In just over a week, I need to have all of the stuff on the white board in my office at PHS done. It's a lot of stuff, but I'm feeling much better having gotten it from my brain and onto a board I face whenever I'm sitting in my chair at work. Which reminds me of this book I read a couple of years ago, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. One big takeaway is that we stress out unnecessarily when we keep remembering the stuff we haven't done yet. Our brains just keep coming back to it and churning on it. If we write down the tasks in a place that we are sure to refer to, our brains get freed up and we don't have to worry about forgetting what we need to accomplish. We only need pay attention to any given item again when we are ready to deal with it. I was a bit of a whack job this morning at home worrying about getting things done, and making this list right as I arrived at work helped a ton.
David Allen's suggestions are good as long as you don't make yourself crazy. Take the tips that serve you and dump the rest. Tickler file? Waste of time for me. I did tape "DO DEFER DELEGATE DISCARD" on my computer monitor at work after reading the book to help me get through e-mail more efficiently. With 663 messages in my work e-mail in-box alone, I clearly still have a ways to go on that one.
You may note that I have a whole unfilled column on my list with the title "fun stuff." Gotta work on that. But I find that as I progress through my tasks, some of it can be fun. Like discovering that someone does, in fact, make bifocal reader sunglasses. I think these will be awesome for my driving vacation with the family and in my soon-to-be new role as an auto commuter. It's weird in the car that I can't read the dashboard dials or radio without putting my reading glasses on, so these bifocal reader sunglasses will hopefully solve that. Plus, I'll be able to sit in the sun and read comfortably without squinting. I wish I'd invented them!
I also am replacing my lost Fitbit One charger. I'm sure my old one will turn up as soon as I have the new one out of the package, in which case, I'll keep the duplicate at work. Then I'll be sure to never miss a step. Har har.
Then there's the mindless and time-consuming tasks. I don't really mind mowing the lawn usually. Scanning pics for my niece is fun too. Finding time for both is the part that feels stressful. Maybe I can offer a cash reward to my kids for helping with those projects. Everybody wins!
The rest of the stuff... well, it's just stuff I need to do. It'll probably all get done. Or nearly all. Some of it absolutely HAS to get done. Other stuff... We'll see, anyway. Likely nothing too bad will happen if I miss a thing or two.
My older son Corley recently described August as the Sunday night of the summer. I tend to agree, but I'm determined to stay low-key and content as long as I can. Even though I have had to go to my Day Job more days than not, I have arranged my time off in July and August to maximize good fun with my family. That in itself isn't unusual, but this year, I have "bonus" days off as a result of five furloughed Fridays. This last Friday we piled in the van and day-tripped to Island Beach State Park in New Jersey. No boardwalk. No arcade. No shops of beachwear or gifts. Just the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Barnegat Bay to the west. Plenty of gluten-free food because I packed it and put it in the cooler. It was a beautiful day and it had many parts: Boogie boarding, walking along the beach, spotting dolphins in the distance, and constructing sand castle engineering projects. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset on the bay on our way out of the park. I violated one small no-trespassing suggestion to find the amazing view in the pic below.
Some days I have to bring more intention to finding my happy place than others. As the Sunday night feeling of the nearing end of summer sneaks up on me a little more, I'm appreciating the low-key glide that I've had the last couple of months. I'm especially rejoicing that between now and Labor Day, I'm actually off from work more than I have to go. By a lot. I am definitely appreciating that. And I will do my best to be centered in the moment, be open to the gifts that present themselves, and will milk the end of the season for all it's worth.
In the science of happiness, it has been demonstrated that creating enjoyable and memorable experiences keeps us happy into our old age way better than spending money on stuff. I'm all about creating excellent experiences. Jenn and I went to Paris last October and the boys stayed with their aunt and uncle at home. Summer is our time for all of us, and when it's a family vacation, we gear activities toward what we think our 9 and 11 year old sons will enjoy. That leaves out a lot of stuff -- most museums, lots of walking in hot cities. Come to think of it, my tastes tend to skew the same way. They also aren't keen on taking many hours to get there, wherever there is.
