Meal Planning

“Meal planning” is quite the buzzword these days.  It seems to me like everywhere I turn there’s a blog or a magazine promoting the optimal way to plan out your meals for the week or month, and grocery shop according to a prescribed list that promises to provide enough food for your scheduled meals and no extra.  I’m sure for some people, meal planning helps them stick to a limited budget and makes life easier for a busy family.  I, admittedly, have been staunchly in the opposite camp in which I’d rather spend a little extra time each day figuring out what to eat when I get hungry, instead of turning planning that out into a chore once a week that I’ll inevitably grow to hate.  However, last week I decided to flip my conceptions on their head and plan my meals.

My plan:

  • Not eat out for any of the meals I’ve agreed to plan.  In my mind, the ultimate part of meal planning is cooking, so that’s what I aim to do.
  • Decide over the weekend what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Thursday, and breakfast & lunch on Friday (I’ll eat out for dinner on Friday, as a treat, if I make it through).
  • Purchase as few ingredients as possible during the week, as this seems like a perfect opportunity to eat through my freezer– I have a lot in there and I’d like to clean it out.
  • Not eat the same exact meal more than once- or at the very least, not on consecutive days.

It turns out that I had a meeting on Thursday evening that provides food, so I didn’t have to make myself dinner that night either; leaving 5 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 3 dinners that I had to plan.


  • Considering that I wrote my meal plan on Sunday and couldn’t find it on Monday morning, I did an admittedly terrible job following the plan I made!
  • I did still do my best to prepare every meal from food I had at home.
  • On Thursday, I had to deal with a rent payment fiasco, it was Rosh Hahanah, and I was running back and forth between campus and synagogue all day, so I didn’t leave myself any time to prepare myself lunch.  Instead I bought lunch in the hospital cafeteria for ~$5.


I’m no good at planning my meals, because I’m hungry for different things each day and I don’t know over the weekend what I will want to eat each day of the week.  But if I have it in my head that I’m not going to buy food out for a week, I can be creative and think up meals to prepare based on ingredients already in my kitchen (this is actually the second time recently that I have tried this, and both times, it’s been a success).  In the future, though, I should plan weeks like this mid-month instead of as a reaction to being low on money towards the end of the month.


Recently I asked some of my friends whether they’d submitted abstracts to a regional conference we’d all discussed presenting our research at.  Out of the 5 friends I asked…all five responded with variations on the theme of ‘no, I’m not doing that’.  The particular response that stuck out to me the most was one text that said #overachiever. Here it was meant as a sort of roll-your-eyes joke, but it got me thinking about what being an “overachiever” really means, why people think it’s an okay insult [although in the context of the text I got I don't think it was meant this way, in this post that's what I am going to explore], and how people on the receiving end of being called an overachiever can embrace the title.


What does it mean to be an overachiever?  Wikipedia says that “[o]verachievers are individuals who “perform better or achieve more success than expected.'”

My basic interpretation of being an overachiever is in line with the above definition:  it means doing more than is expected of you.  But I say that expectation may be based on the sometimes faulty assumptions that others have of your drive and capabilities; or others are jealous of your accomplishments and use the term “overachiever” to make themselves feel okay with not performing up to an internal standard they have set.  You may be labeled as an overachiever within your surroundings even when you feel as though you’re not measuring up to your own standards.  Maybe others think you are trying to one-up them – even if you have remained modest or even silent about your accomplishments!

Why do people think “overachiever” is an okay insult?  Just like other phrases that can be used to belittle other people, as an insult it comes from a place of jealousy, of disappointment in one’s self, even if that is not the conscious emotion of the speaker at the moment it is said.  And yet “overachiever” at its etymology does not have a negative connotation.  It can mean achieving more than your potential because you work hard and set lofty goals for yourself.  If you know that you are stretching yourself to achieve what you have, then being an “overachiever” may be a trait with which you like to associate.  Because the word has a positive meaning as well, it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as most other insults.

Finally, how can you embrace being called an overachiever when it’s directed at you as an insult?  By keeping in mind that you wouldn’t be called an overachiever if you weren’t doing something more than those around you.  In the long run, being an overachiever means being a few steps ahead of your peers and embracing the high internal standards you’ve set for yourself.  The extra effort you are putting in is being noticed, and that’s a good thing!  Even if in the moment of hearing “overachiever” directed at you, you roll your eyes, remember that if one person is noticing your efforts, chances are others are as well, whether or not they tell you.  So, keep going strong!

