.

I’m Learning Italian!

Right after I announced my 30 in 30 goals, I received a notification for a Groupon Deal to Online Trainers which offers Online Language Lessons. I did a little research for reviews to Online Trainers and read quite a few good things, so I decided to go for it. It seemed like a sign when it popped in my inbox that day, and during purchase I found I had a $10 Groupon Bucks to spend which made it even cheaper.

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In the past I’ve tried various audio programs when I was trying to build on the French I learned in College and it worked well. I enjoy self paced classes and prefer online courses these days simply because I can work them around my schedule. I honestly would have loved to purchase the Rosetta Stone, but couldn’t bring myself to pay for the program. [I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing both French and Italian from Borders when they closed and put them on clearance.] I purchased the year long Online Trainers plan so hopefully by this time next year I’ll be crossing this goal off my list and speaking some decent Italian. Hell, I might even consider a trip to Italy as my 31st birthday trip (another list item).

Once I have been in the program for a while, I’ll do another check in and let you know how it’s going.

 

I’m curious: Anyone else out there trying to learn another language? If so, what language and how (i.e. school, online, self taught, etc)?

Introducing the Office – Before

I’ve been dreading this post for a bit, it’s such a mess that I’m embarrassed to even show you. This is my office right now, where I spend at least 10 hours each day, often more. I have two spare bedrooms in my home, and the original plan was to turn one into a ‘day job’ office, and the other into an art studio. For the office, I had grand plans for a loveseat sleeper (so the room could be used as a bedroom for guests), and the walls would be decorated with vintage travel posters so I could dream about getting away. I even had them all picked out online. Then my brother gave me a queen size bed and I no longer needed this room to double as a guest room. All of a sudden the idea changed and it’s been sitting in limbo for nearly 2 years. (…and the Art Studio became a real Spare Bedroom…well kinda…it’s in progress)

Here’s a little look back to what the office looked like when I first moved in. There another window and a closet hiding tot he left of the door.

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The really incredible view. Since the office is on the 3rd floor, I get to see above all the other homes and all the way to the mountains on a clear day.

…and the first round of design which was never fully realized. The dark teal/blue is actually beautiful and would have looked great with the vintage posters, I think.

However, since the plan changed it has become a hodge podge of crap. Random art covers only one half of the room, the other wall is completely bare. I have two chairs…but only one butt…figure out my logic in that one. I recently borrowed the exercise bike from my parents as an attempt to ‘work out’ the stress from work when necessary. It actually comes in quite handy throughout the week. Although I will likely send it back to them when I finish this remodel.

Office Before

Office Before

Broken IKEA bookcases that are holding random supplies for now (the rest are shoved in the closet. Thank your lucky stars that I won’t show you those pictures). I was in the middle of moving all the books downstairs to the Foyer so it looks messier than usual.

Oh, who am I kidding, I moved those book downstairs 2 weeks ago and my office still looks like this!

Office Before

Office Before

Such. A. Mess.

Office Before

Office Before

I have a whole list of ‘needs’ for this room, such as more desk space, organization, more storage, and comfy seating. I want this room to feel more like an oasis than a dungeon. I actually really love the wall color, but It’s going away in exchange for something lighter.

Here’s a little inspiration…

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Via, Via, Via, Via, Via, Via

I’m Feeling Inspired – Keep Running

I’ll explain more about my new training plan in a future post, but I’m easing back into running again. I have already shared that I’ll be running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in October, but I also plan to do a 5K and a 10K with a friend this year as well. And with a 30 in 30 goal of 3 half marathons, I need some serious inspiration to get those shoes on and out the door.

 

NIke Run

 

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Via, Via, Via, ViaVia, Via, Via, Via, Via, Via

Recipe: Broiled Grapefruit

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with grapefruit. I want to like it, but they always tasted too tart for me. Even when they were sweet…they were still too sour. I won’t lie that I was a little bummed when I got them in my last CSA box, especially since it looked like a giant lemon (pun intended).

Little did I know there was a delicious way to make grapefruit.

