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Reflections on Regret: the Paths Not Taken

March 14, 2018

I recently wrote a post about my personal milestones that have nothing to do with marriage or kids. Those milestones are moments that I’m proud of, or that inspired growth and change within me.

I thought it would be interesting to think about the other side of the coin: regrets.

I have a difficult time with the concept of regret because I’m the type of person who believes everything happens for a reason. I don’t necessarily look at a poor choice as a regret, but as a decision that will lead me down a different road (even if it’s not clear what that road looks like at the time). Maybe that’s a bit Pollyanna or optimistic, but it works for me.

I found this quote by Arthur Miller that resonated with how I think of regret:

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets. — Arthur Miller

So in that spirit, here are a few of my life instances that I’d describe as regrets, or when I wish I’d made a difference choice.

Quitting volleyball tryouts my freshman year of high school. When I was in high school, I thought it would be fun to play volleyball; so I went to day one of the team tryouts. It was much harder than I expected, especially when they required everyone to run a mile. So I opted not to go back the second day. I wonder why I was so scared of “hard” when it came to sports and physical fitness. I’ve written about how – until recently – I never considered myself to be athletically or physically inclined. But I think about what might it have felt like to stick with the challenge. Looking back, I doubt I would have made the team. But I regret not sticking it out and giving myself a fair shot.

Not applying for a job at the University of Southern California’s Hollywood, Health & Society Project. I wrote my master’s thesis on how television shows entertains as well as educate the public through storylines. I spent the summer of 2002 interviewing television writers and producers (ER!) about their shows and how they craft storylines. Knowing the television junkie I was (and still am), this was a really fun master’s thesis. I also researched and interviewed the founder of the Hollywood, Health & Society Project out of USC. After I finished writing my thesis, a job opened in that program. This was truly my dream job; yet I chose not to apply because I didn’t want to move to Los Angeles and I just started a new position at San Diego State University. I wish I hadn’t let geography and the sense of obligation I felt stop me from applying for that job.

Racking up credit card debt. One of the stupidest things I’ve done in my life is rack up credit card debt. I know it’s a relatively common phenomenon; but for so many years, I lived with the debt as a heavy burden on my shoulders that would never disappear (no matter how much we made and put toward those credit card bills). We have been fortunate to pay off our debt by living in a place that is much more affordable and has a lower cost of living. But I never want to go back to that feeling, and I deeply regret making those careless financial decisions.

Not seeing the Eagles in concert. I’ve been a huge Eagles fan for years, and it was always a goal to see them in concert. I was thrilled when the band was slated to perform in San Diego in fall 2015. But I elected not to buy a ticket because they were expensive. I justified the decision to saying I’d see them another time, when I had more money to purchase the ticket. Three months later, Glenn Frey died. I really regret not splurging for the ticket and seeing my favorite band play in person. That’s led me to my new rule for live music: if a favorite singer or band is playing, buy the ticket and go. Because you never know what life will bring.

Not getting my picture taken with Ina Garten. Back in 2004, I attended a book signing with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. At the time, many people knew who the Barefoot Contessa was, but she did not have the huge following she has today. When it was my turn to get my cookbooks signed, Ina’s handler asked if I wanted my picture taken with her. I declined. The handler even asked if I was sure. I don’t know what possessed me to opt out of a photo, but I really wish I took that photo. I would have framed it and hung it in my kitchen, or placed it next to the shelf full of Ina’s cookbooks.

As you can see, these regrets are not huge, life-altering choices. But they’re what I think about when I’m asked what I regret. Yet maybe – per Arthur Miller’s quote – they were the right decisions after all.

How do you think of regret? Do you have any that plague you? Or are you like me and look at those choices as a means to something else?

My Personal Milestones That Have Nothing to Do With Marriage and Kids

February 22, 2018

I recently read a blog post about milestones more important than kids or marriage. The author wrote about embracing milestones that have nothing to do with marriage or having children because not every woman (or man, for that matter) has done those things or wants to do them.

This idea struck a chord with me. While certainly getting married and having Sophie were milestones in my life, I don’t think of them in the same way as I do other achievements. Perhaps it’s because I always thought getting married and having a child would be a given in my life. But the other milestones are more personal achievements, or bigger accomplishments that I wasn’t expecting. Does that make sense?

I’m not suggesting marriage and children are not milestone-worthy. On the contrary; they certainly are. But I really like the idea of looking at milestones and achievements on a intimate level that may not necessarily involve another person.

