Parenting

On being the magic maker

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting extra pressure on myself to make the season truly magical for my children. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older. Maybe it’s because we’re going on vacation right before Christmas and there will be fewer presents under the tree. Maybe it’s because I finished my clinical a month ago and now I have an extra six hours a week to fill. I don’t know. But I have been doing some crazy, stupid stuff, all in the name of making this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER for them. For example:

1. We have five advent calendars.
Not one, not two, but FIVE. NO ONE NEEDS FIVE ADVENT CALENDARS. Not even my Christmas-present deprived children. They each have the traditional chocolate one. Then there’s one we hang on the wall that has activities, candy, or small presents for each day. Then there was a Tsum Tsum one that was on sale at Target and who can resist the tiny Tsums? Not me; and definitely not my children. Finally, we have a set of Advent ornaments that I filled with candy and hung all over the tree. Kind of like the Elf, you have to find a new ornament every day. Don’t get me wrong, my children LOVE all these calendars and it makes waking up in the morning so much more exciting when you know you’re going to get to eat a bunch of chocolate for breakfast. But I have to admit I went a bit overboard. It’s like Sophie’s choice though—for next year, which would I eliminate?

2. I offered to host two Christmas parties, two weekends in a row.
HOW STUPID AM I? I love the holidays and I love hosting parties and I feel like Christmas is the perfect time to do it. I get nervous about inviting people to my house—what if they don’t come? But at Christmas, I’m not the reason to come over. CHRISTMAS is the reason to come over. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas presents, Christmas wine. COME TO MY HOUSE AND I WILL MAKE ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY DREAMS COME TRUE. Seriously. But while I’m getting better with my whole depression/stress/anxiety thing, hosting is still a little bit nerve-wracking for me, as I found out last night when Chris and I tried to assemble 11 tiny graham cracker gingerbread houses at 9 o’clock at night LIKE THE TOTAL CHRISTMAS PARTY AMATEURS WE ARE.

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3. I planned a vacation the week before Christmas.
Do you know what happens when you’re going out of town for a week right before Christmas? You have to get all your shit done EARLY. I was done shopping by December 1st. Done wrapping by the 9th. My cards went out the week after Thanksgiving. Our tree was up the week before. We actually have outside lights on our bushes that I didn’t have to nag Chris to put up. I’m not bragging here, I’m saying the holiday rush came a bit early to the Smith house, and now that it’s over I have to spend this week packing for our first family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Then when I get back I’m hosting Christmas dinner. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF WHY?

It is all worth it, though (something I need to remember when I’m frantically running from grocery store to grocery store looking for milk chocolate stars). Sam is super-into our Elf, Peppermint, and if he wakes up before CJ, he waits so they can go down together and find him. Then he has to tell me where Peppermint is hiding, then bring me into whatever room to show me, just to make sure. CJ is old enough now that he remembers a lot of our little traditions, whether it’s asking me to bake a certain kind of cookie or checking on whether we’ll have ham again for Christmas dinner this year. I get such joy out of seeing their joy; I love making them happy. I love bringing the Christmas magic to them, making this season as special as I can. When they grow up, I hope they can look back on our Decembers with fond memories, and a true love for the magic of the Christmas season. And I hope that some day between now and then, I’ll find a way to be a little more relaxed this time of year.

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Everything Else

Thankful for the little things

There is so much going on in the world, and in my little corner of it, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on the all little things I’m thankful for every day. These are the little patches of happiness that bring me unmitigated joy, the seemingly unimportant pieces of my life that put a smile on my face and help me look forward to a morning of errand running, a quiet evening at home, or even a day at work. Before I list the things, though, I want to say thank you for YOU, for reading this, for following along, for commenting when you feel led to. I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your support through this journey. I am grateful for all of it, truly.

