How I Plan Our Menus
Menu-planning is something I highly recommend for anyone and everyone who wants to save money. Not only does it greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for quick stops at the drive-thru or last-minute trips to the grocery store, it also makes life much easier, organized, and sane--at least for us!
That said, how you plan your menus is not a 1-2-3 step finite process; there are probably a hundred ways to plan a menu and a hundred different methods that work for different families in different situations. Some like to plan a very structured 3-meals-a-day weekly plan and never vary from it. Some plan only their dinner main dishes and plan them a month at a time and then make whichever menu item they are in the mood for. Some just make sure and always keep their pantry stocked with the necessary items to make their favorite meals.
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Friday, January 30, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
1. Make a menu for the week, and shop specifically for that menu. It's amazing how much food is saved by more or less sticking with a menu for the week rather than impulsively buying.
2. Make as many "processed foods" as possible at home. Currently for us, this means making our own bread, desserts, cereal (which is currently just raw oats, raisins, and honey), and snacks. In the past this has entailed making yogurt, granola, and "lunch meat" by roasting large meat that we bought on the cheap.
3. Buy the off brand when available. This is especially useful when we do buy processed foods (Cheerios for the baby), cleaning products, and baking goods. It is not uncommon for the off brand to be a third the price of the brand name!
4. Share a costco membership and use with discretion. We have found that the items that it is worth it for us to buy at costco are brown sugar, flour, oats, diapers, apple juice, coffee, cheese sticks, dogfood. Depending on what you use, this might vary. But as Ben is currently reminding me, don't succumb to the temptation of buying the "nicer stuff" at Costco, because you will end up spending more than you would at a regular grocery store, despite the bulk savings. Also, don't get anything that will spoil before you are able to use it.
5. Determine a set amount for groceries, "extra expenditures" like eating out, etc. PER WEEK and stick to it. Making sure that you hold yourself accountable week by week ensures that you don't go too crazy at any point in time.
6. Shop online for big ticket items. Zennioptical.com is where Ben gets his artsy-fartsy glasses, and they have held up for over 6 months, are trendy, and are just as great as his last pair of glasses. The only difference is that he paid $12 for this pair, and $250 (including insurance help) for the last pair. Similiarly, we bought an awesome fireplace set (screen, tools, everything) for under $50 including shipping, and would have paid over $200 at any retailer. Amazon and craigslist are especially great for this, as is slickdeals.com (according to Ben).
7. Establish a social tradition of entertaining at home. One thing that More With Less, that amazing cookbook that every aspiring simple lifer should own, has taught me, is that "entertaining" can be as simple as having friends over for a pot of soup and some fresh bread.
8. Do as many things as you can yourself, especially around the house. Since we've been here, with the help of neighbors and family, Ben has done some major work around the house, including fixing our plumbing, installing recessed lighting, installing a new screen door, and installing a door between our kitchen and basement (thanks Robbie! We could never have done this one without you!). These were all fun "projects" for Ben, but saved us a ton of money in labor costs. Likewise, most things, from painting the house to painting your nails, have a potential for money saved.
9. Establish a babysitter co-op with area families. The way this works is each mother/father agrees to watch other families' kids in exchange for them returning the favor. Most people even get fancy and have points systems. Since my mom lives so close by and loves to watch Zosia, we don't do this formally, but my neighbor Annie and I have definitely watched on another kids a couple of times, and it totally beats hiring a sitter.
10. Don't buy stuff. This was Ben's tongue-in-cheek idea for a tip since I promised ten and only have nine (he's reading the paper in the chair next to me), but I actually sort of agree with it. In particular, try to take advantage of networks of friends and family to exchange things that you might need. Clothing swaps are awesome, as are hand me downs, especially when it comes to children's clothing. When you do buy stuff, yardsales and flee markets are an amazing first stop.
These are just the things that pop into mind today. I would love to hear how others save money or live simply on a day-to-day basis. There was a time when I hoped to become crafty and sew all my own stuff, but I think that the world is a better place since I'm no longer trying. Anyone have success with this? Or other ways of trimming the fat?
