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Crock Pot, Meal Prep, Sheet Pan…Oh My

So my hours at work changed and I am getting home later. This means that it is later when I put together dinner. One of the great things about cooler weather is that I am one step closer to pulling out the crock pot to cook soup and stews for dinner. It also means that I have been looking for meals that would allow me to save time cooking, but are also healthy and yummy too. One of the things I came across was a number of websites that were encouraging the idea of meal prep. The idea is that you get ingredients for several meals, usually 4-6, and cook them one day on the weekend, storing the meals into containers to be frozen to eat later or kept in the fridge to eat that week. Sounds good right? Hmmm, hold that thought.

I found a website that allowed you to sign up for a meal prep challenge. The blogger would put together meals, send out the shopping list of ingredients needed and even include how many containers and what types were needed to store each meal in. Sounds even better, right? It did until I received the email with the list of meals that were to be prepped. There was not one meal that we would eat as listed. Most contained exotic vegetables or seasonings that would be extremely hard to get in my local stores. Or they contained items that were just not something that we would eat (hello brussel sprouts). As someone who only recently discovered the yumminess of roasted sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts are not in my immediate plans.

So to prep meals in advance, I would have to substitute a lot of things, which would mean guessing at the amounts to buy. One of the nice ideas about meal prepping is that you are told how much of each item you need. To replace those meant I would now risk getting to much or too little and the prep would fail. I then came across several blogs where they discuss the idea that meal prep takes nutrients away from the food, so if you are trying to eat healthier like we are, losing nutrients would not be something that we want to do.

I then came across the idea of sheet pan meals. The concept here is that you cook the entire meal at once on a sheet pan from start to finish in 45 minutes or less. Take a protein, such as chicken, and add vegetables. Season or marinade the chicken and roast the the same time. There were even sheet pan ideas for breakfast and dessert. I have several recipes bookmarked and I tried my first sheet pan meal last week and it worked out great. I made Asiago chicken and roasted vegetables at the same time. We added a salad and the whole thing took about 40 minutes from start to finish. Not bad for a week night meal. And of course you can make it as healthy as you want.

Now I just have to figure out what to try next? Any ideas?


Cutting the Cable Cord

I remember the first time I became aware of cable television. I was in high school and my father was upset that the town was allowing a cable company to dig up our grass to install the lines for cable. He argued with the city to get them to plant new grass to fix the mess they made out of our lawn. The grass grew back long before the town ever got cable. Each time it seemed like we would get cable, the company would go out of business and another company would eventually take over and then it would happen all over again. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I learned my town had finally gotten cable.

At the time, the price of cable seemed relatively cheap in comparison to prices today. I remember my parents trying to decide what movie channels to pick and eventually realizing that they were paying for a lot of channels that they never watched. Once married, cable was a must as most places didn’t get channels on free television. If you lived near a major city, then you were luckier that most people. We usually chose the most basic cable plan. Later, we would choose a plan that also included the internet.

We recently completed a two-year contract that rolled into a month to month contract. Of course, the plan increased by $16 a month. When I looked into what a new two-year plan would cost, I saw that they would increase us another $25 a month, or $199 a month for the same plan. What is even worse is that if you were a new customer, you could get the same exact plan for $79 a month. So, to reward me for my loyalty, you will charge me $120 more a month? Ummmm….no thank you.

So we started looking at our options. The first thing we did was keep track of the channels that we actually watched. Out of 254 channels, we watched maybe 25 on a regular basis. We looked to see what options were available in streaming television and checked out Sling and Hulu. We ended up signing up for a free trial with Sling and picked the package that contained most of the channels that we watched. The only down side is that they do not have any local channels and we like watching the weather and traffic in the morning before going to work.

We then contacted the cable company to see if they would make us a deal, but they wouldn’t. Actually, the price kept going up instead of down. We then called back and asked what the price would be to increase our internet speed and drop cable. The person we talked to this time was very helpful and explained that we would need a different internet cable coming into our house for the fastest cable and we would get 15 local channels. The price was half what we were paying. We chose that plan and officially cut the cord.