When I look at the big milestones of my life, so many of them have to do with overcoming fear. While I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-confident, I spent a lot of my life avoiding risk for fear of the unknown and lack of control. There are many reasons for this (another blog post, another day), but I always gravitated toward the safe route in life.

So here are some of my personal milestone moments, many of which helped me become more confident and less fearful.

Moving to Indiana — As many of you know, I spent nearly all my life in San Diego with my family. Yet I never really felt like San Diego was where I belonged. So why didn’t I ever go somewhere else? I never even dreamed of moving away because everything and everyone I knew was there. San Diego was home, and the thought of leaving scared the hell out of me. It’s still hard to believe we packed up our entire lives and moved to Terre Haute almost two years ago. But it’s been the best decision of my life and I’m so glad we did.

Leaving my Safe and Secure Job — In March 2012, I left my full-time job to make a living as a writer and start my own business. I said good bye to colleagues I loved, a guaranteed monthly salary and stability because I knew it was time to move on. I could have easily stayed in that lucrative, secure job. Yet if I hadn’t made that leap, I wouldn’t be where I am today — in charge of my life on my terms.

Becoming a Runner — I never thought I had the ability to run or be physically active. But in October 2016, I faced my fear and started running. It wasn’t much at first, and just making it one mile was a huge win. Last weekend I hit a  personal record by running six miles. I did slow down and walked in parts, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve accomplished anything that physically challenging. I never imagined I could run a half marathon or even a 5K, but now those goals are within my reach.

Getting My First “Real” Job at KPBS — My first job was working at a Dairy Queen in high school. But after my freshman year of college, I got a job working at KPBS, the local public broadcasting station. I was incredibly proud to land a part-time student assistant job working for a media company, and was lucky enough to be hired full time after I graduated college. I learned so much about television, radio, marketing, public relations, writing, and working with people in those years, and made some wonderful friendships along the way. I consider landing that job at 18-years-old is one of the defining moments in my life.

Moving into the College Dorms — I went to college at San Diego State University, a mere eight miles from my home. I was excited to go to college, but afraid to go anywhere beyond where my family lived (again, fear). But I knew I wanted to move out of my parent’s house and into the residence halls. The years I spent living on campus were some of the best of my entire life, and it helped me be a more independent person.

Going on the Washington D.C. Trip in 8th Grade — When I was in middle school, I signed up to attend a week-long trip to Washington D.C. and Virginia with 40 of my fellow 8th grade classmates and four teacher chaperones. Being a HUGE history buff, I was so excited to attend this trip. But at the same time, I was absolutely terrified and wasn’t sure I could actually do it. I was scared to leave my family and equally panicked to fly. I packed my suitcase and went to the airport, but I honestly didn’t think I’d set foot on that plane. In fact, I almost turned back until one of the teachers started talking to me as we boarded. I was so distracted that I forgot to turn around. I’m so glad I didn’t turn back because that week was life-changing for me.

Not long ago, I wrote the blog post 19 Goals from the Last 19 Years where I reflected on the goals I wrote for myself when I was 21-years-old. I look at that list today and see that fear is still playing a part in my life, and holding me back from achieving some of those goals. I hope to start conquering some of those projects and seeing what new milestones can be made as I move forward in the next chapters of my life.

What are the milestones that define your life? Do you think of those defining moments as more personal, or do they include marriage and children?

This was a long post … thanks for sticking with me! 🙂

What’s Giving Me Life at this Midpoint of Winter

February 2, 2018

Today – February 2, 2018 – is Groundhog Day. It’s also the midpoint of winter, which means we’re halfway to spring.

I don’t care much for January and February. Maybe it’s the inevitable let-down after the fall and holidays. I can’t say it’s because of the Indiana winter weather because even when I lived in San Diego, I didn’t like the early months of the year either. This time always feels a little off, and slightly melancholy.

Last year, at this time I wrote a piece called What’s Saving My Life Right Now. It’s a post that many bloggers write on February 2. The concept comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

The idea behind this prompt is most of us know what’s bothering us and can articulate all those things pretty clearly (see above paragraph as proof). But, she says, few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. What are these things — whether little or big — that are helping us live our lives?

I enjoyed reflecting on the things that made me happy last year at this time. So at this midpoint of winter, I’m writing down the things that are giving me life today:

  • My family, of course
  • My health and my new-found physical strength
  • Beautiful sunsets and sunrises
  • The natural beauty that surrounds me (even if much of it is bare trees at the moment)
  • Running
  • New friends
  • And old friends, too
  • Walking my dogs
  • Sun shining on the winter days
  • Snow, especially when I get to watch it from my family room with a fire going
  • The upcoming Power of Narrative conference in Boston
  • Reading good books
  • Watching Sophie grow and thrive
  • Writing nightly in my “one line a day” journal
  • Podcasts
  • Music that makes me think
  • My new Indiana project that’s launching soon (stay tuned …)

See you in a few short months, spring!

