Pencil Bouquet Season

“You’ve Got Mail” is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s why I believe daisies are the friendliest flowers. I can quote most of the movie in my sleep. And in the words of Joe Fox, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.”

I know we haven’t quite yet hit pumpkin spice season, but many of my teacher friends are already working on getting back into the classroom. My post this week is both in honor of my time as an educator and my people who are still going back to school every August.

 

I am a teacher

which, by definition, means

(I instruct)

for a calling

for a paycheck

for a hobby

 

I am a teacher

which, by experience, smells

like (being surrounded)

swimming every day (from 8-3)

in a sea

between islands of body odor

(and wet paint)

 

I am a teacher

which, by vocation, feels

like I am among old children

miniature men (with mouse voices)

clown girls

with (new-found) melons

burgled beneath their sweaters

 

I am a teacher

which, by location, places (me)

among historical dictators

who dream up novels

(while mowing the lawn)

Spanish senoras

who use homecoming as an excuse

to play with a (Katniss Everdeen)

bow and arrow

English professors

who (in their “spare” time)

climb (and move) mountains

 

I am a teacher

I plant (the dreams of)

a changed world

in the (fertile) hearts

of adolescence

 

I am a teacher

(part fashionista)

part carnival stilts climber in heals

I heard cats (known as teenagers)

for a career

 

I am a teacher

with steel-clad bladder

and Mr. Fantastic arms

that can hold five people at once

 

I am a teacher

I bake

I counsel

I harvest

pulling from (their branches)

another bushel

of (poisoned) apples

$10 Meal. $20 Bottle of Wine.

SUZY RUMSEY IS BACK! THIS WEEK’S GUEST BLOG IS BROUGHT TO YOU ONCE AGAIN BY MY FORMER PROFESSOR AND DEAR MENTOR, AS SHE CONTINUES TO SHARE HER WISDOM FROM THE KITCHEN.

So maybe you have a date, and it’s finally time to cook for him or her. Or the in-laws are coming. Or maybe you’re wanting to have some girlfriends over to watch Pitch Perfect. Again. Or maybe you just want to treat yo’self. Whatever the reason, there comes a time when one needs to cook an actual meal for actual people. Possibly you want to impress those people. Just a little. Not like bacon-wrapped-filet-mignon-with-truffle-butter-haricot-verts-and-new-potatoes impress. But something more than spaghetti with a jar of Ragu on it.

How about baked ziti? It’s pretty easy and can be cheap. It tastes good. And it is fun to say. Say it with me: zeeee teeeee.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be able to offer a bottle of wine without the nickname “three buck chuck,” right? So, here’s a ziti version that is meant to elevate the dish a bit beyond jarred sauce, but I wanted to keep it cheap so there’s more money left over for wine. I could have added all kinds of shmancy things to make this dish swing dance in your mouth, but here’s a pretty basic version to start. The cool thing about it is that it has a lot of veggies in it, so it is a complete meal on its own. Neato.

For my $10 dinners, I assume you have four things on hand: water, salt, pepper, and olive oil. You’ll use both your oven and the stove. You will need a sheet pan (cookie sheet with sides), a pot, a deep fry pan, and maybe a big bowl. And a knife and cutting board so you can, you know, cut things.

Suzy’s Baked Ziti

Serves 4

Ingredient Cost
½ pound hot Italian sausage (pork or turkey)

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. Roma tomatoes

1 23 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 T tomato paste

16 oz whole wheat penne pasta

1 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach

1 8 oz package Italian style shredded cheese

1 T Italian Seasoning

 

Total

$2.00

$0.50

$0.25

$1.00

$1.50

$0.25

$1.00

$1.00

$2.49

$0.25

 

$10.24

 

(Yeah, I know it’s $0.24 over $10. These are estimated prices and your total bill might be a bit more or a bit less. It’ll be ok.)

Step 1. You So Saucy!

Preheat your oven to 450°. Cut the Roma tomatoes lengthwise and squish out some of the seeds. Drizzle the pan, the tomatoes, and probably the counter with olive oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Smoosh the tomatoes around a bit to make sure they are evenly coated. Arrange cut side up. Put pan in oven for 25 to 30 minutes until they look caramelized and sort of brown and shriveled. Let cool. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, remove and discard the skins. Set the pan aside to hang out for a bit. Reduce oven temperature to 400°.

