Back to School: The All About Me Edition

Three days into the new school year, and I already have a scheduling conflict. C’mon!

I will say that the girls have adjusted thus far very well to their new schools. Flora came home Monday and declared, “TODAY WAS PERFECT.”

Flora on her first day of school.
First day of fifth grade!

Of course, my cynical little brain voice said to itself, “Great. It’s all downhill from here.” But I smiled and gave her a hug, and said out loud and with sincerity, “I am so glad to hear that.”

Kate is having a bit of a rougher time. Her Monday orientation went well — I swear her homeroom teacher is all of 23 — and she was excited. She says her first day was fine, but then burst into tears because she forgot her lunch — I owe her teacher $3 — and she doesn’t like the little boy who sits next to her. She says he wouldn’t leave her alone, and said he was going to eat her brain. So. We will have to keep an eye on that.

Kate's first day of school, 2015.
Think positive! Kate on the first full day of third grade.

It’s quite an adjustment for Dan and me, too. Flora’s bus comes at 7. Which means I am hitting snooze at 5:30. In order to continue with my workout routine, I have to get up even earlier than I have been. Which means bed by 10 p.m. I am not good at early bedtime, but I am going to try harder. On the bright side, I am often at work before 8 a.m., and even an open office is pretty damn quiet at 8 a.m.

It also means that Dan is getting Kate and M out the door, which is a big change for him. We do get a lot ready at night — lunches packed, clothes laid out (I have to get into this habit myself), papers signed, book bags ready. Again, three days into the routine, and it’s been going pretty smoothly. Flora lets me walk her to the bus stop; she even holds my hand crossing the street.

One of these mornings I will stop getting choked up when the bus drives off. Right?

Michael has a whole new schedule this year, too. He’s only going to daycare on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. His pre-k class meets those days starting after Labor Day. Tuesdays he goes to Tadone’s and Thursday he stays home with me.

Thursday will be known as pajama and Minecraft day. Because mama’s gotta work.

Next up for me will be meeting new parents — again — and finding ways to get involved in the school — again. The mere thought makes me very, extremely tired. Plus: TWO schools! (Three if you count M’s.) I mean, how am I gonna do that? Plus soccer for Flora — community league, not through the school — and we have to find an activity for Kate.

I do have one completely positive thing to report. Okay, two.

First, the week before school started, I declared that Sunday through Thursday, all screens are going off at 8 p.m., and we have stuck with that. They don’t have to go straight to bed, but this starts the transition to bedtime. Screens off, snacks finished, everything prepped for the morning. Showers for everyone, M first because he’s the youngest.

And then — and this is BIG for me, HUGE — I get M in his pajamas, read him a book, play him a lullaby, kiss and hug him, AND LEAVE THE ROOM.

I stopped laying down with him while he was supposed to be falling asleep. We talked about it a couple of times — not at bedtime — and my focus has simply been that he is a big boy and old enough to fall asleep on his own. It hasn’t been a completely smooth transition. He still sometimes cries that he is scared. I gave him a radio, and we leave the door open to the hallway. I give extra hugs and kisses. But I am getting an entire hour back at night by not laying in bed with him waiting for him to fall asleep.

Again: so far, so good. Flora has been getting up on her own with an alarm — another HUGE change from last year. I wake Kate and M before I leave, try to get them moving. So far, I have managed one Pilates workout, and one workout with my trainer (Jillian Michaels), and we have been on time for the bus. Even though as of Wednesday they moved the pickup time up by 10 minutes.

Sure, no problem.

Only nine months to go!

How is back to school treating you?

Project: Food Budget, Round 2, It’s a Wrap!

Project: Food Budget

When <a href="http://Emily Levenson” target=”_blank”>Emily first proposed revisiting Project: Food Budget, I was instantly on board.

My primary reason for being so eager was that, as I detailed in my opening post this round, so much had changed since the last time I did this project. It was a good way for me to get a handle on these changes — where I was shopping, how I was shopping, how I was cooking.

And it worked.

