Monday, November 29, 2010

calling all meal planners

This Saturday I will be teaching a workshop on Meal Planning for a group of women at my church. Needless to say, I will highlight my crazy tech tools for meal planning. But I'm sure that won't be helpful for everyone, so I'll also cover alternative tips, tricks and tools for planning meals, shopping for groceries, and building a short-term supply of everyday foods.

So I'm on the hunt for such tips, tricks and tools. Any suggestions from your own experience on effective ways to do meal planning, shopping, and short-term food storage?

Here's a brainstorming list. Add to it!

- Keep grocery lists on your phone or on a Google doc so it's accessible from anyway
- Use Tasty Planner to store recipes and create shopping lists
- Start by making a list of everything you know how to make and love to eat
- Keep an ongoing list on the fridge of the foods you're running out of
- Pick 1 or 2 meals to always make on a certain night "Taco Tuesdays!"
- On a free evening, sit down and write out a meal plan and shopping list for an entire month (separate into 1-week shopping trips)
- Start a recipe blog with family or friends to share/store recipes
- Use to bookmark and tag recipes you love

Saturday, November 27, 2010

friday photos

I really should have called "friday photos" something else to obscure the fact that I'm often late.

Winter is upon us in Michigan, but here are some memories of warmer times last week in Arizona.

Genghis's first swim.

Also, I got a hair cut. Never gone this short before, but I like it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

sing to me my angel of music

Many baby books tell you that the best way to help baby* develop verbally is to chatter to him about what you are doing. For example, a typical conversation with Genghis may be something like:

"Okay, now I'm going to set you down on your play mat."
"Whoa! Kid, it's just a play mat. You're kind of freaking out about this."
"It's okay. You're okay. Show me how you kick it to make music. Yeah, you can do it."
"Okay, we've moved into full freak out mode now. It's okay. It's okay. You're okay."
"Time for bed!"

I would argue that most of this commentary is really for the parent's sake. "It's okay" translated is "I'm a capable, strong parent and I love my child. We will make it through this."

Guided by numerous baby books, I have tried to keep a running commentary of actions with Genghis as we go through our day. It's surprisingly hard, particularly when I was only getting 3 hour stretches of sleep. Functioning at half capacity, I sometimes found myself at the changing table, with the diaper hanging there, trying to find words to put to the situation. Genghis and I would stare at each other in a mutual stupor. Eventually I'd startle awake enough to finish the task with an incoherent "Diaper change finished now all clean, so good, huh?, yes, so good".

This, combined with the fact that I want our children to enjoy music, has lead to me to a lot of ongoing singing. If you've got a song you know, you can groove for a few minutes without even thinking about it. Sometimes you can even get on auto-repeat for the chorus (or the 2-line couplet which is the only part of the song that you know) and continue for 10-minute stretches until your husband gives you a funny look.

But when I first tried singing to Genghis, I found it difficult to dig up a repertoire of songs. For a while we circulated through The Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Mexican Hat Dance for playtime and James Taylor's Sweet Baby James or I Am a Child of God (a children's song in our church) for sleeping.

I kept at it, though, and soon I was breaking out into songs that I hadn't sung in years, was embarrassed to admit I knew, or didn't realize I even knew.

Some favorites:
- Phantom of the Opera (in sleep he sang to me, in dreams he came...)
- All I ask (also from Phantom)
- Music of the Night (again, Phantom)
- Starlight Express (Title song from the underappreciated Andrew Lloyd Weber musical on rollerskates)
- Fantine's Death: Come to Me (Les Mis)
- Red & Black (Les Mis)
- Sing, Sing, Sing
- Mack the Knife
- Summertime
- In the Mood (I'm getting really good at scatting)
- The Speed Test (Thoroughly Modern Millie)
- I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General (Pirates of Penzance, I only know the first line)

We also keep a hymnbook in the nursery and pick out a new song each night to sing to Genghis before he goes to sleep for the night.

Soon he'll be well rounded in show tunes, swing, and 19th century Protestant melodies.

*In an attempt to mimic the parlance of said baby books, I have deliberately omitted the article before baby. This is common practice in these books ("Many parents wonder how long they should let baby cry", "Smiling at baby will help him learn social cues"). I always fill in the articles in my head.

Friday, November 12, 2010

friday photos

Showing off his affiliation with various organizations.

Ultimate Frisbee. (He has another Ultimate-themed shirt, but is still growing into it.)


A family photo. Most of these were blurred shots of Genghis face planting into the blanket.

Do I look more rested? I do? Why, thank you. That's because our super baby is now sleeping through the night! 11:30pm to 7:30am. We cut off his middle of the night food supply a week ago. He protested loudly the first night, but the next few nights complained just a little. We compromised on night 5 by unswaddling him. He is now a pro thumb sucker and blissful dreamer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

remember when it was halloween?

