why I love meal-planning

Hello, lovely people! It is currently Sunday afternoon and it is raining, for which I am very grateful. {Even though the rain sometimes causes ant invasions in our apartment… stay away, ants!} We can use all the rain we can get. Also, there is something that feels especially cozy to me about rainy weekend days. I just want to listen to Jack Johnson and maybe some old school Maroon 5… Sunday Morning, anyone?

I forgot to mention earlier that last Sunday, I went to a baby shower for my cousin Sharon, who is due with a baby boy in June. So exciting! It was actually the first baby shower I have ever attended, and I thought the hosts were so thoughtful and creative with the way they put the event together. We decorated burp cloths with fun designs, played a game where the goal was not to say the word baby {I totally failed, haha!} and showered Sharon with adorable baby gifts, including some of the cutest onesies I have ever seen. Congrats, Sharon & Matt!

Typically Sundays are when I plan out the week ahead; I like to get a handle on things so I feel like I begin the week with a bang! Allyn and I talk about our schedules for the week and if we have any special events coming up on the calendar. Something else I like to do on Sundays is to jot down a quick dinner menu plan for the week using this handy-dandy whiteboard magnet calendar I picked up in the dollar-bin area at Target.

meal whiteboard

I never used to really do meal-planning, but I am a full-fledged convert now. I have been surprised at 1) how little time it takes and 2) what a big difference it makes in how prepared and productive I feel. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes looking through recipes and planning out dinners for the week saves me a LOT of time and mental space, because then I don’t really need to think about dinner at all for the rest of the week… I just follow what’s on the whiteboard, and we’re good to go!

Here are some things that have been helpful for me when it comes to meal-planning:

  • I look in our cupboards and fridge and see if there is anything that needs to be used up. For example, when Allyn and I make pasta for just the two of us, we usually only use half a jar of sauce. So I usually like to make some sort of pasta dish two weeks in a row to use up the rest of the pasta sauce. Other examples could be veggies, greens, or little leftover bits from our Blue Apron meals like seasonings or half a head of garlic. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy to use up leftover ingredients. Embrace the little things!
  • Putting special dinners on our meal plan calendar, like going to a restaurant in the city with friends or celebrating someone’s birthday, lets us look forward to these events all week long and makes them even more special. As Gretchen Rubin writes about, according to her research on happiness, anticipation plays a huge factor in enjoyment. 
  • Meal-planning gets me to actually try out new recipes that I tear out from magazines or dog-ear in my cookbooks. If left to my own devices, figuring out what to have for dinner the day of, I tend to fall back on my same tried-and-true recipes: vegetable soup, pasta with tomato sauce, chili and corn muffins, enchiladas with black beans. I love all of these recipes, and they are great to have in my arsenal as staples, but it is so easy to fall into a “cooking rut.” I get tired of always eating the same thing, yet never know what else to make. But with meal-planning, I look through my recipe folder and specifically decide in advance what I am going to cook on which days. {I think the key for me is in advance!} Every week, I cook one or two new-to-us recipes. It helps that Allyn is pretty much game to eat whatever I put in front of him, so even my less-successful cooking attempts have been sweetly consumed in our house. 🙂
  • Planning our meals also makes grocery shopping much simpler and much less wasteful. Allyn and I use the app Wunderlist to add items to our shared grocery list whenever we run out of something. When deciding on recipes to make, I immediately add to Wunderlist all the ingredients needed to make everything on our meal plan for the week; this ensures that I don’t forget that one crucial ingredient like lime juice or tumeric that I may not have in the pantry already. I’ve learned that trying out new recipes means branching out of your comfort zone, and sometimes venturing into new aisles of the grocery store you don’t usually visit! Plus, nothing derails my cooking juju more than realizing I forgot to get something on the recipe’s list of ingredients, and need to run out to the store. #letsjustorderpizzainstead
  • Meal-planning helps us prevent food waste, which isn’t just good for our wallets — it’s good for the planet. I was staggered to learn that throwing away a pound of chicken wastes 519 gallons of water! Ruth Mathews of the Water Footprint Network explains that when you throw away food, you are not just throwing away that food item, you are also throwing away all of the resources that went into producing that food item. Furthermore, tossing food into the trash means it will end up in a landfill, producing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. If meal-planning helps you eat everything in your fridge before it goes bad, you could be saving thousands of gallons of water every week — not to mention saving extra dollars in your wallet, too!
  • Something else I do that has become a little joke between me and Allyn is that if I am going to be gone for whatever reason and there are leftovers in the fridge I want Allyn to eat up, I write him out a little menu as a reminder. I purposely try to make the leftovers sound as fancy, gourmet and appealing as possible. For the parents out there, this might be an easy way to make leftovers more fun for picky-eating children!