What I learned:
Giant Eagle is criminally expensive, and also takes too long to shop .
Aldi is the best place to shop, although it doesn’t always offer vegetarian options.
Target is a good back-up for Aldi, but still shouldn’t be my main grocery store (because I buy too many other things).
Buy as much produce at the farmers market as possible. Especially tomatoes.
I need to space Costco visits out for the sake of the budget.

Aside: When is Trader Joe’s coming to the Robinson area?

Menu planning is vital. Okay, I didn’t actually learn that on this go-round; it was something I was coming around to already. Doing the menu planning and sharing it on this round helped solidify the habit. I got the children involved, and they enjoy picking a meal a week. They also like that I write the menu for the week on our white board. My children like routine and like to know what’s going on. (They get that from me. Unless it involves presents, surprises are not our favorite thing.)

The new thing I learned about menu planning is: when you have a plan, it can be as flexible as you need it to be. Once the plan is in place, and you have shopped for the week or beyond, if things need to change, it’s not a struggle. If a soccer practice or school meeting pops up, you can switch meals on the fly. Plus, I often find after I’ve cooked for a week or so, it’s time to have leftovers for dinner. Which is my favorite.

What I would do differently:
I would track what we spend on alcohol purchases — don’t worry, Mom, it’s not an exorbitant amount. But I found myself popping into the state store for a bottle of wine or grabbing a six-pack at Giant Eagle for one reason or another. I’m sure that if I paid more attention, I could find a way to avoid last-minute runs to the state store.

6 Mile Cellars
Local wine for the win.

Of course, if Pennsylvania would change its laws about alcohol sales, and I could pick up a bottle of wine at Costco INSTEAD OF MAKING ANOTHER STOP, that would be awesome too.

I wish I had commented more on fellow participants’ sites, and I also wish I had looked at more recipes. One downside to menu planning is that it is easy to get into a rut. I have to work hard to find new recipes and integrate them, and we are busier than ever.

What did you learn?

McGinnis and Bean
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Apartments I Have Known

1. The first summer sublet I had was more like a wide hallway. I moved into an apartment with two other women. I had a mattress, a wardrobe from IKEA, and… maybe a nightstand? It’s a little fuzzy. I was 20 years old. I did not actually have a room — Lisa and Christine each did, and they were very good about boundaries, letting me know when they had to walk through my “room”.

Plus, I had a boyfriend, so I wasn’t necessarily there every night. The boyfriend shared an apartment with two other men who were also his bandmates — a theme for me it would turn out — who put his bedroom above a sitting room by putting down plywood and a mattress on the exposed beams.

At least I could sit up in my hallway.

2. The Catbox, also known as The Escher House.

This was, hands down, the worst apartment I ever resided in. It reeked of cat pee. My room probably was the least smelly, but had little else to recommend it. The best thing about this apartment was that my share of rent and utilities came in under $100.

It was, truly, a living space only a college student could survive. My friend Kim Z. Dale lived there too.

I lived there first, and I think I only survived three or four months. I had three women roommates, and a guy who lived in the basement. (He had a cat, but his cat was not responsible for the stink in the apartment.) One of my roommates was very, er, enamored with her boyfriend, and we saw very little of her. Another of my roommates was, er, a lazy slob. She let dishes sit and sit and sit in the sink. I finally stopped doing them for her, and resorted to doing my dishes in the bathroom.

Trashed hallway.
Okay, it probably wasn’t this bad.

The other roommate was fine. She did her dishes. And she had introduced me to both Pearl Jam and Toad the Wet Sprocket, so who am I to bitch?

The other downside to this apartment — if I haven’t made it sound awful enough — was that if someone was in the bathroom, which had two doors, I couldn’t get into or out of my room.

3. My Second Favorite Apartment
Finally, I landed an awesome living space. My buddy Joe stumbled across this space, which was being newly renovated. It was a third-floor, corner apartment with a HUGE common space/living room, a small kitchen (where I am happy to report everyone did his/her own dishes), a small bathroom, and three decent-sized bedrooms.

