Self-Help Serendipity

On Saturday Garrett and I ran errands and then grabbed an impromptu bite to eat.  It had been a balmy day, and falling into a comfortable chair and sharing a cocktail early in the evening felt sort of magical.  As we headed out, bellies full and thirst quenched, I signed the credit card slip and was struck by how identical my signature looked in comparison to the memory I have of my dad’s signature.  It was a fleeting feeling but a strong one.  One of those moments that I have come to cherish where out of nowhere, for a brief, comforting second I’ll feel just the slightest shift in the electricity around me and know my dad is there. 

Sunday morning I woke up and was sitting on the couch in a sleepy haze drinking coffee when my attention was drawn to the bookshelf in my living room.  There are a few books on that shelf that belonged to my dad and I pulled one down because I thought I remembered his signature being on the inside cover.  It turned out to just be a pre-printed bookplate with “From the Library of John Woodcock” written on it in a loopy cursive font, and though I was disappointed I began to flip through the pages.  

The book was Hugh Prather’s There Is A Place Where You Are Not Alone and if you are not familiar with Prather or his work, you are probably familiar with his Saturday Night Live alter-ego Jack Handy.   It’s about as cheesy as Self Help gets, but there are a lot of great kernels of wisdom too.  There were dog-eared pages and underlined passages and it was wonderful to see the words through another’s eye.  I giggled to myself in spots in an effort to combat the lingering feeling of loss that inevitably bubbled up, because access to his complexity is one of the things I miss most about no longer having my dad around.  He was just so much than met the eye.

He was the definition of masculinity, yet he was raised by four women.  He made his mark on the world as a professional athlete, yet he was one of the gentlest people you could meet.  One of the most complex parts of his personality was that he was plagued by philosophical questions.  Though raised in a Christian household he explored other avenues of spirituality with a guarded curiosity.  He could quote bible verses just as easily as he could quote the advice of famous coaches.  He truly sought to understand the meaning of life so that he could act on it efficiently.  Shortly after he died my mother and I looked at each other and had the most hysterical laugh over the fact that at least NOW HE KNEW.  He finally had all the answers to those questions that plagued him, and it was honestly a relief.  It was the kind of dark humored full body laughter that brings such comfort in the wake of tragedy, and to this day whenever I ponder the magnanimity that is the human condition, I am always a bit envious of the fact that my dad knows how it all works.  It’s a shame that he and I will never have a drunken fireside chat.  

So as the caffeine perked me up, I curled up on the couch, eyebrows furrowed, and nodded my way through various pages of “deep thoughts.” When I got to the end of the book I read something that just instantly stopped me in my tracks.  It was in a section coincidentally about Early Deaths and I could almost hear my father reading it aloud:

You who have seen another go so quickly, close your eyes for just an instant and remember some moment when this loved one felt near to you and yet was physically far from your sight.  That feeling was not an illusion. You will see him again.  He has only left a little while.  There was a special work that required only him and, although you don’t remember now, you wished him well and gave him your blessing as he went.  His thanks for your understanding remains a warm and gentle place in your heart, and whenever you wish, he will support you on your way, even as you did for him. 

Cheesy self help or not, reading those words felt like a hug that I desperately needed.  We don’t sit down and chat — I can’t stop by to see him or call him on the phone — but when I connect with him, the feeling is not an illusion.  It was nice Sunday morning reminder that even though we are no longer physically close, every once in a while we can still sit down and have a little Coffee Talk.

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Fun Things To Read On A Friday

I have been in this crazy stress vortex all week; however, the good news is I have escaped! And it is Friday! And my life is now full of overuse of exclamation points!!!  So since I am feeling so damn chipper I thought I would tell you about some things that have been putting a smile on my face lately. None of these things that have anything to do with each other, but WHO CARES…They’re still fun!

For example:


1. This Sea Salt Spray Tutorial – I have incredibly slippery hair. It is super fine and thin and if I don’t wash it every morning it starts to look like I fried bacon in it right around the time I have my second cup of coffee. My hair needs some serious texture intervention but most products weigh it down and we can’t have that now, can we? Enter: Sea Salt Spray. Part of me thinks the idea of “beachy hair” is a myth for folks like me, and I’m not completely convinced I will ever be able to obtain that perfect tousled look, but for about $5, this sea salt spray is giving my hair brilliant texture, and keeping it from looking like breakfast leftovers the next morning.  And — BONUS — it is helping me use up my old crappy hair gel that just sits under my bathroom sink with never an excuse to get used. This is exactly what I looked like yesterday morning after using it:

BAHAHAHAHAHA….Moving on…

2. Melissa’s Stove Top Carnitas Recipe – I have linked to this recipe before, but I don’t think I have done it with enough fanfare. YOU GUYS, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAKE THIS. There, now I feel better.

