Project: Happiness Jar

For my money, there is nothing better than taking trash and turning it into treasure. I recently worked on a project that fit the bill and gave me a happiness boost for a lot of different reasons.

In Krista Tippett’s interview with Elizabeth Gilbert for On Being, Gilbert talks about her happiness jar. She notes that it is a huge apothecary jar that is filled with bits of paper, on which she’s written the happiest part of each day. I love this easy form of journaling and quickly made space in my blog planner to record the happiest part of my day. But I knew I also wanted a happiness jar, as well.

I didn’t necessarily want to buy something to serve as a happiness jar. I’m not really into shopping for a new item when it isn’t necessary. I don’t have the time or energy to poke through antique malls, flea markets, garage sales or thrift stores to find something. And I knew I probably had dozens of things in my house that could serve the purpose. But I also wanted it to be special.

I immediately thought of something Gretchen Rubin wrote about in The Happiness Project, which is the question “What did you do for fun when you were 10?” Her theory is that if you enjoyed something as a child, you will probably still like doing it as an adult. One thing I did for fun as a kid (although I was probably older than 10), was to decoupage. My version of decoupage at the time was to cut pictures out of magazines, rubber cement them to a little box and cover the whole thing with packing tape to seal it. We didn’t have any decoupage glue in the house and I’m not certain I knew there was such a thing as decoupage glue, so I improvised. I made a couple of different little keepsake boxes: one was a bracelet-sized box covered in flowers and the other was a greeting card box covered a mish-mash of colorful photos of textural things (beads, sequins, etc.). The memory of making those boxes immediately solved my problem of what to use as my happiness jar.

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Project in progress with my trash supplies.

I took a melange of trash, really, a spaghetti sauce jar, old magazines my mom gave me, and actual Mod Podge leftover from a project I did several years ago (no rubber cement and packing tape for adult me), and gave them new life in my happiness jar. I even had the paint sponge leftover. No purchases went into the making of this project. No trips to the craft store necessary.

Another suggestion from Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast came into play when it was time to figure out what I was going to cover the jar with. In episode 71 of Happier, Rubin and her sister discuss choosing a signature color as a way to boost happiness. It was easy for me to identify my signature color: turquoise. But I started to notice that I don’t have much of this color around me in my everyday life. So a turquoise decoupage happiness jar was what I set out to create.

This project is so simple I don’t need to share step-by-step instructions. It’s just cut, paste, and repeat until you’re happy with the final result.

In a happy twist of kismet, while I was working on this project, my husband and step-daughter went to a comic-con and came home with the Deathly Hallows image complete with the turquoise background (I’ve not shared with either of them that turquoise is my “signature” color.) and three blind box Harry Potter figures. (We got Draco, Harry and Voldemort. They let me keep Harry on my desk even though I opened Draco. I put Draco and Voldemort in our family Harry Potter “shrine.”) The new gifts go quite well with my happiness jar, and my Lego keychain Dumbledore and Snape.

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Project in place.
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A Moment: City Wanderings

[The glory of America] goes deeper than all the tinsel, goes deeper than the sound of guns and the clash of sabers; it goes down to the very foundation of those things that have made the spirit of man free and happy and content. – Woodrow Wilson

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On Saturday we had to take my step-daughter to the Crossroads District for her cheerleading pictures. My husband and I spent a lovely morning walking around, getting coffee, peeking into windows and over fences (him) and taking pictures (me). After we dropped her off at the Freight House, we crossed the tracks to Union Station (pictured above) for coffee. We walked across the street to the front wall of the Liberty Memorial, where the above quote can be found. She texted to say they were getting close to being done (they weren’t) and we crossed back over the tracks and spent the next hour wandering down alleys in the Crossroads.

Surviving a Sleepless Night

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled series on striving without burnout or rebellion to focus on some advice that is very timely for me today: how to survive a sleepless night.

Thankfully, I don’t suffer from chronic insomnia. My sleeplessness is acute. I may have trouble sleeping every few months for one or two nights at a time. But that limited bit of sleeplessness tests my coping skills. Studies show that dealing with a sleep deficit slows reaction time in the same way as if a person has been drinking alcohol. I am especially aware of this as I have a long commute, almost an hour one-way on high-speed Interstate highways. Occasionally vertigo also accompanies my sleeplessness. Because of slowed reaction time and my experiences with vertigo, I try to work from home on days that I have a sleepless night, if possible.