*and you thought I was joking when I said I was ‘vacu-saving’ everything. Yes, I vacu-saved half a grapefruit and was able to eat it several days later and it hadn’t browned at all.

Broiled Grapefruit

Turns out the trick to seriously delicious grapefruit is my toaster oven, more specifically the broil feature on the toaster oven.

Broiled Grapefruit

The prep for broiled grapefruit is the same as any other grapefruit, using a sharp paring knife I cut out each segment.

Broiled Grapefruit

Then a quick cut around the perimeter.

Broiled Grapefruit

Next I added a little vanilla sugar to the top. I tucked a few used vanilla bean pods in my sugar a while back so now all my sugar has a lovely hint of vanilla. It’s the greatest thing.

Broiled Grapefruit

Lastly I add a few little bits of butter. Not much, just a touch.

Broiled Grapefruit

Broil for about 12 minutes.

Broiled Grapefruit

Seriously delicious, trust me.

 

Shared with: In Her Chucks

DIY – Easy Potting Bench Organization

I’m all about easy updates. I always want to be making some type of progress on the house, but I am one person and last I checked I don’t have any clones wandering around. So sometimes all I have time to do is add some hooks to a bench. Such a little thing can bring me such joy. One more thing crossed off the endless to do list. 

The potting bench I built in March is holding up well to the elements, but it needed a little organization. As an easy, and inexpensive fix, I picked up a few small hooks from Lowes for about $2 each. I ended up using 4, so this project cost under $10.

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Oh man…so much better!

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To hold a towel, I’m thinking of adding a small towel rack to the other side, and maybe another hook or two. Otherwise, I’m closing the door on this project for now…DONE!

 

Short and Sweet…just like I like my Thursdays! How’s your week going?

How To Extend the Life in your CSA Veggies

This chopped lettuce is 2 weeks old! No brown edges, green crunchy leaves…it’s a miracle!

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2 months ago I signed up with a CSA (I pimp my CSA goodies enough that you probably know this). I get a Regular sized box every two weeks, but I quickly found that the fruits/veggies would go bad within a week. This was disappointing because I didn’t want to purchase a weekly box, but I was throwing food out every week since it would go bad before I could finish it all.

The easy answer would be for me to get the small sized box every two weeks, but doesn’t have all the stuff I was really interested in and again, it’s only 1 week of food. Before I succumbed to buying a smaller box (or cancelling all together ::GASP::) I decided to try out a technique I found on Pinterest.

This post by Salad In A Jar showed me how to can lettuce which I thought was genius, but I was still hesitant that it would really last the full two weeks. I was also a little apprehensive since I had never canned or ‘saved’ food before.

Tools:

All the items are completely reusable and rechargeable which I love. The Handheld Vacuum Sealing system also woks great with the Ziploc Bags which I also found at Target.

The process I followed is simple.

Step 1:

First I wash the lettuce in a water/white vinegar mix to remove any dirt and bugs. I found a snail in ahead of lettuce once so I never skip this step nowadays. I dry the lettuce using a small salad spinner and lay it out on a terry cloth to get rid of the excess moisture. Then I chop the lettuce and fill the jars, leaving some room at the top. For the purposes of this step by step, I resealed some chopped up cabbage since I didn’t have any extra fresh lettuce on hand for this post.

Preserving Lettuce in Mason Jars_4

Step 2:

Place the seal lid onto the jar and then add the wide mouth jar sealer.  Place the handheld vacuum onto the top of the sealer, over the hole, and activate for 10-12 seconds (according to the instructions that came with the product).

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Step 3:

Remove the vacuum and jar sealer, add the canning rim and place in the fridge.

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*Disclaimer – I’m sharing with you a process that worked for me. I’m not an expert in canning or ‘vacu-saving’ so please be sure to follow the instructions included with any products you purchase. Please use your best judgment when consuming a product that has been ‘saved’. Mine did last 2 weeks, but I cannot guarantee that everyone will experience that same result.

