Friday, September 30, 2011

Where I Give You My Super Secret Meal Planning Strategy...Because I Was Told To

For quite some time Life with Baby Donut has been asking me to give the details about my meal planning strategy. In particular, she was interested in knowing more about my recipe binders.

The binders started actually as one binder, and it was used to simply hold recipes I tore out of magazines. For some time, I had boxes of food magazines with flags attached. Shockingly they weren't used. Also shockingly, I had zero room for them.

So I just tore them all out and stuffed them in the binder.

Shockingly, them just sitting in the binder also didn't lead to much success in meal planning. So I finally got it together and organized the binder by food type (poultry, beef, pasta, etc).

Once I had the organization, I felt liberated! I started reading more and more magazines and filing more and more recipes and all of a sudden the one binder was overflowing. It was challenging to do meal planning for different things: when I wanted to have a healthy meal versus when we were entertaining or just wanted to indulge a little.

And thus my idea was born: I would arrange one "healthy" binder and one "entertaining" binder. I defined healthy as 400 calories or under.

My process goes like this:

Find a binder. I really like a bigger 3-ring binder, and I think it's important for it to have pockets for some items that won't do well with three-hole punches.

Make your own categories. I chose to organize mine by type of meat because more often than not, I look in our freezer to see what we have extra. You may wish to sort by entree, time, slow cooker recipes, whatever floats your boat.

Make tabs for that category. All I used to make the tabs were manila folders that I tore in half.  
As I go through magazines, I yank out recipes and put them in a folder I keep in the binder until I can organize them.

My Folder 'O Recipes

My "Tabs"

I punch holes in them with my handy dandy three-hole puncher and VIOLA!

Did I mention I need a new binder? I kind of overstuffed this one. So many healthy recipes, YAY!

Then when I am ready to meal plan, I go through the recipes and just put them here on my handy dandy recipe holder (which, incidentally, comes from the husband and I kind of want to replace it).

I have to say, our three-week meal plan was pretty ideal. We purchased all of the non-perishable items and then just shopped for the fresh stuff the week of. Game-changer, people! We've wasted significantly less food and while we certainly went out to eat a few times in there, for the most part knowing we had a meal more or less waiting for us at home made a difference.

One new thing I did with the meal plan was also pick a veggie side. The Sister Wife and I were discussing that we would be more willing to eat veggies more often if they just tasted like something. So I can declare success with spinach and pine nuts; Parmesan broccoli; and green beans and bacon. Amazingly, each item was pretty healthy b/c the toppings weren't overdone, but it gave them a lot of flavor.

Peppers with Parmesan and Thyme

So that's it! How do you plan your meals and/or organize your recipes?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Please welcome Lola again! When she told me this story, I begged her to write this up, as I think it's blog gold!

Who here remembers their first driving lesson? I know I do – I almost plowed into a parked van trying to execute a left turn. Good thing those instructor cars came with two sets of brakes. Then there was confusing the gas pedal with the brakes on a road test with my dad. Certainly an unforgettable experience – especially for my dad!

I got to appreciate his bravery a little bit more just a few weeks ago, when I gave my very first driving lesson. Did I mention that it was to my mom?

That’s right. My mom still hasn’t learned how to drive, and now that my parents may be moving to a much more car-intensive city, I finally managed to talk her into giving it a whirl.

So picture this: a deserted parking lot on a weekend. It’s almost dusk. I get into the passenger seat and it sinks in – I have absolutely no control whatsoever. All I can do is hope and pray that I can talk her through navigating around the mailbox and the street lights. And really, that’s not a comfortable place to be.

But hey, this was all my idea and I at least have to look like I’m totally okay with this (and not having a little mental freak-out).

She gets in the car, which is already running (it’s cheating, but it’s our first lesson, so whatever). I kindly ask her to adjust the mirrors. She refuses because “she doesn’t know how to use them.”

Dear Jesus, if I get home alive and without serious damage to my vehicle, I promise to build several churches in your honor. But hey, gotta stay calm! The last thing I want to do is freak her out by letting on how nervous I am!

So she puts her foot on the brake, puts the car in Drive, and we sloooowly take off. Watching her go, I begin to understand who I get my overcautious nature from – she’s not exactly a giddy 16-year-old who’s, like, totally psyched to finally get behind the wheel.