While the tomatoes are roasting, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Microwave the box of spinach on high for 1 minute or until it is thoroughly defrosted. Dump the contents into a clean dish towel, draw up the corners of the towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

Heat a high sided frying pan over medium. Cook the sausage and onions until the meat isn’t pink and the onions look… cooked. Maybe add some olive oil if the pan looks dry. Add the garlic and stir around a bit. Add the tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Then add the pan of roasted tomatoes including all the juice and add the can of crushed tomatoes. Add some salt and pepper. Press any tomato chunks with the flat side of your spoon to make smaller chunks. Or use an emersion blender if you have one and feel like getting fancy. Turn the heat down to low to simmer for a bit and let the ingredients get to know one another a bit. This is date night after all.

Step 2. If You Like It You Shoulda Put a Lid on It  

In a big pot, probably the biggest you’ve got, fill 2/3 with water. Put a lid on it (this helps it boil faster),   and bring to a boil over high heat. (You could have done this while the tomatoes were roasting if you’re able to multitask.) Once water is boiling, toss in maybe 1 tablespoon of salt. Dump in your dried pasta and cook a minute or two shorter than the recommended cooking time listed on the box. This will probably be like 8 minutes or so. Ladle out maybe 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.

Step 3. Your Mise en Place are… en Place

Use olive oil to grease a 13×9 pan.  Then, if the pasta pot is big enough, or in your largest mixing bowl, dump in the pasta, the sauce, the spinach (loosened into individual pieces) and a little of the cheese. With either your hands or a big spoon, stir it up until it looks well mixed. Add some cooking liquid if it looks too dry. Taste a bit to see if it needs salt (it probably will). Now dump the whole mess into the greased 13×9 pan. Top with the rest of the cheese. Maybe drizzle some olive oil on top or sprinkle on a bit more Italian seasoning.  Shove the whole shebang into the preheated oven for like 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese looks like you want to dive face-first into it.

Extras. Imagine the Pasta-bilities

Want to make the ziti fancier? Add a small jar of prepared pesto, add more meat(s), add ricotta, add mushrooms, make the sauce from all fresh tomatoes, add wine before it simmers, etc.

Want more than just pasta? Add a bag o’ salad and dressing, add garlic bread or breadsticks, dessert, etc.

Don’t eat pork? Substitute with turkey sausage.

Vegetarian? No problem. Just delete the meat and maybe add more cheeses.

Hate Spinach? Sub in another veggie like shredded carrot which you won’t taste but will add that veggie bulk.

Paleo? Whole30? Use cooked spaghetti squash, increase the meat, delete the cheese, and maybe top with crumbled bacon (it’s good!)

But wait! The Wine!

You can try going to any number of sites online that offer wine recommendations. Most of their recommendations I’ve never heard of and can’t find easily. Instead, I’m going to suggest a few of my favorites you can get at your local Kroger store or a typical liquor store. Because this is pasta with red sauce, I’m going to focus on red wines.

First, I recommend looking at red blends instead of specific grape varietals. I’ve found that for wines in the $15-$20 range, red blends often have a round, drinkable quality that is missing from a merlot or pinot. Vintners just dump all the extra grapes into one batch and see what happens. You can get a tasty bang for your $20 bucks. I’ve been really digging Kendall-Jackson’s red blends, Decoy red blend, and Noble Vines 1 Red Blend lately.

If you want a specific grape, I encourage you to try out Sirah, Malbec, Zinfandel (please note this is not that pink, cloyingly sweet “white zinfandel” that Beringer and Barefoot are known for), and Pinot Noir. I find that new wine drinkers often gravitate to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon just because they sound familiar. Try something new!  Inexpensive options abound for these other grapes, and truly, you are more likely to find a solid bottle picking a different kind of grape.

One last thought about wine. One of the perks to having $20 bucks to try out new wine is that you may be able to try TWO $10 bottles, particularly if there are sales (e.g. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel and, surprisingly, Barefoot Malbec). And let’s face it, if you open both bottles to, ahem, let them breath, after a while you’re not going to care if it isn’t great wine.

INTERESTED IN WRITING A GUEST BLOG FOR THE NEWBIE NESTERS? CONTACT ME AT THENEWBIENESTERS@GMAIL.COM!

Favorite Reads 2017

We’re officially past the middle of July, so I can’t exactly call this a summer read post. But as an avid reader, I can never get enough book recommendations from my people.

Below are a few of my favorite brain candy bites I’ve enjoyed over the past year. You should be able to find any of them at your local library, or (separate from the graphic novels) they are all available via Audible as audio books.

