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Reading Update – July 14

For the last 3-4 years I’ve set my reading goal in Goodreads to the last two numbers of the year (so 17 in 2017, 18 in 2018, etc). I did this when my reading life was struggling as a way to challenge myself. So naturally I set this year’s goal at 20 and I hit it on Sunday!

I’ve written before about a couple of reading challenges I’m taking part in this year. I started off the year with the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge. I hit that one hard in the early months of the year, but shifted gears around May for two reasons. She released her Summer Reading Challenge around mid-month (which was to be my plan for the summer), but then I made a personal shift to better educate myself on racial issues and have been tracking my reading using this google doc.

So… here’s where I am!

MMD 2020 Reading Challenge (I filled in the books I’ve already read):
A book published in the decade you were born – The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
A debut novel: Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
A book recommended by a source you trust:
A book by a local author – Mrs. Everything, Jennifer Weiner (from Philadelphia)
A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: 11/22/63, Steven King
A book in translation – The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A book nominated for an award in 2020
A re-read – Acts of Faith, Erich Segal
A classic you didn’t read in school
Three books by the same author – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling

MMD Summer Reading Challenge:
Big Summer – Jennifer Weiner (I love Jennifer Weiner but this book just didn’t do it for me)

My own personal challenge:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness – Austin Channing Brown (this book was excellent)
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo (this is a great first book if you’re looking for a place to dive in)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism – Robin DeAngelo

Other books read this year:
The Year of No Nonsense: How to Get Over Yourself and On with Your Own Life – Meredith Atwood
Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow: Lessons from an Epic Friendship That Went the Distance – Susan Lacke
Untamed – Glennon Doyle
Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection – Kristen Howerton
Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld (LOVED)
The Queen’s Secret: A Novel of England’s World War II Queen – Karen Harper

Our Week Away – Where, Why and How

Where & Why:

We are home from our trip to the Midwest! My husband is from Wisconsin originally and his whole family still lives there. We have been planning for more than 6 months to go out to celebrate my niece’s first birthday, and in May we decided that we were going to stick with our plan. Several factors went into this decision.

1. We were driving – it’s a 14 hour trip to Milwaukee. We typically split up the drive over two days (which we did this time too) but if something happened or if we didn’t feel comfortable staying in a hotel, we could drive straight through.

2. One of the houses across the street from my BIL/SIL is an AirBnb, and we rented the top floor of the duplex for the week (we typically stay in a hotel when we’re out there). This ended up being the biggest blessing. It was so nice to have a home base so close to our family. We could all get some downtime when we needed it (or when the baby was sleeping), and the kids had a good amount of freedom while we were there. They knew they could go back and forth between our duplex and their cousin’s house as they wanted to. Honestly most days I don’t even think they wore shoes!

I found Wisconsin’s safety guidelines to be a lot like Pennsylvania’s… Masks were required at stores, no inside dining available, most tourist attractions weren’t open. We did stop for dinner in Indiana on the way out, and then stopped for gas. The restaurant was only seating every other table, but there were no signs about mask use anywhere. Yikes.

How:

We’ve been fortunate to have traveled a lot with our kids over the years, and there are three things I always do when we’re packing or traveling:

1. Kids pack outfits for each day in gallon ziplock bags. A full set of clothes goes in each bag – including socks & underwear, Audrey adds hair accessories to hers. Then each morning the kids just pull a bag of clothes from their suitcase and put on everything in it. This method makes our mornings go much smoother and gives the kids responsibility over getting dressed. And we don’t end up the end of the week with mismatched outfits from them digging through their suitcases putting together their own outfits. And yes, I do save and reuse the bags!

2. I pack 2-3 mesh laundry bags on each trip. At the end of the day dirty clothes are put in a laundry bag just like they would be put in a hamper at home. This keeps our hotel room/AirBnb tidy, because with 5 people in our family the laundry adds up fast! At the end of our trip the laundry bags get loaded into the car and then goes right to the laundry room when the car is unpacked. I do also pack the laundry bags when we fly somewhere on vacation. At the end of those trips the dirty clothes get loaded into 1-2 suitcases.

3. As I mentioned earlier, we had two one-night stays on our way to and from Wisconsin. For those nights, I pack a duffel bag with one change of clothes, one set of pajamas per person and our toiletry bags. That way when we get to the hotel, we don’t have to unload the entire car for a short stay… just the duffel bag comes in with us.

What tips makes your family’s travel easier?

A Pivot in my Summer Reading

As a big fan of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and the What Should I Read Next podcast, my original pan for this summer was to use her Summer Reading Guide to enjoy some new releases in categories I might not usually read. I still absolutely recommend this option if that’s your speed. But right now it’s just not where my heart is. The recent strengthening of the social justice movement has really hit home. It’s time for me to stop living in my white privilege bubble and read, learn and take action to make this world a better place. That also includes educating and having conversations with my children.