To maximize everyone's potential for a good time, we decided to stay sort-of local for our vacation this year. We are less than 2 hours from home, but other than the travel time being brief, we might as well be a thousand miles away from our suburban Philadelphia home. Our vacation strategy? Go far enough away that we don't have to call it a "stay-cation," skip the plane fare for a family of four, go during the week to avoid the crowds, and stay away from checking work email at least 90% of the time.
Our destination? Jim Thorpe, PA, population 4,774. Why? Rafting, biking on converted railways, excellent state parks, caverns an hour away (in case it rains), and a waterpark not too far to cap off the trip.
As always, we are staying at a place with at least minimal food storage and prep facilities. We nearly rented a house through VRBO.com, but because of an iffy forecast, we decided instead on a Hampton Suites because of the indoor pool in case we get rained in. I packed accordingly and, at least until the refrigerator got overly excited and froze all my vegetables, I was in pretty good shape. Breakfast is included with the hotel, so when I don't want to have my protein shake in the blender I brought, I am enjoying fruit and individually packaged yogurts. I packed lunches for our two day-long outings so far: Salad during our rafting lunch stop, PB&J on an Udi's bagel for our 15 mile bike ride. I have plenty of snacks on hand too -- homemade oaty protein bars, granola circles, gf Oreos from Trader Joe's, Xocai healthy dark chocolate, veggies and hummus, raisins, trail mix, etc. A couple of shops in town have boasted gluten-free ice cream and desserts. We have spotted a couple of places in town through Urban Spoon that sound like they can accommodate a gluten free dinner, but so far we've not had a big dinner out. Jenn and the boys have been happy with pizza or sandwiches by the pool while I have eaten provisions I brought. Maybe we'll venture out for dinner tomorrow. Maybe not. Doesn't matter really.
It doesn't matter because I didn't come to Jim Thorpe for the food. My main goal is to stay healthy and unglutened so that I can enjoy the journey of making happy memories. We chose to stay in this small town in Pennsylvania for the opportunities for family fun and adventure. So far, so good. I know that the memories of our excursions together will far outlast any recollection of meals eaten or not eaten, as the case may be.
Mixed Vegetable Panang Curry with Tofu from Bangkok Cuisine
I recently attended a four-day Xocai Healthy Dark Chocolate convention at the Atlantis Resort and Casino in Reno, NV. Before heading there, I introduced myself over the phone to chefs Bob and Dennis, who gave me tips in navigating the conference culinary offerings, and where I would have the best chance for success in the half dozen or so restaurants that are part of the casino. They were both very nice, and I did enjoy a nice conference salad one day. However, I mostly relied on provisions of apples, oranges, bananas and raisins as well as carrots and hummus from the grocery store across the street, and the powdered peanut butter and gf amaranth rolls I brought from home. And let's not forget the Xocai protein shake! One of my roommates brought her bullet blender, so breakfast was a snap.
But of course there were opportunities to eat out. One evening we wanted to eat al fresco -- a natural result of having been inside a casino meeting room all day when the weather outside was sunny and 80. We lucked into the Great Basin Brewing Company, having picked it on the basis that they had outdoor seating. It was a short cab ride from the resort and they had a fairly well-endowed gluten-free menu (though I thought it strange that they didn't appear to carry any gf beers.) I enjoyed the La Flaca Rice Bowl sans chips, which was essentially rice and beans with a spicy salsa, topped with avocado. It was just what I needed and it really hit the spot! The service was a bit on the slow side, but we WERE a party of eight, so I will not judge them on their usual service time based on our experience. Our server was delightful, attentive and very helpful. Sadly, I've forgotten her name.
