Lower Your Expectations (and Do Less)

The Better Me Project—Day 20

Like so many of us, I can get completely overwhelmed at times. My list of what I need to do and what I expect of myself never seems to end. Home projects, responsibilities and book ideas all seem to pile up at alarming rates, the list growing longer than the hours in a day. (If I’m honest, the list is probably longer than the number of years I have left to live on this earth.) I want to accomplish so much and at the same time, I want to do everything right. But that voice in the back of my head is screaming at me, “Lower your expectations, Heather! This precept of Lower Your Expectations is actually four parts (and four days) long. Today is the first part—Do Less.

Do Less

I really should start listening to that nagging voice that’s telling me to lower my expectations. It may hold the secret to my complete and utter happiness. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it think it may be on to something. It seems crazy to tell yourself to lower your expectations, though, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t most people think you should expect more to get more? If you set the bar low, you won’t work as hard. And you could actually make yourself fail if you don’t expect to succeed. Like if you expect to fail your driver’s test, you could psychologically cause yourself to fail the test, right? If you don’t have faith in something you want to achieve, it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy to not accomplish the goal. Why bother to tell yourself that you can do anything if you don’t expect to do it?

Because you shouldn’t expect to do everything. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean that you should. Sometimes Less is More.

You Can Do Anything, But You Can’t Do Everything

No wiser words have ever been spoken. I saw this meme on Pinterest the other day and it hit me so hard that I couldn’t breathe for a minute. Okay, slight exaggeration, but you get it. Sometimes you stumble upon something that is so relevant to your current situation that it stops you dead in your tracks. Words that can turn your head around and make you really evaluate what you’re doing.

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately. Forget both ends, I’ve been burning it at all ends.

Not only do I need to blog daily about The Better Me Project, I have to actually carry out the precepts that I’m talking about. I’m trying to start an online magazine for writers. I have three books half finished right now. There are at least another two book ideas banging around in that cluttered brain of mine. I’ve been researching SEO, Pinterest algorithms and other internet nonsense in order to make my blog more visible and reach more readers. I’m writing a book proposal based on this project. We’re still doing the The Bad Mommy Cooks the USA tour. I want to put all those recipes and disasters into a cookbook. Oh, and I have to go to work and clean my house and feed my family and the dog and work out and generally make sure everything doesn’t fall apart in the meantime.

Yikes!

I do this to myself A LOT. I mentally catalog a list of what I NEED to accomplish that is so unrealistic I have no choice but to fail. I’m going to fail at something on that list, if not everything on that list, because it’s too much. I cannot logically expect myself to achieve any of it—Superwoman herself couldn’t do all that. (Somehow, my expectations of myself are more than I would expect of Superwoman.) And while I have to admit that I’m pretty damn awesome and I do get a lot done, I’m still setting myself up for inevitable failure.

I’m sure there’s so psychological reason that I do this, but I don’t think I should waste any time trying to figure that out. What I need to do is STOP. Well, not stop altogether. I need to lower my expectations and allow myself to DO LESS.

How Can I Do Less?

Prioritizing. Ugh. It’s like a dirty word. How does one prioritize exactly? I mean, if I make a list of things I need (want) to get done, everything on that list is important. Certainly there are things that MUST get done immediately—like eating dinner—but in my mind, everything else on that list is pretty damn important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put it on the list in the first place. Duh. And sure, some items on the list are dependent on others (like I can’t schedule my blogs before I write them), but how do I say, “okay, this item comes before that item?”

The best way for me to do this is to evaluate my goals. What is it that I’m looking to accomplish? And on a hierarchy of needs, which goals are most important? Obviously, I want to keep my dog and family alive, so feeding them and making grocery lists need to be done. Along with laundry and going to work so I can make money to do laundry and feed my family. I mean, it’s one thing to disappoint my adoring fans everywhere if I don’t put out a post every day—it’s another not to go to work and have clean clothes.

So yeah, it’s all important, but what isn’t helping me accomplish my goals?

I started this Better Me Project because I truly wanted to mold myself into the best version of myself that I could possibly be. And not only for myself, but for my family and friends and pretty much anyone who ever had to deal with the “not better” version of me. Right now, this project is at the top of my list. Therefore, my blog posts and actually doing the project is one of my most important goals at the moment. Stuff like working on my newsletter and my running and the four thousand book ideas that are swirling in my head need to take a back burner. So does marketing and figuring out how to get more readers. I have to actually complete the project before I worry about that.