No matter if I’m working from home or if I’m trudging to work, I’ve found some tips that help me cope with a sleepless night.

Get up. I have a threshold for staying in bed trying to fall asleep. Once the clock hits around 4:00 AM, I know I’ve tried my best and I might as well dig into the long day ahead. Since I’m sleep-deprived everything will take longer anyway, so I might as well get going.

Take care of my physical comfort. It feels like I have a hard time regulating my body temperature when I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I feel hot and cold all at the same time. The last thing I want to do when I’m overtired is put on something itchy or restrictive. I try to go with layers of comfortable clothes.

Don’t indulge in a tired look. While I try to be comfortable in my dress, I also try to go with something that is a complete outfit and one that I’ve been complimented on in the past, if possible. I have a few comfortable options that fit the bill. I try to do my makeup and hair as normally as possible, too. I don’t need to broadcast how exhausted I am and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror looking like a schlub only reinforces tired feelings.

Don’t overcaffeinated. In our Starbucks society, we often think that caffeine is a remedy for lack of sleep. We can just pump ourselves up with a Venti Latte and stay up a couple extra hours to knock out a project. This isn’t the case and too much caffeine + lack of sleep is an especially bad combo for me. My tolerance for caffeine is low. I can have a cup of coffee in the morning and maybe a caffeinated beverage before or with lunch, but any more than that and I get jittery: my heart pounds, my hands shake, and my head feels fuzzy. If I’m dealing with a sleepless night, I may already be experiencing these symptoms. No need to double down on them with a double shot of espresso.

Make a to-do list / plan my day. On any regular day, I like to make a plan. My planner is an hour-by-hour planner and I pencil in appointments and meetings and then fill in the rest of the day with projects and tasks. This is especially important on days when I haven’t gotten to sleep. Unless I have a plan, it is easy to get stuck staring blankly into space trying to figure out what do next. I focus some time right at the beginning of the day to plug in the holes on my calendar so you don’t have to tap into executive functions of my brain when I get the most tired.

Knock those pesky chores off my list. Throughout the day, accomplishing little tasks will help to keep me motivated. If I’m up early, I go ahead and unload the dishwasher or fold that basket of laundry. At work, I take the time to file that stack of invoices that is piling up. Doing the tasks I can accomplish that make a big visual difference but that require little abstract thinking give me a boost and help keep me motivated throughout the day.

Do something creative. Color, rearrange my office pictures, sketch, doodle. I take a break from whatever I’m are doing and use my brain differently. What I do doesn’t have to be good, but if I feel like I can’t possibly accomplish another thing on my to-do list, I give the part of my brain that has been working hard a break and do something else.

Move. Get outside and go for a walk. Stand up while I take a phone call. I don’t overtax myself; a five-mile jog or 100 burpees are probably a bad idea, but a little physical movement throughout the day will help get me through until bedtime.

Eat healthy and pack extra snacks. It took me awhile to realize it, but I get a pit in my stomach when I have a sleepless night that seems bottomless. I am so hungry all day. I’m not sure why I feel so hungry all day, but it probably has something to do with the relationship between sleep and leptin. To avoid snarfing down three-day-old donuts or taking an emergency detour to the drive-thru for extra large french fries, I try to add a boost to each meal that I pack for work and also to pack extra snacks. I may put an extra scoop of yogurt into my smoothie or include a heartier mid-morning snack of a peanut butter-banana sandwich. I may not eat everything I have, but if my monster appetite demands food, it’s better for me to have something healthy at the ready.

Strike my best Wonder Woman pose. Research shows that if you strike a power pose, it can affect how other people perceive you and how you perceive yourself. I try to remember this especially when I am extra tired. I remind myself to stand/sit up straight. I can get a small but instant boost of vitality anytime I roll my shoulders back and down, put my hands on my hips and strike a wide-legged stance.

