On Entering My Mid-Thirties

>> Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When I was twelve, I used to read YM and Seventeen and dream of being a teenager. Like, a lot of my waking moments were spent in a haze wondering what it would be like to be a teen. Being older meant so incredibly much. Freedom, for one. Wearing makeup and feeling attractive. Kissing cute boys. The important stuff. And when those teenage and early adult years finally arrived, I was too moody and preoccupied to really care.


I never quite developed into one of those girls on the glossy pages either. My breasts have yet to grow bigger than an A-cup despite breastfeeding two children. (I’m guessing this is it, right?) I cannot seem to let my hair grow past my shoulders for more than a few months at a time. My style in high school, in a word, would have been whacky. Oh, and those boys? I’ve had only a couple notable romances in my life (which is fine by me!).

In my twenties, I felt like I was always trying to build toward taking that next step. You know? I was extremely career-driven when I worked in marketing and communications. I could see myself going all the way to being a manager or director someday. But when I finally attained that title, I realized that stuff -- calculating metrics, checking emails at 10PM, traveling frequently for business -- just wasn’t for me. I had that classic quarter-life crisis and quit, and then I went to working in education and libraries. I treaded water for a few years in an academic library’s administration department until we got pregnant with Ada.

I became a mom at age 28. It’s right when I expected I’d want to have my first child. My mom had me at 23 back in the early 1980s, and she often talks about being so young. But I was eager to have kids. It’s not that it was going to bring some magical depth to my life. It just felt right. Having Ada also gave me an incredible opportunity to jump off the directionless career path I was on and work freelance. I could now call myself a writer. The job title I had actually work toward during college. Talk about winning.

Turning 30 felt like such a big deal back when it was happening. Like I was somehow closing the chapter to my youth. Getting older and wiser. And I had already passed so many important milestones. Stephen and I got married when I was 24, we bought a house the same year, and -- again -- we had already had our first child. Still, being 30 meant something. Like I should have had my life more figured out. Or maybe had more peace with the direction in which my life was going.

I’ll be honest. Most of my years in my thirties were spent longing to get pregnant or dealing with miscarriage and sadness. I feel like I missed a good stretch from 30-32 this way. I regret getting so wrapped up, but I don’t know how I could have done things differently. Here I am a few days away from turning 34, and I don’t have much more figured out about myself. Sure, I am feeling more grounded in a way. Like, I am who I am . . . and I don’t apologize for it. Writing in this space for so many years has helped me develop that quality. I over-share, probably. But I like being an open book to the people online and in my real life. It’s helped me weed out the fake people in my life and connect with others who truly get me and can relate to my own life’s experience.


This year, I have a few goals. They’re silly, but I’ll share them anyway.

  • First, I want to focus more on self-care. Having a newborn/infant got me terribly out of the habit of spending time on my appearance. I don’t have to wear makeup to feel pretty, but I know it makes me feel good to pluck my brows, get regular haircuts (I’ll get to this soon!), take time caring for my skin, and -- yes -- spiffing myself up more often.
  • Along with this, my eating habits are always a work in progress. I want to continue to move in the right direction by focusing on wholesome whole foods. I mentioned in my grocery posts that we’re looking to eat fewer packaged foods (bad habit). That’s my main area of attack right now.
  • I want to keep working toward finding that elusive balance in my life. I feel like mine is a life that goes like ocean waves. There are weeks when I’m crazy with work or Stephen’s schedule. Others where I sit so still I’m barely breathing. I think simply scheduling things better and getting into more routine will help. 
  • I also want to get out more. I may sign up for an exercise class (spinning or yoga?) because I miss the group atmosphere. I am addicted to Fitness Blender, but they don’t talk back to me, no matter how many profanities I toss out when I’m lifting those kettle bells.
  • Then comes my career stuff. I am loving my current situation, but I think I need to start actually using my office more. I find myself overwhelmed with work on the daily, and it’s something as simple as writing out my deadlines on a white board that might help. I tend to keep everything in my head so it weighs on me. I’d also like to do more writing of my own. Goal is to get one essay published in a local magazine or something similar.
  • As a family goal, I’d like to create a day of disconnecting and re-connecting. Does that make sense? Almost like a sabbath. I just want to be present and together for one day each week. Or maybe even just one afternoon. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frenetic pace of life.
Here’s to turning the big 3-4 and all that it brings! 