I compiled all of the reading recommendations that I’ve gotten from friends and seen on social media into a google document. I’m sharing this document (here) as a read-only because you’ll see that I have columns of notes for myself. Feel free to make a copy to use for your own purposes. I’ll continue to share my reading progress here. I’m in the middle of So you Want to Talk about Race and I have a few books for my kids that should arrive early this week that I’ll read next before I pass them off to them. A group of friends from my college sorority will also be reading How to be an Antiracist together so we can talk about it. My reading will also include fiction by non-white authors.

I’ve heard from friends who are POC that they’re afraid that white people like myself will stop at reading about these issues and not take action. I understand that fear and take it to heart. I know for myself that I need to be educated on an issue before I take action. I also understand that there are small steps I can take now. To that end, I will be choosing an organization to donate 50% of all sales in July and will match that with a personal donation. More on this to come!

How has this issue affected you and what steps are you taking?

Weekly (and a little more) Menu Plan – June 15, 2020

Before I get to the food, let me ramble for a minute…

I just burned our dinner. Something I’ve made a hundred times. I put frozen meatballs in the pan, covered them with sauce & the lid, turned the stove on and went about my business. But when I usually do this I turn the burner on to 4. Today I turned it on to 9. A few minutes later I’m thinking “what’s that smell?” Burned meatballs. That’s the story of my cooking life these days. I’m burned out. I dole out food all day long, I have one child who cries every day when I ask her to choose something for breakfast, the dishes are ENDLESS. Yes, there are places to eat out, but spots are limited, not everyone takes reservations, and I forgot how expensive it is for the 5 of us to eat out. So we continue to eat at home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so thankful that we have the ability to put food on our table. I just need a break.

Our family is going to travel next week – we’re driving to Milwaukee to celebrate my very sweet niece’s first birthday! So this week I’m keeping things simple and sticking to family favorites so we can clean out the fridge before our trip. Here’s what we’re having:

Monday – Pork Ragu from Dinner: A Love Story (I hadn’t made this in a long time and I forgot how good it is!)
Tuesday – Chicken tacos
Wednesday – Spaghetti and meatballs (see above… lol)
Thursday – Pork dumplings (yes, they’ve been on our plan for several weeks and I’m finally making them)
Friday – homemade pizza
Saturday – pancakes
Sunday – steaks & potatoes for Father’s Day
Monday – Sausage and tortellini
Tuesday – Wing night at Slopeside at Blue Mountain (they smoke their wings and they are the best)
Wednesday – dinner at my parents’ house (my mom always invites us for dinner the night before we travel – it’s the best treat!)

I’d like to shake things up in the kitchen once we’re back… drop a comment with your family’s favorite meals!

We’ve eaten out!

If you live somewhere other than Eastern PA, you’re probably wondering why this is such a big deal. I’m finally happy to report that my area of Pennsylvania has moved out of the red zone to the yellow zone as of last Friday! That distinction doesn’t change a lot, but does allow for outdoor dining at restaurants! I ate out twice over the weekend, and I’d like to share my experience at each (spoiler – they were both great!).

My husband and kids spend A LOT of time at the Blue Mountain Ski Resort in the winter… the kids are all part of the Blue Mountain Racing program (and no, I don’t ski at all). We’re always happy to support Blue Mountain how we can, so our first foray out for dinner was to the Slopeside Restaurant at the Summit Lodge on Friday night. We wore our masks through the building, and were offered either a paper menu or to scan a QR code with our phone for the menu at the host stand. We chose paper menus and they led us outside to our table. Slopeside had probably twice the outdoor seating capacity that they normally have (you know, when we’re not in a pandemic) and there was a nice amount of space between tables. Our server wore and mask and gloves, and there was a manager roaming about at all times checking on us also. The menu is limited compared to what they normally offer. The moment of the night that impressed me the most was when our bill came, the pen came with a wipe to use on it! We’ll definitely head up there again to eat soon.

Sunday afternoon I went to The Shelby in the Hamilton Crossings shopping center for brunch with 2 girlfriends I haven’t seen since before quarantine started. After excessively long hugs that the people around us commented on, we seated ourselves. Their patio is much larger than I realized it was, and they filled it with their normal outdoor tables and some of their tables from inside. They also had umbrellas spread around so some tables were in the sun and some in the shade. Our server was of course gloved and masked, and our drinks were served in plastic glasses. Our food was brought out like it was a take out order – large handle bag with our food in to go containers. She told us to keep the bag and use it for our trash at the end of the meal. The service was responsive and quick but at no point did we feel rushed.

