Meal Planning

One of the best parts about not working is the fact that I can stay on top of almost everything in regards to my personal/home life. And to me, that means cleaning/organizing/planning. Best of all: meal planning!

You might be wondering, what is meal planning? Well basically, it’s like deciding in advance what you’re going to eat either on a weekly or monthly basis. From there, you make a specific grocery list that consists only of the ingredients you need for your weekly meals + some snacks and home essentials. Some people like to plan week to week, but what I found works best for me is to plan one month at a time with 30 some odd different recipes and go from there.

I’ve actually used quite a few free printables for meal planning in the last year or two, and here are my top picks:

 

You should definitely do some browsing and see which one suits your needs best. Then once you’ve decided, print one out and try it out!

The first step to meal planning is integrating good recipes, some of which you may not have even tried before. And ideally, you should pick at least 2 recipes that contain similar ingredients if you know you won’t be using a lot of one ingredient that is likely to go bad within the week. For example, when I buy cauliflower, I make sure I can use it in two of my weekly recipes if I only need half for one recipe, that way none of it goes to waste. Alternatively, you can freeze what you don’t use and save it for later, but make sure you freeze it as early as possible so it stays as fresh as possible for when you unthaw it.

How do you find good healthy recipes if you either have none or are tired of eating the same old meals over and over again? For me, it was buying a new cookbook and doing lots of online research on Google and Pinterest. And I have to say that the cookbook purchase was well worth it. As a side note, I’m a pescetarian, which means I’m a vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood/fish. Because of this, I decided to buy a vegan cookbook, but not just any vegan cookbook! I bought the best of the best: Oh She Glows! ❤

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I’m still working on compiling a recipe book of my own, with family recipes as well as ones found online, but it’s not very complete. Mostly I just go online to pick some recipes when I’m doing a new meal plan.

Some recipes will require more ingredients than others. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, but sometime’s that’s less efficient because maybe you’re on a tight budget. It’s important to look for budget friendly recipes as well, even if that means that some recipes will only contain a few ingredients. As for myself, I try to make those ingredients some of my favourites, such as broccoli, cheese and pasta. Most pasta dishes can be pretty simple, and stir fry is always a great go-to meal for veggies lovers and omnivores alike!

Here’s a list of my favourite frugal recipes:

And there are so many more options! In this upcoming month, I’m going to try a variety of new recipes that contain red lentils because I’ve got a full bag I haven’t used yet. I’m also going to try making something called Cauliflower Buffalo ‘Wings’ because the cauliflower is on sale at No Frills this week.

The next step to meal planning after choosing lots of healthy recipes is to make a grocery list! You can go the easy way and just write everything on a piece of paper, or write it down on your phone given the fact that you mostly bring your phone with you everywhere you go. As for me, I don’t know why but I love the idea of printable grocery lists. I try to keep all of them after I’m done my grocery and file all of them so I can go back and see what main ingredients I often buy. Here’s my current template for my weekly grocery list:

Grocery List Template
This PDF file lets you edit and customize the grocery list!

Where to start though? Well I like to take all my recipes and see what ingredients I don’t have lying around the house. I’ll write all of those down and how many of each I need, double checking the fridge and storage to make sure I don’t already have what I need. Then it’s time to do some research.

My favourite step of the process is finding the best deals. I have various apps for this, as I mentioned in my blog post Home Organization, that show me coupons and/or deals for the stores of my choice. I look at all the flyers first to see what’s on sale, and I also check the PC Plus App to see what products will give me points if I purchase them. The main part of my grocery shopping is done at PC stores, either No Frills or Superstore, because of the amazing deal they have with their rewards points. It’s by far the easiest one to accumulate and saves you tons of money! I should also mention that I have the PC MasterCard which also gives me extra points for every dollar I spend. So far this year, I’ve already cashed out $80 worth of points – and it’s only been two months!!

After I check to see where the best deals are, I’ll mark it down next to the items I need to make sure I get it at the right store. At this point, I might also add products if there’s a great deal somewhere, and then stockpile that item. But I know it isn’t always feasible for everyone to tell themselves they’ll go to 3 different stores to get the best deals, so you do what’s best for you.

Once you’ve gotten your grocery list all done, you go out and you buy your food! I find that picking a grocery day/night is the best way to make sure you don’t overspend or go to the grocery store numerous times in one week, so I head out to do a haul every Thursday. It used to be Tuesday in NB, especially when I had a valid student card because students get 10% off on Tuesdays – definitely something to look into if you are a student!

