Meal planning for the overwhelmed

meal planning tips

I was the overwhelmed. Technically, I’m still the overwhelmed, but I found after meal planning/prepping/doing for the past five weeks that it’s actually quite simple.

That’s what everyone says, right?

“it’s a breeze! just do this and that, and you’re all set!”

But, in reality, its far from simple, because that person who’s sayings it’s a no-brainer has been doing it for years. And the person who can’t get over the overwhelming feeling of where to start finds the “expert’s” advice far from helpful.

That, I think, is what makes meal planning so complicated. It has to be tailored to the individual doing it. Though there are thousands of methods, ideas, and plans to follow, (I really like Lindsay’s meal-prep posts), if they’re not foods you’d typically eat, you’ll fail every.single.time.

That’s how I felt.

I’ve wanted to do weekly meal plans since getting married, last year, and have attempted it several times. I even went so far as to interview a seasoned monthly meal planner for the Arizona Farm Bureau, just to get ideas for myself! Yet, despite that, I still couldn’t overcome the loss of where to begin, making each and every weekday and night miserable as I agonized over what to make.

Maybe you’ve gone through the same things?

So, after much stress – typically brought on by myself – I decided to take action! Here’s what I learned, plus how I overcame it all to “successfully” (I use that term loosely) meal plan.

The first week WILL BE STRESSFUL!

It didn’t matter that I had the entire week planned out from breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two daily snacks, including the grocery lists and recipes, I still felt way over my head. On Sunday, I cooked non-stop for six hours straight, running back and forth from stove, to fridge, to chopping, to washing the mounds of dishes. It felt endless and too much to ever want to do it again, but I was determined to prove myself. To whom? – No idea, but I was too deep in it to quit.

Come Monday, as I was sipping my morning coffee, the realization set in. I didn’t have to cook… for the whole week!! I practically did a dance right then and there. I didn’t have to think, stress, or worry over what to make for dinner. It was already sitting in the fridge ready to eat. I thought if all it took was six terribly stressful hours of cooking on Sunday, it was well worth it to have the whole week of freedom.

But here’s the thing.

The second week: NOT as stressful!

I will give this caveat: I followed a pre-set meal plan for three weeks in a row. Was it the exact same foods each week? – Yes. Did they lay out what to eat, cook, and provide the grocery list and recipes? – Yes! Is that considered “cheating” in the meal planning world? – Heck to the no, no!

I think for someone who IS overwhelmed, its the absolute perfect solution to overcome the stress of meal planning. Simply because it gives you a starting point. It did take me a long time to find the right pre-set meal plan, but after diligently searching, I found one that fit our lifestyle.

By the third week, I was on cruise control. What took six hours the first week, took less than three. Even my husband commented on how cool, calm, and collected I was while preparing everything. It wasn’t lost on me either. I was loving knowing it didn’t stress me out like before.

Though I don’t follow that specific meal plan any longer, I have used what I learned going forward with our weekly meals, and find it so much easier now. Life has gotten SO much easier now.

So, if you’re anything like me, someone who has always wanted to meal plan but couldn’t get past the crippling feelings of being overwhelmed, then here are some useful tips for you!

  • Find a pre-set meal plan. ie. Let someone else do the grunt work for you. (this may take a bit of time, but give yourself a solid hour to search through varying plans to find the right one)
  • Commit to at least two weeks of meals. I say this because that first week is rough, but I promise it gets 1,000x easier as the weeks go on.
  • Know the first week will be crazy and stressful, but press through! Chant “just keep swimming” if you need to make it through.
  • If doing it all on Sunday is too much, break it up into two days. Just make sure you have Monday’s and Tuesday’s meals ready.
  • Believe and know it WILL get easier! By the third week you will see it is considerably easier guaranteed!

If you’re a new or seasoned meal planner, let’s hear your methods!
How do you meal plan and what got you started wanting to meal plan?

Lightning storms and my attempt to capture them

lightning storm
Living in Germany, I get to enjoy a lot of different weather. Even though it’s Summer, it’ll be in the 90s (without a/c, mind you) one week, and then barely getting over 70 the next, with lots of rain. It’s mildly bi-polar here, but I honestly love it.

Last night, we had quite the thunderstorm, and as I was lying on the ground, with my head against the balcony glass door, so I could look straight up at the sky, I watched as lightning bolts streaked the sky. They were so bright, I would be momentary blinded by the flash.

It was awesome!

After about ten minutes of watching it dance across the sky, G, who was sitting next to me, asked if I wanted to grab my camera. It was perfect timing, because I was dreaming of having my camera all set up to capture the gorgeous sight. It’s been one of my goals to shoot lightning!

