Lunch Salads Made in Advance

Making Salads to Go

What should I eat for . . .lunch?

I will be honest: I am not the best at bringing my lunch to work. I should be. It would save me a lot of money, calories, and angst in deciding what to eat each day.

Some weeks I am diligent and bring lunch to work; other weeks not so much.

And this does cause concern because lunch is important to me. By 11 a.m. (actually 10 a.m.), I am already thinking about lunch, trying to ignore the rumbles of my stomach.

What to eat, what to eat, what to eat?

I am trying to eat healthier, which — at lunchtime — is not as easy as it sounds. Salads, for example, are not always easy to come by at work.

There have been a few times when I did prepare a fresh salad the night before. Granted, it was for dinner and the leftovers then became my lunch.

I am realist. I will NOT cut, dice, and prep a salad for myself every morning. I am not that motivated. Produce also goes bad, which poses another challenge.  I need something that will work for me–a lunch that is healthy, economical, won’t go bad, and EASY to prepare. The following is my attempt at doing just that. Read More

The Closet Collection: Getting Organized

Closet Organization Tips and Tricks

Over the past weeks, I F I N A L L Y finished cleaning out my bedroom, linen, and coat closets—plus a myriad of drawers. Such satisfaction.

I am a dork and at the risk of proving it, I will say that after I am done with such a cleanup, I literally stand there admiring the cleanliness, preciseness, and clutter-freeness of my handy-work. Awww, if only it would last.

With that said, I decided to write up some tips on effective closet organization. I know that writing a blog posting about cleaning out a closet seems a bit condescending (as if you don’t know how to clean out your own closet) and trite, but honestly, I am using this as my accountability exercise.

I am working on my own personal battle with clutter and this helps me . . . hopefully, there is something here that may help you. At the very least, I hope that it motivates you to get started. Despite what the weather these days indicates, it is Spring (almost Summer) and who doesn’t like a good ol’ Spring-cleaning purge?

THE BASICS

1. Pull everything out—EVERYTHING!

The best way to get optimal organization is to start with an empty slate; this includes anything not attached to the wall, e.g. shelving units, shoe racks, etc. The empty space allows you to see things differently—it allows you to determine a system (perhaps a whole new system) that works best for you.

Read More

How to Get Past the Messy Middle

Getting UNSTUCK

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  For many reasons . . . Time constraints. Sickness. More time constraints.

The longer I was away from the writing, the easier it was not to write. The easier it was to lose my vision (or rather my belief in that vision).  In simple terms, I got STUCK.

I am now in the middle of writing my book’s sequel and for a solid week, I just stared at the computer screen trying to figure out what to write next. Nothing came. Each night, more nothing.

I had hopes of writing a blog posting about my 30-Day Plank Challenge. Obviously, I wanted to accomplish it first before writing about it. I was on day 19 and had gotten up to multiple plank reps of 1:15 seconds each, and then I got sick (allergies turned cold turned sinus infection). I could barely do 30 seconds without a coughing fit.

As for my projects around the house, let’s just say I acquiesced to the filth that, in my head, was closing in on me.  I told/asked myself, “What kind of fraud are you? Who are you to have a blog site about ‘mastering your life with positivity, planning, and productivity’ when you cannot even do it yourself’.”

You get the picture. I got stuck in — what I call — the Messy Middle

I’ve met and battled this Messy Middle in all the projects that I’ve decided to take on–it’s a tough opponent.  And with any goal, it is there ready for battle. The Messy Middle reminds you of all the reasons your dreams can not be achieved. It partners up with Overwhelm and can paralyze you with its venom.

The Messy Middle is inherent in any goal.  It sits between the excitement of starting a new goal and the final steps of achievement. It is the hard part; it requires tenacity, holding tightly to your vision, consistency, perseverance, and ignoring the doubters around you (including your negative inner voices). It requires WORK. It is HARD.

But it is possible.

I’ve had to come to terms with my Messy Middle, and if you too are stuck with your goals, then you may need to come to terms with your own Messy Middle. To do so, you need to be HONEST WITH YOURSELF.  What is causing this fear? What is holding you back?

Once you acknowledge these fears, forgive yourself for having them because IT IS NORMAL. IT IS OKAY. Nobody —  absolutely no one — is perfect, so stop thinking you need to be.

I am not perfect, this blog is not perfect, my writing is not perfect. But that is okay. I’d rather do something badly and fail than not do anything at all. 

I feel so much better just having written that! It is this honesty that has allowed me to finally move forward.  If you, too, are stuck I challenge you to face your fear.  Face it, acknowledge it, and then . . .

Ha, ha . . .click on this video.  This humorous video (which I’ve posted a few times before) is my go-to cure for getting unstuck. While it is a comedy skit, I ALWAYS, ALWAYS feel better after watching.  It SNAPS me out of my fear. Seriously watch it!

Remember, the MESSY MIDDLE lives and breaths within every goal.  If it didn’t exist then the VICTORY wouldn’t be as sweet.

If you feel yourself giving into those negative voices and feeling stuck, STOP IT!!

 

Trust the Process

 

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.

       – Robert Collier

I have big goals this year, and I have to admit: I am struggling with the process—the process of getting this blog off the ground, writing the sequel to my book, and getting fit.

The process is taking longer than I like.
The process makes me question and doubt.
The process is tempting me to quit.
The process would be so much better if I would just. . .

Appreciate it and enjoy the ride!

 It is an easy thing to be stuck in the process and wallow in self-doubt.

But I know that is NOT YOU, is it?  It is not me either.
We are not quitters.