The only downside to this space is that the drop ceilings in the bedroom disguised how drafty the windows were. I froze in the winter. We attempted to put up plastic to insulate my room, and it belled out almost comically.

Joe and I lived there for three years — and, no, we never dated; we were friends and roommates, only. The third roommate changed each year: Annoying Man, my brother, and Pete. Then we somehow landed a fourth roommate, who called himself Craivent. After he had crashed on our couch for a few months, I moved out. That was a mistake, although after three years of living with guys, I was pretty excited to move in with girlfriends in the House of Babes 2, which needs a blog post all its own.

4. The Studio
In a desperate bid to live by myself, I found a studio apartment on the South Side Slopes. If I hadn’t already lived in the Catbox, this would be the worst place I lived. I had slugs on the “porch” and cockroaches in the bathroom, and after six months, I moved in with a boyfriend — which was not romantic; it was practical, and ultimately, a mistake, also deserving its own blog post.

5. The Final Apartment
The last place I lived in as a single lady was my favorite. It was a one-bedroom, and it was simple and clean. Bedroom, bathroom, sitting room, and one of the nicest South Side kitchens I had ever had. It had room for an entire kitchen table with chairs! The kitchen got lots of light; the closet in the bedroom wasn’t very big, but it was all mine. My land-people lived upstairs, and they let me use the yard if I wanted. They kept to themselves.

Dan and I rented a house until we moved to the suburbs. I miss my old stomping grounds, but I do not miss many of those living spaces. It’s shocking what a college student will do to be independent!

How about you? Have a favorite apartment? Terrible roommates? Cockroaches?

Project: Food Budget: Week 12

Project: Food Budget

A day late, but at least I’m not a dollar short!

Aldi = $53.38
Aldi = $20.67
Costco = $225.00

Two Aldi trips this week because we had a picnic in the park on Friday night. I picked up pistachios, hummus, cheese and crackers, deli ham, and chips and salsa. We met @TwinMamaTeb and her children in the park. She was much better prepared with risotto salad and cucumber salad, plus utensils!

I even forgot drinks. Michael, Flora and I walked over to a nearby Walgreens to buy iced teas and water.

And then: Antney’s for ice cream.

I should probably put those extras in my budget, eh? (About $8 and $16, respectively.)


It’s the last week of Food Budget, round 2. I will have a wrap up post next week about what worked for me and what I need to do better.

This weekend, we made a Costco trip for staples, then filled in the gaps with a quick stop at Aldi. I have decided that I am going to limit where I need to shop each weekend. For example, if I put a meal plan together that needs a lot of vegetarian meat substitutes, the trip will be to Target instead of Aldi. We will only go to Costco once a month, if that, and try to stay around $200. And Giant Eagle we will avoid like crazy, unless we are stopping for a growler of beer and/or very specialty food products (i.e. Goya tomato sauce and pigeon peas for rice and beans.)

Although, the farmers market will always be a possibility. We missed it this week because I attended a few sessions at PodcampX Saturday morning.

Meal plan:
I cannot remember what we ate this weekend. So, nothing special.

I have Dan on a protein and vegetable diet this week because he’s going to be doing another Tough Mudder, and he wants to lose a couple more pounds from his belly. He is plenty strong enough (although he’s worried about his hand strength), but helping him get a little lighter will give him a boost. So he’s getting chicken, ham and cheese omelets, salad, and beef this week!

Monday: Tortellini, chicken or tofu, salad, cucumbers
Tuesday: Quesadillas and baby carrots
Wednesday: Pizza and salad (feeding five children)
Thursday: WFH lunch, tomato soup with grilled cheese; rice, Indian-spiced kidney beans and tomatoes, naan, tandoori-ish chicken
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Burgers, tater tots, salad

Last week to make the rounds.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Random Thoughts: The Monday Music Edition

First item: A study finds that empathic people like mellow music, and “systemizing” personalities — that is interest in understanding the rules underpinning systems — favor “intense music”.

Here’s the article about the study.

So now, when Dan asks why I listen to angry music (his term), I can say that I am interested in underpinning systems.