Back into the swing of things

There’s no other way to summarize September except for hectic.  I imagine that the way my September went is the reason that so many people complain about, hate, and drop out of grad school- it was busy.  Not always busy because of school-related things, but busy nonetheless when there are only 24 hours in the day.

From going out of town to Washington, DC for Labor Day Weekend, to going to the International Graduate Student Immunology Conference in Dallas, to our departmental retreat last week, to this week with Rosh Hashanah spanning two weekdays to also trying to, you know, be a productive scientist, I’ve been spending crazy long hours in the lab on the days that I have been able to in an effort to keep up with the amount of work I feel I should get done in a month.  I’m happy to say that of the list of 5 experiments I made to do at the beginning of September, I’ve crossed four off my list already with still a week to go in the month.  I think I can do it!

Last week was a major catch-up week after being gone for four days the week prior, and I didn’t get home until close to midnight any day last week.  (Yes, that was awful and I was utterly exhausted by the weekend even though I did get a lot done in lab.)  Now that I have had that time to catch up on school/science things, I am trying to devote some more time to non-academic pursuits (such as blogging!).

If last week taught me anything it’s that I am much happier when I aliquot time to all of my interests instead of pigeon-holing into just one.  I’m sure that sounds counter-intuitive to all the stereotypes of graduate school, but the most important thing, truly, is doing what works for you to make it through.  Last week was certainly a lesson in that for me, and I’m happy to be starting afresh this Monday.

10 Books

A few weeks ago there was a thing going around Facebook asking people to list 10 books that have stuck with them, no explanation necessary. I was secretly hoping to be tagged for this challenge, but I wasn’t, so I decided to turn my list into a blog post instead. My 10 books (in no particular order) are:

The Giver – Lois Lowry
Son – Lois Lowry
Quiet – Susan Cain
Sarum – Edward Rutheford
The Two Princesses of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine
The Quillian Games – DJ MacHale
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
The Pact – Jodi Picoult
Act Without Words 1 – Samuel Beckett
Running Out of Time – Margaret Peterson Haddix

IGSIC 2014


This week I had the opportunity to present my research at the International Graduate Student Immunology Conference! It was my first time ever presenting the research I’ve been doing at Pitt, but ultimately even more exciting than that was the opportunity I had to meet otner immunology students from all over the world, make some new friends, and build a network of fellow immunologists who are at a similar point in their career as I am.

The conference (which is only in its 3rd year) was held this year in Dallas, TX at the UT Southwestern Medical Center. Most of the attendees were from the school, but there was still a good variety of other universities in the mix – and everyone there was new to me! We had 2 and a half days of talks (by students and by UTSW faculty), poster sessions, and time to socialize and meet each other and explore Dallas.


For my first conference, this was a perfect choice. It was a low pressure environment and yet everyone was engaged in asking questions. I’ll go back to Pittsburgh with ideas of how to improve both my project and my presentation of it. It was a really great, constructive 3 days.

Cool PGH Events: Tech Shop 21+ night!


The fire was controlled by playing the piano- at Tech Shop

Tech Shop is an awesome maker-space located in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh. I’ve been intrigued by “maker culture” since last summer when the extension of my Israel trip was about innovation.  I’d stopped by Tech Shop before but never had the opportunity to walk around until now:  a 21+ party to benefit Big Brother Big Sister and showcase Tech Shop and some other local businesses.  The event was super chill and a lot of fun…and I’d become a member of Tech Shop if only I wasn’t a poor grad student!  The idea of having access to all the machinery and equipment to create projects you concieve is pretty awesome.

Now, about the event, because they’ve announced that they will be having these 21+ benefit nights quarterly now:  for $15 entry, you get access to explore Tech Shop and learn about what they do and participate in some activities (I made a glasses case out of laser-cut felt, and a magnetic light up dart…thing…); see demos from the Carnegie Science Center, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, and others; drink your fill of beer from local breweries; munch on food from local restaurants (though the restaurants could have planned better and brought more; most ran out at leat an hour before the event ended); and enter raffles for cool prizes such as gift cards to restaurants and bars in the area, tickets to upcoming festivals, and even a membership to Tech Shop!  So, your $15 is well spent!  It’s a party for people who like to think and make stuff while they socialize.  I’ll be at the next one for sure!

