Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Thanks to my recent contribution to Early Mama, I have been getting a lot of new visitors!  To you I say: welcome!  Feel free to comment and say hello.

I'd love any suggestions on things you would like to hear about: parenting, higher education, crafts, and anything American culture.

Again, welcome!

- M.


See what I did there?

Actual blue sky from this summer.  
This week marks the slow transition back into the school year, although at this level, we don't really get the summer "off."  Granted, I don't go to work, but I had a new course prep, dissertation research, and a summer class.  Yesterday was my third graduate assistant orientation at school.  It really made me realize how long I've been at this campus, and how much financial assistance they have provided me.  A few new things, but more or less the drill is the same.  I got to meet some of the new assistants, as well as reconnect with some of the rising Ph.D. students who were previously Masters students.

Drawing with chalk in the backyard.
Considering how long the university summer is, I assumed things would pretty much be in order by now.  We are moving offices, thanks to some new faculty, and changing how we dole out assistant hours to some of the faculty (to prevent having a lot of unaccounted for hours at the end of the semester).  Well, neither new thing was sorted out.  The old tenants of our new offices are still there (school starts in less than a week) and the new hours weren't figured out either.  I really wanted to be able to provide E's sitters with some concrete hours, but seeing as I'm the only parent in the G.A. group, I'm not shocked this wasn't considered.  I don't pull the parent card much, but I will in this situation.  I need to have consistent hours that mesh with the schedules of my sitters.  I'm actually not concerned about that, but I have already determined that I will bring Elliott into the fray if necessary.

Garden Update: Our sunflowers bloomed, the cherry tomatoes are still producing, and I'm super disappointed by the beefsteak plant.  Perhaps it got too much water this summer (it has been really wet in our neck of the woods), but it has about 5 GIANT tomatoes that have not yet ripened.  Next year might only see cherry tomatoes in the garden.

Our sunflower attracted a bee.
Jason and I caught summer colds this weekend, so my productivity has been down.  I have to miss the last week of summer dance, and I hope I can just get the necessary things done by next Monday!

Before my cold showed up, I did go to the Mt. Grenta Outdoor Art Show again.  As always, it was a really fun time, and I actually bought a hand-made item this year (not a t-shirt or souvenir like years past).  It's a ceramic yarn bowl, which prevents your yarn from falling all over the place while you use it.  It sounds ridiculous, but using it keeps things orderly and untangled.  I would love to vacation at Mt. Gretna someday; it's almost like being transported back in time.

"Under the trees at Old Chataqua"

One of the adorable homes.

Inside the Jigger Shop, the delicious ice cream place.

A perennial favorite home to look at.

Beautiful flower from house above.

Metal and glasswork flower.  Just a taste of the pieces at the show.

Stained glass lamp in the Jigger Shop.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Big Blog News!

I'm officially a regular contributor to Early Mama, a blog that focuses on younger mothers in a world where a twenty-something mom is less common than ever.  My area of "expertise" is going to be student-parenting (it's kind of the only way I've ever known parenting), so stay tuned for all kinds of perspectives on that topic.  Michelle, the mama of the Early Mamas, has recruited some fascinating ladies to write for the blog, so please check it out more often than when I post.

Here is my first post, on getting ready to go back to school.

- M.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Meal Planning 101

After my latest post, I had a request to talk about HOW to meal plan.  Until I came up with this system, it was a pretty big pain in the butt, and we would frequently give up and order out.  In the first two weeks that we used the system, we did not order or eat out once.  We had dinner at our parent's homes, but that does not count as dining out.

Mandarin Pork and Rice
Step 1: Gather your resources
 - Figure out what is already in your cupboards.  This will prevent you from wasting food and from buying things you don't actually need at the store (which is how meal planning saves money).
 - Gather the recipes in your wheel house.  Don't try to learn to make a million new things.  Obviously you have seen what I can make (and that we have an unhealthy obsession with chicken), and we add a new recipe when we can.  Be realistic.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Step 2: Organize!
 - I have a board on our fridge that houses the schedule for the week.  It has places for five people's schedule, but obviously, there are only three of us (with schedules...Barney is super lazy).  In the bottom row, I write the dinner for the evening.  We all know what it is and can see how it fits into the schedule.
 - To make future meal planning easier, I got some blank 3" x 5" index cards.  On each card, I wrote a meal / entree and its ingredients on the front, and the procedure on the back.  Because I am a little anal retentive, I also coded the cards by the meat (or lack thereof) and grain contents.  If I didn't, we'd end up having a weeks worth of chicken or pasta dishes.  We try not to have consecutive nights of the same meat.  We also try to have one meatless night, or at least seafood.
 - Each week (whenever is good for you; we do this on Sundays), we plan the week's meals.  We set out the cards, make a grocery list, find coupons, and set aside the food we already have for those meals.  I was finding that I would accidentally use something to make lunch, or Jason would use it to bake, so if we set it in a special place, it doesn't get used.
 - For lunch, we eat leftovers and a few standards (deli sandwiches, hot dogs, mac and cheese, PB&J) so we also make sure to purchase those things and breakfast items.
Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese

Step 3: Shop
 - Do not grocery shop without a list.  I repeat: DO NOT CROSS THE THRESHOLD OF THE STORE WITHOUT A LIST IN YOUR HAND.  Otherwise, all the planning is for naught.  On my list, I also note which things I have coupons for to make comparison shopping easier.  If the coupon requires a certain number of things to get the discount, I also note that on my list.
 - My kiddo is a pretty good sidekick for errands.  As long as I talk to him a lot and play, he has enough patience to last the trip.  I find it takes me longer to shop without him because I end up making impulse purchases, I wander in the store, and I have no reason to make the trip quick.  If your kids make the trip longer or whatever, see if you can avoid taking them on the big trip.  Go after your spouse is home and the kid is in bed.  Also, find out when the Senior Discount Day is and avoid that morning.
 - Unless you need delicate produce, try to get all of your ingredients in one trip.  This helps avoid smaller trips that tend to add up throughout the week.

Cayenne Lime Chicken and Mango Salsa
Once you've made the cards, meal planning and shopping for me takes about an hour and half total.  I'm definitely buying and wasting less because of this system.

That said, organization is a pretty personal thing.  You can get ideas from others, but making it work for you and your family is probably going to require some tweaking.

Stout Cupcakes
*Remember: If you are ever bored with your dinner plans and need a new recipe, check out the entries under "recipes" in the tag cloud.

- M.