Tell me what’s saving your life right now. Or better yet, make your own list!

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Blue Apron, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, Plated: I’ve Tried Them All and Here’s What I Think

January 25, 2018

I originally published this piece in February 2017, and it’s been one of my most-visited posts. Since it’s the new year and many people are trying to cook more at home, I revised the post to include new information and two meal services I’ve sampled in the last year: Home Chef and Marley’s Spoon.

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I have tried many different dinner systems over the years — meal planning, once-a-month-cooking, The Fresh 20, Dream Dinners, you name it! I enjoy cooking and we eat at home nearly every night (except for maybe one weekend night). But gone are the days when I had the motivation to do extensive planning and meals.

That being said, it’s still very important to me that we eat healthy meals at home made with fresh ingredients that I prepare (for the most part). So I have given myself the gift of using boxed meal subscription services on a somewhat regular basis. I’ve tried all the big ones over the years — Blue Apron, Plated, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, Home Chef and Marley’s Spoon. I still supplement our dinners with my own recipes, but these dinners are a nice way to have fresh ingredients sent to my door along with a recipe and a shot of motivation.

I’ve decided to share my thoughts about the meal boxes — their advantages and disadvantages — and which ones I continue to use.

Blue Apron fresh tomato linguini with Cesar salad

Before I give you my impressions of each service, let me point out a few universal things:

  • Most all of these services have an option where you can try the service for free, and then continue.
  • All the companies allow you to skip weeks without any penalty, as long as it’s done in the time frame. So if you don’t like the meal choices for a given week, you just pause that week.
  • There was a lot of criticism at one point about these services being environmentally wasteful with all the packaging. I believe all of them now offer recycling programs so you can easily donate the boxes and cooling material. But I have to admit, recycling was never an issue for me. We already recycle EVERYTHING. So all the little containers, bottles, cans, etc. went right into our blue recycle bin, along with the broken down cardboard box.

NOTE: This is NOT a sponsored post. None of these are affiliate links and I’m not getting free dinners for sharing this information.

And now, here are my thoughts on all these meal services.

Blue Apron Za’atar chicken souvlaki with oven baked fries

BLUE APRON

I have been using Blue Apron the longest and we’ve loved nearly all the meals. Even Sophie — who is the pickiest of eaters — will eat a Blue Apron dinner without (or with minimal) complaint. The ingredients are fresh and the dinners are innovative (not ideas I would typically think of), yet they are not complicated recipes. Some of my favorite recipes have been Mexican spiced beef and rice casserole, Za’atar chicken souvlaki, and fresh linguine pasta and heirloom tomato sauce.

I will say that Blue Apron has a lot of extra steps that can be cut from the cooking process. For example, you can cut your prep time considerably by using your own pre-chopped garlic and ginger. And they are big proponents of using lots of olive oil. I don’t use near the amount they suggest. They also have you use multiple bowls for prepping ingredients. I tend to eliminate some of those extra bowls by adding the chopped ingredients straight into the pots/pans when appropriate. Less dishes to clean is always good!

PLATED

Plated has become our favorite. Their meals are really good! The photo above is the Greek vegetable salad, which was fresh and delicious. We’ve also had meals like turkey chili verde, miso salmon and quinoa bowls, and chipotle chicken pozole with crispy quesadillas.

The recipes have fewer steps than Blue Apron, and the prep work is considerably less. For example, the garlic is sent in pre-pealed cloves and the cheese is already shredded. I also think the amount of protein and ingredients they send are larger than Blue Apron. One of the recipes called for Parmesan cheese and I didn’t even use all that Plated sent. Whereas with Blue Apron, I sometimes supplemented things like Parm with my own stash.

I also like that Plated packages all the ingredients for each recipe in separate bags, which makes it easier to grab what you need for one dinner. Since I originally wrote this post, Plated lowered its prices and is on par with Blue Apron, which I believe, makes it a better value. If you only try one meal service, I’d highly recommend Plated.

SUN BASKET

I would describe Sun Basket as the more organic, non-GMO, “crunchy” and sustainable option. Many of their meals are paleo or gluten free (even if you don’t select that option). While this is great for a lot of people, my family likes its dairy and carbs. We don’t consume a lot of it, but we do like some cheese with dinner.