Unitask. I run into a lot of articles that say humans cannot multitask. We are unable to do two things at once. While I try to take this into account, it is especially important for me to remember after a restless night when my mental reserves are already low. It is important for me to focus on one thing at a time rather than keeping an eye on incoming emails while writing a memo or trying to address envelopes while sitting through a meeting.

Put some music in my ears. While I’m fully aware that listening to music while doing other work is technically multitasking, selectively listening to music that will pump me up during discrete points throughout the day can be a good strategy for surviving the day after a sleepless night. Whether it’s Vivaldi or Stevie Wonder or Adele, the energizing strains of a familiar song can give me life.

Listen. It’s very easy to miss something if you’re tired. I try to listen actively all the time, but it is even more important to do when I’m tired. This is also why I try to avoid talking on the phone when I’m tired. I do a bad job paying attention on the phone because I need that combination of visual and auditory stimulus for something to really stick and to be able to interpret accurately. My best trick for paying attention while listening is to take lots of notes. Whether I’m sitting through a team meeting or a church sermon, I do a better job listening if I have a paper and pen in hand. I suspect this is why I’m the secretary/recorder of different organizations and committees. I’m doing the work anyway because I have to in order to pay attention.

Don’t talk about how tired I am. Nobody really cares how tired I am. Chances are, they are tired, too. It’s not a competition. I think when you talk about being tired, it just reminds people that they are also tired. If anyone asks what’s wrong the night after I didn’t get sleep, I just say, “I didn’t sleep well last night” and leave it at that. (I stick with the standard, “fine” or “pretty good” in response to a more generic “How are you” inquiry.)

Go to bed. Finally, after a sleepless night, I feel free to go to bed as soon as I can and I am tired. I try not to miss my first wave of nighttime tiredness to watch tv with my family or to empty the dishwasher. If I want to put myself to bed right after work and I have the opportunity to do so, I go for it. I know I’m not really going to wreck my sleep schedule in one night and I’ll be better equipped to get my bedtime back to normal after a night of rest.

If I can’t fall asleep that second night. If sleep isn’t coming that second night, I don’t mess around with any non-chemical techniques for falling asleep. I either take a Benadryl or have an alcoholic drink. I don’t do this often, but on rare occasions that I’m so nervous about suffering a second consecutive night of sleeplessness, I’ve found it is easier for me to take my brain out of the equation with booze of Benadryl. I know that alcohol actually disrupts sleep, so I stick to just one drink. For me, if I’m stuck in a worry-cycle, getting bad sleep actually lets me get over my anxiety about not sleeping and helps me reset for subsequent nights. I’ve also found that, besides Benadryl, over-the-counter sleep aids just make me uncomfortably dizzy and paranoid, which increases my anxiety and decreases my ability to fall asleep.

Luckily my sleeplessness is episodic and manageable. If you’re reading this and feel that your sleeplessness is unmanageable or is negatively affecting your life for more than just a day or two at a time, you should see a doctor.

Personal Symbol: River

In episode 31 of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Gretchen talks about the idea of defining your personal symbols as a way to “know yourself better.” Over time, I’ve identified nine personal symbols: river, four-leaf clover, tree, the dark, dove, snowflake, casserole dish, book, and fleur-di-lis. In order to define what those symbols mean to me, I decided to identify twelve reasons I chose each symbol (for a total of 108). I’m starting with the first symbol I identified: rivers.

