Weekly Grocery Budget & Meal Plan for February 19-25

I scored majorly this week!  We had a very good produce box this week, even creating one of those serendipitous moments of including a cauliflower and potatoes for the week when I was toying with the idea of Aloo Gobi (Indian Cauliflower & Potato Curry)!  I am still really digging Asian–type flavors this week.  Plus, after finding out that Aldi stock’s gluten-free imitation crab, I knew I would also be making California rolls.  Super exciting!

Once the box was confirmed and I was making my list for the store, I knew I was going to have a fair amount of extra money left over…it turned out to be around $11, so I able to spend NINE DOLLARS to stock up on a 5+ pound pork butt!  That is the toughest thing about this $50 budget–that there is rarely ever enough remaining money to cover those bigger cuts of meat (that are actually quite cheap in terms of dollars-per-pound, but still require a slightly steep investment up front).  Believe me, I am trying to get creative with how I save up for them–maybe I’ll tuck the changes away each week until it builds to $10-$15.  Either way, by using our pantry a lot this week, I did manage to squeeze in the pork butt (and a treat: potato chips!)  I’ve already portioned the pork into 3 different 1.75 lb bags in the freezer.  You can bet that Citrus Pork Chilaquiles from Ashley‘s Date Night In Cookbook will be on the menu next week.**   The other ingredients with be a little bit of an investment–things like orange juice, avocado, tortilla chips, and queso fresco with run me between $1-$2 a piece at Aldi.  But I will get creative with the rest of the week’s meals in order to make it work because these chilaquiles are HEA. VEN. LY!

If you are careful with your pantry items and invest in spices, there is absolutely no reason to boring, flavor-lacking food when you are eating on a budget.  As you may noticed, M and I favor super bold cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Indian and eat dishes from those cuisines fairly often!  Spices are the absolutely key to keeping things interesting!  I’ve found that cheap spices can be found in the “Mexican/Asian” aisle of regular Giants.  They have very cheap bottles of garlic powder, oregano, cilantro, etc and even had little baggies with a couple whole star anise or a few whole nutmegs for like $2!  Check it out, and try to put together a few dollars towards spices every other week–you will soon be on your way to a flexible and useful spice cabinet!

**This is not a paid endorsement at all.  M got me the book for Christmas two years ago and I just love it!  The chilaquiles is our absolute favorite recipe…with Basil Mint Bourbon Jubilees coming in close behind!

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This week’s tally:

  • Hungry Harvest Produce Box:  $16.50 (added on the grapefruits)
  • Aldi: $27.75
  • Lotte Asian Market: $5.28
  • Total: $49.53  (If I hadn’t had those stock up/splurge items, we would have barely cracked $35 this week!)

This week’s groceries:

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Hungry Harvest Box: 2 grapefruits (add on), 1 red onion, 0.5 lb brussels sprouts, 3 apples, 1  head of organic cauliflower, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, 1 mango, 1.5 lb fingerling potatoes.

Lotte Asian Market: whole lemongrass, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, 2 lbs sushi rice

Aldi: dried cranberries (stock up), 1.5 lb pork tenderloin, 5.12 lbs pork butt (stock up), chips (splurge), cucumber, 5 lbs potatoes (stock up-forgot about the fingerlings in HH box), avocado, diced tomatoes, milk, sriracha (stock up), cooking spray, imitation crabmeat

Here is how we are eating this week:

Sunday: Paneer Masala, Aloo Gobi, Coconut-Creamed Spinach, & Rice   I’ll be making the paneer with that gallon of milk and some lemon juice!  It is so simple and I should get between 12-18 oz of cheese for about $1.50.  I’ll cook down a masala sauce with the tomatoes, some spices, and some of the half-n-half from two weeks ago.  The spinach is from two weeks ago and the coconut milk is from last week’s grocery trip.  The veggies from the box will pair with spices for the Aloo Gobi and we purchased a huge 15 lb bag of rice ages ago, that we have been slowly working our way through.

