Tags: maternity leave, New Year's resolutions, The Happiness Project
Last year my resolutions were regimented and ambitious and accompanied by this photo:
Unabashed self-improvement, complete with a killer bod. This year, when I’m quickly moving into end-of-pregnancy, out-of-breath lethargy and clearly will be starting my new year at a decided fitness disadvantage, I almost have to laugh at last year’s idealism.
So I’ll be a bit more realistic. I really do love making New Year’s resolutions — I love a challenge, and I love self-improvement. I love setting goals and diving head-first into meeting them, even if they are forgotten in a few weeks. The planning and that initial, exhilarating dive energize me.
Gretchen Rubin, who writes a blog called the Happiness Project (and has a new book out by the same name, which I pre-ordered, of course!), had some thoughtful suggestions for die-hard resolvers such as myself:
- Ask: “What would make me happier?“
- Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring about change?”
- Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?”
- Ask: “Am I starting small enough?”
- Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?”
With these tips in mind for 2010, I considered not that which would make me better (e.g., eat healthier, lose weight, etc.), nor anything rigidly goal-related (with a baby and a six-month work hiatus rapidly approaching, I just have no idea how anything career-related is going to sort itself out — and I’m not going to try to force anything, e.g., “bill more hours” or “turn blog into advertising bonanza”). Instead, I considered that which, simply, might make me happier.
What does actually make me truly happy? I didn’t consider the obvious yet existential stuff — such as my daughter laying her head on my shoulder or my husband rolling over and putting his arm around me in the early early mornings for a few more minutes of sleep. But almost guilty, materialistic pleasures — what if I tried to embrace these with the resolution to be, well, just happier?
What makes me happy:
1. Very very long very very hot showers.
2. Saturday morning yoga with Claire or Rhea at Baron Baptiste.
3. 4.5 mile runs when the stars are aligned (pleasant conditions, before breakfast or as the sun sets, a good running mix)
4. Starbucks grande soy no foam no water chai (oh, but these are SO bad for you, so perhaps they are best saved for an occasional indulgence of which that I will try to be mindful in the moment — see #9, below).
5. Opening a new bottle of red wine — from the sound of the cork popping, to that first swirl and smell, to pouring another glass. I love the ritual as much as anything else.
6. Afternoon naps on the weekends (especially if they follow either #2 or #3).
7. Friday nights, with wine, in front of the TV and a good dinner of something with pasta and cheese with Tim (though depending on how much wine, #2 or #3 may not be as pleasant).
8. People and US Weekly.
9. Catching myself in the present, as brief or startling as it may be: hearing a song in the car that links past to present; running; yoga; wine; reading a passage in a book or magazine or blog that strikes me as true and real.
My friend Lindsey has been featuring a series on her blog called Present Tense, in which she asks bloggers about the moments in which they are truly present. It’s interesting to read about what the idea of “being present” means to others, and it’s also nice to know that it is as difficult for others as it is for me.
As for resolutions, then (and thinking back to last year’s), cleaning up the house and cooking — while I enjoy the results of both, and am learning to love the process of the latter, especially with a glass of #5 in hand — don’t necessarily bring me immediate pleasure, as aspirational as they are. Maybe, then, all of these things that do bring real relaxation and happiness serve as subconscious conduits to #9? Is that the point?
As I embark on a year that promises a few changes, the clean house will happen or it won’t (remember this post ?). Perhaps clearing a path for some of these less lofty moments – and acknowledging how much I enjoy them – can lead ultimately to #9.
Tags: Bialetti Hot Chocolate Maker
I honestly don’t want for a thing, so if a family member on either side has me for his or her “grab” (the only way one can sanely give presents in a family with nine children, plus spouses, and 14+ grandchildren), really anything for my kitchen would be nice (cookbooks, cookbook holders, platters, pineapple corers, whatever — I finally have space to move beyond the bare bones kitchen basics!)
Or maybe this:
It’s called the Bialetti Hot Chocolate Maker, and apparently Williams-Sonoma only carries it around the holidays. How insanely indulgent would this be? How many times do you think I’d use it? Alas, I should probably focus on acquiring some good knives or something first (knives that, say, actually cut cleanly through an apple, as opposed to stuttering through with much peril to your fingers, as my old and cheap knives do).