allyn menu

In short, meal-planning makes cooking much simpler, less stressful, and more enjoyable for me. Now… I’m off to plan this week’s meals! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Questions for the day:

  • Do you plan out your meals every week?
  • What helps you cut down on food waste?
  • Any fun recipes to share?

mt. whitney wednesday: planning & prep

Hi everyone! This is the second post in my Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the first post in the series, you can read it here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, May 10, 2003
I talked to my former kindergarten teacher, Stacey, the other day when she was driving me home from babysitting her two little kids. I told her I want to climb Mt. Whitney, and it turns out a mom of one of her kids in her current kindergarten class just climbed it last summer. Stacey wants to climb Mt. Whitney too, so we are trying to form a group to go together. So far about ten people have signed up, including my second-grade teacher Diane, my mom, and some of their friends. Our group is all female — yeah, Girl Power! — and I am the youngest one.

Sunday, May 11
I did some homework and learned that Mt. Whitney was “discovered” by a California State Geological Survey team in 1864. It was named for the team’s leader, Josiah Dwight Whitney. During that trip, survey team member Clarence King attempted to climb to the summit. Twice. Both times he failed.

What am I getting myself into??

More history: it was not until Clarence King’s third attempt on September 19, 1873 {nearly a decade after his first failed try} that he successfully reached the summit. Ironically, statistics show that today 1-in-3 climbers make it to the top of Mt. Whitney.

Wednesday, May 14
Tonight we had a Whitney Meeting at Stacey’s house. We decided to do the 22-mile-round-trip hike in one day instead of camping out on the trail overnight. I know it sounds crazy, but it actually seems like the better way to go because:

1. We’ll be able to pack much lighter; we won’t have to carry huge overnight backpacks with sleeping bags and tents.
2. It is much easier to get a permit for day hiking than for overnight hiking.
3. We’ll get to sleep in a real bed in a hotel after the hike and soak our tired legs in the hot tub! For me, that is much more tempting than sleeping on the cold, hard ground in the wilderness.

At the meeting, we filled out the permit forms. They only allow a certain number of people on the trail at a time, so we’ll hear back in a few weeks as to whether our permit was accepted or not. Our tentative date for the hike is Saturday, July 26 — which seems far away now, but I have a feeling it will be here before we know it!

Julianna, the mother from Stacey’s class who climbed Mt. Whitney last summer, came to our meeting to talk about her hiking experience. She said it took a lot of hard training and determination to get to the top, and there were times she just wanted to turn around and give up … but that the blisters and sweat and aching muscles are all worth it in the end.

Then she showed us her photos. They were amazing — like something out of a nature magazine or off a postcard. The photos from the peak of Mt. Whitney were my favorite: nothing but blue sky and clouds all around, like you’re standing in a castle up in the sky.

And Julianna said the photos don’t even do Whitney justice. She said it’s something you have to see in person to truly appreciate. I hope I have what it takes to find out for myself. Our first training hike is this Sunday. Mt. Whitney, here I come!

goals & meal-plan for the week of 2/17

Hi everyone! How is your weekend going? Mine has been fantastic — filled with lots of wonderful Mr. Jude time! Yesterday we did lots of puzzles, had a jam session on the piano, and spent an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese. And Jude was my little helper at the grocery store, helping me pick out ingredients for my white-chicken chili, which I made last night for Mike’s family. Here he is having fun in the kitchen:

cutie kitchen helper

And the weekend would not be complete without some quality cuddle time on the couch!

jude dallas cuddles

It breaks my heart to have to say goodbye to this little guy. He is such a sweetheart. I am already looking forward to our next long visit over spring break!

Here’s how I did on my goals from this past week. I feel a lot better about the progress I am making on my thesis novel now that I have scaled back my goals and given myself a little more room to breathe:

  • revise up to page 60 of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 6 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • blog about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess {post is scheduled to be published this week!}
  • clean out and organize filing cabinet
  • knit 25 rows of the new scarf I’m working on
  • make 3 changes/updates as part of the #28DBC

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:

  • revise up to page 90 of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 7 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • publish blog post about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
  • finish grading papers for both classes
  • take old financial/health documents to the bank to be shredded
  • knit 25 rows of the scarf I’m working on
  • prepare for my presentation at The Louisville Conference on Saturday

And here’s some recipes I’m planning to make this week:
baked fish cakes
edamame hummus
cilantro-lime quinoa with chicken
chopped brussel sprouts with cranberries, pecans & feta cheese
chocolate turtle cookies

What are your goals + meal plans for this week?

