Monday, April 22, 2019

Dinner Planning Made Easy


Is there any question more dreaded than "What's for dinner?"

The one thing I hate more than thinking about what's for dinner every night, is making multiple trips to the grocery store during the week. I try real hard to make that trip a one stop shop which means that a little planning is in order, so every Sunday I sit down and think about what we have going on that week and what healthy meals I will make for the family. A couple of weeks ago I realized I spend way too much time on this task and I don't really enjoy it.

Since I have been on a mission to simplify my life, to find the things, commitments, obligations, etc. that I spend way too much time and energy on with little to no payback for me (either in the karma or joy department), it was only a matter of time before I tackled dinner.

Where was the time suck? Well, I had to think about what I could make, go through recipes I pulled or pinned, and try to remember what we had in the last few weeks so I didn't do a repeat. Then I had to think about how much time things would take to make because on some nights I didn't have as much time as other nights. 

What I often failed to plan for were the nights that I strayed from the menu because I was too tired or didn't feel like spending that much time in the kitchen, so we made sandwiches or breakfast tacos for dinner then I later guiltily threw out the food that I bought for those abandoned recipes.

Then I had to face a hard truth. I am not Julia Child. I do not derive joy from tinkering in the kitchen. That is not my thing. It is, however, one of those things that I wish I liked doing. I wish I was that Mom who whipped up new and delicious things in the kitchen and loved it, but I'm not.

Was my family putting pressure on me to come up with new and exciting meals? No, I mean clearly they were living on sandwiches and breakfast tacos more than fantasy me would like to admit, so this perception of who I "should" be was a weight I chose to carry all on my own, and it was time to put it down and stop worrying about what I thought other people might think of fantasy super mom me. 

Lighter, brighter, real me was ready to simplify this whole process, the menu planning, grocery shopping, and food prep.

First, I made a list of all the things that I know we liked and that were mostly healthy. The list ended up being a mix of things that were super quick and simple, and ones that were more labor intensive.

Second, I categorized them into the following categories:

Pasta/Italian
Asian
Mexican/Tacos
Soups/Salads
Bowls (these are things like Buddah Bowls, rice and beans,Shrimp, greens, polenta,  - a mix of food that I put into a bowl that doesn't go into the other categories)
Burgers/Sandwiches
Casseroles/Other
In case of Emergencies (quick sandwiches and cereal) Emergencies have included my husband not being home for dinner, so just me and the kids, and me wanting to finish a book I was almost done with. Fantasy Mom felt guilty, I didn't.

You can make up any categories you like. This is how I like to mix it up so I don't feel like I am making and eating the same things over and over, but you can do anything that makes sense to you.

Some other ideas:

Things that take 15 minutes or less to make
Freezer meals (things you pre-made and froze and are ready to cook)
Instapot/Crockpot dinners
Casserole Sundays
Meatless Mondays
Taco Tuesdays
Friday Make your own pizza night
Chicken Dinners
One Pot Dinners

Whatever works for you. The idea being that on Sunday or whenever you plan you trip to the store you zip down your list, and pick your 7 meals for that week.

After I put all my favorite things down into the list I realized I had way more dinners than I realized (50+ different meals), and that I didn't make my favorites as often as I would like because I was too busy trying new things.

I also realized everything went faster because I was familiar with those recipes, so I knew what I needed to buy, and what I already had on hand. Also, I could tweek things here and there as necessary if I wanted to mix it up or if I simply forgot to pick something up at the store.

I didn't have to think about what we had last week because it was all there on the list.

One thing that has also helped speed things up - the Alexa app. Alexa has a shopping list feature and when we run out of a staple like olive oil or chocolate chips, whoever uses it up adds it to the list and I check the Alexa shopping list before my store run, but if I forget the Alexa app with shopping list is on my phone. The family has been much better at keeping up with this then they were about physically writing it on the shopping list.

I also created a menu and shopping list in Evernote and have it on my phone, so I always have my list with me, and it is organized in categories as well.

My meal planning and grocery list making takes 5 minutes now. My grocery store trip in done in 30 minutes. I spend zero time during the week thinking about dinner while not actually making dinner which leaves more time on things I do enjoy, like reading, which means less chance for emergency cereal while I squeeze in that last chapter (or maybe not, I'm improved, not perfect.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Make Being Angry Work For You






I am mostly a laid back person, but when I blow, baby, do I blow. However, this year I am (once again) resolving to be a gentler, more peaceful version of me. To concentrate on the good, not spend so much time lamenting over the irritating. I want to resolve and move on rather than stew.

Of course I know that wisdom says you should hit the pause button and wait before responding,  count to 10 (or 100) and all of that. That all sounds well and good, but I often am too caught up in my righteous anger at the time to remember that.

When I do remember to count, I really just use that time to come up with something to say that will really make it clear that I am angry and add a helping of guilt to it.

