Just Heather

menu-plan-mondayI truly believe in the importance of weekly menu planning. It’s the only way to get dinner on the table before bedtime and it keeps us out of the drive thru. However, it always seems to be the first to go when I backslide on any semblance of organization. It definitely went by the wayside during our chaotic summer. I’m determined to get back on track, starting with Menu Plan Monday.

My parents had our children all weekend so Spencer and I could celebrate our 12th anniversary. We spent a chunk of our childfree weekend at the grocery store. Because, really, what’s more romantic than shopping without kids? (Well, pedal boating down the canal, but we did that too!) Our pantry is now stocked, our produce is fresh and we have a variety of meat in the freezer. Meal planning on a week like this is pretty easy, but I’m all about baby steps! By next week, our supplies will have dwindled and the menu will get a bit more creative.

Monday: I have a meeting so this one will be a bit thrown together and/or on Spencer. Had I planned last Monday, I would have been ahead of the game for tonight. I’ll be organized tomorrow next week someday. I hope.

Tuesday: I have a Girl Scout meeting in our home so it needs to be something with easy cleanup. Maybe a pressure cooker roast, potatoes and veggies—only one pot to wash!

Wednesday: Fried Steak, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Thursday: BBQ Chicken, Crash Hot potatoes and sweet corn

Friday: We need something fast before we head out of town for the weekend—I’m thinking a one dish meal with the stew meat we bought. Let’s call it beef stew! I can even toss in any leftover veggies from Tuesday. Bonus!

Saturday: This one is easy. We’ll be at a reception so dinner is done for us.

Sunday: Still out of town with family so we’ll end up with a big lunch and probably leftovers for dinner. Holiday World had also been discussed as a possibility, but not recently so who knows.

Monday: Labor Day – We still haven’t decided when we’re leaving for home. We’ll either leave after hamburgers & hot dogs with my Mom or have to leave early enough to cook them ourselves. It’s kind of a thing. We’ll toss in corn on the cob and baked beans. Probably a last of the season watermelon too.

And then there was one (who still requires a backpack and insists on being in the picture)

And then there was one (who still requires a backpack and insists on being in the picture)

I don’t make traditional New Year’s resolutions because they just aren’t fun. Plus, Back to School time is the real reset in our household. Brand new backpacks, sparkling lunchboxes, newly sharpened pencils and clean, white notebooks—it all just feels so fresh to me. I use an academic year calendar so I can start August with clean, white pages.

It won’t last long—Brenia’s first Brownie meeting was earlier this afternoon. Stacia’s Girl Scout meetings begin next week and my dance class starts the week after that. The calendar hasn’t even arrived yet (of course, it would help if I ordered it!) and already we’re filling it up. School events, Scout meetings, dance class and whatever else the girls will decide to do this season are quickly filling our days.

It’s time to get back on track after slacking off all summer. The first thing I need to do is get back to planning a menu. Chaos has reined for the last several months. I do better with a menu plan and I’m making an official School Year’s Eve Resolution to restart the process. Step 1: Go grocery shopping! Yeah, I’ve been slacking off a lot there too. On the upside, our expenses have been greatly reduced but it will be nice to start having some food around here.

While the girls are at school tomorrow, Lorelai and I are setting out for a series of errands, with a trip to the grocery store at the top of our list. I think I’m going to take a cue from a few of the great gals in the new Inexpensively network and jump on board with Menu Plan Monday. That should provide both a productive use of my blog and proper motivation. Besides, everyone else is doing it!


Julie and I at BowlHer

Last weekend was my first experience with a BlogHer conference, and I don’t know why. I’ve been blogging for about 6 years—way before it was cool. (Is it cool, yet? I never know these things.) Of course, by the time I decided to join the party it was completely sold out. I’ve been on the wait list for months. Enter LobbyCon—a segment of the event sponsored by PepsiCo that allowed those of us who couldn’t get in to be a part of it anyway. My pass included live video of the keynotes, the expo floor and cocktail parties. Not to mention all the after hours events!