Dan is a psychologist, and a damn good one. Guess what kind of music he prefers.


Second item: The other night in the car, Flora was switching radio stations around. We came across Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” and I made her leave it on. You would think I was driving bamboo shoots under her nails from her reaction.

After it was over, she lost no time in finding a country music station.

Man, I hate country music.

This is, of course, the nanny’s fault. She is a country fan. So part of Flora’s rebellion will take the form of listening to country, apparently.

What do you think? Should I limit the listening of country to her room? My rule in the car is that it has to be at least mutually tolerable. Country is not mutually tolerable.

Sorry, Kim. It’s just not.

Curse you, Country!
Curse you, Country!

But I’m not going to forbid it. I know how that ends.

What do you do when you are with someone whose taste in music is wildly divergent from yours?

Random Thoughts: The Changing Plans Edition

1. My girls’ school district abruptly changed the first day of school on Monday, making it a week later than originally planned. Since my nanny returned to her teaching job in West Virginia ON WEDNESDAY, this left us in a bit of a lurch.

With some scrambling, some help (thanks to @mattieflap and my in-laws), and TWO work-from-home days, I’ve gotten everything covered. Whew.

F and K goofing
Don’t worry, we’re covered.

2. We were supposed to go up to Erie the weekend of the 22nd, but we decided to hold off on that. It’s a bummer because we haven’t been to Erie all summer. Friends of our specifically reached out to invite us up, which was nice. And we were planning the trip, but I don’t want to travel the weekend before the girls start in their new schools. We’re looking at dates in September instead.

3. Apparently Target started a firestorm by deciding to take the word “boy” or “girl” off aisle signs in toy and household departments. It started a big social media and online brouhaha, and I just went clicking around yesterday to see what the story was. And the story is pretty much that: Instead of saying “girl building sets” or “boy bedsheets” the aisle signage will simply say “building sets” or “bedsheets”.

I think nothing of this. Seems pretty straightforward to me. Not all girls like pink, and not all boys like Star Wars.

Then I made the mistake of reading the comments, and people done lost their damn minds.

Some very angry people are not going to shop at Target anymore. Honestly, reading through comments, it seemed like people thought Target was single-handedly going to end the use of the words “boy” and “girl”.

Some people are very confused about the difference between sex and gender.

And, honestly, the subtext I got from many of these angry people was, “I like my gender stereotypes JUST THE WAY THEY ARE, TARGET. How dare you challenge my comfort level? Boys play with cars and girls play with dolls; boys are blue and girls are pink AND THAT’S IT DO YOU HEAR ME?”

I wanted to tell everyone to go do some deep breathing. It was crazy.

I’ve talked about the pink toy thing a little bit here, and I have many thoughts on gendered marketing — just ask me sometime! Short version: Do not like.

I’m glad Target is not going to sell girl bathroom sets or boy Legos. They will just sell household goods and toys, and I don’t think it’s a problem. And if you can’t figure out what to buy your niece because it doesn’t say “girl” at the end of the aisle, just get her a gift card. What she decides to buy herself might just surprise you.

What do you think of the Target move? Think other stores will follow their example? Where will all those angry people shop?

Project: Food Budget, Week 11

Project: Food Budget

Farmers Market = $35
Target = $22.90

Way under budget this week due to the big trip two weeks ago, plus some splurging last week. Plus, my FIL bought me another flat of tomatoes and some corn on the cob, and that went toward filling out the menu for the week.

I’ve written about this before, but I love summer tomatoes — and only summer tomatoes. When I was at the farmers market, I bought a basket of “seconds” — that is, tomatoes that were a little dented, some with dirt still on them. I turn most tomatoes into sauce and freeze a bunch anyway, so buying tomatoes that aren’t pretty doesn’t bother me. I almost bought another small basket of them, but I’m glad I held off.

A few common tomato dishes at my house are caprese salad (I have to fight with the children over the buffalo mozzarella), scalloped tomatoes with croutons, and roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar. Whenever I want an amazing tomato recipe, Smitten Kitchen is my go-to. That woman knows how to treat a tomato!

