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

L is for Lavender Oil

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Lavender oil is a marvelous substance, good for all kinds of things. True, if you use it often you might start imagining yourself in a drafty English cottage, but that seems like a small price to pay. Here are some of the uses I’ve found for lavender oil:

  • Can’t sleep? Dab a little on the pillow.
  • Kids can’t sleep? Dab a drop or two on a favorite stuffed animal, or tuck a tissue with a few drops on it next to them in the bed. (This puts my kids out in minutes, even now that they’re teens.)
  • Stressful day? Put a few drops in the bath.
  • Clothes sit in the washer a little too long? Put a few drops on a washcloth and throw the whole lot in the dryer.
  • Muscle aches and pains? Rub a few drops into the sore muscle.
  • Musty basement? It’ll freshen that up too.

I’ve also used it in homemade cleaning solution, and in bug spray to cut the smell of the citronella. Here are some other great ideas from a site I particularly like, Veriditas Botanicals.

It’s just an all-around handy thing to have. Anyone else using it? More ideas welcome!

Tomorrow…M is for Mashed Potatoes

 Read the series at A is for About

J is for Just in Time

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I have to credit the blogger at Momsanity for this one – I had “just” about run out of ideas for blogging on J when she suggested Just, as in Just a Mom…but I’m amending it to Just in Time – which is what I am since it is 11:00 p.m. and I’m barely going to stay on schedule for Blogging A to Z.

It has made me realize just how often I am Just in Time – for the dentist, for the start of the movie, for the carpool pick-up. I’m not early. I’m not late. I’m Just in Time.

I imagine some might call me disorganized. I say no. No one told the Japanese automakers they were disorganized when they followed JIT inventory principles. They were called EFFICIENT. They were called COST EFFECTIVE. We were told they produced QUALITY output.

So why should I show up even a minute early? In that minute, I can throw in another load of laundry.

On Monday…K is for Kale

 Read the series at A is for About

I is for Instructions

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Tired of coming home to a place that looks like a flophouse, I’m instituting a new system. I’ve swapped my insistent (but somewhat good-natured) nagging for a series of notes taped up around the house. Here is an example:

Put your coat on a hanger, and hang it up in the closet.

Note the specificity – if I just say “put your coat in the closet” there is a reasonable chance it will end up on the floor. Here is another example:

Rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Make sure the dishwasher is not full of clean dishes first!

A timely reminder, as I pulled a dirty plate and fork out of a clean load of dishes just today. It defeats the purpose of having a clean load of dishes, although it might help the kids avoid this instruction:

Empty the dishwasher before you turn on the XBox.

I know it doesn’t sound like these two things are related, but I assure you they are. Since the XBox seems always to be on when I return home, I know it is taking precedent over any number of tasks I would prefer. At least I have put them in a logical order.

And finally:

When you are finished brushing your teeth:

  1. Pick up a cup and rinse the nasty, disgusting toothpaste out of the sink – all of it
  2. Hang up the towel (yes, you did use it last)
  3. Pick up any clothes belonging to you from the floor and deposit them in the hamper
  4. Turn off the light when you leave.

Suddenly my nagging doesn’t sound so good natured. It’s a good thing they can read.

 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

C is for Cheese Sauce

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A confession: Because I grew up in Wisconsin, I’ve had a life-long romance with cheese. Even on the nights our refrigerator is really, really empty, you can count on it to contain at least one big block of cheese.

And that cheese has saved me many an evening.

I’ve discovered that you can serve virtually anyone a dish that contains only three or four main ingredients as long as one of them is cheese. Here is my handy-dandy recipe for cheese sauce:

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter
  • 2 TBS flour (I use brown rice flour, but you can use any kind)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 6 oz. shredded cheese of your choice

Melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour. Stir for 30 seconds or so until it thickens, then pour in the milk. When the mixture begins to simmer, turn it down to low and  throw in the cheese, stirring occasionally until it melts.

This is easy – and there is no fake, orange cheese-food powder to deal with.

(Those of you who blog about food will note the absence of the beautiful picture of cheese sauce that blogging convention indicates. That is because it is not possible to take a beautiful picture of cheese sauce, at least not in my kitchen. My picture will look like either a) a backed-up drain, or b)…sorry, I can’t get past the drain image.)

I’ve tried many kinds of cheese – Swiss, English Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Manchego…but my kids greatly prefer the Tillamook Cheddar I buy in a 14 pound brick from CostCo.

What do you do with the cheese sauce? A fair question. Combine it with one (1) grain-type substance, one (1) protein, leftover if possible, and one (1) vegetable of whatever kind you can scrounge up.

Here are some ideas to get you started, all tried and tested in my kitchen. Pick one item from each column below, combine them and cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. And dinner is served.

Screenshot 2015-03-31 22.24.47Tomorrow….D is for Doubling Up.

 Read the series at A is for About

B is for Buffet

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Behind every good tip is someone who is inherently lazy. Or maybe just efficient?

In an attempt to shortcut the kitchen clean up, I’ve taken to serving everything buffet style. We have a large, stainless steel table in our kitchen that serves as an island. Instead of carrying food to the table, I make my family come to the food. I arrange it in a line on the island, they bring in their plates (or take one from a pile at the end of the table) and we go through the “buffet”.

Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a huge time-saver, but I can tell you it eliminates the need to carry a bunch of dishes out to the table and back into the kitchen 15 minutes later. (15 minutes being the approximate time it takes my teenagers to scarf down food it took me two hours to plan, shop for, and prepare.)