These are all things I want to accomplish…eventually. But I also need to take this one step at a time. And for me, that’s REALLY hard. I want it all and I want it yesterday.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I think the most difficult part of not being able to see my goals accomplished as quickly as I want them to be is the fact that I am seriously worried that I won’t get to them at all. Our clocks are all ticking and we never know when we’re going to run out of time. It’s scary to think that we don’t know what we will have time to accomplish in this lifetime. Just thinking about that causes me anxiety.

Yet, if I lower my expectations and realize that I am not a failure if I don’t do it all, it gives me comfort. I have to allow myself to take a break when I feel overwhelmed. Like with this blog. Three weeks of non-stop blogging with all the rest of my responsibilities is quite a load to take on. Did you notice, no Better Me project post yesterday? I didn’t do it ***gasp***

I can’t beat myself up for needing to hit the pause button for a day or two or ten. I have to remember that I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I am doing the best I can do.

I CAN do ANYTHING. I just won’t do EVERYTHING.

(I’ll see you soon blogging world…just maybe not tomorrow…)

Photo Credit

Louisiana Gumbo

The Bad Mommy Cooks—Louisiana

First, a warning. This blog post will be long. Between talking about Louisiana and the actual making of this meal, I’ve got a lot to say. But I assure you that it’ll be worth it.

Louisiana History

While every state has some rich history, there are not too many with such deep rooted FOOD histories as Louisiana’s. The main cuisines of Louisiana are Creole and Cajun…a combination of French, Spanish, West African, Native American, German, Haitian, and Italian influences, in addition to Southern US influences. Louisiana was founded by the French, hence the slow and complex cooking found in Louisiana cuisine. I’ve discovered that the main difference between Creole and Cajun cooking is that Creole uses a tomato base, while Cajun does not, and that Creole is considered a little more “high brow-city food” while Cajun is more “country food”. Here’s a handy Pin that outlines the differences.

Full disclosure: Hubby went through an “I Love Emeril” phase quite a few years back. At that point in time, despite the fact that visiting New Orleans has been a bucket list item for me for quite some time (I had a teacher in 5th grade describe the above ground graves and I was instantly morbidly fascinated), I did not share his enthusiasm for New Orleans cooking.  I wasn’t big on trying new things. I wasn’t big on spices. That was the old me. New me wants to shake old me and tell her not to be such a weenie and try new foods!

Don’t Be a Weenie

The purpose of this State Food Tour is to experience the cuisine of other states and try new things. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a meal that we want to try and that we haven’t really had before. Not with Louisiana. There was soooooo much to choose from when we had to pick what we were making for this state. Did we want Jumbalaya? Crawfish? Gumbo? Etouffee? Shrimp Po’Boys? There aren’t too many other states with such an overwhelming selection of choices.

Even though I really wanted a Shrimp Po’boy (soooo good) we decided to go with a Cajun Gumbo…one that was loosely based on a recipe by the Great Emeril himself (we made some changes based on preferences and availability of supplies).

Gumbo is a bit complicated…

After pinning a few recipes and reviewing them, I realized that the gumbo was going to be a little more complicated than I’m comfortable with. Over the course of this project I’ve come to learn a thing or two about cooking, and I would even dare to say that I’m actually improving. That’s not to say that cooking doesn’t scare me. Complex and time consuming recipes paralyze me with anxiety. I’m always afraid I’ll ruin the meal or have to perform too many steps at a time and I’ll get overwhelmed by that.

I didn’t have to twist Hubby’s arm to get him to do most of the work with this recipe. This is him enthusiastically watching a You Tube video about making a roux:

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While the idea of stirring a pot of flour and oil for an hour overwhelmed me, it excited him. Weirdo.

Do the Roux

Anyway…on to the roux. Apparently another difference between Cajun and Creole is the way the roux is made—Creole uses butter, Cajun, uses vegetable oil. You need to heat it over low heat and stir in the flour it until it turns a chocolate brown color. It LITERALLY needs to be stirred CONTINUOUSLY for an hour. Like you can’t do anything else at all. Because you’ll burn the roux and then you’ll have to start over. Seriously…you can’t even scratch your nose.

Hubby set up the roux and we took turns stirring it—I had to stir while he chopped up the onions, pepper, and celery for the gumbo. If there’s anything I dislike more than stirring a roux, it’s chopping up onions. (Really, how do people do it without crying?) He stirred while I used the garlic press to squeeze and entire bulb of garlic in order to get the 3 TABLESPOONS of garlic. And then I wondered why my hands were sore the next day.