As Jeff Goins, a best-selling author, speaker, and blogger states in many of his webinars, “It is not a matter of IF; it is a matter of WHEN.”

Our timing will come. We will succeed. Sometimes we just need some reminders of the essential ingredients to success.

Reminder #1:  Break down your goals into smaller steps.

Stu Middleton Ultra Distance Running ChampionI have previously written about Stu Mittleman, who is an ultra-distance running champion.  Stu set three consecutive American 100-Mile Road Race records in the US National Championships 1980–1982.

In 1986, he won the 1,000 Mile World Championship and set a new world record by running the distance in 11 days, 2 hours, 6 min. 6 sec.

Can you even imagine running 1,000 miles? 
I can’t even imagine running ten.

Think about it: 1,000 miles without stopping for over 11 days?

What is even more thought provoking was Stu’s answer when he was asked about the race.  He stated:

“I never ran 1000 miles. I could never do that. I ran one mile 1000 times.” 

                                                                 – Stu Mittleman

It is a powerful statement with an effective principle that, when applied, can allow us to do amazing things.

Goals are attainable when we break down them down into smaller, actionable steps.

I am currently working on my book sequel, which for this genre, needs to contain around 50,000 words. If I let myself dwell on that word count for too long, I become paralyzed. Can you say, writer’s block?

This is my second book, so I am now working with a track record—I’ve completed a book once, so I can do it again. That is the story I tell myself on those days when completing the book seems just too daunting.  I am only 14,000 words in and the final product, at this point, seems so far away.

What keeps me going is Stu’s philosophy.  When I sit down to write, I give myself a goal of 500 words.  500-words is reasonable, manageable, and not too intimidating. I am a slow writer when it comes to fiction—some days the words and dialogue come easier, and some days I really struggle. But regardless, I tell myself: get those 500 words done.   

And then after that, I concentrate on a new set of 500 words. I may drastically edit those words; I may even delete them entirely, but for that moment I am writing and moving forward.

Reminder #2:  No progress is wasted progress.

One of my favorite quotes is from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I read the book in high school and the following words leapt off the page:

“ . . . man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back


I recite this to myself whenever I feel stuck.  I know that I will make a lot of mistakes along the way to my goals.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but that is how we learn.

To use my book analogy again, I will tell you that I ended up deleting at least 8,000 words—that is a lot of work to just toss aside. It was hard, but I knew that it was for the betterment of the story.  Those 8,000 words were not wasted, however.  In many cases, they were my back-story and helped me get to know my characters and their motivations better.

I even re-wrote my ending after getting feedback from several reviewers — and you know what?  My new ending was so much better. The very last line of my book is one of my absolute favorites—I would not have it if I wasn’t willing to make changes.

There is nothing wrong with tweaking, polishing, and making adjustments. That is the definition of improvement.

As Thomas Edison once said, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

Thank God for Edison’s persistence. He not only discovered the light bulb, but also the telegraph, phonograph, motion pictures, and many other devices—his successful and unsuccessful experiments paved the way for high-tech audio and visual devices. 

Reminder #3: Do NOT Compare Yourself With Others

Comparing oneself to others is a success-robber and does nothing but create self-doubt. Trust me, nothing good comes from it.

As I wrote in an earlier posting, I was raised with my mother always telling me: “There will be people who have more than you, but there will also be people who have less than you.  Be grateful for what you have.”  

She would also say:  Trust that you are where you need to be at this moment.

Do not compare your success with someone else’s. You are farther along than you were before and you will be farther along than you are now.

Right now, I am taking a self-paced blogging course. In conjunction, there is an online Facebook community group, which is a great resource and support. The problem for me is that I allowed it to intimidate me.  There are so many other bloggers in that Facebook group doing what I do—and doing it better. Rather than relying on it for advice and encouragement, I allowed it to discourage me. I became paralyzed and filled with self-doubt.

I had to step away.  I had to re-think my strategy.  I had to UNPLUG. I decided that I would visit this group when I am ready for it. For now, I need to concentrate on MY WORK.  I cannot give credence to the negative voices looking to sabotage my efforts–these negative voices appear when I compare myself.

Reminder #4:  Visualize Your Goal
Reminder #5:  Put On Your Blinders

Reminders #4 and #5 work closely together. I am a big believer in visualization and its power. In order to BE IT, you must first be able to SEE IT.  

I know that many of my friends think I am a dreamer; I feel as if they are saying, “There she goes again trying something else now. This is another one of her projects that she hasn’t finished.”

lionThe truth is I am still working towards the same goals; however, I sometimes had to take a different path after a bit of trial and error growth. I can see my master plan—what matters is that I CONTINUE to stay focused on and work towards that master plan. The only way that I can do this is by putting my blinders on. I mentioned unplugging–I’ve had to unplug from social media in order to keep these blinders on. Social media can contain many temptations to be distracted and intimidated.

It sounds weird; my family thinks that I just like taking a lot of naps (which I do), but. . .

I literally make time to lie down and daydream.  This is where my story ideas come from (future scenes in my book or other blog postings); this is when I visualize my dreams and think of the next steps which will get me closer to my goals.  This is when I pray to God and ask for His guidance and help.

It is important that you take time for you, your goals, and give yourself permission to DREAM BIG!

I would love to hear from all of you. Tell me your goals and dreams. Share with me your insight and things that you have learned.  

We are all in this together!  We are all fragile beings who are learning and improving.

If you are taking risks, if you are stepping outside your comfort zone, if you are feeling fearful and unsure than YOU SHOULD FEEL PROUD!  There are so many people not brave enough to go after their dreams, who are not willing to TRY or LEARN new things. Remember, you are where you need to be today.  Tomorrow you will be even farther along and you will look back with pride and say:

LOOK HOW MUCH I HAVE GROWN,
LEARNED, AND IMPROVED!

