Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chicken in the Crockpot

Wow, more than a month since my last post?  Huh, well life is certainly getting away from me.  What's been up?


End of March: spring break - trip to Disneyland with the family, including my wonderful Mother in law, who was visiting for 1.5 weeks (we miss her).


Early April: tax day!  And my husband was put on a last minute project at work, which involved lots of late nights and weekends.


Last few weeks: back injury - probably from carrying around a 25 lb toddler on one hip.  I started physical therapy (boy my left side is just all messed up from the knee sprain and back issue - and my left leg is currently 3/4 inch longer than the right because of it).


Work: ack, stress!  Lots of rumors of layoffs in the last two months which have picked up in the last week.  Current rumor: layoffs this coming week.  On one hand, hey it would be nice to have the summer off with the boys.  On the other, I'm actually really enjoying my job these last few months.


Health: I've been really healthy since that last bout of stomach flu in January!  Aside from the injuries.  I've finished one session of 21-day fix, and have been modifying the second session due to my own food preferences and injuries.  So far I've lost 17 POUNDS since the end of December, and 7 of them have been on the Fix.  (Still have 15-20 to go).


Cooking: comes and goes.  This week I did NOT make enough on the weekend.  Not sure how that happened, but I essentially had to cook every night this week.  With the work schedule, I've been getting home at about 5:30 pm, and dinner is at 6.  I am also trying to get the toddler off the "baba" (bottle), so there are some fights.  Boy, after waking at 5 am each day, working a full day, sitting in traffic to pick up kids at two different places, cooking is a challenge!  I remember the days pre-kid when we ate out every Friday.  Very tempting, but man, it's just faster and easier and healthier and cheaper to eat at home.


Crockpot chicken: I didn't know what to make today, and frankly haven't been shopping yet.  So I googled crockpot salsa chicken, and this is the first recipe that came up, so a version of it is cooking right now.


Weekend plans: Walk to the farmer's market with the toddler and do grocery shopping.  Shower and go to work for an hour, then off to my quilting meeting where I am ACTUALLY working on the baby quilt for the toddler.  Little late on that one.


Gotta go now though!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Week 1, 21 Day Fix

Just a short update on my first week. I got the system on Wednesday of last week, started on Friday.  I have been a little loose...gave myself a cheat day on Sunday, had a glass of wine on Thursday, had an extra slice of pizza today.


But overall, I'm still pleased.  I've lost between 1.5 and 4 lbs in the last week (why the range?  My weight fluctuates by a couple of pounds due to water.  I went from 157 last Monday to 156.2 on Friday to 157 on Monday to 153 on Thursday to 154.8 on Friday.)


Anyway, I'm down a little bit, which is awesome!  I really love the workouts, but I'm not gonna lie - I wanted to cry the day after the first full body cardio workout.  My legs were so sore.  Then I had to go into legs two days later.  So far I've done all but the quick abs and yoga (I'm working it around my regular workouts).  I have to do the "modified" versions of everything because my knees/ ankles still aren't able to take the pounding of running in place, jumping jacks, etc.


I'm eating a LOT of salad, pretty much because I'm getting two heads of lettuce a week from the CSA.  BIG heads of lettuce.  The hardest part, and the reason for the cheats, is that I only get two yellows - so only two servings of carbs a day (rice, beans, bread, etc.)  And they are small servings.


I hope that I can maintain this pretty well for the next week when my husband is out of town.  The week after is Spring break. Most of the week should be easy because we are off and my MIL is visiting so I'll have a lot more free time.  But we are taking a family trip to Disneyland for two days- that will be the challenge.


On a surprising note, the chocolate shakeology is the BOMB.  I mean, I still kinda can't believe that people pay $4 a serving for it (160 calories).  But it tastes REALLY good and is filling.  I will definitely stick to it as long as the weight is coming off.


The thing I like the most is the "if it ships, it fits".  I stuff that little container full of...cottage cheese, strawberries, sunflower seeds, avocado  (depending on the color) and then I'm good.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

This is Chicken Week and maybe 21-Day Fix

It's no secret that I am trying to lose the last of the baby weight.  By "last", I mean "20-25 pounds".  Which seems like a lot, but remember, I gained 50.

It took 2 years (23 months, actually) to lose it after the first kid, and now I"m 6 years older.  So I'm hoping to get it done by 2 years, but I'm also trying to be realistic.