And that’s about it. That’s how I do meal planning.

Try it out for yourself and feel free to let me know how it goes!

I FINALLY WORKED TODAY!

You read it correctly – I went to work today! After five and a half months of being laid off and unemployed, I finally got a call to work a shift today as a Substitute Educational Assistant at a local school here in the GP Region. And guess what? I loved it!

I was so nervous when I got the call. And it was so weird because I had this feeling that I was going to get called. My mom phoned me around 10:00AM by accident and it woke me up. I thought to myself ‘Man, it would have been so shitty if I would have gotten a call for a shift and I wouldn’t have heard my phone ring.’ About 5 minutes later, my phone rings again. It’s an Alberta number. I answer with my english greeting, trying to sound as sweet as possible.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Carmen? This is Melanie, from the Grande Prairie Public School District.”

OH MY GOD, WHAT?! 

“I was just wondering if you wanted to come in for a shift today.”

Oh my God, I’m not ready for this. I can’t do this. Say no!

“Uh… sure. What time?”

YOU SAID YES, GOOD FOR YOU! Now stop sweating and finish the conversation… 

“It would be for this afternoon, so if you could come by in an hour, that would be great.”

And that was that! Max basically booted me out of bed right away, he was probably more excited that I was! He also offered to make me breakfast, and I gladly accepted. I got dressed and got ready while he made some grub. I ate as much as I could, and then I headed out the door!

The nerves were starting to kick in, but I was still feeling confident. Yay me!

I had to look around for parking when I got to the school because the preschool kids were finishing up for the day and all their parents were waiting in the parking lot. I found a spot that I thought – and hoped – was legit, and made my way to the main entrance. I walked up the secretary’s desk – passing ponds with actual live fish in them!! – and explained to her who I was and why I was here. She directed me to an office and I waited until an employee came to greet me. It was Melanie, the same lady that hired me. It was a relief to see a familiar face, and she just has this great vibe that radiates contagious positivity.

She led me to the sign in book, given the fact that I wasn’t even in the online system yet, and I wrote down my name and signed. She then led me to the kindergarten classroom and briefly explained who I would be working with. She left me there, and I was kindly greeted by the kindergarten teacher (whose name I have already forgot – oops) and another Educational Assistant. The teacher was sitting feeding a disabled little girl while the Educational Assistant was cleaning up with three boys. I wasn’t sure if this was the entire class or just the special needs students, but I figured either way, it was a good way to start off.

Mrs Blank – that’s what I’ve dubbed the kindergarten teacher – talked me through what we would be doing all afternoon and explained how I could help. She also introduced me to the Educational Assistant and to all the students who were in the classroom. Despite how unfamiliar and foreign this all was, I was beginning to feel comfortable already. I helped clean up and then we sat down with the kids to eat lunch. One boy started to take a liking to me right away – it’s like the daycare all over again!

The kids all finished their lunches and I was starting to get a good feel of what kind of discipline techniques worked best for different children. It was definitely a lot easier to handle compared to supervising 30+ kids all in one room – during the summer.

After lunch was over was when my heart started pounding again. I started to sweat a little bit too when Mrs Blank asked me to clean up and watch over the little girl, who’s disabilities were more extreme than the rest of the kids in class. My initial thoughts: Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this, I have no idea what I’m doing. There were only 2 kids at the daycare who had been diagnosed with a mental disability and both were very calm and didn’t require much one-on-one attention, not more than any of the other kids anyway. So as you can assume, my experience is somewhat limited to those two kids.

The disabled girl in the classroom was sitting in some sort of contraption, and I think Mrs Blank may have asked me to remove her from it, but I had no idea how so I just sat down and tried to keep her entertained. Shortly after, the other Educational Assistant, let’s call her Mrs Edmonton – that’s one of the few details I learned about her, she’s from Edmonton – showed me how to release the girl from the contraption and she walked her over to a floor mat. It took us a few minutes to get there but then she and I sat down and played with some toys. Huh, this is going better than I thought…

I hadn’t caught on, but the little girl had a specific Educational Assistant who was always with her, and she had just been absent because she needed to fill out an accident report. So now she was back and I was off girl-duty. Back to supervising the boys!

Only a few moments went by until we heard the bell ring and all the other kindergarten students showed up. Ah, this makes more sense now. I had been wondering if the class consisted only of special needs kids or if there were others combined. And now my question had been answered.