Let’s start with my recent favorite graphic novels (a hugely underrated genre, if you ask me. You can read more about why I especially love nonfiction graphic novels here).

  • Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas (Jim Ottaviani): I walked away from this book with not only a new appreciation for these amazing women of science, but also an even deeper love for great ape research and preservation. Such a quick read, but definitely worth picking up! (Ottaviani’s rendition of The Imitation Game is also just stunning.)
  • An Age of License (Lucy Knisley): Knisley has paved the way in unswerving personal life reflections in comic form. She is most known for Relish, her love letter to food in her life, but this travelogue is a beautiful love letter to the in-between of being an early adult and trying to figure out where we belong in this world.

As a former high school English teacher, I have special place in my heart for young adult literature. Arguably some of the best writers of our time are writing for teens these days, and the older I get, the more I enjoy sinking into certain books from this genre.

  • Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy (Rick Riordan): Riordan is a comic genius, hands down. His ability to revitalize Greek mythology and connect it to the 21st century world is priceless. This latest series of his works as a sequel to his original Percy Jackson magic in which the god Apollo has lost his immortality as a punishment from Zeus. Plus, this second book in the series is completely based in Indianapolis, IN!
  • All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven): Another beautiful book based in Indiana! I first heard about this book through the Zoella Book Club (this girl has AMAZING taste in books!), and I walked away from it both heart-broken and inspired. This novel speaks to the unseen beauty of the everyday and challenges every one of its readers to go looking for unexpected adventures.

And finally, two adult fiction pieces that are definitely worth the read…

  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Susan Elia MacNeal): This is part of the Maggie Hope series I discovered through Audible. Light-hearted mysteries (like the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich) have always been one of my favorite easy reads, and MacNeal delivers a book full of enjoyable characters over the backdrop of World War II England. Expect cameos by Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, and the Roosevelt family!
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan): This novel is one part intrigue, one part love letter to quirky indie bookstores. But more than anything, I enjoyed this book for its conversation about the future of books in the age of the computer.

What about you guys? What have you enjoyed reading so far this year? I look forward to your recommendations!

For Pup’s Sake

I have been blessed with one of the best floofs in the world.

She has been an extra in Shakespeare plays, an honorary Hufflepuff, volunteer mother to a tiny kitten, and one of the best hiking companions I could ask for.

IMG_20170401_202652031

But Rory wasn’t the first dog in my life. In fact, my parents would still argue to this day that I was lucky enough to come from a family who knew enough about dogs to guide me toward some important decisions when it came to choosing and raising my dog. So today I’d like to pass on some of that puppy starter kit wisdom, complete with a few pictures of a dog of my own.

 

  • The Right Breed: I have a full-bred Australian Shepherd, but my family has always proudly been the owners of muts. There can be a value in seeking out a purebred dog, because research can then tell you what that dog will most likely become, but you also need to remember that choosing a purebred also means paying a lot for a dog that is more likely to have major health issues. I chose a shepherd breed because they are less likely to be over-bred, but even then Aussie’s can have serious heart issues. Either way, if you decide to go the purebred rout, make sure to both research and regularly be in communication with your breeder. Choose a private breeder. Do NOT support puppy mills.
  • The Puppy Trust Test: So you’ve found a breeder you like. You’re ready to go meet the litter in person to pick your pup. But how do you know which one is right? There are two things you want to look for when picking the right dog: peace and trust. Contrary to what most dog movies will tell you, keep an eye out for the dog that doesn’t lunge straight for humans when you go to meet the puppies. You don’t want a terrified dog, but an energetic puppy can often lead to a dog who doesn’t always want to listen to you as an adult. Once you’ve found the calm, collected pup in the group, pick him or her up with one hand and hold the dog over your head. A dog who flails and gets nervous in your hands is less likely to trust you, while a dog who relaxes and acts like this is completely normal has already decided you’re a keeper.
  • When should I bring my dog home? If you’re working with a breeder and have the option to bring home your dog whenever, the experts will say a puppy can come home from the mother as early as 8 weeks of age. I brought Rory home at 10 weeks, but I could have waited until she was a full 3 months old. Basically, the longer you can keep a pup with the mother, the more time your puppy will have to learn social dog graces. Rory was less prone to nipping and aggressive playing, because her mom had already taught her those behaviors were unacceptable.
  • The Blanket Trick: Sleep with a blanket or towel in your bed for at least a month before you bring your dog home. Then when your puppy comes home, give the blanket to your pup. This will help them get used to your smell and associate it with comfort and home.
  • Monthly cost for a new puppy: You will need to take your pup to the vet every 6 months for the first 2 years of their life. So including the cost of vaccines, neutering/spaying, training, treats, food, and toys, you should budget for about $75 per month until your puppy’s second birthday.
  • The Ice Cube Trick: My mom has always said that puppies are a great training manual for being a human parent someday, especially because they will wake you up several times throughout the night until their bladders get bigger. After you let your puppy out, they will often go straight for the water bowl, which will only mean more breaks from sleep for you throughout the night. To prevent this, put the water bowl up for the night and offer your puppy an ice cube to munch on in the middle of the night. It will slake their thirst, help with teething, and (most important) it won’t make them have to pee again.
  • Training and Grooming: No matter how well-trained your dog is, there is value in going to at least one round of training classes with your pup. It’s an opportunity for you and your puppy to bond and for you to socialize your dog in a safe space. The same is true for taking your dog to a groomer at least once when they’re young. This will teach them to not be bothered with people touching their paws and head and can help make them more comfortable around new people overall.