Monday: I’m out late with meetings for my internship.  I will probably grab something on the run.

Tuesday: Leftovers  M is out and I work late.  I’ll eat leftovers or some scrambled eggs when I get home.

Wednesday: Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, & Fingerling Potatoes with Mojo Verde sauce  M will be cooking while I’m in class.  Mojo Verde will someday make it up here on the blog–it’s similar to chimichurri.  An herby sauce with cilantro, parsley, garlic, vinegar, and all sorts of tasty stuff!

Thursday: Sushi! A big old batch of rice will get rolled into California Rolls, veggie rolls, maybe I’ll even break out the shrimp if I’m feeling fancy!  Check out my last post for a step-by-step guide to rolling sushi!

Friday: Larb Gai  I’ll mince up some chicken thighs with the freezer and sauté them with my pantry items (fish sauce, lime juice, etc) and cilantro and serve with the red onion and butter lettuce for a light dinner.

Saturday: Odds and Ends Whatever I’m feeling like.  I know I need to use up the eggplant and do something with tomatoes!  We will still have chicken thighs and a few sausages in the freezer, if I want some meat.

Breakfasts will be eggs or oatmeal or fruit and toast.  Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches using the roast beef from last week!


Turmeric Lattes (Golden Milk Lattes): 3 Ways

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Alright, confession time.  I pronounce (some) words strangely.  These days, its only really noticeable in my emphasis on “tt” when it shows up in the middle of words.  Kitten.  Mitten.  Button…  But I also said “pint” with a short ‘i’ sound for a little while and went through a phase with too much emphasis on the ‘w’s in words like sword and dwarf.  My family will still tease me about it, occasionally.  I was a kid who read A LOT (like, a chapter book a day… rereading Harry Potter books 1-3 over 30 times during the year before Goblet of Fire was published…yeah…)  So I had a fairly large collection of words that I was most familiar with seeing.  So, I tended to pronounce things as the y looked.  I mean, obviously there are two T’s for a reason, am I right?

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Anyways, I’ve noticed now that I am an adult, I’ve picked up a bad habit of dropping or even changing letters.  I think it, again, comes from reading the words so often (on blogs, etc), except that I am a little too lazy and just presume a word instead of actually paying attention.  So here’s the actual confession:  Even though I have heard it said and I know that the “R” is there…I say too-meric.  I also say xanthUM gum, and in my earlier recipes, have often written in with an M instead of an N.  That one was more surprising when I realized my mistake.  I’ve been aware of my turmeric error forever, but I just can’t seem to shake my bad pronunciation.

Have you tried turmeric lattes (also known as “golden milk” lattes) yet?

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They sounded super comforting when I first heard about them and (no surprise to my spice-loving self) I love them!  This is perhaps why I now have a little under a pound of fresh turmeric root in my freezer.  That’s another story.  But the short version is that it came in my produce box.  And my sister also got some and asked me what I did with it.  So, I came up with a few different versions of a turmeric latte to share with you today!  Plus, it gave me an excuse to make designs with spices on my marble cutting board.  Hello, beautiful!

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The Quick Way (Turmeric Latte)-Or when you just have dried, powdered turmeric

  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • hefty pinch ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract(optional)
  • 1 c. milk*

*dairy or non-dairy–I love almond milk in these lattes

Heat the milk in the microwave.  In ours, it takes about 2 minutes to get piping hot, but not scalded.  While the milk is heating, add all spices, honey, and vanilla extract, if using, to your coffee mug.  Mix well to form a paste.  Add a splash of hot milk and stir until the paste is incorporated into the liquid.  Add remaining milk, give it all a stir, and enjoy!