Let’s see how many more times I can say tomato in this post.


Saturday: Vegetarian chili, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob
Sunday: Scalloped tomatoes with croutons, pasta with pesto, tilapia (and vegetarian nuggets for me and flora)
Monday: baked burritos (made with leftover rice and beans, cheese, and salsa), leftover chili, arugula salad
Tuesday: Sesame noodles, roasted chicken, and tofu
Wednesday: WFH lunch is going to be roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar; dinner will be mac ‘n’ cheese and vegetarian hot dogs, green beans
Thursday: rice and stir fry vegetables
Friday: Tortellini with meat or marinara sauce

What is your favorite thing to do with summer tomatoes?

Hitting the home stretch with these fine people!

McGinnis and Bean
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Curious George is a Terrible Influence

I have read to my children since they were in utero. I was read to as a child, and so I read to my children. I understand how important it is in terms of childhood development, but my intent isn’t excellent educational outcomes for my children.

I like words, I like books, and I want my children to like words and books, too.

And I don’t mean to slay sacred cows, but my least favorite children’s character is Curious George. As a parent, I am appalled at the stuff he gets away with. The man with a yellow hat is terrible too. When is he going to learn that George is *always* going to get into trouble? He should stop leaving that little monkey alone.

The only “original” Curious George book we own is Curious George Rides a Bike, which has pretty serious racist undertones in my opinion. But we got a box set of “in the style of H.A. Rey” Curious George books: Curious George and the Puppies; Curious George Goes to the Movies; Curious George Goes Camping. I thought nothing of it at the time. George is a beloved children’s book character! The stories are simple! Isn’t that monkey silly?

But after reading all these books, over and over again for all three children, I’ve started having reservations about that silly monkey.

Every book starts the same: “This is George. George is a good little monkey, and always very curious.” Then he and his friend, the man in the yellow hat have an adventure.

The man almost always leaves George to his own devices right from the beginning. He’s got to buy tickets or get popcorn or go sign some paperwork. “Stay right here, George,” he cautions. “And don’t get into trouble.”

Dude in yellow hat! We’ve been here about 20 times now! George is going to wreak havoc on the next page, and we both know it!

George’s curiosity leads him to make bad decisions. That’s all there is to it. “What’s in here? What happens if I do this?” He knocks people over, lets puppies loose in an animal shelter, dumps a dump truck full of dirt into a pond, inadvertently steals a hot air balloon.

And then somehow, his havoc turns into a solution! He helps a skier win a race; he finds a missing puppy; he creates an island for ducks; he rescues a worker from Mt. Rushmore — which don’t get me started. That balloon would be dashed on George Washington’s nose before you could say “little blue car.”

In short, regardless of what trouble he gets into, there are never any consequences for George. He usually wins praise and ends up in the mayor’s car leading a parade, for goodness sake.

He invents snowboarding in this one. No kidding.
He invents snowboarding in this one. No kidding.

I know, I know: they are children’s books. They are about the adventure. But let’s face it: if a parent in the real world neglected his/her child the way the man in the yellow hat blithely wanders away from George, CPS would be all over that. At the very least, if Michael dumped a load of dirt into a pond, he’d be good and grounded.

My two favorite children’s authors are Kate DiCamillo and Mo Willems. Bink and Gollie and Elephant and Piggie are some characters I can relish. And reading Mo Willems aloud is the best.

Who’s your least favorite children’s book character and why?

Project: Food Budget, Week 10

Project: Food Budget

Last week, our only food expenditure was dining out on Tuesday night at a restaurant in Donegal. If you are ever in that area, I highly recommend Out of the Fire Cafe. It is BYOB, the staff is very good, and the food is fresh and delicious. We’ve been going there for a few years now, and it is always a highlight of the family reunion.

Week 9, dining out, $100.

This week’s expenses:

Farmers market = $42
Costco = $48.85
Giant Eagle = $44.55

We did well primarily because the freezer is well stocked. The most expensive thing this week was the time I spent trying to get out of the Moon Giant Eagle. Honestly, I will do anything in my power to keep from going back.