To learn more about Tech Shop you can visit their website as it will explain things better than I will!

The beginning of year 2

Classes start again today!

In grad school, it’s too easy to be cynical about classes when the primary commitment is “supposed to be” research. But this semester, I am actually excited for my class schedule, and I think it’ll be a nice balance with my lab work.  I’m taking a few immunology classes:  Immunology of Human Disease, journal club, and seminar; a teaching-oriented seminar called Preparation for the STEM Classroom; and I’m- voluntarily- TAing a section of the first-year graduate student course Foundations of Biomedical Science.  All of that adds up to about 6 hours per week, and it’ll be nice to have a few things to keep my attention and still feel like I’m being a productive scientist.

I feel kind of strange actually feeling excited about classes, and especially when I’m talking about it with other grad school friends since the typical refrain is of annoyance.  But more than in previous semesters of grad school I finally feel settled in, since I’ve been in my thesis lab for almost 3 months now and I feel like I can plan ahead instead of winging it as mucha s I did last year during rotations.  I’m eagerly anticipating this fresh start!

Foodie Friday #3: Casseroles!

Foodie Friday 3 casseroles

Welcome to another edition of Foodie Friday!  This week I’m inspired by back-to-school time to think about quick yet still creative dinners that can be prepared in advance and last a few days.  The first think that comes to my mind that fits all of these criteria is the theme for this week’s Foodie Friday:  casseroles!  Not only are they simple to prepare, but they’re a good way to turn boring leftovers into a new, inspired dish.

  1. The ultimate casseroles, I think, are lasagna and ziti.  Pasta, sauce, cheese- what more do you need?!  For a creative twist on these staple dishes, try using ravioli or tortellini in place of your usual pasta for extra cheesy deliciousness.
  2. I recently made a fantastic taco casserole that I’m excited to share!  I lined the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with soft tortillas- it took 4 small tortillas to cover the pan.  I sprinkled cheese on that so the filling would stick, then filled the pan with a mixture of pre-cooked taco meat, cooked rice, and canned corn.  (You could also throw in any other veggies you want.)  Then I added more cheese to the top and baked it at 350 degrees just until the cheese was melted.  It’s great fresh but also travels and microwaves well, making it really delicious as leftovers, too.  It tastes just like a taco, but way less messy!
  3. Probably the simplest way to make a casserole is to turn “everything but the kitchen sink” into dinner.  Go through your fridge and find leftovers that you’re just not sure how to turn into a second meal.  Pick a base for your casserole- something starchy and filling is best, such as pasta, rice, or mashed potatoes.  Then mix in your leftovers.  Veggies, meats, and cheeses are all fair game!  To take the flavor to the next step, don’t forget spices.  Salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder can turn your dish into tasting like leftovers to tasting like something you’ve spent time planning to make!

Now that I’m one person living on my own, I’ve come to appreciate casseroles more now then when my mom used to make them.  They’re a great way to use up a lot of ingredients instead of wasting them, and since they transport and reheat well, I find myself eating them for both lunch and dinner.  Do you have a favorite quick-and-easy dinner idea?  Let me know in the comments! 

New (school) year, new goals


Inspired by a friend who just celebrated a birthday and made a list of goals for her next year, here are my goals for the upcoming academic year:  (I’d do the birthday thing, too, but my birthday is the last week of December which is awfully close to New Year’s…)

