Monday Meal Plan #19

Happy Monday!!

Weekend Recap

Once again, I have little to report about my weekend – which is just how I like it! On Saturday, my husband took my daughter to gymnastics in the morning, and we went to meet with a new accountant during the afternoon. For our wild Saturday night at home, my husband and I watched an episode of our current show, The Americans. (We don’t have any form of cable or streaming, so we’re always way behind on the cool shows. We’re still in season one of this one, but I’m loving it!)

Sunday’s big highlights were finishing reading, I Am Not Myself These Days, and taking my daughter to a party for the book, Spy Ski School at our local bookstore. (See all of the books I’m reading in 2017 here.) Oh, and of course I sat down and put together this lovely meal plan – always a weekend highlight for me <insert eye roll>.

The Week Ahead

This is the first of two consecutive weeks when I’ll be working four days in row. (I hear you snickering, full-time working mothers!) I’m working Monday through Thursday both weeks. Other than that, my daughter has a Brownie’s meeting after school today, and on Tuesday evening, I’m attending a mindful parenting discussion led by the superintendent of our school district. (Attendees will receive a copy of the book, Every Blessings, and we’ll reconvene in March to discuss the book.) Of course, this may be complicated by the forecast for snow Monday night and into Tuesday. The last anticipated total I saw was five to eight inches, which means there will likely be a delay or snow day on Tuesday, which could lead to the cancellation of the district’s evening activities… And on Friday, it’s my turn to host my daughter’s weekly playdate with a couple of her friends. I’ll spend the day grocery shopping and cleaning the house in anticipation.

Meal Plan

I planned my grocery shopping trips poorly for this week. I did a produce run last Friday, and opted not to go over the weekend. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought about this week’s meal plan yet, and am therefore limited to what’s in our house for most of the week’s dinners.

  • Monday: Weeknight black bean chili w/ raw veggies
  • Tuesday: Spicy peanut noodles from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures w/roasted butternut squash
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Probably a pizza…
  • Friday: Tortilla soup in the slow cooker (I planned to make this last week, but didn’t get to it.)
  • Saturday: Date night dinner out!
  • Sunday: Sautéed shrimp and veggies w/ jasmine rice

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

Lessons From A Propane Tank

My husband and I were first-time homeowners when we bought our house in July, 2009, and there were plenty of things that we were completely clueless about. Heating a home with propane was one of those things. We knew there was a propane tank on the side of our house, and that a local propane provider owned it. We knew that our heat, stove, hot water heater, and gas fireplace were powered by propane. What we didn’t know was how quickly we would use propane in the winter, what a good price for it was, and just how much of an advantage the propane company had over us, by owning our tank.

Our first few months in our house were a blur. I was seven months pregnant with our daughter when we moved in, so we were pretty focused on preparing our home and our lives for the arrival of a baby. It was also the summer, a time when we used very little propane. But we knew we had a nearly full tank, because we had reimbursed the seller of our house for what was in the tank at the time of our closing.

Lesson 1: Keep An Eye on The Level in the Tank

We learned our first lesson in November, about a month after our daughter was born. A friend from out-of-town was in the area, and she stopped by to catch up and meet our daughter. We hung out with her on the couch in our living room, with a fire going in the gas fireplace. A little more than an hour into her visit, I noticed that the room felt cold. Then I noticed that the fireplace was off, and the room temperature was lower than the temperature I’d set on the thermostat. We had run out of propane. On a Friday night in late November. In upstate New York. A space heater and lots of blankets got us through that chilly night, and we received an emergency delivery the next day.

We’ve never run out since then, but I check our tank level regularly throughout the fall and winter, and occasionally request a delivery, when it looks like we could run out before the propane company has our next delivery scheduled.

Lesson 2: If You Don’t Own Your Tank, The Propane Company Owns You

The propane tank that was at our house when we bought it, was owned by a large propane provider in our area. This meant that we could only fill it with their propane. There are many home heating fuel providers in our area, but we were locked into using this one.