After the install, we have fast internet where we can stream Sling television and also get the local channels for morning news. The surprise that we learned was that there are more than a hundred free channels that we also get as well. Many of the channels are from throughout the region. Some of the channels are from the UK and Japan. They apparently have agreements with Public Broadcasting (PBS) to stream their programs. The reality is that we have not missed cable at all. To think of all the money we wasted with cable and all the channels we never watched. I only wish we had known this sooner.

A Flock of Seagulls

And no, I’m not referencing the 80’s band by the same name. I’m talking real ones. Before moving to Maryland, I had never seen a seagull up close. I saw them on television and had read that they could be pretty bold when it came to food and stealing it out of a person’s hand. They aren’t really seen in Kansas. Here in Maryland, I live near a river and the bay, so you see seagulls. Of course, most of those sightings are in the parking lots of stores. The gulls have learned that parking lots are a good source of food. After all, people love tossing things away and a few don’t care where they toss their trash and parking lots seem to find a lot of it.

Last weekend, my husband and I were running errands. He wanted to run into Target and I decided to wait in the car. Within a few minutes, a mom came out of the store pushing a cart with her child in the main section. In the upper section were two drinks and apparently some sort of food. The mom stopped and lifted her child out of the cart to put them in the car, and in the blink of an eye, a swarm of seagulls swooped in and picked the shopping cart free of the food. I thought I was seeing things when I saw a seagull with a bag of chips flying away. Another lifted a cup from the cart and dropped it. The mother turned and looked, screamed and dashed into the back seat of her car. The seagull with the bag of chips dropped it a few spaces away and the swarm was all over it. Chips disappeared quicker than snow on a hot grill. The gulls were hovering over the cars. Two literally hovered in front of my car. I wanted to get a picture, but my purse with my cell was on the backseat and there was no way I was getting out of my car in the middle of a scene from The Birds.

Once the food was gone so were the birds. A few minutes later my husband came out of the store. As we drove out of the parking lot we passed the seagulls sitting on the ground about twenty feet away. “I always wonder why seagulls seem to hang out in parking lots,” my husband stated. “You should have come out two minutes ago.” I replied. “You would know exactly why they hang out here. It was an all you can eat buffet. They apparently like potato chips.” I don’t think he believed me. But he will. Next time I’ll have my cell close at hand.

DIY Project: I’ve Been Bamboozled!!!

I blame the taxes. Every year when my husband starts the process of getting things together to do our income taxes things around the house gets a little crazy. It starts with him gathering all of the documents together and pulling those into the tax software that can be pulled in electronically. Once he starts entering data, I usually hear cussing and grumbling and updates being yelled upstairs, such as “we’re in the red. Son-of-a-mother f#$%&!” But this year was different. I didn’t hear cussing or grumbling. We were in the green and the conversation from downstairs was more of “we’re getting money back. We should think about bringing Chris in and painting the downstairs.” Chris is the general contractor that has repaired a section over our garage and built our deck last spring. So I began to think about finishing the man cave-media room.

Once the taxes were done, signed and e-filed, the conversation turned to saving money by replacing the ceiling tiles ourselves. Chris would still paint, but we would get the ceiling tiles from the home improvement store down the road and Chris would do everything else. We were picking up the first round of ceiling tiles, I say first round because more would be needed later due to a slight correction that needed to be made (note to self: just because a piece of tile looks like it is half of a big one, it isn’t and it means having to cut a lot of pieces to get the sized needed, which translates to more tile), my husband said that we should pick out colors. “I thought you picked out colors a few weeks ago,” I replied. He did, but that was at another paint store. We needed to find similar colors here, so we picked up paint cards to take home and hang them up around the room. He looked at the colors with all the lights on, just a few lights on and with only the pod lights on. He decided that the colors he liked the best were the first two that he had picked up. Down came all the other sample cards. “We’ll pick up paint samples and see how it looks on the walls,” he said. Of course we will.