Beautiful Shannon makes a paper bag look good!

My goal for the weekend was meeting people—people I’ve “known” for years, people I’ve admired from afar and people I didn’t know existed until I saw their lovely faces at BlogHer. I was also there in connection with my new business. I met frugal bloggers who I’d love to connect to the network, mommy bloggers who could use it and companies who appreciate what we offer to their consumers. I met people I could relate to and people I couldn’t. I met people I’m looking forward to calling my friends. I also met celebrities—including a few celebrity-in-my-head bloggers.


None you can eat burgers!

Mir was gracious, witty and an absolute pleasure to finally meet. She is exactly as I always knew her to be. After all, she’s been sharing her life with me for more than 5 years. I also met Chris who amazes with her calm throughout the chaos, both in the family stories she shares and while squished into a suite with 100 crazy ladies eating cheeseburgers. I can’t believe in our 30 minute conversation, it never occurred to me to take a picture of or with Mir, but I did snag this fun pic of Chris with her tray of nothing-we-can-eat. All 3 of us are gluten free, which I find interesting since that isn’t how I discovered them online. See how much I have in common with celebrities? I’m kind of a big deal.

Tim Gunn says I make it work!

Tim Gunn says I'm really making it work!

I also met Carson Kressley and Tim Gunn (who wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I had imagined before I left). One of my greatest BlogHer moments was when MFJ got Carson Kressley to say biatch (very loudly). Tim Gunn told me that I’m really making it work, though we all know it had nothing to do with fashion. He fascinated me with his interest in what each of us do. He asked each person about their blog and then listened with (apparent) genuine interest. I shared my new venture and he stopped in his tracks (as he was signing an 8×10 photo) and said, “Inexpensively?! You really are making it work!” Does that count as a celebrity endorsement?

Speaking of endorsements, I’m fascinated with the swag controversy. I went in assuming there would be swag because I’m not a total conference virgin. I truly didn’t expect quite so much, but I didn’t see the major issue that was discussed all yesterday. Perhaps that was because I didn’t attend the full conference. I missed out on the swag suites and the private invitations. I also skipped out on the whole waiting in line thing so I’m not sure what it was about. I did see people leaving parties with their swag bags only minutes after arriving. Tacky.

Jenny (Three Kid Circus) & Jane (Mamacita)

Jenny (Three Kid Circus) & Jane (Mamacita)

Of course, I came home with my fair share of stuff. I won’t have to buy deodorant for a very, very long time. I was so excited to find Dove giving away my very pricey clinical protection that the sweet rep told me to take as much as I wanted. I told her not to say things like that or I’d have to go get my suitcase. Seriously, though, there was stuff aplenty and I’m not sure any of it was worth all the chaos. What I have to wonder about, though, is if giving it all away accomplished the company’s goals. Handing me a bag of things as I arrive at a party that I may or may not look at later doesn’t build relationships. There were some who got it way right.

The companies that spent time with us—talking over lunch about our lives (not just their products), striking up conversations in the elevator or stopping you at a cocktail party to say hello because they remembered you from the day before. I missed the sponsored lunches, as it was not included in my pass, but I hear Clorox Green Works did an excellent job with that. I enjoyed chatting with Chris from General Motors, whom I met first in the elevator. His cohort, Annalisa, was an absolute joy (not to mention another gluten free freak like me!). The Eucerin team spent the weekend building a presence; I never tried the aging machine as I’m a bit frightened to see myself at 72, but I feel like I know who I’m buying from the next time I need skin care product.

Angie at CheeseburgHer

Angie/Roomie at CheeseburgHer

Getting to know people is what the weekend was all about for me. I’m already looking forward to the local friends I get to meet at Blog Indiana next month. I also already have my ticket for BlogHer 2010—I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Of course, NYC is on the hubby’s 40×40 list so I bought him a ticket too. I’ll miss out on the roommate-girlfriend time, for sure, but I think it’s a fair exchange.

See you in New York City, lovely ladies!