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
But today was close to the perfect snow day. I've been fighting off a little winter bug the last couple of days, which is more pesky than anything, and it was wonderful to be forced to take a day of respite. Ben lit a fire first thing in the morning, I took a bath with Zosia, then took a morning nap, made some yummy carrot cookies with Zosia, took an afternoon nap, and then played out in the snow. Could a day be more perfect? And all the while I was chugging more liquids than I think my body has known for a long time, which seem to be doing the trick of helping this bug pass quickly. I think that I must have been slightly dehydrated before, because I'm actually feeling much better pregnancy-wise now that I've had all of those liquids.
I might sound like a snobby new-Englander, but having just experienced my first snow-storm down South, I must admit that we southerners don't know how to handle snow quite like they do in Boston. Ben and I watched cars sliding around helplessly from our front window (and there was even a small fender bender up the street)-- and this was with an inch of snow on the ground! Needless to say, the efficiency of the Boston snow-shoveling system can't be beat.
I know that many of you are also hunkering down for snow storms, and I hope you all are able to stay as cozy and warm amid the storm as we have!
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I heard a program on NPR this morning about compost, so I thought I would throw out my experiences with composting. We have not, for the record, set up our composter at the new house, although we have the bin that ben built sitting in the back of the yard eagerly awaiting it's inaugural usage. But, here are the few things I learned from some book I got from the Somerville library back in the day (I feel like it was called the "little book of compost" or something like that).
If you want a hot compost pile (which literally gets hot... it even steams sometimes!):
1. Layer what they call "greens" and "browns." Greens are things like: grass clippings, vegetable scraps. Browns are things like: dry leaves, shredded newspaper, small branches. Other random goodies that are awesome for compost are used coffee or tea, rinsed out eggshells, you can even put the junk from your vacuum cleaner out there!
2. Always avoid meat products and dairy products, as these rot and attract rodents.
3. To speed up the process, throw a few handfulls of soil in between layers of greens and browns.
4. Mix it up every few weeks, and your compost will be ready in about three months
If you want a slow compost pile
Throw whatever stuff you want in a pile (it can be all greens, all browns, whatever, but not meat or dairy, see above), and let time take care of the rest... as the name suggests, this takes longer (think: a year or more), but if you have a lot of one thing to get rid of and the space to do it, why not?
For all compost, you want to maximize bug's access to the stuff, because they are the miracle workers in this process. That means that you want the container or pile to be open to the ground, and if you're really hard core, you can even have a box of worms inside your house that you feed kitchen scraps (and they make the compost). I have no experience with this, so won't even go there, but would love to talk to someone who has done this. Happy composting!
Friday, January 23, 2009
Our months living at my parents house last spring were not entirely conflict free. There was the fact that the subwoofer my dad's tv, which he watches late into the night, would vibrate the wall of our 'bedroom' (solution: buy my dad some headphones). Or those pesky overhead footsteps that we thought we had left behind in Somerville (solution: help my mom, the active stomper, take care of kitchen chores during daytime hours). Or the time I walked into the kitchen to see my dad encouraging the then 9-month-old Zosia to drink from the cat bowl (solution: reprimand the grandpa). But all in all, it was wonderful to have that built-in support network. Ben and I could sneak out for dates, our kitchen dishes seemed to magically disappear each evening, and from what I can tell, my parents have overwhelmingly fond memories of the time too-- I think that there was no greater pleasure for them than to walk downstairs in the morning and see their granddaughter working on breakfast.
I think there is a definite advantage to this type of interdependent family system, and while it totally challenges our American notions of breaking out of the family mold to set out into the world, it really does work. Of course you have to work on your relationship with the parents, you have to be willing to make some compromises, and you have to be ready to be flexible. But, that being said, I am absolutely sure that living with my parents was a wonderful thing for Zosia, just as I'm sure that having a stable and loving grandmother in-house will be a huge blessing for our First Family.
