Author Archives: Melissa

Dear Teenage Me, On the Night of Your 30th High School Reunion

I see you, way back there in 1987.

I know what you’re thinking.

I’ve just told you that you just came home from your 30th high school reunion, an occasion you swore you would never, ever go to.

(Never, ever. That’s so cute. And naïve.)

Instead, you had one of the best nights of your life with people who (I know, you’re not going to believe me) are genuinely great to be around.

They’re funny, smart, accomplished and you have a lot more in common than you think.

But now, in the me decade of the ’80s, you’re just trying to fit in. To feel accepted and seen in your small school where the same kids you stood with at the bus stop on your first day of elementary school will be the same kids in most of your classes and the same kids you’ll cross the graduation stage with 12 years later.

Yeah, newsflash (or spoiler alert, as we say in this era): despite the hell of algebra and the horrors of gym class, you do graduate. You’ll go to a college where, unlike Cheers, nobody knows your name (at first) and then you get a job or five, and maybe lose a few of them. You’ll make some money and the economy will make some of that disappear, too.  Same with your friends; you’ll keep some, make more, lose some of them, too.

In essence, you get a life.

That’s a bit of a ways off, though. For now, though, you’re in a competitive pressure-cooker where everyone is expected to excel. In everything. ALL. THE. FREAKIN’. TIME. It’s easy to feel less-than, that you don’t measure up, that what you do in these years will be remembered forever, would haunt you.

Or so you think.

Here’s what I’m trying to tell you, 30 years out.

The things you think matter today, in 1987?

Are going to be very different things in 2017.

(Oh my God, you have no idea how different things are going to be in 2017. Believe me.)

You know how I know?  Because last night, 30 years later? People who once seemed to have it all (and it all together) were admitting that…they…really…didn’t.

“I know, I know, I was such a loser….”

“…it was not always easy to see that [the good in people] in high school – when you are so self absorbed.” 

Wait, what? Him?  HER? They were feeling like this too?

What would it have been like, had we known? What damage could have been prevented? How different would we have been? How much fewer scars would we have had, then and now?

Who would we have noticed more closely?

It turns out that we were all insecure and unsure, trying to find our way. And we still are, in a sense. We’re sandwiched between our perplexing teens and our aging parents and facing an uncertain future on several fronts.  With seven classmates gone and losses of others in our lives, there are likely more years in the rearview mirror at this point than there are ahead.

But we know a few things that we didn’t know then.

We know that things get better. In so many ways.

And we know that we’re not alone gathered here in this thing called life.

And we finally, finally learned the most important lesson of all.

We never were.

 

 

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Plan to Eat This Holiday Season (and All Year Long)

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

I’ve written before about my challenges with meal planning, particularly with a family where each person has particular preferences and dietary needs. For starters, I’m a big proponent of meal planning; without fail, the weeks when I “wing it” are inevitably ones where we wind up spending more than our budget, wasting food, or falling into ruts.

My approach to meal planning goes like this:

I take an inventory of what we have in the pantry, the fridge and the freezer, focusing on what needs to be used up, and make a list divided into two columns:  We Need and We Have.

I look at the ALDI circular to see what’s on sale.

I consult the calendar — what evening appointments and weekend events are on the schedule? Is there a morning when I have a little extra time to throw something in the slow cooker? What can I prep ahead?

I make a list of dinner ideas that fit our weekly schedule, what’s on hand, and what’s on sale by looking through my binder of Tried and True recipes and perusing Pinterest for ideas. I then add the ingredients to the grocery list, and head to the store, where I usually purchase the same items to make the same meals, week after week.

This prep time takes about an hour, plus the time needed for the actual grocery shopping. There has to be a way to streamline this, I recently thought. Some sort of program or system that would make this easier and — dare I say it? — more enjoyable. 

Years ago, I had a software program called MasterCook where I imported my own recipes. I loved it because everything was searchable. But our life has changed and I needed something with that capability AND the meal planning portion.

Introducing Plan to Eat.

While catching up on several blogs, I discovered Plan to Eata powerful subscription-based online program that allows you to use your own recipes — everything from old family recipes to ones you’ve saved from around the web — to create customized meal plans.

I’ve only been using this for a few weeks but it has already changed my approach to meal planning.

It does everything I’ve been searching for.

The easiest way to see what Plan to Eat is all about is to take a quick tour and perhaps try it free for 30 days. (You don’t have to enter any credit card information for the free trial).

Then, if you like it, consider purchasing a one-year subscription. This happens to be the best time of year to subscribe to Plan to Eat because between today (Black Friday) and Cyber Monday, all one-year subscriptions are 50% off.

If you know someone who would also enjoy Plan to Eat, you can give a gift subscription — which are also eligible for the 50% deal through Cyber Monday.

Click the button below to get started and learn more:

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Full disclosure time: I’m a Plan to Eat affiliate, which means that by clicking on any of the Plan to Eat links in this post (whether that’s a free trial or one year subscription) earns me a small commission.

 

 

 

 

 

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being thankful, even when it’s hard

Thanksgiving 2017.

Grateful for you, for being there amidst the hard.