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Meal Plan, Takeout Fatigue, etc.

>> Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Before I get into the meal plan for this week, I don’t check Facebook all that often anymore. However, someone added me to a group that I do find quite interesting. It’s called the Non-Consumer Advocate. It’s all about finding ways to do things without necessarily spending money or otherwise consuming. Or if you do spend money, how to be smart about it. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I highly recommend joining!

So, you’ve seen our $98 Aldi haul for this week. Our meal plan this week is nothing shocking or particularly interesting. I am trying to use up the things we have left over from vacation. (PS: Want more meal planning? Here’s the last time I wrote about this subject. And here’s all my posts on it.)



I’ll just be giving you the dinners we’re eating. Breakfasts are usually eggs and toast for Stephen, a protein smoothie for me, cereal + fruit for Ada, and waffles for Eloise. Lunch has been quite random as well this summer. I’m still trying to eat raw once a day, by the way. Should I do an update on that? Let me know in the comments!

Also: I’m trying to get Ada into more diversified eating, so I’ll try to touch on this subject another day. Snacks are things like Greek yogurt mixed with peanut butter, popcorn, carrot sticks, homemade granola bars, etc.

DINNERS


The girls will eat the veggie burgers, quesadillas, pizza, hummus, omelets, and Mexican quinoa dish with us. Or at least try. We also have some staples on hand for them, like mac and cheese or pierogis, if we think they won’t enjoy a meal (or if we’re eating at different times).



Thoughts on Eating Out


We definitely have takeout fatigue. I loved sampling cuisine from our favorite restaurants while on vacation. That said, it was mega-expensive (regrettably so!). And you know what? I missed cooking. I think we may even make better meals than some we get out. While a good meal out can certainly be a nice indulgence -- even a regular one -- I think we’re going to skip for a while. Even with my birthday coming up, a home-cooked meal seems much more pleasurable than anything else right now.

You get a lot of facts and figures if you look up how much the average family spends going out to eat each year. I estimate that we probably spend around $50 a week on an average week getting a mix of takeout, dining out, etc. That’s figured into our “entertainment” budget category. So, if we stopped doing that . . . that’s $2,600 a year. I only took the time to figure this out just now.

And now I feel a bit sick to my stomach. Do you know how many places that money could go? Holy moly.

What’s your policy on going out to eat? I doubt we’ll stop doing it altogether. But I’d like to save it for only special occasions. Maybe once a month? That sounds like cutting to the bone, but I think it’s doable. 



Recipe Liberation


Here’s my parting idea for the day . . . and it’s something I’ve neglected to mention on the blog. I rarely follow recipes (even my own) exactly. Well, if I have everything on hand, yes. But if I’m missing ginger for a stir-fry, for example, I’ll skip it. Of course, it’d be nice to get the extra flavor, but usually there are other spices + things that will do enough of the heavy lifting. If the ingredient is non-essential, like peppers for veggie quesadillas, I’ll leave it out, too. (This rule doesn’t apply with baking usually. Especially with things like baking powder, baking soda, etc.)

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to explain is that cooking can be flexible. I am sure many of you know that. But I think some others think we must follow recipes exactly. Not the case at all! You can make all sorts of substitutions, swaps, and omissions. Heck, you can add things, too. It takes time to get cooking right. You’ll make missteps along the way. But you may even make something particularly delicious -- accidentally.

I’ll be back soon with a recipe for Greek salad, homemade granola bars, and some notes on getting back to from-scratch cooking and baking. Feels good.

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Aldi Haul + $400 Monthly Food Budget

>> Monday, July 24, 2017

I am in super productive mode now that we’re home from vacation. I have tons of freelance work this week. Our house needs a good tidying and deep cleaning. And -- honestly -- our budget needs an overhaul. Whenever we find ourselves needing a reset, I look to what we’ve been eating. So much money goes to food. We got especially lazy despite meal planning while on vacation and ended up spending mega-bucks keeping our tummies full.