Like, omigawd!

So we start making figure eights around the parking lot at a snail’s pace. At some point, I actually relax enough to start having evil, envious thoughts – my first driving lesson didn’t go this smoothly! Somehow, the idea that my mom is a better neophyte drive than I was overrides the terror within me. The little voice inside my head that was screaming “she’ll kill us all!” five minutes ago is now saying “you got served! By your mom!”

But I look over and she’s actually kind of enjoying herself. I suggest we try the gas pedal (you can imagine the speed we were going just riding the brakes). She does. We don’t hit a chestnut tree.

Woo hoo! My mom ROCKS, people!

I guess this is that same mixed feeling of terror and pride that parents get when their teen finally starts to drive. It’s sort of overwhelming. Plus I’m getting just a tad nauseated from going in circles over and over. And yet I don’t say anything, because it really is quite an amazing feeling to watch someone take one tiny, miniscule step toward conquering a huge fear.

What the hey, I’m actually very proud of her!

The moment is ruined when some kid shows up to learn to ride his bike on that very same lot. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to mix the two forces of destruction. We pull over without incident and I get out and walk over to the driver’s side on jelly legs.

Sitting in the car, I start thinking how something that I find so easy, so automatic – like breathing – can seem so daunting to someone else. Someone who’s even afraid of the mirrors. And about how little it takes to feel a bit more empowered.

Not that I’m itching to have a second driving lesson with mom anytime soon. Not until she learns to adjust the mirrors, anyway.

Do you remember your first driving lesson? Do you have more respect for whoever had to be in the car with you now?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Years

Brooke over at My Small Soldiers kindly gave me an award recently and I saved it until today because I thought it was a great prompt to look back.

You see, I've been doing this for two years. I debated whether I would even say anything. I'm not the type to wax poetic about what blogging has done for me. I love it, I love my readers and the world it has opened up, but I won't sit here and pretend there haven't been times where I wondered what I was doing.

Want proof? I initially wrote "wax poetic about what blogging has done TO me."

Still and all, I am proud of almost everything I have written here. It has given me the outlet I craved to continue creative writing without the pressure of assignments or deadlines.

Choosing 7 was harder than I anticipated, but here goes nothing:

Most Beautiful:

Where I Worry Someday My Daughter Will Experience The Lonelies
One of my favorite lines: But as I looked down at my daughter, I wondered: how do I tell her that if she gets that feeling, that lonely feeling, she’s in the wrong crowd, she’s with the wrong person?

Most Helpful:

I Don't Know if I Helped Anyone, But My Advice on What to Do Before Getting Married Did Inspire Conversation
One of my favorite lines: But I think for most couples, cohabitation is imperative to really understanding how your relationship will progress. When you each have your own corner to run to when things get tough, it's just not the same as having to be in the same space and work it out.

Most Controversial:

This Wasn't as Controversial as I had Feared, but I Dared Write About Spanking.
One of my favorite lines: As I may have mentioned, I love me some Dr Phil and he says something that has always stuck with me. “When you have a child, you write on the slate of who they are every day.” Well, if that’s true, Amber and Gary’s kid’s slate is covered in expletives, smeared with Dorito dust.

Most Popular:

Stats Don't Lie: People Love When I Write About TV
One of my favorite lines: (these were the days before Oz, so I am sure it was put nicely, but the moral of the story was you either get shivved in the shower or you become some big man’s lady).

Most Underrated:

I Thought Slapping Someone at a Church Function Would Have Garnered More Enthusiasm and Interest.
One of my favorite lines: You could hear the smack followed by just total silence until Scott gasps to the woman next to him “did that dude just hit his wife??!!” and the woman nods and Cowboy Hat abuser has now realized what he’s done and pats her head and said something like “that was harder than the demonstration required.”

Most Surprisingly Successful:

Talking About My Mistakes in a Serious Way was a Departure for Me, but People Got the Message (and nobody got hurt)
One of my favorite lines: In my heart, all I wanted in the world was to crawl in that car and tell her how sorry I was, to hug her children and her and tell her how reckless I was, how incredibly self-absorbed I was to think getting to that restaurant sooner was worth more than her children.