Staypresent

— The above image “Trust Each Step” was written New England Patriot’s Jacoby Brisett.

Saving Money with Meal and Grocery Planning

Meal and Grocery Planning

“Do you feed your kids?”  

I was at a family gathering a few weeks ago when my sister in-law asked me this. We were discussing grocery shopping and how much we spend each week.  My sister in-law gasped when I told her how much I spend; she said she spends twice as much, with my other sister in-laws confirming that they did the same.

“Seriously, how can you only spend that much?  There is no way.”

I felt that the need to justify myself.  I felt ashamed. . . did I feed my kids? They looked pretty nurtured and healthy to me.

I answered back: Yes, I do feed my kids.  Yes, I even buy junk food, but not an excessive amount. Yes, some weeks I spend more, especially if I am buying a lot of cleaning supplies or toiletries.

The truth is saving money on my groceries has become a game to me. I claim personal victory when I can come home with a week’s worth of groceries at a bargain price.

So how do I do it?

I will share what I told my sister in-laws (with additional detail).

1. Establish a grocery/food budget.

My husband and I have a family budget that keeps us financially-focused. Our savings, mortgage and other bills, summer camps, vacations, gas, and groceries are all accounted for in this budget.  The 2008 Recession prompted our diligent budgeting.

That Recession had a detrimental effect on our family’s finances. It is a time in history that I never want to live through again—a time that could have made us crumble as a family. Fortunately, it made our marriage even stronger. Together, through a lot of communicating, my husband and I were able to get through it and is something neither of us will ever take for granted.

2. Use a Cash System.

This simple system (take out cash in the amount of your allotted budget) makes it so much easier to stick to a budget. Seriously — there is something about SEEING the cash and knowing how much you have left that allows you to stay conscientious in your spending.

We tried keeping to our food budget without the cash system, but it was too easy to lose track of our spending without it.  All those little trips to Starbucks, the fast-food drive-in when you are running late, or eating out ADD UP.  You don’t realize (or we didn’t at least) just how much you can spend without really knowing it.

The Cash System is also a good motivator for our children when they ask, “Can I have? Can we get?”  I show them the money and say: “This is what we have left.”  I want them to see that money does not grow on trees; that you need to HAVE money in order to spend money. As my youngest would say, “Just go to the bank.” Umm, no son, it does not work that way.

3. Plan your meals for the week.

Planning out my meals for the week is probably one of the largest contributors to how I save money when grocery shopping.  The reason is simple: I buy what I need and only what I need. I used to go to the grocery store without a plan–I’d stroll along each aisle and just throw in what looked good or what seemed to have the potential as dinner. I didn’t know what I was making for dinner and I certainly didn’t know how much I was spending until the cashier provided me with my total. . .Oh my gosh! No!

Weekly Dinners Landscape

Now, I PLAN using the above Weekly Dinners printable. Click here to download a free copy.  As for dinner inspiration, I use a couple of methods:

    • Prepare “freezable” meals a head of time such as the ones listed on One Hour — Seven Dinners. Freezing meals that can be “dumped” into a crockpot or baked later saves a lot of time and can ease a lot of stress.

 

  • Supercook.com.  I just discovered this clever app, which provides a whole slew of recipes based on the ingredients you already have at home. You simply click off food in your kitchen, click, and recipe options appear.

4. Write up a strategic grocery list.

For the most part, I always sit down and plan out my grocery list before heading out to the store.  My planning includes several tactics:

    • I list out any ingredients needed for the meals planned out for the week.

 

  • I write out items needed for the following categories: lunches, breakfasts, snacks, desserts, produce, toiletries.  My boys know where they can find the mom-approved snacks including the ones found in our special middle refrigerator drawer (I love this middle drawer!).  This is where we quickly grab items for lunches as well.Snack draw in refrigerator
  • I check the store’s circular for sales and inserted coupons. If one of the items has a sale price, I put a circled S next to the listed item; for items with coupons, I put a circled C next to the listed item.  Be sure that you are signed up for your store’s Bonus Rewards Card. I save an average of $5 each week on just the in-store coupons.

5. Take advantage of coupons, rebate apps, and websites.

When many people think of using coupons, they envision someone scouring the newspapers for coupons and clipping them. Today’s technology makes this process a little easier.  Here are some of my Go-Tos for instant coupons or future rebates.

    • Coupons.com. I spend no more than 5 – 7 minutes quickly browsing www.Coupons.com for anything that I currently use. I simply click the images of products that I may want, and then hit Print when done. Voila — coupons at my fingertips. I may not always use the Coupons on that particular trip, but will save them for the next. I also compare the sale items against other similar items—the coupons are NOT always the best deal.
    • bottaIbotta and Saving Star.
      I just used both of these apps for the first time and found them very easy to use. I figured why not get a little extra reward for what I am already purchasing. How to use:
      (i) Downloaded the apps on your phone and set up an account.
      (ii) Click the stores you frequent and the items you typically purchase. This includes alcohol, which has fairly large rebates (smiley face, smiley face!)
      (iii) To claim your rebate, you will need to scan the barcode of the product and then upload a photo of your receipt. Your rebate can be placed into a PayPal account or paid out with a gift card.


    6. Use store scanner if that is an available option.

    scannerThe use of an in-store scanner is THE thing that definitely keeps my shopping intact. I realize that not all grocery stores have this option, but if they do, I highly recommend taking advantage of it.