Rational me knows it is better to calm down so we can discuss the problem and mutually look for a solution, rather than spend that time informing the transgressor of all of their character flaws that led to this situation.

Angry me does't even think about solving problems. Solving problems is hard. Talking about what is wrong with someone else is easy, and doing this ensures that I don't have to change anything, you do (because it's our fault. DANGER: This is victim thinking).  Not to mention people usually defend (fight) or flee when being attacked. They don't participate in problem solving.

If you want to be happy, truly happy, you have to get over feeling justified in being angry. You have to stop believing in the illusion that showing how angry you are with the someone will force them to change, or will punish them for their perceived crime.

It may do some of that, but it will also fundamentally change your relationship with them. We tend to move away from things that make you uncomfortable or bring you pain, so if you keep being the source of discomfort, then that person will move away from you. Plus, it won't make any similar future occurrences conclude any differently. Lose Lose for angry me.

as Aristotle once said:


So, rational me has come up with this plan of a 24 hour hold on responding to something I am angry about. I need something a bit more drastic than counting. I need a rule to keep me in line, not a suggestion, or 'it would be nice if', but a simple rule.

Why 24 hours? A lot can happen in 24 hours. Something is bound to make me laugh or cheer me up, perspective will be gained. Also, then I know I am not responding angrily because I am hangry or irritated with something else.

Most importantly, it also gives me time to think.

I'm not saying being angry isn't okay, and there are times when it is deserved. Any feeling is okay. You can feel however you want to feel. BUT.....You can't (or shouldn't) always act how you want to act (that serves no one).

For you to be in charge of your emotions, you need to name them. In order to name them properly, I need to get past the blanket "angry" label.

Some people (old angry me for instance) label every strong emotion anger. Instead of sad, they become angry. Instead of admitting to themselves that their feelings are hurt, they are frustrated, or feel left out, they get angry.

For me anger is a tool I am used to and comfortable with. I can wield it and its sister guilt very well. The problem with that is that the same tool is always being used for every job when another one will work better. Anger is a hammer, and you can't build a house with just a hammer.  So when I feel angry, that is a clue that there is something else going on that I need to take a look at, and I feel like I need 24 hours to do it.

My first test came this weekend. I get the children up every morning and get them ready for school, which is fine. That makes sense because I am the one with flexible time in the AM.

However, on weekends, each of our kids has an activity pretty early and in two separate places. I take one, and the hubs takes the other. This Saturday, no one (as in my husband) woke up the kid with the earliest activity. The kid he was taking to that activity.  It fell on me to be the one responsible for this. It was assumed, i.e. taken for granted that I would do this. The only person my husband got up and ready was himself.

I was all ready to unleash my my sarcastic comments when he finally came downstairs to take the kid to his lesson, but before I did so I was going to wait to see if he would even acknowledge that I took care of the situation.

And........he didn't. No thanks. Nothing. Not even a hint of "maybe I could have/should have done that, and boy was I angry, but I remembered the 24 hour rule, and it seemed like a really good time to use it.

It took about 10 or so minutes of cleaning up the kitchen before I could calm down enough to ask myself, "What am I really upset about here?" I'm not upset, I'm resentful.

Keep going...What about that makes me resentful? Don't I deserve a day off from my "job" every once in a while too.

Well, hello, now we are getting somewhere. I resent being treated like an employee and not a partner. I resent not having someone look out for me and take care of me every once in a wile.

You may feel guilty here, and think you don't have a right to feel resentful for/because [insert whatever reason]. Once again, you can feel however you feel, properly name it so you can choose the proper tool to deal with it.

I need the right tool to effect future outcomes, so the even better question is "what would I like to have happen?"

I would like to be able to depend on him to notice what needs to be done and not always ass-u-me that I will do it like it's my job. I would like to be asked, like a partner. Like a partner that you notice does a lot around here to keep things running. Like a person who may also want to sleep in.

See, that still sounds angry, and I can't make anyone do anything, so I waited a few more hours and thought on it some more.

Rational 8 hour after the incident (notice I couldn't wait 24 hours) me knows that my husband loves me, and wouldn't do something intentionally to make me feel like I don't matter, so that helps me to be able to calm down enough to talk specifically about the situation (and not his personal failings in the situation), and offer a possible solution. Like, "Hey, could we be a little more clear on who is doing what on Saturday morning because I was looking forward to sleeping in a few minutes longer."

See, totally rational and not angry.

In full disclosure, the conversation didn't go exactly as planned, and I got angry again, but because I put so much thought into what I wanted to achieve, I was able to hold off snapping, take a deep breath and explain how his behavior made me feel in addition to wanting to sleep, so how could we change this together? And, I got a solution and an apology (and I didn't gloat until I was alone).