Anything to save a little clean-up.

Tomorrow.C is for Cheese Sauce.

 Read the series at A is for About

A is for About

Screenshot 2015-03-31 21.10.53Before I jump into my practical, personally-tested, and occasionally odd tips for working parents, I thought I’d provide some context. The concept arose from a well-meaning, but off-base program from my healthcare company intended to help me improve my well-being by, among other things, reducing stress.

After taking an inventory, I selected one of their helpful stress-reducing suggestions – spend 10 minutes, several days a week, decluttering. “I can do that,” I thought. “What’s 10 minutes in a day?”

But it all went terribly wrong.

Instead of helpful hints suggesting I declutter a particular room, or giving me steps I can follow, I’m getting prompts every couple of days that say merely, “Don’t forget to declutter for 10 minutes.” And thanks to my nagging, ever-present smart phone, here is where I’ve picked up this helpful message:

  • At work
  • On the bleachers at my sons’ lacrosse games
  • On a girls’ weekend, the only time in forever I’ve had to relax
  • In the parking lot at the grocery store
  • In the waiting room where my daughter receives her allergy shots

Are you kidding me? I can tell you, definitively, that this does not lessen my stress. Instead I have been reduced to someone who yells “Stop nagging me!” at their phone in highly public places.

So…I’ve decided, in the interest of promoting sane parents, to try to provide tips that are actually doable. Some will be silly, most will be practical, and many will be about food, since as a working parent, the first thing I usually think about when I awaken is “What should we have for dinner?”

But they are all things I’ve actually been able to do. Use them – or ignore them – as you like. I promise you I will send you no reminders.

Tomorrow….B is for Buffet. And no, I don’t mean dining out.

 Read the series:

B is for Buffet

C is for Cheese Sauce

D is for Doubling Up

E is for Eking Out Exercise 

F is for Fail…and a Feather in My Cap

G is for Giant Bag

H is for H2O

I is for Instructions

J is for Just in Time

K is for Kale Chips

L is for Lavender Oil

M is for Mashed Potatoes

N is for Nuts

O is for Oven Time

P is for Posture

Q is for Quality Footwear

R is for Routine

S is for Stash of Cash

T is for To-Go

U is for Underwear

V is for Vitamins (especially D)

W is for What Was I Thinking?

X is for Xtra

Y is for Yawn

Z is for Zzzzzz

Search Terms of the Sad and Desperate: Holiday edition

holiday matrixIt’s on its way, that moment you’ve all been waiting for – the continuation of Search Terms of the Sad and Desperate, the series in which I offer advice to the searchers whose terms hit my blog.

The series has been on hiatus since Andre and his friends hijacked my traffic, but since they seem to have moved on to other b-grade content, I’m picking it up again with a holiday series. Sort of like the second half of the final season of Mad Men, and the Downton Abbey holiday episode all rolled into one!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks while I answer questions and respond to musings like:

Why I hate Halloween

Why do some people dislike dressing in costumes

Holiday task planning for kids

Bad gifts

Company Christmas party on Christmas Eve, and a particularly sad entry:

Finally the day is over

Not a holiday post, you say? I beg to differ. Stay tuned…

A day of housework and productivity: a non-sequitur

IMG_0240At least for me. In my world, housework is like traveling to a destination I never reach.

With the nice, fall weather we’ve been having, I threw my energy into some large outdoor chores. A huge sense of accomplishment was achieved. (Yes, I realize that is passive voice. I did it for effect.)

But when I ventured back indoors, I was shocked to discover that the house did not stay neat and tidy without me. The laundry room alone looked like it could qualify for superfund status. So I took a day “off” to get my house back in shape.

Which was a mistake. I can’t clean up my house in a day. Or even a week. Although in my work life I can focus on a puzzling problem, or stay on task for hours to meet a deadline, I cannot do this in my house. I am constantly distracted and wholly ineffective.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  1. I start to tidy up the bedrooms and realize that it’s time to change the bedding.
  2. I strip the beds, and reason that since cold weather is on the way, I should take the opportunity to put on the heated mattress covers.
  3. While I’m swapping the mattress covers, I decide to vacuum the mattresses, which requires me to haul a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
  4. And, of course, I have to wash the mattress covers I removed which requires hauling them all down a flight of stairs.
  5. I figure as long as I am washing the mattress covers, I should wash the comforters.

And so on. I end up with room after room of bedding in varying degrees of cleanliness on every surface. And then it’s 3:00 and my children start to arrive from school. If my house isn’t picked up by the time those others get home, I can forget it.

Here’s another example:

  1. Halfway through cleaning the kitchen, I realize I don’t have anything planned for dinner.
  2. I glance in the refrigerator and notice there are several items that are, ahem, a little past the due date.
  3. I clear the refrigerator of less-desirable items which makes it evident I need to wipe the shelves.
  4. I wipe the shelves, restow everything, and realize there is nothing in the refrigerator suitable for dinner.
  5. I check the freezer and notice there are several items that I can no longer identify.
  6. I clear the freezer, which makes it evident there is nothing in there for dinner either.
  7. I go to the store.

And really, I never get my kitchen tidied up. Ever. There is too much stuff that goes on in there, like homework and eating, also sometimes cooking.

Clearly, this is not where my skill lies. My ability to see beyond the problem at hand, to follow a thread and see where it takes me, helps me in my professional life. But it’s not worth a moldy kidney bean the rest of the time.

Who knew work could be such a refuge.