In previous years, my favorite vegetable gardens have been primarily used for salads. We love having fresh salads, and salad greens are resilient and easy to grow. We've tried carrots-- which never did well in our New England soil, but we might try again this year. I have always loved picking berries (raspberries at the park in Boston, and strawberries in Irene's garden last year), which are delicious and bountiful, so maybe if I get lucky I'll get a few raspberry shrubs for my birthday (hint, hint, Ben). And I just might try a couple of veggies that I could plant in the early spring and harvest later in the summer- maybe potatoes and cherry tomatoes, which I prefer to larger varieties just because they have a longer season (and are oh so sweet).
I'm thinking this is it for this year. Maybe I'll sow a few wildflowers in the "wild" section of the yard in the hopes of some summertime bouquets. Does anyone else have any gardening hopes or ideas for this year?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I suppose that this is what frontiers people lived like. There were times of plenty, when they canned, froze, and preserved as much of the harvest as possible (or as much of the slaughter), and then there were lean times when all of those reserves got used up. But in my modern world, I have rarely had to plan or budget for longer than a week. I make a meal plan for seven days, purchase the food, and then hopefully use it all up. It's all so neat and organized and relatively easy. There are one or two treats for the week, whose consumption we spread out. When you have a house full of good stuff, it's so hard to actually wait to eat it all up. I'll admit, we've been back from the grocery store for about two hours, and have already started into several of our treats: some almonds, some cheese puffs, and the cherries.
So I'm going to try to treat this situation as an opportunity to practice discipline when in the midst of plenty. If we can at least somewhat spread out all of this food and hold back from indulging in it all at once, then we'll have several weeks of healthy, good eating and come out having saved some good money. But if we just dive into all of it right now, we'll probably eat more than we usually do, and end up having to go grocery shopping soon, and, despite the good deals, will have spent more than we normally would. And with that, I'm off to have a (small) bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
- 'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
- And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
- 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
- When true simplicity is gain'd,
- To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
- To turn, turn will be our delight,
- Till by turning, turning we come round right.
- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
Sunday, January 18, 2009
You must read this article about the British squatting movement. The basic premise is this: apparently, England does not have many laws against squatting. It's actually something they're sympathetic to that has deep ties to the country's history. Squatting isn't considered a criminal offense, but a civil offense, and a group of progressive young artists and professionals has taken advantage of this situation by squatting in some extremely high-end properties, like this $33 million mansion in London. They live communally, dumpster dive for most of their food, and "have turned the house into a venue for lectures, workshops and exhibits that they call the Temporary School of Thought. For the past two weeks, the group has invited the public in for seminars on topics including Polish history, juggling, "alternative food design," biofuels and "treehouse training.""
Is this brilliant, or what? I can't say that it's high end, but the house next door is still vacant... anyone up for a little artists' colony?
Saturday, January 17, 2009
There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn't get a fair trial
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit
But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.
But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just
didn't get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still
work to do
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I must confess: I have a weakness for kids books. I was never that big of a reader growing up, so I think that these days I'm making up for lost time. I love Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, and Box Cart Kids. I think that I'm going to be more into reading Zosia's kids books than she is. There's something so beautiful and great about the simple, straightforward style that many of these classic books have, and I'm a total sucker-- especially when I'm looking for a "lighter read."
So this week I added Louisa May Alcott's Little Women to my nightstand (along with The Shack, which I'm still finishing up, and a book about teen pregnancy and poverty that I can't wait to review here). Anyway, it's been the most relaxing thing to read at the end of an action packed day, and I love the cutesy message of domesticity and family togetherness that it promotes. Who doesn't love a story about a family sacrificing their own yummy Christmas breakfast for an impoverished family of six with a newborn baby? This stuff is great! And I love stories that center around communities of women caring for one another, which is exactly what you get with a mama and four daughters. Forget cutting edge literature, I'm heading for the juvenile fiction section!
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Thanks, V, for this interesting article about pumping (breastmilk).