    With this handy device, I know EXACTLY what I am spending. I almost have it down to a science and can estimate how much I will spend in each department.  Another added benefit: I can go in the 10 and Below aisle regardless of how many items I have since the items are already scanned.

    7. Sign up for gas rewards.


    gasCheck to see if your grocery store has partnered up with a gas station to provide rewards. My store partners with Shell Gas Station and provides discounts on gallons of gas.  Often my grocery store mails flyers with coupons including ones for extra bonus gas points. To me this is free money. On this very rainy morning, there was a bright spot—I received a .60 cents per gallon discount, which equated to over $7.20 in savings. 


    Please do not be intimidated!  If I can do this anyone can—it really is NOT time-consuming. In fact, planning ahead of time saves me a lot of time (and MONEY!) in the end.  Make grocery planning a game and be competitive with yourself. Make it your personal victory to save, save, save!

One Hour — Seven Dinners

The Easy Guide to Making a Week’s Worth of Dinners in One Hour

I am all about making things E A S Y (finding ways to eliminate the stress)—that is one of the goals of BrightLightLiving.com and for myself. I have not mastered this (not by a long shot), but the intent is there.

Seven DinnersAfter all, we all lead very busy lives and the simpler we can make it, the more time we have to really enjoy it.

Dinner: That is always a H U U U U G E stressor for me—it’s not just the figuring out what to make that stresses me; it is the MAKING it that stresses me. Making dinner is the last thing that I really want to do after a long workday and commute home. Full disclaimer, I hate to cook.

I decided that pre-planning had to be my solution, so I set out to create a menu of just drop-it-in-a-crockpot dinners. I did a lot of trial and error cooking with my family (aka, my sweet little guinea pigs). I switched out ingredients and modified recipes to suit our liking, which made me more confident in my cooking abilities. As a result, I created a week’s worth of dinner recipes, a complete shopping list divided by grocery store departments, a step-by-step guide to preparing the meals in the most time-saving way possible, and a set of labels with cooking instructions that can be affixed to the meals. In other words,

I did the planning to eliminate your stress.  

I also created this free, printable version of this post complete with preparation labels; click here to receive.

Oh, right. What are we making? Here are the meals—I hope you like!:

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry
Chili
Beef and Broccoli
Chicken Taco Soup
Chicken Pasta
Cilantro Lime Chicken over Salad
Pot Roast (a great Sunday dinner)

Let’s get started.

The grocery list:

img_1344-e1491675449374.jpgMeats:
Chicken Breasts (10-12 pieces)
Ground Beef (1 lb.)
Flank Steak, Top Round, or Beef Chuck Roast (1.5 – 2 lbs.)
Pot Roast

Canned Goods:
Dark Kidney Beans 1 Can (15 oz.)
Chili Beans 2 Cans (16 oz.)
Black Beans 3 Cans
Tomato Sauce 1 Can (14.5 oz.)
Canned Diced Tomatoes 3 Cans (one with green chilies) (14.5 oz.)
Corn 2 Cans (14.5 oz.)
Water Chestnuts 1 Can (small)

Produce:
Green Bell Pepper (3)
Onion, Medium (4)
Onion, Large
Limes (2)
Cilatro (1 bunch)
Carrots (Medium Bag of Baby Carrots)
Potatoes (2 lbs.)

Spices and Condiments (you may have a lot of this already; check first):
Honey (1/2 cup)
Black Pepper (In most meals)
Salt (In most meals)
Rice Wine or Red Wine Vinegar (good to have a bottle on hand)
Olive Oil (2 Tsp.)
Soy Sauce (bottle to keep on hand as well)
Minced Garlic (Recommend purchasing a small jar)
Minced Ginger (1/4 cup)
Cumin (2.5 tsp.)
Chili Powder (1 Tbsp)
Chili Flakes (1/4 Tsp)
Taco Seasoning Mix (1 Canister – rather than packets; cheaper and great to have on hand)
Brown Sugar
Corn Starch
Chicken Broth Container (32 oz.)
Beef Broth Two (32 oz.) Containers

Frozen Foods:
Stir Fry Vegetables (1 Bag)
Broccoli Florets (1 Medium Bag or 4 Cups)

Pasta and Rice:
Rotini Pasta (1 Box)
Rice (4 Bags)

Other:
Spaghetti Sauce (24 oz. jar)
Salsa (8 oz.)
Crockpot Liners (this makes your clean up each day so much easier)
Large Freezer Bags
Bottle of Beer
Lettuce or Tortillas (Depends on how you want to serve the Cilantro Lime Chicken; as a salad or wrap)
Sour Cream (optional topping for several meals)
Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded (1 Cup)
Cheddar Cheese, Shredded (optional topping for several meals)

The Preparation (Easy and Time-Saving)

First, let me say that your cooking TOOLS are quite important. I encourage you to visit Cooking Tools I Cannot Live Without. The tools I list are not essential, but they will make your prep work so much easier and shorter. Such as this BLACK+DECKER HC306 One-Touch 1.5 Cup Capacity Electric Chopper, White, which takes the eye-watering and time out of cutting onions, which is step #1 in the preparation work. Shall we get started?

IMG_1349

1) Cut up your onions (chop the small onions and cut the large onion in fairly large pieces).
Place your chopped onions in separate small bowls (one bowl for each onion).

IMG_1362.JPG

2) Cut up your green bell peppers in inch strips. 
I recommend cutting these by hand. Place your bell peppers in separate bowls (one bowl for each bell pepper).

3) Peel and cut 2 lbs. of potatoes into 3″ pieces.