Here is our roux in stages:

See the chocolate color in the last picture? Hubby was practically swooning when he saw that. These were taken at 10 min intervals—it turns out that we only had to stir for about 40 minutes because we had 1 cup of flour and oil instead of 2. If you ever want to make this recipe, I would highly suggest watching one of those roux making You Tube videos to help you out.

The roux was the most difficult part of the whole recipe. I’m glad Hubs did most of that because I probably would have had a nervous breakdown worrying about messing it up. Now that I know how to do it, I would feel comfortable doing it on my own. The only problem would be if I had to go to the bathroom. I guess I can’t drink any water before making a roux by myself.

The Easy Part

Once the roux was the right color, the veggies, garlic, sausage, and cayenne pepper were added and cooked while stirring for about 5 minutes until the veggies were soft. The chicken stock was added directly to this pot, along with salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Then the pot was reduced to a simmer for about 2 hours. (During that time you have to check the pot to skim the excess oil off the top every once in awhile.)

After that, we added shrimp*, green onions (yuck), and parsley to the pot and allowed it to simmer until the shrimp was cooked, about 20 minutes. We served it over rice with a sprinkle of file powder**.

*Shrimp was a deviation from the original recipe—Cajun cooking more commonly includes Crawfish, while Creole tends to use shrimp. Crawfish is a little harder to come by around these parts.

**This was fun to find. Two different grocery stores on a Sunday afternoon in search of a tiny little bottle of powder. When I told Hubby that the powder was an optional garnish, he didn’t seem to care and still insisted on having it. Ugh.

Don’t forget the wine

I did a little research on what wine pairs well with gumbo. My choices were a Riesling or a Chenin Blanc. I had never heard of Chenin Blanc (it’s French…fitting) and in the spirit of trying something new (on my expedition to retrieve file powder), I picked that up to have with the gumbo:

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It was a nice crisp taste, not too dry and not too fruity, either. It paired well with the meal.

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Bon Appetite!

The Bad Mommy Cooks—Lousiana

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

Total Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3 TBSP of minced garlic
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb of andouille sausage (cut into small pieces)
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 boxes of chicken stock (8 cups)

Instructions

  1. Make roux with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of vegetable oil. Stir continuously until roux is a chocolate brown color. (This will take between 35-45 minutes.)
  2. Once the roux is the right color, add the veggies, garlic, sausage, and cayenne pepper, stirring for about 5 minutes until the veggies are soft.
  3. Add the chicken stock directly to this pot, along with salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours. (During that time you have to check the pot to skim the excess oil off the top every once in awhile.)
  4. After that, add shrimp, green onions, and parsley to the pot and allow it to simmer until the shrimp is cooked, about 20 minutes.
  5. Serve it over rice with a sprinkle of file powder.
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Forgive Someone Who’s Hurt You

The Better Me Project—Day 18

Is this starting to sound like a 12 step program yet? No? Okay, well how about this for today’s precept—forgive someone who’s hurt you. I’m pretty sure almost every recovery program includes a step of that nature.

It doesn’t matter if this person has apologized and you’ve refused to accept their apology in the past, or this person is completely oblivious to the fact that they’ve even done you wrong. This day is all about being forgiving.

Why Should I Forgive Someone Who’s Done Something Wrong To ME?

Did you ever hear the saying that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die? Well, the reason that saying is so true is because of the anger and negativity associated with holding a grudge. That negativity eats away at the person who refuses to forgive, causing them unnecessary stress and sometimes even illness. Yes, you can make yourself sick from being mad at someone. I think I’ve done it before.

I Hold Onto a Grudge For WAYYYYY Too Long

I admit it. I’m notorious for this. If you’ve pissed me off, I may not say anything, but I’m silently seething underneath. And I will keep it in till the end of time. I’m not saying that I’m mad at everyone who has ever hurt me. That would be a little ridiculous (and that list would include people I care a lot about). If I’ve have it out with someone who’s hurt me, chances are they’re forgiven. But many times, if I haven’t hashed it out with someone, I may still be mad at them, even if it was eons ago. Someone who wronged me in kindergarten may still be on my $hit list.

This isn’t to say that I’m not a forgiving person. No, I think quite the opposite. I like to believe in the best in people (although I have found myself often disappointed and kicking myself for trusting certain people in the future). If someone is genuinely apologetic for hurting me, I will most likely forgive them.

But What if Someone Has Done Something Really Terrible to Me?

