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Five Summer Kitchen Time Savers for Busy Moms

Categories: Making Time, The Juggle, cooking

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We are deep in the midst of summer. Nate spent last week at home with me while his daycare provider took a week off, and it was pretty great to be home, just the two of us, together every day. It was also challenging in some ways.

Because I work from home and Nate goes to daycare during the day, I am usually able to get all of the various errands, housework and other domestic tasks done that need to get done, as well as the work that I need to accomplish. Having a busy three and a half-year old at home last week made this juggle a bit tricky. I’m not sure I finished any task from start to finish. The kitchen remained a disaster area for a full week! It seemed like every time I finished cleaning up after one meal, it was time to mess the kitchen up with another.

I got to thinking about some of the ways I could save time in the kitchen during the summer months, and I’ve come up with this list of five of my favorite summer kitchen time savers for busy moms.

1. Put together a snack basket to keep in the pantry. A friend of mine recommended this idea several months ago and I’ve decided to implement it. Use baggies to put together a bunch of different kid-friendly snacks such as trail mix, goldfish crackers, raisins or cookies. Keep the snacks in the cupboard at a height the kids can reach. When they ask for a snack, instead of struggling to find something appropriate in the pantry, allow the kids to choose one of the snacks from the basket.

2. Keep vegetables cut up in the fridge. They can be used as a side dish with some meals, ingredients for a salad, a snack for kids or in our case, or for taking a packed lunch to work.

3. Keep a box of wine in the fridge. I’m totally serious. It takes up less space because it’s tall and you don’t have to worry about using a cork screw to open wine at dinnertime. Pouring a glass of wine takes only a few seconds when the box is ready to go in the fridge, and it’s always on hand for summertime guests who pop over.

4. Take an hour on a Sunday afternoon to plan out the week’s meals. Shop accordingly.

Deli for Dinner

5. When the weather is hot, forget about turning on the stove. Plan a deli night. Pick up some crusty buns, deli meats, potato salad and dill pickles. Everyone can make his or her own sandwich and fill up on a cool dinner that is just perfect for summer.

What are some of the ways you save time in the kitchen during the summertime, when the kids are underfoot?

Five Easy Steps for Successful Meal Planning

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, cooking

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The road to becoming a successful meal planner is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

I’m a chronic recipe collector. On a daily basis, I tear recipes out of magazines, pin recipes to the personal Pinterest board I call “Yumminess,” I print recipes from websites and stash them into a binder, I borrow cookbooks from friends and neighbours and post ideas for delicious dinners to my blog’s Facebook page. Does all of this make me a successful meal planner? You’d think it would, but no, it does not. It makes me a chronic recipe collector.

Homemade Pita Pizzas

This summer I’m determined to be a better meal planner. Planning meals makes life so much less stressful, and for busy working mothers, it can be a life saver during the time of day that is usually so rushed and when so many demands are being made by members of the family.

Standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner drives me crazy, and avoiding that craziness is what prompts me to do meal planning. I want to go from recipe collector to meal planner!

You can do meal planning on as small or grand a scale as you’re comfortable with. When I do meal planning, sometimes I only plan a week in advance, and leave out the weekends, assuming we will do takeout one night and leftovers another. Other times I’ve done a whole month in advance, plotting each meal on a dry erase calendar, using my recipe collection as inspiration.

Regardless of the scale upon which you decide to plan meals for your family, here are five quick steps for making your dream of becoming a meal planner into reality.

Make Meal Planning a Breeze…

  1. Collect recipes. (See my habit, described above.) Make it a habit to grab recipes or dinner ideas you think your family will enjoy wherever and whenever you see them. If your kids are old enough, get them into recipe collecting too, and engage them in choosing healthy meals they’ll actually eat.
  2. Pick a day to make meal planning your task. I use Sunday afternoons or evenings, usually, to sit down with a sheet of paper and plot out five meals I want to make over the coming week.
  3. Plan your grocery list around the meals you have planned. For example, if I know I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday night, I’ll see if all of the ingredients I need are on hand. Whatever isn’t in the pantry, fridge or freezer goes on the grocery list.
  4. Shop according to your plan. (Better yet, if you can afford it and want to save time, arrange to have your groceries delivered.)
  5. Post your meal plan somewhere prominent in your kitchen so you’ll easily remember each morning if there’s something you need to defrost or if you need to carve out some afternoon time to prepare the meal. Mine often gets clipped to the front of the fridge, but I’ve used a dry erase board, too.

Try to stick to the plan, but if for some reason, you can’t don’t sweat it. Meal planning is meant to make life less stressful. Swap out a meal for another night or give yourself permission to call for pizza if you run out of time.

What are your favorite sites for recipe hunting?

What tips do you have for integrating meal planning into your life?

How to Add More Hours to the Week

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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My husband and I are partners in a seasonal business that got underway for the year just this past week. Between that and our other means of earning a living, by the time Friday arrived, our week was officially a couple of hours short.

On Friday while he was on his way home from work, Graham sent me the usual text message.

“What’s for dinner?”

I groaned and texted back, “Don’t know yet, gotta hit grocery store before daycare pickup.”

Later that evening after I’d managed to scrape something together for supper, my plans to hit the local grocery store foiled, Graham suggested I do a little research into the possibility of having our groceries delivered.

I couldn’t get to the computer fast enough.