4) Cook pound of ground beef, drain grease when done.

5) Open all your cans and remove lids for easy access.

6) Label your freezer bags with menu names.
Take advantage of these printable labels by clicking here.

7) Place 2-3 pieces of chicken breast in the following marked freezer bags:

  • Teriyaki Chicken
  • Chicken Taco Soup
  • Cilantro Lime Chicken
  • Chicken Pasta

8) In the Chicken Teriyaki freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove (I use minced garlic from jar)
  • 1 tbsp. of minced ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. of black pepper
  • One bag of frozen stir fry vegetables
  • 3/4 of chopped water chestnuts (optional)
  • Ready to freeze

9) In the Chicken Taco Soup freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • Can of chili beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of corn, drained
  • Jar of Salsa (8 oz.)
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. of taco seasoning
  • Ready to freeze (you will dump in beer when you dump into crockpot)

10) In the Cilantro Lime Chicken freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
  • 1 can of corn, drained
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 1 can of black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. of taco seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Ready to freeze (you will dump in lime juice when you dump bag ingredients into crockpot)

11) In the Chicken Pasta freezer bag, you will dump in the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tap. of pepper
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • One of the bowls of sliced bell peppers
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Ready to freeze (you will prepare rotini pasta and dump in mozzarella cheese later)

12) In the Chili freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • Ground beef, browned
  • Can of dark kidney beans, drained
  • Can of chili beans, drained
  • Can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Can of tomato sauce
  • Can of diced tomatoes
  • One of the bowls of sliced bell peppers
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • ½ Packet of Taco Seasoning Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • One of the small bowls of chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic or minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Freeze

13) In the Beef Broccoli freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • Flank steak or beef
  • 1 Cup of beef broth
  • 2/3 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. of olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Freeze

14) In the Pot Roast freezer bag, place in the following ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 lb. of carrots
  • 2 lbs. of the potatoes, cut
  • 32 oz. of beef broth
  • The large onion
  • Freeze.  You do not need to put your pot roast in this bag (it probably wouldn’t fit anyway.)
  • In separate sandwich bag, put in your salt, pepper, tarragon, and thyme.
    Have this ready for when ready to cook.

IMG_1367

Please note: You will later put in corn starch and water in several of these meals.

Ready to eat?!

Cooking Instructions

* Put freezer bag and meats in the refrigerator the night before you are going to cook up meal.

Chicken Teriyaki:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(6) Cook rice as instructed on package.
Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

Chicken Taco Soup:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) You take all of the above ingredients and DUMP them in a crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4 hours.
(4) Take out the chicken and cut up; place back into crockpot.
Serve with your favorite toppings such as sour cream or cheese.

Chicken Cilantro Lime Salad:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Dump crockpot contents into a strainer to drain juices.
(6) Serve over a healthy salad.

Chicken Pasta:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Thirty minutes before food is ready, cook pasta as instructed on package.
(6) Dump pasta (drain) and cup of mozzarella cheese.
(7) Cook for additional 20 minutes.

Chili:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients into the crockpot.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
Serve with your favorite toppings such as sour cream or cheese.

Beef Broccoli:

(1) Put freezer bag in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken.
(3) Cook on low for 6 hours.
(4) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy.
(5) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(6) Cook rice as instructed on package.
Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

Pot Roast:

IMG_1376(1) Put freezer bag and pot roast in refrigerator the night before.
(2) Rub pot roast with olive oil and sprinkle 2/3 of the spices on to roast.
(3) Place pot roast in crockpot.
(4) Put in contents of freezer bag into crockpot and sprinkle with remaining spice mix.
(5) Add another cup of beef stock to crockpot.
(6) Cook on low for 7 – 8 hours until vegetables are tender and the meat pulls apart easily.
(7) Optional: Use beef broth and mix with cornstarch and water to make gravy.

Lessons Learned

There are a few things that I learned in this recipe process. One is that the clean-up was so much easier with the use of the crockpot lines. Two is that you should be creative–I was. I sometimes added broccoli or other ingredients if I needed my meals to stretch farther, i.e., if one of the boys had a friend over for dinner. Regardless, it was such a relief to know that I didn’t have to think about what to make. I would simply dump the ingredients in the crockpot in the morning and return home to an aroma-filled house with dinner ready.  What a relief!

Don’t forget to download a free, printable version of this post complete with a shopping list, recipes, preparation instructions, and freezer bag labels. Click here.

Bon Appetit

Chicken Teriyaki Stir Fry Crockpot Meal

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I am all about EASY, and this recipe is quick to prepare and tastes great. Besides cooking up the rice at the end, the rest of the preparation is simply dumping in the ingredients. My kids love this too–they claim my crockpot Chinese meals are just as good as Chinese take-out.

What You Will Need:

  • One pound boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenderloins
  • ½ Cup Honey
  • ½ Cup Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Rice Wine or Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Large Garlic Glove, Minced
  • ¼ Cup Ginger
  • ¼ Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • One Bag of Frozen Stir Fry Veggies
  • Water chestnuts (cut up)  or Onion (cut up). Water chestnuts are my preference
  • You can add other vegetables as well if you like (e.g., extra broccoli)
  • 2 tbsp. Corn Starch
  • 4 tbsp. Water

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Cooking Instructions:

(1) Dump all your ingredients (except the water and corn starch) into the crockpot, starting with the chicken
(2) Cook on low for 6 hours
(3) Take out chicken and cut up; it should fall apart fairly easy
(4) Add cornstarch and water, stir, and then cook for an additional 20 minutes.
(5) Cook rice as instructed on package

To Prepare:

Serve over rice. You can also add La Choy Rice Noodles for extra goodness.