The recipes we sampled were Peruvian beef stir-fry, gingered turkey meatballs in lemongrass broth, and spicy chorizo and tomatillo chili with coconut and lime. The Peruvian beef was really good, and a hit with me and Bryan. The other two recipes had too many Thai-based and spicy foods that don’t agree with Bryan or Sophie. And at the time we tried Sun Basket, there weren’t many other non-exotic options. So unfortunately this one didn’t work for our family.

Sun Basket seems like a great option for adults, or families that want an easy way to eat organic, paleo, vegeterian or vegan options. Again, not bad, but we didn’t continue the subscription. That being said, I give Sun Basket the award for cutest packaging — I didn’t want to through the boxes away!

Sun Basket Peruvian beef

HOME CHEF

I would recommend Home Chef for someone who doesn’t wants a good dinner, but a pretty “basic” and easy one. Their dinners have fewer “exotic” ingredients with little prep/cooking time. It’s not a bad service, but I’d rather spend my money on Plated or Blue Apron where the meals are a bit more exciting.

One very odd and sometimes confusing thing is the meals are packaged as two servings; but if you order the four-serving, they send two of each pack. So I end up tons of bags of ingredients in my fridge.

MARLEY’S SPOON

Marley’s Spoon is Martha Stewart meal prep service is the latest one we tried. Honestly, I’m not that impressed. Very little ingredients for meals that didn’t have a ton of flavor. The above southwest turkey burgers were good, but the side dish was a broccoli salad that wasn’t too impressive. I also tried the fish fry and spicy tartar sauce with Brussels sprouts Caesar salad. The fish and sauce were good, but the Brussels sprouts required me to shred them all by hand and I had no time for that. So I opted to use lettuce I already had in the fridge for the salad.

We enjoyed the seared steak and crispy potatoes with Sriracha butter. But honestly, all that came in the package were flank steak, potatoes, beans, garlic, butter and Sriracha powder. I could have purchased all that myself and there isn’t anything different about that meal.

It also drove me crazy that Marley’s Spoon required me to provide my own eggs and other ingredients, which they don’t tell you about ahead of time. So if I didn’t have those items at home, too bad for our dinner.

HELLO FRESH

This was my least favorite meal box services. The Hello Fresh meals I tried were bland, had very few ingredients. We tried were shrimp with lemon orzo (a recipe that I have made myself and tasted better) and steak with mango salsa and rice. While the steak was good, the portion was small and fed both me and Sophie. Thank goodness Bryan was not at home for that dinner because had I split it three ways, we would have been looking for more food to supplement dinner.

The Hello Fresh dinners could have used a bit more flavor and/or ingredients. While some of Blue Apron’s recipes are simple too; what makes them stand out are the spice blends used to add flavor. That was lacking with Hello Fresh.

I was also very turned off by the fact that Hello Fresh customer service was constantly calling me after I cancelled the service to find out what happened and persuade me to resubscribe.

Blue Apron summer corn salad

So those are my thoughts on Blue Apron, Plated, Sun Basket, Home Chef, Marley’s Spoon, and Hello Fresh. I really want to try One Potato by Weelicious because I like their emphasis on family-friendly meals. But sadly, they don’t service Indiana … yet!

It’s a nice treat to be able to use a meal subscription service once or twice a month. And I like that you can control the ingredients and count calories if you do that. If you’re at all curious, I encourage you to sign up for the free offering and see which ones you like.

Have you used any of these meal subscription services? Which is your favorite (or least favorite)? Is there another one I need to try?

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Best of the Year: Read, Listen and Watch

January 12, 2018

I realize we’re nearly at the point where we need to stop posting “best of 2017” or “2017 recap” posts. But before we go too deep into January, I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads, listens and watches of last year. Technically, these are not 2017 specific; meaning not all my recommendations were released last year. But they are what filled my brain in the year prior.

Read

Admittedly, I did not read as much in 2017 as I have in the past. This is undoubtedly due to having cable for the first time in years and binge-watching television shows in the name of “research” for my novel I’ve yet to write (hey, there’s always 2018!).

Someone recently asked me when I read books. Since most of my day is spent writing and working on the computer, I don’t read much during the day. I always read before going to bed as I find that helps clear my mind before drifting off. I also try to make some time on the weekend to sit on my sofa and read. The other thing I do is I always bring a book with me when I have to wait places, especially activities that Sophie is doing. For example, if she has volleyball practice or a birthday party, I bring a book with me and read it there.