  1. First and foremost, rivers represent home to me. While rivers are a huge geographical feature in most places, Missouri is particularly shaped by and cognizant of its rivers. In fact, the state tourism office used “where the rivers run” as the marketing slogan for a while. (I keep typing that phrase as “where the rivers fun” which could be an infinitely better slogan for tourism marketing purposes, by the way.) I grew up just a few miles away from the Missouri River, in a county named for a tributary of the Missouri. In those glaciated hills of northern Missouri, etching the landscape in a particular way that feels so familiar to me. As a kid, crossing the Missouri (at any one of three places) meant we were almost at my grandparent’s house or some other family members’ homes. I still live just a few miles from the Big Muddy and crossing it means that I’m almost home from work.
  2. Just as rivers shaped my childhood, the threat from rivers also sparked my imagination. Not the immediate and devastating effect of flooding, although that definitely plays a role, but the more long-term effect of erosion. Being from a small, farming community, erosion was something we learned about in elementary school art class, thanks to some agricultural organization’s poster contest. The idea that water and rivers could carry away the rich topsoil that provided many of my friends’ parents livelihoods, including my own father’s, was one of those concepts that blow open your concrete and limited view of the world as a kid. And while we learned about it in the classroom to make those posters, the visual evidence and the fight against erosion was all around me, from the giant ditch in our back pasture to the terraced fields surrounding the town. Physical landscapes shaped by erosion continue to captivate me: the Grand Canyon, the Niagara escarpment, the Louisiana wetlands.
  3. All this thought about erosion that we had to do in third or fourth grade switched on an environmental consciousness in me as I began to formulate the concept of watersheds. It wasn’t until years later that i encountered the actual term, but I understood watersheds as soon as I learned that I couldn’t swim in our pond because of all the lawn care chemicals that were in it, according to my mom. Living on the edge of town with about 20 acres of land in the country and our house inside the city limits, ditches from several blocks ran into our pond. My brother and I often tested this after a good rain by dropping something into a ditch and following it as the water carried it to our back yard. Oftentimes during and immediately after a big rain, our backyard became a little river as all the ditches flowed together right behind (and sometimes straight down) our driveway. As I got older, the idea of our pond being polluted grew into thinking about all the pollution that gets into our water through the narrow-minded actions of well-meaning people. I still think about this when I use products in the shower or consider coloring my hair.
  4. My home state of Missouri is cut in half by the Missouri River. My permanent residence in Missouri has always been “north of the river,” but my extended family has always lived “south of the river.” The river is a key orienting feature in Kansas City, as well. It’s one of the many dividing lines in the metropolitan area that carries with it distinct ideas about what the “Northland” is. As I was in the process of creating a new nuclear family that eventually would be settled “north of the river,” my parents moved back south of the river to be nearer to extended family. Rivers are a big orienting feature of my life.
  5. My “first best friend” and I hung out a lot in our early 20s. We spent late nights out with groups of friends, took a fun trip to the west coast and even lived together for a couple years. One night we were out (I don’t remember where) and our group was a bit confused about directions. She and I knew exactly which way to go and led the group back to more familiar environs. Someone asked us how we knew which way to go and we said, “Because the river is over there.” We weren’t really in close proximity to the river and that person pressed the issue: how did we know where the river was. Our answer, “We can feel the river.” This became our answer to anyone who asked directions when we were together, no matter where we were. While this was an inside joke, the idea of “feeling the river” and using that “sixth sense” as wayfinding has carried throughout my life.
  6. Rivers also connect me to my career. In my public history job, we often talk about “cultural watersheds” that surround the four rivers comprise our area. The rivers play a big role in how we think about the heritage of the area and how we think about programming different interpretive products. There is currently a big push to tie into rivers as a natural, recreational and interpretive resource so I spend a lot of time thinking about them.
  7. Rivers play a big role in my recreational life. While I’m not very good at it and I don’t get to do it very often, I love paddling. I even took a canoeing class in college to fulfill one of my activity requirements. In addition to paddling, running is very much tied to rivers for me. The first trail I ever ran on followed the Congaree River. After I moved, I found a trail along Lytle Creek and later my favorite running trail became the Line Creek Trail. There is something about being on or near the water that makes physical activity something fun and enjoyable. It’s hard to think of running as a chore when you round a bend and hear the sound of water rushing over a tiny waterfall and catch glimpses of it through the trees.
  8. During my childhood, I lived through two big floods that majorly affected the area where I live and my family lived. The first was in 1986. I was eight and certain images stuck with me: driving through standing water in the river bottoms and rolls of sodden carpet laying in the front yard of my aunt and uncle’s house.The second flood was in 1993. I was fifteen and taking driver’s education that summer. We couldn’t get to the places the teacher normally took students to practice driving. My dad spent several nights sleeping at one of the businesses he managed because he had to sandbag and make sure the pumps were working and he couldn’t get home without driving hours around floodwaters anyway. I crossed the Missouri River bridge on Interstate 70 in a school bus on the day that the flood threatened to close the interstate highway. The flood forever changed that stretch of the river bottoms from tidy farmlands to wetlands. My aunt and uncle’s house that flooded in 1986 had water in just beneath the second floor. Luckily my dad, who was paying very close attention to the levels up-river, insisted that they move all their appliances to my other uncle’s house, out of the floodplain, rather than just putting them up on blocks. My aunt and uncle never moved back into their house and neither did many of their neighbors. That experience, especially, made me understand that our attempts to channel the river are ultimately futile. Sometimes, I can fall down a rabbit hole of looking at satellite images on Google Maps. On those maps you can easily identify the great expanse of the river’s floodplain and understand just how fragile our attempts are to overcome nature.
  9. Rivers also have significant religious symbolism, both in my own religion and in others, that I’m drawn to. The Jordan and Ganges rivers specifically hold special significance in world religion, but rivers are also often the site of spiritual purification (baptism, mikvah, misogi). Gospel music often includes a river theme as a symbol of change and redemption.
  10. I associate rivers with life. Throughout history settlements spring up along rivers. They bring life-giving water necessary to sustain a community. Not only do they sustain the life of humans, but rivers also teem with life themselves. Healthy rivers and wetlands are home to such a diverse range of species and serve to remind us that we have a responsibility to live in harmony with the river rather than trying to harness and exploit it.
  11. Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus is often credited with having said, “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” I think the idea of “flow” that rivers connote becomes a theme in people’s lives as they age. The river is constantly changing, just as the world is around us. The river reflects seasonal change and change over time, just as much as a tree does. A river flows high in the spring as the snows melt upstream and new, forgotten sandbars emerge in times of drought. Over time, rivers erode the landscape and cut new channels. Whether change occurs quickly or over millennia, the only constant is change. You can never stand in the same river twice, just as the world around us changes and we are changed by it.
  12. The Heraclitus quote also reminds us that rivers connect us in profound ways. Even if we never travel to another area, the river brings to us other waters from vast territories upstream and it carries a bit of us out to the ocean. What we do in one place radiates outward and impacts the world.