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And, if you would like to save (freeze) for later, use these instructions:

  • In large freezer bag 1, put all the ingredients except for the water and cornstarch.
  • Follow the above cooking instructions.
    Yes, it is that simple!

Finding Your Passion

Finding Your Passion. . . Say what?

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How new-agey. What an esoteric and obscure phrase—finding your passion. You may have clicked this posting just to find out what the heck I mean by this?

Do I mean, discovering your life purpose?

Do I mean, figuring out what you want to do for a living?

Maybe, I mean finding a good hobby to take up.

The truth is, I mean all of these things depending on who is asking. In most simplest terms, I am referring to what you love and enjoy. What you do with that definition and how you apply it is all up to you. You may be in a stage in your life where you are questioning your life’s mission. You may be a recent college graduate trying to figure out your vocational direction. You may even be someone working in a job that you do not enjoy and are contemplating switching career paths.  Regardless of where you are in your life, I DO believe it is important to know what brings you joy. After all, life is so much more enjoyable when you are – well – enJOYing it.

So let’s get started on the figuring it out part. I will not be answering this question for you (if only it was that easy), but I will provide some thoughts to ponder to help lead you to YOUR ANSWER.

I will start off with a simple question: What did you “play” as a child?  Did you put on plays or enjoy dancing? Did you perform scientific experiments or build things with legos or blocks?  Maybe you had your own detective agency or spent a lot of time drawing pictures.

Why am I asking you this? Because I believe that children naturally gravitate to the things that they enjoy. No one tells them to create fashion designs on a sketch pad, do puzzles, or pretend to be a secret agent. Children just instinctively KNOW what they like and are good at doing.  I think what generally happens is this pureness of play becomes warped by influence. Somewhere between adolescent play and a chosen career path, people become affected by opinions, perceptions, and often misconceptions. Career choices become about money, availability, prestige, or even what their parents encouraged them to do. The instinctual bliss of play becomes lost.

I am not saying (to use this as an example) that if you pretended to be a ballerina that you should have become a ballerina (not necessarily). What I will ask is this (again, this is an example):  do you still enjoy dancing, exercising, or activities that are physical in nature? If so, is there a way to incorporate this into your life?

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Another key indicator for finding your passion is examining the extracurricular activities you did in high school and college.  Did you take on leadership roles and, if so, did you like being in charge?  Were you involved in student activities and/or planning events?  Even if you know full well that you have no intention of being — let’s say — the next President of the Student Council (which translated to “adult roles” might mean taking on a political role), ask yourself: Why was I involved in this activity? Was it for the social aspect or did it bring me joy somehow?

Tip #3 for demystifying the passion mystery (again, this is for you to figure out…what I am writing are prompts to help you):  Early-jobs and volunteer work. What were some of the jobs that you had in your earlier days?  I am not saying that if you were a life guard in high school, you were supposed to be the next David Hasselhoff (think Bay Watch). What I am having you examine is the aspects of the job that you enjoyed most. Think carefully–what did you enjoy most about this work experience?  Is there a way to continue those enjoyable aspects? As for the things you really hated about the job? Well, they are important to note as well. The things you dreaded about your earlier job(s) are things that you should eliminate today. Hopefully,  those earlier dreaded tasks are not a main component of your current job.

Personality Tests.  There is a reason that human resource experts still utilize the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) exam when hiring. These tests are very accurate in pin-pointing the value system, personality traits, and decision-making styles of individuals. Taking a credible personality exam can help you determine the type of job or hobby that suits your personality type. It will provide added insight into what may be enjoyable (and what may be agonizing) to you.

I hope that these questions provided a lot of food for thought. With that said, I also wanted to debunk some myths that often prevent people from pursuing their JOYS and passions.

MYTH 1: You cannot make a living doing what you love.
The answer is a definitive “Heck no! Yes, you can!”  I truly believe that you can do whatever you want if you work hard enough and believe that you can. Even if it is a side job that brings you pleasure or a full-time job that entails aspects of what you love (with not-so-pleasurable aspects mixed in), you can find a way to incorporate your passion once you determine what it is. After all, you cannot get what you want if you do not know what you want. And knowing what you enjoy will allow you to — not only pursue it — but be more motivated to do so.

MYTH 2: You will ALWAYS enjoy your passionate job or hobby 24/7.
What do you really think? If truth be told, nothing is pure bliss and happiness all the time–not to sound like Debbie Downer. What I am saying is that there WILL be times when things get hard and uncomfortable. Those times are learning opportunities and a part of life. When those difficult challenges arise, know that they are — as my grandmother used to say — only temporary and (this too) will pass.”  Look at the OVERALL experience and know that you are doing what brings you fulfillment. You are learning from the day to day.

MYTH 3: Even if you figure out what you should be doing, it is too late to change directions.

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I have been listening to a CD by Julia Cameron titled, The Author’s Way.  In the segment, she discusses excuses people make on why they don’t pursue their artistic dreams. For example, Excuse #1:   I’m too old!  

She had one person tell her: “You know how OLD I will be if I start learning to play the piano?”

And her answer?  It’s a gem. Wait for it . . . (Ha, ha. This totally made me laugh out loud.)

 “Yes, I do.  You will be the SAME age you’ll be if you DON’T start learning to play the piano?”

