Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Feeding the 5000 when you are running on empty

Pretty sure I'm not the one person in the world who is quick to say ,"Sure I can make that happen!" It's easy to read blogs like Pioneer Woman and think that you should be able to run a working ranch, feed a big family, write books, and look cute doing it. She has help. Most of us do not have help. Saying yes too often leave me feeling frazzled. I have got to learn the art of saying no. Until then, I have to cope with the chaos of saying yes.

Yesterday was classic. I volunteered to provide dinner for about 15 people at a board meeting. Not just any meeting. This meeting fell on the birthday of a former state representative, and I was asked to make a special dessert! Typically not a problem. I love to make fun desserts! I love to feed people! Yesterday was a doozy of a day. Woke up at 2:45am. Drove 1.5 hours to the airport to catch the 6am flight back to Maryland. Took the bus from Baltimore to Rockville. Took the shuttle from the metro station to work and made it on time for my 9:30am meeting. Thankfully my 9:30 was bumped to 9:45 which have me time to grab more coffee. Worked the rest of the day...not sure how. Hertz picked me up at 4 in a shiny, red Mustang! I got a rental car, because a month after the wreck I still didn't have my own car. Went to the grocery store and grabbed everything needed for a huge dinner salad. I baked shortcakes while I was still in Indiana, and traveled with them. Grabbed strawberries and whipped topping. I had 15 minutes at home to prepare the salad and cut up the strawberries. Then I drove to the board meeting in a neighboring suburb about 25 min away. Baxter was in the car with me because he hadn't had his evening walk yet. Thankfully everything panned out beautifully! 


Strawberry and blueberry shortcake!

15 minutes in the grocery, 15 min of prep (not including baking the shortcakes) and $45 makes dinner for 15! Boom! Made it happen. Not without personal cost. I was so razzed that I couldn't fall asleep. Today I was completely tanked all day. I have got to figure out when to raise the white flag. What's the phrase? Just because you can doesn't mean you should? 

This guy is glad to have me back and get on a more normal schedule! 

I'm glad to be back and getting on a more normal schedule. Today I practiced saying no. When asked if I would be interested to sing in the church choir, I said no! It's a start. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Care packages galore!

I've been on the sending and receiving ends of care packages in the last couple weeks. Not sure why I can't be better about getting to the post office. It's so much fun sending little packages!

Here's a "box of sunshine" for my friend's brother. I hope you are keeping him I'm your prayers. Cancer is just the worst. I. Wrapped the shirt in orange paper, so when he opened the box it was all sunshine and happiness. The tape all over the box adds a nice touch, don't you think? 

The next package is going to another friend who is dealing with cancer. I hate cancer. I hope you will keep her in your prayers too. Her theme is pink elephants, and I just needed to bake some cookies. Smitten kitchen chocolate cookies are my favorite roll-out cookies, and besides...chocolate makes everything a little better.

I've gotten two care packages recently. One from my mom's friend, Karen. She surprised me with a skein of Loom Risoni silk yarn and a pattern to make a little scarf! 

The other is from my friend Alley! Look what she made me?!? This Christmas ornament will make me smile every year. 

What are your favorite things to drop in the mail to friends? Do share!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A weekend with family!

This weekend was fantastic! This picture sums it up if you ask me! Aren't my nieces and nephews the cutest?!? I loved getting to spend time out at my brother's house. Sometimes country air is the best medicine!

Spent the weekend digging through memories and choosing treasures to keep for generations to come. In other words...had to deal with my mom's house for a few days. I got a storage unit, and oddly enough the price of the unit helped me make some decisions. If it weren't for a few huge pieces of antique furniture, I think I would downgrade to a smaller unit for sure. Or potentially no unit. 