 

Now through the magic of television the internet I can show you lettuce that has been sealed for a full two weeks. Both the lettuce in the jar and the bowl is two weeks old. If I didn’t know that it was jarred lettuce, I would never had known the difference. While there were a few slimy pieces, it was only 2-3 and easy to pick out. The rest were crisp and fresh.

Preserving Lettuce in Mason Jars_1

As you can see from a picture above, I did also successfully jar Kale and Cabbage with similar results. I’ve also used this method to save fresh green beans and snap peas that came in the CSA box as well. I ate those within a week so I don’t know how they would have fared at the 2 week mark. 

Preserving Lettuce in Mason Jars_2

Like I said above, the handheld vacuum also works with the special Ziploc bags, which means I’ve been basically vacuum saving everything in my house lately…new fun gadget and all…

As 1 person, I can’t eat a whole loaf of bread before it goes bad. I also have been purchasing block cheese from Costco, then vacu-saving and freezing the excess to use in future weeks.

 

I have one other trick up my sleeve that is fairly inexpensive and can be useful for the fruit and herbs that come in the CSA Box, but that will have to be for another post.

 

What do you do to keep your CSA bounty lasting longer?

Life Lessons – Meditation

A few years back, before I had a dog or a mortgage, I took a meditation class. It was a 4 week class offered every Friday at 4pm at a yoga studio across the street from the beach.

Meditation

Before that first class, I had never succeeded at meditating. I would often try, sitting on a cushion in my dark living room with my eyes closed. I’d sit and wait for enlightenment, disappointed. More often than not, I would just keep saying to myself, ‘ok, start meditating now’…’ok, NOW!’. And I was surprised when nothing happened. Wasn’t there some kind of switch that would flip, and peace would just surround you. My instructor would tell us stories of how, after years of practice, she now finds herself able to meditate for hours surrounded by a world full of chatter.

I tried…and would often just fall asleep.

Turns out, falling asleep and immediate enlightenment are not anchors of successful meditation. Color me surprised.

So I shelled out some cash, snuck out of work early and sat in a room with only 3 other people for the weekly meditation workshop. The class would often start with a few gentle yoga moves, then we’d find a comfortable spot and meditate. About 20 minutes later, a gong would sound, we’d do a few more stretches and part ways.

Looking back, those Friday afternoons were bliss. I would leave class completely relaxed and calm, my mind stopped racing and I would drive home purely happy.

Now, I try to make it a part of daily life, for at least 10 minutes. Sometimes, when I’m feeling ambitious, I try for 30 minutes. However, I started out at just 5 minutes, which at the time was a serious challenge. I’ve never had a desire to fidget more than I did for those 5 long minutes. Now with practice, I have successfully sat for 45 minutes (though it’s rare I have time to do it for this long).

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Reasons to try meditation:

According to Psychology Today, studies showed that meditation shifts activity in the brain and results in a feeling of calm and happiness. Here are a few reasons that I love meditation…

  • Slows me down. In a world that is all about ‘go, go, go’ and multitasking, this allows my brain to stop spinning.
  • Instills a sense of peace and balance
  • Restores clarity
  • Improves sleep
  • Enhances concentration
  • I feel increased overall happiness after a sustained mediation practice

Insight Timer Free

Tools:

You don’t really need anything special to meditate. To start it’s helpful to have a comfortable place to sit, and a space that can minimize light and sound. As you progress in practice, you will be able to manage meditation in light/louder environments.

  • Some find warmth helpful and wrap a blanket around them during practice
  • I prefer to sit on a cushion, but a rolled up blanket/towel would work just as well
  • I use meditation beads, I find it quite helpful when I have trouble quieting my mind
  • I use a Smartphone tool that makes all the difference. I currently have an android phone and downloaded the Insight Timer app. You can use it to set a timer and it will ring a very gentle sound when the time ends. It’s not jarring or loud which is nice as it doesn’t undo all the peace you found. I don’t recommend using an alarm clock as that sound can be incredibly stressful to end your meditation.

 

Would you (or have you) ever tried meditation?

 

 

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