I am usually not one for making New Year's resolutions. A lot of times it's "do less of xyz" or "stop doing xyz" and no thanks, I do not live my life by 'cannots.' (Unless that cannot is, like, meth.) But, in looking back, I realize that when I have made a commitment to something, I have often stuck with it. For example, one year I decided I was going to floss every night. This was like 15 years ago and guess what? I still floss every night. So, I figure there's probably nothing wrong with making some choices for my overall well-being. Here they are:
Bring a snack to school pickup for LG
Homegirl can be cranky after school and it occurred to me when she was in daycare over the winter break and was SO NICE when I picked her up after lunch that DUH, she is just hangry after school. I figure if I just shove food in her immediately when I see her, then we'll all be happy.
Take LG somewhere after school once-ish a week
Currently, we come home from school and LG unpacks her stuff and then retreats to watch PBS Kids while I work. On Wednesdays, she does gymnastics, but the other days of the week are activity-less. I don't feel bad about her watching tv (she learns a lot from PBS Kids, no really, she does), but there's probably also some value in going and doing something. It will all depend on my work schedule, but I am hoping we can implement this most weeks. I'm thinking library in the winter and when the weather gets nicer, then we can go to the park.
Continue with the yoga
I set out to "do more yoga" in October and have been keeping up with that. Since I am now a member of my yoga place, that makes it even easier. I can sign into classes through the app and then sneak in through the backdoor and I never have to talk to anyone. It's great. My general goal has been a minimum of two classes a week/eight classes a month.
While 625 seems like a lot of miles completed in 2016, the truth is it was a lot of walking. Summer here was disgusting--so humid and gross--and winter was too icy for running, so I ended up slogging or gingerly tiptoeing through a lot of walks. It was fine, but I'd like to get back to actual running when I'm not yoga-ing.
Read more and READ MORE
I read nine books last year, which is...not a lot. I want to read more this year and in addition, I want to READ MORE than just the same old authors. I get stuck in ruts with the same authors I always know I'll enjoy, which is okay for a little bit, but I would like to give some new authors a chance. I have the following books queued up at the library:
- A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (I love, love, loved Rules of Civility, so I am hoping this one doesn't disappoint)
- The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware
- Superficial, by Andy Cohen
- Winter Storms, by Elin Hilderbrand (I CANNOT QUIT ALL MY FAVORITES)
- The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz
- Not that Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham (I will spare you the "LEAVE LENA DUNHAM ALONE!" tirade I went on on Twitter the other day)
Say yes to more fun things Chris suggests (get your mind out of the gutter)
Chris is our resident spontaneous fun person, whereas I would stay home all weekend and read books or lay around watching tv. On the day before New Year's Eve, he suggested we go into Chicago for the night and normally I'd come up with some reason not to, but I didn't and we had so much fun. More fun!
Write a cookbook!
More to come on this as we progress, but Chris and I are going to write a cookbook! This weekend we planned what will most likely make it into the cookbook (it was harder than you'd think to come up with meals that are truly "ours" and not adaptations from others). Next up is scheduling everything for us to cook throughout the year so that we can test and nail down the recipes. We also need to buy a kitchen scale and, dream of dreams, a second dishwasher like Queen Ina Garten. Anyway! Follow the hashtag #sundaykindofdinners for updates, etc.
Here's what I read the last few months of the year.
You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Considering the idea for the plot was pretty solid, this book should have been a lot better. Basically, a bad thing happens to a woman and she has to come back from it. There was absolutely zero ounce of humor in this book. I kept thinking, when is something entertaining going to happen? A wacky best friend or grandma...something? Related, and not that it spoils the story, but the main character had no friends. It was kind of consistent with the main plot of the story, but it was something I noticed that made the book more boring. Like, no one even wants to be friends with this woman? So why am I reading about her? This was a snooze.
Eight Hundred Grapes, by Laura Dave
This was a very cute book. Fairly predicable plot, but I enjoyed reading about California wine country--HOW I MISS YOU SO. This book also had dynamic characters GO FIGURE. Recommend for a cute, quick read.
The Bullet, by Mary Louise Kelly
While this was my favorite book of the year, I am not saying it was the best book ever, just that it was the best book in a series of slightly mediocre books. That's not to say it wasn't good! Just that giving it the Best Of title kind of over-sells it. It was a very good book. I recently recommended it to my mom. I recommend it to you.
I guess I'm a little late with this one, but oh well, I DID IT. Here's how 2016 shaped up. (I am kind of with my girl over at Life of a Doctor's Wife--it might be time to update some of these questions.)