My thankful list:

1. Red cups at Starbucks

2. Feet under the Christmas treefeet

3. Love between brothers

4. A caring touch from my husband

5. A compelling audiobook on my commute to work

6. A surprise package from a good friend

7. Finishing ALL my Christmas shopping early this year

8. The extra quilt on our bed

9. New recipes that turn out right the first time

10. Holiday traditions that our whole family looks forward to

When I notice these things, I pause and take them in. I try to enjoy the moment, to embellish it into my brain, so I can come back to it again and again. There are days when I worry too much about our budget and paying back my school loans and I think to myself, “We have so little.” But the reality is, we have so much.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

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Eating

What I learned on my Junk Food Fast

First of all, Happy Halloween!

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Photo courtesy Target.com

A couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a “fun challenge” to see if I could do a 10-day junk food fast. People, I’ll tell you, I lasted about a week. After I got through that 7th day I wanted chocolate so badly I broke down and made some muffins. And they were amazing. But I thought I’d share what I learned about myself during the fast in hopes it can help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, or even if you’re just trying to plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and stick to it.

1. Accountability works.
I’ve talked before about how I’m an Obliger, and that means it’s difficult for me to be accountable to myself. With this fast, I was accountable to SkinnyMom. Well, in my mind anyway. Knowing there was a group of Instagram followers who were trying to accomplish this goal right along with me really helped. And believing it was Brooke’s idea instead of mine made a difference as well.

2. I need treats.
I should have known this about myself, but I idiotically believed I could go 10 days without eating muffins for breakfast or having dessert after dinner. I don’t know what I was thinking! I should have pre-planned some healthy but delicious treats that I could have indulged with when the urge came. I did find some yogurt-covered pretzels, which were great, but other than that I felt too much like I was depriving myself, which is ultimately why I think I gave up on the fast three days early.

3. More specifically, I need chocolate.
I tried giving up chocolate for Lent once, and I did it, but I think only because I was still allowed to eat sweets. I have a major sweet tooth, but nothing satisfies it like chocolate. The combination of chocolate + sugar = pure bliss to me. The night after the fast I ate way too many spoonfuls of peanut butter that I’d dipped into a jar of chocolate chips (and yes, I’m definitely embarrassed to admit this!). But that was truly what I was craving. So if I ever do something like this again, I think I need to plan in a little chocolate so I don’t binge quite so dramatically when it’s over.

4. Eating clean makes a difference for weight loss.
This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes I need to learn things the hard way. At the beginning of the fast, I weighed 157.4 lbs. Seven days later, sticking to the fast the whole time, I weighed 154.8 lbs. That’s a loss of 2.6 lbs in only one week and to be honest, that’s a record for me. I generally lose about a pound a week, sometimes less, when I closely follow the Weight Watchers SmartPoints plan. But not being able to have my regularly scheduled muffins, turkey sandwiches on white bread, and bedtime Halo Top really made a difference.

So that’s it. Overall, I think the week went well. And I keep talking about “when I do this again,” but what I’m trying to get at is that I need to find ways to incorporate this new knowledge into my everyday eating habits, so I don’t have to do a fast again—I can just eat healthfully and allow myself planned, chocolaty treats every few days. Or maybe every other day. We’ll see.

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Eating

Self-sabotage

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So my weight has plateaued. I’ve been playing with about three pounds lately, losing them, gaining them back, and losing them again. These three pounds started as my nemesis, but are now a comfort. I’m so used to having them around, the number on the scale rarely shocks me anymore. If it’s excessively high, then yes, I’m shocked into clean eating and tracking like you wouldn’t believe. But when I settle back into that three-pound range, I feel fine again. Life is good. The three pounds are here to stay.

But life maybe isn’t so good. Maybe I started this program to reach a goal, and settling for a weight 15 lbs above that goal is exactly that: settling. Has my body just reached a weight it’s comfortable with? Or is it all in my mind?

I talked with a friend about this lately, a friend who’s also trying to lose weight, and we narrowed down the reasons for my stall to two things: failure and money. Both of these are rooted in that emotion which pretty much drives every part of my life: fear. If I reach my goal but I can’t maintain it, then I’m a failure. I’ve failed another diet, failed Weight Watchers yet again. I’ve failed to live up to the goal I’ve set for myself, the ideal that women in this country strive toward. I’m a failure.