It's been a week so far. I have had a couple of opportunities to practice. I've missed the pause button a few times, which is fine. I'll keep working on it building the new habit because I have also hit it a few times with success, and success feels better than anger.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Resolving to Be More Intentional Starts with Being Less Busy and Here Is the Plan

How to live simply


It all keeps coming back to my circle of influence. What can I do with what I have to work with?

But, if I have too much, then I'm paralyzed and do nothing.

I love reading the Little House books. I read them every year or two and have done so since I was 8. They have gotten me through more than one down period in my life. I think it's the atmosphere of home and family that I love and maybe the cozy factor. Here is a family that really had very little, yet lived large. I want that. I want simple baked bread, red and white checked tablecloths. Warm light and family reading, knitting, being together.

Simple doesn't mean easy. In fact, what is simple is sometimes the hardest thing. Having nothing to distract you from you. That's hard. Nothing to hide behind when you turn a blind eye to what you should do, your values, your dreams.

So this year my one little word is simplify. Simplify excuses, simplify stuff, simplify relationships, simplify distractions and obligations that don't support me and what is most important to me.

At the end of the day, I figure it comes down to Me, my Relationships, my Work and my Legacy.

Me. Meaning this is the body and mind I have. Simplify until I can get down to the essence of me. If I strip away all the stuff and the labels, who am I? What do I stand for? How do I want to spend my precious time? What do I need from my body and mind to support these things? What things do I want to keep that bring me joy? What's simply a distraction and not worthy of my time and energy any longer and keeps me from being an even better version of me?

Relationships. Relationships are what keeps you living longer and happier. Study after study proves that the bonds you form with others and the quality of your friendships are the secret to a life without regrets, one of meaning and happiness. Yet, we continue to be too busy, trading virtual time for real face to face time.

It is really hard to grow good quality relationships if you don't nourish them. How often am I "too busy" to spend time with my friends, my family, my children or spouse? And what am I busy doing? Looking at my phone or some other mindless triviality? Am I too busy running errands? Cleaning stuff I don't even like or need?

Are these things really more important than meeting a friend for lunch or coffee, or taking the kids to the park or for ice cream or simply giving someone your undivided attention for 5 minutes? It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but it has to be quality time. So, simplify until I am down to the stuff that really is more important than the most important people in my life (I'm thinking it will be a small list).

Work. How do I spend my time and energy? How do I use my strengths and talents? It is in serving something larger than yourself that you feel most connected and alive.....happy. It is up to me to find my meaning, or my "why" in what I do and how I spend my time. What makes me feel good about how I spend my time and what doesn't?

Working in a traditional environment (for a paycheck) doesn't jive with what my family's goals are right now, so how can I feel like I still contribute in some meaningful way? How can I still use my brain for a greater purpose than laundry and schlepping my kids around (although there will certainly still be that, but maybe I can simplify it to less....)?

One way is this blog. I get to learn stuff, try stuff, connect with and learn from others.

Second is volunteer time spent with people I enjoy, doing work I enjoy for a cause I believe in. I need these three things to be present for it to be worth my energy and time.

Third is my home work. Since I do stay home, the primary care of the home falls to me, and it's a job I haven't always relished, I'll tell you that. This year though, I making a mindset shift a little. Taking care of it is taking care of my family. Providing us sanctuary and a place to come together, to share, to live. Perhaps there will be a marketing plan implemented around the house to remind my customers of that (I didn't say simplifying would lead to me being a saint and above a good guilt trip).

However, I don't want to spend my whole day cleaning and cooking, and getting in the way of the other important things, so how do I simplify?

My legacy. What do I want people say about me at my funeral? What do I want to leave my kids, as in what values, what awareness, what skills, what memories?

I figure every day is an opportunity for me to touch someone in some positive way. To help someone. It can be something as simple as a smile, holding a door, an unsolicited compliment that I think in my head, but don't say out loud, or my patience when I feel anything but patient with the flustered barista making my coffee. Also, I tend to collect bits of information, so maybe it is passing on one of these bits to someone who needs it, be it a great bra, a good doctor, an easy dinner, a good book, a possible business or friend connection.

Bottom line, how can I help someone today? Well, I can't if my life is so busy I don't look or see ways to be helpful.

My legacy may also be what I don't leave - a bigger carbon footprint than is necessary. What that looks like, I don't know yet. How far I am willing to go in trading modern convenience for a larger carbon footprint remains to be seen.

So those are the 4 areas that I figure are the most important to me right now. How or what it looks like, I am not quite sure yet. Those are pretty big areas, and I figure the best place to start is by simplifying. Taking away stuff that takes up my time until I am left with just truth, time and space to make meaningful decisions, to figure it out.

Maybe peace of mind won't be baking bread and knitting by candle light, and maybe it will be, but I won't know until I stop being so damn busy to find out.