Once the ceiling tiles were finished it was back to the home improvement store for paint samples. Not one color, but three colors in the same color family. He wanted the one coat paint that is has the primer mixed in. “That way it will go on in one coat.” he declared. “Why does it matter how many coats of paint Chris has to do?” I asked. He looked at me and the light bulb went on. “Did you ever call Chris to come out and give us an estimate?” I questioned. “What’s the right answer?” my husband asked. He knew the right answer was yes, and he is coming out tomorrow, Friday, Saturday. Something like that. The right answer wasn’t, “Well, I thought if we take this in stages, we can get it done ourselves on the weekends.” I looked at him like he was off his rocker. “The weekends.” “We don’t have to hurry, so it will get done when it gets done.” Now, I know my husband and while he says weekends, what he really means is that we will start with the belief that this will take several weekends, but at some point, he will start wanting to get it done sooner, so his weekends will probably be one weekend with several evenings after work.

So, the walls now have three different colors of paint just to make sure that the first choice really is the one we want to go with. It is. The walls have been patched, sanded, wiped down with a damp cloth to remove dust. The base boards have been cleaned in preparation for taping and all of the furniture is in the middle of the room and covered with drop cloths. Events tonight will not include a fire and a good book. Instead, it will be more taping and prep work. I am hopeful that painting will actually wait until the weekend, but I’m sure I will hear about just doing the cut in painting one night and will just go on from there until it is done. He’s like a freight train once he gets started.

My son asked how come we decided to start redoing the man cave and I may have been a little loud when I replied, “I blame it on the taxes!” My son looked at me and said, “You’ve been bamboozled by Dad.” Yes, I have and I will get him back. I just haven’t figured how yet, but I will. I will have plenty of time to plan while painting.



Oh Say I Can See…With My New Glasses

The one thing that you should know about me is that my husband and I spend a lot of time together. We each have things that we like to do separately, but we also do things together. That includes trips to the eye doctor. My husband and I both wear glasses. He is still in denial about his and I have been wearing glasses since I was 10 years old, so there is nothing for me to be in denial about. It was time to see the eye doctor and I asked if he wanted me to make separate appointments or for the same day. He said to make them the same day. So I made them for a day that he was telecommuting and would be able to go after he finished work. I made my appointment for just after his and would meet him there if I didn’t get off work on time. The day of the appointment I was able to leave work earlier due to overtime so I made it home and we were able to go together.

After checking in, my husband asked if our eyes were going to be dilated. I replied that they probably were. He asked if I was driving home. Since it would be dark after the appointment, I didn’t think it would matter who drove home. The tech came and called both of our names and took us in the screening room. She started with my husband and while she was setting up, he looked at me and said, “Why are you following me? I have no idea who this person is, but I’m here to get my eyes checked.” The tech’s eyes were huge as she looked from him to me and asked, “Aren’t you two together?” My husband replied with a straight face, “I’ve never seen her before. She just followed me from the parking lot.” I’m sure the tech was thinking that she just violated all sorts of privacy laws by taking us together. She kept looking back and forth between us. I finally put her at ease saying, “He thinks he’s a comedian. It’s why we’ve been together 25 years.” I then looked at my husband and told him to shut it so she could do her job. She did get him back a few minutes later when he kept blinking during the air puff test where they blow the air in your eye. He had to do it over and over again and did it at least 10 times. When I didn’t blink with either eye, she told me I got an “A” and my husband an “F”. That kept him quiet for a few minutes.

Next came more tests and finally the eye doctor came in. The good news is that the eyes are healthy. The bad news is that we both had changes which meant new glasses. My husband thought looking for new glasses while his eyes were dilated wasn’t a good idea. He liked the glasses that he has now, so he asked for the same frame with the new prescription in it. Me, I wanted new glasses and didn’t like what frames came in our plan, so, with dilated eyes I searched for new frames. I wanted some that were a change from the brown ones I’d chosen for the past few pairs. I finally settled on the ones pictured.They are called “Bordeaux” which is another word for wine. They were comfy the moment I put them on. Picking them up two weeks later, they still feel nice. I guess I picked well when I was squinting and could barely see.



Decking the House for the Holidays

Growing up, our Christmas tree always went up on Thanksgiving. It was an absolute huge fake tree that had color coded branches that had to be put together in a certain order. It took hours, especially when the colors started fading, but the end result was a beautiful tree that visitors always thought was real. The decorating of the tree would take place throughout the day, in between cooking and eating and socializing. When I married, I told my husband of this tradition and while he didn’t understand the need to put the tree up on Thanksgiving, he humored me because he loved me. It also helped that he enjoys the holidays and making the house look festive. My mother always said that once we were settled into a place of our own, we could haul the huge tree in its huge box (think bigger than the biggest refrigerator box you’ve ever seen) to our home and carry on the tradition of the tree. When my husband saw the size of the box in my parents store-room he stated that he didn’t think we would ever have a place big enough for the tree and I whispered that it was fine because we could always start new traditions.