After a couple of expensive winters, we started asking other people who provided their propane, and how much it cost them. From those conversations, we learned that (1) we were paying more per gallon than most people, and (2) the people with lower rates owned their own tanks and/or belonged to a local co-op.

Lesson 3: Threatening to Leave Gets Results

Learning that we were over-paying motivated me to negotiate with our propane company. (Somehow this had not occurred to me before.) I called them before the next rate lock-in period, and asked if they could lower our rate. I was told that we were already paying a low rate, and they simply couldn’t go any lower. Then I told them we would be leaving for a new provider, and suddenly they were able to discount our rate by $0.25 per gallon.

I was so excited that I had secured a lower rate, I didn’t really consider that it was still higher than our research told us we should be paying. Actually, this did cross my mind, but the thought of leaving our existing provider, buying our own tank, and starting with a new provider felt really overwhelming. We took the lower rate, and stayed with our provider.

Lesson 4: It Feels Really Good to Say Buh-Bye

Even with the lower rate, we were still paying at least $600, every time our tank was filled. (During most winters, our tank is filled about six times.) After another season of this, my husband and I sat down and took a hard look at the numbers. We researched the price per gallon paid by members of the local co-op who owned their own tank, and we were shocked. Our “discounted” rate was more than a $1 more per gallon than the co-op price. We felt like complete fools for having overpaid for so long, and resolved at that moment to purchase our own tank, and switch to the co-op.

We did just that early the next fall, and I gleefully made the call to our old provider to tell them the news. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t ask why we were leaving, or at least try to get us to stay. Still, it felt great to say goodbye to those greedy bloodsuckers.

How do you heat your home? Are you happy with the rate you pay?

Monday Meal Plan #18

Happy Monday, and happy Martin Luther King Day!!

Weekend Recap

I just had my most uneventful weekend in a long time. After picking my daughter up from an after-school playdate on Friday, we had dinner at home, then watched the (awful) Shopkins movie. She and my husband had a sleepover that night, so I spent my alone-time creating this page for tracking my 2017 reading, then did a little magazine reading in a hot bath. (I’ve accidentally dipped corners of magazines into the tub water many times, so I don’t read books in the tub.)

I ran a couple of quick errands on Saturday and Sunday, and spent the rest of both days reading, listening to podcasts, and lying around. It was a great winter weekend!

The Week Ahead

I’m officially back at my job for the winter term! This is the busiest time of year in my office, so I’ll be working three and four-day weeks. This week is a three-day week. I’m working Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. My daughter is off from school today for MLK Day, but my husband is not. My daughter has another afterschool playdate on Friday, and she’ll be staying a bit later to have pizza and watch a movie with the host family. If my husband can get out of work a little early, we may try to grab a quick dinner out together.

Meal Plan

Between the holidays, school vacation, and our travel last week, I’ve been on something of a meal-planning hiatus. While I liked not having to sit down and rack my brain for dinner inspiration, I found myself staring at the fridge and wondering what on earth we could have for dinner many nights. (There were also a couple of nights when we had cereal for dinner – something I swore I would never do while I was a parent.) All of this is to say, it’s good to be back at it – sort of. Here’s what’s for dinner at my house this week:

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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It’s a No-Monday-Meal-Plan Week

Happy Monday! If you’re in a part of the United States that received snow and ice over the weekend, I hope you’ve managed to dig out. Helena was one of those winter storms that mercifully skipped over upstate New York. (Since we’ve already received a good amount of snow this season, I was happy to take a pass on this one.)

I’m not doing a meal plan this week. No, I haven’t already given up on my goals for 2017. It’s been a challenging few days for my family, and our upcoming week is somewhat unpredictable.

Weekend Update

My husband’s grandmother passed away late last week. We knew her passing was coming, and were able to see her for a final time at Christmas. But – as anyone who’s lost someone close to them knows – no matter how much notice you have, it’s always difficult to say goodbye to a loved one.