I have said for a year now that if we ever get another cat, I want a Litter Maid! My least favorite part of owning a cat is dealing with the crap box. I wanted to make it as easy as possible the next time around.  On the way home from picking up the kittens last week, I stopped to purchase this one. It rates poorly on Amazon, but I didn’t know that at the time. I got a bit nervous when I saw all the reviews, but I would not be deterred.

img_1687I set it up right away. It didn’t work.  It just kept making this weird clicking sound. Rather than assuming Amazon customers may have been on to something, I decided to read the instructions. This is when I learned that the cleaning rake was strapped to the box for packaging. Oops. A quick clip with my scissors and we were in business! I couldn’t wait for one of the cats to do his so I could see it in action. (Yes, I realize how odd that is.)

We have now been using this for over a week and I have changed the receptacle once.  It is such an amazing change over scooping and dealing with disgusting litter.  The Littermaid really does keep the litter scooped throughout the day. It has a sleep setting at night so you don’t have to hear the motor (which, unfortunately, is exceptionally loud) and runs in the morning at the time you have set to wake.  If the cats are overly, ahem, productive at night, I’ve noticed the rake does have a bit of difficulty on that first run.

We have 2 kittens and it seems to fill the waste receptacle after about 5 days.  I’m sure once they grow, it fill even more quickly. I’m searching for a greener solution.  However, it is so freaking handy to just push in the lid, lift the waste arm and throw the box of crap into the garbage.  I never see it, I never touch it and I don’t even have to smell it.  I just hate the idea of throwing away a plastic box every 3 or 4 days.  I don’t even throw away butter containers!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased (especially considering the reviews I read).  I’ll never go back to a traditional litter box again.  I’ll be even happier once I get the chance to purchase a cover for it.  The cats seem to scatter the litter just by jumping into it.  Also, the handy paw scraping carpet doesn’t really have an impact if they just jump over the back upon exit.  The cover will limit they’re entry & exit to the front where the carpet can actually help scrape the litter dust from their feet (I hope). At the very least, it should stop them from tossing litter over the side of the box.

The next part of my litter box solution is finding a better home for it. It is currently in our bedroom which pleases me not one bit, but we’re currently co-sleeping.  More accurately, they’re sharing our bed while I get next to no sleep because curious kittens think it’s fun to play with Mommy’s hair.  However, I’m not comfortable letting the tiny kitten roam on his own just yet (he has a thing for electrical wires and I’m hoping to prevent a Christmas Vacation-esque moment).

Thus, the cats, and their box o’ crap, remain in our bedroom for the foreseeable future.

There are dozens of amazing deals this week at Meijer. I headed out to snag them on Saturday night after dropping Stacia at a friend’s house to sleepover. Quite impressed with the bargains and selection, I moved on to the checkout, where my good impression was quickly replaced. The cashier was rude, clueless and superbly slow.lush

So when I got home with my spoils, I was really not in the mood to put it all away. Since much of it required refrigeration, it had to be done anyway. That was when I realized I had accidentally purchased many of the ingredients for my favorite summer dessert. It’s an old family favorite and I needed only to buy pecans. I put it on my mental list (because actually writing it down was just too taxing at that point).

While digging through the freezer on Sunday (for the ingredients to make grilled pizza), I noticed a nearly empty (but just enough) bag of nuts. I was so excited about my pecan discovery that I immediately twittered about my need for a pitch-in so I could have an excuse to make the dessert. At nearly the exact same time, I got a text inviting me to an impromptu Memorial Day picnic. Friends, fun and an excuse to showcase my bargains in chocolate? Sold!

Just in case you also need a yummy, cool dessert (and/or you scored all the same deals), here is the recipe for Lush (I know—how can you resist something with a name like that?):

Cut 1 stick butter with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Spread into the bottom of a 9×13 dish and bake 10-11 minutes at 375. Meanwhile, set out a brick of cream cheese and 16 ounces Cool Whip to soften. Cool crust completely before continuing the delicious layers. For the 2nd layer, mix cream cheese, 1 cup Cool Whip and 1 cup powdered sugar. If you plop the mixture onto the crust in a bunch of different places before attempting to spread this layer, your crust will remain intact a bit better.