Moral of the story: It is never too late. Stop making excuses and get started! I used the photo (above) of a older gentleman playing the piano. I am proud to say that my father started playing the piano in his 60s. Seriously. He had played the piano when he was a child (um, as-a-child – cough, cough – see how I came full circle?), but his father’s Navy career and having to move every year or two prevented him from continuing the piano. After a discussion between my parents of “what would you like to do if you could,” my mother answered my father’s wish of “play the piano” by indulging him with lessons. Since then, he has been a serious and devoted piano player. Playing the piano is his passion—and it only took him 60+ years to figure it out.

Movies and Scenes that Inspire

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Looking for a good flick to watch—one that will move you to tears, inspire you, and make you feel uplifted?  Each of the following movie clips were selected for its pertinent message.  I hope that you will check out the movies (if you haven’t already) or — at the very least — watch the clips below. Enjoy!

Begin Again

This has become one of my absolute new favorite movies–well maybe not so new being that I have seen this about a million times in the last few years. There is so much about this movie that I love. This is one of my favorite scenes as it illustrates the power of visualization and WHAT CAN BE.  I am a sucker for anything that involves the creative process, and this scene is the epitome of just that. What I never caught before in this scene, however, is the subway guy who states: “God may not be on OUR time, but He is ON time.  Mark Ruffalo’s character responds sarcastically in his deflated and drunken state: “yes, I am going to have a talk with God. What if He doesn’t answer.” And then this happens. . .

Hoosiers

Let’s get down to brass knuckles. What PREVENTS us from achieving our dreams? Often it is our fear–our perceived fear of how we estimate a situation. Listen closely to what Gene Hackman’s character says.  Sorry, there is no music in this scene, just words of wisdom. Watch as this small-town team sees the gymnasium where the State Basketball Championship will be played. They have never seen a stadium so large and intimidating. But — watch.  Again, it is about perception.

McFarland, USA

This is the true story of a cross-country team in a poor Latino county in California. The movie contains the essential ingredients of an uplifting movie–the overcoming of obstacles, characters that do not give up–and it also shows the value of hard work. In this scene, Kevin Costner tells his team that not only do they deserve to be at the state championship, but that they have what others there do not have: a hardship and drive that will take them to the finish line. . .first.

Karate Kid

This video clip illustrates the need to trust the process. As someone who likes instant results, this is often a struggle for me. I can get so wrapped up in accomplishing a goal that I often miss and do not appreciate the lessons and knowledge gained throughout the process. This is where the REAL experience takes place. It is this learning that allows us to build upon our successes.

Rudy

This movie clips reinforces the message conveyed in the Karate Kid clip above.  There may be times when, as we pursue our goals and dreams, the outcome is not what we had hoped. We feel as if we failed for having tried.  I truly believe that no one is a failure if they have tried (and tried again). With every attempt, look at what you have learned and gained along the way.


The Hurricane

The film is based on a true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a professional boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 20 years in prison. I remember watching it in the theatre–I was getting so angry at the injustice that I literally screamed out loud: “No!”  This movie is about not only overcoming adversity, but also rising above racism, hatred, and other’s opinions.  Bob Dylan wrote the song, “The Hurricane” which was used in the movie. Watch the movie, listen to the song–you will cry.  I know that I did.

Shawshank Redemption

I struggled with which scene to include from what is one of my all-time favorite movies (isn’t it everybody’s?!), Shawshank Redemption.  This clip is a combination of two scenes about the need for HOPE!  Keep hoping and believing. . .Never Stop!

Grab your popcorn, tissues, and a comfy blanket—I encourage you to check out these movies and be ready to be inspired.  Feel free to share YOUR favorite inspiring movies in the comments section. Would love to hear!

Easy and Tasty Crockpot Chili

Chili is one of my youngest son’s favorites; he would eat it every day if I let him. Thankfully, this recipe is super easy to make and very delicious. Spring is almost here, so why not give Chili one last eating before grilling season officially begins. (Not that this household will stop eating chili. My son would not stand for that.)

This recipe is easy, easy, easy.


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned
  • 1  (15 oz) can dark kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can (16 oz) chili beans, drained
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can tomatoes
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • ½ Packet of Taco Seasoning Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic or minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt


To Cook
:

Cook and brown the ground beef.
I always use this grease protector to prevent splatters of grease, such as the Outills Splatter Screen with Silicone Handle – 13″Stainless Steel Twill Weave Mesh – Dishwasher Safe – Grease Splatter Screen that Protects your Cooking Surface.  It is also helpful for DRAINING the grease once done. I simply leave a little gap on the side to pour out the grease while the protector prevents the meat from falling out.

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Next, drop in ALL the ingredients, including the browned meat, into your crockpot.  Yep, it is that easy. Be sure to drain the beans.

Cook on low for 6 – 7 hours or high for 4 hours.

That’s it. You are done!

Top it off with your favorites such as cheese, sour cream, and/or scallions and then dig in.

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[Disclosure: This post has affiliate links. If items are purchased from this site, I will receive a small commission.]

How My Life Perspective Changed at a Gas Station

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I Have a Confession.

My name is Kristin and I, among other things, am a WRITER.  I write because I love it; I write because it is my thing—what I’ve done since I was a child; and I write because it’s what I think I’m on this earth to do.

But that is not my confession.

My confession is this:  I don’t always love writing. I don’t always feel like it is my thing—in fact, I often feel like a total fraud and question my ability.

I have days where I am gung-ho, all-in, motivated, and excited.  Those are the days when I see POTENTIAL; I see my dream of working from home as a full-time writer.

Then, I have days where I can just stare into the abyss of a white computer screen and convince myself it is all for naught.  Those days are usually fueled by a series of rejections or from a lack of results.  These are the times when my motivation gets shaky and my heart is reeling with doubt.

