Menu Mondays: The Back to School Edition

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm headed out the door in ten minutes to bring Stella to school (she goes every morning this year!), I'm applauding myself for getting Alice to the bus stop in time and I'm typing one-handed because I have a cranky, teething 13 month old on my lap. But Menu Mondays are back, after a summer hiatus!

My menus lately reflect the changes that we've made in our family over the past month. You see, Henry and I have some serious financial goals that we need to tackle, so we've cut every aspect of our budget including the grocery budget. Remember my post on buying in bulk? That is one strategy I've employed in grocery budgeting. The other is planning meals that are inexpensive but nutritious and filling. Whole chicken was on sale at Whole Foods last month, so I've got a bunch of birds in my freezer. Besides roasted chicken, I've made stock with the bones. This week, I'm boiling up a chicken to use in my stir fry. I keep my eyes peeled for other deals that I can use without coupons, because I'm just not a clipper...

Here are some links for this week's menu:

The "meatballs" are actually lentils! Don't tell the kids. I want to see if they'll be able to tell the difference.

Spanish tortillas have become a mainstay in the house. All the kids will eat it and it packs well in lunches the next day.

I think everything else is self-explanatory. If it isn't, ask me in the comments!

And don't forget, the MO+M carrier discount code is good until the end of the month! Get the discount code from this post:

Short on Space, Long on Hungry Kids: Storing Bulk Buys in a Small Kitchen

Monday, September 1, 2014

I only have three kids but I might as well be feeding an army. It took me an awful long time to understand why people shop at warehouse stores. That one little bag of Pirate's Booty from the supermarket barely lasts the ten minutes it takes me to put the groceries away. In our old apartment, we had tons of cabinet space so shopping in bulk was no problem. In our little cottage, however, it is a different story.

See this? This is my "pantry." It's all I've one other cabinet holds our drinking glasses, small dishes and mixing bowls. I have a little shelf to the left of this cabinet where I put our bananas, and containers of spices. 

So, I stopped buying in bulk. But I finally reached my breaking point this summer. Having the kids home all day, everyday meant that I couldn't keep any food in the house--it was all flying out the kitchen in a day or two. Kids have a fast metabolism and since I try to keep my kids active, it's inevitable that they'll be hungry throughout the day. It's annoying and expensive but I can't blame them. 

With the new school year rolling around, I knew I had to do something-- besides the fact that I wanted snacks to last longer, I wanted to stop spending so much on them! If I was going back to warehouse shopping, I not only needed to make the food last for a month but I also needed a place to put all the stuff. And that's when I decided that I would just ration the food, not just to make it last but to also get it to fit in this tiny cabinet (just barely, as you can see from the photo above). 

I did not go to the warehouse and buy a jar of mayo big enough to last us ten years, nor do I ever buy anything fresh there (gross...).  I stuck strictly to snacks for the lunchbox and for after school. I bought a giant thing of raisins, snap pea crisps, granola bars, trail mix, rice rolls, and animal crackers. 

When I got home, I calculated how many servings I could dole out every week to make it last all month by dividing the number of servings by four, then doubling or tripling that amount to account for each kid, each week. So, what you see in the ziplock bags above is one weeks' worth of each kind of snack. The trail mix is a hot commodity and would disappear in seconds if the kids had unfettered access to it. Because of that, I divided the servings of trail mix into two ziplock bags, and labeled each one with the girls' names. I told Alice and Stella that they could have as much trail mix as they wanted but if they ran out before the coming weekend, too bad! They'd have to wait before I would refill the bags. 

After sorting a weeks' worth of snacks, I put the packages of food into a storage bin that lives in my laundry room-slash-utility closet-slash-supply closet off the kitchen. (The animal crackers came in a huge plastic container so I transferred those to ziplock bags.) 

We're entering the first week of school for both kids (Alice started last week, Stella starts Wednesday), so we'll see how it goes. I have high hopes that my little experiment will work because I am not going to the warehouse more than once a month. In a similar vein, I plan to avoid the grocery store until this coming weekend. Menu Mondays will return next week, but after a summer of not really planning out meals, I'm really sick of running to the store every couple of days-- it's terrible for the wallet, too! 

Babywearing Magic: The MO+M Baby Carrier Review + Discount Code!

The day Alice got her one month shots, Henry and I took her to Cape Cod for the weekend. She cried the entire weekend. I am not exaggerating. There seemed to be nothing we could do to comfort her except hold her (both of us) and nurse her (me). I had borrowed a ring sling from my neighbor, Ann (aka The Rock Star Mama), and Alice would not sleep unless she was in the ring sling.