2007-07-031The 3rd layer (this is where it gets really good) is 2 small packages of chocolate pudding whisked with 3 cups milk. Honestly, you could use any flavor you want but why wouldn’t you want chocolate? For the final layer, spread the rest of the cool whip onto the pudding after it sets. You can also garnish with crushed pecans, sugar crystals or fresh fruit (totally kidding—I would never attempt to make it healthy!).dessert You could also use fat free cool whip and fat free cream cheese, but, really—what’s the point?

The Middle of Nowhere

The Middle of Nowhere

This past weekend I took my oldest daughter’s Girl Scout troop camping. I drove 2 hours to the middle of nowhere leaving my wonderful hubby alone with two kids, one of whom puked as I was walking out the door. Then I proceeded to spend 2 rainy, sometimes cold, days sleeping on the ground. When I come home tired, sore and smelly I want to say I’m too old for this shit but I know I’ll be doing it for years to come.

PreTeen Angst at Bay

PreTeen Angst at Bay

There is something about the camping weekend that brings out the best in Stacia. She’s affectionate, cooperative and barely even embarrassed when I dance the Hoedown Throwdown with her friends. Maybe it’s having me all to herself. Maybe it’s knowing her friends wouldn’t have these experiences if I weren’t willing to volunteer. Or maybe it’s just the way I let loose myself when we camp.

Trying Something New

Trying Something New

I am not an outdoor person. At all. I hate every part of it—the mud, the bugs, the air, the creepy crawlies, the wildlife. I want no part of it most days, but I love Scout camp! I love the goofy songs, the campfire cooking and the new shared experiences (my girl is quite the archer!). I love the friendships—those camp friendships that seem so intense for the week or weekend you’re camping, but who you’ll probably never see again.

I remember all of that from my own Girl Scout years and it is so fun to watch it all over again through my daughter’s eyes. Some things just never change, but on these camping weekends I do. I’m a different person—romping in the wilderness, stomping through the mud, sleeping on the ground, singing silly songs and feeling those same fleetingly intense connections with my fellow camp parents as the girls in my troop.

Campfire Cooking

Campfire Cooking

I hope some of it is lasting. I hope my daughter always knows that I’m the mom who will sleep outside in a thunderstorm, cook over a fire in the rain and take her friends on a journey when she’d ordinarily rather be anywhere else. I hope the girls in my troop always know I’m someone they can count on and see that I really am in it all for them. I hope someday they remember that while the camp cleared out in the rain (1400 people down to 200 by nightfall), their leader stuck with them.

A Calm, Relaxed Me

A Calm, Relaxed Me

Part of me wanted to leave in the torrential downpour, but my competitive nature prevailed and I wanted desperately to “beat” the other troops that surrendered to the storm. Plus, I left it up to my troop; they decided since we survived the first night, we should stay the rest.  We did survive and I’m so proud of the girls. They weren’t scared at all even when the thunder and lightening started at 2am. They were cool and calm, just enjoying one another and having a great time. And so was I. I need to remember to bring some of that home with me.

The latrines, mud and zero cell phone reception can stay, but I hope I brought a little bit of the carefree me back home.

Step 1. Make a serious mess with gravy in the oven at dinner.
Step 2. Ignore said mess and go to bed
Step 3. Decide to bake the next day, suddenly realizing smoking gravy will not make pumpkin taste good.
Step 4. Set the oven to self clean, without attempting to remove any of aforementioned gravy.
Step 5. Watch enormous flames wick from the gravy while you attempt to unlock the self-cleaning oven.

Today, Brenia’s school had a field trip. Brenia rode with me and 3 classmates. Her carpool friend rode with the teacher and 2 classmates.

When I picked them up from school today, she was telling Brenia how great Mrs. L’s car is.: “She had this really cool thing that you twist and the window rolls down!

Here we all are adding special automated features to our car that take away the coolest part!