Tags: Barefoot Contessa, gestational diabetes, glucose screen, weeknight meal planning
I’m not sure what came over me*, but I got super inspired/organized on Sunday and sat down with some cookbooks and came up with a menu for the week and went shopping and prepped all the food and put it in Tupperware and in the fridge (like a walking advertisement for a women’s magazine!). This week’s menu:
Monday: Barefoot Contessa Indonesian ginger chicken with roasted sweet potato and squash and brown rice (mostly for Tim — see footnote). Verdict: I made the marinade Sunday and let the chicken sit in it overnight. Melting the honey, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic wasn’t really any different from marinating in Soy Vey with some extra fresh ginger, which would have been much easier. Also, this is the problem I have with baking chicken: by the time I’m satisfied that it’s fully cooked, it’s rather dry. The roasted sweet potatoes were delicious though — just tossed in salt and pepper, roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Tuesday: Turkey chili. On Sunday I sauteed onions and the chili spices, browned the ground turkey, and diced red and yellow peppers. In the morning, it all went into the crockpot with two cans of crushed tomatoes. I ended up working late, so nearly 12 hours later I served it over the left over brown rice from Monday. Verdict: Delish delish delish. I used the Barefoot Contessa chicken chili recipe (halved the onion and replaced the baked chicken with the ground turkey). To make it a little less healthy, I topped it with sour cream and shredded cheddar, of course.
Wednesday: Tim was out, so I had left over mac and cheese that Janet had made for Buggy (with chopped broccoli, so it’s healthy! Right?) and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from last Friday. (Cookies not helping the blood sugar — see the footnote, below…)
Thursday: Sunday’s dinner was Barefoot Contessa’s butternut squash apple soup (I also added to her recipe some fresh ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon). I put two Tupperware’s full in the fridge for tonight, and three in the freezer for future dinner emergencies. I’ll serve it with leftover refrigerated French bread, warmed in the oven with some Fontina cheese. Actually, I’ll probably be working late tonight, so Tim can heat up his little Tupperware whenever, and I’ll have nuke mine when I get home. The perfect who-knows-what-time-you’ll-be-home meal
Proof (aside: I don’ t know why this picture is so huge!)
Friday: Costco whole wheat raviolis, which I will pluck from the freezer, and steamed broccoli, which I had cut up Sunday night. This obviously will not be an earth-shattering culinary experience, but at least I didn’t have to chop the broccoli, something I hate doing so much that it keeps me from eating broccoli (which, generally, I like) more frequently.
*I do know what came over me. Two things: (1) Ellen and Wildon came to dinner on Saturday night, and I made the Barefoot Contessa’s roast chicken with lemon. We were talking about the movie Julie and Julia, and Ellen said she would have to find herself a cookbook to make her way through. I have most of the BC’s cookbooks — she really can do nothing wrong — and so I decided to just dive in to those instead of getting myself overwhelmed on Epicurious. (2) I have my glucose test next week. I had gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy, and was on a restrictive no-carbs/no-sugar diet. This time, I was really good during my first trimester with my carb/sugar intake, but once the doctor told me how good I was doing I immediately got lazy and started baking cookies every week and resorting too often to our weeknight standard: pasta with Classico sauce. I’m not a big meat-eater and so don’t often think to cook it, but really do need to eat more protein and less carbs if I want to avoid gestational diabetes again. So while we’ll have rice with the chicken and the chili, it will mostly be for Tim (I can have like 1/3 of a cup per meal…)
- It took a bit of work on Sunday to get this all organized. We didn’t really have anything else going on (it was rainy, we were all still tired from Halloween on Saturday night), so I’m not sure it’s realistic to do this every week. In addition, I’m not yet sure all the effort was balanced by the end result, although it may end up being so once/if I become more efficient at planning and prepping.
- But it is nice that I have some chili and soup in the freezer.
Tags: Superbowl cupcakes
In case you found the last post mind-numbing, here are some glimpses of the past couple of days Chez Murph.
Mimi came to visit. Little Buggy loves nothing more than snuggling on her lap in the mornings, watching Sesame Street.
My sister Jennifer’s annual Superbowl cupcakes. The rules: you eat a cupcake (or many cupcakes, as the case may be — and usually is) with the logo of the team for which you are not rooting.