Amazing Five: August Edition

This format comes from Michael Ian Black’s amazing podcast How to Be Amazing. He ends every interview with a rapid-fire round of questions he calls the “Amazing Five” by asking his guest for a recommendation in each of the following five categories.

Food: Fresh garden tomatoes. Thanks to my dad’s garden, we used to eat so many tomatoes in the summer that my mouth would start to hurt. It didn’t stop me from wanting fresh tomatoes, though. My brother used to call (and still does) underripe store-bought tomatoes “cardboard tomatoes.” My mom cans tomato juice and salsa that keeps all of us stocked all winter (and then some). Here is just one day’s harvest.

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Music: I’m really into Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 lately. It’s a familiar piece and I’ve been listening to it a lot at work. Specifically, I’ve been listening this recording of Yo Yo Ma playing all six suites at the Royal Albert Hall.

Television/Movie: I have to default to Ripper Street. This season isn’t as good as the previous two, but it’s compelling, that’s for sure. 

Books: I have a hard time getting a lot of reading done over the summer. Besides re-reading Eat, Pray, Love the only other thing I’ve read is Tales from the Yoga Studio by Rain Mitchell, which I picked up used on store closing sale from Hastings. It’s total chick-lit but manages to avoid the “everyone ends up with their man” trope. Some of the characters do, but others have happy endings that don’t involve a dude. It is also a very quick read; I read it in less than 24 hours.

Miscellaneous: A working dishwasher. My brilliant husband changed the seal on our dishwasher and it works again. Not having piles of dishes to do every evening certainly helps to boost my mood.

In Equal Tablespoons: Garden Bounty + Zucchini Mess and Shortcut Baked Eggplant Recipes

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always planted a big garden. Childhood chores in the summertime typically involved the garden, either picking something or snapping beans or shelling peas. While don’t live close enough to my parents to help with the chores anymore, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to share in their garden bounty.

My folks came up on Sunday to visit and brought me a big bunch of garden veggies. They always bring too much for us to eat, so I meal planned before they came and sorted out what I thought we could eat and took the extras to a friend.