The next night we decided to eat out again, and so I set out to find something interesting that could meet the needs of our group. Usiing UrbanSpoon.com, I spotted Bangkok Cuisine, which was also a short cab ride from the Atlantis. I called in advance and learned that they didn't have a gluten-free menu but that they could easily and safely accommodate me. When we arrived, Veronica our server was super helpful and guided me through their extensive menu. Our group of eight decided to do a family-style meal sharing, but I kept mine separate until I'd filled my plate then put it on the go-around with the other dishes. I had the mixed vegetable coconut soup -- spicy, light and refreshing -- and the mixed vegetable panang curry over rice. No problem with the service here -- the food came out quite fast. There is nothing like fresh and authentic Thai food to really buoy my spirits, not that they were low, but I just hadn't had Thai food other than Pei Wei (a chain restaurant that is owned by the same people who run PF Chang's) since my celiac diagnosis. Who knew Reno would be the place for reintroducing me to excellent Thai food?
I do want to note that before I went I identified a couple of places to eat that were an easy walk from the casino that looked promising. Zpizza offers a gluten-free crust and delivery, so I would probably have ordered in if I hadn't been traveling with a posse. The Aroma Club also had some possibilities, though their hours didn't match well with my free time from the conference.
All in all, I had a great trip and was really pleased with my dining out experiences. Thanks, Reno!
Here's my updated list of restaurant picks for visitors coming to Philadelphia for an event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. For my day job, I am director of gardening programs at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). I work with our community gardens and City Harvest projects. It is very gratifying to be able to work with Philadelphians to make their neighborhoods and community spaces cleaner, greener, safer, healthier and more vibrant. One way that PHS raises the necessary funds to carry on this important work is to present the Philadelphia International Flower Show every March. For the staff of PHS, it’s an all-hands-on-deck week-long affair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to ensure that visitors have the best experience possible. The show opens to the public the first Saturday in March, and we expect that more than quarter of a million people will walk through the doors that week.
Statistically speaking, that means more than 3,000 people with celiac and many, many others with gluten sensitivity and allergies will be in attendance as well. Food services at the convention center are handled by Aramark. I usually pack my lunch. I’ve found that trying to buy my lunch there is unsatisfactory from a cost, time, vegetarian and gluten-free perspective. However, if you are planning on visiting the show and have the time to take a little walk, get your hand stamped and check out one of these four really good, inexpensive places you can get an interesting GF lunch or dinner.
Mumbai Bistro at 10th and Locust. I ate there last week, and though they seem to have changed how they mark the GF options on the printed menu, the food on the buffet is clearly marked regarding its gf status. I had a plate of interesting Indian food and a bottle of water for about $6. Can’t beat that! CLOSED ON MONDAYS! That’s gotten me a couple of times.
Fuel at 1221 Walnut Street. I haven’t reviewed it for my blog, but I should! They have an interesting menu, carry GF bread for their sandwiches, and the waiter I had was very well-versed in the steps that they take to avoid gluten cross-contamination. Probably a $10 lunch experience.
Philadelphia Chutney Company at 1628 Sansom: A little further away, but good and interesting and cheap. Also a $10 lunch experience.
Mi Lah Vegetarian on 16th between Locust and Walnut. It’s a little more – probably a $15 – but really amazing and interesting food and they clearly mark what they can make GF. Jenn and I ate there last night and I can’t speak highly enough of the place. Check ‘em out for dinner if you have the inclination. We had a shared appetizer, entrees and a dessert apiece and paid $68 including tax and tip. A splurge for us for sure, but SO GOOD!
Georgio on Pine at 1328 Pine Street is a real treat -- a more grown-up experience, so leave more time to bask in the warmth and upscale elegance of the place. Tell them you are gluten-free and they'll bring you actual delicious locally baked gf bread right to your table. You'll be able to choose pasta or pizza (with Still Riding crust) and more.
There are other higher end places that are worth a look, but I haven’t eaten at them, so I can’t make personal recommendations. I also have write-ups of more than a dozen other Center City restaurants on my Restaurants page if you are up for a walk or checking out other sites while you are in town. Or get in touch and I can tell you about the restaurants that I've heard great things about but haven't tried yet, like Alma de Cuba. If you have suggestions, leave a comment!
Come look for me at PHS's exhibit at the Show, where I'll be much of the week. And Bon Appétit!