Things I Don’t Miss

My Little Monsters

I find myself saying things often that start with, “Remember back before we had kids…” and usually end with things like, “and we could sleep in,” or “and I could get ready in peace,” or similar sentiments. So today, in an effort to reframe my thinking, I decided to think about the things I don’t miss from the “pre-Roo & Monkey days.” Here’s a few:

  • Hangovers (OK, I still have them now and then, but much less often!)
  • Spending hours cleaning – I used to be a clean freak; now I am still a freak, I just don’t have that much time to spend cleaning!
  • Hearing people say, “You’ll understand when you have kids…” (Although now, I know exactly what they were talking about!)
  • Not having a good excuse for skipping stuff we don’t want to go to (well, the kids haven’t been feeling good, or that’s right at nap time, etc.)

What I really thought about when making this list, was all the things that I both miss and don’t miss greatly at the same time.

The things like coming home to a quiet and empty house. While I would love some quiet solitude, I also love to get my kids home and see their smiling faces after a day at work and hear about Roo’s day at school and hear Monkey talk about what he did at Ms. Sara’s. Or being able to just go to bed when I got tired. I would love to not go through an hour long or more process every night, but at the same time, I love to read stories to my kids and pull the covers over them.

That’s the thing with kiddos – you realize that as much as you miss those parts of your life before the craziness and the chaos, I would never want to give up a second of the time with my perfect little monsters (ok – maybe some of the temper tantrums and definitely the poop blow-outs, but everything else…)!

Roll With the Paper Punches

I am a list girl. I am also a paper and pencil girl. Because of these two character traits, I have had some form of “planner” since I was in high school.

I began as a die-hard Franklin planner fanatic. I had different binders – everything from fun and whimsical to serious and professional. I had a variety of different sized and themed page inserts over the years. I loved my Franklin planner for years.

Then I had a baby. Which means I had significantly less time and space. With all the diapers, blankies, toys, clothes, and fifty million other things a baby “needs” that I had to carry around, I just couldn’t manage a bulky planner on top of all that. And I found I no longer had that precious time every week to leisurely plan out my week and record it in the appropriate spaces.

So I switched to a slim, notebook sized planner that I actually found in the back-to-school section one fall. It had a large monthly calendar to record appointments to see at a glance and a spread for each week. I could record my to-do list on Monday and keep plugging away at it without having to rewrite what didn’t get done each day. And I could add other items as I went. This worked great until two years later when I couldn’t find it in stores again.

So I switched again to a smaller but thicker planner I ordered from Snapfish. I loved that I could personalize it and put pictures of my now two babies. I still had a monthly calendar and a spread for each week, just smaller. Again, this worked well for awhile until I switched jobs.

At my new job, I have significantly fewer meetings and appointments to keep track of. But now I have much more information I am keeping track of. So my system has evolved yet again.

I print out calendar pages for my work meetings and deadlines. I slip these in page protectors and use magnets to post them on the door of my overhead compartment at my desk. This works perfect for work. I also keep a notebook and use Avery NoteTabs to create sections for meal planning ideas, budgeting (where I keep a list of what needs to be paid when), blogging information and ideas, a grocery list and meal plan, and my weekly goals and to-do list. Then I keep a long list pad in the back with my list of what I have in the freezer and the cupboards to use when I am meal planning.

Right now, while this system seems far less organized than my previous ones, it is completely personalized and works perfectly for me right now. The super-structured planner systems just don’t fit my unstructured life these days. So I created my own structure that works for me. Kind of like what I do with everything these days.

How My Neurotic Tendencies Led to a More Organized Bathroom

So I will occasionally get an idea in my head that I hate something in our house. Usually when I get these ideas, they stem from some neurotic germ-related issue and I will feel that I need to change whatever it is RIGHT NOW. Enter my bathroom project for Project Simplify this week.

I got the idea in my head that since I was folding my towels in half when I hung them on the towel bar, the folded part was not getting very dry and was therefore breeding and harboring mold. I know, crazy, but once these ideas get in my head I can’t get them out. (We actually tore out all the carpeting in our house when I was pregnant with Monkey because I was convinced there were germs and dust mites in every carpet fiber! However, I now LOVE our wood laminate floors!)