I've tried many weight loss methods.  Weight watchers worked well for me in the past.  In the old days (2002, 2007), their plan was simple. I was an online member only.  In 2002, you could get a "meal plan" from them.  It was, generally, a very good plan.  Well balanced, very healthy, made from mostly real food. Somewhere along the way, that option disappeared from the web site.  As they changed their plan year to year (based on "new data") I found changes towards more "low-fat" - non-fat cheese, etc., and more push for prepared foods.

I'm not a fan of fat free cheese.  I understand the prepared foods issue, because that's what busy people want.  You don't HAVE to eat their frozen meals, but they are an option.  The most recent re-do of WW just did not work for me at all.  I lost NO weight.  So I gave up on it.  Then I moved on to calorie counting at MyFitnessPal and found that it worked.  As long as I kept my calories at about 1500, it worked.

But boy, calorie counting is a pain, and I simply don't have time to do it all of the time.  So I've tried other "cheat" ways around it.  I mean, once I get a meal plan going, it should be easy, right?  So I tried Chris Powell's "carb cycling" plan.  That worked, but I found it to be too hard.  Low-carb days were difficult for me to do on a schedule, simply because I bulk cook on the weekend.  So if I make a big pile of pasta, I can't just eat it every other day or it will go bad.

Enter the 21-Day Fix by beachbody.  My coworker is using this and she LOVES it.  So I ordered it.  I ordered it for a couple of reasons:
1. It comes with 30 min workouts.  And, well, my kids are starting to let me work out in the morning.  20-34 minutes is all I get.
2. It comes with containers.  "If it fits it ships". So, for my 1500 calorie range, I'd get a certain number of containers, color coded by type of food.  Kind of like a general meal plan but easier.  If you can fit it into the container, you can eat it.

It also comes with "Shakeology" which frankly, I'm not too excited about.  The normal cost for this meal-replacement shake is $4 per serving, not really in  my budget for a meal that you drink.  But hey, overall, if it helps me drop into the 140's, it will be worth it.

It's not here yet, so I'll update you when it gets here.

I've also been eating a lot of chicken.  Meal plan for the week:
1. Yesterday I made spanish rice/quinoa, pinto beans, and bought a roasted chicken from Whole Foods.  I delivered this to a friend who is pregnant with her 4th child, as a "freezer meal" for after the baby is born.
2. I used the chicken carcass to make stock
3. I used older chicken stock to make chicken tortilla soup
4. I am hoping to make ginger carrot soup today with chicken stock
5. I am going to make lemon chicken pasta for dinner tonight

I'll finish with some pictures from our walk in the rain...it's been pouring for a few days - we needed it!  We've had a drought.  Crazy waves, lots of damage in town, including a restaurant window that broke.



Saturday, February 22, 2014

So What is Wrong with a Minimum Wage Job?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the economy.  You can't help it. The articles about the disparity - the vilifying the 1%.  The glorifying the 1%.  The statements from people like Tom Perkins.  (I have worked for companies that are funded by this guy.  Doesn't he realize he already gets "more votes"?)


The comments sections are always a thrill.  On one side, you have people vilifying the 1% for being liars, cheaters, and thieves.  On the other side, you have people glorifying them for being hard working and earning everything they have.  What is the truth?  Well, both, and usually something in between.


There is nothing wrong with being in the 1% and earning all of it.  Two income couples with good careers can hit that number.  There's nothing wrong with being in the 1% and inheriting it.  Sure, it's not as "noble", but hey you can't pick your parents.  I think when people vilify the 1%, they are generally talking about people who lie, cheat and steal.  Should we admire people who are on Wall Street earning the money just because that's how the "game is played"?  Hedge fund managers, are they really earning their big bucks?  Should we admire the bankers who cheat?  Should we admire the CEOs who make big bucks for their companies by offshoring?  Should we admire the CEOs of companies who bring in billions - but pay their employees less, make sure they get less than 30 hours a week so they don't have to give them health insurance, and pretty much guarantee that a large # of their employees are on public assistance?  Because then ALL Americans are paying for that.


I am amazed at the attitude that "people should go to college, learn a trade, and get a better job!"  I get that it's part of the "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" American attitude.  And hey, that's what I did.  That's what a lot of my family members did.  I am not saying that it's not a good attitude to have.