I had 2 mottos that I need to translate to my apartment when I get back:

1. Did I remember this existed?
2. Would I pay to store this?

Things I'm already thinking should be examined include stuff under my bed and stuff in the kitchen cabinets. Might take another pass through the closet while I'm at it! Who says spring cleaning can't happen in the middle of summer? 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Healthful eating in the midst of travel madness

Jet setting doesn't bode well for healthful eating and tends to result in food waste. July has been a whirlwind of travel. I was gone the first couple days of the month, home for about 2 weeks, gone for a long weekend, home for 4 days, and I'm about to head out again for a long weekend trip. During this time I did not have a car, so getting up to Aldi for my usual grocery routine wasn't an option. A combination of bike and public transportation have worked out well even to get me to the big chain grocery store around the corner.

I've only recently addressed some of the travel-related food challenges.
  • Airport food: I've been using the airport as an excuse to eat Chipotle. My mom and I used to go to Chipotle almost every Tuesday. Chipotle brings back happy memories and it tastes so good! This last trip I had YoBerry. It's an excuse to get a treat, but usually it's a treat I don't really need.

  •  TSA: As it turns out, a lot of food can get through TSA screening. I'm trying to be better about packing a meal with me to eat in the airport. Sandwiches, fruit, salads with dressing in jars less than 3 oz all get through TSA. Ice packs get through so long as they are frozen solid. Gel packs, and melted ice do not. I suppose ice in  a zip lock bag could just be thrown away and your food will stay cool enough to get through security and eat it on the other side. 
  •  Nothing to eat for lunch on "travel Mondays." I go strait from the airport to work and might have a bit of fruit with me.It only just occurred to me after a year of this travel routine that I could leave something in the freezer on Thursday and it would be waiting for me on Monday. So far I'm just leaving frozen burritos that I made a while back.
  • Food waste: Part of my food waste problem was solved when I started packing meals to eat in the airport. I'm usually only gone for 4 days at a time, so a lot of foods won't go bad.  The hardest part might be the grocery shopping for 3-4 days rather than a whole week in between trips. Here's my loot from the other night. Just enough for 3 days. Cost was $19.57. Way cheaper than eating out for 3 days! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Time management tips for real life

When you look for tips on time management, you find the most obvious ideas on every single list. I'm starting to think that people are missing the point. "Keep a to-do list" is not the advice I'm looking for. Prioritizing your to-do list isn't very helpful either. I'm interested in making life more efficient and more productive.
In a recent seminar on time management, we talked about 2 personality types. Both are part of the Myers-Briggs personality survey. There are "judgers" and "perceivers." Some would say that judgers made a to-do list to use it and perceivers make a to-do list to lose it. Kind of unfair, but there is some truth in that generalization. I have a split personality. At work I tend to be the nose to the grind stone, efficient type. At home I look like a chicken running around after having its head cut off. That's usually how I feel too! People with either personality type can be productive, successful people. One isn't better...just different and recognizing how your gears turn can help identify strategies for being more organized, efficient, and productive at work or at home.

If you needs a couple of tips that go beyond the basics, here are three that resonate with me.
  • Identify why tasks haven't moved off your to-do list. Are you dreading it? Is it just not all that important to you? Can it be broken up into smaller tasks?
  • Learn to use small chunks of time to make progress. Gone are the days that I have an entire day to get in a groove and get a big task done. I've found that by making constant bits of progress when I have small chunks of time, I end up finishing tasks faster than I would have thought. 
  • Make your to-do list work for you. As basic as it sounds, when you have a million things to keep up with a to-do list probably needs to go beyond some scrap of paper. I have friends who use excel spreadsheets, a bazillion post-it notes, online task managing tools, and notebooks. Find something that works to your advantage. 
I found a great daily planning printable from what used to be Life's a Journal and now is Thyme is Honey. Actually, the printable I use is slightly different. This must be an adaptation. Here's the low-down on what I like about it. 

1. It's one-sided, so I use the other side to take notes during all my meetings. 
2. To-do vs. Today's goals: I can keep a broader view of my projects and tasks in the to-do section. I write the items that will get done today in the goal section. I can refer back to previous sheets to track progress.
3. My "Dailies" are a) respond to emails, b) write for 45 minutes c) read 1 paper and d) organize for tomorrow.
4. I like the visual reminder to go get another glass of water. Hydration is good for the brain.
5. Appointments: Sure they are in Outlook, but sometimes it's nice to have them written down on the piece of paper that goes with me everywhere for the day.
6. Fitness and don't forget: These are my sections. It gives me permission to bring a little "perceiver" into my work day!

