Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tasty Kitchen Inspiration

I have a new favorite place for recipes that I have to share - Skinnytaste.com. I can't remember now how I found it, but I'm guessing that it was Pinterest. The author, Gina, takes a lot of normal recipes and finds a way to make them healthier, and a lot of them are pretty simple too. Her profile says that she develops all of the recipes herself and takes her own photos, which are always super professional looking; I will never try a recipe that has no picture, so good food pics are definitely a must-have.
As an added bonus, she also tags her recipes as gluten free (along with vegetarian or low-carb) and lists both the old weight watcher points and the points based on the new system.
Below is a list of everything I have tried so far.  They have all been super yummy, and just have a fresh, healthy
  • Beef, Potato and Quinoa Soup: I love the idea of quinoa in a soup, and this was a fun alternative to the ones I usually make.
  • Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken: Matt nicknamed this "Chipotle at home." We have served it over rice, romain lettuce, or a combination of the two, depending on our mood.  It is simple and filling, and has definitely made the top 10 of our dinner rotation recipes.
  • Potato Leek Soup: I was nervous about this one since I had never cooked with leeks, and Matt is not an onion fan. But this soup just came out rich and savory, not too leek-y at all.
  • BLT Lettuce Wraps: This isn't much as far as recipes go, but is a great idea for a way to do a sandwich-ish thing gluten free. I used low fat ranch dressing instead of mayo since I had it in the fridge, which was a fun twist.

Technically the site is a blog, so subscribe or add her to your Google Reader to get new stuff when she posts it. The pictures alone will inspire you to get in the kitchen.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Turn the Page

In college, my technical writing advisor and professor taught us to use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS for those that love her). She is one of the most popular style guides and according to Wikipedia she is "considered the de facto guide for American English style, grammar, and punctuation."  I used her all the time, and there was a time in my life when I could almost tell you on what page you would find certain topics that I would get tripped up on a lot (what is the difference between a hyphen, an en dash, and an em dash?).  The CMS was one of the only books that I schlepped around with me to all of my places of employment. I nervously showed up at my first big job out of college, holding a new portfolio and that unmistakable bright orange covered reference book. A security blanket of sorts, I thought it was my ticket to ensuring I didn't make myself look like a complete ass.

Eventually I stopped referencing it as often, but I still carried it around with me. When I made the final decision to be a stay-at-home mom, the CMS got put in a box with some project management certificates and other random notebooks that I wanted to keep for reference, thinking I might use them someday.

Then, fast forwarding a bit, my husband found minimalism. And I found my work box during one of our purging sessions. The CMS smiled at me brightly from its orange cover, asking me to put her on my new desk.But I have no new desk to move her to. I have a baby, and now my most important reference books are Baby 411 and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.  And my CMS is old and out of date.  So she went to Volunteers of America to live wherever that graveyard is for old textbooks and reference books.

Later I felt a bit nostalgic and sad that I had given her away. I wondered if I would regeret the decision, or if I would wish I had her one day as I was doing the 10th load of laundry, just to clear up an argument in my mind (should I have said "who walked on the clean floor with wet shoes" or "whom..."?).

But as I write this post, I am glad I made the decision to let the CMS go. As minimalism likes to remind me, getting rid of the book didn't erase the memories of my tech writing classes at BGSU. It doesn't lessen the importance of my first professional job or my most recent one. It was a book that was collecting dust in a box in the basement. Now I can use that space for all of the things we are accumulating for Addy, which I know has only just begun.

So to commemorate my old friend and to honor my next chapter, I am changing my blog to Jessica's Manual of Style (JMS for short).  That's what I want this blog to be - a written version of the experiences that will mold the new rules in my life.  It will inevitably have multiple publications and versions, but that's what life is about. Hell, the CMS cover isn't even orange anymore - it's this pleasant powder blue. So even though I don't own it anymore, it's still giving me inspiration to keep reinventing myself.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I may be a stay at home mom right now, but unbeknownst to those other moms at Gymboree, I used to be in IT. I was a tech writer, business analyst, project manager, manager of people... basically anything that I could do and not know the details of code or hardware. I really did enjoy it.  Well, most of it, sans a couple of bad apples on my old teams.  I still have nighmares about a particular old employee, but that's another post.  And I honestly did have some trepidation about giving it up.

I really couldn't be happier with my decision right now, but I do miss certain things.  The projects, putting together a nicely organized deliverable, talking in front of a room full of people about something I am proud of working on.

So when it came to tracking and budgeting the family finances, I quickly stepped up to the task.   I've been able to channel my nerdy, spreadsheet making self and it has been so much fun.  But the old software I've been using, Microsoft Money, is no longer being supported. I've been struggling with finding something to replace it that might work on a Mac (we are in the market for a new computer and are leaning towards Apple) and that I can view on my iPad.  I also have some pretty detailed requirements, like being able to split transactions and customize the categories that things get assigned to.

Enter Yodlee!  I am so in love with this site.   Not only will it replace my old Microsoft Money, but it also gets rid of half of my manual spreadsheets. It is a free (so far at least) online software that allows you to link not just bank accounts and credit cards, but virtually any account you can think of that has an online log in. It even connected to my Wright Patt Credit Union account, which totally impressed me.  And they have a $4 iPad app that allows you to view your accounts, charts, and do basic tasks, which is like the cream cheese icing on the cake. (Yeah, you know that's the best kind.)

So my uber-nerd side has been able to shine over the last couple weeks as I transitioned everything over. I think I have all of our accounts loaded and it has given me a new view of our real net worth, which I never fully got with my old system. It even connects with Zillow to estimate how much your house is worth and adds it as an asset. How cool is that!

The bad news is that the site and the app both have some annoying issues. But I logged my first "question" on their forum, and the developer said that he was able to replicate the problem and asked for more details. Needless to say, my inner QA tester emerged and got way too detailed with the answer, but hopefully it will allow them to find and fix it. Very encouraging overall, which just solidified that the software/company is something worth working on.

I have a half dozen or so issues that I've found so far on their site and iPad app already. Hm, maybe they will start paying me for every bug I find for them.  :-)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Choose the Red Pill

I can't believe I actually did it. Tonight I said good-bye to Facebook. I did it with serious trepidation. I was actually nervous as I hit the button to post my final status update.  I thought, this is it. No more posting funny quips (the two times a year I actually come up with something worth posting, and later wondering if it was actually worth sharing anyway), no more reading up on all those distant friends (mostly people that I haven't seen in so long that I'm not close with anymore...so why do they want me to know what they had for lunch, and more importantly why do I care?), no more keeping up with my good friends (wait, shouldn't I just call them or get together anyway?).  Huh...so why was I so nervous about it?

It's such a THING. It's what everyone does. It's how people know what's going on. It's how friends catch up. It's something that I have spent so much time doing in the past. And lately it's something that has caused me anxiety because I haven't been doing it. What am I missing?  What are people assuming I know but I don't because they posted it on Facebook but I missed it?  

So as part of my new, more minimalist lifestyle, tonight I said good-bye to Facebook. If I feel the need to catch up with friends, I will look to my phone and think, who haven't I talked to lately?  I will look to my email and ask, who haven't I caught up with in a while?  I will go to the source. And I will spend that bit of energy doing something that is more true to my one goal for 2012. Simplify.  Make my time and energy count. 

So happy new year everyone - here's to 2012!