I make at least one pot of this weekly (Yes, I have started buying 16 lbs of pork shoulder at Costco at any given time. What?) and we box it up in containers, put it on salads, eat it straight out of the pot, you name it.  This is, no exaggeration, my absolute favorite thing to eat lately. Totally worth a couple of hours of boiling on the weekend with very little supervision.

3. So I took my weight and measurements this month (like I do every month) and sadly, this is the first month since July of 2010 that I have gained weight. 4 lbs, actually. BOO.  The good news that you already know if you follow me on Twitter is that with that 4 lb weight gain came a loss of 4 inches. I mean, Holy Mindf*ck, Batman! Right?

I found this post as well as this post (from Everyday Paleo) especially timely in the wake of that news. In my mind I know it is not only about the numbers on the scale, but boy can one sure get focused. These were two hilarious and awe-inspiring reminders that the scale is mostly a useless tool.  Definitely worth a read.

4. So since we are talking about scales, I think that works right into bathing suit shopping.  Can we talk about bathing suits for a minute without everyone getting traumatized? Let’s give it a try.  I am going to be totally honest with you when I say that even when I was 80 + lbs heavier, I never really HATED shopping for bathing suits.  Look, I didn’t love it either but I think if you just accept the awfulness of it, it makes it much easier to “enjoy”. No bathing suit was going to make my thighs look less flabby (still isn’t!) so it was pretty easy for me to surrender the fantasy and put my efforts towards finding one highlighted something I liked on my body. Fat thighs?  Check.  But how about this lycra swathed rack, eh?  Focus on the positive, you know?

Anyway, I walked into Old Navy this week and tried on a few suits and found one that was pretty cute. (Pictured up there on the right, yet mysteriously available nowhere on the website.) At $27, I thought it was a steal, and headed straight to the register! But when they actually rung me up? $9.97! Woo hoo!

That was my long winded way of saying: Item off my Summer Bucket List – CHECK!  Cute bathing suit has been found. 

5. Oh, and speaking of arbitrary items on my Summer Bucket List – I have given up vanity and started wearing a tank top to work out on the regular – CHECK and CHECK! It is just way too hot in the box to NOT wear a tank top and so comfort trumps vanity. I think that means I am officially getting old, but I still maintain if you see me buy a pair of Crocs take me out back and shoot me. 

So – SCORE! –  for getting over the fear of my own arm flab! Now if I could just get over my fear of being a sweaty monster, all would be well.  (In my defense, it was well over 90 degrees that day and the warmup *haha THE WARMUP* involved running a mile outside, among like 10 other things)  But who cares — because I was sporting a damn tank top in public for the first time in perhaps, over a decade.  WIN! 

6.  And lastly — my favorite world rocking thing lately is this video.  Mostly because it is true.
I’m sure you have already seen it because I imagine you are much hipper than I am, but on the off chance that you have not, I am willing to look like the last person to the party to make sure you experience its hilarity.
Happy Friday, y’all!
What’s been rocking your world lately?  Recipes, videos, links…Do tell!
___________________________

Gratitude Reminder

Dear Holly,


Life is incredibly good right now. Savor it.


For instance, last night you slept 10 uninterrupted hours in a row because you were tired. Life is free like that – when you are tired, you sleep. When you are hungry, you cook something delicious. When there are errands to be run, you hop in the car and make that To-Do List your bitch. Weekends are easy, weeknights hold a multitude of opportunities — enjoy this, because right now your life is your own, and that freedom is a gift.


Give yourself a pat on the back – you have lost 80 lbs, girl! While it seems easier to focus on what you have left to lose, seriously take a minute and wrap your brain around your accomplishments. You are stronger than you have ever been, weigh less than you have in the last decade, and feel like nothing is beyond your reach. Enjoy your confidence in your abilities.  Appreciate the pride you have in your body.  Even though it isn’t perfect (and probably never will be, so quit seeking that while we’re at it) you have earned it!  Each muscle is a testament, every bruise has a story to tell.  You have found a way of eating and a fitness program that has completely relieved your life of diet and exercise noise. And on top of that, it has been a success! Some people struggle with this their whole lives, be grateful you have made peace with this at 32.  You have the rest of your life to get to the perfect weight/size/skill level – it is not a race. Don’t forget to enjoy the process and keep up the good work.