Our first tree was one that was maybe two feet tall and we put it on the middle of our coffee table. We chose some of the family ornaments that we had brought with us and gradually added new ones as well.  Every Thanksgiving we decorated the tree while the turkey was in the oven. At the end of the day, we would turn the lights on the tree and everything seemed peaceful and calming. The only time our tree didn’t get put up on Thanksgiving was when my husband had been deployed on a peace keeping mission to Kosovo and actually returned home the day before Thanksgiving. We picked him up at 3:00 am and he spent most of the next 48 hours sleeping. I put up a few things while he was sleeping, but it has always been something that we have done together.

Decorating the outside of the house has always been his territory. He can see in his head what he wants to do with the decorations and while he will ask me my opinion, I really leave it up to him. The only thing I insist on is that the lights be multicolored. I am not a fan of lights being one color, so he goes along with me on that.When our son was young, he went all out, but as we have all gotten older, we have kept the outside simple, yet welcoming. One of my favorite holiday looks was the first year in our house in Kansas. We purchased real pine garland and outlined the front of the house with it and had the lights shining out from the branches. Large burgundy bows and a huge wreath completed the look.

holiday-lightsOne year my husband was off and I had to work, so he decided that he and our son would get the lights up outside early. When I pulled up, I noticed that our neighbor, who never seemed to get his outside lights up all the way, had actually put up lights. Lights that looked like ours. My husband was sitting on a stool in the garage with strings of lights laying in rows on the floor, testing bulbs because they wouldn’t come on. I noticed there were no lights on the house.

“What’s wrong with the lights?” I asked getting out of the car.

“They won’t come on. I’ve been checking the bulbs. But every time I find one, another goes out.”

Hmmm, I thought, that’s what happened last year and we had to buy new lights. I got into the garage and I noticed that the lights on the floor were the lights from last year. You know, the broken ones that we couldn’t fix so we had to buy new ones. I stepped back out of the garage and looked at our neighbors house. “So Robert put up lights too?” I asked.

My husband looked at me, “Yeah, we helped him. His didn’t work so I gave him our old set.”

“That’s why they look familiar.” I replied. I looked back at the strings of lights on the garage floor. “Do you remember last year, when you couldn’t get the lights to work?”

He grunted, “That seems like every year, but yes I remember. We had to go out and buy new ones.” He looked up at me looking over at the neighbors lights and the light bulb went off. “Son of a !@#$%!!!”

“Yeppers!” I replied walking back to my car. He began rolling up the broken lights before joining me in the car where we went to buy new holiday lights for the outside of the house.

“At least Robert won’t look like Grinch this year.” he said nodding to the lights.

And The Holiday Craziness Has Begun

holidayshoppingmgn1This weekend, while running errands, my husband decided to zip down to the mall to pick up a few dress shirts that were on sale where he normally shops. Yes, I said mall. I do not like shopping in malls anymore. There are too many people pushing and shoving their way as if they are taking part in the Shopping Olympics. The store that my husband goes to has its own entrance, so we can get in and out easily and we don’t need to go into the actual mall. That makes me happy.

We headed into the store and were met with absolute crazed shoppers, all apparently starting their holiday shopping early. I know that many stores were putting up their holiday displays before Halloween, but I really didn’t see anything special on sale yet. Apparently the shoppers out last weekend didn’t feel the same way. It was literally wall to wall people, pushing and shoving their way through the aisles. And if they couldn’t get through, they shoved displays out of their way and made their own aisle. After being shoved for the third time into the men’s winter coat display, I told my husband I’d wait for him in the car. He came out a few minutes later mumbling something about checking online for the shirts he liked.

As we drove away, I knew that was the last mall visit for us until sometime in next year. Maybe in the spring, when the winter clothes are discounted and there are a few less pushy shoppers. If anyone wonders why online shopping is so popular, they only have to spend a few minutes in a real mall for the answer.