On top of that, my husband came down with strep throat on Friday. He’s been quite sick – feverish, tired, and has a terrible sore throat with cough – for the past few days. He started on an antibiotic on Saturday, and we’re hoping he’ll be back to normal shortly. (Please cross your fingers that our daughter and I avoid catching it.) Needless to say, we spent the weekend hunkered down at home.

The Week Ahead

We traveled to New Jersey yesterday for my husband’s grandmother’s wake and funeral. Depending on how late the funeral and family luncheon runs on Tuesday, we’ll either head home on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. If time permits, I’d like to get to the grocery store, since I’ll be going back to work on Thursday. (I’ve been off since early November!) Otherwise, I’ll go on Friday. To get us through then, we’ll probably be eating out of the freezer and pantry, and there may be a pizza in the cards.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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Monday Meal Plan #17

Happy Monday, and happy 2017!! I hope you and your family enjoyed the holidays.

As is our tradition, we spent Christmas Eve at home, just the three of us. It’s always the only day of the year when our daughter not only puts up zero resistance to going to bed, but actually insists on going early. (Thank you NORAD Santa tracker!!) The downside is that she insists that we go to bed early, too, to make sure the house is quiet and everyone is asleep for Santa’s arrival.

We opened presents together on Christmas morning, and headed to New Jersey to spend Christmas with my husband’s family. We spent two nights in the Garden State, then stopped at my parents’ house in Orange County on the 27th. Some of my extended family members met us there, and we got to spend an afternoon catching up with them.

In the days that followed, we slowly put away the Christmas decorations, slept in a lot, went sledding, and took advantage of some post-Christmas sales. It’s going to be tough to get back into the swing of things, but as someone who likes a routine and a fresh start, I think it’ll be (mostly) good. (I am going to miss sleeping in, though…)

The Week Ahead

This is a transition week for our family. Both my husband and my daughter were off all of last week, and they’re back to work and school this week (Tuesday). We don’t have much of anything planned, with the exception of a very special dinner on Wednesday – and it won’t be made by me!!

This Week’s Meal Plan

I took a meal-planning break during the holidays, but it’s a new year, so I’m back at it! (If you read my goals for 2017 post, you know that finding a way to dread this task less is one of them.) Here’s what’s for dinner at my house this week:

  • Monday: Brinner – waffles and bacon
  • Tuesday: Pasta with butternut squash, kale, and pine nuts
  • Wednesday: It’s my bithday, so I’m not cooking. Happy birthday to me!!
  • Thusday: Chili w/ raw veggies
  • Friday:  Leftovers
  • Saturday: Baked shrimp scampi (from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics) w/ orzo and salad
  • Sunday: Lasagna soup w/ bread

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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My Goals for 2017

For many years, I didn’t make New Years’ resolutions, because, who keeps those things?? Most people – and I’m looking in the mirror here – have completely forgotten their resolutions by the time spring rolls around. But a couple of years ago, I came across a quote that was something like, “Without a plan for where you’re going, you guarantee that you won’t get anywhere.” It made me realize that while I might not achieve everything I set out to in a given year, if I don’t at least set some goals and track my progress, I probably won’t accomplish much, if anything.

Some people set an actual resolution, some people choose a word or a phrase to serve as a theme for the year, and others set some number of goals to strive toward. I’m going with the latter.

My Goals for 2017

Read at least 24 books that I truly want to read. I have a habit of sometimes choosing books I feel like I should read, or I should want to read, rather than ones that I really and truly want to read. Not this year. In 2017, I’m choosing only books that I’m excited to read! To add some fun and jumpstart book ideas, I’m participating in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2017 Reading Challenge. I chose the “put the oomph back in your reading life” option. (Read more about my reading style here, and track my progress toward this goal here.)