While I want to be accommodating and understanding, I don’t want to be a doormat. I don’t take a lot of crap from people—this is probably why I tend to hold onto my anger unnecessarily. There are some people on this earth that have done really abysmal things to other people. While I’ve been heartbroken and bullied in the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to never had anything that is truly unforgivable done to me. But I understand that there may be readers out there that have been in such a situation and they’re carrying around that pain for a tremendously long time.

I can imagine that it would be pretty difficult to forgive in that situation. And I can imagine that such a feeling would eat away at you for many years and end up controlling your life. You might miss opportunities because you are too upset to confront them or come in contact with them. You want to punish them for the misery they’ve bestowed upon you. Why should you forgive them?

Forgiving someone is not giving them a pass for what they’ve done to you, though. Forgiving someone is mentally telling yourself that you’re not going to be held hostage by your feelings created by this person’s actions. This is for you, not them.

The Great Part Is, You Don’t Even Have to Tell Them You’re Forgiving Them

Maybe this would work a whole lot better if you told the person you were mad at them for whatever. And then the person would actually apologize and you could say to the person, “Okay, I forgive you.” And you hug and go get a drink and forget you were even mad in the first place. I bet that’s the most cathartic way to go about this.

That’s probably not the way it’s going to go down, though. Sometimes you really can’t talk to the person who’s hurt you. They may have passed on. They may be in prison. You may have completely lost touched with them. Or maybe not. Maybe you just don’t want to confront them about it, but you still want to forgive them.

At least that isn’t the way it went down for me.

She Had No Idea

So I was carrying around this grudge for about three years. The person I was mad at was once a really close friend for about ten years until she did something really crappy. If I told you what it was, you would probably say, “Wow, that is a crappy thing to do, but I wouldn’t end a ten plus year friendship over it.”

Well, I didn’t end our friendship over it, but it started opening my eyes to things that she did that weren’t very friend-like. And weird. Every little thing that she had done for ages suddenly annoyed me to the point of exhaustion. Stuff I wouldn’t have even noticed before drove me so nuts that I found myself rolling my eyes at every one of her Facebook posts or texts. The stupid anger I had was brewing inside me like a tea bag that had seeped too long, making me as bitter as that tea would be.

I kept my distance as not to get bent out of shape over it. I knew deep down inside that her personality flaws that had never bothered me before weren’t even the source of my anger. It was that one stupid, little thing she had done (or not done) three years ago.

I Said To Hell With This

I woke up one morning towards the beginning of my Better Me Project and meditated like I do. The night before this person had texted me and asked me to do something for her that I didn’t want to do (that was another thing, she only contacted me when she wanted something…grrr). It made me so mad. I ignored her texts. I even bitched and moaned to another friend about her. I went to bed vowing not to get upset, but I was still stewing about it the next morning. So much in fact that I couldn’t even clear my head to meditate properly. She was getting in my brain and making it difficult for me to be happy. I needed to let this go.

Should I call her up and say, “Hey listen, I don’t want to be friends anymore?” No, I couldn’t do that. She would want to know why and to be honest, whenever I voiced my reason out loud, it seemed so insignificant and irrational that I knew I would look ridiculous. And in a way, it was a little over the top, but what had started out as this little seed of anger, had blossomed into this out of control weed growing inside me.

I Forgave Her Without a Word

So with trembling hands, I picked up the phone that morning and I called her back. I said, “Sure, I’d love to do that favor for you!” And even though I really didn’t want to, I did it without a single complaint. It turns out it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be, either. My judgment was so clouded when I was mad that I couldn’t even remember why we were friends to begin with. By forgiving her, it suddenly became clear. She wasn’t as bad as I thought she was—we all make mistakes, after all.

I allowed myself to forgive her, without saying a single word about why I was mad in the first place—I let go of all that built up anger I had been holding onto. And do you know what? It really felt good. It did nothing for her (since she didn’t even know I was mad to begin with), but I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest and I could breathe again.

Day 18—So do yourself a favor; make a list of people you’re holding a grudge against. Take pen and cross them off, one at a time. Forgive them for you.

Photo Credit

Be Generous

Be Generous—Give More Than You Can Afford To

The Better Me Project—Day 17 (Be Generous)

Today is Tax Day…groan. Some of us are getting back big fat checks, and others…well, not so much. Thinking about taxes inspired today’s precept…in a way. A few years ago, my husband got in this “donating” kick. He told me we need to be generous. Allegedly our accountant had advised us that we needed more charitable donations on our taxes to offset what we owed. Or something like that.