I started out wanting to get rid of the towel bars and replace them with hooks to hang the towels on. Then, as I looked around, I realized I also hated the white metal shelf/rack that has hung on the wall since we moved in. So I decided that needed to go. And as long as I was finding places for the items in the baskets on those shelves, I might as well sort, organize, and declutter all the other baskets in the bathroom. The project ended up taking on a life of its own.

Below are the before and after pictures. I am loving the bathroom without the towel bars and the ugly white shelves. I will note, The Coach had one job in this project – to fill the holes in where the towel bars were screwed into the wall and find the yellow paint. You will see in the pictures, there are still unpainted holes in the wall at this time. Not that I’m pointing fingers (but I kind of am!). :)

Before - notice the ugly metal shelves and towel bar on the left

Before - towel bar, yuck!

Before - the bath toy sprawl

After - the little three drawer unit was pretty cheap and is coming in very handy!

After - SOOOO much nicer than that ugly white piece!

After - straightened this area up and got rid of some junk in the baskets

After - there is only so much I can do with the kids bath stuff since they love to play in the tub, but I did neaten everything up a little

After - I forgot to take a before picture, but this was another spot with an infamous towel bar

And now I have these lovely little items for the garage sale pile - one woman's mold breeding hardware is another woman's treasure, right?

Let Me Entertain You

I have been slowly getting more stressed as my week progressed. The Coach has been hanging out a little more with a new buddy. He’s another coach who happens to live a few blocks away from us and has kids around the same age as our kids. While The Coach does not actually coach with him, they are at different schools, they have a lot to talk about.

So a few weeks ago The Coach came home with his buddy’s wife’s cell phone number and a request that I give her a call and see if we could get together. Now being a social anxiety type girl, this was stressful to begin with. But The Coach got along with him and we all live in the same community and have kids, and so on and so forth. So I pulled out my courage, gave her a call, and invited them over for dinner.

So the plan was for a Saturday night, which gave me most of a day to clean, shop, prep food, and basically try to make my house, children, and life in general appear as close to perfect as I could. This is how I usually operate. And usually as the appointed time nears, I get more and more crazy and bossy to everyone around.

Then I got a text Monday asking if we could switch it to Friday because they had forgotten about some tickets they had to a show on Saturday. I agreed, because I really had no actual reason not to. But then the panic started that I would not have my almost complete day to get as close to perfect as possible.

Today, like a sign from above, I read a post on Simple Mom, Taking a risk by hosting an Easter dinner party. It was exactly what I needed to read. It reminded me that getting together was not about me appearing perfect. In fact, it really wasn’t about me at all. It was about getting to know new friends. It was about hanging out with another family that we at least had one thing in common with, and I’m sure we will find we have much more.

So Friday I plan on taking Sandy’s advice. I will be welcoming our new friends into our home and trying to make them feel comfortable. I will be trying to not worry about my house not being perfectly clean and still in the middle of a never ending de-cluttering process. And I will hopefully be teaching my children that what really matters is connecting with others and getting to know people, and not making sure all the dust bunnies have been banished from the corners. I can’t promise that 10 minutes before they arrive I won’t be yelling at someone to get all the Happy Meal toys out of the dining room, but I do promise to welcome our guests with a genuine smile.

Karen and Gordon

So Monkey has an imaginary friend. Her name is Karen, and he tells us that she is a friend from school. Which is funny, because he doesn’t go to school. However, his big brother Roo goes to school and Monkey wants to do everything Roo does. But Monkey brings up Karen quite often.

It reminds me of when Roo had an imaginary friend. His name was Gordon. We would hear about Gordon at least once a day. Roo would get juice boxes out for Gordon. He  told me Gordon lived in the house on the other side of our fence. However, Gordon must have moved a lot because other times Gordon lived in California. Roo would often tell us Gordon was going to be wherever we were going. There were long detailed stories about his adventures with Gordon.

While these imaginary friends are incredibly cute, I did wonder if imaginary friends actually serve a psychological or developmental purpose for children. I was pleased to find that children with imaginary friends tend to develop language skills and retain knowledge faster than children without these pretend pals. They also help children to develop coping skills because they provide children with a “confidant” to talk over problems with and share feelings. Perhaps my favorite opinion I read on imaginary friends was that they are simply fun for children in that full-of-imagination and the world-can-be-however-I-want-it-to-be way.

