Fridge and Freezer Frustrations – Uncluttering in the Kitchen

I am joining in on the 2017 Unclutter Your Nest challenge at Nourish and Nestle.  I have uncluttered a lot of my kitchen cabinets already.  I got rid of dishes, coffee cups, glasses, expired food, and some pans.  I still sometimes have some issues finding places to put things, but for the most part, I have a place for everything in my kitchen.  But I am constantly struggling with my refrigerator and less often, but every once in a while, the freezer (because we have a stand-up freezer in our garage, so that isn’t as much of an issue).

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I have been cleaning a lot of things in my house since getting home a couple of days ago (in an attempt to get it all cleaned up before school kicks back into gear), but I have not touched my refrigerator other than to throw stuff in there and get out what I need.  I have thought about it, but just not had the motivation to do it.  So, this is what my refrigerator and my top freezer look like right now:

There are a lot of things in there.  A lot that probably needs to be thrown out, but I always have organizational issues.  I’ve tried to use baskets and Tupperware containers and “zones” but nothing ever seems to take.  We have a lot of leftovers in the refrigerator right now because my MIL sent them home with us when we returned a couple of days ago and we haven’t been eating them much.  So, that’s dinner tonight.  And maybe lunch tomorrow.  I want to have a plan for organizing the refrigerator that I can use this time.

So, I think the solution for me is the same solution that I need to use in every other area of my home.  Simplify and purge!  We just have way too much stuff in there.  I tend to save things that we are never going to eat (trying to be frugal and such) and that stuff creates such a cluster that things that have expiration dates get pushed to the back and not used in time. In addition, I don’t meal plan (I swear I’m going to…every. single. week. but here I am without one in week two of the year), so I end up with a bunch of food that I don’t use.  That makes me feel guilty AND frustrated. I’ve joked in the past about shopping daily (I know, I know, all you frugal-minded people out there are breaking out in a cold sweat and yelling “NO!  Don’t do it!” at your computer screen right now) because then I would buy exactly what I was going to go home and make – some nights it may be a made-at-home meal, other days it would just be a frozen pizza.  I don’t know if that is the solution either though.  I am an impulse shopper, so more days in the store is quite dangerous for me.

So, I think, despite my idea of going every day, I really just need to meal plan.  So, I am taking Ann Timm‘s advice from over at Keeper of the Home (you see how that fits in with my one word from this year as well?) and stick with my commitment to doing the Plan To Eat New Year’s Make Ahead Meal Challenge.  I was planning to do it and then was visiting family last week, had a hubby traveling for work this weekend and a sick kiddo to deal with as well (diagnosed today with an ear infection and pink eye…ewwwww…but, she is on eye drops and an oral antibiotic, so we should be good in a couple of days) and dropped out of the first week of the plan.  BUT, that just means we can extend it into February now, right? So, I’m going to the store tomorrow and I’m going to get the goods for this week’s meal plan and do it.  I like the idea of prepping for a few meals on the same day.  But, this means that I need to have room in my refrigerator and freezer.  So, I went ahead and cleaned them out today.  Here is the result:

So much better!  And it didn’t take long.  I threw out a lot (guilt or no guilt), rearranged some things and grouped things by category.  I now have some space for things I will have to have for the meal planning challenge.  I will also have room in my freezer.

I’m hoping that I can avoid the Fridge Frustrations from that first picture in the future.  I just need to keep up with eating leftovers (or throwing them out if they aren’t going to get eaten).

 

 

Mind Blown: Mind/Cognitive Loads at Home and Work

You know those days when something becomes so clear to you that it is like when the eye doctor switches those lenses and everything that was previously blurry and dark becomes perfectly clear and strikingly bright?  Yeah, that just happened to me in a way that makes both my personal and professional life so much more clear and bright that I had to share. It seems especially poignant in my year of “making a home,” since it focuses on how much mental effort is really expended (mostly invisibly) in making a home.