Now if only I could bring that judger personality home with me, I'd be a bit more organized at home too! I'd be curious to hear what helps you organize your day for the most productivity! Do share!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

People motivated research

Two of my good friends are facing tough times. Bottom line: I hate cancer. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Please pray for both friends. One who has breast cancer and the other friend along with her family as they face the path that lies ahead. Pray for the doctors who will treat them. Pray for care givers to get some rest. Pray for a miracle for my friend's sweet brother. Pray for scientists who are working so hard to find cures for disease both common and rare.

One of the reasons I wanted to start blogging again was to help in my pursuit of a more purposeful life. The news of my friends, a seminar I heard at work last week, and the way cancer has impacted my own family have all culminated in a lot of personal reflection. How can I use what I know how to do to make a difference? I have a new motto that I hope to apply to all my work.

The type of research I do right now is the type of research that won't have an immediate impact on people. Maybe some day the work I do now will be used to help make dietary recommendations more meaningful. Maybe some day the methods I help develop will be used so that we can learn more about how diet choices affect different kinds of people in different ways. Some days I wish I was working directly with people finding cures for cancer, or working to working directly with cancer survivors and their families to see how diet choices are related to preventing recurrence of cancer. I know I am where I'm supposed to be, learning the skills that will help me as I develop my career in research. Team science is the way forward. We scientists aren't going to solve major problems on our own. I often wonder what my team will look like after I leave my post-doc. Will I end up in a nutrition department, a medical school, a school of public health? I know what my dream job looks like, but I also know that plans can change depending on the options put in front of you. I look forward to the day when I can apply for a grant, and in the rationale I will be able to say how the project will impact the people we all care about. So for now, please add me to the list so scientists you pray for when you pray that we will use our research in a way that will make a difference in this broken world we live in.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Your Paleo, gluten free, and vegan junk food is still junk food

News flash! If you take an organic potato, slice it paper thin, fry it in oil, and sprinkle it with sea's still a potato chip. If you grind up organic corn into meal, add some extra grains, and add some sweet's still a tortilla chip! It may have a few more nutrients or a few less additives, but that doesn't turn it into a healthy food.

Let me take a step back and just admit that I ate a little bag of "Simply Sweeet Potato Corn Tortilla Chips." My point is not to say NEVER eat tortilla chips. My point is that just because the label says stuff like gluten free, non-GMO, organic or whole grain doesn't make it healthy or good for you.

Here's a great example I found on the ever popular PopSugar blog. Not suggesting you should go to this blog for all your health information, but this article certainly makes the point. Fittingly Mad: Multi-grain vs. Restaurant Style Tostitos. Here's a picture of the Nutrition Fact Panels she used in the comparison. For the same serving size, you do get 1 extra gram of fiber in the multigrain, but at the expense of an extra gram of sugar, 10 extra calories, and 15 mg of sodium. If you are going to eat chips and salsa it probably doesn't matter which one you choose. Just don't be fooled into thinking you are eating healthier. You are still eating chips and salsa.

Here's a fun one: Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Flavor Squares. They are "Free from dairy, trans fat and GMO’s, these plant-based cheddary flavored crackers are made with the finest finger-licking ingredients we could find." Here are some of the finger-licking good ingredients: maltodextrin, yeast extract, gum acacia, natural flavor, palm oil, sunflower lecithin, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, ammonium bicarbonate, sugar, paprika oleoresin color, yeas extact, annatto extract, lactic acid, dehydrated toasted onion, and garlic powder.

I'm glad there's a yummy option for those who follow a vegan diet, but I just saw someone tweet the other day something about healthy snacks and had a pictures of these crackers. Vegan yes...tastey yes...healthy maybe not so much.

Just for comparison, here is the ingredient list for Cheese-It crackers. Almost the same except for the actual cheese part. More calories and fat for fewer crackers, but I would still argue that neither is a healthy option. I happen to really like Cheese-Its. Nothing in particular against cheese crackers. Just pointing out that the Vagan option isn't really a healthy option either.