I like to think that Karen provides Monkey with a sense of fun and allows him to enjoy the world on his own terms. I hope Gordon did the same for Roo. Far too soon they will both realize that the world is full of moments that are not what they want them to be. Thanks, Karen and Gordon, for making my little guys happy! I owe you one!

Stress Management – It’s Not Rocket Science

I am amazed at how many self-help books, articles, and websites are written on the topic of stress management. It does not amaze me that people are stressed these days. What amazes me is that there is a market for all of this advice for managing stress.

Stress management is not rocket science. Most of us know the strategies and skills that are written about over and over again. The challenge is applying what we know. Is anyone surprised to read that:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein will help reduce your stress?
  • Getting enough sleep each night will help reduce your stress?
  • Exercising regularly will help reduce your stress?
  • Having a support system of trusted friends and family who you are comfortable talking to will help reduce your stress?

I’m sure none of this surprises you or is something you haven’t read in a dozen articles or books on stress management. So why are so many of us eating junk food and staying up too late watching TV or surfing the internet? Why do we pick the couch over the gym or choose playing the game app over chatting with a friend?

We make these choices not because stress management is difficult, but because breaking old habits and creating new ones is difficult. Doing the familiar feels good, especially when you are stressed. So, at least in the short term, those old bad habits feel better than challenging ourselves to new good habits.

So how do we change that? We decide to do something differently and then we do it. One of my favorite quotes is: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” (This has been credited to many different people, but most often to Susan Jeffries.) So if you always want the same level of stress, then by all means continue to do things the same way.

If you would like to reduce your stress, then try doing something differently. You don’t need to completely reinvent your life in one week. Start small. Swap a glass of soda for a glass of water this week. Then make it two glasses next week. Go for a walk with a friend this week. Make plans to go again next week.

Habits form from repetition. Pick a change you can stick with. Once that becomes a habit, pick something else. You can do it; after all, it’s not rocket science.

My Love-Hate Relationship with the Junk Drawer

I was so excited to tackle my junk drawers in the kitchen this week! What started out as one drawer, over the years became two. I love having a place to toss those random items, but have always hated the mess the drawers so quickly became. I have cleaned and reorganized these two drawers at least a half dozen times a year since we have lived in our house. As you can see below, it never stuck. (Isn’t the definition of crazy doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result?) So I vowed this time to get rid of the useless junk once and for all and only keep, well, the useful junk. It is a junk drawer, after all. Below are my before pictures.

The junk drawers before

A closer look at the chaos

The mess continues

I emptied everything out of the two drawers and put it all on the counter. I brought the trash can over and went to work. I pitched most of the contents. I also made a keep pile, a garage sale pile, and a pile of things that needed to be put away somewhere else. Oh, and I made a pile for The Coach to go through, which included items like a remote that I didn’t know what it controlled and random tool and cable looking items. When I had finally gone through everything, I put the keep pile back in the drawers. I love how empty they are! Now, we’ll see if they stay that way, or if the crazy creeps back in!

The beautifully empty after

Loving all the space in this drawer

Is there anything cuter than a row of Pez dispensers?

Where Does All the Money Go?

A few months ago, The Coach and I decided we needed a budget. Finances have seemed to be getting tighter and tighter and we needed to figure out a way to get a handle on everything. So we figured the first step was to figure out what the heck we were spending our money on in the first place.

I downloaded a free budget template for Microsoft Excel from their website. It’s not the best way to keep track of expenses and I’m positive it will not be my forever tool I use to keep track of our spending, but it has worked for right now. I simply started keeping track of everything we spent by category.

I did that for the entire month of February. I discovered a few things through this process. First, as I was afraid of, we were spending more than we were making. Second, we were spending more than I had thought in certain areas. Finally, I could easily see some areas where I knew we were spending too much and could easily cut back.

Since we were spending more than were making, we knew we had to figure out how to either cut expenses or increase income. We decided to cut expenses for the long-term and came up with a few short term extra income options. The Coach picked up a spring sport to coach for this year only. I’m planning a garage sale Memorial Day weekend that should bring in a fair amount of cash since I am selling a lot of good condition baby items, which sell well.

We then went to work cutting spending in the “easy” areas first. The Coach started packing lunch every day and I committed to packing lunch every day, not just most days. We also decided to do fewer drive-thru dinners. Not that we ate fast food a lot, but more than we needed to. We would get caught in the trap of both being tired and instead of making a simple dinner at home, we would pick something up. So I stocked up on some frozen pizzas and macaroni and cheese and decided that was far cheaper than fast food and probably no more unhealthy.