Most Pride Worthy:

Where My Empathy Brings Me Back to Childhood
One of my favorite lines: Constantly starving for attention, not always understanding that the attention I was getting was at my expense, or not caring. I took everything so seriously, I never got the jokes.

So, seriously, thank you to Brooke because this was a great way for me to look back and realize how much I've written that I am truly proud of.

Here's who I would love to hear from on their blogs, and thus I bequeath them this award (and even if they don't accept, you should visit them and love them as I do):

The Woven Moments
It's Blogworthy
Life with Baby Donut
Fragile X Files
Not a Perfect Mom
La Petite Pancake

And I would actually love if all of you commented on either a post of mine that's your favorite, or a post of yours you are most proud of.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Flower in the Prison Cell Makes All the Difference, Don't It?

Are you sick of me whining about having to commute now?

Let's do something more fun, shall we? Let's talk decor. Namely, what do you do to make your cubicle feel like YOU?

I figure there are some basic dos and don'ts. Do keep it tasteful and simple. Don't put up religious stuff or advertise how much you like booze. But I'm just not sure how to go with it beyond that.

I have a home office that my awesome husband built. Did I mention he's awesome? Because he BUILT IT! Sadly, I am not awesome and because I tend to end up watching a lot of TV on the couch, I didn't really decorate it. My office now looks more like this.

Organizers: UNITE!

Obviously, I can't keep this kind of trashiness in a cubicle at work. So I want something orderly, personalized, something that will make me feel as at home as I can possibly feel.

Naturally, I went to Twitter first and got these great responses:

So, definitely pictures of my kiddo. And here are a few other odds and ends I have lying around that I'm considering putting in.

We call him Chairman Oink.

Also, I kind of figured I'd step into this century and give Pinterest a shot. I didn't find a lot that I feel I could realistically do, but there were a few nice ones:

I like the idea of some wallpaper.

I really love the idea of these hanging portraits. Maybe smaller ones w/ photos. But kind of serene.
Doesn't this just look so tidy and beachy??
So, share your wisdom, oh cubicle/office dwellers. How do you decorate? What's your favorite thing in your cube? Are there no-nos?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Second Childhood

You guys, there isn't much I don't love about the daycare that sparked the DAYCARE DILEMMA.

Except one major thing. They give a lot of homework.

For me.

Sunday afternoon while watching the Patriots I spent an hour searching for family photos. Because apparently next week my child will be making a family tree.

It's cool. She's not even 2 and still sees pictures of a baby and sometimes says "Momma" (yeah, I'm youthful like that), but she's going to be going all up in her toddler classroom.

I wish this was it. The week prior I spent my Sunday organizing her clothing for the week because it was Color Week and she was to wear the chosen color of the day.

Lest you think they're too structured, Friday was Favorite Color Day. Also known around these parts as Well, What Does She Still Fit Into Day (kiddo had a growth spurt, we're all reeling a bit).

You guys, I love that they expand her mind, I truly do. I find things like book orders and School Picture Day adorable and goofy.

But this requires actual work on my part, and I just don't have the energy. I feel especially bad for the people there who have school-age kids with ACTUAL homework and permission slips and the like who now have to add color coordination to their already packed to-do list.

But maybe they don't feel the need to be A++ Valedictorian Mom and I just have issues with perfectionism?

No that can't be it.

Can't you just put up a color wheel like everyone else? Can't you draw a stick figure in a dress and call it Momma? Or...okay, a stick figure in work pajamas. I've spent close to two hours on these projects and I'm pretty sure the highlight of Wee 'Burb's day will STILL be snack time.

Anyone else have overzealous school preparedness daycares? Am I just overly cranky and denying my child a great education?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Grocery Budget

So, those of you who've been with me the last few months know that we've put Wee 'Burb in a new, more expensive daycare, thus requiring some financial magic and finally resulting in the loss of my data plan and some unfortunate dealings with my cell phone company and ebay.

Anyway, I came across this article about typical grocery budgets and started wondering if maybe we can't cut a wee bit more in this area.

