Change

Did you all think I had dropped off the face of the blogosphere?

Nope. I got a job.

As jobs go, the hours couldn’t be more ideal–I’m working only during the school day as an elementary school instructional assistant–so I’m home in time to shuttle my own children around to their activities, help with homework, and get dinner on the table. I’m free most of the same days as my children (including summer vacation).

Ideal.

Still, Little Six now has to go to before and after-school care, because I have to leave for work nearly an hour before he starts school, and I don’t return in time for his dismissal. We now pack lunches and set out backpacks the night before, and we grocery shop on the weekends like every other family with two working parents.

It’s a big change.

No more sleeping in, soap operas and bonbons. No more volunteering at school, running errands at 10 a.m., or taking a shower at 2 p.m. The dirty dishes sit in the sink a little longer. My desk looks like a bomb exploded somewhere in the vicinity.

I am physically wiped out by the end of the day–I’m certain none of you teachers is surprised–and I can only hope that I build up some stamina after a few more weeks. I blame it on those little chairs in the first grade classrooms and the challenge of learning a couple hundred new names. Not to mention fourth grade math.

A few things that have made this transition go more smoothly:

  • Ye Olde Crockpot. Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken saved us on my first day back to work. I took one minute in the morning to dump a package of chicken breasts, a jar of mild salsa (Aldi’s organic), and a good shake of cumin (instead of taco seasoning) in the the slow cooker. After eight hours on low, it was juicy and took a minute to shred for tacos. There was enough left over for Chicken Taquitos later in the week, and still more to put in the freezer for another taco night.
  • Weekend meal planning and batch cooking. If we can prepare at least one meal for the week ahead, we feel so much more relaxed. The Hub has been great about making this happen. Continuing our dinner swap arrangement has also been a lifesaver.

  • Taking advantage of after-school care. I could pick Little Six up within the first half hour, but we pay a flat rate no matter how long he stays, so he can stay until 6 p.m. if necessary. I’ve been picking him up around 4:30, which gives me a little extra time with the big kids and their homework. Little Six is a social kid who enjoys the play time–including art projects, games, and time outdoors–which is better than being at home playing Super Mario Bros. by himself while I make dinner and drill spelling words. The big kids seem more cooperative, too, when I can give them my undivided attention to hear about their day.
  • Keeping up with the (almost) daily laundry routine. Saving it all up for the weekend just sounds soul crushing. I managed a load three out of five days last week, and still had four loads on Saturday.
  • A shared family calendar. I put everything on Google Calendar, from all the kids’ activities (and what time I need to pick them up) to social events to school and work deadlines. I even add reminders for errands I need to run and when library books are due (we’ve been burned one too many times with late fees). Having a record of all our commitments in one place works for us. We can check it from work and generally rely on its accuracy. At least, I can’t remember the last time we double-booked something!

What are your best tips for juggling your work schedule and your home schedule?

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Fast forward

Maybe it has something to do with the shorter days and longer nights, but it feels as if each day is scrolling by in fast forward, each frame only on the screen for a fraction of a second.

palette cake

And so for the past few weeks, there hasn’t been room in the day for blogging. Holiday preparations, celebrations, birthdays, school and work have more than filled our days. We made another big step in our family room makeover. The Hub and I shuffled the furniture around (my arms still ache–those sofas are heavy!) and I took most of two days to paint the walls and trim. On Little Six’s birthday, we picked out a Christmas tree and did a little decorating.

DIY Tip: How to Hang Stockings Above a Fireplace Without a Mantel

Thread clear picture wire or fishing line from eye hooks mounted on either side of the chimney breast. Stretch the wire tightly and hang the stockings with S-hooks or wire ornament hooks.

The paint felt so very…white as I rolled it on the walls, but I’m happy with the decision. Everything feels bigger and cleaner. Sometime after Christmas we hope to replace the orange oak shelving with taller, wider white bookcases and put a pair of slim but comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. I plan to stain the coffee table a darker color (and give Mr. Six a big piece of oilcloth to protect the table while he’s creating).

I’m looking forward to filling this blank wall above the sofa with a gallery of the kids’ artwork. I have old frames to fill and a few new ones from Goodwill. I may steal some from other parts of the house and consolidate it here. We’re hosting a Christmas party in a couple of weeks, which gives me a deadline for the project.