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What about you? What tips do you have to share with your fellow canine parents? If you’re interested, I’d love to share some starter tips for kittens as well!

Netflix Binging Worth Your Time

I’ve written before about how much video streaming and TV viewing has changed since my years in college. But just as how I’m watching has changed, so has what I’m watching.

When my parents moved my brother and me out to the country just before second grade, they started a cable subscription. My friends may have only had what we called “The Farmer Five” channels, but we lived in style with Nickelodeon, Disney, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, and so much more. By the time I was a young adult, cable seemed an important necessity to a wholesome life.

However, when I graduated from college and suddenly the cable bill was left for me to pay, I opted out of the $60/month option for $10 monthly Netflix payment and access to all the reruns I could ever hope for.

It’s funny to think that I’ve been sending money to Netflix for almost 10 years. And even in that time, I’ve shifted away from my weekly Netflix DVD in the mail and bingeing on the TV show box sets I keep in a basket near my Blu-ray player. Now I stream everything through my Xbox, and most of my DVD’s have shrunk down to the size of an external hard drive for easy transport and access wherever I go.

Plus, while Netflix is still great for a good, nostalgic rerun marathon, there are Netflix Original shows to consider as well in the mix. So this week, I want to share…

My Top Five Binge-Worthy Netflix Shows

Orange is the New Black: This might be the first Netflix Original I first got hooked on, but now I can’t stop. Based on the memoir of the real Piper Chapman, this show shares multiple perspectives of America’s messy underbelly over the backdrop of a short-term prison in New York. It is the perfect blend of edgy, sassy, and honest to the point that I have to make sure to clear my social calendar for at least a week when a new season comes out. (Episode length is up to 60 minutes)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Since moving to Chicago, I have been regularly called an Indiana Mole Woman, and it doesn’t even bother me. This show tells the story of Kimmy Schmidt, a girl who was abducted and kept underground for over a decade with several other women in Indiana. After being rescued, she moves to NYC, and the rest is comedic perfection. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Grace and Frankie: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin both star in this show about two women rebuilding their lives after their husbands come out as gay…for each other. The situation is already too funny for words, but then add in a group of writers who have managed to create a show where we can laugh with the act of aging, not at it. Fonda and Tomlin are still graceful as they deal with bad backs, carpel tunnel, and reentering the dating pool after 50 years of marriage. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Fuller House: It’s the same house, a lot of the same actors, and the same level of family feel good cheese…but something about this reboot just feels right. There’s a little less mood music, a little more girl power, plus guest appearances by John Stamos if you’re willing to commit to a whole season. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

Julie’s Greenroom: You can tell me this show is meant for children until your face turns blue, but that still hasn’t stopped me from loving every second of it. Think Julie Andrews (my favorite human) meets Muppets meets the fine arts…plus guest appearances from Idina Menzel, Josh Groban, Chris Colfer, and so many more! If you’re a Broadway junkie like me, you just might have to pull up a chair and check it out. (Episode length is up to 30 minutes)

I know there are so many other good originals on Netflix (and more being added every day). What are you watching this summer, readers? Post your recommendations in the comments below!

 

Around the World with the Right Stuff

I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted. Blame it on the beginning of summer and several big life decisions. The short version of the story is I’m staying in Chicago for now (frustrating parking and all), and I’m pretty content with the fact that the UPS workers around the corner from my office now know my name.