You could do this comparison for so many foods. Paleo brownies are still brownies, and I'm pretty sure brownies were not invented in paleolithic times. Just saying.You can make your own ranch dressing mix from scratch and skip the preservatives, but if you really want to make a health impact shouldn't you just skip the ranch dressing? Between Pinterest and Twitter, it's pretty clear that marketers have suckered so many people into thinking they are making a healthy or at least healthier choice. It's a bit sad. I'm still going to have some chips now and again, but let's just take a minute to remind ourselves that junk food is junk food and should be limited. Don't justify it just because it's got chia seeds in it or has a earthy looking label. Think twice, enjoy junk every now and again, but for the love of pete...remember that you aren't helping your body out by eating tortilla chips. Doesn't matter if they are wholegrain, have chia seeds, are gluten free, or non-gmo. Eat some fruit if you really want a healthy snack that will do your body some good.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Birthday Mail: Rebecca got a heart attack!

Happy birthday to Rebecca! 

Rebecca is a dear friend who I met in grad school. We were assigned to the same study group with Emily. I'm pretty sure that's the biggest accomplishment of JCF's career! Sadly I live far from all of my grad school friends. Grad school had it's perks. One of them was getting to spend most days in the same building with a lot of really great friends!

I got this idea from Sahwni over at 71 Toes. Her super cute family has a Valentine's "Heart Attack" tradition. I noticed on of the little girls and her friends gave a friend a heart attack for her birthday, so I decided to send my friend a heart attack too! I had so much fun remembering fun times Rebecca and I have had together and the ways she inspires me. I wish we lived closer, wish I could have celebrated with her in person, and wish could hang out like old times. Sending a heart attack is pretty darn fun. I think I might have to add this as a birthday tradition forall  my far away friends!

I finally found a use for the big stack of scrap booking paper! Let's face it...I'm never going to make a scrap book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Making lunch out of nothing

I'm generally good about packing lunches the night before. Mornings are not my forte. I can make a world of excuses for just about anything in the morning. That's probably why I end up panicked most mornings when I realize I've hit snooze 12 times.  A real common excuse is: There is nothing to pack for lunch. That's the very lazy person inside of me talking! Sometimes I have to force myself to make a lot of lunches out of "nothing." Here are some examples from recent groggy mornings.

1. The no lettuce salad is a great way to use up random bits of vegetables. Example: 1/2 a cucumber, 1 yellow pepper, 2 roma tomatoes, 1/3 can of chick peas, some dill salad dressing mix and a drizzle of olive oil.  Who says you need lettuce to make a salad?

2. The laziest lunch was a container of Greek yogurt, some trail mix, and  a couple pieces of fruit.

3. Wait, this might be even lazier. I packed an unopened bag of baby carrots, the entire container of hummus, and a container of Greek yogurt. I was too lazy to take the hummus out of my lunch box, so I ended up eating way too many baby carrots and some yogurt.

Here are a few pictures of packed lunches that aren't complicated, but do represent my more usual lunch routine.

Brie, crackers, plum, blueberries, yogurt, nuts. 

Chicken and rice, green beans, cherries. 

 Strawberries, brie, fig jam, crackers.

 Blueberries, pineapple, brie, fig jam, crackers, yogurt, nuts.

I guess in the end, my goal is to limit buying special lunch foods. I keep bread in the fridge for the emergency PB&J, but I don't buy stuff to make sandwiches every day. I try to find ways to integrate leftovers as much as possible. Buying brie cheese and crackers was a bit of a splurge for easy, fun lunches during this stent of no grocery shopping. I suppose it just depends what's going on in my week. I've really enjoyed getting creative with containers. More on that for another post!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Surviving the bike commute

I've been using my bike as my primary source of transportation for 3 days now. We've had thunderstorms both days. Remarkably, it's not rained on me yet! Craziness! In theory biking to work and getting ready at work should take less time than getting ready at home and driving to work.  I tend to putz around a lot in the mornings.  I'm hoping that eventually I can get faster on the bike and get my commute down to about 15 minutes and get my locker room routine down to 30 minutes. In just 3 days I've already experienced what seem to end up on all the "tips for bike commuting" types of posts. These survival tips are nothing new, but good to know I fit the commuter norm for experiences.