We were exhausted that weekend! 

That was my introduction to the magic of babywearing. I had a popular soft-structured carrier (SSC) already when Alice was born, so I planned to babywear but as a matter of convenience. I didn't yet know that babywearing is also a great way to get a baby to mellow out and relax but I figured that out after our exhausting weekend on the Cape. Though I was a first-time mom, I went straight for the soft-structured carrier because my sister had told me that other carriers hurt her back, so I didn't even bother! The ring sling seemed like the perfect thing for those early months, especially since Alice was a teeny tiny baby but otherwise, I was a diehard SSC fan. I wore it while out running errands and at home, when I needed my hands for household tasks but a baby needed me for comfort.

Stella during our first family camping trip, using my old SSC. She was five months old. 

Fast forward to kid #3, and I was still faithful to my SSC, even though both me and the baby were drenched in sweat by the time I took it off.  Right before I left for my annual Cape Cod vacation, I was offered the opportunity to try out a new soft-structured carrier on the market, in exchange for my honest review. I checked out the details on the carrier, called MO+M carrier,  from Mothers On the Move, and decided to try it out. I was mostly curious about how it would compare to the SSC I already had, and to be quite honest, I didn't think it would measure up. 

The first thing I noticed when I put the carrier on the first time was how LIGHT it is. It is 100% cotton, and because of it's lightness, it has comfortable heft-- Micah felt secure and snug on my body. The mesh panel in the front went a long way in keeping my sweatbucket (just like his sisters!) cool and dry, even when we walked around the Wellfleet pier in the midday sun. I was using the carrier that day because we planned to pop into a few store and galleries, and in Wellfleet, these places tend to be tiny!
Me, Alice and Micah at Frying Pan Gallery in Wellfleet,
definitely not stroller friendly! 

It was so hot that day!
Micah is a tiny guy.  The MO+M carrier has a narrower seat, so there was no seam or fabric digging into the back of his knees, as there is in my other carrier. This is a huge plus and made the experience much more comfortable for Micah.
Because I never used a forward-facing carrier, none of my kids were carried forward-facing and I'd always wanted to try it. With the MO+M, you can wear it facing in, on your hip, on your back AND facing out, and still get hip-healthy support for baby. Micah enjoyed being face-out for awhile, until he got tired of it and wanted to snuggle back in. My husband especially appreciates being able to wear Micah forward-facing--since Henry is a big, broad-shouldered guy, Micah was smushed tight against his chest whenever he was facing in.
Can I tell you something? I haven't used my old SSC since I got this carrier, seriously. It's everything I love and am used to in a soft-structured carrier but the light weight, the mesh panel, and the narrow seat addresses all the issues that I have with my old SSC.  I think my old SSC is going to end up on the auction block... it's been good to me but my new alternative is better. 

I am really pleased to be able to offer you a discount code, on behalf of Mothers on the Move! On Amazon, the carrier is $79.95, but with the coupon code, the price drops to $59.95, plus if you have Prime, the shipping can be free.  So, head over to Amazon to learn more about the carrier and use this coupon code: BLGRPRMO when you order. It is good until September 30th! Thank you to Mothers On the Move, for your generosity!

I would love to hear your babywearing stories! Tell me about a time babywearing made your life easier. 

{Mothers On the Move generously gave me this carrier to review. All opinions are mine, and honest. All links to the Amazon product page are my affiliate links.} 

Finding Community.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Since Alice was born, we have lived in three different communities, each one distinctly different from the rest. She was born in New York City, and we lived in Riverdale, a heavily Jewish but still diverse section of the Bronx, along the Hudson River. When I first moved to Riverdale, I was dating my future husband and we had no children. My sister lived in the neighborhood and she was pretty much my only friend, since Riverdale is a family 'hood thanks to the good schools and affordable housing prices. When Alice was six months old,  I finally ventured out to a library story time and it was there that I made my first "mom friend." Alana was a great mom friend to have because she was a go-getter that made things happen. Through her, I joined a playgroup that she started in her playroom (It's where I met Justine of Full Belly Sisters and Caitlin of The Joy of Caitlin!) and suddenly, I had a whole group of moms with kids the same age as Alice, a whole group of women accompanying each other on this journey of early motherhood. Besides these awesome women, I also had great neighbors (Hi, Wittes, Lapins and Rocco!) As a first-time mom who suddenly found herself spending long stretches of time with no other adult in site, this group of mothers and neighbors was a lifesaver.