MPM-Winter

This post is linked up with Menu-Plan Monday!

goals & meal-plan for the week of 2/3

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel {wasn’t able to write as much as I hoped on this project this week, but planning to make it more of a priority in the upcoming week!}
  • revise first 3 chapters of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 4 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish grading the next assignment for both classes
  • submit at least 3 pieces to journals or theater companies
  • finish reading Best American Short Stories 2012
  • knit 25 more rows of the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet

And here are my goals for the upcoming week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel
  • revise next 4 chapters of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 5 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish reading & blog about 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess 
  • finish reading & blog about The Secret Keeper
  • finish the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet
  • mail out my Valentines

Finally, here are some recipes I’m planning to make this week:

honey-mustard pretzel chicken
– some sort of fish dish — perhaps tilapia or salmon?
– homemade chicken salad
blackberry muffins
peanut-butter blossom cookies

What are your goals & menu plans for this upcoming week?

goals and meal-plan for the week of 1/27

Hi everyone! Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend! A few snapshots from mine so far:

blueberry oatmeal

Oatmeal + blueberries … my favorite cozy wintertime breakfast!

blender

Blender all ready to make homemade hummus!

Here’s how I did on my goals from last week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel
  • blog about Week 3 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish reading Best American Short Stories 2012 {I got side-tracked with a Judy Blume adult novel I checked out from the library!}
  • finish grading first assignment for both classes {Professional Email assignment}
  • knit 25 rows of the scarf I’m working on
  • go through stack of old magazines and purge!
  • send thank-you notes to the lovely people I met at the Key West Literary Seminar

And here are my goals for this upcoming week:

  • write 10 more pages of my YA novel
  • revise first 3 chapters of my thesis novel
  • blog about Week 4 Act of Kindness Challenge & complete it myself this week
  • finish grading the next assignment for both classes
  • submit at least 3 pieces to journals or theater companies
  • finish reading Best American Short Stories 2012
  • knit 25 more rows of the scarf I’m working on
  • clean out & organize filing cabinet

Finally, here are some recipes I’m planning to make this week:

hummus-crusted chicken
wheat-berry mock risotto
cilantro-honey-lime salmon
pumpkin pie

What are your weekly goals? What’s on your menu plan? Hope it’s another masterpiece of a week!

-Dallas

goals & menu plan for the week of 1/6

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a lovely Sunday. It’s been a calm, cozy weekend here in West Lafayette, with lots of green tea, unpacking, and reading on my agenda. {It always floors me how long it seems to take to unpack all my stuff after a trip, especially a month-long trip home when I have two big suitcases crammed full!} Mike and I also watched a couple movies this weekend: the clever romantic comedy Ruby Sparks {I definitely recommend this one!} and the campy horror flick Drag Me to Hell {okay, I didn’t really watch this one —  I’m a wimp when it comes to horror movies! I baked in the kitchen while Mike watched it in the living room. He gave it a 1.5 thumbs up.}

I can’t believe school starts tomorrow! Actually, it officially starts on Tuesday for me — I don’t teach on Mondays this semester — but I will probably still go to campus to get some work done and straighten up my office for the new year. If any of you are starting back to school tomorrow, too, I hope the semester is a great one for you! 🙂

Here are my goals for the week:

  • finish planning out entire semester of lessons for both courses I’m teaching
  • submit fellowship application at least one week before the deadline
  • debut first Act of Kindness on blog {tomorrow!} and complete it myself this week
  • write out responses and pack for Key West
  • finish Christmas thank-you notes
  • begin new knitting project
  • finish the new one-act play I’ve been working on
  • finish reading Who’s Irish? by Gish Jen {a wonderful short story collection I began reading last semester and then never finished}

I also made a weekly goal check-off sheet to keep track of my progress on bigger yearly goals that it can be difficult to keep a handle on over the course of an entire year. I find that if I am able to check something off my list every day, it makes me feel more motivated and productive, and soon turns that goal into a habit. Feel free to download my goal list for the week and fill it in with your own goals!

I’ll close off with the list of meals I’m planning to make this week:

Have a wonderful week!

*This post is linked up with Menu-Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie.*

a simple, successful bridal shower!

Yesterday afternoon, I was so excited and honored to host a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda! We were born only three months apart and went all through school together, from pre-school through college. She is one of my closest friends and I am so happy for her and her fiancee, Justin. They are so cute together and I know they make each other very happy.

me and amanda

In elementary school, we started calling each other “cuz” {short for cousin} and the nickname has stuck!
She will always be my “cuz.”

My Gramps generously let us use his beautiful, large living room to host the shower. {Having a lot of space was a necessity, as we had more than 20 attendees!} Can you spot him peeking out in the pic below, preparing to make his escape before the twenty giggly, wedding-giddy ladies showed up? Haha.

living room shower

We set enough chairs around the room so that everyone would have a place to sit, but also tried to keep the room open to encourage guests to walk around and mingle.