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I bought a watermelon from the grocery store to go with the blueberries. I made a watermelon-blueberry smoothie, a watermelon-blueberry salad with feta, balsamic, olive oil, and basil. I also made this monkey bread using only blueberries instead of mixed berries. We loved this and it is so easy to make since it relies on cans of orange rolls as the base. (And thanks to my mom who brought me her bundt pan to borrow for awhile.)

For lunch, I made a version of this shrimp salad. I mostly kept to the recipe, but included whatever veggies I had on hand. I didn’t mix up a whole big salad all at once, but instead when for individual servings since I knew I would be the only person to eat it. I made a full recipe of the dressing (I don’t have a Magic Bullet, I just whisked it together with a fork) and used what I needed and kept the rest in the fridge for the next day. The dressing reminded me of the cucumber salad dressing my mom used to make (I always loved that dressing, which I think has Miracle Whip, vinegar, sugar and pepper.) but a healthier, lighter version. Once I subbed tofu (leftover from last week’s spring rolls) for the shrimp. Still delicious.

I cooked a lot of dinners this week. Here is a run-down:

IMG_1698I made a version of this Caprese Garlic Bread many times over the course of the week. I didn’t bother reducing the balsamic because I didn’t want to wash another pot, but it still worked fine for me. Even the base “garlic bread” recipe is good. My husband ate it without the tomatoes and one time my step-daughter just ate the garlic bread topped with sauteed summer veggies (zucchini, green pepper, onion, tomatoes). That was genius level dinner mix-and-matching. By the end of the week, I was using shredded mozzarella instead of fresh — it’s still good. And thankfully, by little basil plant kept up with the demand all week.

 

Homemade Hamburger Helper is the perfect vehicle for using up summer squashes and green peppers. Lots of veggies would be good in this recipe actually. It’s not very elegant, but it is easy and comforting and takes me back to my childhood when I loved picking out a Hamburger Helper for my mom to make (wagon wheel, always). We didn’t have it very often so it felt like a treat. This version is just as quick and easy to make as the store-bought kind and doesn’t have any weird orange colored cheese power, which makes me feel a little better about it.


My favorite way to use up eggplants is a Baked Eggplant recipe that I found in a recipe book my dad gave me for Christmas many moons ago. This book is so thick (It’s titled
1000 Classic Recipes for Every Cook) it’s a wonder that I found and tried the eggplant recipe. Nothing in this book calls for a shortcut so the first time I made this recipe (August 20, 2003–I wrote it in the book), I made tomato sauce and Bechamel from scratch. After that first time, I take the easy way out. Here’s the version of the recipe I use today: pour a little jarred red sauce in the bottom of a greased 9×13 casserole. Top with a layer of eggplant. (The recipe calls for you to cook them in hot water for 5 minutes first. I just salt them to draw out the bitterness and pat them dry.) Top with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped prosciutto (I’ve used prosciutto, cooked bacon, no meat, salami, do whatever you want.), mozzarella (fresh or shredded), salt and pepper and herbs. (The recipe calls from fresh marjoram and fresh basil, chopped. Use IMG_1701whatever Italian herbs you want, fresh or dried.) Repeat the layers. Top with a layer of white sauce (You can make Bechamel from scratch or use a jarred alfredo sauce. I’ve even used Caesar dressing with a mix of nutmeg and cloves–surprisingly it works.) and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. I also made these Roasted Eggplant Caprese Salad, which were good but to my taste not worth the effort. I’ll stick to Baked Eggplant or Eggplant Parm.

 

I rounded out the week with a couple of l’arte d’arrangiarsi recipes. It seems silly but sometimes I almost need a reminder that when you have a bunch of summer veggies, the best thing to do with them is just saute and serve. Why do I always try to tart them up in some fancy recipe when they don’t need it? I had a package of brats that I picked up on sale at the grocery store. I cooked them and served them with cheesy garlic bread and a sauteed medley of onions (sauteed first and kept separate because onions upset my husband’s stomach), zucchini, green pepper and tomatoes. This is the best kind of meal for my family because all the components are there and you get to decide how you eat them. I chopped up my brat and ate it mixed with the sauteed veggies. My step-daughter (as referenced above) ate her brat hot-dog style and topped her cheesy garlic bread with the veggies.