Speaking of enjoying the process, you are in the healthiest and best relationship of your life. Remember when you were young and single and felt like you would never find that person who perfectly shared your offbeat sense of humor, yet was also adorable, responsible, and totally up for any adventure? Remember the nights in your early 20s, mid 20s, and even in your late 20s when you thought — Will I ever find someone AT ALL???  Well you found him. The Relationship Holy Grail, Holly, now sleeps beside you every night. When you remind yourself of how much you wanted this, and relive the work it took to get you where you are now, let your feelings of gratitude be overwhelming. The next time he forgets to pick up the meat share or adds paprika to the crock pot instead of chili powder, or wants to explain to you every specific nuance about how to drive your car – choose to laugh about it instead of getting frustrated. And the next time someone gives you a hard time about not being married yet, remember that you are not under any obligation to follow someone else’s timeline. Married or not, you are luckier than ever to have this kind of love.


Also remember to love your job. Yes the job that seems to start just a little bit too early each day. The one that requires you sit at a desk in a cubicle during some of the most beautiful days of summer?  Yep, that’s the one. Love that job.  Remember that this is the job that is supporting both you and Garrett in a very comfortable manner. It wasn’t that long ago that you were stressfully living paycheck to paycheck and crying over credit card bills and wondering how you would ever make it as a functioning adult. Remember those days? I know you do because it was only 5 or 6 years ago, you can’t already be that senile. That is so far from the reality of your daily life now it is laughable, and for that, say thank you. So what if you are not doing EXACTLY what you want to be doing, when you want to be doing it. You have realized by now that if you really want something, you have the skills to make it happen. So if that’s the problem, then MAKE IT HAPPEN. But in the meantime, don’t mope about your current opportunities. Remember what a fabulous opportunity you are cultivating RIGHT NOW in that cubicle, no matter how small it is. Someone, somewhere would love that opportunity and for now, it’s sitting right there in the palm of your hand — so care for it. Don’t be a jerk about it.


Enjoy your family, because they will not always live nearby. Remember those days of living in LA and having to hop on a plane to hang out with your mom? Well now on a whim you can A to Z every aisle of Target with her, and you know there is no better shopping enabler.  You can BBQ with your family, or watch your baby cousin learn to crawl, or have a fun night out that doesn’t involve getting super dressed up because when you hang out with good friends the dress code is always comfy. And you can do all of this with relatively little scheming because everyone is right there in your backyard. Yes, someday you may want to live somewhere that is a little more exotic than Sacramento, CA. But for now, you have a wealth of love right in your backyard. Appreciate the fact you’re your current zip code means that loneliness is never a defining emotion in your life, and this is a gift you have wished for in the past.


These are awesome times and life is good. Things will always change – some will get better and some will get worse — but right now, make sure to acknowledge that you are lucky. And if you remember only one thing from this letter, please remember that.


Love,

Holly

Oh. Right. The Garden.

So the garden has been humming along quite nicely with nothing wilting or turning brown or dying a violent death.  We have very low standards, so we’ve been pretty pleased with this development.  It has made a much lovelier back drop lately for our dinner picnics than four empty boxes ever would have, so we have been puffing up our chests around here and high fiving each other like we are certified organic farmers.

I know, I know…our levels of coolness are intimidating. 

On Friday I peeked in to see how everything was doing.  There are cute little spaghetti squashys.  Yes, squashys.  They’re so cute, I just kind of have to call them that.  Also I caught myself pinching them and talking in baby talk, but let’s just keep that last part between you and me. 



The tomatoes FINALLY have a little bit of fruit!  It’s green fruit, but it is fruit nonetheless.  I was getting nervous that I planted some fruitless tomato plants.  Tomato bushes?  I don’t know, but I just felt like every time I looked at the tomatoes there was a big sign above them that said YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!    Seeing this made me do a little BOO YAH! dance.  Y’all we are going to have A LOT of tomatoes.



And finally when I looked in at the zucchini I was excited to finally see some minis.  So small, and so cute!   

Of course if you have ever been a rookie gardener, you know how this zucchini story ends, right?  This morning I went out to see how those little baby zucchinis were doing and…well, would you look at that.  

Now Playing:  ATTACK OF THE GIANT ZUCCHINI

That guy on the bottom?  No biggie, he’s just FIFTEEN INCHES LONG.