The Slow Way (Turmeric Tea Concentrate)Or when you have fresh/frozen turmeric root

  • 4 Tbsp. turmeric root, grated
  • 1/2 inch slice of ginger root, split into a few pieces
  • 3 c. water
  • hefty pinch ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
  • milk of choice

Add grated turmeric root and ginger slices to a small pot with the water.  Bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to steep until water cools (at least 1 hour).  If possible, I usually transfer it all to a jar, cover, and let it steep overnight.  Strain the water from the roots and keep the concentrate in the fridge for up to two weeks.  When ready to serve, heat equal parts turmeric tea and milk of choice.  In coffee mug, mix honey, vanilla extract, if using, and ground pepper.  Add the milk mixture, stir thoroughly, and enjoy!

The Twist (Turmeric Chai Tea Concentrate)–Or when you don’t want a ton of turmeric

  • 2-3 Tbsp turmeric root, grated*
  • 3/4 inch of ginger root, sliced
  • 5 whole cardamom pods
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 whole allspice
  • hefty pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (or 1/4 tsp. ground)
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper (or a few whole peppercorns)
  • 4 black tea bags (regular or decaf, depending on when you favor your lattes)
  • 3 c. water
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
  • milk of choice

*or 1-2 tsp ground, dried turmeric

Add grated turmeric root, ginger slices, and all spices (whole or ground) to a small pot with the water.  Bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to steep until water cools (at least 1 hour).  If possible, I usually transfer it all to a jar, cover, and let it steep overnight.  Strain the water from the spices and keep the concentrate in the fridge for up to two weeks.  When ready to serve, heat equal parts turmeric tea and milk of choice (usually 1/2 cup of each).  In coffee mug, mix honey and vanilla extract, if using.  Add the milk mixture, stir thoroughly, and enjoy!


Updated Shepherd’s Pie

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We got our first snow of the year this week!  Just a dusting, but enough to make for a white morning.  It’s cold, but dry enough, so it doesn’t feel like that bitter, seeping chill.  Our winter has, otherwise, been fairly warm, so I’ll take it!  All through the fall, winter, and early spring, Shepherd’s Pie is in my rotation at least a few times each month.  It is one of a few select dishes that M and I will eat the leftovers with as much gusto as the fresh serving.  (Given that my lunches are alway leftovers, I relish when a dish is just as good the day after.)  Also, this recipe usually gives us between 6-8 servings, so it packs a real punch in my weekly meal plans.  Better yet, it’s not too hard to double the recipe and it freezes well. (Just thaw for 24 hours/overnight before reheating!)  Plus, I have successfully replaced half of the ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms and/or cooked lentils to great success.  Tasty? Check.  Reliable? Check! Cheap? Check!

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I’ve been making Shepherd’s Pie from memory for several years now, though I shared my recipe, here, a long time ago.  When M and I were planning for our trip to the beach house this year, we decided to make Shepherd’s Pie on our dinner shift.  I was totally surprised to find that I had organically adjusted from my original recipe without even noticing.  So here is how I make Shepherd’s pie now, in 2017.  As my friend pointed out, the big difference that makes this dish so good is that equal effort is put into seasoning and flavoring the potato topping as well as the meat, keeping the whole thing in balance and making every bite delicious!  (And in case you were wondering, it is pretty simple to multiply this recipe by 6, in order to feed 25 hungry people at once–just make sure you have big pans!)

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Shepherd’s Pie

Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 min. | Cook time: 30-40 min

For the Topping:

  •  1-1.5 lb potatoes (russets are ideal)
  • 4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
  • fresh chives, optional
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • -1 lb ground beef or ground lamb
  • -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
  • -1 large/2 medium carrot(s), finely chopped
  • -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced
  • -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -2 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
  • -3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
  • -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
  • -1/4 c chicken or beef broth/stock
  • -3/4 c. frozen green peas
  • salt & pepper

Start the potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes.  Place in a pot and cover with water an inch above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are easily pierced by a fork.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the filling:

While the potatoes are cooking, add the oil to a hot pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions.  Sauté over medium-high for about five minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften, then add in the ground meat*.  Cook, stirring often to break up the minced meat.  Drain the fat if necessary.  Add the minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 1-2 minutes more until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, stirring well to coat the entire mixture.  Then add the wine, broth, and peas.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer while mashing the potatoes.