  1. Carve out a better work-life balance.  To me that’s going to mean efficiently getting done what I need to in lab each day, not procrastinating, and leaving when I’m done instead of staying longer without reason.  I want to have energy and time left for myself each day, whether that’s in the mornings before lab, or in the evenings once I get home.
  2. Motivate myself to do more creative things.  I’ve been in touch with my crafty side recently and I enjoy decorating, so I want to do more of that, especially since I’m staying in the same apartment for at least the next year and probably longer.  I finally feel like I’m settled in, and I want to have fun with the space I have!  I’m also intrigued by the idea of doing a video series tied to my blog (maybe about food, or maybe more broadly about creative things around Pittsburgh).
  3. Budget my time better so that I don’t get stressed out over things I’ve procrastinated on.  I’m taking on a lot this upcoming year:  besides lab and classes and other school stuff, I’m also now running the Squirrel Hill Genealogy Club and taking on more of a role in planning and marketing the writing workshops I’ve been running since last year.  I love it all but it means I need to start being more organized and on top of getting things done in a timely manner.
  4. Stop being lazy.  I know I sound harsh on myself here, but I also know that if I devoted even an additional hour per day to doing something productive, I could accomplish so much more.  I want to get better at ASL, learn Italian, work on genealogy, write more consistently, and go to synagogue every once in a while besides just on holidays.  But as soon as the TV goes on, I’m glued to the couch until it’s time for bed.  I need to break that cycle and pass my time more usefully.
  5. Keep my apartment clean.  This definitely ties in with the “being lazy” item- some things tend to always end up on my I’ll do it tomorrow list.  But it results in piles of dishes and laundry that I just never want to conquer.  I’d love to start a list of household tasks to do each day so that all I have to do doesn’t become overwhelming, and so I can feel accomplished knowing I’ve tackled one (self-assigned) task each day.

There’s nothing quite like trying to revamp your life- but I’ve been frustrated enough lately with the status quo that I know now’s the time to do it.

Anyone want to join in with me and make a list of goals for the new school year?  Write a post like this and share in the comments.  Let’s motivate each other to stay on track!  And use the hashtag #schoolyeargoals on Twitter!

A breath of fresh air.

It’s amazing how refreshing a week away can be- how clarifying for the mind.  After going non-stop since entering grad school last August, I finally took a vacation last week.  My mom decided it would be fun to take a family road trip, so we headed west out through Iowa and South Dakota to Wyoming, and then back east to Pennsylvania/New Jersey through Missouri.

Sisters reunited!

Sisters reunited!

I had a lot of apprehensions before going on this trip- losing time in lab, missing events in Pittsburgh that I’d wanted to go to, and most of all, a week in the car with my entire family (!)- but it turned out to be a really good time.  Of course there’s an adjustment period when you stick 5 people together that haven’t been in such close quarters in years.  It definitely took some work to make this trip work.  Our last family vacation was probably 4 or 5 years ago.  But after- and even while in the process of- overcoming those problems, we were able to have some fun and memorable adventures (like our epic overnight drive through South Dakota that ended with us stopping to sleep at a truck stop at 5 am!) and create some lasting memories.  Now that I’m moved out and one of my sisters is in college, I know these kinds of moments are going to be fewer and farther between, so I’m coming to appreciate them more.

Prairie sisters in the midwest!

Prairie sisters in the midwest!

I also underestimated how nice a break would be.  The first day was tough, and it was a struggle to put out of my mind all the things I would be doing had I been at work and not on vacation.  That lasted about a day or two and then I realized that I don’t know when my next long vacation will be so I should take advantage of this time to relax!  And that was a great mindset to be in, and allowed me to appreciate and enjoy the trip a lot more than if I’d been worrying about Pittsburgh things the entire time.  I came back to campus yesterday refreshed and calmer than I have been in a while- possibly since my very first day at Pitt!

So flat- except for hay bales.

So flat- except for hay bales.

I titled this post “a breath of fresh air” for a few reasons.

  1. I literally got more fresh air on this vacation than I ever have gotten living in New Jersey or Pittsburgh.  We went through so much wilderness and farmland and it was a big shift from city life but it was refreshing.
  2. A change of pace- from lab and science and critical thinking to hopping in a car and letting someone else make all the decisions (where to go, when to eat, how long to drive…) was a breath of fresh air for my brain.
  3. And a second change of pace- from living alone or choosing to spend time with friends, to spending every moment with my entire family, was something that hasn’t happened for an extended time, since 2008, when I went off to college.

So now I’m back, and appreciating this vacation even more now that it’s over and I’m back in the midst of real life.  (Just don’t let my mom hear that- I still don’t know if I can do a family trip every year! ;-) )  But this year, it was actually a good decision.