But I am also wondering if it's even remotely realistic. The article says:

According to the USDA, in 2011 it should cost me $523.70 per month to feed my family of two adults and two children ages two and five a nutritious diet on a thrifty budget. To feed the same family on a low-cost plan would cost $667.20; a moderate-cost plan would cost $823.60; and a liberal plan would cost $1,018.80.

In fairness, I would say we're between the moderate cost and liberal plan.

But then again, we only have one kid. Does Cous Cous count as a kid?

The key focus of this article is not over-buying, which is something I admit I am guilty of. In our house, we consider certain things "staples" and that usually means sweet peppers, onions, garlic, and yogurt. Unfortunately, some of those items get ignored for a little bit and then we have soft peppers, melted onions, sprouty garlic, and chunky yogurt.

Wonh wonh wonnnnhhhhh.

I'm hoping our three-week meal plan will help this. We should have a decent amount of recipes on hand should we have extra produce.

Where in this budget do you fall? Have you taken steps to reduce your grocery budget at all?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Driving Into Different Territory

So, some of you may already know that my full-time telecommuter status has been revoked. Come October it looks like I will be back in the office full-time, and it's got me more than a little stressed. The autonomy and work/life balance of working at home has been something I have come to cherish.

The fact that my new commute (about 40 minutes) will come right before winter offers me little in the way of consolation.

Consider this article on how it's more difficult for women to commute than men.  At first I found the premise sexist and kind of absurd, but then I really thought about it. While my husband doesn't love driving all over creation for his job, he's rarely stressed about it. Because I am the one who usually picks Wee 'Burb up, because if I can't, I have the sexless sister wife to back me up. And then, of course, my parents help out at least once a week. He doesn't worry about dinner being late because I'm the one who prepares it and cooks it well before he's even on the road.

We've both taken for granted that since I've been a Mom, I've been working at home.

The article puts it succinctly: Researchers attribute women's heightened "sensitivity to time spent commuting" to our "greater responsibility for day to day household tasks (including childcare and housework)."

I have gently broached the subject with Scott in terms of us re-regulating our life. While it made sense for me to do household chores and cook while I was home (because I could do them on a lunch break, or because I could start work earlier and have more time to prepare dinner, etc), we'll now both be on the road, stuck in traffic, racing to see which of us can pick Wee 'Burb up before having to hand the daycare a late fee.

I'm not sure I'm ready for this. I'm not sure he is, either.

Do you agree that commutes are harder on women, especially working moms? Have you had this kind of switch? If you went from working to staying at home, did you just start assuming housework? How do you divide chores if you both work outside the home? Is your entire weekend spent cleaning and catching up?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Famous Foodies Like My Stuff

So I am perusing Food Network magazine the other day when I stumble across this!

It's my cow creamer, the one that started our first registry argument, featured prominently in the house of The Pioneer Woman.

Anyone see a pineapple corer there? No? I thought so.

Take THAT, Scott!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wherein I Pat Myself on the Back

You guys? I want to kind of brag a little bit here. Some of you longer-time readers may know that I have been seeing a nutritionist. You can see the post where I first see her here and where she talks me off a ledge here and where I realize I need more help than just her here.

I am not going to pretend I met my weight, and consequently my BMI goals.

But another area I had focused on was triglycerides.  High triglycerides can be an indicator of Diabetes, something that is just rampant in my family. I've always been hyper-aware of the possibility that my weight, though less than it used to be, still puts me in a risk area for this disease. Seeing what my father has gone through, as well as myriad other people in my life,  I just don't want to ever have to deal with Diabetes if I don't have to.

My triglycerides  had actually gone higher from my first biometric screening to the next, so I was concerned about the trend. She immediately suggested fish oil and more fiber.

My screening was in February. I had it retested a few weeks ago. 38% lower.

While I am not proud of my lack of weight loss, I am very proud of how much my health has improved.

My nutritionist and I determined we don't need to continue to see each other, but I told her I owe her a lot, and I know I will keep what I learned going forward as I work on improving my body and my lifestyle.

Some of the biggies I learned:

1. Fiber is key for everything. Healthy digestion, weight loss (keeps you full longer), and lowering triglycerides and even bad cholesterol. My favorite sources of fiber have been high-fiber Trader Joe's bread and spinach.