There are several things I’ll never get used to in this land of concrete and body odor, constant travel being one of them. Since moving to Chicago last July, I’m not sure if I’ve ever stopped moving. And this includes travel outside of the city. I regularly wander to Valparaiso, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne back in Indiana – and recently my boss paid for his entire team to go to Mexico!

Now I’m pretty sure if it’s done right, the bite of the international travel bug never stops itching. Previously, I’ve been to Rome, Paris, and London, but Cancun, Mexico was a whole other fantastic experience.

For those of you who are novices to traveling the world, I’ve included a few of my top travel tips this week. So here we go!

THE PACKING

  • Because electricity is different in Europe, make sure to get an international plug converter. Don’t plug ANYTHING in without it, or you’ll fry whatever you plug in. You can find these converters at Best Buy or Radio Shack.
  • Roll clothing, instead of folding it in your suitcase. It leaves more room.
  • In your carry-on, pre-pack all liquids and medications in a see-through Ziploc bag. Put it in a front pocket. That will make it easier to grab when you go through security.
  • Pack an empty carry-on sized bag in your checked luggage. You can fill it with souvenirs then for your travels home.
  • Even though we want to believe that your luggage will not get lost, it’s always good to be prepared. Pack one change of clothes and some essential toiletries in your carry-on just in case. Change of underwear is most important!

THE FLIGHT

  • Pack good headphones. Most international flights have unlimited movies and TV for you to watch. Or you can always download shows from Netflix and YouTube to watch offline.
  • Make sure to sleep at least a little on the way there if you can. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Usually adult passengers on international flights gets one complimentary alcoholic beverage. Enjoy some champagne to take the edge off the plane time!
  • Pack gum in your carry-on. It helps with takeoff and landing times because of air pressure changes.

THE TRIP

  • Some of the best advise my mom gave me: Don’t feel like you need to spend all your money on souvenirs for others. Your pictures and stories are cheaper and will mean so much more to them.
  • Check out the travel laws for whatever country you’re heading to before buying alcohol. Some countries might confiscate it before you get it back on American soil.
  • As you buy souvenirs, keep an ongoing list. This will help you when you have to fill out customs forms to reenter the country.
  • If you can, don’t pack 10 brand new outfits. Pack lots of clothes for layering. One pair of pants, two or three pairs of shorts, and one skirt. If you want something nice, pack a dress that doesn’t wrinkle easily. Then pack shirts that go with all of them. The more you can pre-plan outfits and be prepared for any weather, the happier you will be.
  • PACK GOOD WALKING SHOES! I know you guys will be going to and fro by car and bus a bit, but we Americans always underestimate how much Europeans are used to walking from one place to the next.
  • If you have a smartphone, this is honestly the best option to use as a camera. Put it on airplane mode while you’re overseas (so it doesn’t use up data), and then only use it to take pictures. This makes them easier to edit and share online later, instead of waiting to put them on a computer when you get home.

No matter what, always be polite and appreciative to airport security. I have stopped counting the amount of times I’ve received special treatment because I smiled and thanked them for doing their job.

Bon voyage, readers! Where are you planning to go this summer?

The Truth about Adulting with Chad Seewald

This week’s guest blog is brought to you by my favorite chocolate guru and one of my dearest kitchen mentors, Chad Seewald (check out his bakery’s Instagram and Facebook).

“Congratulations! You’re officially an adult! You know how to cope with all the things now!” said no one ever.

Adult. Ha! I’m nearing forty and in my head I still feel like a teenager, continuously unsure about all things, afraid to say the wrong things, playing it all by ear and making it up as I go along. But, to the rest of the world I’m a full-fledged adult. Heck, I even have people that look to me for advice, mentorship, and help.

So, I guess it’s all about perspective.

A little bit of background…

I’m a husband of an amazingly supportive woman whom I don’t believe I deserve, but I’m never going to let go. We both work ridiculous hours. We own a dessert shop that does everything from geek-themed chocolates to custom cakes that require power tools, homemade ice creams with flavors like Droid Tracks and Avocado Strawberry to plated desserts like Crème Brûlée and Piecakens. On top of that my wife works a fulltime job as a mental health counselor and I created a non-profit to assist other small business owners. We have two kids, one entering high school, one nearly in middle school. At the end of our work days we seek the refuge of the couch and comfort, and try and balance quality time and relaxation, cleaning house and recharging our batteries.

And we’re tired. Pretty much all the time.

No, seriously, like ALL THE TIME.

But, and this is the key to it all, we’re happy.