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So, the first thing that popped up in my Facebook feed earlier today is this Real Simple article, shared by Working Moms Against Guilt.  The article focuses on the “invisible workload” that women carry in their brains:

Walzer found that women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. They do more of the learning and information processing (like researching pediatricians).

They do more worrying (like wondering if their child is hitting his developmental milestones). And they do more organizing and delegating (like deciding when the mattress needs to be flipped or what to cook for dinner).

Even when their male partners “helped out” by doing their fair share of chores and errands, it was the women who noticed what needed to be done.

The article struck a chord with me, not only because it quoted a poem written by a favorite blogger of mine from back when I first realized what having a chronically ill child was going to mean to my life, Ellen Seidman at Love That Max.  My daughter is not in any way comparable to Max in all that he (and therefore his family) has to deal with on the medical front, but she had a way of making me feel better about myself as a mother and she offered guidance for how to deal with all of the doctor’s appointments and anxiety and hospital stays and so much more.  But, back to the article…I recognized our own family, where my husband often asks me to “give him a list of two or three things to do” as if he can’t see the laundry piling up or the dishes sitting dirty in the sink or the garbage that needs taking out, etc., etc.  I make and record all the medical appointments.  I deal with most of the pharmacy issues for medication.  I schedule babysitters and dog sitters.  Now that our dryer isn’t working, I do loads of wash and then pile them in the car and take them to the laundromat to dry.  I then bring them home and fold them and put them away.  I keep our calendar.  In the day-to-day, it doesn’t seem like much, but as the article indicates, it takes its toll.  And as the author of the article includes, it isn’t just all the household management that we are having to think about:

It’s about housework, yes, but it extends to having to consider what neckline, hemline, height of heel, and lipstick shade is appropriate for that job interview, afternoon wedding, or somber funeral, instead of relying on an all-purpose suit; it’s about thinking carefully about how to ask for a raise in a way that sounds both assertive and nice; it’s about worrying whether it’s safe at night and how to get home; for some of us, it involves feeling compelled to learn feminist theory so as to understand our own lives and, then, to spend mental energy explaining to others that the revolution is unfinished.

I must admit that I’m not one for changing my neckline or hemline or heel height.  I am lucky to work in academia where I am not going to be the best-dressed faculty member, but I’m also never going to be the worst dressed faculty member.  But, as a female debate coach, I know what it is like to have to think about how to approach a conversation with others.  And yes, the revolution is unfinished, although now I figure I can just show this cover of Washington Post’s Express in response to anyone who challenges that notion:

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So, I can’t say I feel “good” about the article’s findings, but I do feel somewhat vindicated in feeling overwhelmed and exhausted much of the time and a bit frustrated some of the time.

But, it didn’t end there.  That was me noticing my own pain and suffering.  The real turning point came when I then read “Enhancing Learning through Zest, Grit and Sweat,” in Faculty Focus and I came to this last advice under the “sweat” section:

Mind cognitive load. Complex assignment instructions, confusing website navigation, and disorganized course materials increase unproductive cognitive load. Cognitive load should focus energy on the subject, not on the periphery.

And I thought about my prior classes.  I thought about how I have now realized how poor some of my navigation was designed on our Learning Management System.  I realized how at times, the course materials were disorganized and sometimes late being delivered.  I realized that, in the same way that I am suffering from a heavy mind cognitive load at home, I am placing my students in a situation where they are suffering a heavy mind cognitive load because of ME!  And I realize now how important it is to relieve that load.  I realize that, in the past, I have expected my students to “let things go” or I have told them to “remind me to post materials because I might forget” and that, my friends, is really not fair to them.

So, although I have already done quite a bit of reorganization and increased the clarity and focus in my classes and the assignment instructions, etc. I have a new understanding of the WHY.  I have a personal connection to my students’ frustration.  I am able to see like I have not been able to see before.