So, lesson learned.  Once you see them, check more frequently.  I imagine I will be out there a little more often in the coming weeks.  In the meantime though, I have a very important question for you.   

Who’s got zucchini recipes? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand go!

The Path vs. The Prize

There are two things speaking to me from the internet this morning, and I find when the internet sends you a couple of coincidentally thematic things in a row, it is best to listen. Except, of course, when that message is “Buy expensive things you can’t afford.”  Then I try to tune it out, but oh how that is hard!  When the messages are more introspective, however, and less consumer based — I certainly try to pay attention.

There are no coincidences, you know. Only glitches in The Matrix.

Do we need a gratuitous Keanu shot on this Wednesday morning?  Yes, yes I think we do. 

So the first thing I read this morning was this post on Zen and CrossFit over at The Five Tribe.  Honest to god, do you know how many times I have set and arbitrary goal for myself at the gym that has no basis is fact or experience and then have been DISAPPOINTED that I didn’t achieve it?  Many more than I would like to admit actually, and the insanity of that is not lost on me.  Not that this does not makes the disappointment go away, but since I am at least aware of it, I feel like I am not totally hopeless.  

I don’t know where it comes from:   this desire to set goals and push relentlessly until I achieve them.  It is so god damn hardwired into my brain.  I know that sounds a little obnoxious on first glance — oh, woe is me, I love to set goals and achieve them…my life is so hard!  Also my diamond shoes are too tight and my money clip is just waaaaaaaay too small!  Sigh.  The thing is, it’s not the goal setting that is so awful, it is the narrow-focused drive that it sometimes awakens inside of me that pushes for achievement just for achievement’s sake.  The drive to cross something off of a list, to check a box, to identify with a number, to have an experience under my belt.  This is a productive flaw to have, I realize — better than the fierce and narrow-focused drive to stay in my bed — but it is also one that needs to be kept in check not only in the gym, but in life in order to maintain balance and sanity.  Good things, both of those.  Things that elude me on occasion.   

I’m still working hard on trying to just Be.  To show up and try hard.  To realize that when I am out running, even if I am bringing up the rear, I am still lapping everyone who is at home sitting on the couch.  This alone should be a victory for my demented and focused (and sometimes competitive) brain, AND YET.  I find it hard to have purpose when I don’t have a goal, or a drive to achieve.  I fear that if I let that go, there will be nothing left to see or do.  While I will never be a person who doesn’t set goals any more than I will ever be a person who doesn’t breathe daily  I know that I can try my best to control those achievement impulses and redirect that energy to enjoying the journey. The journey itself can be enjoyable!  

Let’s all chant it together!  

Ok, or not.

Then a few clicks later I read this little gem of a story posted by Melissa over at The Clothes Make the Girl

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master:

“If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years…”

The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?”  Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.”

“But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student.  “Thirty years,” replied the Master.

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

And then all of a sudden, the light bulb went off.

6 Easy Steps to A Fabulous Frittata

Hello, lover
It has been a bit of a Frittata Frenzy around my house lately, and frankly I am wondering why I didn’t discover these easy and delicious little breakfast delicacies sooner.  Well, that isn’t entirely accurate, I knew about Frittatas but they just seemed a little too chi chi for my tastes.  Also I have an irrational fear of brown eggs.  I don’t know where that comes from, but there you are.  I wish someone would have tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that IT’S JUST A CRUSTLESS EGG CASSEROLE, DUMMY!  Because then I would have known, you know?  So here, let me do that favor for you.  
*tap tap*

Frittatas have all the protein/vegetable goodness that I am always aiming to get at breakfast, but in a portable and gourmet seeming kind of way.  And let me tell you, I generally need a little gourmet to spice up my Monday mornings.  But also (and here is why they are great!) Frittatas are easy.  I’m not going to say effortless, but pretty damn close when it comes to a fancy hot breakfast.  One pan + Delicious Ingredients = A Happy Tummy.  It’s math, my friends.  And rarely can you argue with math, right?
So, shall we talk about steps? 

Step One:  Cook up meat of your choice in a 12 inch oven safe skillet.  (Most generic non stick pans are oven safe up to at least 350 degrees, that’s why I cook this at 325 degrees — BOOYAH!  No fancy cookware needed.)
Meat Ideas:  Bacon goes without saying.  Sausage is always good.  Ground beef works well depending on the vegetables you add.  Frittatas even help me enjoy ham (pictured above), which I otherwise detest.  They make miracles happen, clearly!