2. Get water where you can. If you're like me and don't love just chugging boring plain old water, try flavored water or flavored seltzer (watch out for added sugar, though) or decaf tea. Lemonade counts, too (again, watch the sugar).

3. Check your sugar. Have I said enough about sugar? Honestly, guys, my diet focus was always on fat. So I did a lot of those 100 calorie packs and yogurts. But when you look at the sugar content of some of these items, it can be quite alarming. Keeping sugar at or around 6 grams is a good guideline. BUT, some things will be higher. I was nervous about these fruit bars from Trader Joes that I ate.

Source: Yummy Diet Food

Well, I needn't have been. My nutritionist declared them almost the perfect snack. Low calorie, has a serving of fruit and/or veggies, and all of the sugar comes naturally. If you see something high in sugar and it comes from fruit or something else naturally high in sugar, check the ingredients to make sure there's nothing added or processed.

4. Supplements can be your friend. I was a bit anxious about adding supplements to my diet. I mean, I take a multivitamin, but otherwise I'm sort of skeptical about adding a bunch of pills to my life. However, I can now say with 100% certainty that fish oil was integral in lowering my triglycerides. I also am taking Vitamin D. I can't point to any particular effect, but I do feel more energetic.

So overall I feel like I have the tools, and now the key is using them correctly.

Have I convinced any of you to see a nutritionist or dietitian? Do you take supplements? What nutrition fact surprises you the most?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Back on the Wagon

You guys, I had a wee bit too much vacation on my vacation, if ya know what I mean. I drank Dunkaccinos almost every day (please, Minnesota, get a Dunkin Donuts IMMEDIATELY), I drank some fabulous wine on the fabulous porch, and I enjoyed so much fried fish, I may have sprouted gills.

I had to face the music when I got back. I was most afraid of my new personal trainer, John. He was surprisingly easy on me. Easier than I was on myself when I saw myself in those gym mirrors. SHUDDER.

Epic diet fail, people.

My roommate and I also admitted that we spent the day I got back in my parents' hot tub (she's house-sitting) drinking Prosecco and downing a family-size pizza.

Sunday we got together and decided we had to get back on the wagon. We took out my humongo binder of recipes and set about creating a meal plan.

Instead of doing just a weekly plan, we decided to come up with entree/side combinations for about three weeks and shop every Sunday based on grocery store sales and what we could get at the farmer's market.

When we were done, we were both sort of shocked we hadn't thought of this before. Meal plans can feel so restrictive sometimes. And sometimes you just can't stomach 3 chicken dishes in one week. Sometimes the broccolini just looks so damn good at Trader Joe's, you must have it.

Anyone with me?

Anyway, it's great. Or it will be when we start it next week. We are trying almost 80% new recipes, including veggie sides. We're integrating some good fall-like foods like sweet potatoes.

It's amazing how having a plan can make you feel skinnier in moments.

We also may or may not have set our weight loss goals based on New England Patriots goals.

What? We're kind of dudes sometimes. It happens.

What do you do when you go totally off your meal and/or fitness plan? Do you dive back in or do you have to phase in? Do you go nutty on vacation or stay on plan?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Last week I got an unpleasant paperwork surprise when I went to pick up Wee 'Burb at daycare. It was our very first Incident Report. The report read: "While Wee 'Burb was playing, a friend bit her on the left arm."

Some friend.

Honestly, the write-up kind of made me laugh. I shrugged it off at first, but then sure enough, there was a bite mark clear as day on her little arm.

The teacher said she didn't cry.

For some reason, that made me more emotional about the whole thing, that my little girl just stood there and took it while some kid bit her in frustration.

I know this is the age. Wee 'Burb is a notorious slapper, though for some reason only at home. She never hits at daycare and she never hits other kids. But she has zero fear of smacking me right in the face when she's mad.

My parents told me I should have asked what was done to the biter, to determine if there was a time out or if the tot is being removed from other kids. I felt weird about doing that. They had clearly taken pains to not mention his or her name,

When I expressed my doubt over whether or not I had the right to ask about some other kid's punishment, my mom staunchly said: "I did when it was Pacman."