You may have noticed that I abandoned my Monday Menu posts for the past few weeks. I’m getting bored writing them, and I suspect you may be bored reading them. I’m still meal planning, but I’ve been visiting my blog archives and stealing meal ideas from past years. Sharing my menu each week has been a wonderful way to develop the habit of meal planning, but I’m going to take a break from writing about it, at least for a while.

I do hope to share a recipe and project or two with you before the year’s end. In the meantime, I have some more decorations to put up. It’s sunny and a balmy 17 degrees, so this may be my chance to hang that string of snowflake lights on the porch.

Adjustments

I’m some three weeks into this new gig as stay-at-home-mom with all three kids in school all day. It’s a weird transition. I’m discovering that, as much as I enjoy puttering around the house, I don’t really want to be doing it all day. I’d like to be a flexible-work-at-home mom, but paid work isn’t exactly a faucet you can just turn on and off. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I suppose neither is my resumé.

What have I been doing between the hours of 8:30 and 3:00? I’ve learned how to update the website for a non-profit organization, written several blog posts, scanned some job listings, filled out an application, volunteered at school, and still tried to keep up with the regular stuff at home–laundry, dishes, meals, and the occasional bit of tidying and cleaning. I finally got my hair cut. I’ve only eaten one or two bonbons (stolen from the practice treat jar) and I’m decades behind on my soaps. I did watch an episode of North and South while I hemmed Mr. Ten’s band uniform pants up a good six inches (by hand, without cutting anything off–the uniforms have to be returned at the end of the year).

Kids in uniforms are so cute!

I have a host of projects I could work on–in the family room alone are three big projects: paint the fireplace, refinish the coffee table, and repaint the walls–but I confess, I haven’t gotten excited about tackling any one of them. I’m blaming this lethargy on the cold virus I’ve been lugging around for the past ten days. (Knock on wood, it may finally be on its way out. I slept through the night without coughing.) Yesterday I looked at the garage and thought, Ugh. I have to get started on this.

Since Dad cut off the concrete shelves that so annoyed me, I can now prime, paint, and shop around for a nice big mantel shelf.

In a minor effort to begin on the garage clutter and raise a little cash, I took photos and listed a couple items for sale on Craigslist. I spray painted a curtain rod (thanks, Freecycle!)–the one that has been propped up next to the refrigerator for the past month–for my bedroom. I even put the curtains in the wash.

The old rod is now in Mr. Ten’s room. While I was installing the curtain rod today, I was reminded that I still haven’t hung up the artwork or created a new headboard for his room. The trouble is, all these chores and projects at home expand to quite neatly fill whatever time I have to give them. There will always be more yard work, more piles in the basement to sort, and God knows, more laundry.

Part of me wants to whip through all the dark pockets of crazy in the house in some kind of organizational frenzy. Part of me thinks I should have done it all last week. Instead, I have tried to spend a little more time each day writing and researching a couple magazine articles. At this stage, with no paycheck in sight, it feels a little illicit, not-quite-real-work, so I assigned myself some deadlines. I even put them on the calendar. I know that if I ever want to earn money writing, I’m going to have to ignore the house for a couple hours. Think of it as a real job, worth the time and discipline.

When the kids are home during the day, a routine seems to evolve naturally, as the little tyrants continue to demand food and attention. Now that they’re at school, I’m going to have to create my own priorities. Be my own boss. At least until 3 p.m.

Summer ennui

For people without young children in the house, perhaps you don’t experience the change of seasons so viscerally. You go to your climate-controlled office, you come home, you go back to the office.  Things don’t change much from one month to the next.

Personally, I feel our American school calendar is for the birds. Nine months on, three months off–who needs THREE MONTHS off? Seriously, knock even one of those months off and spread the vacation days throughout the school year–or not–and we’d all be a little more balanced.

In our house we’ve all lost our momentum. The kids are bored and and snappish, and my routine is so out of whack that I haven’t planned a week’s meals in…three weeks? A month? I can’t take the anxiety of not knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner when five o’clock sneaks up on me. I can’t start some other project when I don’t even know what we’re having for dinner. Spontaneity is fine for other people, but apparently not for me.