Step Two:  Saute onions with your choice of base vegetables in the meat renderings (Bacon, obvs is a favorite!)

Combos I particularly enjoy:  Onions and Peppers, Onions and Broccoli Slaw (Tell me you enjoy pre-packaged broccoli slaw in your kitchen?  It is awesome for quick easy cooking), Onions and Zucchini — The combos are ENDLESS.  It’s like pizza for breakfast, only healthy!

Step Three:  Add Salt, Pepper + Seasoning to compliment your vegetable choice.  This is what gives your Frittata its depth of flavor.  Get experimental here, it’s pretty fun!
Combos I particularly enjoy:  Onions and Peppers with Taco Seasoning, Onions and Broccoli Slaw with Herbs de Provence.  Onions and Zucchini with Italian Seasoning.  Easy Peasy!

Step Four:  Pour 8-10 whisked eggs (depending on size — I usually use 8 Extra Large Eggs) over your magnificent mixture and move it all around so it allows the egg to penetrate to the bottom of the pan, and let it set for a minute or two.  (This makes the bottom of your frittata more stable so it comes out all in one piece when you slice it.)

Step Five:  Add any additional Mix Ins.  What do I mean by mix ins?  Anything you want in the Frittata that doesn’t need to be sauteed.  
Good Mix Ins: Diced Tomatoes, Cheese, Vegetables you want crunchy, fresh herbs  

Step Six:  Bake in a 325 degree oven (remember this from Step One) for 25 minutes.  
*************************************

Obviously the step where I tell you to “Enjoy!” is implied, ok?  I don’t want anyone to get overwhelmed and 7 Steps was my personal tipping point.

Here are some Frittata Combos I have thoroughly enjoyed:

*Ground Beef, Onions, Green Chilis from a can (classy!), Taco Seasoning, Cheddar, Tomatoes
*Ham, Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Broccoli Slaw, Herbs de Provence, Cheddar (Pictured Above – and also the one I’m currently OBSESSED with)
*Bacon, Onions, Tomatoes, Cheddar (served with shredded Romaine in Italian Dressing on top)
*Bacon, Onions, Zuchini, Italian Seasoning, Parmesan
Are you a Frittata Fan?  What combos have you invented?

May Books

So yes, May was indeed a craptactular month, but at least I read some good books!  7 to be exact.  I am pretty much kicking ass on my Read 50 Books goal so I may even try to read 100, just to be obnoxious.  I make this goal to read 50 books every year and I never actually achieved it.  Why it has been so easy this year is still a mystery to me, but when I figure it out the secret you will be the first to know. 

My book choices were all over the place this month as you will see, but I promise if you make it all the way to the end of my ramblings, you will be rewarded.  Here is what I read:

Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob I bought this on a whim because Garrett was making a purchase on Amazon and he wanted to get free shipping.  I make a lot of purchases this way, actually.  It makes sense at the time, you know! (And I wonder why I fail to save money.)  Surprisingly though, this book was an inspiring read.  I enjoyed that along with recipe writing and food critiquing there was a large focus on food blogging.  I’m always happy when blogging as a subject matter is treated as “Real Writing.”  There were interviews with some of my favorite food bloggers and a lot of behind the scenes scoop about charting a career in food writing.  Though I’m not sure I will go that route in the future, it did get my creative juices flowing.  Also I finally admitted to myself the I have a fantasy about writing a food memoir.  That may have been worth the $10 alone.  It was a bargain for all the info inside, and such a quick and easy read.  If you are interested in food writing in the slightest, definitely pick this up.   
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion I was gifted this book on two separate occasions and though I had started it many times, I had never been able to finish it.  Even as someone who loves a heart-wrenching story of loss, in the past it had been a little bit intense for me and I would read a few pages and then put it down.  I finally finished it and the truth is, there is nothing even slightly uplifting about the story of Didion’s sudden loss of her husband while her daughter is fighting for her life in the hospital.  I can’t think of a more tragic tale, frankly, but what lifts this book are the poignant observations of moments of grief.  In the past that is actually what made me need to put the book down — her clarity is painfully accurate.  This time I let myself read and absorb and admire her ability to articulate these things so close to the events.  It was painful.  I can’t say that made me enjoy the book,  but it did give me a great appreciation for Didion’s experiences and her courage to harness her voice in such a dark time.   
In a complete departure from Joan Didion, Tori Spelling’s memoir about her crazy Hollywood life sort of left me at a crossroads. I have a guilty pleasure love for Tori Spelling but these last two books have been trite and a little bit derivative.  And really?  ENOUGH with the “Tori” puns.  I am objecting to her new show sToribook Weddings on this principle alone.  My god, it was funny the first time!  I was actually going to do an I Read Celebrity Memoirs So You Don’t Have To post on this book, but it was just too blah to even put in that much effort.  I think it is time I put down the Tori Spelling books.  Guess you will just have to wait for the Jesse James American Outlaw post for that.  Yes, I totally DID check that out from the library.  Let the douchery begin!   