So, I jumped up and ran downstairs, but not before asking G to google “Canon settings for lightning,” because I may know how to shoot in manual, but I sure don’t know the first thing about shooting lightning! After grabbing all my gear, I set up the tripod, got the settings to what trusty Google said they needed to be, and starting taking photos.

The majority of the bright bolts right overhead had passed, but off in the distance, we still had some pretty impressive streaks. The settings proved to work, (thanks, Google), leaving me with some nice shots, and me dreaming of my next chance to shoot a lightning storm.

Even though I’m an amateur and have only done this once (technically that should make me an expert, right? ;-)), I’ll post my settings below each picture, just in case they help you when you want to shoot lightning. Every camera is different though, so, it’s important to know what you’re working with to ensure you’re getting the shot you want.

I have a Canon 5D Mark III and used my 35mm 1.4 for the night.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 13 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shudder speed: 20 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 20 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

You can see I didn’t really tweak with my settings too much, only changing the shutter speed from time to time; opening the shutter up longer to let in more light.

These bolts happened when I first started shooting, and it was fun knowing I was capturing at least a couple.

As the night wore on, the storm was passing and less and less lightning was appearing. When G and I would talk about packing up and calling it a night, another bolt would strike and we’d vow that we’d wait for “just one more” and then head to bed.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO 100

We got excited seeing the one above and really hoped the camera got it in all it’s glory. When we saw it did, I quietly set up for the next photo, while G sat there unmoving. We weren’t packing up. We weren’t calling it a night. We didn’t want to miss out on another potentially awesome lightning bolt!

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

And thank goodness we didn’t because I got this gorgeous shot shortly after. We were wowed by it, and so glad we stuck around, which had us wondering if maybe our “one more” rule should be tossed out the window.

We stuck around for another five minutes or so, and definitely noticed the lightning getting few and far between. We called it quits after I got this very last shot below, and hurried downstairs to look at the photos.

lightning stormLens: 35mm, Shutter speed: 25 seconds, F/stop: 8, ISO: 100

Its always amazing to me to see God’s work. Lightning and thunder leave me in awe of his power, and I’m so glad I got the chance to witness the spectacular show, last night. If I get another chance to shoot lightning, I think I plan to change lenses and mess with the settings again, but if I don’t, then I’m happy as a clam I have these for my memory.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to photograph but haven’t yet? Share in the comments, I’d love to chat about it!

edited to add this one super important tip:

There’s one thing I completely forgot about that is just as important as all the other camera settings, and that’s the FOCUS! Because it’s so dark out, your camera will not be able to “find” an object to focus on, so it’ll constantly be looking and blur the image because it’s unable to lock onto something.

So, it’s really important you put your lens on infinity and then switch it from “AF” to “MF” – auto focus to manual focus. By doing this, the lens will stop looking for something and you’ll have full control. By setting it to infinity (the little sideways looking 8), it’ll put the lens looking at the furthest possible point (ie. the sky) and have that be sharp and in focus! Which is exactly what you want!

German high speed trains: the good, bad, and scary


Last night, I got back from a quick overnight trip. It was a solo trip to see one of my doctors – so, nothing glamorous – and it had me thinking on the German high speed rail system. I’ve taken numerous trips across the country and into other countries this past year, and have enough experiences to practically write a book…or at least a solid article on it. So, I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts.

In short, Germany has a great high speed rail system or “Deutsche Bahn” as it’s called. Their website is very easy to navigate, and bonus points, they have several languages to choose from. “Cookies” aren’t used, or at least that I know of, so prices don’t rise, rise, rise with each train search you do.

I do loathe that with other websites.

Though I’ve listed a couple goods already, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of traveling through the Deutsche Bahn, hitting on the scary first, because ending on the “good” is always better, in my opinion.

Scary

**This might be an isolated incident, but it happened to us, and could certainly happen to others.

– We arrived at the train station for a trip with 15 minutes to spare, so we discussed what bistro booth we should get our customary croissants from.

At that moment, a guy who was right in front of me stopped, turned, and stared me down as we walked past, making me sidestep. As soon as we passed, he was right on my heels yelling vulgar obscenities about me (in English), and how much he hated Americans.

We never broke stride and he never broke away from us, continuously yelling pretty awful things about us. Whenever G (my husband) would look him in the eyes, the guy would immediately look away, but continue yelling. We were finally able to make our way into a line for a bistro booth, which made the guy finally walk away.