No matter how tired we are, we’re pretty much one of the happier couples I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have more time to spend with the kids, have more money in the bank, take more vacations, lose 10 more pounds (okay, maybe more than 10), spend more time volunteering, doing more things to change the face of our town, our state, our country, the world…

But, I’ve learned that while the desire for “more” is real and acceptable, it’s what you give up in the struggle for it that matters.

I see friends and family post about how “adulting” is hard, how it’s horribly difficult to try and keep your house immaculate, how there’s never enough time after running one child to band and another to drama, or how there’s never enough time to do the things they want to do. And then, two hours later they post about how they’re relaxing and watching the latest series on Netflix or reading a book, or posting a picture of an incredible meal they either made or are enjoying at a restaurant, or they’re out with friends at a concert or bar.

And it becomes clear that the issue isn’t about how hard it is to be an adult, but rather the fact that we now live in an age where we all realize that there isn’t a point where you are mystically taken aside and told that you’re now an adult. We all grow up seeing our parents navigate the world we’re now a part of and we don’t remember the conversations that happened with lines like “Honey, did you pay the electric bill?” or “Dear, did you pick up the milk like I asked?” But those conversations have happened forever. The first couples in caves probably had talks about whether they remembered to go hunting or who’s turn was it to tend the fire.

What’s changed is the perspective. We’re now able to see people having the lives we wish we had 24-7 and we assume that they MUST know something we don’t. We can see our childhood friends post about the great things their children are doing, our neighbors posting about their trip to Aruba, or our friends posting about self-care or going out to eat every night of the week, and we think, they must have it so much easier than I do.

But, the truth is that, as a whole, we have it easier than any other generation. Sure, we have challenges that have never existed before, but we have more options and activities in our lives than ever before as well, and more freedoms and choices opening before us every day.

So, why is being an adult considered harder than ever? Because we lose perspective. Rather than focusing on the little moments that matter with family and friends, we are constantly seeking “more.”

Want the key to “adulting?”

First, stop referring to it as “adulting.” It’s being an adult. And that means taking responsibility. Don’t be afraid to make the big decisions that matter, like ordering a pizza because you’re far too busy to make a full meal. And an adult won’t feel guilty about it.

Second, feel free to let some things go by the wayside. I’m a firm believer that a messy home means a loved family. Sometimes it’s more important to spend some quality time together and make some memories rather than worry about the little details.

Third, and perhaps this is most important, stop seeking the “more.” That doesn’t mean to settle for what you have. That doesn’t mean to stop trying to make the world better. It means that if you take a moment, look around you, and take in all the things in your life, you’ll probably be overwhelmed with the “amazing” happening in your life already. Finding those moments in your life will allow you to find your center and truly be happy with where you are. Once you’ve found that happiness, then you can recognize the things in life that do need attention and even try and change them.

You know, like an adult.

Interested in writing a guest blog for The Newbie Nesters? Contact me at thenewbienesters@gmail.com!

 

 

Riding with Cars in the Windy City

Over the past few months, I have missed driving my car.

And when I say this to local Chicago people, they laugh at me. “Why would you want to drive a car when you can jump on public transportation? Trains and buses all at your fingertips with the help of a CTA pass!”

Public transportation is amazing, don’t get me wrong. It allows me to people watch and get to know my new city better – without all the hassle of traffic and jay-walking pedestrians and crazy Chicago drivers. But as a Midwestern girl who’s been driving a car from here to there for over 10 years now, there are certain elements of the driving experience that I miss now in the Windy City.