The scene as I left for work this morning: Little Buggy and Janet making eggs.
Tags: baking, hate the treadmill
I hate the treadmill.
Despite the frigid temperatures yesterday, I just couldn’t bring myself to head to our gym, which is located in a dingy basement. The cold sun on the frozen Charles provided much more inspiration!
It’s snowing again. Below, the view from our bedroom window over the rooftops of Back Bay.
My Kitchen Aid mixer has changed everything! While the flakes continued to fall outside, Little Buggy and I spent the morning baking. “Chocolate chip or oatmeal butterscotch,” I asked Tim. “Both,” he replied. And so that’s what he’s getting: chocolate-and-butterscotch-chip cookies.
Tags: BigLaw, cleanse, detox, eighteen-month-old check up, Kitchen Aid mixer, New Year's Eve 2008, tax law
The first two weeks of 2009 have been frigid and snowy. I feel a bit guilty for not writing, but I’ll now do my best to catch up. Here’s a short list of 2009’s milestones thus far:
1. New Year’s in the Country
Little Buggy and her friend, August, check out the snowplows on a snowy New Year’s Eve night.
We woke up New Year’s Eve day to a veritable blizzard but wouldn’t let that keep us from heading out to Tim and Isabella’s newly renovated farmhouse in Concord. (In any event, I was in charge of the wine for the dinner party, so I couldn’t let everyone else down, right?) We took the T to North Station and then the commuter rail out to Concord, and I have to say, when we stepped off the train and Tim, our host, was waving to us on the snowy platform in his Barbour coat and wellies, I felt as if we had arrived for a weekend in the English countryside. (However, note to self: in the future do not take a toddler on a train without adequate snacks.)
There were four couples for dinner, exquisitely prepared by Isabella and her friend Lisanne (both of them true gourmets). We started with prune gnocchi (with a fruity and sweet Dolcetto d’ Alba that perfectly balanced the prunes — by far the best wine pairing of the night), then salad, then a pork tenderloin roasted with fennel and rosemary (with a Chateauneuf du Pape, which I picked really only because it’s my favorite wine, although it did go well with the pork…) I also had brought some cool dessert wines — a Bonny Doon framboise, a sparkling Shiraz from Australia, and some port to go with the chocolate fondue we were to have for dessert. However, we didn’t quite make it to the last course, as the evening devolved (evolved?) into a spontaneous dance party in the home’s detached studio, where we rang in the New Year as Little Buggy and little August slept away in the main house, peacefully oblivious.
2. I bought a Kitchen Aid Mixer
I woke up New Year’s day to the sun sparkling on the snowy fields and low stone walls of Concord — picture perfect New England. Isabella already had baked banana bread; Little Buggy and August had pulled chairs up to the kitchen island to “help” her. I resolved right then to finally purchase the Kitchen Aid I’d been craving for years, justifying it with cozy thoughts of Little Buggy helping me bake over the years. And, indeed, in just two weeks I’ve made chocolate chip cookies and my own banana bread — more baking than occurred in all of 2008.
Just as fun as baking: hiding in the box
Before all this baking happened, however, starting January 5 (a Monday — the real beginning of 2009) I went on a 5.5 day cleanse: no dairy, caffeine, soy, alcohol (duh), sugar, or grains. The first two days were rather painful only in that I was hungry. But I made myself a rash of healthy things in advance — soups, smoothies — and by Friday I felt great. My skin was clear, and I had lost about seven pounds (for real!) I’m back on the sauce: caffeine, alcohol, dairy, but I feel good about dropping that holiday weight, even if some of it creeps back on. I do sort of wish I could eat like that all the time, but frankly, it’s boring. Interestingly, I didn’t miss the cheese or wine all that much, and the hardest part for me was not stopping in the Starbucks in the lobby on my way up to my office. There is something innately comforting to me (Pavlovian?) about the routine of standing in line, grabbing that cardboard cup, and settling in at my desk to begin the day.
I’ve been to yoga six times! I’ve been getting up at 5:45 a.m. to get to the 6:15 class at Prana Power Yoga in Central Square. Even though it makes the mornings a bit more hectic, my days are so much better. I’d like to try to do it every morning — maybe that can be my next goal.