All week I’ve been thinking about, and then avoiding, these eggplant meatballs. Saturday. We’ll make them Saturday. I finally plopped the eggplant in the oven to roast this afternoon, so we’ll be one step closer. Yesterday I didn’t know what to have for dinner, so I cooked a pot of rice (credit goes to Tamar Adler for that particular strategy). Then I got distracted by these corn cakes and decided to use up the four ears of corn in the fridge instead. With fried eggs and a handful of tomatoes from the garden, it did turn into a lovely meal (you should add a little more buttermilk to the batter, though).

I still wish I had planned it ahead of time.

Tonight we’ll be eating rice.

Real food

The radish seeds I planted ten days ago have popped out of the soil in little pairs of round leaves. My reading tells me I may have been too generous with my seeds, scattering them in shallow furrows rather than spacing them apart. I expect to thin the seedlings in a day or two so they aren’t too crowded. The next few days promise to be sunny, so I hope to see a few more of my tiny crops pop up in their raised bed, too.

I’ve been on a steady reading diet of books about food. At long last, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I’m tearing through Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss. I have a stack of gardening books from library, and my first issue of Urban Farm magazine arrived yesterday. My brain is swimming with conversations about what we eat and where it comes from.

All of this reading has crystallized my dissatisfaction with some of the food we eat (don’t get me started on the candy pushed at my preschooler at every turn). To be fair, our kitchen probably contains less processed food than in most houses on the block, and I’ve always been a proponent of moderation. I buy chips, but usually only if they go with a meal I’ve planned, not as an everyday snack. I don’t buy soda, water bottles, juice boxes, or any single-serve beverages unless we’re having a party (not counting the ginger beer and tonic water we keep on hand for cocktails). We rarely buy single-serve snack packages. Recently we bought a case of Pirate’s Booty at Costco for the kids to take for snack at school, but it’s just too easy for them to grab it as a default snack whenever they have the munchies.

The trouble is, some things are hard to moderate. For example, I haven’t been too picky lately about what kind of breakfast cereal I buy. My personal line in the sand stops at Red Dye Number Whatever, marshmallows, and chocolate. I like convenience as much as the next harried parent, but I’ve gotten more concerned lately as Little Five clearly prefers Golden Grahams and Cinnamon Toast Crunch over plain Cheerios, and regularly asks for (and is refused) them for lunch and after school snack. He craves sugar like nobody’s business, and wants dessert after every single meal. He doesn’t get it, but that hasn’t affected his demands. Honestly, I’m tired of the daily argument. Miss Seven, like her father, isn’t a big fan of cold cereal, but she will condescend to eat the sweetest ones. Anyway, I’m fully aware of the contradiction that while I’m busy packing their waste-free lunches, my kids are eating junky cereal for breakfast.

We had a long dinner conversation about better breakfast choices we could be making. Mr. Ten asked if there are different cereals we could buy that are healthier. This morning he learned to make his own oatmeal in the microwave and he confronted us with the ingredient label on the Trader Joe’s Cocoa Almond Spread that Miss Seven was spreading on her whole wheat mini bagel, so we had a little conversation about portion size.

Speaking of breakfast, we’ve embraced smoothies in our daily breakfast routine. It’s a good first step, but I’d like to work on finding other quick and healthy breakfast foods, since none of us finds a smoothie alone a satisfying meal. Some of us like oatmeal and other hot cereals with fruit, and some like eggs, but it seems everyone wants variety. Yesterday I baked a batch of healthy muffins (multigrain applesauce muffins, with just a splash of olive oil and honey), so that’s a good start, too. It might be as simple as refusing to buy cereal and forcing myself to bake and stock healthier choices that still taste good. I’m not putting my family on any kind of extreme diet, but we can continue our journey toward more whole foods, locally produced, prepared at home. And it’s just two more weeks until the farmer’s market opens!

Choosing busy

I read a blog post the other day about how people should stop complaining about being too busy, and just slow down. While I read the post, I found myself agreeing with it. I don’t like to be so busy. I don’t thrive on dashing from one activity to another. I’d like nothing more than a few uninterrupted days of NOTHING. Time to read a book or three, watch a movie, fiddle with a DIY project, work a little in the yard (if it ever warms up again, O Snow on the First Day of Spring). But then I started to feel guilty about the busy-ness in my life, and now I resent that article for making me resent (more) the many claims on my time and attention.