1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Went to improv camp! Went on a week-long family vacation. (Related: Went to New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.) Went to Michigan! Went to Wisconsin! Went to (brunch in) Indiana! Went to Mt. Hood! Went to a lot of new places!
2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any. I might for 2017, check back here.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Nope. (I always feel like I must be forgetting someone. I hope not!)
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you didn't have in 2016?
Clarity/direction around what I'm doing with regard to comedy.
7. What dates from 2016 will be etched upon your memory, and why?
November 8th was a real shit day and YOU KNOW WHY.
8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
I sent my little infant baby off to kindergarten. Towards the end of the year, I made a commitment to do more yoga, and I did something like 30 classes in three months. My teacher said she could tell my practice was improving and that I was getting stronger. I walked/ran 625 miles, the most I've done since I started keeping track in 2013.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I did a lot of thinking about what I'm going to do, instead of just doing.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nope. I am fairly certain I didn't get sick once--a far cry from 2013, where I was sick CONSTANTLY. Of course, for the last three months, I've been waiting for the winter cold to make its appearance, so that's fun.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
Anything related to our family vacation.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
All of us who stood up for what we believed in.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, travel, cocktails, dinners out.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Family vacation! Improv camp!
16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
That dance dance dance song by Justin Timberlake.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: A) happier or sadder? B) thinner or fatter? C) richer or poorer?
A) Maybe a little sadder.
B) Fatter. Who even cares.
C) About the same? Maybe a little richer.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
20. How did you spend Christmas?
The three of us spent Christmas at home, just us and a shitton of food. The usual. (I kept this answer from last year because as I said, it's the usual. We're pretty predicable.)
21. Did you fall in love with 2016?
22. What was your favorite TV program?
Vanderpump Rules, Below Deck, all the Housewives, Gilmore Girls (old school and reboot), The Americans, Billions, The Night Of (so good, so sad), Shameless, Stranger Things, Ladies of London, The Affair, Homeland.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
NOPE. I HATED HIM LAST YEAR TOO.
24. What was the best book you read?
The Bullet, by Mary Louise Kelly.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
26. What did you want and get?
A family vacation!
27. What did you want and not get?
Comedy comedy comedy.
28. What was your favorite film of 2016?
I do not think I watched a new movie except for Moana on Christmas Eve. So Moana.
29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
On my actual birthday, we went to dinner here in town and then the next day we went to Chicago and went out to dinner there. I turned 33.
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
IF HILLARY CLINTON HAD WON.
31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2016?
Work from home running and yoga clothes shower at 4pm and put jammies on chic.
32. What kept you sane?
Running, yoga, my friends, my family, avoiding the news.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
DISGUSTING FLOPPY HAIR.
34. Who did you miss?
My mom and dad.
35. Who was the best new person you met?
Even though I haven't seen them much recently, I did meet fun new improv friends here in Chicago.
36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
Don't get too comfortable and don't believe what the pollsters tell you.
37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Last year I quoted Tracy Chapman and I'm doing it again this year. "Don't you know / They're talkin' about a revolution"
I've been meaning to talk about improv/comedy and where I'm at with all that. It's been knocking around in my brain, but I am still not quite sure "where I am with all that," so I figured maybe if I wrote it down, I would get some clarity.
Last we left off, I was enjoying performing improv in Sacramento. Then we moved to the Chicagoland area and while I was sad to be leaving my home theater, I was excited to start taking improv classes here.
In January, I started taking improv classes at a well-known theater. I took levels 1 and 2 and really enjoyed both my teachers and (most of) my classmates. In May, I took a break from the well-known theater because we were planning a lot of summer travel and I was going to have to miss classes. (You can't miss more than two classes or they won't let you advance to the next level.)
I heard about an improv theater in the suburbs from one of my classmates and decided to check it out. This theater ran a Thursday night drop-in practice (part rehearsal, part class) for a nominal fee each month (basically what would be a coaching fee.) You also had opportunities to perform. I figured, I'll try this over the summer, to keep myself improv-ing while I take a break from the well-known theater. The first night of practice, the owner/coach announced that they would be holding auditions in a few weeks. Serendipity!
A week later (early June), I went to improv camp in the Catskills. It was amazing. One of the best trips of my life, improv or otherwise. On the first day of classes, in my very first class, the instructor (an awesome, intense person) told us not to play (aka: perform improv) with people who didn't play the way we wanted to play. "Easy for you to say," I thought. When you're trying to "make it," you take what you can get and perform with whomever and wherever you can.