But what I DON'T understand is - when did it become shameful to have a minimum wage job?  When did it become shameful to have a service job?  Frankly, in my lifetime, you could support a family on these jobs.  You may start out on minimum wage at McDonald's or a grocery store.  Eventually you got raises because you were a hard worker.  You got more hours.  You got medical insurance.


But now?  These jobs are increasingly part time with no benefits.  "Just get a better job."  What's the problem with that?  THERE AREN'T ENOUGH JOBS.  There, I said it.


I'm an engineer.  Over my 20+ year career, I have seen most of my jobs going overseas.  How many new semiconductor fabs open in the US?  Not many (it has been changing a bit lately because China is getting more expensive).  Offshoring of good paying jobs in manufacturing or programming is a serious problem.  What does that leave us with?  Service jobs.  People who ignore this fact are living in a dream land.

So then it becomes more competitive.  You have 10 programmers competing for 5 jobs.  (And they are also competing with 5 H1B's because we have a "shortage of programmers".)  You have 8 accountants competing for 5 jobs.  You have 5 programmers and 3 accountants working receptionist jobs.  You have 8 receptionists working at McDonalds and Walmart.


I think there is this thought that all it takes is effort and hard work to better yourself.  But what about when that doesn't work?  When did it become SHAMEFUL to work hard at a manual or minimum wage job?  You can work hard stocking shelves, driving a truck, cleaning toilets, picking up trash.  You can take PRIDE in flipping burgers, being a cashier.  Why is that suddenly shameful?  Why should it be embarrassing?  Why is it suddenly, here in 2014, "not worthy of having a decent living"?  It used to be worthy. 


Growing up, my family members were: auto mechanics, bank tellers, cafeteria ladies, cleaning ladies, secretaries, office managers, shelf stockers, truck drivers.  You might not have been able to be solid middle or upper middle class on those jobs, but you could make a living.  If some of those jobs are not "worthy" of a good living anymore, then what next?  Next thing will be that accountants, programmers, restaurant managers, waiters - they aren't "worthy" either.  Then what?


What seems to be ignored here are two things:
1.  Not everyone has the mental capacity to go further.  Not everyone can be an engineer, scientist, doctor. So?  Is there shame in that if someone is creative or hard working or dedicated?
2.  SOMEONE HAS TO DO THESE JOBS.  Clean the toilets, flip the burgers.  We cannot have a country full of "16 to 22 year olds" who do all of the menial labor.  Even if we had a country of 100% college degrees, that means someone with a college degree is working the cash register at McDonald's. 


Why is that so shameful?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Week in Pictures

I had this blog started in my head - discussing the reason behind each dish, the cost per serving.  And...you know life got in the way with the kids and stuff.  So, you get pictures.

Ham sammies and salad

Washed arugula and parsley, headed for pesto

Mini croissant and salad

Banana bread

Pasta, vegetable, meatball bake

asparagus

Sunday's meal on my fancy Corelle plates


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meal prepping

So it's no secret by now that I do a lot of meal prepping on the weekends.  It's a little easier now that the baby is a toddler - he's a bit more independent at the end of the day, so I actually get about 10-30 minutes to prep dinner.  Still I prefer to have food ready to go, because you never know what's going to hit you.  (This week, I have to work late 2 days for conference calls with Japan.)

My niece does a TON of food prep on the weekend.  I bow to her amazingness.  I only do a bit.  But this week the CSA started, so it was a bit of a challenge!  First week of the CSA, first item wasted (a bag of spicy greens, mostly arugula...didn't get to the parsley-arugula pesto making fast enough).

Here's a little summary of what I made over the weekend:

Herb bread (bread machine - that thing was a little dusty)

Massaged kale salad

Kale chips (these were gone at dinner)

Lettuce (two heads, have washed one so far)

Carrot sticks

Moroccan lentil soup

Spanish rice (rice cooker instead of pot)

Roasted baby beets and fennel (for the salads)

Steamed broccoli


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Adjusting the Budget

You know it happens.  Life.  Stuff.  Someone loses a job, or takes a pay cut.  You have a child.  Your car breaks down.  Expenses go up.  Kids grow up and start to eat more (a LOT more).  Your pay does not keep up (no raises, no bonuses...boy am I feeling that one).  It is important to keep up with your finances and continually review your budget.