Pacman was my daycare taunter, a child who constantly chased and bit other kids. Before I wrote an essay to become a latchkey kid, I was stuck with Pacman, a younger boy, and his terrible teeth. Because I was shy and quiet, I was an easy target. Looking back, I think he enjoyed getting a rise out of me. It took a lot.

My mom bringing him up made me laugh. When I was in college, my mom casually said "I went to so-and-so's graduation party last weekend." I had no clue who she was talking to. She did the usual Mom thing "of course you know who he is, he went to your daycare, you were a few years know, Pacman?"

I still do not remember the actual name of this guy. But I guess it's good to know he's now a productive learned member of society. And that while I obviously vividly remember this kid, it hasn't affected my relationships or my life in any long-term way. There's hope for Wee 'Burb and the chomping child, I guess.

How would you have dealt with this? Would you wait for it to happen again to ask about what's being done, or assume the kiddo is a serial biter and express concern? Is this just age-appropriate behavior? Were you the biter or bitee when you were little?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes...

So, after multiple different managers and departments, the edict has been finally handed down: I will no longer be a full-time telecommutercome October. While my new arrangement will be helpful career-wise, it will also mean a huge change in my day-to-day life.

Let me break it down for you: when I started full-time telecommuting, I had just purchased a house, I was newly engaged, I wasn't even 30 yet.

Things have changed a bit since then. I take Wee 'Burb to her daycare in workout clothes. I only apply concealer when absolutely even less often. My hair is in a ponytail so often than the times I do take it down, Wee 'Burb is fascinated that I actually have hair.

Also? I haven't put on work clothes in years. Among the fears I had about commuting, waking up before 6:30, and having to be presentable before coffee, my biggest fear is what I will wear. 

And then it hit me, this vague memory that before I was working at home full-time, I had clothes I wore to work. In fact, I recalled having quite a few pants I had paid good money to have tailored about 6 months before I was told I could work at home. 

But where were they? I looked for a full week and gave up. Then late one night while watching the Red Sox kick some butt, it occurred to me that there was one place I hadn't looked. I had mostly cleaned out the closet my roommate now uses, but I recalled I had stuck a bin or two there that hadn't fit anywhere else. 

After completely dismantling the closet, I found it! The bin labeled "Steph's Closet" that held a treasure trove of tailored delight. 

Remember me saying I had basically none of the top 10 Gunn recommendations? Well, I still kind of am missing some things but I did find 8 pair of tailored dress pants, 3 black skirts, 1 white button-down shirt, and 2 nice wrap dress shirts.

So I'm feeling good and then I see this! 50 CLASSICS????  I couldn't even make the top 10.

Allow me to share my feelings about the 50 classics.

What are your thoughts on the 50 classics? When is "classics" outdated? Does anyone know what an Oxford Shirt is????

Friday, September 2, 2011

As Coping Mechanisms Go, it Could be Worse

When things get tough, I get cleaning.

Imposing organization on thing just makes me feel a million times better.

After a vacation, I usually feel a strong need to clean and organize. I always try to do this before I leave so I don't return to a messy house. But typically we all think of things to add at the last minute, and there's no time to pick up after yourself, and so there's a pile of clothes here, and a bunch of shampoos and travel size stuff there, and then a very sad Stephanie when she returns to anarchy.

This time I tackled our bathroom. I have done a good job of putting everything in these little bins. We each have our own bin, and then a few communal ones in our linen closet.

This time, I tackled the bins even further and imposed some more order by putting like items together in Ziploc bags and throwing out expired and useless meds (e.g., I had a bunch of sleeping pills and No-Doz I had taken to my trip to Italy over 5 years ago that fell into both of those categories, as neither worked and my jet lag was legendary).

First Aid Bin Before

After: Sigh, we had a loooot of extra stuff in there.
Extra Supply Bin of Mystery, including bug spray from when I was pregnant with Wee 'Burb.

Slightly more organized. Why did I keep the bug spray now that I think of it?
I also put all my travel size items and other things I don't use that often in separate bags and moved them to our larger linen closet in our downstairs bathroom, a very under-utilized space (because I'm too lazy to go all the way downstairs to get most things).

What is the hardest room in your house to organize? Does organizing stress you out, or do you find it therapeutic? How long does your organization usually stick around?