When Zosia was a brand new baby, I was lucky enough to score a free breastpump via our amazing insurance and a midwife that was willing to tell a white lie on our behalf. I was super excited about the prospect of pumping-- this was when Zosia was nursing every couple of hours, and every time I tried to leave the house for more than 5 minutes, I would get a panicked call from Ben saying that I needed to come home to feed her. In my mind, breastpump=freedom.
In the following weeks, I became very proficient at pumping, and our freezer looked like the storage for a local dairy. However, although I was great at producing the extra milk (a blessing that was later a curse as I had to deal with overproduction), Zosia never took to accepting a bottle. She actually vehemently hated it. So, since we never really had to leave her for long periods of time, we never did.
Ben and I have promised that we're going to try a little harder to get this next baby to accept a bottle-- including introducing a bottle earlier than we did with Zosia. But, in all honesty, as I look back on that first year when Zosia and I were very attached to one another, I view it as a beautiful time. There were a few sacrifices we had to make, but all in all, I think that it was amazing to be that interconnected with anther person, and as she got older and fed less frequently, it's as if we were gradually transitioned into a more independent relationship. And now that she's weaned, I miss the closeness that we shared and am really looking forward to having a newborn around again. So who knows, maybe that beautiful breastpump is going to spend another infanthood lying around collecting dust.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Of course, as I look at the millions of ways that my life is different now than my Zosia pregnancy, it seems obvious why I might be tired. The first is that I can't sleep endlessly, which is essentially what I did with Zosia. Ben reminded me that I used to go to bed at 9, sleep until 10 in the morning, and then take a two hour afternoon nap... ah, those were the days. These days I defintiely get a normal amount of sleep for an adult, but I don't have much wiggle room to get extra, and I seem to be feeling that a lot these days. And I spend my days very actively with a toddler running around the house which would make anyone tired by the end of the day.
But today I figured out one more piece of the puzzle. My friend Michelle gave me a gift membership to her gym for the month, so we went together this morning (they even have a nursery that Zosia was amazingly happy to be left at-- this is a first). We just ran on the ellipticals for an hour, but by the end of it, I felt totally energized, and it lasted for the whole rest of the day. Exercise! That's what's been missing. I'm relieved to feel like I actually have some agency in this whole thing and hoping that this is more than a one time fluke.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
A World of Bargains
Asian Supermarkets Attract Chefs and the Budget-Minded By Melissa McCart Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; Page F01
It's a busy Saturday morning at the Super H Mart in Fairfax City, where scores of people navigate carts down aisles, stocking up on the week's groceries. In the center of the seafood section, Yoon-Hee Heather Choi, a native of Seoul and a Fairfax resident since 1993, holds court as she leans over ice-filled bins showcasing the day's catch: silver mackerel, shimmery saury and whole squid, eyes aligned like dominoes.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
So, it's exciting, but as with many of Z's milestones, feels like it is coming a little bit too soon. And it's messy. Pardon the sophmoric language, but "number 2" is much more reliably done on the potty, and we usually have a few grunts of warning before she actually produces. But it feels like our entire house has turned into a free-for-all toilet for "number 1". There's some logic to Zosia's choices of where to pee. Like today, she climbed onto the actual toilet and peed (perfect, right?), but the cover was still on, so pee got all over the bathroom. Or she sat down in her favorite little kid chair in the living room and peed (I guess she's realized that peeing is done on chairs). And then about five minutes later she went and peed right by the trash can in the kitchen (human waste and kitchen waste are practically cousins, after all).