5. Running Club
The 2009 running club was inaugurated by Ellen and me last Saturday on an icy cold morning on the Charles. It was more like “adventure ice running” over large unplowed sections of the path on the river, but we felt rather proud afterwards. This morning’s running club has been cancelled due to the six degree cold outside.
6. Lots of snowstorms.
Helping Daddy dig out the cars
7. Little Buggy is 18 months!
She had her 18 month doctor’s appointment on Thursday. She’s a healthy little girl. Weight: 24 lbs, 11 oz (50th %); Height: 33 1/4 inches (quite literally off the charts for height percentile — greater than 100%). Both Tim and I were early growers, so that’s not surprising. Still, I wonder if she’ll end up being over six feet, like her Aunt Stephanie. She’s talking almost incessantly these days (wonder where that came from?). I can pretty much understand what she wants, and she can parrot back almost anything, making me realize I really do have to start curtailing my use of four-letter words.
I’ve been a BigLaw attorney for four months. I feel a little bit like I did when arrived at Princeton and was surrounded by people who, like me, legitimately loved school, and books, and asking questions, and learning. In the tax department, I’m also surrounded by people who are unabashed about their nerdy love of the tax code and the problem-solving it presents. I think this is what makes practicing tax law a bit different from corporate or litigation. In corporate, some people love that rush of the deadline, of staying up late, of making huge transactions happen (well, to the extent that they do anymore…). In litigation, people love doing the case research, writing briefs, looking for that one clue that will turn their case. In tax, people like to sit around and discuss the freaking TAX CODE, inventing scenario after scenario of possible outcomes.
More to my specific interests, however, each time I have the chance to do the college and university tax-exempt work (that I went to my particular firm with the hopes of specializing in), I am reminded of my real passion for education-related issues. This week I attended a conference for college and university practitioners, as well as a firm-sponsored lunch on topics in this area. Many of the issues in this area are far from tax related — admissions, labor, etc. — and I do hope to get some exposure to these areas as well. I also was assigned a pro-bono case in which I’m going to represent the mother of an autistic child against the Department of Education to help extend the girl’s education-related benefits after she turns 21. I’m nervous, as I am going to be the lawyer — but this is the benefit (indeed, the point, I think) of doing pro bono work as a young attorney. You have client exposure and responsibility that you’d never have in your normal place at the very bottom of the pecking order (to wit: I will be spending part of my vacation day on Monday transcribing , word-for-word, a two- to three-hour conference call. Not really using my, um, legal skills…)
Oh, yawn! Was that so boring? (Told you I was a dork.)
Anyway, one more thought about work: if you click on that link to the right to “Above the Law” you’ll see that this must-read legal blog has been listing almost daily firms that are laying off workers or freezing salaries. My firm, while halving bonuses like all the other firms, is not freezing salaries, which is encouraging. Nevertheless, things are nerve-wracking, as they are for everyone in the country. If I have a job in 2010 — bonuses, salary increases or not — I will be truly grateful.
And with that, I embark upon the latter half of the month, promising to update a bit more regularly.
I love New Year’s Resolutions. The list-lover in me just loooooves seeing (in my minuscule handwriting) the rows and columns of things I am going to self-improve each year. These resolutions (which I truly, and rather dorkily, write down) energize me, as well as get me through the first few weeks of inevitable post-holiday, Northeastern winter depression. Most of the time my resolutions revolve around the same theme: do more yoga, meditate, spend less, be kind. Sometimes they are vague sentiments along the lines of “be healthy”; other times they are more draconian: no caffeine, dairy, alcohol; run four times a week; keep a little notebook in my bag and record how much I spend every day, etc. You can guess how long those latter ones last — but as I said, it’s inspiring for at least a little while to try to achieve a personal goal. And for a type-A personality like me, the more precise, and the more difficult, the better. (It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my tendency to go overboard with resolutions — one of my favorite bloggers, Erin, has a similar post today.)