1.Always wear a helmet and eye protection. Helmet should be self-explanatory. Eye'd be surprised how much crap gets spit up at your eyes and a bug in the eye while riding a bike is just a bad bad situation. Wear eye-protection.

2. Prepare ahead. If I'm going to get my routine down to about 45 minutes, it's going to take more prep. I'm not a big fan of mornings and any commuter prep that happens in the morning is going to be inefficient. I really have to get good at packing clothes, packing my lunch, and having my bags ready to rock and roll before I go to sleep. Thankfully I have access to showers at work and they provide shampoo, conditioner and body wash. They also provide towels. That really cuts down on what I need to pack!

3. Figure out how to deal with helmet hair. For me it's not so much helmet hair as it is wet, unstyled hair. The locker room is hot and humid and my hair is taking forever to dry. I think a lot of these ideas from Refinery 29 would work!
This girl makes wearing a helmet look so glamorous! I assure you that I just look like a goof ball on wheels.
4. Be prepared for a flat tire. Um...I'm pretty sure I could figure it out again, but I haven't changed a bike tire since undergrad. I'm not too worried since my commute is only about 3.5 miles. I could probably walk the rest of the way to work in about the same time I could change a flat tire. Having a spare tire and repair kit would make biking home a possibility though. Maybe I should prioritize this tip.

5. Get good equipment. I have some Ortlieb Racktime Doubleit pannier bags. I got them super cheap on and got a pannier rack too. The price was worth it just to get the pannier rack. I'm not sure I really like the bags though. I like pannier bags better than a backpack. My bags are connected in the middle and there's no shoulder strap. They are awkward to carry down the hall in the apartment and at work. They do fit everything I need though and one side has a rain cover. Handy on these days that threaten me with down pours!

From a health perspective, I'm getting in about 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity just from the commute! It's not zapping my energy at all, so once I'm cleared to run again I should be able to keep up my usual routine. I kind of hope that the bike commute will become a sustainable habit in the next couple of car-free weeks.

Here's a post from Leo over at zenhabits. He links to several useful posts on bike commuting if you're interested.

Follow my bike commute fun board on Pinterest!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gardening: Holding on to a little sliver of hope

 Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

And there you have my gardening motto. I should probably take a gardening 101 class. I'm convinced that the reason my last garden worked at all was because of Rebecca, John and Emily. We were quite the team! I'm not sure what the cure is, but I still don't have a green thumb. My house plants are doing really well thanks to the sunny window they live in front of. However, the garden is down the road a mile or so and just gets neglected. 

My neighbor friend had the great idea to get a community garden plot. We were both totally into the idea! I want to have an awesome garden, but the time factor isn't working out for either of us. We both travel way too much to make this happen gracefully. We get way too excited when it rains and we don't have to go out there and water. Some how, by the grace of God, the garden is still alive. Mostly alive with weeds, but it is alive. I didn't take any pictures of the disaster it was when I got there tonight, but here are the meager signs of life! We are going to get some veggies out of this darn thing. Just needs a little TLC. Here are a few highlights from tonight.

This is the general state of affairs. I like to look at that and think there's hope! At least since it's monsoon season in the DC metro area, the weeds were fairly easy to pull. There are at least 3, half rows of lettuce. (We planted about 6 whole rows) The red leaf lettuce is doing the best. Isn't it gorgeous? I love how pretty vegetables are! Our squash plant didn't get squashed! Actually, the squash is doing remarkably well. I think there are 3 or 4 cucumbers growing near the fence.And who knows, maybe the beets and carrots will decide to surprise us.