And money. Yes, I’m shelling out $20/month to access Weight Watchers’ points calculator and a host of other online tools, but what about the money I’ll need to buy myself a whole new wardrobe? I’ve lost one pants size so far. Which means that most of my larger pants still fit, albeit loosely, and the smaller ones I kept around “just in case” fit perfectly. If I lose another 15 lbs I’ll have met my goal, but that will also mean I’ve lost another pants size, and then my smaller jeans will be too big and I won’t have any fallbacks. If one of the major goals of weight loss is to have a body that looks good, that means I have to dress it in a way that’s flattering. Which means I’ll have to buy clothes that fit. And a wardrobe overhaul is just not something we can afford right now.

Both of these issues are a symptom of a bigger one: fear. No one wants to be a failure, especially someone who looks so eagerly to others for approval. And yes, I don’t have the money to buy a completely new wardrobe all at once, but I bet I could get a few new pieces and fudge the rest until I do. I’m just scared of what life will look like then. Will I still have to track everything I eat, or will I instinctively know what not to put in my mouth? Will I still weigh myself every day? Will this truly be a lifestyle change, or was it another fad diet that I was just trying out for a few months? What happens when all of this is over?

Last night I sat in bed and cried to Chris that I just want to eat like a normal person again. I just want to enjoy fall. I want to bake pumpkin muffins and buy Starbucks lattes and snuggle under blankets and watch TV. I don’t want to worry about what having two muffins instead of one will do to my points. I don’t want to worry about the amount of sugar in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. And I especially don’t want to worry about trying to get 10,000 steps in when it’s freezing and dark and drizzly outside, like it is today.

I cried and I cried, I let it all out, and then I woke up today and went back to counting points. I went back to scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast, a Mason jar salad for lunch, almonds for snack. Bunless turkey burgers for dinner and berries and cream for dessert and people if I’m honest, all the fun has been sucked out of eating. Where are the tender muffins, the spoonful of cookie dough you sneak before putting the trays in the oven, the scone at your favorite coffee shop? Where are the chips you mindlessly eat on the couch, the bedtime bowl of ice cream, the gourmet donuts from the donut truck? Food is life to me. And food is such a big part of my life, especially with Weight Watchers, when I’m tracking everything so closely. And yes I have treat meals and yes I go out to eat occasionally but my day-to-day menu is so unfulfilling I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. So I’m asking myself these questions: (1) Why did I want to lose weight in the first place? And (2) Could I be happy being the weight I am now for the rest of my life? I feel like this plateau, after lasting so long, is no longer only physical, but mental too. There’s got to be a reason I keep doing this to myself. A reason I keep gaining back those three pounds. If I could only put my finger on it, maybe I could finally move on.

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Eating

Keeping it real

Remember those goals I made for September? Lose 5 lbs, explore clean eating, go to the gym twice a week? Well I accomplished none of them. In fact, I’m back on another plateau, and I haven’t lost weight since August. I was so gung-ho then that I thought I could just keep going. But there’s this thing with me: when I’m doing well with weight loss, I think I can just add back in all the stuff I’ve been avoiding. And I can’t. At least, not if I want to see the numbers on the scale go down.

I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before (again, better to listen than to read, just sayin’!), and according to her four tendencies, I’m an obliger. That won’t be a surprise to those of you who know me in real life. But the problem with being an obliger is that I’m really good at meeting my commitments to other people. Not so great when it comes to meeting a commitment to myself. Which is why, I think, this Weight Watchers journey has been so tumultuous for me. I will have a few months of great losses, and then a month of nothing. Lather, rinse, repeat. But if you look back on my time in the program, I think it’s kind of embarrassing how little weight I’ve lost since April. It’s been five months and I STILL haven’t broken the 20lb mark. And I should have been able to. I’m thisclose.