[But his words stuck with me and they still stick with me. Probably of everything I learned at camp, that is the one thing that has stuck.]
I came back from improv camp and auditioned (that same day--improv overload!) for the new team at the new theater. I have never been great with patterns--improv talk...the pattern is basically the through-line of a scene or a show that performers keep coming back to. When you're in the audience and you're like, "I hope they bring up XYZ again" and then they do, that's the pattern. It's what makes improv truly funny--so I focused more on going on the journey with my scene-mates and being supportive and calm.
[This was something my level 2 classmates said about me in our final class (we went around telling each person individually what we enjoyed about performing with them). They said they felt taken care of when I was on stage with them and that I never seemed worried, that I was always calm. These were huge compliments to hear because that is how I try to be onstage. Since I am not great at pattern, I know I have to be a good support and also as a personal M.O. professionally, I always try to appear calm.]
A few days later I found out I'd made the team! I honestly was not surprised. But I was also wary of who else would be on the team. I am far from the best improv performer, but there are certain styles of improv ("too much about the game," as my friend Kim would say) that I don't like. Like, "Oh look, now we're in the middle of the jungle! How'd that Holiday Inn get here?" Or, one person during auditions just kept shouting things. Oftentimes, people try to make sure there is no silence in a scene. I like silence in scenes. I can sit silent in a scene and just stew in it. I think you can end up moving a scene forward more if you take a beat instead of just filling the silence with crap.
Rehearsals for the new team started and I was pleased with most of the people on the team, which I took as a good sign that the theater/coach also didn't want to go the "game-y" route. But then on the first night of rehearsal, we were doing a practice show and somehow, "slut" and "whore" became patterns throughout the show. And we couldn't get out from under it, no matter how hard we (mostly I) tried. It wasn't funny slut/whore stuff, either (if funny slut/whore stuff is even a thing, which I think it can be, if done really right, which this was not.) Worst part was that the coach didn't say anything. A far cry from California and the way we did things there, where a coach would tell you in no uncertain terms that we don't make women "sluts" and "whores" on stage.
Long story short-ish, I brought this up the coach, who was responsive. She brought it to the owner, who was very responsive. I continued going to rehearsals, but just didn't feel it. Something had been lost. Or more accurately, trust hadn't ever been gained. And that's what you truly need to have a successful and magical improv team, I think. Lots of trust. Trust that the people on stage have your back, that they're not just out there to make themselves look good, but that they want to make the team shine. After that first rehearsal, any knee-jerk trust I'd gone in with diminished and I couldn't get it back.
As I thought about this team and what, if anything, I was going to do, I kept coming back to what the camp teacher had said. And then it was clear to me. I thought, I really do not want to play with these people. This is not the way I like to play. And my whole, "Easy for you to say" disappeared because I was like, He's right. If this is what I have to do to "make it," I'd rather not. I'd rather quit this team and go off and find some people who play the way I like to play.
And so that's what I did. Except I haven't started taking classes again (a busy summer turned into a busy fall) and I am not entirely sure where I go from here. Part of me thinks the improv magic of my California team may not truly come along again, at least not here. The Midwest is different, comedically, which was surprising to me since so many greats have come out of the Chicago. That being said, I am thinking about giving stand-up a shot, or writing (sketch). I am not sure. But I see exciting things happening to other people, and it reminds me that sitting around and thinking about comedy or even sitting around and writing about comedy are not actually getting out and doing comedy. Everyone who is making things happen is doing the work to get there. There's something inspiring about that, I think, and I hope it'll inspire me enough to get off my ass and do something.
Did not make it in the final draft of the holiday letter. Wanted it to.
Oh look, the last thing I wrote was about Thanksgiving food. I glossed right over the immediate horror of what happened the following day(s) and the low-level horror that continues to simmer just below the surface every day since and am now sitting down and write about Christmas food!
So we don't have any real Christmas food traditions. We switch the days we eat the big meal depending on if we have to work Christmas Eve day or not. We eat something different each year depending on when Hanukkah falls so that we get a variety of dishes (i.e., not all meat and taters.) Here's what we're having this year.
We're planning on going to a movie and lunch out during the day, and having appetizers for dinner, including:
- Shrimp cocktails with avocado
- Smoked salmon + dill cream cheese on little mini toasts
- Cheese + hummus + crackers
- Crudites + ranch (high class)
- Nuts (heh)
- Pigs in blankets (the highest class)
We'll drink something festive--hot buttered rums?--and LG will open some Hanukkah presents (Hanukkah menu coming later in the week.)
