Getting into the Christmas spirits

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You read that right.

If you are someone who loves the holidays, you’re probably enjoying these last few days in the run up to Christmas. If you are someone who just worked 30 hours over a weekend you’re thinking they are incredibly poorly timed.

The Christmas theme at my house this year is: The Who’s house after the Grinch ransacked it, only the Grinch never came back. There is no tree. No wreath. No wrapped gifts. A few sad holiday cards, sent by dear souls who haven’t fallen into the black hole of capitalist chaos, sit on a table in my empty living room. (That’s right. The Grinch even took the furniture.)

The reminders are everywhere that I am behind. My email is full of messages screaming “last chance” and “ends today.” Too which I respond, “Delete you.”

As I walk through the beautifully adorned downtown skyways on my way to work, the Muzak reminds me that Santa’s on his way. “You say that like it’s a good thing,” I mutter.

And when I enter the post office and see the “We appreciate your business” sign on the door, I think, “No. No, you do not. If you did there wouldn’t be 20 people holding large boxes in this line, and you would not be chatting up the person you’re serving with news of your grandkids.”

Today I’m taking a day off to see if I can actually make this holiday thing work out this year. (Which explains why I’m spending time blogging, right?) I have a list as long as my arm and will burn a tank of gas driving from here to there. As of 8:00 a.m., I had already hit the “who are you kidding” stage of my day, and mentally removed a few items.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like another memorable year where I served spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. (Tip to readers: if you have to decide at the last minute between going to the liquor store before it closes and going to the grocery store before it closes, choose the liquor store. I guarantee your guests will not notice what you serve them for dinner.)

But I must away. The malls await me. I go armed with 60% off coupons for this and that. (It seems the only people more desperate than me this time of year are the retailers.)

Wish me luck.

A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

A simple summer bucket list

IMG_0021Life is busy. Life is stressful. And even though summer is a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors, the reality is you still have to go to work, clean the house, pay the bills, deal with the ups and downs of a life. My summer bucket list is simple. I want to:

  • Sit for a few moments with my face to the sun.
  • Enjoy a glass of wine or two with a friend.
  • Arrange some flowers from my garden for the house.
  • Watch the deer in my yard without worrying about what they’re eating.
  • Enjoy the green around me, even if some of it is weeds.
  • Read a good book. Or two. Or six.
  • Share an evening meal on the porch with my family.
  • Experience a few moments of pure, uncompromised joy.

It’s not too much to ask. Is it?

This is a post for the SITS Girls “Stop the Summer Slump” challenge

The perfect summer spot

IMG_0296This is a post for the SITS Girls “Stop the Summer Slump” Challenge.

Behold, the spot that makes my summer perfect. I know a lot of parents who hate the trek to the beach – the sand, the noise, the hassle. I love it. I have spent many an afternoon with this view.

I’ve worked under an umbrella while my kids played on the dock. Spent an afternoon with a good book in the hazy sun. Been one of the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Picnicked on a quiet evening after most others have gone.

I’ve changed diapers in the family changing room. Chased a two-year-old through the shallows. Built sand castles. Visited with other parents while our kids swam and shouted in the water. Eyeballed teens hanging out together on the hill, not interfering, but providing my presence as needed (and also my cash for concessions, of course.) Watched a bald eagle circle the kids on the dock.

I’ve been happy here. Sad here. Content. Frustrated. Angry. At peace.

When my children are gone, out in the world (and that day will come all too soon) this is the spot that will come to mind when I think of summer. And I may just head over to sit in this spot, for an hour or two. To remember. And feel at peace.

Didn’t mean to take an off ramp

IMG_0017A few years back, I worked on a project for a large, local corporation on why women “off ramp” from their careers – leave a promising job despite the fact that they’ve educated themselves and fought their way up the ladder. In this particular workforce, we found two reasons:

  • They were leaving to care for young children – these women tended to be in their early 30’s and most intended to re-enter the workforce
  • They were leaving because they were deeply dissatisfied with their careers – these women tended to be 40 or older and many left for self-employment or consulting work

It was a little frightening to see myself in the profiles we developed for that project. I left for both reasons. I had my children late in life, and I hit both of these crossroads simultaneously. I had progressed in my job about as far as I could go, and the other jobs that were available to me were just more of the same. And I had no time to care for my kids, put a decent meal on the table.

I wanted to start a new phase of my career, not exit. I threw myself into my work seeking a different kind of success.

I loved consulting, for a while. But I was surprised to find myself, ten years later, again deeply dissatisfied – this time with the isolation of my work, my home office, the time I spent with my now teenaged kids who didn’t really need me for more than transportation and basic supervision.

It was time to make a change again. So I did.