Try at least three new (to me) activities, preferably active ones. As someone who almost always chooses the familiar over the new, this one is a little anxiety-inducing. However, I recognize that it’s important both mentally and physically to challenge myself and develop new skills. I’ve been wanting to try snowshoeing for a couple of years now, so here’s my motivation. Also, group exercise classes terrify me, but there are lots of great options at my local YMCA. (And they would certainly help with my next goal…)

Run at least three 5K races. I pretty much took an exercise vacation in 2016 – with the exception of a late summer and early fall walking streak – and it shows. How? (1) At my annual physical in November, my doctor said I’m “not overweight”, but my weight has been increasing since 2012, a trend she called “concerning”, and (2) After I haul our trash and recycling cans up our driveway for the weekly pick-up, I find myself panting like I just ran a 10-yard dash. There are numberous 5K races in my area throughout the warmer months, and they’ll be a good source of motivation for me.

Find a way to dread meal planning/cooking less. If you’ve read any of my meal plan posts, (recent ones can be found here, here, and here), you know that I’m a fan of neither meal planning, nor cooking. However, I recognize both as necessary evils, and thus I carry on with them. Since assembling my weekly meal plan literally fills me with dread every Sunday, I need to find a way to make it more tolerable. This could mean following prescribed meal plans, or prepping more meals in advance and freezing them, or hitting the lottery and hiring a personal chef. I plan to try different strategies throughout the year, to hopefully take this task from a two to a seven on the dread-scale, by the end of the year.

Do you set resolutions or goals for the new year? What are you planning to achieve in 2017?

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What’s Your Reading Style?

I am a podcast junkie. Whenever I’m in the car, cleaning my house, or doing anything else that allows for multi-tasking, I’m listening to one. One of my very favorite podcasts is Sorta Awesome. The hosts cover a variety of topics, both light and deep, with some recurring themes. One of those themes is reading, a favorite hobby of mine. I recently listened to the Best in Books and Reading in 2016 episode, and one of the things the hosts discussed was their reading style – what started their love of reading, what kinds of books are they drawn to, and how they like to read. This got me thinking about my answers to the same questions…

My Reading History

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading. I clearly remember devouring all of the books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and other authors I loved during my childhood. I love reading during car rides, and did so on weekend trips to visit my grandparents, as well as family vacations. About a decade ago, I had a job that required a horrible, two-hour commute each way, and I got a lot of reading done on my train rides home from work. (I passed out most mornings before the train even left the station.)

As a child, I used to re-read my favorite books multiple times. (I can’t tell you how many times I read Beverly Cleary’s The Luckiest Girl, or Judy Blume’s, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret!!) But these days I never re-read. There are too many other books I want to read, to spend time reading the ones I’ve already read.

My Taste in Books

Until about 15 years ago, I only read fiction for pleasure. Reading nonfiction was reserved for school, and later, it just didn’t seem like fun. These days, I really enjoy learning from the books I read, so between half and two-thirds of the books I read are nonfiction.

Like Laura, one of the Sorta Awesome podcast hosts, I prefer to read darker books. This has been a thread throughout my life. For example, one of the books I remember being most impacted by as a child was Where the Red Fern Grows. That was the first book that made me cry, and just thinking about it now, still brings tears to my eyes!

More recently, as soon as I heard about the book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold, I had to read it, and once I started it, I could not put it down. I don’t know what it says about me, but I love a book that makes me cry and makes me think.

Within nonfiction, my favorite genres include history and biography/memoir. And in fiction, I especially love historical fiction.

How I Read Books

As a creature of comfort, I’m not a fan of the new. I’m always late to the party, no matter what the “new” thing is – smart phones, skinny jeans, even podcasts. I’m definitely a late adopter. So it should come as no surprise that I like reading books in physical, paper form. I have never read anything on a Kindle or other e-reader, and I don’t intend to start. (Part of this also stems from my dislike for reading on screens, in general.)

As for audio books, I haven’t tried them because I’m concerned I’ll get distracted and miss parts of the text. However, since my current commute is close to an hour each way and I’ll be working more days this winter, I decided to give Audible a try. I just signed up for their 30-day free trial, and my first book will be Lilac Girls. One of the Sorta Awesome hosts mentioned that the people who listened to this particular book seemed to enjoy it more than the people who read it, so I decided to give it a try.