Never once did we acknowledge him, which we knew was exactly what he wanted. With G’s job, he can’t “react” like a typical guy would in that situation, so he remained alert and quiet. As scary as that situation was, we found it more odd than anything. Neither of us had our adrenaline pumping – something we both found interesting; we had our wits about us, and knew though he was spewing some pretty nasty things, would never touch us. G knew because of how the guy refused to make eye contact, and I knew because I’ve been in enough hairy situations, and my body wasn’t reacting like it would if I were in danger.

fight or flight! bodies are amazing and definitely should be listened to in times like this!

BUT thanks to this guy throwing us off with his crazy antics, we didn’t realize our train had changed platforms, and ended up missing it! Thankfully, because it was the station’s fault for the change, we were put on the next train without charge, though it made us four hours behind schedule.

– Trains leave on time: One time, G and I arrived at the station 15 minutes early (our standard, apparently), so we got in line for two coffees at a little bistro booth next to the platform. We were second in line, but the attendant only had one coffee machine that was as slow as molasses, with four coffees before ours. As time was ticking, I told him to get on the train with our stuff, and I’d wait for our coffees. With only one coffee in hand, the other still brewing, and two minutes before the train left, I took off running. I ran to the closest car I could and was told to hop on (and walk through the train to my seat), and within 20 seconds of boarding, the doors closed and we were off. I was sweating buckets!

Bad

– Despite reserving a seat, people will still take your seat. This has happened on half of my trips, and I’ve had to tell each one that it was mine. There’s even an electronic screen above the seat that shows whether or not it’s reserved, but I think people bank on you not showing up. Thankfully, each person has moved without issue.

– Trains leave on time: They don’t care you’re literally five steps away calling out for them to wait, they will close the door in your face and pull away. I’ve actually seen this happen! One conductor saw a guy coming, smirked, turned her back, and closed the door. I stood their stunned.

Some may say, “well, they should have gotten there earlier.” and I agree, however, there’s always extenuating circumstances, ie. their connecting train could have delayed, shortening their transfer time. Regardless, it still stinks to be rightthere and still miss the train.

– There’s lots of construction and delays. Completely counters my previous statement, but I have a dear friend who travels twice a week, and is constantly having her trains delayed by hours which make her miss her connecting trains. To say she’s constantly frustrated is an understatement.

– Some conductors are…shall I say, unfriendly. I’ve been yelled at in English AND German by one because I was halfway in the train with the door closing on me. Now! There was a lot of chaos happening with several passengers to make him extra irritated at me for my {little} indiscretion, and truthfully, I deserved it, but darn, it’s not fun getting yelled at – in two languages, no less.

– The trains are loooooooong and you never know where your car will be, so you have to walk very fast when it pulls in to get on before it leaves. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is scrambling like headless chickens and it usually has everyone gasping for air by the time they take their seats.

Good

-Prices are cheap! I’ve scored first class roundtrip tickets for only $120. This was on a trip that was six hours one way, so, very long! Had I chosen second class, it would have only been $40. Quite the difference, I know, but we agreed I could splurge a bit, and I was glad I did.

Had the car all to myself for 1 1/2 hours. It was wonderfully fun!

– Free wifi on most trains, ie. ICE, IC. This really comes in handy because Germany is not known for exceptional cell service, and 80+% of your trip will have you without any connection.

– Trains leave on time.. yes, this goes in all three categories!! Germans are known for their efficiency. If the train is supposed to leave at 2:52pm, doors will close at 2:51 and 40 seconds.

– Many conductors speak English and are helpful. Last night, while waiting at the train station for my connecting train home, I saw my train (that was still 20 minutes away), was going to be at least 10 minutes late. I was tired at this point, and just wanted to be home. While my train was delayed, another train going to my same destination was on the platform about to leave.

I walked up to the conductor, asked (in German) if she spoke English, and proceeded to ask if I could board this train despite my ticket showing for the other one. She gladly allowed me on.
Bonus: the car I got into was virtually empty, so I had plenty of seats to choose from.

– You can reserve your seat for only 4.50Euro (one way). I do this for every trip. I don’t want to risk a crowded train, and not be guaranteed a seat. I know some who have had to stand for hours because they didn’t reserve their seat. No, thanks!

Overall, riding the train is fun, affordable, stress-free, and my go-to way of getting around Germany. It beats driving in terrible traffic, and when you arrive at the station with plenty of time to spare, don’t get accosted by crazy psycho strangers, or yelled at by conductors, it can be quite an enjoyable experience.

If you’ve ridden the DB, I want to hear some of your stories. What are some goods, bads, and scaries you’ve encountered?