When people start talking about taxes and income and pretty much any math, I actually can feel my mind turning itself off. Remember the adults in the Peanuts cartoons? The wah wah wah noise they always make? Yeah, that’s how people sound when I hear numbers being uttered.

Get to the point, Heather!

Anyway…I kind of flipped out when I saw how much hubby wanted to donate to the various charities that he choose. At that time, we were living paycheck to paycheck—in fact in the summer I couldn’t even go down the shore more than three or four times because we couldn’t afford the gas. And he was giving hundreds of dollars away to charities? We couldn’t afford to be generous. Or so I thought. I protested. He gave anyway.

The benefits

While I was stewing inside, I have to admit, it did feel good to give money to groups that I had a personal attachment to. I started working in an elementary school soon after and had many new opportunities to take charge of fundraising for many organizations. We organized walks and basketball games for various charities including Walk for DiabetesHoops for Heart,  Light The Night (Leukemia and Lymphoma Association), and Make a Wish Foundation. If I had to guess, I would say we raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 for various foundations over the years. And damn nothing felt better than handing over a nice fat check to an organization’s representative, knowing that we were doing something to help other people. Our efforts were doing some good for the world. It was a great feeling. I almost wanted to bottle it up and open it anytime I felt down or upset.

This is a universal effect of generosity. According to several of the articles I read, there have been tons of studies done on the effect of generosity. And all have come to the overwhelming consensus that yes, it is much better to give than receive. As a child, I never understood why the adults in my life never seemed to actually want any gifts. My grandmother would say that the greatest gift she could receive was seeing us happy with our gifts. I thought it was a bunch of made up malarky, nonsense that adults would say to confuse kids. Now as an adult, I realize that she was speaking the truth. As much as I hate the nagging feeling that I’m hemorrhaging money around the holidays, there’s such a warm and fuzzy feeling you get from picking just the right gift for someone and seeing their joy when they unwrap it.

And the weird thing about when you are generous is that it doesn’t seem to matter if you know or even see the recipient of your act (hence the good feeling we get from donating to charities). It has actually been shown to affect the chemistry of the brain, releasing a lot of “Feel good” chemicals that make one less likely to suffer from depression and stress*, just like when we perform random acts of kindness like I blogged about Day 8.

What are these “Feel Good” Chemicals you speak of?

A few years ago, the concept of “do good”, “feel good” would not have made sense to me at all. I rarely engaged in altruistic acts, so I didn’t get the “feel good” chemical surge. Not only was I incredibly stingy with my money, but my time as well. It seemed that I never had enough of either, so whenever I had some, I wanted to keep it for myself. Be generous? I don’t think so. How could I feel better by parting with my money or my time? I didn’t think it was possible, but I was wrong.

I’m poor! What Can I do????

I know from personal experience that not all of us can afford to donate obscene sums of money to charities. There are other ways to be generous without spending a ton. Tip your waiter or waitress more than the standard 20% or stick a few bucks in that pesky bucket that the people are shaking at your car at every stoplight on the weekend. Don’t want to spend a lot? Set up a Facebook cause for your birthday. (I did this and was able to donate over $200 to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, a charity near and dear to my heart after losing a grandparent to the disease.)

Even those without a cent to spend can get the feel good experience of generosity by donating a little time. You could volunteer to coach your kid’s baseball team or be in charge of a PTO committee. And yes, those are time consuming—it doesn’t need to be a huge time consuming task, or even a regular one. Shoveling your neighbor’s driveway or spending an hour helping a friend pack for a big move counts. It doesn’t need to go on a resume. It just needs to fill your heart with joy and flood your brain with those feel good chemicals.

Be Generous and Beyond

I’ve found myself with a lot more time these days than I had when the kids were younger. Partially it’s because they don’t require as much care, and partially because I’ve embraced the “messy house” look. I’m also less prone to giving a crap than I did ten years ago. Years of juggling schedules has also taught me how to plan and get things done more efficiently. (Also the fact that nobody is taking folded laundry out of a basket and throwing it around the house helps a bit.)

So with that newfound time, I’ve been looking into volunteering (Animal Shelter, reading to homebound residents). So far, no one wants my help! I’ll keep looking though, because I really want to find an organization that I will enjoy spending my time on. Plus, there’s an added bonus to meeting new people. I never know what future book characters I may meet…hehe.

~”No one every became poor by giving”, Anne Frank

*“What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy”U.S. News (5/1/15)

**If you’re looking to get that “feel good” feeling right now, click on any of the charity links above to donate. No amount is ever too small! Be generous!