Longing for a little depth after the Tori Spelling fiasco, I picked up another grief memoir.  God it is just feast or famine around here with the book choices this month, apparently.  So many parts resonated strongly with me:  

And as I was walking I thought: I will carry this wound forever.  It’s not a question of getting over it or healing.  No; it’s a question of learning to live with this transformation.  For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools.  It is too central for that.  It’s not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction.

If you could read the words on my heart surrounding the death of my father, it would be those.  Reading that caused some serious waterworks.  Along with this:

One of the ugly truths about a loss is that you don’t just mourn the dead person, you mourn the person you got to be when the lost one was alive.  This loss might even be what affects you most.  Because many had not gone through a terrible loss or a major illness, they were still operating as planners, coordinators, under the star of entitlement, from which I had been abruptly banished.  I had felt that, however benignly or unconsciously, the world around me wanted my grief stifled and silenced; it threatened a particular lie of the moment and class I lived in, the myth of self-improvement and control, the myth of meritocratic accomplishment leading to happiness and security.  I drew close to those who’d gone through an experience that ruptured this way of seeing the world because those who hadn’t often left me feeling keenly alone.  

“…the myth of meritocratic accomplishment leading to happiness and security.”  This is EXACTLY what gets shattered when someone close to you dies.  For me, realizing that it was a myth at the age of 19 was honestly the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.  When I read that, I wept.  Loss is so complex.   
After two remarkably raw books about loss, I needed to read something that I KNEW would make me laugh.  I hope you don’t have any doubt that this book totally delivered.  I mean honest to god Tina Fey is funny.  This entire book I just kept thinking:  Why are you not my BFF?  There were a few things I didn’t love though.  She manages to write an entire book about herself without really revealing much, and she does it by constantly using self deprecating humor…which, I mean, fine — it was a hoot.  But I also think she is a super interesting and successful person so I would have loved it if she owned that a bit more and gave some insight instead of talking about all of her flaws.  Overall though:  HYSTERICAL.  Just an absolute 10 on the funny scale.  I especially enjoyed the parts on nail salons in New York.  Ohmygod, I was rolling!  

A novella followed by a collection of short stories, I found this book to only be ok.  I enjoyed her  book The Dive From Clausen’s Pier,  so when I read about this new collection of stories while flipping through O Magazine, I instantly reserved a copy at the library.  I definitely didn’t hate it, her prose is very nuanced and it is the kind of stuff that you read and think “Damn!  She knows how to write!”  But the stories also weren’t the kind of stories that really called to me.  There was one story that was a complete page turner but the end was so disappointing that I actually shouted — REALLY? THAT’S IT?  And then Garrett checked me into a mental hospital.  Seriously though, I find I feel that way with a lot with short stories and I’ve acknowledged before that maybe it is just not my preferred genre — but I just want to like it so badly!  Besides every once in a while I come across a life changing set of short stories and that keeps the hope alive that maybe, just maybe, I will find another collection that I will love as thoroughly.  This, however, was not that collection.   

I almost feel bad that I am writing about this book last because it was by far the best book I read all month.  I just love Susan Casey, but you already knew that.  Really though, I kind of want to be her when I grow up.  This book tells the story of Laird Hamilton and his posse of wave-chasing extreme surfers and juxtaposes it with scientific information about rogue waves, tsunamis, climate change — heck there was even an entire chapter about insurance company Lloyd’s of London and how they deal with shipwreck losses, which was right up my alley as an insurance geek.  I just found this book totally engrossing.  A worthwhile read if you have any curiosity about or fear of the ocean or have any desire to understand what makes Big Wave Surfers tick.  Mother Nature is one fascinating protagonist.  
So tell me:  What did you read this month that rocked your world?  My library queue is dying to know!  

What’s For Dinner?