At the risk of revealing my neuroses to the world, but in the hopes that by divulging them I’ll hold myself somewhat accountable, here are my challenges/goals for 2009:
1. MUCH Less Drinking in January. Tim and I are in this one together. According to him, the Irish always go dry in January. The holidays push them over the edge, and they take January off before plunging back for the rest of the year. We’re focused on the big picture here, which is cutting back and/or eliminating the nightly glass/bottle of wine (especially after Dr. French Fry informed us — picking up her hefty pathology or hemotology or something book for intellectual backup — that one’s liver regenerates after a few weeks of clean living) than total abstention. (NB: if we win the lottery or sell the Milton place, we can drink as much as we want.)
2. No New Shoes in 2009. Don’t laugh! I spend way too much money on shoes. By this point, I should have enough pairs of three-figure shoes to get me through one year. Exception: running shoes. I’ve found that in general, extremes — e.g., a flat-out “No” to anything — don’t really work for me, but this is one place where I do think a total ban is warranted!
3. Run. Specifically, to inaugurate the Saturday-morning running club with Ellen and Nell, our goal being to run the Great Bay Half Marathon again the first week in April.
4. Cook More (a/k/a Eat Out Less). This is a challenging but necessary one. Not only do I like cooking (although am sorely out of practice), but the $35 or so we regularly spend on mediocre take-out from Charley’s or pizza (albeit delicious pizza from Bostone on Newbury, but ultimately way too pricey and unhealthy for a weeknight staple) seems like something we can easily cut out of our budget. Along these lines, I’d like to start having people over for dinners more on weekends. The quality of conversation and fun is just as good and, most of the time, even better at someone’s home (plus, you’re not shelling out another $100 on top of dinner for a sitter). To all my friends: bring some wine (even your kids if you have them!) and I shall feed you all year long.
5. Eat Healthy — a big, catch-all category. I feel better when I eat less/no meat. It is difficult to cook two meals a night (one for your meat-loving husband, and one for yourself), but I’m going to try to get back to my vegetarian diet. Along those lines, I also feel better when I don’t have dairy,either, but because I find the mere thought of a lunch or dinner without cheese to be truly depressing, instead of banning dairy entirely, I’ll have to compromise by at least trying to think about how to cut back without feeling deprived (and sad).
6. Be Neater (a/k/a Pick Up After Myself). I’m clean — you will not see a speck of dirt in my home — but I am not “neat.” I throw my coat over the dining room chair when I get home, kick my shoes off in the middle of the hall, toss my clothes (unfolded) on the end of the bed, leave the kitchen cabinet doors open. It drives Tim absolutely crazy. And then every once in awhile, I’ll get neurotic and go on a cleaning binge (my college roommates will tell you it happened more often than not after a particularly long night out…). Again in the spirit of moderation, I’d like to keep an even keel: less daily mess, fewer cleaning frenzies. I happened upon a quirky website run by someone called The Fly Lady about keeping one’s home neat and tidy. It is aimed at women who don’t work out side the home (do you love how p.c. that phrase is?) and encourages you to set aside days of the week for different chores: Monday is ironing day; Tuesday is bathroom cleaning day, etc. (kind of like “Little House on the Prairie”). However, there is one trick I think I can manage: setting a timer for 15 minutes (the Fly Lady’s mantra is “You can do anything for 15 minutes!”) and just clearing out certain areas of the house each night, e.g., the entry way, the bathroom, the kitchen. Spending 15 minutes cleaning when I get home from work is of course the last thing I want to do, but for the sake of my husband’s sanity, I will attempt to keep my belongings from straying all over the house.
7. YOGA. This is the most important and the most difficult — I’m not sure how I’ll accomplish this, but even going once a week regularly would be a good start. (To that end, I hauled myself out of bed and went to Prana at 6:15 this morning. It was a miserable class — I felt so stiff and out of shape I quite literally felt the tears coming to my eyes — but little steps, little steps…)
The perfectionist in me really yearns to frame all this dramatically for a hit of instant gratification — something along the lines of: “I will lose 15 pounds by running four times a week to train for the half marathon; lifting three times a week; doing yoga three times a week; eating a vegan macrobiotic diet; not spending any money; and having an immaculate house.” Honestly, I truly, truly wish I could be so disciplined. At the same time, I long to live life more clearly, cleanly, lightly in the sense that these little things don’t really matter. (Lindsey describes this inner longing much more articulately, here.) However, the older, wiser me will also attempt, in 2009, to start caring about myself a bit more, accepting my love of wine and cheese and shoes and impulsive behavior not so much as flaws but as actions that I may (or may not) want to moderate a bit. Feel free to check in.