All-Time Favorites

While it’s impossible for me to remember all of the books I’ve read – let alone chose a few favorites – here are some that stick out in my mind as having been especially enjoyable reads:

What’s your reading style? What are some of your all-time favorite reads?

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I Heart Subscription Services

Where I grew up, there was no home delivery of the mail. Instead, we had to drive to the post office – just a couple of miles down the road, in my family’s case – and pick up our mail there. As a result, the mail has always been exciting to me, something special. Even today – when we don’t receive much more than catalogs, junk mail, and the very rare greeting card via snail mail – I’m still filled with anticipation as I walk up the driveway and open the mailbox. You just never know what could be in there!!

I think this is the driving force behind my love of subscription services. I’m not talking about magazines here – although I love those, too. I’m talking about the something-of-the-month clubs. These days, there’s every kind of “of-the-month” club: fruit, books, razors, lingerie, snacks, flowers, tea… pretty much anything you can think of. I’ve subscribed to a variety of them in the past and currently, and because I love receiving them so much, I also love giving them as gifts. As a bonus, you can order them online, and can send the recipient an email announcing your gift, almost immediately. (Are you hearing me, last-minute shoppers?? If it’s Christmas Eve, and you still need a present for Aunt Martha, consider sending her the gift of a subscription service.)

My Favorite Subscription Services

Birchbox. I’ve tried a bunch of makeup and skin care subscription services, and all have pluses and minuses. What I like about Birchbox is the low price – only $10 per month – and the fact that they send samples, rather than full-size products. This way, I can try a variety of different things, and I’m not stuck with a large amount of something I don’t like.

Stitch Fix. You may have read about my love-hate relationship with Stitch Fix, but overall, I’m a fan. Even though they don’t always “get” me, the styling fee is pretty low – $20 – and is applied to the purchase of any item you keep. Also, you can schedule Fixes monthly, bimonthly, or just order one whenever you feel like it.

Highlights Which Way USA. Just like her mom, my daughter loves word searches, mazes, and other games. She recently received a subscription to Highlights Magazine, and while on their website, I discovered their Which Way USA Book Club.  Every three weeks, she receives a set of books about two different states. The books are full of games and activities that teach geography and facts about the states. There’s also a map of each state included. We just received her first set, and she absolutely loves it.

Mighty Fix. I love to learn about new-to-me, green products, and the Mighty Fix from Mighty Nest is a fantastic way to do so. For $10 per month (shipping included), they send a green product for the home, whose value is at least $10. In addition, I can purchase any other products from them, and they will ship with my Mighty Fix for free! Also, you can designate the school of your choice to receive 15% of your Mighty Nest purchase as a donation. Talk about a win-win-win!

A Few Others I’d Like To Try (Hint, Hint, Dear…)

  • Beekman 1802 Beauty Box. Ever since I watched The Fabulous Beekman Boys and read The Bucolic Plague, I’ve been a huge fan of Josh and Brent, and their company, Beekman 1802. And since I’m a lover of soap and skin care products, I’d really like to try their quarterly Beauty Box.
  • Book of the Month Club. I buy very few books for myself these days, since we have a shortage of shelving in our house, and our local library is fantastic. Still, I would love to have a new book – chosen from five different options – sent to me every month.
  • Mask Maven. Regular facials are a bit too pricey for me to justify, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I need to take better care of my skin. Masks are a fun, relaxing, and inexpensive way to treat my skin. Mask Maven sends subscribers nine masks sourced from Korea and Taiwan, every month.

Which subscription services do you like best?

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Monday Meal Plan #16

Happy Monday! We woke up to about six inches of snow on the ground, and a school cancellation. #itsstillfall Fortunately, it hasn’t gotten too cold, yet, so my daughter and I were able to get some good sledding time in.

Weekend Recap

We had a pretty low-key weekend at home, although we did host my parents for our annual Christmas celebration with them. But first, my husband and I took our daughter to the library for their gingerbread house making program. They provide the space and the materials – and the clean-up!! They don’t skimp on decorations, either. There are various kinds of sprinkles, candies, cookies, and pretzels for adorning the houses.