Today’s topic, therefore: THE PROS AND CONS OF CARS IN THE CITY

  1. Parking: I never realized how much I took free parking for granted until it was gone. Back home in Indiana, public parking is usually in abundance, and if it does cost anything, the charge is minimal. Here in Chicago, a personal parking spot will often come with a price tag of $100 or more a month. Otherwise, street parking is available where you can find it. Just watch out for pedestrian cross-walks, parking too close to stop signs, bus routes, snow plow routes, street cleaning days, fire hydrants, and zoned parking ordinances.
  2. Personal space: This is one of the things I miss the most about driving my own car. When you are driving in your own car, you get to pick the temperature, the level of noise, what kind of noise, who’s traveling with you. You can throw your purse in the backseat with the clothes you still need to return to Old Navy. You’re allowed to have food with you. You don’t have to worry about the body odor of the person sitting next to you or whether or not you might take out someone’s eye with your backpack as you try to maneuver onto a train. In the midst of a hectic city landscape, a car can be your own personal bubble that helps you find some serenity.
  3. Radio time: You can tell me radio is a dying art, but there will always be something so right about combining radio and time in my car. I only lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while I was going to college there, but in those four years, my car dashboard was personalized with my favorite radio stations for my driving time. Since I drive so rarely in Chicago, I still have yet to really get to know the Windy City’s radio waves. From NPR to big pop hits, even to the random Spanish mariachi channel, I miss flipping from station to station in my car.
  4. Cost: Then again, because street parking is a more risky investment for car insurers, my insurance has over doubled in cost since moving to Chicago. Plus gas costs are pretty high in comparison to other areas of America. An unlimited all-month CTA pass costs $100, and I know I get more for my dollar with public transportation. But public buses just don’t have that broken-in car smell…
  5. Flexible schedule: As great as public transportation is, it runs on a schedule. This means I now plan my morning commute around when the right bus will arrive at my street corner, instead of jumping into my car and getting somewhere whenever I want. It adds a level of dependency to my traveling experience that can sometimes get rather frustrating.
  6. Going home: At the end of the day, this is the real reason why I keep my car around. There will always be Greyhound buses or Amtrak trains for me to catch, but I love the freedom and ease of being able to jump in my car and head home whenever I want. Over holidays, in the midst of family emergencies, or just because I want a break from Chicago, it has been so enjoyable to be able to just jump in my car and go.

As is true with all adult processes, there is no one easy answer. I have come to appreciate time in my car as an unexpected treat instead of an underappreciated privilege, and riding the CTA always comes with its own set of adventures. But at the end of the day, I hope more and more for a life that allows me time in Galinda the Car, instead of the unknowns of a Red Line CTA train.

Kitchen Love with Suzy Rumsey

This week’s guest blog is brought to you by my former professor and dear mentor, Suzanne Rumsey.

I have found that one of the main challenges of adulting is feeding myself and my husband at regular, repetitive, annoyingly predictable intervals. At first, you could probably exist on Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisine (for the “health conscious”), the ever-present ramen noodles, and eating out. But you’re a real grown up now, right? At some point quick, packaged foods leave you hungry for more, literally and figuratively. So what do you do? You learn to cook. And just as important, although for most not nearly as interesting, you learn to plan.

For learning to cook, I advise beginning small and simple. Even though I knew the basics and could follow a recipe, most of my cooking experience leaned toward, well, cookies and coffee cakes. Chicken, wild rice, and a vegetable were kind of a mystery. And fish? Clueless. And there was no Google. And we walked up hill both ways. When I was first on my own, in (gulp) the late 90s, I found a great little cookbook called Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen Cookbook by Kevin Wells and Nancy Wells. It got my over the first hurdles in my tiny first apartment in college.

Then in graduate school, I was completely on my own in an even tinier apartment. I had no one to eat the food I prepared but me, so I began to experiment a lot more. Only one dish ended up in the outside garbage can (it smelled too bad to throw away inside). I also lived on a verrrry tight budget. That is when I began meal planning.

Meal planning, for me, is based on a few foundational premises. First, I have a financial budget to follow. Second, I don’t like to waste food. And third, I try to eat healthy, when, let’s be honest, pre-packaged foods are often cheaper.

First, planning for me is key. I make a list (I loooove lists) in my bullet journal (see also Carrie Crista’s “Beginner’s Guide to Bullet Journaling” for a great how to videos) of the menu for the week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My husband and I typically eat the same things for breakfasts and lunches during the work week. Dinners are varied, and then we have leftovers and meals out sometimes on weekends. Here is what my bullet journal list looks like for this week:

rumsey blog 1

Next to my plan of what to eat, I make a list for shopping and a list for cooking. Shopping with a list is crucial to sticking to my foundational premises of budget, low waste, and healthy. If I shop without it, I tend to splurge on shmancy oils, blue cheese stuffed olives, or something from the bakery. My cooking list is one that helps me plan ahead for the work week. I cook and prep for 2 or 3 hours over the weekend so that feeding my face is simplified when I’m tired and grumpy during the week.

rumsey blog 2

A simplified menu is one that will likely be less expensive because you buy more of one thing. It will also tend to be less wasteful. And it is easy to make it healthy. You could, for example, buy lentils, brown rice, eggs, sweet potatoes, and frozen vegetables and live extremely, vegetarian-ly, frugally. Add to that a bag of frozen chicken breasts, canned crushed tomatoes and other staples, and you’ve got yourself a lean, mean, budgeted machine. Each week splurge on a new spice blend, infused oil, or other “flavor punch” and the possibilities of your menu are simple, but endless (e.g. one week get Garam Masala or basic curry powder  and enjoy chicken, sweet potato, and cauliflower Indian curry over brown rice, or get fresh ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce and escape to Thailand).