Well I couldn’t very well tell you last week that I want to be more accountable at meal planning and then not actually make a meal plan.  So here’s what we are eating next week.  What recipes around the internet are you excited about?  Leave me some links in the comments.  I need some new recipe inspiration.  Don’t worry if they aren’t Paleo, I’m a very good recipe adapter. 

Monday
Lunch:  My Favorite Chili leftovers
Dinner:  Green Chili Turkey Burgers over spinach + Green Salad + Sweet Potato Fries

Tuesday
Lunch: Chicken Rogan Josh with Broccoli Slaw
Dinner:  Taco Salads
*I make my own taco seasoning, add it to ground beef, and throw in a mess of vegetables


Wednesday
Lunch:  Grilled Chicken Thighs + Sauteed Squash with Onions
Dinner:  Dad’s Pork Chops + Roasted Onions and Broccoli


Thursday
Lunch:  My Favorite Chili leftovers
Dinner:  Green Curry Pot Roast + Garlic Cauliflower Mash + Roasted Parsnips
*This pot roast is to die for.  I mean, dead.  So good. So easy. 


Friday
Lunch:  Sausage + Peppers
Dinner:  Skillet Herbed Chicken Tenderloins + Sauteed Garlicky Zucchini


Saturday
Lunch:  Out
Dinner:  Stovetop Pork Carnitas + Salad + Clean out the crisper drawer veggies
*This is the best make at home carnitas recipe I’ve ever made
 
Sunday
Grocery Shop


*Breakfast this week includes Green Smoothies, Mini Frittatas, or scrambled eggs + sausage. 

What’s on your menu?
________________________________

Why I Keep Garrett Around

H:  Babe! Come look at this guy I had a huge crush on in High School.  He looks so old now!  We don’t look that old, right?***

G:  Of course not.  Maybe he’s a big boozer now or something.  Be nice.  Was he a boozer in high school?

H:  Well, yeah, but who wasn’t?

G:  You weren’t. 

H:  Oh, right. 

I’d probably forget my own name if he wasn’t around.

(***Don’t judge me. You know you do this too.) 
______________

Operation: Miser

*

One of my  major financial goals this year has been to pad our savings account.  The older I get, the more financially conservative I get, and the larger my safety net the better.  Getting out of debt (FINALLY!) last year was an amazing feeling, but having a nice sized savings has allowed Garrett and I to have flexibility with our choice of jobs and lifestyle, and feeling that freedom has given me huge incentive to save. 

As I was telling you the other day though, I am failing miserably at this goal,  and I am very ready to turn that around.  It would be one thing if the option to save was not available to us — if the money wasn’t there then this would be an altogether different conversation.  But the fact of the matter is we could be saving more and we just aren’t and I need to light a fire under my ass, so consider this post some lighter fluid.  I’m hoping you will strike the match –  Ideas? Motivation? Smackdown?  I’m all ears.

So Where Is the Money Going?

Being the anal retentive nerd that I am, I love budget type software.  Mint.com is what I currently use and it is nice to be able to see a quick snapshot of where our money is going throughout the month.  It’s not the perfect solution, but it is working right now.  Its only flaw is that I haven’t figured out how to split transactions into multiple categories.  For example if I go to Costco I buy groceries and household items but it can only be tagged as one or the other (I think.  If I’m wrong, enlighten me, please!)  

Anyway, in the interest of actually full disclosure in the name of reaching my savings goal (and because I know everyone loves a voyeuristic peek into other people’s lives — especially when it comes to money) here is an overview where ours has been going by category during the first half of the year:

January


February


March



April

May

Expense Key (What do they all mean?)

Food and Dining – includes grocery budget, household purchases made at Costco, our monthly meat share, dining out
Home – includes rent and home improvement costs. Like the jerk-wad plumber last month.
Bills & Utilities – includes electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash, cable, cell phones
Shopping – includes clothing, gifts, things bought on Amazon
Auto & Transport – includes auto insurance, maintenance and gas (neither of us have car payments)
Health & Fitness – includes both of our CrossFit memberships plus medical relating things
Education – includes my Student Loan Payment (sad trombone)
Personal Care – includes toiletries, haircuts, makeup etc.
Financial – Credit Monitoring
Entertainment – includes dining out with friends (separate from when the two of us dine out), date nights, parties thrown, theater tickets, etc.
Business Services – fees related to this here website