Here are the stand-out books I read last year:

Cruel Beautiful World, Caroline Leavitt — This was such a beautiful, haunting and compelling story, about very flawed but real people. I read this book in two days. Here’s the description: “Set in the early 1970s against the specter of the Manson girls, when the peace and love movement begins to turn ugly, this is the story of a runaway teenager’s disappearance and her sister’s quest to discover the truth.

The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin — I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin. Here she breaks down four personality types and how they respond to inner and outer expectation. She writes that understanding this framework helps us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively. Those Four Tendencies are: Upholders (that’s me), Questioners, Obligers and Rebels.

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, Jonathan Taplin — This fascinating book essentially confirms that Facebook, Google and Amazon are crushing creativity and making it harder for artists, musicians and writers to earn a living. But on the plus side, it made me feel justified purchasing CDs and books as much as I do.

Under the Influence, Joyce Maynard — I love anything Maynard writes. Her characters are always compelling and not quite what you expect. The book tells the story of Helen, who recently lost her marriage and custody of her 7-year-old son due to drinking. Now in recovery, the book follows Helen on her journey and the relationships she becomes entrenched with during her sobriety.

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His Own, David Carr — I could not put this memoir down. Carr, a lifelong reporter, spent three years investigating his own life of addiction and crime, using techniques such as videotaped interviews, legal and medical records, and reporting. What results is a fascinating true story.

The Mystics of Mile End, Sigal Samuel — I found this book on a whim in an independent bookstore, and only picked it up because I was drawn to the cover. But in this case, I will judge a book by its cover because the story lived up to its outer beauty. It’s the story of a struggling family looking to find spiritual meaning in their lives.

Listen

I alternate between listening to music and podcasts. Music is always my go-to for running and driving. But I enjoy podcasts when I’m at my desk and doing things around the house that don’t require a lot of concentration. Here’s what I discovered last year that keeps me inspired.

How I Built This Podcast — This NPR podcast is a series of stories about innovators and entrepreneurs, and what’s behind the movement and company they started. The podcasts include the story behind companies such as Melissa & Doug, Spanx, TOMS, Whole Foods, CLIF Bar, Airbnb, and so many more.

Song Exploder — This podcast has been around for quite a while, but I just recently started listening to it. In each episode, a musician takes apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. I don’t listen to every episode; just the ones where I’m intrigued by the artist or song. Some of the musicians include: R.E.M. (“Try Not to Breathe”), Norah Jones (“Day Breaks”), The Lumineers (“Ophelia”), Wilco (“Magnatized”), U2 (“Cedarwood Road”), and so many more.

Making Oprah — Since Oprah is trending right now, you may want to check out this limited series about how the “Oprah Winfrey Show” began and its journey. Like so many of you, I used to come home from work and watch the show. It’s fun to revisit some of the topics and hearing Oprah herself.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound” — I think Jason Isbell is an incredible songwriter, and the songs on this album have made me hopeful, pensive and broken me down in tears. All the feels on one great album.

The New Basement Tapes — This was released in 2014, but I discovered it last year and have been listening to it since. The album is a collection of “lost” Bob Dylan songs sung by today’s popular artists such as Elvis Costello and the singers that front Dawes and Mumford & Sons. Good stuff!

Watch

I’ll try to limit my television choices since this post is already quite long. Here are my favorites in 2017.

“Halt and Catch Fire” — This is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. It’s a fictional (based on true events) story that centers around four characters during the 1980s personal computing boom in Silicon Prairie and later moves to Silicon Valley. I don’t know why more people haven’t watched this AMC show, but you have no excuse now that all four seasons (the entire series) are on Netflix.

“Better Call Saul” — I know this is a controversial statement, but I actually like this spin-off better than “Breaking Bad.” The show keeps getting better, and season three was no exception.

“Mindhunter” — I love this story of how the FBI first started looking at killers and crimes using behavioral analysis. Once you finish “Mindhunter,” check out “Manhunt: Unabomber” to see how – years later – the behavioral analysis helped the FBI catch the Unabomber. Fascinating stuff!

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — What a gem of a show! In 1958 New York, Midge Maisel has the perfect life: husband, kids, and an Upper West Side apartment. But when her life takes a surprise turn, she explores her talent as a stand-up comic and learns about herself along the way. I loved this show, and not just because it was funny. I loved Midge’s self-discovery, the costumes and 1950s New York.

I hope you found a few things to read, listen to and watch this year. Now if only I could find more time in the day to enjoy all these favorite things of mine!

What was the best book you read last year? Do you have a podcast, piece of music of television show you loved?

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