Now, we don't really have a budget.  In years past, we've made one.  But I see our tendency when our children are very young to be too busy with life to actually make a budget.  But that doesn't mean that we don't review our finances.  I consider it to be our job to constantly think about what we can change.  In some cases, it's because we get lax - eating out more, buying prepared food more (sometimes this is temporary, due to an excessively busy life).  In some cases, it's simply because our finances don't keep up with time.


Some of the things that we have done in the last several months to adjust our budget include:


- Home improvement - we have replaced our toilet and washing machine in the last year and a half.  Now, while this isn't particularly "cheap", water saving devices in my area of the country mean rebates (to make the cost more bearable), and savings in the water bill.  If you have to replace items anyway, it can be good to think about saving money on water or electricity.


- Refinancing.  We refinanced our house in December, saving $700 a month.  Most of this was simply from resetting our payment schedule from about 25 years to 30, but we also lowered our interest rate by 0.5%. Now, why didn't we refi earlier last year when the rates were even lower?  The comps.  In real estate speak, the comps were not high enough.  This means that we did not have enough equity in our house - not 20%, so we couldn't do a standard refi.  So, despite buying our house in 2004, putting 20% down and paying off aggressively for 9 years, we STILL didn't have 20% equity.  I'll let that set in for a moment.  Sucks.  All water under the bridge at this point.


- After school care.  There are two options at my son's school.  One that goes from K-2 and one that goes from 1 to 6.  We had him in the K-2 one for at least two years.  We had put him in the same care this year because his/our friend and neighbor (who was also in it) - her younger sister started kinder.  So the idea is that all three would be together.  Well, very shortly after the school year started, he asked to switch.  We waited until after the holidays - the advantage to the more expensive care is that they are open during spring break and holiday break and that is included.  So in January, we switched.  This saves us $200 per month.


- Activities - We withdrew from soccer (he didn't like it anyway, and there's a free option at the school).  We use Netflix, hulu, and Amazon prime for TV instead of cable.  Our philosophy on sports - we like them, but we don't particularly care to be competitive and we don't like to watch them. So we don't need cable nor competitive sports.  Any sport that requires multiple days a week (for a 7 year old!) is out.  We like to play with him at the park and we'd like him to learn enough about each sport to play with his friends.


- Cooking.  I have started cooking from scratch more, mostly because my toddler is getting a bit more self-entertaining.  He's always on the mood, and after work/ school/ daycare, the first thing he wants to do is go outside and play with the kids.  I'm also trying to use up the food in the freezer.


- Vacations.  Vacations with young children are a pain.  Especially toddlers.  So, we went to visit family last year and then stopped.  Thanksgiving?  Staycation.  Christmas?  Same thing.  You know what?  A lot more relaxing than traveling.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I've priced trips to Hawaii.  I've looked into renting a camping van for a camping trip in May (the timing doesn't work out - they are closed Memorial Day, so I guess that just saved me $400!) Pre-second baby, we would probably spend $3000-$7000 a year on vacation.  I spent $600 on two weekend retreats, but otherwise, we haven't traveled since July.


- Wine - I'm really just trying to cut back to almost none, because I need to lose some weight.


- Date nights - We'd really like to start trading babysitting.  So far, though, our "date nights" are lunch time walks at work occasionally.


- Movies - my  husband enjoys going to movies.  I don't much. Most movies are him and the 7 year old, or just him.  But this week is the film festival, so we get to see some free kid's movies (today: Frozen, tomorrow: The Croods).  Last night we went to the drive in (really only worth it in the winter when the toddler is still awake), and it was $15.50 for all of us.  We took our own food.


- Books - library and Amazon prime (borrowing books or getting free books).


- Clothing - mostly for the kids - we get a lot of hand me downs, and we need to keep it organized!


Future planning:


- Childcare.  I love our childcare.  Quality providers are NOT cheap.  In my town?  Preschool is even more expensive.  I will get around this by waiting until my son is 4 to go to preschool, so it will only be one year.


- Fitness.  I love fitness!  I have been really trying to use my YMCA membership more (dang it, STILL have a hurt knee from last week's Zumba class).  I really want to trim down and get into my wetsuit so I can do the triathlon this summer again.  But man.  It's about $380 for the training group AND the triathlon. Ouch.  So I'm thinking, can I get friends together?  Or can I maybe just do my "own" triathlon at the YMCA? (Pool, bike, run?)  Or walk.  Since I can't run.


So, how have you adjusted the budget in the last year?