To conclude, thinking is hard work.  I am sure that I will continue to carry the load of thinking jobs at home.  But, I can now be more aware of when it is starting to wear on me and I can be more able to voice my concerns about it.  I will also work at ensuring I do what I can to allow my students to focus on their learning of the subject matter and not the peripheral “unproductive” cognition caused by my lack of preparation or awareness.  In the end, I hope that we will all have a year with less of a mind/cognitive load.

January 2017: A Look Ahead

Instead of doing a “year in review” for 2016, I decided to do a “look ahead” for the month of January.  I thought it might be fun (or scary) to lay things out for my month on the first day of each month and then do a check in at the end of the month and see whether my planning came to fruition or fell by the wayside.  There will be some affiliate links below.

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January is a relatively relaxing month for me.  Grades are in and I don’t start teaching again until the 23rd.  BUT, this year I am in the midst of a course redesign for one of my classes and I will be working through the final stages of that before implementing in the Spring.  But, I don’t have any teaching or grading to do, which is a great relief.

I have decided to do Stephanie O’Dea‘s calendar pages for my “homemaking“.  I only got a month to see how they work out, but I absolutely love the way they look and the motivational messages on each page for January.  I was using Motivated Moms calendar and it worked okay, but I like the fun and more motivating design of O’Dea’s.  So, we’ll see if I can keep up with it.

We are going to my in-law’s for a few days this next week and I plan to leave my laptop at home (!) and just deal with absolute emergency work things while I’m there (hopefully there are none).  I’m going to be focused on reading a book for a new book club I’m starting on January 10 (we are reading The Girl With All the Gifts).  I will also be reading Blogging For Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs in an effort to learn more about this blogging thing and take me to the next level, hopefully.

When we return, my DD heads back to school for a day, then we have to head to Stanford for a heart clinic appointment. We will also be starting a new activity for her – our local regional children’s theater!  She loved doing the school play and a couple of friends of hers are signed up for this production, so she is going to do it as well.  She will have a practice every Monday and Wednesday until the end of April for it so, it will mirror her rehearsals this Fall, but now she will have to be there EVERY day (for her school play she got quite a few days off while they worked with the bigger parts).  So, the Stanford trip will be a quick one.  We will leave after play practice on Monday, appointment on Tuesday morning and drive back so I can make the book club meeting that evening.  Wednesday of that week, I have a parents’ meeting for our Girl Scout troop because we are headed into cookie selling season (!), then a service unit meeting for Girl Scouts on Thursday.  That weekend, we may be traveling back down to my in-laws for another visit as my hubbie is going for a competitive shoot in Ojai and that Monday is a school holiday, so we can stay an extra day, but that is a crazy week right there.

The next week, I have a Girl Scout meeting with the girls where we will start our Money Manager badge.   That Saturday, there is a Digital Cookie Training session that my DD will probably go to for Girl Scouts.  Then…SPRING 2017 SEMESTER BEGINS!!!

My schedule this Spring is four days a week, but days mostly instead of two evenings/nights, which I think I will like much better.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach at my Community College regional center here in town (I had to commute 20 minutes to main campus in Fall, so this is a welcome relief as well) from 9 – 10:15 a.m. and then another class goes from 12:30 – 1:45 p.m.  So, I think I will try to stay between the two classes and do prep and grading.  It is nice because I don’t have people coming by to talk to me there like I do at my full-time teaching office hours, so I can actually get quite a bit done.  So, I’m done teaching completely on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:45 p.m.  On Tuesdays, I have office hours at my full-time, four-year University from 10:30 – Noon and then I teach two classes back-to-back from 12:30 – 3:15 p.m.  I then have a break when I can come home and actually eat dinner with my family before returning to teach my one night class at 7 p.m.  Thursdays, I’ve scheduled office hours from 9 – 12:30 p.m., I then teach until 3:15 p.m. and I’m done for the week!  I am really looking forward to this schedule.  I am hoping that with this schedule, we can have family dinners together at home every night.