Scorpion pose. (Also blatantly lifted from Erin’s site — but what a fabulous bit of inspiration!)
About this time last year I made Tim go to Target and get me a Crock Pot/slow cooker. It was finally, truly winter — wet and cold every day — and I had started my internship, and I thought it would be all warm and homey to have the slow cooker simmering away while I was at work. However, at the time, I couldn’t really find any recipes that weren’t heavily meat-based and didn’t require some sort of pre-browning of said meat in the first place. Maybe I had an unattainable ideal for the slow cooker, but, in any event, the Crock Pot never found its way out of its packaging or off the top shelf in the kitchen.
This past Sunday I wanted to make chili. I wanted it to simmer on the stove all day without too much attention, and instead of bemoaning my lack of a Creuset or other heavy-bottomed pot, I was inspired to break out the Crock Pot. I browned some turkey and onions in a skillet and added them to the Crock Pot with chick peas, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and various spices, including unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin, oregano and, of course, chili powder. (The recipe was from Epicurious, here.) It was a bit too watery (the recipe called for stock/broth, which I’ll leave out next time; I’ll also switch out the tomato sauce for tomato paste), and it also lacked a certain kick. Jalapenos? Tabasco? I know people sometimes also use beer, but it would seem to me you’d need a regular pot so as to boil it off some. The result was certainly good, but not to-die-for, second-helping chili, like my friend Ellen’s (who is the true impetus behind the chili — ever since she made big pots of it for a Missouri football game party a few weeks ago, Tim has been bugging/begging me to make some), or my mom’s.
Anyway, the outcome of the chili aside, the Crock Pot didn’t make things noticeably more simple than just cooking chili in a regular pot (I still had to brown things, stir it occasionally). I suppose that, had it been a work day, because the temperature is lower, I could have started it in the morning and left it unattended all day (but with chili, half the fun is having it smell good on the stove all day, which is why I suppose it’s a perfect Sunday meal). So, in the end, I guess I’m rather unimpressed. Does anyone have any miraculous crock-pot recipes? My friend Katie swears she made a Beef Bourguignon in a Crock Pot once — but that seems a bit beyond my reach, since I’ve never even made a normal Beef Bourguignon.
*Does anyone remember “Good Morning Vietnam” when Robin Williams is talking about how hot it is, hot enough for some crotch-pot cooking? Every time I say the phrase “crock pot” I think of this scene, which my friend Colby and I used to find hilarious enough to go around quoting (probably terribly inaccurately).
Thanks to everyone who helped me with my dinner party menu. Here’s how things turned out: I went with the lamb from Barefoot Contessa at Home, which had this amazing-smelling rosemary rub. I was to buy a 6 lb. boneless leg of lamb (for 10 people), but the store only had 4 lb. legs, so I supplemented with a smaller 2 lb. half leg. Silly non-meat cooking me, I still timed the cooking for a 6 lb. lamb, which meant that in the end, the smaller piece was too well done to eat, and the larger piece was more done than I would have liked. The potatoes on which the lamb in all its rosemary-ness roasted were divine, however. I also made the BC’s wilted spinach recipe, but would not do so again — a bit too watery and cold by the time it got to the table. Next time will add some fennel or something in with the potatoes and call it a day. Overall, however ,the recipe was far easier than I had expected and perfect for a dinner party because there is almost no prep work; by the time your guests arrive, the lamb is already in the oven smelling wonderful.
We were to have four couples and I was sort of stressing about how to serve dinner buffet style, but the one couple who was driving up from Marion got on 495, drove 2 miles in 20 minutes, and turned around (it was still snowing, so quite understandable). The only upside of that was that I was able to seat people at the table, which looked beautiful. I took a picture of it, but not on my camera phone, so I’ll post it here when I finally get it uploaded. Anyway, one bottle of Prosecco, a case of beer, one bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and six bottles of Saint Cosme Cote-du-Rhone (one of my favorites — I highly recommend it, especially with lamb), everyone was quite happy! And now I am inspired to do it again — stay tuned for my next culinary adventure.