Hard at work!

My parents arrived Saturday afternoon. We had lunch with them, chatted, opened presents, and had our (very) early Christmas dinner with them. I had planned to make my grandmother’s shrimp scampi recipe, but remembered that my mother doesn’t like shellfish. Instead I made the Spinach in Puff Pastry recipe from Barefoot in Paris. I love it – but then again, I love anything in puff pastry! I also made the Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad recipe from the same book, although I left the egg yolk out of the vinaigrette. My parent spent the night at our house, then left after a quick lunch on Sunday. The rest of my day included reading the Sunday NY Times, eating, and napping. A pretty good Sunday in my book!

The Week Ahead

This is going to be my least busy week in a while. We have no holiday events or activities, nor any extracurricular activities. (Tonight’s Brownies’ meeting was cancelled because school was closed.) I’m meeting a friend for coffee tomorrow, and have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday, but they’re both during the day. (One other thing I’m looking forward to this week is the installation of our tankless hot water heater.) Our NYC trip next weekend is definitely the most exciting part of our week. (And not just because it means I’ll get two nights off from cooking!)

This Week’s Meal Plan

  • Monday: Pasta with Sunday Slow Cooker Beef Ragu (from the freezer)
  • Tuesday: Weeknight Black Bean Chili w/ rice
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Eggs, bacon, and toast – brinner!!
  • Friday: Dinner at my parents’ house
  • Saturday: Dinner out in NYC
  • Sunday: Ravioli with frozen veggies

What’s for dinner at your house this week??

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Advice from a Career Counselor: Majors Don’t Matter

I work as a career counselor at a liberal arts college. I meet individually with students, and help them navigate various aspects of the career search and planning process. This includes everything from identifying jobs that appeal to them, to writing resumes and cover letters, to preparing for interviews. (More details on my job are here.)

If I had a nickel for every time a student told me they were meeting with me because their parent(s) insisted they come to the career center, I’d be a retired career counselor. And while I strongly applaud parents for encouraging their children to engage with our office, there are several things I wish I could tell the parents of my students. This post, focuses on one of them.

Majors Don’t Matter

A common refrain that I hear from students goes something like this: “I’m a history/English/philosophy/sociology/American studies major, but I don’t want to be a teacher. Is there anything else I can do??” Often, this is voiced by students who are seeking advice selecting their major, and they complain that their parent(s) have told them that they won’t be able to get a job with their major of choice.

As a career counselor, this is one of my favorite student dilemmas to assist with, because the answer is simple and freeing: majors don’t matter (for the most part). Sure, if you want to be an engineer, you need to major in engineering. Ditto for computer science and a handful of other fields. But if you want to go to medical or law school, be a teacher, work in business or at a nonprofit, it really doesn’t matter what you major in. For most careers, employers simply don’t care about what you majored in. Yes, your major goes on your resume and employers will probably ask you how you chose it, but it’s not likely to be a factor in their hiring decisions – at all.

Skills and Experience Matter

If employers don’t care about students’ majors, what do they care about? Their skills and experience. Have they effectively collaborated with others before? Can they work under time constraints and pressure? Are they able to write a clear, concise, and compelling email/press release/project plan? Do they have the analytical skills necessary to solve a complex problem? These are the types of things employers really care about. How do we know this? Because in countless surveys, this is what they tell us. In fact, in one recent survey, verbal communication skills were the most desired trait by employers, while technical knowledge about the job was only the seventh most desired.

How do students acquire these skills? Just like anything else, these skills are acquired through experience and practice. In college, this can mean internships, extracurricular activities, part-time work, and class projects (among other things). What this means is that parents who question their children’s choice of major, should instead focus on helping them maximize their opportunities to develop the skills required for the types of job(s) they’re interested in.

Go ahead, get on your kid’s case to come into the career center!! But encourage them to work on sharpening their skills and experience while they’re there, not choosing the “right” major.

What was your college major?