The Riverdale Gang

When I was seven months pregnant with Stella, and Alice was a few months shy of her second birthday, we up and moved to Greenfield, Mass. This was a big change for me. Greenfield is a small city but it is nothing like the Bronx. Thought Henry had friends there, none of them had kids. It was by chance that I fell in with a group of parents, thanks to a chance run-in with Henry's college acquaintance when we were out for Sunday brunch. Again, I allowed myself to be swept up into a group of amazing parents who welcomed me with open arms and library time schedules. It was my first time living in a place with no family nearby and being taken in by these amazing folks was incredible, especially when Stella was born. Though I barely knew these families, they were delivering food and company to us for weeks after Stella's birth. It was spiritually uplifting and to this day, the memory makes me well up in appreciation.

Happy Valley Friends

Alas, we found ourselves back in the Bronx a year after we left. My friends were still around and I made some new ones, before we up and left again for Connecticut. Here, I have found my community  at the preschool, aptly named Community Nursery School. Again, my sister lives here and she was my only friend in the beginning. Living in this semi-rural area means that it can be easy to feel isolated. I look forward to preschool drop-off, where I can count on having at least one good conversation and maybe a cup of coffee with the other moms before we rush off to get errands done before pick-up. Moving here was another big change for us, and I think making friends as adults is hard--having kids makes it much easier but there's no guarantee of a connection.
These three parenting communities were different in personality and style but they have the most important thing in common--we could count on each other for help, to look out for each other's kids and to support each other in this season of early parenting. It may be a cliche but it still holds true:
It takes a village. 
In Marie-Helene Bertino's novel, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas, the protagonist, 9-year-old Madeleine is shored up by the people in her life after the death of her mother and her father's subsequent depression. This small community of people proves to be her saving grace.

This post was inspired by 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, a novel about hope, love, and music in the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia. Join From Left to Write on August 28 as we discuss 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Marie-Helen Bertino is on Twitter and Facebook. Give her a shout-out!

A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I really took my time with this book. The story is so rich, with so many layers and I found myself re-reading sections of the book as the characters began to come together in a sad and surprising vortex towards the end of the book. The author begins the story with several separate strands and weaves them together into a story in which the characters touch each others' lives without realizing it. Beyond the characters, I was entranced by the setting itself. Anthony Marra paints a world so dark, gloomy and depressing and yet manages to create little pockets of light that shine through briefly, a metaphor for the redemption of humanity in the midst of the extreme depravity that surfaces in a war-torn society. I will hold this book with me for a long time, and be haunted by the images and the characters. 

You can read an excerpt from the book below! 

{I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books, in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links.}

The Original is Always Better.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm surprisingly old-fashioned and big on tradition. The recent trend of remaking classic movies is driving me bananas, quite frankly. I'm disappointed in Hollywood's lack of creativity! I grew up with the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Needless to say, I only needed to watch a few minutes of the newer Johnny Depp version to know that it just wouldn't do. Too dark, too creepy, too WIERD. My kids, age 6 and 4, felt the same and vastly prefer Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.  They love the movie, period, with or without the comparison to the newer one. I was pretty psyched when I had the opportunity to get a copy of the book, because...guess what? I've never read it! I wasn't into Roald Dahl much as a kid and as an adult, I was busy reading other books. Alice, who just turned six, was excited to read it with me. She is just getting into chapter books and while she can read some chapter books independently (Henry and Mudge books are a popular series in our house right now), she likes being read to. It's been exciting to move beyond picture books to novels that require her to listen and create imagery in her own mind. As an English teacher, this is the part of parenting I have long looked forward to--sharing novels with my kids and nurturing a love of reading independently.

And though From Left to Write members don't write book reviews, I am making an exception for this one and turning this post over to Alice, who says the book is better than the movie and  wrote:

"I recommend this book because it's the best chapter book ever. My favorite part is when they go in the Chocolate Room. All Mr. Willy Wonka's dreams were in that room. I like the fact that you can everything in that room! I like that the trees are made of lollipops and the grass is minty sugar.
Anyone that likes candy and likes to read should read this book."
Alice, Age 6

This post was inspired by the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

Head over to From Left to Write to learn how you and your child can have a chance to win the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes where the grand prize is a magical trip to New York City plus much more! For every entry submitted, Penguin Young Readers Group will make a donation to First Book. Then, join From Left to Write on July 24 as we discuss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a book club member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. 