WTF Moments of the Poconos Trip

I wrote earlier about our trip to the Poconos. While the trip was enjoyable and the views absolutely spectacular, it wasn’t without some minor moments that made me say WTF. So I’d thought I’d share them.

The first WTF moment were the bees. It happened upon our arrival at the train station. I have never seen so many bees in one place before. They were everywhere. On benches, chairs, swarming around the trees and if you thought you could escape them by going indoors, you couldn’t. They were even in the restroom, so there was no escape. The surprising thing was that once you left the train station, we didn’t see another bee the rest of the time we were there. So the town really needs to find out what is causing the bees to stay in one area and try to eliminate it.

Another WTF moment was when we realized that most of the little shops in town were only open for a few hours a day, usually between 11 am and 4 pm. That was rather surprising because the area describes itself as an outdoor lovers destination. It has hiking and biking trails throughout the country. There are also kayaking and canoeing trips that leave from the town as well as zip lining up in the mountains. People are taking part in all of those outdoor activities and when they return to town in the evening, very few shops are open for them to shop and spend tourist money in. We left in the morning and returned later in the day, but there really weren’t many places to stop in and shop.

Shopping provided still another WTF moment. I am a visual shopper. I like to look at the windows and see what the shop is telling me about what they are selling. If what I see is interesting or something catches my eye, I will go in and explore further. If not, then I move on to the next window. But we realized that many of the shops had windows that were blocked out. Some were covered with some sort of film or with a color painted on them. WTF was that about? Maybe the idea was to stop people from staring inside. Other windows were just plain dirty and you couldn’t see in them. Many had nothing written on them to tell you what the shop was. I don’t know about you, but I’m not someone who will walk into a shop where the windows are covered and you can’t see inside. We walked past one shop several times while we were there and on the last night as we walked home after dinner, a person came out with a coffee cup. As we passed by we realized that it was a coffee shop, ut there was nothing on the outside showing that’s what it was. Even the name was obscure. I couldn’t help wonder how much business they were losing because people had no idea they were even there.

The drones provided another WTF moment. I know that drones are being used to capture the beauty of nature, but continually flying over the businesses, one of which was the B & B that we were staying at, was just plan annoying. I mean really, what were they looking for? My mind immediately goes to someone searching the area to find something to steal. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but the buzzing and hovering was just too much and it drove us inside when we were trying to relax and enjoy the view around us.

And the last WTF moment was that we didn’t see one police officer for the entire time we were there. Not one police car, police bike or even a police officer walking. There was no police presence at all. It was strange. In this post 9-11 age that we live in, we have gotten used to seeing police everywhere, so to see none was really surprising. As we drove home, my husband and I commented on that and we were rather surprised. He said that they were probably there, but just keeping out of sight or were in plain clothes. I said they were probably using the drones to police the town.



The Search For A New Car…Ugh!!!

When my husband took his current job, it meant that his daily commute went from 20 minutes round trip in the car to 2 hours or possibly longer depending on traffic. We have a 2003 Saturn Vue, which was supposed to be our son’s car except he never got his driver’s license, that had under 70,000 miles on it, so he has been driving that most days back and forth to work. The air conditioning doesn’t work and we really don’t want to put $700 into a 13-year-old car, so it was fine to drive until the weather warmed up. So my husband wants to start looking for a good commuter car, which is one that gets good gas mileage.

He has been looking at different models and if he sees someone with one that he is considering, he asks them about it. At times it looks like the list is getting smaller, but then he might add another one on. But he hasn’t gone to look for any at the dealerships until he could narrow his list down. He is looking at a smaller vehicle and wants to see how comfortable it is to sit in since he is going to be in it for roughly 10 hours a week. We went to one dealership after dinner one night. The salesman at the dealership we went to was really nice and accepted when my husband told him we weren’t buying today, but wanted to get a feel for the vehicle. He let us sit and explore one and we liked it. He gave us his card and asked my husband when he might be looking to buy. My husband told him he might wait until the 2017 models come out this fall because he likes the updates that will be made to the electronics. We drove away without feeling pressured and when we are ready to buy and thought that we would make sure we go back to see if him. But that feeling lasted all of one day, which was when the sales manager decided that he needed to blow my husband’s phone up wanting to know why we didn’t buy the car. The next dealership also took you around the lot and said that he understood that we weren’t buying a car that day, but as soon as you were done looking, out came the sales manager and the pressure was on. And we were gone.