We ended up in Costco because that’s where we get our prescriptions filled, and Kate needed antibiotic ear drops. Hence, Costco was pretty much our splurge for the week. I picked up Belvita biscuits, whole grain fig bars, and Whole Fruit frozen treats, plus desk snacks and cereal.

The farmers market provided Saturday’s dinner (apple sausage and spinach and feta pies — OH MY!), plus green beans, two loaves of whole grain bread, and tomatoes, the last of which I plan to roast and freeze.

Weekly menu:

Saturday: We had guests in on Saturday, so for the grownups, I prepared Israeli cous cous, apple sausage, and a caprese salad, plus those aforementioned spinach and feta pies heated through.
Sunday: rice and beans, chicken, arugula salad
Monday: tortellini with marinara sauce, nuggets, broccoli
Tuesday: French toast, veggie sausage, and blueberries (brinner, in other words)
Wednesday: pizza and salad
Thursday: vegetarian chili and pierogies
Friday: I’m turning chili and rice and beans into baked burritos and quesadillas

Two more weeks to go! Let’s see how the gang is doing.

Emily Levenson
McGinnis and Bean
Erra Creations
Eryn Says…
Seeking White Space
Gardening in High Heels
Melissa Firman
Copy & Post
Shea Lennon
Warm as Pie
Two Eggs Over Easy

Random Thoughts: The Weekend Update Update Edition

1. Kate’s swimmers ear is responding to her antibiotic drops, and she is feeling so much better. She still needs to stay out of the water for another week or so. And when she does venture back in, we will have to work to make sure her ears get dried right after swimming. Which shouldn’t be difficult, because she was in a lot of pain, and I bet she will want to prevent that from happening again.

2. Once you become used to shopping at stores other than The Big Bird, if you do find yourself shopping there it is an exercise in frustration.

Michael and I hit the farmers market Saturday morning. I put together the weekly menu on the fly, and figured I would hit the Moon area Giant Eagle for the dozen or so things I needed to complete the menu. I had a lot of stuff at home already, but needed some vegetarian ingredients. The Giant Eagle was the closest store.

Never again.

First of all, the prices are outrageous. I hadn’t realized how very high they are when you compare them to Aldi and Target.

Second of all, it has to be the least efficient store I’ve ever tried to check out of. The first self-checkout line I got into, I was behind a guy with a full cart and (I noticed as he started checking out) a pile of coupons. Now, I have no problem with coupons, but why try to use them at a self-checkout?

So I switched to another self-checkout lane — and discovered that I couldn’t use it because I didn’t have my loyalty card with me. So *then* I had to get in a regular line, and it took a long time. A LONG TIME. And while I didn’t time it, when you compare it to the time it takes to check out at Aldi or Target, where you do not wait in line, it took a long time. Fifteen minutes, possibly 30.

M was an angel. And I mean an angel. He didn’t act up, he didn’t melt down, he didn’t ask me for fifty eleven things (we had already picked out a pack of gum as a reward). He was chatty and patient and didn’t climb endlessly on the cart or wander off.

Third of all, why in heavens name do they have so. much. stuff? I mean, aside from acres of foodstuffs to choose from, there are toys and books and middle-of-the-aisle kiosks of razors and travel size shaving cream. WHY?

Fourth of all, our cashier was incredibly slow. She seemed to be flummoxed by the whole system of scanning objects in a certain order and placing them in the bags. The customers in front of me didn’t seem to be a big help, but they sure did want to chat with her.

Ugh. It was just the worst. I’m never going back.

I’ll send Dan, and only when absolutely necessary.

3. My friend Kim and her family were in town to see a production of Kim’s play A Skewed Nude, and we had them over for dinner, and they brought us beer from Chicago, and we had a nice, nice evening.

Chicago craft beer!
Chicago craft beer!

And Kim’s play is *funny*.

All-in-all, a delightful visit, and I do hope Kim and her family got lots of rest after returning to their hotel.

Got any updates?