So aside from navigating the increasingly awkward stage of being pregnant, I am now a pregnant woman who feels covered in pee. And unexpectedly steps on puddles of pee all over her house. Thankfully, Selma has realized that Zosia creates messes around, and will often follow around after her and do part of the clean up for me (remind me never ever ever to kiss Selma again). But the whole thing is kind of gross. And makes me remember that embodiment is not only beautiful but also very messy.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Wake up, have breakfast, play with Z and get some chores done (occasionally baking bread), take a shower while Z enjoys some alone time or a video, snack
Get out of the house, take a walk, go to the library, coffee shop, store, or some other place, have a playdate
lunch, and then a nap (these days it's a nap for both of us)
take a bath with Z, snack, do some work from home or around the house while Z plays, spend some time playing with Z, walk down to the metro to pick up Ben or drive and pick him up, make dinner
dinner together, spend family time together, Ben puts Z to bed while I write or take Selma for a walk, hang out with Ben and relax
Having a baby around definitely puts you on more of a schedule (wake up times and nap times set a very concrete rhythm to your day), and I think I actually like this. I honestly feel like I might even enjoy having a little more of a set schedule to my days/weeks, but approach the topic with uncertainty. Does anyone have any ideas or advice about keeping a schedule?
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I had heard about various practices involving the placenta-- including eating it and planting it under a special tree, when I was pregnant with Zosia. But last time, I just wasn't really that into the idea. I was not planning on eating it, and it felt funny to think of part of my body resting in our yard in Somerville, especially since we knew we were moving in the near future. But this time, I'm more open to some sort of ceremony involving the placenta. Maybe planting it in our yard? And hey, according to this Slate article, it might even make a healthful injection.
Friday, January 2, 2009
I'm reading a couple of fascinating books right now, one of which is The Shack. I originally bought this book as a Christmas gift for one of my nieces before realizing that while the reading level is about right, the content might be a bit strong. So, I picked it up and have been reading it myself. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a mainstream Christian novel. Okay, I'll admit it-- I don't think I've ever enjoyed one of these. They always seem trite, cliche, and I have major problems with their theology. And, I often feel like the spiritual quest books starring male characters are so masculine in nature (individualistic, not acknowledging the existence of women, characterizing God and Jesus as frat Buddies or something) that I feel totally pushed out of the picture. But, I am happy to report that I love this mainstream Christian book about a man on a spiritual quest. It is beautiful, has changed the way I think about God in wonderful and unexpected ways, and is extremely poignant. I'm still in the process of reading the book, so today I'll just limit this entry to one small aspect of the book for now.
The basic premise of the book is that a man's daughter has been kidnapped and brutally murdered in a shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. He gets a note from "Papa" a few years later (a family nickname for God) to meet back at the shack, the epicenter of his pain and suffering, for a weekend. And, sure enough, God is waiting at the shack. Namely, Elousia or Papa, a black woman who is a mean cook (the father), Jesus, a thirty-ish Jewish man, and Sarayu, a petite Asian woman with a effervescent glow (the holy spirit). The whole weekend, Mack interacts with each of the three members of the trinity while also watching them relating to one another. So here is the major revelation I've had about the nature of God: God is not an individual, but a network of relationships. God is in relationship with Godself-- which explains why we need relationships and community in order to fully experience God.
As Papa says in one section of the book, "All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within Me, within God myself. Love is not the limitation; love is the flying. I am love." (101) I've always felt that community and family are the central ways that I experience God. While many individuals, men in particular, seem to experience God by themselves, when separated from family and community, this has never been the case for me. Quiet moments alone are poignant and beautiful, but only in order to make sense of the way that I feel God has been revealed to me through relationships. There is no single experience that has shaped my relationship with God more powerfully than becoming a mother, and now I am starting to understand why-- because God is, in her essence, in a family/ community.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
During Advent, Ben and I have a regular spiritual practice of beginning each day with an advent reading, scripture passage, and prayer. I love this, and feel like I really could use some sort of grounding going into each day-- especially these days when I feel like my life is generally lived moment to moment. So I'm going to try to figure something out this week-- it might be some centering prayer in the morning, doing the daily gospel reading, or finding a book with daily passages. I'm not sure yet.
My second resolution is something I'm hoping I can keep: no babies beyond this one in the oven right now! ;-) I love kids, but I'm thinking Ben and I will need to stop to catch our breaths come April.