All afternoon they worked on various projects and did lots of fun activities alone and in groups. Most of my job was just walking around, giving them all positive feedback and keeping an eye on two of the boys from the special needs group. One was super well behaved and hardly needed any help, while the other did pretty good but apparently was a lot more needy today than most days. As for the third boy, he had to work alone in a separate room with Mrs Edmonton because I think being with others stressed him and made him act out.

All in all, I had an amazing day. Time went by super fast, all the kids were great to work with, and there was a perfect amount of kids for my first day on the job. The other Educational Assistant were actually surprised when I told them it was my first day, so I guess I did a good job. Now let’s just hope I can get some more shifts! 🙂

I got a new planner!

I had been looking far and wide for a new planner, but I’m so picky and they can get pretty expensive. My biggest problem was that most of the ones I found didn’t have the full month layout, basically my favourite part of an organizer because you can see the bigger picture of what the month ahead looks like. But I finally made up my mind and splurged a little to get myself The Happy Planner at Michael’s!

If you know me, then you know how much I love to plan and organize, and what better way to do that than with an amazing planner? Not to mention I usually have a crazy busy schedule, so it’s mandatory that I write everything down and manage my time as efficiently as possible to accomplish all my tasks and goals!

This is actually my first full on planner since I graduated from University. The first year, it hit me hard that I wasn’t going to receive a free scheduler for all planning purposes, but regardless, it wouldn’t have been adapted to my non-student schedule, so I moved on and tried some free printable sheets for that first year. I got mine from Passion Planner and I enjoyed it a fair bit. The only down side was that I printed full size sheets – I found they were too big – because all I had to put them in was either a binder or my hand-dandy clip board that I bring with me everywhere I go. I still managed to make it work by carrying around 2 months worth of weekly sheets – as well as the full month sheet for both months – in my clipboard. And that worked well, that is until summer came around and my whole life kind of changed and I couldn’t commit to using a scheduler anymore. The fact that I was working at a daycare probably didn’t help since it wasn’t the type of job you would use a scheduler anyway. I was used to working in an office, so I was trying to change my habits but still managing my schedule as best as I could.

This year is much different, for various reasons. Firstly, because I have been unemployed for a while now, which made me wonder if it was worth buying a planner at all. Secondly, because I have been and will be travelling a lot this year, so if I was in fact going to buy a planner, I needed something to meet my needs for short term and long term. And also since I’m now starting a business of handmade crafts, I knew the planner would have to be suitable for daily time management so I could organize and plan how much time I spend working on projects.

The end result: The Happy Planner

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I think I’m in love.

 

My favourite things about this planner:

  • Full one week layout on 2 pages
  • Full month layout on 2 pages
  • A full page dedicated to important information before each month!
  • And last but not least… a space to write notes on EVERY PAGE!

I am definitely looking forward to getting the most out of this gorgeous planner.

Salsaddiction

That’s what the local latin dance company is called over here: Salsaddiction. And how true their name rings!

Last night, Max and I went out to an event called Fuego Fridays at a local bar where employees from Salsaddiction come out to teach and host an evening of salsa dancing!

Expectation: lots of creepy guys looking to pick up chicks and who are horrible dancers with little to no experience.
Reality: Equal amount of male and female dancers (give or take one) and almost every single man was experienced, polite and a great dancer.

The way it works: you get there at 8:00PM for a beginner lesson. The teachers get us all to face them and copy their moves. They teach us the basics, some turns, and a few more complicated moves. Then, we partner up and start practicing. Not long after we get a bit of it down dancing in couples, they tell us to switch partners. Uh oh, exiting comfort zone… Fortunately, every single man I ended up dancing with was very respectful and honestly, they were all amazing dancers!

I will say that I was pretty glad when the teachers announced we could return to our original partners. We kept dancing together for a bit, learning new moves, and then switched partners consecutively until we were almost back to our partners. At this point, it was already 9:20PM! Time sure flies when you’re having fun!

Max and I danced together for a while after that until we mastered all the moves! It wasn’t as easy though because the songs’ tempos varied more now that it was the real deal. When a quick beat salsa song came on, we tried to remember the moves from when we had taken classes together 4 years ago and we did pretty good! I think we were destined to be dance partners. 😉

Definitely a date night for the books!

Today, I’m not OK. 

Everybody has bad days, and for me, today is a bad day. I got some good news, but from my current point of view, it means making a hard decision, which kind of turns it into bad news. And it’s one of those situations where both options lead to a good thing, but also a bad thing.