The good news is that much has changed in the ten years I was on my own. I found a job easily, despite the horror stories you hear about how hard it is to find a job when you are a) not early in your career; b) have been self-employed; c) need a little flexibility to manage family. Granted, it’s contract work – but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pick up where I left off and contribute in a positive way.

But my mind keeps going back to those young women we talked to and their stories. How hard it was to get anyone to take them seriously when they were ready to go back to work. How they were offered less money than they were making before kids because they had “taken a break”. How they endured comments like “We aren’t sure you’ll be able to multi-task.” Really? Who multi-tasks better than a stay-at-home mom?

See, the thing is, I didn’t think I was taking an “off ramp”. I thought I was just taking the alternate route. And I’m guessing many of them thought so too.

This post is part of the SITS Girls Stop the Summer Slump writing challenge.

 

Anatomy of a working mom’s evening

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4:15 – Learns little league is cancelled due to rain. Relishes the thought of an evening with no activity. Decides she can probably make those Vietnamese noodle salads for dinner after all.

4:30 – Receives text that younger son is leaving for a friend’s house and will return at 6:30.

4:45 – Finds out son will be bringing a friend home with him at 6:30; mentally adds one more for dinner.

5:00 – Packs up items to work at home the following day to avoid another rainy, congested commute.

5:15 – Leaves work. Raining. Spends 35 minutes in stop and go traffic.

5:50 – Stops at grocery store to buy remaining items needed for Vietnamese noodle salads. Ends up spending $88 on…well, who knows.

6:10 – Loads groceries in the rain. Splashed by passing car.

6:20 – Arrives home; pours a glass of wine.

6:30 – Starts to boil water for rice noodles; chops vegetables; chops leftover chicken and stretches it from 4 servings to 5.

6:45 – Puts egg rolls in oven. Wonders why younger son and friend are not yet home.

7:00 – Tracks down younger son and finds out he needs a ride. Drains rice noodles and hopes for the best. Instructs older son to listen for the timer, flip the egg rolls, then reset the timer for 15 minutes. Asks him to repeat instructions.

7:15 – Picks up younger son and friend, in the rain.

7:30 – Arrives home to find rice noodles in glutinous heap and egg rolls removed from oven in complete disregard of the instructions. Older son deflects blame, says, “(Daughter) told me to take them out of the oven.”

7:45 – Throws glutinous heap in the trash, egg rolls back in oven, and cooks second package of rice noodles.

8:00 – Constructs salads individually to account for children’s dislikes. There are many.

8:09 – Serve salads; sends guest’s salad flying when teenage daughter pulls out a chair and hits her in the elbow.

8:10 – Scoops salad up off table and makes daughter switch with guest. Rubs bruised elbow.

8:11 – Thinks about pouring another glass of wine and decides against it.

8:20 – Kids finish eating.

8:30 – Still in work clothes, starts dishes with kids milling around uselessly. Starts to get a little irritated. Sends them off to various rooms to pick up the afternoon’s detritus.

8:45 – Friend heads for home. Kids scatter.

9:00 – Realizes that folders needed to work at home the next day are sitting on desk at the office. Balances heading into the office after all with trying to reconstruct needed information. Opts for reconstructing needed information.

9:30 – Gets kids to bed. Throws wet laundry in the dryer. Starts another load. Cleans cat box. Wishes she’d changed out of work clothes before cleaning cat box.

10:00 – Thinks about turning on the TV but too tired. Opts for turning in. After all, tomorrow’s another day in a paradise.

10:15 – Switches second load of laundry and sets up the morning’s coffee.

10:45 – Hits the pillow with this thought of gratitude, “At least I didn’t have to sit through baseball in the rain like we did on Monday.”

R is for Routine

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A disclaimer – building a routine is not one of my strong points. That is why, as the #AtoZChallenge has gone on, my posts seem to be getting later and later in the day.

But that does not mean I can’t promote the concept of routine. It makes life a lot easier, if you can establish (and keep to) one.

Here are some of the routines I routinely start, abandon, start and abandon again:

  • Work out on Sundays and go to the grocery store on the way home. There is nothing that makes you feel as virtuous as starting the week with some exercise out of the way, and a full refrigerator.
  • Cook for 2-3 nights at a time. It really isn’t much more effort to cook 3 meals than it is to cook one, especially if you can double up.
  • Wash all the laundry on Saturday, and fold it all on Sunday. (If you are a regular reader, you’ll know why I have trouble with this one.)
  • Go through all the kids’ clothing twice a year, once for each of the two seasons in Minnesota (winter and road construction) and pull out the items that no longer fit. Actually, I’m pretty good about keeping to this one. It helps to have room to put the laundry away.
  • Turn the mattress 1/4 turn on each of the following: winter solstice, vernal equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox. Good about this one, too, mostly because my husband is a stickler for this one. (It’s his only routine. He changes the oil in the cars on the same schedule.)
  • Write and prep all my A to Z posts on Sunday and schedule them for publication. Yep, not doing this right now.