Acknowledging Where We Are:  The Smackdown


The Good 

  • I love that our money does reflect our values.  We are fans of voting with our dollars (even though I think that phrase is super douchey) and I’m proud that a large overall portion of our budget that goes to local, humanely raised, seasonal food meat and produce. I’m also happy that the bulk of our food spending is done for meals at home.
  • Transportation includes what we spend for gas every month and despite prices being RI-DONK-ULOUS right now, we routinely come in under budget in this area.  Plus neither of us have car payments.  Homebodies for the win, in this particular instance apparently.
  • Lately my monthly “shopping” has mostly included clothing purchases.  My weight loss has been steady and despite my ability to look chic in a pair of 2 sizes too big yoga pants, my work (and workout) wardrobe has needed to be maintained as my size changes.  I’m mostly ok with this.  Plus we are avid readers and library goers, so the amount of money I have saved on books in the last year has definitely affected our budget.
  • We don’t do a lot of superfluous spending.  Those categories up there are pretty much all we spend money on.  We just aren’t really into expensive gadgets, extreme vacations, or lavish gifts.  The money we spend is less about escape and more about investing in creature comforts that make our everyday life awesome.
  • None of that money is going towards debt (aside from that stupid student loan – which is tax deductible!)  HOLLA!

The Bad

  • Most of the time our grocery budget is more than we pay in rent to live in a 3 bedroom house in California (YIKES!) I just don’t spend mindfully at the grocery store and generally buy what I want, when I want.  Although this has many positive affects on our life (cooking is an enjoyed hobby, we eat out less) it is definitely an area where we could be more conscious.
  • We have had some extra spending on things for the the house lately with getting ready for Garrett’s 30th birthday party (furniture) and our plumbing woes.  This has totally blown our budget and frankly, we don’t even think about home maintenance often when we think about budgeting which creates a bit of a blind spot when something goes wrong. 
  • The amount that I am paying on my student loan is equivalent to a car payment.  And in respect to the overall amount owed that is so small that if I keep up at this pace I will be paying it back until I’m 90 and my State School education will have cost me Paris Hilton’s inheritance.  I’d like to redistribute some funds in that direction in an effort to reduce the overall amount.
  • The truth is, I just feel better saving than spending.  And this breakout isn’t letting me save routinely.  Saving is more of a here and there when I think about it activity, and I’m a big believer at paying myself first!

Acknowledging Where We Are Going: The Action Plan
Here are a few of my initial observations about where we can quickly make some changes.

  • Reduce the grocery leakage.  Right now, to me, this is the hole in the boat.  I know I didn’t put in the actual amounts for each item, but I will be honest with you here – there are only 2 of us, and I embarrassed to say that some of those months had spending of more than $1000 .  Granted this is 3 meals a day (we rarely eat out) and we do consume more meat and fresh vegetables doing Paleo than the average person who pads their meals with pasta/rice/grains; HOWEVER, I think we can be smarter.
  • Reduce mindless spending.  Yes of course I want an entire new wardrobe of fun clothes for summer and would like to continue spending $3-500 per month on clothes.  But I don’t think that’s necessary for a bit.  All of my clothes fit at the moment and I have a while before I will be swimming in them.  I’m considering during the month of July doing a little 30 for 30 Remix with my wardrobe.  Anyone up for it?
  • Get back to meal planning weekly and plan around the sales.  I love a good menu plan and I’m generally pretty good about making one each week.  But I could be much better about using my grocery circulars in the planning process and not doing so much of buying what I want when I want.  I don’t have much luck with coupons since we don’t buy anything that doesn’t grow or graze, but I could definitely be better at using coupons for staples like Olive Oil and Toiletries.
  • Figure out where the best deals REALLY are.  I generally buy as much as I can at Costco, but I know they do not always have the best price. Buying in bulk always feels cheaper, but mostly I do it for the convenience because while I love cooking and a full fridge, I don’t love grocery shopping.   I think I’m going to start a list like Beth mentions in this post.  Revolutionary idea and simple as can be.  Plus — I LOVE LISTS!   


So there are my thoughts, of course I would love your input!  

So tell me: 
*What tip has helped you to save money in the past? Depositing your paycheck into your savings account?  Setting up monthly budget parameters?  School me!
*What do you do to manage your grocery budget without being an Extreme Couponer?  I’m all ears on this one, obviously.
*What are your favorite money saving/financial inspiration websites?  I love reading about money because I’m a dork like that.
*What do you see that I don’t?  A fresh set of eyes is always nice! Am I throwing money away somewhere?

*photo credit
___________________________________

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