Some marigolds are popping up in the midst of the weeds! This picture really shows the weeds. Ugh. Now I look at that picture and see all the weeds I didn't pull. Do you like our classy, orange construction fence? We were too cheap to pay for the green garden fence. It's the same thing though. Just really bright orange. Tomorrow maybe I'll go back and weed some more. I wish my apartment complex would just let me set up a container garden on the roof of the parking garage. No one parks up there anyway! There are no dear up there, no rabbits, no gophers, no snakes! It would be a great place to garden! I wonder if my land lord will read this.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stocking up: 1 grocery run for 2 weeks of eats

Getting in an auto accident is no fun. No fun at all. Thankfully I'm mostly ok. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who has experienced whip-lash! The whole situation is a major inconvenience. It's a pain in the neck...literally and figuratively. I won't get my car back for another couple of weeks. Jetta Jr is in critical care for the time being, and I have decided to rely on my bike as my primary mode of transportation. Everything I really need is within about a 3 mile radius, so it's not that big of a deal and I should have been riding my bike a lot more anyway. Aldi is not in that 3 mile radius and happens to be my best friend when it comes to grocery shopping. Sticking to an average of $160 a month for groceries isn't going to happen if I start shopping at the regular grocery store. At least I don't think it would be easy. I've grown accustomed to a weekly cart full of fruits and vegetables from Aldi. I stocked up on groceries while I had the rental car in hopes of making it two weeks on one grocery trip. I got gorgeous peaches and blackberries at the farmers' market over the weekend. Oh summer, how I love summer!

Already had to cross blackberries of the list! Oops!
My goal is to share what I have on hand for groceries each Monday. Usually I will include prices since a lot of people have been asking how I keep the grocery bill low, but I threw away the receipt so no prices this week. My bank statement indicates I spent $68 this trip. I will include what I intend to make for the week. Hoping this evolves in a way that's useful to me for developing some kind of pantry/fridge inventory system, and useful to anyone trying to get ideas for healthy eating for just one or two people. For now it might be a bit rugged. Taking a pictures of my hand-written scribbles is rugged for sure. Time will tell how this will pan out.

I love these $1 menu notebooks from Michael's
Looks like this week I have everything to have a variety of nice summery salads, lemongrass pork stir-fry, some kind of bean salad with lots of chopped veggies, a frittata filled with veggies, and a whole lot of fruit. I'll be heading to Beantown for a long weekend, so I'll be focusing on keeping fresh produce from getting wasted. 

Follow me on Twitter @tusarebecca or on Instagram (TusaRebecca) to see how my meals work out this week!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Blog Phase 3: Why I want to blog again.

Maybe the 3rd time is the charm. This blog has had several iterations, and lately I've felt a pull to blog again.

Things that make me want to blog again:
  1. Sometimes those of us considered "early career" want good information that isn't geared towards 22 year olds who just graduated from undergrad. I'm considered a post-doc trainee these days. It's basically the purgatory between grad school and your first "real" job. A post-doc is a job; I have a salary, insurance, and my own office. It's not permanent though. Mine, for instance will last another 2 years, so between now and June 2016,  I still have to look for a "real" job. That search process isn't like the search for your first job out of undergrad. There are lots of people out there in the same boat. We all have to network, learn better time management strategies, etc. Turns out launching your career is a process that takes several years and takes a lot of  Luckily I have access to cool resources through my program and it would be nice to share some of those resources with other young professionals.
  2. People ask me a lot about grocery shopping and meal planning. I've got a routine that works well for me, I eat really well, and I spend very little. Turns out a majority of blogs that include quite a bit of meal planning are geared towards families with young children, people who are willing to eat a lot of stuff because you can use coupons for it, and people who cook really fancy stuff. My favorite of these categories would be people who cook fancy stuff. Especially if they post gorgeous pictures that make me drool. It's not so practical for most of us to eat that way. A lot of us don't have a family yet. Some of us want to eat wholesome foods, don't want to use coupons, and don't want to break the bank. Some of us want to cook for 1-2 people, figure out how to plan lunches to take to work, and how to Some of us also need to support a fairly high level of physical activity. Might as well get some of this stuff written in one place so that when people ask, I can just send them a link!
  3. Sometimes I just want to write about stuff on my mind and throw it out there. Not because I think you care, but because it's therapeutic to get it out of my mind. If something inspires me, maybe it will inspires someone else!