Before it gets ridiculously late, here is my Halloween costume from 2010.

Inspired by Wallace & Gromit's "Feathers McGraw", a sinister penguin who disguises himself as a chicken.

I made the rooster cap and the feet out of old sweaters. The beak is felt, I've got a nylon on my head, and I'm wearing Abe's bathrobe. I love Halloween!

Perhaps even more cool than my costume, though, is the blog I stumbled upon while finding the Feathers McGraw poster. The photo I posted comes from blogger Jessica B.,, who makes bento boxes based on various themes and book characters. A bento box is a traditionally Japanese lunch tray of assorted foods (Check out the wikipedia article). Jessica's work is amazing. The link I posted features a sandwich in the shape of Wallace & Grommit. She has also done Hunger Games, Twilight, Where the Wild Things Are, and more.

Friday, November 5, 2010

friday photos

Genghis is very interested in the world around him. If the room is not dark and quiet, he refuses to sleep. This makes me nervous for an upcoming 3.5 hr flight I will be taking with him, alone. I can't even hide out in the bathroom (where he normally naps - look, it's the only room without windows) because plane bathrooms automatically light up when you go inside.

Anyway, often when he is surveying his surroundings he has this thoughtful but somewhat concerned look. It is a look that says, "Why are my nursery walls painted in 'Cornmuffin'?", "What is that furry squeaking toy being dangling in front of my face?", "Will Michigan always be this cold?" (answer, no, it gets much colder), or "I wonder if other moms create Access databases for recipe cards and grocery lists".

Thursday, November 4, 2010

recipe database files

Based on the number of people who didn't think I was crazy and wanted their very own copy of the Access file lauded in the previous post, I have made the file available for download here, along with a video tutorial of how to use it.

Okay, so there are 2 versions.

First, the Simple Grocery List Maker.
This is an Excel file that will create grocery lists for you. You enter in meals/ingredients, select which you want to make, and the file creates a grocery list ready to print and take to the store.

Download the file here:

Watch the video tutorial (recommended):

(Link to YouTube video)

Second, the Ultimate Meal Planner.
This is an Access database that will create printable recipe cards and a grocery list. If you're really serious about this, choose this option because once you're already entering in meals and ingredients, you may as well get a formatted recipe card out of it. In this database, you fill out recipe forms to create your cards (ready to print on 4x6 cards). Use the grocery form to select meals and generate a list ready to print and take to the store.

Download the file here

Watch the video tutorials (strongly, highly, very recommended):

(Link to YouTube video)

(Link to YouTube video)

Monday, November 1, 2010

what do you get when you cross a stay-at-home mom with a spreadsheet freak?


With the end result of an Access database that generates 4x6 recipe cards and my weekly grocery lists with just a few clicks.

The inefficiencies of my meal planning system have been gnawing at me for a while now. Searching for recipes stuffed into recipe boxes, saved on my account, scribbled on a napkin at the bottom of my purse. Or, spending 20 minutes writing my grocery list and getting home to discover I've forgotten the noodles for spaghetti. Or, eating the same foods week after week because it's too hard to look in various places mentioned above for recipes I haven't made in a while.

Over the last 2 weeks I have streamlined a solution. In my Access database, I can fill out a form to enter in a new recipe. The recipe automatically uploads into a report that prints onto a 4x6 card so I can add it to my "recipe ring". The recipe ring frees cards from the constraints of a box. Instead cards are clipped together with 2 rings that allows for faster flip-through. Plus the card won't ever leave the box and mysteriously disappear - the whole bunch stays together on the ring.

That's pretty handy. But the best part is that all of those recipes feed into a grocery list creator. Okay, it's really just a pivot table. The coolest pivot table ever.* It gives me a drop-down list of my recipes. I select which meals I want to make that week and it gives me a list of ingredients I need to buy. And quantities - summed across recipes. And it sorts it by store section (produce, bakery, meat, etc). One Ctrl+P later and I've got a complete, sorted grocery list to take with me to the store.

The only flaw in the system (which I've encountered twice now) is when I leave the grocery list sitting on the kitchen table. Operator error.

I know this all sounds a little crazy. But meal planning has always been a thing with me. Have I ever written about the time I was gearing up for a very busy school semester, so I planned out 16 weeks of dinners? I printed out 16 pages of grocery lists, one for each week, that had the week's dinners and necessary ingredients. I set the stack on my nightstand and didn't think about what to make for dinner for the next 4 months. Talk about efficient.

At this point, you may be feeling one of two ways. 1) Wow! Maybe Erin will send me a copy of her Access database so I can use it too (I'd be happy to). 2) Wow! This is the scariest Halloween post I've ever read.

*Credit for the pivot table goes to my friend Melissa, who first came up with this concept using the pivot tables in Excel.