I’m so thankful for all of the thought and planning that went into reopening from these two establishements, and it makes me feel hopeful that we have more great dining out experiences in our future. While getting takeout during the pandemic was a great relief from cooking every single night, going out to a restaurant and having the clean up taken care of too was an added treat!

Where have you eaten out so far and how was the experience?

Weekly Menu Plan – May 31, 2020

Um, so I’m not quite sure what happened to last week (or the beginning of this week) but I apologize for not getting our menu out! The long weekend threw me off (even though it was no different from any other day), and it was the last week of our schooling at home. Can I get an “amen”?! I can tell you that our highlight from last week was the Chicken Pot Pie from Dinner: A Love Story (page 33). It has sweet potatoes in it, which I have a funny relationship with. I like them and I know how good they are for me, but sometimes the stringy texture is just too much. They were bites of heaven in this recipe. The whole thing was just absolutely delicious. Funny story – Wednesdays around here make me feel like life is back to what it was before quarantine. Audrey has zoom dance at 5:15 pm and likes to eat beforehand, I often have school board meetings that start online at 5:30 pm, and Abe had a late afternoon call that ran over. So that meant that we all ate at different times. Well, this week my family is lucky there was chicken pot pie left for them because it was so good I could have eaten all of it.

We ended up getting take out a few times last week so some of my dinners got bumped to this week. The take out we got was from the Cactus Blue food truck and from Slopeside at Blue Mountain – the wings they offer on Fridays are smoked and are the best around! So here’s what we’re having in no particular order:

• Dumplings & Fried rice
• Pasta with Sausage and peppers
• Pancakes & bacon
• Mommy nuggets and Mac & cheese (more on this below)
• Flank steak
• Grilled chicken (p. 264 of Dinner: A Love Story)

I started making my own chicken nuggets when the boys were small and they immediately named them “Mommy nuggets” to distinguish them from the store bought kind. And full disclosure, our freezer is often stocked with the kind the come in the big bag from Costco also for when we need a meal or lunch in a pinch. No judgement if those are your jam!

Here’s how I make my own:

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
• Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray.
• Set up a breading station – one shallow dish with egg, another with bread crumbs (use seasoned, or if you have plain add some garlic and onion salts, oregano, basil, parsley and parmesan cheese)
• Cut 3-4 chicken breasts into large chunks
• Roll chunks one by one through the egg and then the breading, lining them up on the sheet pan when done.
• Bake for 15-20 minutes checking the temp of the biggest piece at the end to ensure a temp of at least 165 degrees.

Weekly Menu Plan – May 17, 2020

Weekly Menu Plan – May 17, 2020

Saturday I did my every two weeks grocery shopping. I had my list, but was delighted to also find cherries at Costco! We made this cherry pie that afternoon (I didn’t make my own crust), and it was DELICIOUS!! I love summer fruits and vegetables and cherries are always the first sign that the season is starting!

I always start menu planning by doing a quick freezer and pantry inventory and then asking my family what they’d like to eat. They have pretty standard answers, but I made a list of them to get started. I was feeling very stuck when it came time to rounding out the list, so I grabbed a cookbook off my shelf that I knew I hadn’t used in a while. The book I picked was Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach and you’ll see a few of her recipes on this week’s list (I’ve marked them with the appropriate page numbers).

Here’s what we’re eating this week:
Saturday: Ham and Roast vegetables with Polenta (pg. 60-61)
Sunday: Chicken kabobs and corn on the cob, roasted potatoes
Monday: Salad bar
Tuesday: Steak fajitas
Wednesday: Pork tenderloin & pierogies
Thursday: Greek-style shrimp with feta (pg. 70) and risotto
Friday: Chicken, asparagus & potatoes (this is one of the recipes included in my meal planner)
Saturday: Pork dumplings (pg. 141-142) & fried rice

I did make my sourdough starter but then life intervened and I didn’t touch it for a few days. Still feeding it and I’ll report back when we get to bread!

What I’ve Been Reading

I decided in December 2019 that I was going to take on the Modern Mrs. Darcy (MMD) 2020 Reading Challenge as a way to add some structure to my reading life. I also promised my kids that I would read the entire Harry Potter series this year so I found a way to weave that into the challenge. I read the first book around the time that it was released, but never read any of the others. My boys have both read the entire series and all 3 kids have watched the movies many times, so it’s time for mom to catch up!