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reading

Quit Reading Boring Books

The Better Me Project—Day 16 

You would never think I would make a precept about not reading, did you? After all, I’m like the biggest book pusher on the planet. I have books in my purse, my car, on the night table…everywhere. I panic if I’m waiting somewhere and I have nothing to read. Not only do I make sure I bring at least one pair of underwear for each day I’m on vacation, I always have at least one book for every day, much to hubby’s dismay. I think I have an actual phobia of running out of reading material….abibliophobia. (Yeah, it’s a real thing. I looked it up on the Internet. It has to be true if it’s on the Internet, right?)

So What’s This About Boring Books?

I don’t know how it happened, but along the way I made this rule up for myself that I would always finish the books I started. It didn’t matter if the book was the worst book on the planet, if I read past page one, I was going to complete it.

This is probably because I had it drilled in my head as a kid that you finish what you start. You don’t want to play soccer anymore? That’s fine, but you’re finishing out this season. You don’t want to take Geometry anymore? Tough it out, kid. That book you have to read for English is boring? Too bad—finish it.

I Still Read and I’m Not Even In School

While the statistics are controversial, it seems like anywhere from 25-35% of people never read another book once they leave high school. In that percentage of the people that do read after high school, 25 % don’t read more than one book a year. So bibliophiles like me are not as commonplace as say, TV addicts. (Show me a person who hasn’t watched at least one show on TV in the last year, I’ll show you someone who is living in a hut in the middle of a third world country.) I read anywhere from 70-80 books a year. I am NOT bragging at all, I’m just stating a fact. To me, reading books is like breathing—I enjoy doing it and it kind of keeps me alive.

By the way, I am not judging you if books aren’t your thing. Don’t judge me because Game of Thrones isn’t my thing. We all need entertainment in whatever way we can get it. As long as we are keeping our minds active, we’re all good.

But I’m Still Acting Like I’m In School When It Comes to Reading

So I’ve been out of school for um…well, more years than I’d like to admit, yet I still act like I’m in high school. As far as reading is concerned. It’s somehow ingrained in my head that not only do I have to read the classics that I was never assigned in school (Anna Karenia, Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea), I have to finish them as well…even if I hate them.

I have spent weeks toiling over some books that I hated (while a gleaming stack of the books I wanted to be reading tormented me from the corner of the room). I’ve thrown books at the wall with frustration. There have been times that I needed to force my eyes to stay open when a book has bored me to death. I have run screaming from the room at books that have horrified me. On more than one occasion I have counted the pages left in a book and wondered, My God when does this book end??? But I have finished them all.

Why?!?!?!? There’s not going to be a quiz! No one is grading an essay that I wrote on color symbolism in the novel! I won’t even have to give my opinion of the damn book to anyone! Why can’t I just read what I like????

I’d Make Some Therapist Very Rich

I’m sure there’s some deep-seated reason for my rigid adherence to the rules of school. I was always such a good little rule follower. Desire to please? One of Maslow’s needs not being met? A Freudian slip from bad potty training? Who knows.

It doesn’t really matter anyway, because I recently gave myself permission to stop the insanity and close the books that are not giving me joy or important information that I need. Yup. I just close the book and I never pick it up again (unless I have to bring it back to the library).

Maybe to you this sounds like common sense, but for me it is a Herculean task. Could I really just close a book on page ten and never go back to it? What if I was almost done? How would I rate the book on Goodreads if I wasn’t even finishing it? (Would this affect my yearly reading challenge?????) What was going to be my criteria for quitting a book?

Of Course, Some Rules

Even when I’m pledging to be carefree and less rigid, I still try to abide by self-imposed rules. What can I say? I crave structure, even when faced with the task of relaxing. (Once again…I probably could use a therapist to iron out my idiosyncrasies.)

So I made up some criteria and stuck it in a flow chart:

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I also will not “review” a book that I didn’t read at least 3/4 of. And I refuse to rip apart an author if I couldn’t finish a book. Who am I to say a book is “terrible”? Someone else may love it. Different strokes for different folks. (*Please don’t be that guy that gives books 1 star on Amazon and then says something like, “I didn’t read it”. Writers really hate that guy.)

It’s Still Difficult to Break a Habit

I want to believe the best in all books. They were all written by someone with an idea and a story to tell. Those people managed to put all those swirly thoughts in their heads down on paper. Do you know how hard that is??? I do. Therefore, I want to give every book I read the benefit of the doubt and give it a chance. I will not allow myself to fling a book across the room if I didn’t at least do that much.