One of the problems is Fall. I LOVE FALL. We all know that. But with fall comes Pumpkin Spice Lattes and my instinct for nesting, for cozy blankets and spicy candles, for spending more time inside, for baking up pumpkin goodies to my heart’s content. And all of that has had an impact on my weight this last month. Gretchen (we’re friends, right?) says obligers need outside accountability to meet their goals, so I’m trying two new things this October. First, I joined a DietBet. Not completely sure what it is myself, but basically I paid $35 and bet that I could lose 4% of my weight this month. If I win, I get my money back plus whatever’s left in the pot, shared amongst all the winners. So if I don’t actually TRY to lose weight this month, I’m out $35, also known as a mani-pedi, lunch at Panera with my family, or a new sweater from Target. I’m trying to imprint on my mind how much it would suck to lose that money to my laziness. Hopefully it’ll start working soon.

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The other thing I’m trying is SkinnyMom’s 10-day No Junk Food challenge. I even made a graphic and set it as my phone background so I would have a constant reminder of what not to eat. I started the challenge today, and so far so good. I’m just not sure if I’m going to be able to survive 10 days without chocolate. I mean, CHOCOLATE. I eat chocolate every morning at breakfast and every evening after dinner. It’s what I always crave; what I use to signal my stomach that the meal is over and I should stop eating. So that will truly be a challenge. But how lame will I be if I can’t eat chocolate for a week and a half? I know I can do it, I just also know it won’t be very fun. Sigh. No one ever got into weight loss for the kicks.

Anyone what to partner up with me and be my accountability buddy? Gretchen says that’s what I need. I have a friend I go to the gym with, but what I really need is someone I have to report what I ate to. Who won’t judge but will kindly suggest that I wasn’t supposed to eat that chocolate until next Thursday, and that maybe I shouldn’t have put those Reese’s Peanut Butter Halloween Pumpkins into my Target cart. I track in my WW app but it’s so nice, it’s like, “Great job tracking this week!” and “You tracked a fruit—awesome!” I need it to be a little harder on me if I’m going to get out of this plateau and meet my goal by—dare I say it—January 1!!?!?!?!

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Eating

Weight Watchers-friendly Weekly Menu Plan

Recently one of my sweet friends asked me to put together a week of quick, healthy meals for her family that she could make in “less than 10 minutes” and that her three-year-old would eat. She said she could put aside Sunday afternoon for meal prep, but probably no more time than that. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, so I thought I would tweak her request a little and make sure the meals I chose were SmartPoints-friendly.

Menu
Here’s menu plan. I feel like there are so many places I could go with this, but for this plan, I chose chicken as the main protein. I also thought I would model this plan after my week, with leftovers on Thursday, a frozen meal on Friday, and dinner out or leftovers again on Saturday. For lunch, I usually have Mason jar salads or leftovers. For breakfast, good options would be these baked oatmeal cups or these make-ahead breakfast burritos. A great snack/dessert option would be any of Drizzle’s loaves or sweeter recipes; I’m partial right now to her Peanut Butter Cup Banana Loaf.

Recipes
Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-Up Casserole, Drizzle Me Skinny
Chicken Quesadillas, Pioneer Woman (I leave out the butter and use Ole Wellness Wraps instead of flour tortillas)
Pumpkin Alfredo Tortellini Skillet, Emily Bites
Curried Chicken Salad, Skinnytaste
Italian Chopped House Salad, SkinnyMom modified for Mason jars

Shopping list
Here’s the shopping list, including a section on things you probably already have in your pantry (if you don’t, just add them!). If you’re like me and don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, you can purchase another type of pre-made meal at your local grocery store. These meals are lifesavers for me after a busy week when all I want to do when I get home is lie down. Plus, having something easy, quick, and points-friendly in the freezer helps me avoid the temptation to go out or order in.

Meal prep plan: Sunday afternoon
Here’s the plan for meal prep. A lot of people meal prep on Sundays, and while I don’t do this myself, I see the value in it. After planning out this week I just might have to give it a try!