Make the potato topping:

Drain the potatoes and add in the remaining ingredients.  Mash together into one smooth mixture.  Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed.

Finish Up:

By now, the liquid in your meat mixture should have reduced some.  In a well-oiled dish, layer first the meat mixture, then the potato topping.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden.

*If replacing half the meat: With mushrooms–add to the carrots and onions for the beginning, allowing the mushrooms to cook down before adding the meat.  With cooked lentils: add after all the meat has browned.

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My Favorite Tomato Basil Soup

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We are falling quickly into Fall!  I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable).  Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame!  Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings.  Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time.  Ahem.  I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week.  Seriously, I am still dreaming about it.  I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker.  My crockpot is my saving grace these days.  I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week.  Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call.  And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic.  We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.

That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job!  Really, its more like an uber-promotion.  I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee!  Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job!  Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything!  Whoa.  My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.  Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever!  Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time.  I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought.  But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat.  M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone.  They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.

In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup.  I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before.  When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil.  Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge.  This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle.  The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed.  A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting.  The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!

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Tomato Basil Soup

Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.

  •  1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. tomato juice
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • about 10 basil leaves
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsp. butter

Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency.  I like a slightly chunky soup.  If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less!  The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender.  Do the soup in multiple portions if needed.  Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer.  Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter.  Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients.  Serve immediately.


Planning, Organization, and Motivation

It has been a long, hard winter.  The cold has lingered and clung, with our last snowfall in April.  April.  The dark cold days and the stress of work and an arduous moving process left me with little motivation to do much of anything.  I felt like March was trying to drown me in gloom, with snowfalls almost every week.  But after this long winter, it finally seems like summer is hurrying in.  These past few weeks have been mild and usually sunny.  Last week, the temperature nearly reached eighty degrees.  I have finally put on my first sun dress of the season and the weekend before Easter, I spent the entire evening in my backyard with a dozen friends.  Even after sunset, we could pull on a sweater and stay out to enjoy the night air.  Spring is finally here.  I needed it.  I think a lot of us needed it.

I’m starting to wonder about the new year.  Yes, of course, even when it is miserably cold in January, the days are (slowly) getting longer.   But sometimes its so hard to look ahead past the cold gray days.  With these last month of warmth, I am finding the motivation and energy that has been lacking.  I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions this year.  I think I will be making May Resolutions and taking advantage of the initiative that this beautiful weather encourages in me.  Even now, with a couple of post-graduate years under my belt, I feel a little unsteady in this “adult”, “real-world”, “job-based” life.  I’ve spoken before about my ingrained sense of cyclical time: in school, I would have 4-6 busy weeks and then have a break.  If some sort of responsibility came up, I could usually make it wait until that time where I was not busy–this was the time to finally catch up on what I had ignored.  I getting closer to breaking these cycles.  But as I started to merge these six-week spans in several months, and then into a full year; I found myself getting more and more disorganized.  I didn’t have a plan for long-term.  I didn’t have routine.

That is my main goal for these May resolutions.  To find routine and organization.  I realized that, somehow, after graduation, I stopped using a planner.  My planner use has never really been as an appointment book: my phone’s calendar app can take care of that.  In fact, I survived the year of 5 jobs by only scheduling in my calendar app without much trouble.  But now, with my primary job at full-time hours, I have tasks and projects, lists and assignments to do.  And that is what I have always used a planner for–a place to store my To-Do lists directly next to a schedule.  I like planners that lay out a week over two pages, with a calendar by month to track important dates. I then use each day as a daily To-Do list, allowing me to mark future tasks on the appropriate days, or look back to see what was not finished on previous days.  After more than a year adrift, trying to keep track of countless post-its and scraps of paper, I knew I wanted a new planner.  I also knew I wanted more.  I wanted something pretty, with options for meal-planning and grocery lists.  I’ve been toying with the idea of meal-planning for a long time, and knew a pretty new planner with spaces to fill would prompt me to make a plan and stick to it.