Another trick I use is “rolling forward” with food prep. For example, if I’m using sweet potatoes in two dishes, I’ll cook extra the first night and save the others for the next meal. Or on my prep day, I’ll chop all the onions (while weeping… and singing My Heart Will Go On, of course), carrots etc. for several meals. Chicken, when cooked simply with salt and pepper, can go in just about anything.

Another thing I do is bulk cooking. During my prep times, sometimes I prep for much further in advance than just the following week. I might cook a double batch of brown rice then portion it into plastic baggies, flatten them, and freeze them in a stack. Or I might make a monster batch of chili (really, is there any other kind?) and portion it into freezable containers so I’ve got quick meals some week when things are crazy. This past week, my bulk cooking looked like this.

rumsey blog 3

Also, buying in bulk, when things are on sale, helps stretch a buck. Your freezer and your crockpot are your friends.

So there you have it. Feeding yourself like an adult doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. But planning really is key to doing so. Plus, when you plan ahead and have real food your body will thank you, your wallet will thank you, and your friends will be totally jealous and confounded by your supreme adulting prowess.

 

Interested in writing a guest blog for The Newbie Nesters? Contact me at thenewbienesters@gmail.com!

The Search for Balance

There was a point in my life when I was overwhelmed.

I was a full-time high school teacher, part-time nanny and English language tutor, part-time graduate student…while also trying to function as a dog owner, sister, daughter, friend, mentor…not to mention keeping up with social media, finding time to grocery shop, or doing anything outside of my apartment. I thought I was happy because I was always so busy, but in reality, I was exhausted and lonely and overwhelmed.

It wasn’t until I agreed to talk with a therapist for a while that I realized how much my life had fallen out of a healthy alignment. We began to have weekly discussions about what I was doing for myself, what time I had taken to actually breathe and refresh throughout the day.

Maybe you’re not an extrovert like me, and maybe you don’t have a problem with saying no to people. But it took me almost 25 years before I learned that I had to take care of myself before I could actually be energized and excited enough to be around other people.

So here’s a little “self-care” list for you this week, some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that have helped me remember to breathe in and out repeatedly through even the hardest of days.

Keep a gratefulness journal – This comes in many forms for me, but I know it can be easy to fall into the language of negativity when you are just tired at the end of a long day. Studies have shown that happiness is practiced, not a natural feeling. So write yourself a post-it with a list of at least three things you didn’t hate during your day. Leave it on your mirror so it’s the first thing you see when you get up in the morning. That way, you begin the work of beginning and ending your day with a reason to smile.

Schedule friend chats – The older I get, the more I realize that the friends worth keeping around are the ones who make time for you. Even when schedules get crazy, the internet can now help you have a wine date with a friend who is miles away. Grab a cup of coffee before work with someone who helps give you perspective. Or set a calendar reminder to pick up the phone and call one of your favorite people. Don’t do anything else while you’re catching up. Just give yourself that time to unwind.

Go for a walk – I learned this lesson from my dog, Rory. She is a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, which means she has high levels of cute and energy. When I started to go for a walk every morning and evening with Rory, I began to notice I had better posture throughout the day. I was calmer walking into my apartment to make dinner. I had managed to walk off a lot of the anxieties and frustrations I’d been carrying around on my shoulders all day. It doesn’t have to be a long way, but year round, a few steps and fresh air can do anyone a lot of good.

Make something – I am a firm believer that working with one’s hands is the best kind of therapy. Bake some cookies to take in to your coworkers (here’s one of my favorite recipes). Buy some Play-dough (or make your own), and build yourself a clay garden. Take some time to paint something you can put on your walls (here’s an idea). The act of creation gives you power and control over something you can manage, and it gives your brain a break from trying to figure out world hunger for a while.

YouTube workouts – They’re judgment free. They don’t cost a dime. And you can do them from the comfort of your own living room. My personal favorites are any of the workouts on DoYouYoga’s channel, but take some time to explore and find something you can enjoy doing for yourself.

Life balance is not found overnight. But I can promise you that self-care made a huge difference in the way my world fit together. It took me a while to realize that it doesn’t make you selfish to take time for yourself.

It actually just might make you a better person.