Let me be more precise. One of my previous employers in New Brunswick sent me an e-mail this morning to say there would be a job opening (full time) and that she had me in mind for the position. She was aware that I was out of province, but she wanted to let me know about the possibility of employment in case it was something that interested me.
So here’s the problem. If I take the job, I have to move back East. If I move back East, I have to leave my boyfriend and go back to being in a long distance relationship. But if I stay in Alberta, I still have no job, which means no income, and I have no leads on any full time position either. I am torn.

Do I choose to stay here and be with my boyfriend, but struggle financially? Or do I move back East for a job that I know I will like, but feel the ever present heart-ache of willingly having chosen to be 5000kms away from my significant other?

Can we just pause time so I can play every possible scenario in my head before I decide? I can’t decide. I don’t know which one will make me happier. Both decisions stress me out, because there’s going to be something missing in my life. And today, I’m not OK with that.

But I have to be OK – and I will be ok –  because life isn’t perfect, and it works in mysterious ways. Now if only I could figure out where it’s trying to lead me.

Superbowl Sunday

I’ve never particularly liked football – American football that is. So when we got invited to watch the Superbowl, I was not super excited. Surprisingly, most people weren’t that intense into football either so I felt a lot more at ease that I expected.

I may not enjoy football very much, but I’ll tell you what I do like: baking! I did a bit of research on Pinterest to see what I could make to bring, and when I saw football cupcakes, I knew that’s what I was making!

I got to work right away and immersed myself in baking. The recipe I had chosen was for making chocolate cupcakes from scratch along with vanilla and chocolate icing from scratch. I could taste the sugar already!

I actually worked meticulously making these, wanting them to turn out really nice since I was making them for friends – and strangers too, as it turns out. The results were incredible. Look how they turned out just coming out of the oven!

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Max got to work mixing the icing while I prepped the second batch of cupcakes. Turns out making icing from scratch is really hard work when you don’t have a mixer, so thank God for my man’s muscly members! Side note: Did you like my alliteration there? 😉

After the cupcakes were done cooling down and the icing was all made, Max asked me if he could try decorating them. I reluctantly said yes, hoping he wouldn’t mess them up. And as always, he never disappoints – his decorating skills are on POINT! Check it out:

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Football Cupcakes!

And here are the practice/funny ones, courtesy of Max:

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Those top cupcakes were supposed to read “Streme Spoats”

I also prepped supper, a Quinoa Enchilada Casserole, in case we stayed there late/because we’re trying to eat well and not order take out. When everything was ready, we packed up the car and headed over. Oh, except not without making a quick stop to the liquor store for beer of course!

As unexciting as I think football is, we still had a pretty good time surrounded by good friends – and strangers (to me). We played endless games of beer pong, and I actually won a game for the first time ever – it was mostly due to my partner, but I’m pro at defending our cups. Oh, and the game was pretty good too I guess. The guys wanted to make bets about who they thought would win. Funny moment: they all picked the same team at the beginning – and the losing team at that! I think the losers ended up drinking a shitty beer. And then everyone decided it would be a great time to shotgun more beer so we all went out on the deck and filmed them doing it. Still not 100% who got it done fastest, but Max smashed his can on the ground first. True skills right there.

All in all, Superbowl Sunday was not as bad as I thought it would be.

A stranger’s house that feels like home

I can say with completely certainty that I am no longer homesick. After last night, I don’t know how I could be. Feelings of familiarity washed over me as I entered this stranger’s house, even though I had never been there, never met any of these people. I felt warmth and hospitality without even speaking to a single person. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of it all.

I glanced around and asked Max where he would like to sit down. We picked a spot in the middle where there seemed to be at least two empty seats together. And as I sat down, the old lady sitting in the lazy boy right next to me turned and spoke to me as if we had known each other our whole lives. She talked about the house, she talked about her day, she told us stories about her family, and she asked us tons of questions about ourselves. Even though they were hardly anything alike, she reminded me so much of my paternal grandmother. I felt enveloped in a sense of comfort and ease just listening to her talk – and I didn’t even know this woman!

A few moments later, the lights dimmed. It was about to begin.

Folk music soon met my ears, and how delighted they were. Soft, smooth melodies to calm my soul, to remind me of home. Beautiful, thought provoking texts reached out, touched my heart. Time seemed to slow, allowing us to take this all in. I breathed in deep, and smiled.

I’ve missed this so much. I am so happy to be here right now. This feels so surreal. 

 

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Red Moon Road

Red Moon Road. What an amazing group of musicians. And to be able to listen to them at a house concert! It was just absolutely perfect.