I say no to a lot of things. No to PTA meetings, no to chaperoning field trips, no to scouting and soccer and Little League. No to joining a second choir, no to Wednesday night club meetings. But there are still so many things I can’t opt out of–and wouldn’t want to–and it doesn’t do much good to anyone to resent the time they take.

Cooking dinner, doing laundry, helping with homework, sweeping up the crumbs, writing. Junior high band festivals, supervising snow fort construction, book signings with a favorite author. It’s all about choices.

Yesterday I said no to folding the mountain of clean clothes in favor of finishing the paint job in the bathroom. Little Five spent some quality time with Curious George and PBS Kids, and I spent an hour and a half painting the baseboards and giving the beadboard wallpaper a second coat of paint.

Today I skipped emptying the dishwasher, and instead framed and hung the kids’ artwork. Later this afternoon I’ll say no to folding clothes again and say yes to a playdate. But at least the bathroom is complete.

Monday Menu

Okay, Readers, I could use a little feedback here. I’ve been publishing these weekly Monday Menus for nearly a year now, in the hope that people would comment with some of their own meal ideas, and we could all make meal planning a little more fun. Making a commitment to posting the menu each Monday has been hugely valuable for me–it’s become a weekend habit to outline the week and often get the grocery shopping done, too.

But since people haven’t been moved to comment much, I’m considering changing Monday’s post in the future. I know we will continue to plan our menus, and maybe I’ll continue to share them some or all of the time, but I’m thinking instead about reviewing some of the recipes we try from our favorite magazines and cookbooks. We usually put new recipes on the slate and some are winners, and some are…not. What do you think?

Finally, in the next few weeks I’ll be working on a Recipe Index of all the recipes I’ve posted. It’s long overdue, but soon you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for without searching the archives.  I hope you’ll find it useful!

In the meantime, please do let me know whether you find these menus helpful, or if there’s something else you’d like to see instead. I always appreciate your comments!

But hey–here’s what we’re cooking this week!

Monday: Polenta with Fried Eggs and Swiss Chard

Tuesday: Pasta pesto

Wednesday: Turkey burgers, homemade macaroni & cheese

Thursday: Pizza Margherita

Friday: Crab & Shrimp Cakes, remoulade sauce, salad

Saturday: Korean short ribs, rice, Asian-style slaw

Prepping for progress

So much life and work has been happening in the past week. Along with so many of you, I haven’t had much uninterrupted time to spend working on home projects. Little Five had two days off from preschool, the Hub was slammed with a tidal wave of work, and then we had the Big Snow. Even though I couldn’t get to them, two projects have lingered on my mental list: finish the kids’ bathroom, and make the computer desk for the living room.

I know I already shared photos of the nearly complete bathroom, but I’ve discovered that the beadboard wallpaper definitely needs a second coat of paint to (hopefully) protect it from little dings and gouges. The baseboards still need two coats of paint. I’ve yet to frame and hang the artwork on the empty wall. The tools and the register cover are still hanging out on the floor in the hall.

If anything, this week of busy-ness has demonstrated how useful that new desk is going to be. After the 8 or 10 inches of snow we received on Tuesday, the Hub decided to work from home on Wednesday. He took my laptop and settled at the desk in the master bedroom, which is is the most private workspace in our house. I took my work (blogging and working on a grant application for the nonprofit organization on whose board I sit) and worked at the desktop computer in the living room. I’ve complained before about the computer armoire–how the kids stash their garbage behind the monitor, how the doors refuse to stay closed and the pull-out keyboard tray has lost all its ball bearings–but working there really emphasized the lack of good task lighting and a surface to spread papers and materials while in the midst of a project.

It’s true that I didn’t get either of these projects finished, but I did take some small steps toward making them more likely to happen next week. I took Little Five to the paint store and bought more of the paint I had run out of. I bought the trestle legs for the desk, and picked out which discarded closet door I’m going to use for a desktop. I pondered and consulted the rest of the family, and decided how long to make the desk and how to finish the top (a dark stain plus furniture wax). I bought Citri-Strip so I can strip the paint on the door. The Citri-Strip will later come in handy to start on Miss Seven’s long-awaited dresser, and the paint to freshen up the trim and door in the downstairs powder room.