I’ve started going through our pantry to take stock of what we have. You know what? We’re eating entirely too much packaged and convenience food. This habit started slowly when I had morning sickness and didn’t feel as much like cooking. Then with the newborn days and Ada’s first year of packed lunches, well, it increased and took a strong hold.


Budget


I’d like to keep our food budget to around $400 a month. Heck, one month I got away with only spending $291! (We have a CSA share that works out to a bit more than $20 a week. Unfortunately, our pickup person fell through while we were on vacation, so this week we didn’t get the share. I had to spend more than I wanted -- but am hoping to stick closer to $80 in the next weeks.)

Game plan:

  • Meal planning
  • Shopping at Aldi exclusively*
  • Making more from scratch
  • Kicking packaged foods to the curb

* We cannot get tofu or Earth Balance butter spread at Aldi, but those -- I think -- are the only exceptions.

I’ll be writing more soon, but I thought I’d just start with our $98 Aldi shopping haul.


The Haul


Here’s what we bought, in no particular order:


Toasted sesame oil
Pierogies
Toaster waffles
Dried mango
Baby food x 5 squeeze packs
Jarred jalapeƱo peppers
Whole grain bread x 4 loaves
Organic mac and cheese
Organic grape tomatoes
Bananas 
Raisins
Package of kale
4 avocados
Carrots
Baby carrots
Cucumber
Spring mix
24 ounces blueberries
Organic BBQ sauce
Organic peanut butter x 2 
Veggie refried beans x 2
Tomato paste
Sliced gouda cheese
String cheese
Chili lime cashews
Yogurt tubes
Ricotta cheese
Canned beets
Canned carrots
Canned veggie mix
Whole milk
Organic soy milk
Sparkling water case x 2
24 eggs
Medjool dates

You may notice randomly that I bought like four loaves of bread and lots of refried beans, etc. I picked up a few things in bulk that I knew we’d use over time, but not all in the next week. Also: packaged foods. I wanted to get away from buying chips, cookies, granola bars, juices, individual sized anything, and junk food. I did a pretty good job during this shop, but I could definitely improve.

For example:

  • I could just start giving the kids regular yogurt sweetened with honey or jam versus the yogurt tubes. I can make toaster waffles and freeze them in bulk.
  • We could buy a new CO2 canister for our Soda Stream and make sparkling water at home.
  • I could buy some reusable squeeze pouches for Eloise. She doesn’t do a lot of baby food, but it’s nice to have them on the go.
  • As an aside, my favorite reusable grocery bags are these ones that are mesh. They are so compact, yet they stretch to accommodate so much. I am always so pleased when I’m packing up at the store. And my market basket does some massively impressive heavy lifting.
  • I think I may write a post about the swaps I’m going to map for packaged foods. It’s actually something I want to research and write so I have the information to use myself!

There are times when I want to turn this blog into one entirely about shopping for groceries and saving. Tips and tricks on making food cheap. I don’t know. I feel very motivated, so I think I may just blog through my own thought process as it rolls.  A lot of my Aldi posts are from like 2014. I think I need to update them because as I look through the photos, it becomes clear to me just how much the store has changed (for the better!).

Related Posts


In the meantime, I have some good posts up from when I am doing things the optimal way, so if you’re looking for some ready tips -- check ‘em out.

18 Vegetarian Staples at Aldi
What’s Great + NOT About Aldi
What $77 Looks like at Aldi
Monthly Groceries for Less than $300 at Aldi
Grocery Budget -- Dollars and Cents

Monthly Shopping?


What about shopping for groceries monthly? I did it for four months in a row, and it was pretty awesome. It required some advanced planning, though. And the summer hasn’t been working well for that. That said, I may try to revisit this approach again when the school year starts. I found that shopping monthly did contribute to buying more packaged foods, though. Let’s explore this another day.

I’ll be back soon with our meal plan for the week and a recipe for some granola bars I’m making with Ada.

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