But there’s been quite a few books lately that I’ve given more than their fair shake. In fact, I recently put aside a book even though I only had 50 pages left to read. It had been interesting at the beginning, but was growing tedious and taking me far too long to get through. I was so proud of myself for not finishing it. Maybe I will try it again in the future…but not now.

Because I don’t have time for reading books I don’t like. Life is too short. Unless it’s required reading don’t waste your time with anything that doesn’t make you happy. Don’t get hung up on imaginary rules and restrictions that aren’t serving a purpose. Let it GO!

This Isn’t Just For Books By the Way…

You can apply this rule (and make yourself a snazzy flowchart) for almost all aspects of you life. If you don’t NEED to do something and it’s sapping you of joy and energy, why are you torturing yourself?????

 

 

 

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New York Crumb Cake

The Bad Mommy Cooks—New York

When you live as close to New York City as we do (we can literally see the skyline from our town), it’s hard to imagine New York cuisine that we haven’t consumed. I mean, New York City is just as eclectic as Jersey is with food. If you can’t get a type of food in NYC, it doesn’t exist. There are deli sandwiches, real bagels (not that frozen crap), authentic Italian food (yeah, there’s a difference), and real pizza (there’s DEFINITELY a difference). The City’s influences have spilled over into our neck of the woods—many of our restaurants here are just as good (and some even better) than New York.

I Can’t Mess This Up—My Rep Is At Stake

So what could I cook? We needed a food that would not be tainted by my lack of cooking. Something that I could do justice. I knew I couldn’t make pizza (I’ve already tried that already…see The Great Cooking Experiment ). I’d never be able convince the family to eat the same deli sandwich. I didn’t feel like working around who won’t eat pastrami or turkey (and contrary to popular belief, I’m not running a diner). Attempting something gourmet was out of the question as well. Hubby suggested combining the two most popular foods, pizza AND bagels and making pizza bagels—gross. I suggested we take a ride over the bridge (or through the tunnel, or on a train—so many ways to get to the city!) and have a authentic NYC meal. I was shot down.

I Came Upon Our New York Meal Entirely By Accident

When we went to Ocean City last week, it was ridiculously cold, despite being Spring Break and all. Believe it or not, there’s plenty to do there, even when it’s cold. For starters, there are tons of outlet stores, including a kitchen tools store. Hubby loves this store. That’s where he got his cast iron skillet that he used for the South Carolina meal. This time he picked up a flour sifter. Apparently he’s always wanted one. It was 4 bucks—I told him to knock himself out. (Insert giant eyeroll here.) The other day I was searching for recipes that would require me to actually use this flour sifter. That’s when I came across a recipe for New York Crumb Cake on Epicurious.

It Should Be Called “Yum Cake”

Who doesn’t like crumb cake? It’s combination cake and sugary crumb topping can make even the most devoted dieter swoon. One time hubby and I actually walked 6 miles for crumb cake. Good crumb cake. Because not all crumb cake is created equal. Oh no, siree. A dried out cake is a disgrace that you don’t ever want to endure. Oh and to clear things up…crumb cake is NOT the same as coffee cake. Coffee Cake does not have crumbs on top, which are the star of the cake.

Anyhoo, the ingredients are simple—you probably have most of them at home already and you can make this crumb cake RIGHT NOW. (You might have to go out for the secret ingredient, though.)

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The Secret Ingredient

The secret to a moist (ah, moist…the world’s most hated word) cake is actually sour cream. Yeah, you wouldn’t think such a sweet treat would include sour cream, but any crumb cake recipe worth its salt does. This recipe also calls for an obscene amount of butter—which is probably the reason each piece is a whooping 660 calories. Yikes. But it’s so worth it for homemade, not dried out crumb cake.

Ingredients for the topping

1 c dark brown sugar (packed)

1/2 c granulated sugar

1 1/4 TBSP cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 c (2 sticks) melted UNSALTED butter

2 1/2 c flour

Ingredients for the Cake

2 1/2 c flour

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks) UNSALTED butter at room temp

1 1/2 c sugar

1 1/3 c sour cream

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift flour: img_0586Add baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer (I got to use my Kitchen Aid again, YAH!!!), beat room-temperature butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and beat just until blended. Add flour mixture a little bit at a time. Transfer cake batter to square baking dish; spread batter evenly.
  2. For topping: Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add warm melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss with fork until moist clumps form (topping mixture will look slightly wet). Squeeze small handfuls of topping together to form small clumps. Drop topping clumps evenly over cake batter, covering completely (topping will be thick). *Just a note here, I prefer a more crumbly topping. I think when I make this again, I will use a different recipe for the topping…also one that uses confectioner’s sugar—I could have used the flour sifter to spread that too.
  3. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 1 hour. Cool cake in dish on rack at least 30 minutes. (Once again, I used the Cuisinart)img_0592

The Verdict

Like I said, I prefer my crumb more crumbly. I would use a recipe that uses CAKE flour instead of all purpose flour for the topping in the future. And I would add confectioner’s sugar. Other than that, the cake was nice and moist and yummy.