But I am not a quitter.  I will rest.  I will re-think my strategies.  I will allow myself to be human. 

I will even cry if I want to…and I do…and I did.

But, I will not quit.

I remember looking for my first “adult” job, fresh out of college.  It was a wonderful time to look for employment (I say sarcastically)—right at the onset of the Persian Gulf War.  Living in a military-saturated area, most residents were deployed, while many others, like myself, were unemployed.

I had to settle for a job at a grocery store while I pursued more-desirable employment.  I felt so humiliated when people from my high school or college would come to the store.  I knew what they were thinking—it was what I was thinking—you went to college for this?  But I needed money.  I was interning for free at a local chamber of commerce so that I could gain some marketable job experience.  My dad at the time did not understand this: “why don’t you go back to get your master’s,” he would say.  “Why are you working for free?”

I tried explaining that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life first.  I had been hitting a brick wall with my job search—the ol’ you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job—so I knew that I needed to find a way to gain work experience.  The internship was my way.

So, with my head down, I went to my  grocery store gig to earn money.  I finally resigned myself to the fact that I would run into people I knew; my confidence was at rock bottom.

It was at this time that I learned a valuable lesson—one that I still remember to this day—and it happened at a gas station.  In those days, full-service gas pumps were still an option. In fact at this station, every gas pump was full service.  In high school, the service attendants were often my fellow classmates. Post-college and on this day, it was a man whose child I used to babysit.  He was a bank executive, so seeing him wear the station’s uniform was surprising.

What impressed me the most was that he didn’t try hiding the fact that he worked there.  Instead, he walked over cheerfully and helped me pump my gas.  That was when it dawned on me that he must have lost his job in the throes of the Persian Gulf War recession.

gas-attendantUnlike me, some college graduate punk, who worked at a grocery store with shame, this man approached me with his head high.  He had more reason than me to feel down.  He had a wife, a child, and a prominent job.  But you wouldn’t have known it.  With a smile on his face and such a cheerful manner, he helped me—not just with my gas, but also with my perspective on life.

This man had experienced a disappointing and difficult set back.  But instead of surrendering to his despair, he faced it, embraced it, and did what he needed to do at the time.  This experience must have been so difficult and humbling for him. I am sure when he lost his job, he must have been devastated and felt as if someone punched him in the gut.  I am sure that he was scared, depressed, and wanted to cry.  He is human, after all.  And no human is without challenges.

I don’t know what happened later with this man. I can only assume that his positive attitude allowed him to obtain another job.  Shortly after this incident, I had gotten a job in another city and moved away.  The job?  It was at a chamber of commerce; they said it was my nonpaying internship at the local chamber that made them take notice.

I do regret not going back to thank this man, although I am sure he has no idea the impact he had on my life.  It was on that day that I promised myself that I would always try to maintain a positive attitude and do whatever job I am given with a cheerful attitude. I would always be thankful and persevere. 

So yesterday, I felt like quitting on all my dreams.  That is my confession.

But that was yesterday and today is a new day.  Today, I am figuring out my next move and how I am going to take action.

Because you know what else?  I am not a quitter!

ARE YOU?

My Pantry Organizational Re-do

This is my BEFORE (oh my, what a mess!).  

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And this is my AFTER.

Pantry Organization

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Photo Credit: TessaSollway.com

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Photo Credit: TessaSollway.com

It looks much more sparse, but the truth is everything has a place. I keep fresh fruits and vegetables elsewhere.  To create the space (clean and clutter-free) that I wanted, I did the following:

  1. Took everything out so that I could really see what I was working with.
  2. I took a visual inventory of my stash and decided on what canisters, bins, and baskets to purchase. Home Goods was my saving grace.
  3. I consolidated items and created strategic sections—one section for spices and cooking supplies, one section for the large, not-attractive cookware such as the crockpot and popcorn popper.   Those items were hidden from view on the side shelves. (See photo)
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  4. I created identifying labels using Avery 5162 and also used chalk clothe pin labels.See basket labeled with Rice and Pasta
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  5. I have a rotating spice rack on my counter, however, we also have an abundance of spices in the pantry.  These spices were always knocking over and it was hard to find just the right spice. By putting the spices in bins, I can easily grab the container and find the spice needed.img_1019

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6. I kept cooking instructions for pasta, rice, and other items placed on canisters.I gently taped (so that the tape is easily removable) the instructions to the back of the canister.

7. I found a wire rack basket that allows me to stack cans sideways without falling out.  This saves so much space.

Organizing Under the Kitchen Sink

I also got ambitiousimg_1011 and cleaned under the sink. The big clean-up there included a basket that hangs over the door. This basket contains all the frequently-used items, such as dish soap.

I also added shelving and hung bottles from the outer rack.

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Here are pantry organization items I used or recommend.

(Please note, this section does contain affiliate links.)

DII Stackable, Convenient Metal Storage Bin For Office, Bedroom, Kitchen, Closet, & Everyday Storage Needs, Black – Medium

Labels for Jars, 80 Pack Premium Chalkboard Labels; 3.5 x 2 Inch Large and Reusable Blackboard Vinyl Sticker to Organize Your Pantry Storage & Office; Free Bonus Erasable White Chalk Marker Included

OXO Good Grips 10-Piece POP Container Set

Organize It All Can Rack (1866W)

Lifewit Under Sink Organizer with Expandable Shelf Height Adjustable Kitchen Bathroom Toilet Storage Organization Rack, Carbon Steel, Black

mDesign Over the Cabinet Kitchen Storage Organizer Basket for Aluminum Foil, Sandwich Bags, Cleaning Supplies – Bronze