- Bagels + cream cheese + smoked salmon
- Ham steak
- Chocolate croissants
- Irish coffees
- Stuffed pork loin (stuffing will have dates and pecans)
- Scalloped potatoes
- Brussels sprouts
Dessert is this array of four mini cakes I got in the frozen foods section at Trader Joe's. Also cookies and other treats that people have so lovingly and generously sent us.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah to you and yours!
It's the moooooost wonderful time of the yeaaaar! Thanksgiving menu time! Each year after Halloween, Chris and I sit down to plan our Thanksgiving menu. Each year, we more or less decide to make the same things. Hey, we like what we like. This year, though, we are switching switching things up a little bit. We're still making the same foods, but we're just putting a different spin on each dish (in italics below). Here's what we're having this year:
- Bloody Marys -- homemade mix
- Crudites + dip -- we thought about making a fancy new dip; then we thought against it. Maybe we'll get a new kind of veggie for the tray
- Shrimp cocktail -- not new to us, but new to Thanksgiving; this recipe is an Ina Garten one
- Cranberry-almond goat cheese log -- I am making this up! I am going to take some of the cranberry sauce and mix it into goat cheese, then re-form it into a log and roll it in toasted almond slices. It can't be bad
- Charcuterie -- the *new* will be buying some different meats
- Roasted olives -- no recipe, just toss a few different kinds of olives in a dish with a lemon rind and some herb of your choice, roast for a little while
- Turkey -- buying from our local meat market and brining
- Gravy -- by virtue of the turkey/brining method being new to us, the gravy will be too
- Stuffing -- not out of a box and using sourdough bread
- Mashed potatoes -- red potatoes, skin-on
- Green bean casserole -- homemade cream of mushroom soup + homemade onion rings for the top
- Cranberry sauce -- I haven't figured out a *new* way of doing this, so maybe I'll count "set some aside for the goat cheese log" as being new
- Whiskey/maple-glazed roasted carrots -- I've made this before and can't remember where I got this recipe, but I just Googled it and there are a lot out there; I'm sure they're all good
- Green salad -- details TBD, but does anyone really care about salads on Thanksgiving?
- Rolls -- Pillsbury crescent rolls! Laugh all you want, but we normally do King's Hawaiian rolls, so this is new
- Pumpkin cheesecake -- we roasted, pureed, and froze some pie pumpkins in October, so we have some nice filling that needs to be used. I don't have a recipe or any clue how to actually make a cheesecake, so if anyone has any recommendations, hit me up
- Irish coffees and/or champagne
And that's it! (LOL.) What are you making this Thanksgiving?
It appears that in my last update, I counted some books that I hadn't actually finished in the second quarter. I am sure this is critical to your book review-reading, but I wanted to be honest. I AM NOTHING IF NOT HONEST. Anyway, here's what I read over the summer. It's not really as pitiful as it looks, because of the great book miscount of 2016, but it's still kind of pitiful.
Winter Stroll, by Elin Hilderbrand
This is the second in the Winter series and I enjoyed it. I like all of Elin Hilderbrand's books, so there's no complaint. I am not sure if the third book is out yet--I'll have to check into it. Anyway, this follows the same family as in the last book, almost a year later. There are a bunch of different characters and while the chapters mostly focus on the main ones, the tertiary characters do pop up from time to time and it's fun to get their perspectives.
What are you reading lately? I am trying to finish out the year strong, so any recommendations are welcome!
Well I guess I forgot all about this, didn't I? Whoops. I've not been as great of a reader as I'd like--I have binge-watched Nurse Jackie, The West Wing, and The Sopranos, so I've been productive--but at any rate, here's what I've ready so far this year.
Fates And Furies, by Lauren Groff
People went kind of crazy for this book. I found it to be mostly infuriating until halfway through. Infuriating throughout, though, was the fact that I needed a dictionary to look up every other word. Anyway, I think people liked this book because of the s-e-x, but I didn't find it very racy. It's an interesting character study once you get to that halfway point...but first you have to get there.
The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand
I don't even remember what this was about, but did it have Sancerre and Nantucket? Probably. I'm sure it was enjoyable, as all Hilderbrand's books are for me.
The Art Of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Okay. OKAY. Everyone loved this book. I had to slog through it. This book might be what almost single-handedly killed my reading mojo for the year. The plot(s) were good. The characters were interesting. The way the book jumped from point-of-view to point-of-view kept it engaging and enjoyable (although it was long, hence the slog). UNTIL THE VERY END. THIS WAS THE DUMBEST ENDING I HAVE EVER READ. Perhaps because I am not literary, maybe I didn't get the meaning or something, but MEH. (This article that my girl Jennie shared years ago, on how this book came to be written/published at all, is a fascinating read. Recommend.)
Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrand
This is Hilderbrand's first winter-themed novel and I enjoyed it! It's very short, I finished it in two days. It was nice to read in the summer, when it's hot as balls and you're just looking forward to Christmas.
The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
This was cute. It's based-ish, I guess on Prince William and Kate Middleton (who I'm sure have actual titles by which they should be referred, but whatever). Anyway, the ancillary characters were probably more interesting than "Prince Nick" and "Bex" themselves, but there were a lot of those characters to cover, which is good. If anything, this novel did take me back to the royal wedding, which I was up early (late?) watching when LG was 9-days-old.
Right now, I'm finishing up the second in Elin Hilderbrand's "Winter" trilogy, and then I'm not sure what's up next. What have you read recently that's not total dreck?
Well, here we are to round out the final two nights of the Tasty Challenge. In my brief time here, I have realized I am not as committed to theme cooking/cooking challenges as Erica, who chose/is choosing recipes that are real deep cuts (i.e.: I haven't seen them in the Tasty Facebook feed in the last month or so. Also she made a dish where dye and sprinkles were involved. Golf clap Erica.)
Recipe 3: Black Bean Burgers. These were really good. They were supposed to be vegan, which we ruined with cheese. Then we ruined their vegetarian-ness by adding bacon on top. SMART DECISION.
As indicated above, they were very messy. I don't know if that's because I baked instead of pan fried, but I am guessing not because they didn't even shallow fry them in oil, so I can't imagine pan frying dry is any different than baking. Anyway. next time I'd shallow fry. Maybe in bacon fat.
Recipe 4: One-Pan Lasagna. This was a very easy recipe. I liked that it was truly one-pot because I was able to prep it all around noon, stick it in the fridge, and then pop in the oven when we got home from gymnastics.
As seems to be the running theme throughout this challenge, this was very messy. I also used probably double the ricotta this called for, but I don't care because lasagna is all about the ricotta.
Alright Tasty, you've been fun! Until next time (when I might try the mysterious broccoli tots)...
#1: I've been trying to cook a variety of meals lately. Tacos every Tuesday is certainly not a bad thing, but it does occasionally get old. Okay, no it doesn't, but diversity is a good thing.
#2: For awhile, LG and I were watching gymnastics videos online. Once we exhausted all the women's all around competition videos from the last four Olympics games, we turned to watching Tasty videos on Facebook. You know the ones--one minute-long hyperlapsed videos of Buzzfeed staff making stuff.
The combination of Nos. 1 and 2 got me thinking. While I have been cooking from new cookbooks (Ottolenghi, for example), not all meals can be fancy pants and use every pot and pan in the kitchen. Sometimes you need something really low-brow that uses one pan and looks, well, tasty.
And so a challenge was born! Make Tasty recipes for dinner all week! And drag house Theme Chef, Erica, along with me!
When deciding on meals, I thought I'd go with two fatty, bad-for-you recipes and two healthy-ish recipes. I also knew I needed to pick something that included dough in a can, the hallmark of Tasty recipes. I landed on Pizza Rolls (bad-for-you), Thai-Style Lettuce Cups (healthy-ish), Black bean Burgers (healthy-ish), and One-Pan Lasagna (bad-for-you). Here's how the first two shook out:
Recipe 1: These sausage, onion, and pepper pizza rolls were easy to put together, but I call complete bullshit on the amounts of ingredients they used. I halved the sausage, used two bell peppers instead of three, and didn't add ham to my rolls (heh) and the dough still broke.
Now I'm not going to admit to user error, but it might have been user error. I didn't have parchment paper, as the recipe called for, and since I didn't want the pizza roll to stick to my ratchet baking sheets/foil, I made this on my pizza stone. I still cooked it at 375, though, when I probably should have increased the heat because of the stone. Anyway, we are still eating leftovers of this, so no real complaints.
Recipe 2: The name Thai-Style Larb Lettuce Cups sounded funny (larb!) and looked like they'd fit the healthy-ish bill. These were in fact tasty, but...I do not think I like fish sauce, which is featured twice in this recipe. I've used fish sauce before and didn't have a bad reaction, so maybe it's the brand I used this time? Either way...
Chris will be eating the leftovers from this.
Alright! Tune in later in the week to see how the other two recipes shook out!