Believe it or not, the family did not eat the crumb cake until the next day (after it had been covered with foil). I realize that was a no-no and I should have put it in a Tupperware container, but I really thought they would devour the damn thing in one day. But anyway, it was still good…but not as good as it was Day 1.

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I’ll have to try this one again soon—I’d highly recommend it if you’re a fan of New York Crumb Cake.

 

Get out of bed

Get Out of Bed Before the Sun Comes Up (You Lazy Bum)

The Better Me Project—Day 15

One of the first precepts that I wanted to institute was to get out of bed. Not that I don’t get out of bed everyday—basically, I wanted to get up earlier. I thought that by getting up earlier, it would allow me to feel less rushed in the morning, and therefore less stressed and angry. If I allowed myself ample time in the morning, I could get things done. In addition to my meditation, I could work out so I didn’t have to do it later on in the day. I could enjoy a leisurely breakfast with proper ratio of carbs to protein. And if things went my way, maybe I would have extra time to work on writing and blog posts and stuff like that.

Wow! You’re going to be so productive, Heather!

This was a great idea! Plus without checking Facebook every morning, I would have even more time than usual. There was just one problem. Despite the fact that I was gung ho to get out of bed earlier every night before I went to sleep, I didn’t exactly feel that enthusiastic once my alarm started blaring at some ungodly hour with a 5 in it. On more occasions than I care to admit, I hit that snooze button. (Okay, basically every single day except one. The dog had to go out and he spent a ridiculous amount of time out in the yard, thereby rendering me fully awake by the time he came in.) I figured I might as well stay up and attempt to get stuff done at that point.

I used to have this Garfield alarm clock when I was a teenager. Whenever you hit the snooze, Garfield would say, “Nah, don’t get up. Stay in bed. Sleep longer.” Lately when ever that alarm goes off, Garfield’s wise words resonate in my head. (He is the World’s Smartest Cartoon Cat after all.)

This must be a side effect of being forty (ish)

I used to be up before the sun…years ago. “Sleeping in” was if I didn’t get out of bed before 7:00. Not only did we constantly seem to have early morning activities (I actually cried tears of joy when Pop Warner football was done with for the season), even when we didn’t, my body couldn’t seem to stay asleep past a certain time. I’d pop up like a jack in the box almost every single day, wanting to get my run in before the kids got up, or attempting to clean the kitchen before they made a mess with their constant food demands. Now the thought of not savoring every sweet second before I absolutely have to get out of bed is torturous.

Sleep is more enticing than being productive

Maybe it’s all those years of being sleep deprived have actually caught up with me. I care much less about checking off all the items on my to-do list than I did 10 years ago. In fact, I’m kind of like, “Should I even make a to-do list today? Nah. I’ll just get done whatever.” And whatever has been including sleeping later and taking naps. Ugh, I’m so ashamed.

You would think this would just mean that I’m much more chill than I was in the past, just accomplishing what I can, not spreading myself too thin. You know, focusing on the important things in life. Letting my anxiety go and just going with the flow…

Nope. Just Nope

Not being productive has become anxiety inducing. I want to get things done. It’s just that I’ve let myself get further behind than ever before and it’s an overwhelming feeling. No, scratch that. It’s a chest palpitation and need to breath through a plastic bag kind of feeling. If I get out of bed early and start the day on a high note, I’m pretty sure that I will not only get more done, I’ll be less stressed throughout the day. Mainly because I didn’t start the day rushing around. I do notice that when I get up earlier and work out and all that, I have a higher level of energy throughout the rest of the day.

My mind knows i Should Get out of Bed…I just have to convince my body

I understand all the benefits of waking up earlier. I’m a logical and rational person after all. But tell that to my sleeping body that has been ripped awake from a dream of being rubbed down with suntan oil on a beach by Channing Tatum (available again, by the way). If my choices are to roll over and have another drink with Channing or get out of bed in the freezing cold and put on work out clothes to start my day…well, what would you choose?

Okay, seriously. I’ll get up earlier. Starting tomorrow. I promise.

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