Here’s what my MMD 2020 Reading Challenge list looks like so far (I filled in the books I’ve already read):

A book published in the decade you were bornThe Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
A debut novelEverything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
A book recommended by a source you trust:
A book by a local authorMrs. Everything, Jennifer Weiner (from Philadelphia)
A book outside your (genre) comfort zone11/22/63, Steven King
A book in translationThe Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A book nominated for an award in 2020:
A re-readActs of Faith, Erich Segal
A classic you didn’t read in school:
Three books by the same authorHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling

I was nervous about taking on a Steven King book – I’m not a fan of horror movies and this is the longest book I’ve ever read BY FAR. But this story is gripping! I did not love Everything I Never Told You. In hindsight I’m thankful I read it in one day because the story is difficult and depressing. I’ve read a lot of Erich Segal’s novels – he’s also the author that wrote the 1970’s movie Love Story – I find his stories and characters engaging. The Doctors is another favorite of his and I may have to reread that one also.

The one category that I’m stuck on is “a classic that you didn’t read in school.” I requested Jane Eyre from the library this spring and was only a few pages in when I gave up on it. I think I need something that’s more of a modern classic with text that isn’t so difficult to understand (a lighter read for these trying times). What suggestions do you have for me? Drop them in the comments below.

Other books I’ve read this year outside of the 2020 MMD challenge –
The Year of No Nonsense: How to Get Over Yourself and On with Your Own Life – Meredith Atwood
Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow: Lessons from an Epic Friendship That Went the Distance – Susan Lacke
Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Modern Mrs. Darcy also just released her Summer Reading Guide today! It’s broken down into several categories and my plan is to start by reading one book from each category and then go around again. You can get the guide here! I already have Big Summer on order and requested a few other ebooks from the library.

Weekly Menu Plan – May 11, 2020

Weekly Menu Plan – May 11, 2020

I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day! Mine was the best I’ve had in a long time. My husband worked really hard with the kids to make it special this year. They greeted me with a finisher’s chute and snack table at the end of my run, got me sushi from my favorite place, and made me a delicious steak dinner.

Ok, on to this week’s menu:

Monday – Greek chicken
Tuesday – Beef tacos
Wednesday – Lasagne
Thursday – Waffles & bacon
Friday – Hot Dogs & Hamburgers
Saturday – Take out

I’ve been making my own taco seasoning for years. This recipe makes enough to last a few months, so I just keep it in a container in my spice cabinet. I’ve had this recipe for so long I can’t even credit the source since I don’t remember where it came from.

1/4 cup chili powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

To use: Substitute 2 rounded tablespoons for 1 packet of taco seasoning.

Another project for this week is making a sourdough starter. While we all love sourdough bread, I’ve been avoiding this one because I’ve seen others have marginal success with it on social media. But my SIL (who is an amazing baker) suggested that I try the King Arthur Flour recipe and method, so I’ll give it a go!

Weekly Menu Plan – May 3, 2020

First, how is it May already?

It was time for us to menu plan again at the end of last week because I made one of my every-two-weeks trips to Costco on Friday. I cannot tell you how much I love shopping at Costco these days – they truly have and have had the best social distancing and safety practices from the start. I not only shop for groceries while I’m there but also say thank you to every single employee that I see.

I ended up not making a couple of things from last week’s menu – the shrimp & broccoli and beef with broccoli – and I don’t really have a good reason why. On Wednesday I was just not feeling like cooking so Abe took over, but his comfort level is at grilling steaks and roasting broccoli in the oven. It was delicious and I was so thankful for the break that night. Also important to note was that the garlic butter chicken I made was a HUGE hit (it was a new recipe for us), so that will definitely make it back on our menu.

Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Sunday – pork tenderloin & pierogies
Monday – spaghetti & meatballs
Tuesday – chicken tacos (with all the fixings and margaritas – happy Cinco de Mayo!)
Wednesday – meatball sandwiches (I’ll make double the meatballs on Monday and just reheat for tonight)
Thursday – homemade chicken nuggets (the kids call them ‘mommy nuggets’) and mac & cheese (from a box – regular for the kids & Abe, vegan/no dairy for me)
Friday – pancakes & sausage
Saturday – make your own pizza (with homemade dough)

The other thing that was requested for this week was quiche for breakfast. When the kids were little I called it Eggie Pie to make it sound more interesting and that’s still what we call it. I use a recipe that a friend gave me years ago and it’s so easy.

Ingredients:
Premade pie shell, uncooked
4 eggs
1 small container Greek plain yogurt
Cheddar and Parmesan cheese ( I used a small sprinkling for flavor)
Salt and pepper

Directions:
• Line pie plate with pie shell.
• Beat eggs in a bowl, add yogurt and whip with a whisk until it’s light yellow.
• Add cheese and salt and pepper (you can also add chopped veggies, bacon, sausage, ham, etc).
• Pour into pie shell and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes until set.