The last weekend of January, I travel to St. Louis for a Speech and Debate competition.  I am gone Thursday night through Monday afternoon (I think) so, I will have to plan something for my students for that Monday.  And then Tuesday is the end of the first month of 2017.

So, yeah…that’s my relaxing January.  Now that I type it all out, it doesn’t seem all that relaxing.  But, I know that not having classes and grading makes a huge difference in my life, so it will be somewhat relaxing for me.

What’s your January looking like?

Redefining “homemaker”

For those who have been reading the blog for the past couple of weeks, you have read that I have chosen my “one word” for 2017 as “home”.  I talk about why and what it means in this post.  So, this campaign from Pine-Sol and Take Part grabbed my attention.  As a word person, I love the idea of redefining “homemaker” (which is what I truly wanted my one word to be, but felt like it held too much baggage for me to embrace it for a whole year) and modernize it into #makersofhome.  It really captures the sentiment I want without having to bring all the baggage along with it.   I understand that homemaker is not a bad word in and of itself, but I still like the idea of redefining it from someone who cooks and cleans the house to someone who makes it a “home”.

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The campaign itself is broad and the sentiment is lovely: “From a blended family with adoptive children to a single mom to a family with a special needs child, these stories show us that even as families have changed, love has not.”   We’ve always shared love outside of the traditional family unit, but I like that we are not just recognizing it, but celebrating it with this campaign.

I do cook and clean.  But, I often do it with resentment and frustration rather than as a way to “love”.  I want to change that perspective.  I want my homemaking to become more focused on being a maker of a home.  I want my home to be welcoming and comfortable and cozy and a place where I can celebrate our family and our place in the world.  And our house may change (we will most likely be moving in the next couple of years), but our “home” will remain the same.  Right now, we don’t have a ton of space to host others or much money to invest in decorating and this is a rental, so we don’t have control or permanency to invest in renovation, etc.  But, that isn’t what it’s all about.  It’s about making this a home, in the cultural sense of the word discussed in this Smithsonian article rather than the dictionary definition, which isn’t nearly so meaningful.

A few things I have in the works to reach this goal:

  1. I asked my husband for picture frames for Christmas so I can do a gallery wall with our family photos.  I have one in our stairwell, but it isn’t all that great and certainly is not updated at all.  I think the last picture we have there is from two years ago and most are much older.
  2. I am starting to be more purposeful in my furniture choices.  We basically live in a house of hand-me-downs.  Some that I love and some not so much.  First order of business is to replace our dining room table.  I got my parents’ table when my mom passed away and although it is a beautiful antique that my dad refinished before he passed away, it is also completely out of place in our home.  It is large, formal and the chairs keep breaking (with a seven-year-old and a larger husband, they just aren’t holding up).  So, I’m going to keep my eye out for a good buy on a dining room table that is more our style.  I’m also on the hunt for a coffee table.  I like the open space in our living room without one, but we have problems finding a place to sit drinks and books and work and snacks.  Anyways, I will look for something free or cheap (I got a great office chair free today off Craig’s List that I will use with my desk that I recently moved from my DD’s room to my room to give me a place to work other than the dining room table and the couch) and be patient.
  3. I had a chance to listen to a podcast today while running some errands and the one that popped up was the most recent Abundant Mama podcast with Katrina Kenison.  I had never heard of Katrina Kenison before this, but she truly captured my imagination.  Her story of waking each morning before dawn purely for the purpose of watching the sun rise and how she found out her mom did the same thing because “she didn’t know how many more days she had on this earth and didn’t want to miss one sunrise” just brought me to tears.  The episode focused on her ability to find extraordinary in the ordinary and that, my friends, is what I truly want to make our home.  A place where the ordinary is recognized as extraordinary.  After all, with a daughter who had a heart transplant when she was 5 months old and has been through so much since then, every day really is extraordinary.  We just don’t take the time or effort to recognize that much.  I want to recognize it, not only in words, but also in actions and in our environment at home.