{This post contains affiliate links.}

This is The Story of a Happy Marriage (or How a Book Club Was Born).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Way back in May, which seems like forever ago now, back when the kids were still in school, back when days were warm and nights were cool, you get my drift... Way back in May, I was in the library with my friend Rachel and our kids. I spied a book on a bookcase across the room and decided I wanted to read it. I'd heard of the book before, and I was definitely judging this book by its cover, knowing nothing about it. I decided on the spot to have a summer book club for us moms who were staring down a long summer with the kids in town. That evening, I sent out an email to a group of friends who I thought would be down with a book club and who would be in town most of the summer.  Every single lady said yes, god bless 'em. This book club would be on!

The book: This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett. I had no idea what the book was about but I trusted my instincts. It turned out to be a collection of personal essays, wonderful personal essays, maybe the best I've ever read. Before the book was even done, I knew I'd re-read it. I did have some pangs of worry though because these personal essays were also essays about writing, and I wasn't sure if the ladies in my group would be down that. I guess I had thought the essays would be about marriage and parenting and being a woman, and all that good stuff. First of all, Patchett has no children so there are no essays about motherhood, though she does write about her consternation towards people who assume that she is using her dog as sublimation for a baby.
Being a childless woman of childbearing age, I am a walking target for people's concerned analysis. No one looks at a single man with a Labrador retriever and says. "Will you look at the way he throws the tennis ball to that dog? Now there's a guy who wants to have a son." A dog, after all, is man's best friend, a comrade, a pal. But give a dog to a woman and people will say she is sublimating. If she says that she, in fact, doesn't want children, they will nod understandingly and say, "You just wait." For the record, I do not speak to my dog in baby talk, nor when calling to her do I say, "Come to Mama." 
Her derision and annoyance come through so well, and with humor, too. I fell in love with this voice throughout the book. Each and every essay was a pleasure to read, and as someone who is still trying to master the art of the personal essay, the lessons were bountiful. In fact, if I were still teaching, these essays would form the cornerstone of a curriculum on the personal essay (along with the other master,  Philip Lopate, of course.)
Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story. Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama We must get all of them out of system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath. 
Besides the wonderful, writerly advice, Patchett's essays give us an glimpse into worlds we don't see, sometimes risking an unpopular viewpoint. In The Wall, Patchett writes about trying out for the Los Angeles Police Academy, in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots. Patchett's father was a captain in the LAPD, and retired before the riots. Her experience with the officers of the LAPD stands in stark contrast with the media portrayal of the force following the beating of Rodney King, his trial and the riots. In this essay, she strives to put a face on an oft-villanized group. While she does not attempt to excuse or apologize for the officers that beat Rodney King, she does want to reclaim her hard-working father's honor and who can fault a daughter for that?
I am proud of my father. I am proud of his life's work. For a brief time I saw how difficult it would be to be a police officer in the city of Los Angeles, how easy it would be to fail at the job, as so many have failed. My father succeeded. He served his city well. I wanted to make a note of that.  
One of my favorite essays in the collection comes at the end. The Mercies is a story about the nuns that taught Patchett as a child. First of all, as a non-Catholic, I was fascinated by this personal peek into the lives of nuns! I was also thoroughly heartwarmed by the evolving nature of the lifelong relationship between teacher and student.  I am still close with a few of my own students (a student I had as a freshman just finished grad school! Holy heck...) and I felt the story deeply, knowingly, appreciatively. And it is in this story that Patchett reveals a surprising secret that she only alludes to in an earlier essay. But I'm not going to tell you. Sorry! No spoilers here...

I also want to add that I finished this book in under a week. That's rare these days, and I attribute that to the fact that I read it while on a week-long camping trip in Maine. With no house to clean or laundry to fold, and no social media distraction, there was not much left to do but read, which was my intention, of course, when I decided to leave my phone, dead, in the car for most of the week.  (Let's not discuss the fact that I really should just try harder to resist the temptation, regardless of the state of my phone or the location of my various devices. Thanks.)

Out of respect for Patchett, I am not including my Amazon affiliate link here. I bought my copy at my local independent bookseller and I urge you to do the same. Full disclosure: Though I have an Amazon affiliate account, I do usually buy my books at my local bookstore. Now you know my dirty secret. 

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