Tomorrow…S is for…well, I don’t know yet, I’m off my routine. Any ideas?

Read the series at A is for About

G is for Giant Bag

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OK, this is a tough one to pull off if you are a dad – the purse as large as a piece of carry-on luggage. But, oh, is it a lifesaver.

My giant bag has the added benefit of being a very inexpensive bag, bought on impulse with some department store bonus cash. Here are the items I stash in my bag during the average week:

  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Keys
  • Security pass card for the office
  • Lunch
  • Computer
  • Folders full of various important documents
  • Water bottle (see tomorrow’s post – H is for H2O)
  • Hand lotion
  • Workout clothes
  • Outgoing mail
  • Incoming mail
  • iPad
  • Jar of unsalted, mixed nuts
  • Tube of arnica cream
  • Hairbrush
  • Overdue library books
  • Lip balm
  • Kleenex
  • Sweater
  • Newspaper

And in case you’re wondering what the arnica cream is for, it’s for sore muscles. You get a little achy carrying around all this junk.

Tomorrow….H is for H2O

 Read the series at A is for About

F is for Fail…and a Feather in my cap

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I bet you were starting to think I had my act together, weren’t you? Joke’s on you!

I committed the ultimate Parental Fail today. Mid-way through the morning I picked up a voicemail from my daughter that went something like this:

“Hi, Mama. I just wanted to let you know that the elementary school attendance line called, and (youngest child) actually has school today, it’s just the 7th – 12th graders that are off. But don’t worry, I got him dressed and fed and (older brother) is walking him to school right now so it’s all taken care of.”

That’s right – I failed to send my child to school. He has a dreaded “unexcused tardy”. The worst part? I actually double-checked the calendar to make sure he was off. Oops!

But the feather in my cap? I have a teenaged daughter poised and capable enough to get a furious 11-year-old who is yelling, “Mama betrayed me!” out the door and to school.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Tomorrow….G is for Giant Bag.

 Read the series at A is for About

D is for Doubling Up

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OK, one more food post and then I’ll move on for a bit…

I’m of the “cook once, eat (at least twice)” school of cuisine. Heck, to be honest I would eat the same food day and night for a week if it would save me time, but the rest of my crew is not enthusiastic about this practice. So when I cook, I do what I call “doubling up” to save me prep on future meals.

I’m not talking about preparing vast amounts of crockpot standards like beef stew, pasta sauce, and chili, although that works, too. I’m talking about preparing more ingredients than you need for one meal and putting it in the refrigerator or freezer so you have a head start the next time you find yourself staring into the fridge, slack-jawed, trying to make dinner out of nothing.

Here are some of my favorite double-ups:

  • Poached chicken – Buy a gross of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, put them in the crockpot overnight on low, and in the morning you have chicken for all kinds of wonderful things. If you’re not going to use it within a day or two, shred it or cube it, and freeze it in portions sized for future recipes (1 to 2 cups?) Works with turkey, too.
  • Mashed potatoes – Is it really that much more work to peel 8 potatoes instead of 4? Mashed potatoes freeze really well. You can either serve them as a side dish or use them in recipes – they’re great in blended soups that call for potatoes, and since they’re already cooked and mashed, they cut at least 20 minutes off the prep time.
  • Mirepoix – Which, thanks to Trader Joe’s, I’ve learned just means diced vegetables – there’s is composed of onions, carrots, and celery. All three of these freeze well enough – if you’re going to throw them in soup later, who will even know they’ve been frozen? (Or, of course, you could just pick some up mirepoix on the way home.)
  • The brassica plants(Like how I’m throwing these official-sounding terms around? This one I learned from my kids.) I chop up a whole broccoli or cauliflower at once, then prepare it or throw it in salad over the space of a few days. My kids like it roasted, which is a cinch – just toss it in olive oil and pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. It’s done by the time I’ve changed out of my work clothes.
  • Kale – Right, I know – kale is a brassica plant, but I love kale so I’m granting it its own category. The best part about using kale as a salad green is that this stuff keeps for days. It does not give up the ghost overnight like lettuce. I wash mine on Sunday, and even slice it ahead of time, then I can throw a salad together in no time. One hint for kale – if you find it bitter, use a dressing that has lemon juice in it. It cuts the bitterness. Oh, and make sure to massage it before you serve it (in other words, mash it up with your hands), or the kids might find it a little challenging.

I’m sure there are other ways to double up out there – any suggestions? I’ll take any help I can get.

Next up….E is for Eight-minute Yoga.

 Read the series at A is for About