1. Poach chicken
Use your favorite method for poaching chicken, whether in the crock pot, on the stove, or in an instant pot. I like this recipe, but if you prefer to wing it, I say salt and pepper the chicken thoroughly, lay them in the bottom of the pan, and cover with chicken broth and water. Add a bay leaf for good measure and poach until cooked through, about 160° on a meat thermometer.

2. Cook bacon
My favorite method for cooking bacon is to bake it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. After you’ve got your chicken poaching, preheat the oven. You’ll cook your whole package of center-cut bacon because we need it for two recipes. Lay each strip of bacon on the prepared sheets, then bake at 400° for about 15 minutes until crispy but not burnt. Remove to paper towels and let cool.

3. Cook sausage
Here we’re going to prep the first part of the Tortellini recipe. Chop one small onion and two garlic cloves (or use squeeze garlic). Place your pound of Italian turkey sausage (casings removed) in a large skillet over medium heat and cook for a few minutes, breaking apart with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown. Add the onion and garlic and stir together. Continue to cook while breaking up meat and stirring regularly until sausage is cooked through and onions are soft. Remove to paper towels and let cool. When cool, put the sausage mixture into a container and store in the fridge until Tuesday.

4. Cook ground beef
Drain your sausage skillet and add your pound of lean ground beef. Cook until browned. Remove to paper towels and set aside until later; you’ll use this in tonight’s dinner.

5. Cook pasta
While you’re at the stove, get some water boiling for the Ditalini pasta need for the Mason Jar Italian Chopped Salads. You’ll need about a half-cup dry pasta for three salads. Measure it out and boil in salted water until al dente. Put aside to cool; you’ll be assembling the salads later today. (Sometimes I make a little extra pasta and save it for my kids to eat on days they’re less than excited about my dinner choice.)

6. Make guacamole
Contrary to popular belief, guacamole CAN be made ahead of time! Just be sure when you place it into the container you cover the surface completely with plastic wrap and secure the lid tightly. Of course if you prefer, you can make the guac the day of, or do store-bought (SmartPoints are the same). My favorite guacamole recipe is from Minimalist Baker: Mash 2 ripe avocados with 1 Tbsp lime juice, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ¼ tsp sea salt, ½ jalapeño, deseeded and sliced, ¼ cup diced red onion, and ¼ cup diced cilantro. It’s a great basic recipe that you can tweak as you like.

7. Make Curried Chicken Salad
For this, you’ll have to wait until your chicken is done poaching. When it’s done, remove it from the pot to a cutting board and let cool. When cool cut into half-inch cubes or shred (I prefer cubes). For the chicken salad, you’ll need about 2 cups diced cooked chicken. Since we cooked the chicken ahead of time, you don’t have to worry about cooking it through; just make sure when you’re cooking that it’s evenly covered with the curry and onion mixture. This chicken salad is DELICIOUS and even better the next day. When you’ve finished making it, store it in the fridge until Wednesday.

8. Assemble Mason Jar Salads
First, gather your ingredients. You’ll need fat-free Italian dressing, tomatoes, 1 cup of cooked chicken, the Ditalini pasta, six slices of the cooked bacon, chopped; 2 hearts of romaine, chopped; 3 green onions, chopped; and a container of reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles. In each jar, place 3T dressing, 5-8 cherry tomatoes (your preference), 1/3 cup cooked chicken, ⅓ cup Ditalini pasta, 2 slices bacon, ⅓ of the chopped romaine, 1 chopped green onion, and 1T reduced fat blue cheese crumbles. Seal the jars tightly and refrigerate for this week’s lunches.

9. Make Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-up
You’ve come to the end! Congratulations!!! When you’re done with all your cooking, rest a little bit. Maybe even take a nap. Then about an hour before you plan to eat dinner, assemble and bake your Bacon Cheeseburger Bubble-Up casserole. We already prepped the beef and bacon, so just follow the recipe. Then while it cooks, you can clean up your mess from earlier today. After you eat, portion the leftovers into containers for the week and poof! You’re done.

Any questions? I’d love to answer them! Just leave them in the comments below.

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