So, as I close this post, I am sitting in a living room with laundry baskets on our love seat and chair full of clean laundry that needs to be folded.  Piles of student papers on the floor and one of the seats of the couch next to me (grades are due in four short days, so these will soon be gone).  A dining room table piled high with a project of my husband’s and mail and papers from the past few weeks that have piled up there as we move them over when we want to eat or play games at the table.  A bar that has Christmas decorations and boxes from Christmas presents and more items from my husband’s project (which he has promised to have cleaned up by tomorrow).  The vacuum is sitting in the hallway where I used it earlier today.  A blanket is on the floor, along with some shoes.  It is by no means picture perfect, but it is a reflection of us.  It is a home that we use (for projects and reading and folding laundry) and one that we snuggle up in (with blankets to keep us warm).  The Christmas tree is blinking with memories on almost every branch.  And my bulldog is snoring next to me.  Would I rather our house be neat and tidy?  Certainly.  But, if it meant that we weren’t using it for things we cared about and loved and needed, than it wouldn’t be worth it.  So, for now, I will take it.  Tomorrow, it may get tidier, but somewhere along the way, it will get messy again.  Perhaps even messier.  But, if it gets more comfortable and it is well-loved along the way, than the mess doesn’t matter.  We are making a home in the Smithsonian sense, not the Better Homes and Gardens sense.

I hope that your home is one of love and beauty and kindness in 2017.  Please let me know in the comments what you think is the #makersofhome.

 

What would you ask of the wizard?

This weekend is my daughter’s stage debut in her school play, Wizard of Oz.  She has worked hard and although she doesn’t have any speaking parts (she is part of the Lullabye League, but they just pretend to sleep and snore), she sings a couple of songs and had two parts (Lullabye League and Flying Monkey) which required her to learn quite a bit of choreography and timing.  It has been fun to see her build confidence and was great to see her have a really good time last night.  Here are some photos:

It is a very cute production and her Principal has worked incredibly hard on it for the past few months.  It was a standing room only crowd last night and we have two more shows, one tonight and one tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t know if she will continue to love drama and performing, but it is a lot of fun while she does!

The production made me wonder what would I ask the Great and Powerful Oz for, given the chance?  What do I feel like I am most lacking in my life?  And am I really lacking that thing or, like the characters in the Wizard of Oz, have I had it all along and just didn’t know it?  It is a more difficult question than one might think.  We often answer questions like this very flippantly and without much thought.  “I would ask to be rich.”  or “I would ask to be younger.”  or some such thing.  But, thinking about the characters in the play, they ask for a heart to love others with, a brain to be able to understand and reason through things and courage to protect others and be a force of good.  But, Dorothy is who I most identify with.  I think I would wish for my home to feel more like a “home” in the emotional sense of the word.  A home that is happy and comfortable and warm and welcoming and full of joy.  A home where love prevails and everyone who enters can feel that presence.  Don’t get me wrong, our home isn’t lacking in love and we do have a good time at times, but the decor and the feel of our home is very much thrown together.  We don’t have many family photos on the walls.  Our furniture is mostly hand-me-down and not coordinated.  Our surfaces are often piled high with stuff.  It doesn’t always smell great because of the animals.  Our carpets are stained.  The paint has dulled over the years.  There are things that need to be repaired.  It just kind of reeks of temporariness even though we’ve been here for over seven years.

So, for 2017, I am going to choose the word “home” for my word of the year.  And I am really going to focus on “homemaking”.  Making a home that does all the things I listed above.  Making a home that I would happily click my heels together three times and go to any time I am stressed and tired and needing comfort.  Right now, I often want to click my heels to get away from my home!  I want that to change!

So, what about you?  What would you ask from the Great and Powerful Oz?

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