The second l’arte d’arrangiarsi recipe is more of an actual recipe than the simple reminder. This recipe comes from my mom and she affectionately refers to it as “Zucchini Mess.” Anyone who grows zucchini or is from a small town with lots of gardeners knows how bountiful zucchini can be. This recipe gives people a new way to tear through the loads of zucchini that come out of your garden (or get left on your doorstep anonymously).

Zucchini Mess

Cook a pound of Italian sausage until just underdone. Drain and add chopped garlic, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, and green pepper. (You can add or leave out any of these. For example, I don’t ever use onions. I opt instead for a petite diced tomato blend that includes aromatics because it is easier on my husband’s stomach. My recipe this time included just zucchini and green pepper.) Cook until veggies and sausage are done. Add a can of diced tomatoes and heat through. At this point you have even more options! You can stop and serve like this. It’s good. Here is what I did this time. Instead of just dumping in the tomatoes, I drained them into a 2-cup measuring cup. I added the tomatoes and then added a mixture of veggie broth and water to bring the liquid to 2 cups. I added a cup of brown rice and the liquid and to the skillet and let the rice cook until tender. I serve it hot with shredded cheese so my family can decide if they want to eat it plain or add a little cheese into their zucchini mess. You could could the rice separate, but I didn’t want to dirty up another pot since my dishwasher is temporarily out of commission! No matter how you decide to make your zucchini mess, this is a good base recipe that you can play with.

 

Gold Star

IMG_1806My gold star this week goes to good smells in the shower. Recently, thanks to a “someone how is around my step-daughter a lot has lice” scare, my husband and I had intensely itchy scalps. While our step-daughter didn’t have lice, just the thought of the little critters infesting our heads made our scalps itch. The itch was perpetuated by scratching. (My head is getting itchy just typing this!) I read online that tea tree oil is supposed to help with an itchy scalp so on my next trip to the grocery store, I found Desert Essence Tea Tree Replenishing Shampoo. I pick it up and we started using it. I love the scent of this shampoo. It has peppermint in it, too. I always take a half-second to sniff shampoo in my hands before I lather up my hair.

My second good-smell shower switch is Yes to Grapefruit Correct & Repair Daily Facial Scrub. It is smells of grapefruit and lemon balm and is heavenly. This I just picked up on a whim one day because the Target Cartwheel had an extra good deal on Yes to… products.

My third good smell shower switch is Attitude Volume & Shine Conditioner. This one was motivated by my wannabe environmentally friendly tendencies. I looked up my new shampoo on the Environmental Working Group Database and found that it scored a 2 on their environmentally friendly rating system. (The lower the number, the more friendly the product.) My old Suave shampoo and conditioner each scored a 5. What I really wanted was the matching conditioner to my tea tree shampoo, but the grocery store didn’t carry it. On my next trip to Target I looked at their hair care products that were marketed with “green” messaging.This kind of marketing is kind of a crap shoot. For example, a lot of the Yes to… products are labeled “natural product” but score a 5. EWG hasn’t given a score to the face scrub I use, yet. So, knowing I was taking a shot in the dark, I picked up the Attitude conditioner. I has a really nice, light scent that I can’t quite put my finger on. When I looked it up on the EWG Database, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it scored a 1.

While none of these scents really go together in the traditional sense, they all allow me a moment of indulging my sense of smell as I plow through my morning routine. The added bonus is that I feel a little bit better about what is going down the drain.

My demerit for the week has to do with managing expectations. We were going to go see the peak of the Perseids, which involves driving several miles out of town. I was really excited about this and both my husband and I had taken off work the next day (not for the meteor shower; it was just a happy coincidence). I checked the weather after work and was disappointed to see that clouds were supposed to roll in around dark. We tried to go out a little earlier than we had planned, hoping to see a few glimpses before it got too cloudy, but we were out of luck. All we could see was a few stationary stars directly overhead. I was so bummed and I allowed it to impact my mood the rest of the weekend. I hadn’t even considered the fact that it might be cloudy when we were planning this little excursion. Next time I need to manage my expectations a bit more rather than letting a little weather ruin my weekend.