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wordless wednesday

waiting for us at the end of a long drive tonight.

spending the evening laughing and looking at old photos with the girl.

#nablopomo resumes tomorrow.

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Nonfiction November – Nov 20-24: Nonfiction Favorites

This week (Nov. 20 to 24), Nonfiction November is hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey with the topic of Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Is the topic pretty much all that matters?

Definitely not. While there are certain topics that I tend to gravitate towards (basically the subjects I write about here on this blog), I’d like to think that I have a broad range of interests when it comes to nonfiction reading.

Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?

I think that, with any story, it needs to engage the reader. That’s the most important thing, really. I’m merciless when it comes to DNF books; if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages (sometimes less) then I have no qualms about abandoning the book. That goes for fiction, nonfiction, whatever.

When I think about preferred writing styles, I’m drawn most to creative nonfiction. I love Creative Nonfiction, the literary journal. Among my writerly bucket list items is to be published in CNF one day.

Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

So many factors go into whether a particular nonfiction book will be one that catches my eye. It can be anything from the subject matter to the author to the setting. It really varies. You can find some of my nonfiction favorites on my Book Reviews – Nonfiction page.

 

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Book Review: Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roisen, MD

During the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating to wellness-related books, blogs and podcasts. This interest started last year around this time when I embarked on Couch to 5K and made some modifications to eat healthier; however, a few factors have accelerated this.

For starters, I’m less than a year and a half away from a milestone birthday, the one beginning with 5. A year after that, the kids will graduate high school, and The Girl has recently been giving a lot of thought to potential colleges. These next few years are looming large. There’s also The Ongoing Family Situation which has me thinking a great deal about what I can control now to potentially affect future quality of life. I’m thinking particularly of retirement planning and ways to slow memory loss through food and exercise.

And I’m trying not to let all these thoughts keep me up too much at night nor preoccupy my every waking moment because if one isn’t careful, this line of thinking can quickly spin out of control into full-fledged anxiety. There has been a bit of that associated with all this, like the other week when I met one-on-one with the retirement planning guy at work. They brought in our plan’s representative–who looked like he was about 12 years old–for one hour complimentary financial consultations and I swear to you, his advice to me was basically, “I don’t know what to say.”

I kid you not. I mean, I already knew I was screwed. Thanks, Junior.

All this is to say that this feeling of health and wealth (I speak of the latter figuratively, of course) coming into fuller focus made me the perfect reader for Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen’s new book, Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip which I spotted while browsing at the library and listened to on audio.

This is basically a manual for How to Live Your Life. I don’t mean that facetiously; rather, this covers every aspect of living. Yes, there’s plenty of advice that we’ve all heard or read — and either implemented, ignored or put off until “someday.” But there are also some good checklists and strategies, like starting with the importance of doing  “system checks” (both health-related and financial) before making any major changes. There are chapters on breaking bad habits, reducing stress, how one’s occupation influences health. The sections on financial information was more helpful than the representative from my retirement plan.

Here’s what Age-Proof doesn’t have: there’s no secret sauce, no magic elixir recipe for eternal life. (Besides, who would really want that anyway?) The most important thing it does have is reassurance that “no matter what you’ve done in the past, it’s never too late (till you’re six feet under) to get the body or bank account you want.”

Audio is definitely the way to go with this one, mainly because of Dr. Roizen’s exuberance about … well, almost everything. He and Jean Chatzky alternate narrating their portions of the book — sometimes interrupting and interjecting thoughts — and while it’s a little hokey in some spots, it’s also kind of cute.

Not to mention important.

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this is a week for the birds

Milburn Orchards, Elkton, MD. August 2010. Photo by Melissa Firman.

So, here’s what I’m staring down during the week ahead.

You ready?

The Boy and The Girl’s 16th birthdays.

(I have no gifts purchased and zero ideas, especially for The Boy, and no money for an “experience” gift, like a weekend in New York or something like that.)

A major holiday involving a 6 hour drive (each way) across T**mpsylvania.

(That would be Thanksgiving, complete with multiple helpings of stress and several people who aren’t talking to us.)  

The two-year anniversary of The Husband’s seizure during Thanksgiving Dinner 2015 and me reviving him on the bathroom floor.

(Of which we’re still dealing with lingering physical, cognitive and emotional effects. Us, not the bathroom floor.) 

And just for good measure, my 30 year high school reunion!

(My high school years were … well, you can read about them in my post “25 Year Later. It Gets Better.” It says something that this is the event I’m most looking forward to this week.) 

On top of which (yeah, there’s more) the weather is total crap (raining, cold, windy, snow) and I’ve had a cold since Wednesday. I’m at that stage where I’m convinced I’ll be sick forever. This has turned into a sinus headache from hell.

The only thing to do is all that I can do in these scenarios:

Breathe.

Do what I/we can, in whatever way works for me/us.

Don’t obsess over what we can’t control.

Focus on the positive aspects. (Neither kid wants a car for their 16th birthday nor has any interest in driving yet! Now that’s something I’m thankful for.)

Breathe.

Abandon expectations and all notions of “the way it was/should be/could have been.”

Reduce social media time.

Make sure to get enough sleep.

Breathe.

Again.   

And again. 

 

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