planner

I launched a full-scale search in December.  But I never found a planner I liked.  It seemed like the only planners with meal plan space were Mom Planners.  I don’t need the space to keep track of four people’s schedules.  I looked at options on Etsy, but still couldn’t find any I liked that seemed worth the money.  I did find several “Print Your Own” planners on Etsy which gave me an idea.  If I couldn’t find a planner that I liked, I could just make one!  (I think I was still riding out on the tail-end of my Christmas crafting binge)  Between all of the vacations and deciding what I wanted, I finally finished up designing my planner at the end of January.  All-in-all, with my exceptionally basic Photoshop skills, it probably took me around 5-6 hours to actually make the design (with some time spent catching up on this newer version of PS that M has).  This included: a 2-page month calendar spread, a 2 page weekly spread, a meal-plan/grocery list page, a 2-page notes spread, and a cover page.  I left the dates to be filled in, so I simply had to organize it month, then the number of weeks+a notes/menu combo for each week.  I planned for the months to rotate through colors.

planner week

At this point in the process, though I much prefer 5″ x  8″ inch-or-less planners (so that I can hold onto the deluded hope that it will fit in my purse), I had given up on that desire and designed my planner for a full 8.5″ x 11″ size.  I thought that trying print and chop in the correct order on half pages would be far too difficult.  I looked into online printing and binding for my design, but that was even more expensive than the Etsy planners.  M offered to pay for it as a Valentine’s day gift and I refused.  The printing cost really was not worth it.  Just when I was about to condemn myself to a giant planner, M sprang into action (probably because his girlfriend has spent a week staring at a design file in utter hopelessness) and figured out that with an In-Design file and Adobe Reader’s printing options, we could make this planner happen in the correct order (in a way that did not require me flipping and feeding each individual page) and would allow me to print them on the half sheet!  He really is amazing.  So finally, one night while everyone was at work, I set up my old printer and let it go.  After about an hour of bated breath, I was finally able to be certain that it worked!  I chopped the pages at work, where I have access to a straight edge trimmer, purchased an Levenger hole punch and accouterments from Martha Stewarts Discbound system, and after a morning of paper-punching, I had my planner.

planner month

I spent the first first weeks giddy with achievement, and, happily,  I’m been using it religiously.  Since it was made to fit 8″ x 11″ pages, the Daily columns are now a little thin.  Certainly still workable, but I’m already working out little fixes because you can bet I’ll be making my own planner again for 2015!  #PlanningForTheFuture.  Ahem, anyways, I am thinking that I will make the day spaces horizontal across the page.  I soon realized that I forgot to put day titles in the monthly calendar.  I also, now, several months of meal planning in, have realized that the weekly column on the Grocery page is enough for my meal-planning–writing my meals out twice uses more time than it saves me.  In next year’s, I may devote that space to a daily cleaning planner or a workout planner or something like that.  In the meantime, I do like my “Goals” on the month pages.  Since my daily categories are really To-Do lists, each day/week already gets ‘goals’ in the tasks.  But the the over-arching goals for a month help me stay on track with bigger projects and also all of those “I-Really-Should-Do-This” sort of tasks, like researching classes or planning to  clean out my car.  The “Inspiration” section on my weekly pages usually gets a quote.  Again, I like being reminded to actively look for something positive and/or inspiring each week.

planner meals

This planner has certainly been a life-saver and is getting even more use as I try to sort out my life after winter and after our students’ performances.  I’ve got six weeks  before the crush of summer camp begins, and many tasks to catch up on.  Luckily, now, I have a way to keep track of it all.

planner cover

Planner inspired by Laura Drayton Creative‘s and iHeartOrganizing‘s printable planners on Etsy.


Let’s Play The Shame Game.

Linking, once again, to Katherine at I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog, because she writes, more beautifully than I could ever hope to, about the pressing issues of working in theater/the arts.