Last weekend we stopped at several different places and at the last one, the young salesman and my husband bonded over the Army, as they both served. He asked what we wanted in a vehicle and my husband listed what the features that he was interested in. He took us to the vehicle that had all of them and then went over every aspect of the vehicle. I liked it from the beginning. The color was right, the interior was nice and I liked the look of everything. He gave us the booklet describing the vehicle, his card and a promise not to bring out his sales manager. We left with a good feeling and a lot of material to research, since we hadn’t considered that vehicle. On the way home my husband asked what I thought and I told him that was the only vehicle that we looked at that I liked everything about. With other ones, I liked a few things, but there were other things that I didn’t like. He said liked it too, but he needed to research and I told him I knew he would.

We both took a day off of work on Friday and decided to look at a few more places, but we ended up back at the dealership from the prior weekend. We met the salesman who gave us the keys to the same model vehicle and let us take it for a test drive. He said that he would look to see if the one we had seen was still on the lot. After the test drive, which was really nice, the salesman brought the one we wanted down from another lot and after going through it again, it was time to negotiate, which is the part I hate. This time, it really was rather painless and we got a great deal.

So here is the newest member of our family….


One of Life’s Ah Ha Moments While Shopping

Mens ShoesOne weekend, while running errands, we ended up near a mall. My husband asked if I minded stopping so he could run into the department store and see if they had the dress shoes that he likes. Of course, it was fine, so as we were walking inside, he casually says that while he is trying on shoes, maybe I could find some for me as well. Of course, I give him the side-eye because he should know by now that I can’t walk into a store and find a pair of shoes that fit.

I used to be able to do just that. I used to wear a size 8 shoe and I could go into a store, pick out any style and they would fit. That changed when I was pregnant with my son. I used to hear people say that when they were pregnant something changed. If they had curly hair, it went straight. Or straight hair went curly. I knew one woman who had pretty auburn hair and during her first pregnancy, her hair went dark brown, almost black. I have always had fine, straight hair and was hoping that I would get some curls. What did I get? I got a wide foot. Yes, that’s right. My foot went from a size 8 regular to a size 9 wide.

And that is when I learned that most stores don’t carry wide shoes for women. They may have one or two styles that aren’t really stylish at all. Instead they often look like something Frankenstein might wear. The stores have signs posted all over that say, “We have your size.” But then you have to read the tiny letters below that say, “If we don’t have your size in the store, we will be sure to have it online.” If I want to find stylish, wide shoes, I have to shop for them online and that means not being able to try them on. I just have to hope that they fit when I get them.

Womens ShoesSo on our shopping trip, my husband was able to find the shoes that he liked and purchased them. He then spotted a shoe store and wanted to go look there. We parted ways, he to find more shoes and me to be frustrated again. I found exactly two styles of shoes in a wide width. The first was a pair of Vans that were paint splattered, not exactly something I would wear. If I were still a teen…nope, still wouldn’t have worn them. The second pair was a pair of wedges with a heel at least 5 inches high. Nope, I’m a flats kind of girl.

Anyway, my husband and I meet up and he is carrying a pair of Skecher’s that is a cross between a walking and running shoe, complete with memory foam. And they are wide width. Did I mention that my husband also wears a wide shoe due to 20 plus years in combat boots? Yes, he is able to walk into any store and find men’s wide shoes, but for me, nope. So he looks at me and that fact that I have nothing in my hands and said, “No shoes?” I reply, “Nope.” He looks around the whole store at row after row of shoes and says, “Well that sucks.” Yep, it does. All the way home he grumbled about how it wasn’t fair that I can’t find shoes that fit. It was sort of cute that he was so put out by it. So when we got home, I ordered 3 new pairs of shoes online and none of them fit. I ended up sending them all back. The next time I find one that does fit, I’ll take a page out of my husband’s book and order more and store them in the closet.

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