And we designated an area by the fireplace for guests to set down their gifts for the bride-to-be:

gifts

* decorations *

Amanda’s favorite color is pink and her wedding isn’t until June, so even though we held the shower right before Christmas, we went for a summery pink-and-white theme instead of having a Christmas-themed shower.

  • Fresh flowers really brighten up a room!
  • Dress up a plain tablecloth with colorful streamers and bright napkins.
  • Use cups to corral forks, knives, spoons, and toothpicks.

table set

* food *

We went with a simple veggie tray and some h’orderves. The real stand-out were the gorgeous cupcakes, made by one of my mom’s friends:

cupcakes

She’s a professional cake decorator; if you wanted to make homemade desserts, here are a couple of my tried-and-true recipes:
red velvet cupcakes with coconut cream-cheese frosting
carrot cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting

For drinks we did mimosas, red & white wine, soda and water. And of course coffee with dessert!

* games *

Amanda is a competitive person and specifically requested that we play some party games! After doing a little research for ideas, I settled upon two games: Pictionary using wedding-themed phrases, and a “Newlywed” style game to see how well Amanda could guess her fiancee’s answers to a series of questions.

Both games were a big hit, but they did require a bit of preparation. Here are the phrases we used for Pictionary:

  • To Have and To Hold
  • Happily Ever After
  • Just Married
  • I Do
  • First Dance
  • Bridezilla
  • Father of the Bride
  • Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride
  • Tossing the Bouquet
  • Bridal Shower
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Bachelorette Party
  • Tying the Knot
  • Wedding Cake
  • Wedding Bells
  • Going to the Chapel
  • Flower Girl
  • Ring Bearer
  • Best Man
  • Maid of Honor
  • Honeymoon

The Q-&-A game was an idea I saw on the always-wonderful blog Peanut Butter Fingers. Here’s how it worked: a couple months ago, I sent a list of questions to Amanda’s fiancee to answer about her, himself and their relationship. Then I wrote out these questions and his answers out on pieces of paper and made them into a book. I used a small, inexpensive photo album and cut each piece of paper to 4×6 inches to fit perfectly in each slot. Then I decorated the pages with colorful stickers and markers.

bridal question book

question book pages

Here is a full list of the questions I asked the groom-to-be {feel free to add or subtract to fit your needs!}

  • When and where was your first kiss with the bride-to-be?
  • Where was your first date with the bride-to-be?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be’s favorite gift is from you?
  • What is the one item the bride-to-be cannot not live without?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s dream job?
  • If the bride-to-be could move anywhere without having to worry about a job or family, where would it be?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s most obnoxious habit?
  • What is your most obnoxious habit?
  • What turns the bride-to-be off the most about a man?
  • What turns you off the most about a woman?
  • What do you think is the bride-to-be’s favorite memory of your relationship?
  • What is your favorite memory of your relationship with the bride-to-be?
  • What does the bride-to-be picture when she looks into the future?
  • What do you picture when you look into the future?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be loves most about you?
  • What do you love the most about the bride-to-be?
  • What is a big dream of the bride-to-be’s?
  • What is a big dream of yours?
  • What is one thing the bride-to-be will never forget that you did for/said to her?
  • When does the bride-to-be want to have kids?
  • How many kids does the bride-to-be want to have?
  • How many kids do you want to have?
  • If the bride-to-be were an animal, what type of animal would she be and why?
  • If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be and why?

To make it into a game, we asked every attendee to guess the number of questions Amanda would get right. Then we passed the book around the room, taking turns reading out questions and keeping track of how many of Justin’s answers Amanda guessed right. The trick, of course, is that the “right” answer wasn’t always what was true for her, but what Justin thought was true for her. She had to try to think like him, which is the fun part! This game certainly evoked lots of laughter. After we made it through the entire book, we tallied up the number of correct answers and the two attendees with the closest guesses won prizes.

* party favors *

party favors

We found these cute scented candles and thought they would make the perfect party favors! To make them festive and pink, we just wrapped them in a sheet of tissue paper {folded in half} and tied with ribbon.

candle party favors

Here they are all lined up and ready to go for the party!

party favors

The bridal shower was a blast and I think Amanda had a really fun time! I snapped pictures throughout the afternoon that I’m going to print up and slip into a pink photo album for Amanda as a little post-shower gift, so she can look back and remember the day!

shower picture

amanda friends

me and cuzes
It was a simple, successful shower! Have any of you hosted a bridal shower before? What are your favorite party-hosting tips or shower games?

* This post is linked up at Fine Linen & Purple!

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