It didn’t feel as if I accomplished much, but it’s good to know that when that slice of time appears in my schedule, I’ll be ready to jump into these projects and finally cross them off my list.

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. A list of things I ought to improve about myself that will mock me when I find it balled up in the back of a drawer in November? No, thank you. But today, as I caught up with the hundreds of posts in my Google Reader, I discovered that several bloggers had made lists of resolutions for their home. That seems nice and concrete to me, a list of things that, once achieved, I can cross off and pat myself on the back.

So here, in no particular order, are my 12 resolutions for our home in the new year. Sure, there are plenty of other projects bouncing around in my brain (oh disorganized pantry and sticky cabinet doors), but I think committing to crossing one off the list each month is enough for me. As they say, anything else is gravy.

2013 Resolutions

  • Paint and paper the kids’ bathroom; replace the shoe moulding; add floating shelves (bonus points: raise the light fixture and frame the mirror)
  • Organize the tools in the garage
  • Clean out the laundry room
  • Replace the computer armoire with a simple desk in the living room (maybe a DIY with an old door and some IKEA table legs)
  • Continue the landscaping project–at the very least, the vegetable garden and compost pile
  • Spackle and touch up/finish paint all over the house
  • Figure out two comfortable reading chairs and lighting in the living room
  • Refinish or paint the extra kitchen barstools
  • Cut down the rest of the old shrubs around the driveway
  • Patch the concrete under the garage door
  • Organize basement sewing area and kids’ craft area
  • Paint, refinish dresser and redecorate Miss Seven’s room

 

Do you have any home-related New Year’s resolutions?

Musical chairs and hidden treasure

We had a recliner in our family room that we bought just after we got married and moved into our first house. Twelve years and three kids later, the springs had detached from the frame and the padding was worn down to the wood on the arms. Everyone avoided sitting in it; the only protest when I gave it away was from Mr. Nine, who asked what he would climb on to reach his fishbowl on the mantel each morning.

We moved the chair from the living room into the family room so there is enough seating for family movie nights. But that left no chairs in the living room, and that’s the spot where we most often entertain. So we moved the chair from our bedroom into the living room.

We liked the chair in the living room, and have been thinking about getting a second one to make it a pair. In the meantime, we’ve been searching for something else to put in the now chairless bedroom. The Hub likes to lounge in the bedroom, away from the Legos, Tinker Toys, trains and Wii remotes that litter the family room. He wants a place to stretch out and read or watch tv. He suggested that if we moved my dresser from the corner of the bedroom, we’d have more room for comfy seating. He offered to move his things to the closet and empty his dresser for me to use. My dresser can be passed on to Miss Seven.

And so we did. I whittled my stuff from five drawers down to two (with a few things stored under the bed–painting clothes and out of season stuff), gave one drawer back to my husband, and kept one last drawer to store my jewelry box and a few accessories. But before I moved the jewelry box, I decided it was finally time to clean it out.

What treasures did I find in the jewelry box that my husband gave me on our very first Christmas? Thirteen plastic sandwich bags, each containing a single baby tooth. A large handful of loose change (helpfully corralled in a coffee filter, usually dipped into by the Tooth Fairy). Countless buttons, pins, nails, screws, and hair elastics. Two pairs of old sunglasses. Several luggage locks and keys. One pacifier. Four positive pregnancy tests. A stack of blank thank you notes. A tiny screwdriver. Oh, and some jewelry.

The story of my life in one wooden box.

I took everything out of the box and lifted the dust from the velvet lining with a piece of masking tape. I tightened the loose screws in the hinges. And then I returned only jewelry to the box. I put away or tossed everything else. Nobody’s using a pacifier anymore, and the excitement of finding out I was pregnant has been eclipsed by the real personalities those children have become. The Tooth Fairy still has a lot of teeth to collect at our house, so I found another convenient receptacle for the change.

We’re still looking for a chair, and haven’t rearranged Miss Seven’s room yet to accommodate the empty dresser. Time marches on, and every project begets another.

Empty drawers…so much possibility…