Next, we switched our internet and satellite TV providers. The new providers were offering special introductory rates that would save us quite a bit for six months to a year, then the prices would switch to the same amount we were paying with the old providers. So a significant savings over the course of a year, and then we were no worse off than we were before when the year was over.

These were our first steps. We’re continuing to try other ways to save and to look for more ways to work on reducing expenses. Keep checking back for what I discover!

Want More Time? Give Yourself Less.

photo credit: Fotolia

Feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done? I hate to say it, but welcome to the club. As a culture, we have become over-scheduled, over-booked, and completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that require completion, or at least attention.

So how can we manage the time we have better? Believe it or not, less is the key word.

  • Give yourself less time.  I often find when I don’t have a concrete deadline for a task, it will take me far longer to complete than if I am working against the clock. So give yourself deadlines and get into the habit of holding yourself accountable for those deadlines. Give people a specific time you will have something done. Having someone counting on you at a specific time can help you to stick to your self-imposed deadlines.
  • Give yourself less tasks. Learn to say no. Or at least learn to take the easy way out sometimes. Be the chairperson for the bake sale? I’m sorry, NO. Bring a dish for the potluck? Sure, I’ll bring the bag of chips and jar of salsa. Figure out what tasks are most important to you and your family and stick to those. Strive for quality over quantity.
  • Give yourself less grief. Take it easy on yourself. If you don’t check everything off your to-do list today, let it go. Don’t feel guilty for not doing everything for everyone. Give yourself permission to miss a school event, or arrive at a meeting a few minutes late, or serve a frozen pizza for dinner once in awhile. The world will not stop spinning if you do less here and there.

Try using a strategy of less, to get more. You may find, as I have, that quality over quantity just feels better and makes me happier.

Ma! What’s For Dinner?!

Meal Planning Basics photo credit: Dinner Series via photopin cc

Meal Planning Basics
photo credit: Dinner Series via photopin cc

In my never-ending quest to save money at the grocery store, I have read numerous blogs and articles that all suggest meal planning as a way to save on your grocery shopping trips. I’m always a little disappointed when this is the number one tip, because I have been doing this for as long as I have been grocery shopping. So while I continue to look for more tips, I figure a number of people are not meal planning and could use more info on this strategy. While I don’t claim to be an expert, I can share my process.

I try to plan for two weeks at a time, thus only having to do one big grocery shopping trip every two weeks and a small run for milk, produce, and incidentals on the off week. I start by marking off any events, outings, or activities that would affect dinner time. For example, every Wednesday night we have a youth night at our church that includes dinner. So I mark that down as a dinner I don’t need to plan. I’ll mark any other nights I know I don’t have to make dinner such as birthday parties, dinner with family, etc. I also mark things like nights with school or sports activities starting close to dinner time or nights when my husband or I work late since I will want to plan something quick and simple on those nights.

Next, I mark our “standing” dinners. We have pasta and garlic bread one night a week because everyone loves it and it’s cheap. I’ll mix it up with different sauces or types of breads, but basically pasta and bread. We also usually have pizza on Friday nights to kick off the weekend. In the winter, we usually have soup and sandwiches at least once every two weeks and in the summer we usually have hot dogs at least once every two weeks. Again, everyone loves them and they are pretty cheap. So at this point, I usually have at least two or three of the seven nights in a week already planned.

I go through the freezer and cupboards next to take stock of what I already have on hand and jot these things down. I try to keep an up-to-date list going of what is in the freezer to make this step quicker. I’ll mark down the meals I can make with what I have on hand. This usually brings me up to at least five meals for a week, sometimes more if I have stocked up on good sales recently.

Finally, I check out the sale flyer for my grocery store and plan any remaining meals around what is on sale. Sometimes if there are really good sales on something, I might swap out the deal for something I have in the freezer or cupboard and save that meal for another time. I also try to pay attention to meals that are likely to have leftovers and factor a “leftover buffet” night in once in awhile. My kids actually love this because I throw all the leftovers on the counter and take away our usual rules about requiring a fruit or veggie with every meal. They have picked some odd combinations, but they eat it and the fridge gets cleaned out!

*BONUS*CLICK HERE for the handy sheet I created for meal planning! :) Enjoy!