I was delighted to discover that there was, indeed, a grocery delivery service in our area and they would even accept payment at the door. No credit card required! As much as  I wanted to save time, I wasn’t willing to pay interest on our weekly food bill.

I put in an experimental order, arranged a delivery time and presto, the very next morning our groceries were dropped off, all packed up beautifully. All I had to do was pay and put them away. It was beautiful.

I started to wonder what other services I could use to save time, essentially adding hours to my week.

As I gushed on Twitter about my newfound love for grocery delivery, friends online revealed they have shirts cleaned so they don’t have to iron them. Others proclaimed their undying love for their cleaning ladies. One person even admitted to ordering tampons and paper towels for delivery to avoid multiple errands in a busy city.

As for my family and I, we will be having our groceries delivered for the next little while. I’m giving us the gift of time, for a small delivery fee that is totally worth the cost.

What services do you make use of to save time and energy?

When it Rains, it Pours

Categories: Career, Making Time

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Last week I wrote about how work seemed to come my way at about the same rate that it fades out of my life. Later that same week, I was checking out my Facebook feed and I saw a status update from someone in my network of contacts that caught my eye:

“Seriously, does anyone know who I can hire to create a website?

I got all excited. Although I am not a web designer by trade, I’ve certainly had a fair bit of experience putting together basic websites, including the site that my husband and I use for our own small businesses, several blogs and other sites of a similar nature. I’ve dabbled with Wordpress design and coding and so far I haven’t broken anyone’s website. I decided to reply to my friend that yes indeed, I did know someone who she could hire to create a website, and that someone was me. I supplied her with links to the websites that I currently maintain and she liked what she saw. After hearing from her about the kind of website she had in mind, I arranged to put together an estimate for her.

The next day I was working away through my marking for school and my mind was racing. I was making a mental list of all the work I needed to get done over the coming weeks and realized that I had over-committed myself. Again.

I had customers to follow up with.

I had orders to deliver.

I had events to plan.

I had ads to place.

I had projects to grade.

I had chapters to proofread and edit.

When did I think I was going to have the time to create an estimate for a website, let alone actually accomplish the launch of a high quality website the client could be proud of? There were not enough hours in the day (see the title of this blog).

this isn't happiness.™

(Image source: this isn’t happiness)

It pained me to do so, but in the end I sent a polite message to my friend telling her it wouldn’t be in the best interest of her business for me to take on the job, after all. I explained to her that I have a tendency to take on too much at once and I apologized that I wouldn’t be able to do the job for her, offering to refer her to someone else if she’d like. I turned down work, a practice that felt completely wrong and foreign to me.

Still, I’m proud of myself for understanding my limitations. I can’t do anything well if I’m trying to do too many things at once. This is one of the hardest professional lessons I’ve had to learn.

What are your professional limitations? Have you ever turned down work? How do you feel about doing so?

How to work politely in public

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle

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The other day, I was sitting in a corner of my local community center’s lounge, trying to finish writing an article on deadline while my daughter was in her gymnastics class.

A mom and her daughter came in a few minutes after I’d settled myself into my work. She must have a child in the same gymnastics class as my daughter, because they’re there at the same time I am every week. And, every week, the same thing happens: She starts talking loudly, either to her older daughter or on her cell phone, while moving furniture around to create a space in which her daughter can do her homework. If there are books on the small table in the lounge, she dumps them on the floor with an exaggerated sigh, and then (loudly) tells her older daughter to start her homework. She glares at the two or three other people in the room if we look up from our books or our laptops. She goes through her daughter’s folder, reading comments from the teacher out loud and announcing each grade on each test.

Which made me think: There should really be a set of rules posted somewhere, for people who have to work in public.
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When the work-life balance scales tip over

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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A good friend once told me that she thinks it’s hilarious that I write about work-life balance when I  have so little of it myself. I tell them that I really write about juggling work and life, my full-time career and full-on family, which means that when it comes to balance, I’m the fulcrum on which it rests, not the one who actually achieves it.

But still, she’s right. And now that my primary office is inside my own house, the scales have tipped way over to the work side of things. Which means that I need to do a better job of going from “work mode” to “home mode.”
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Working moms: We need to believe that it’s not selfish to take care of ourselves

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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I’m supposed to be on vacation this week but, as usually, I have once again discovered that I don’t know how to unwind. Even when I’m not at work, I rarely feel like I can just sit still and be; there are people to see and chores to do and the house to (fake) clean and kids to feed/amuse/maintain. And, after a while, I feel like a wind-up toy that’s stuck in the “on” position, gears rapidly working toward burnout.

The problem is that, with so much on our to-do lists all the time, we working moms have conditioned ourselves to believe that really taking care of ourselves is selfish, or at least not that important. When we do it, we justify it, almost as if we feel guilty about it: We “deserve” time to ourselves, we need to “make time” to exercise. Or, at least, I do.

And it turns out that I’m not alone.
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On dropping the ball… and picking it back up again

Categories: Career, Making Time, The Juggle

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There are times when you’re juggling work and parenthood and housework and home work and you drop the ball. Or a few balls, or– as happened with me last week–pretty much all the balls.

Usually, I know that if work is taking up a lot of my time on any given day, I can tilt the scales in the other direction and pick up the parental slack. But other times, the dropped balls seem so… numerous. And I feel so… singular. And I need more motivation in order to start juggling it all again.

Here’s what I do:
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How often do you undermine yourself?

Categories: Career, Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, Working? Living?

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Chris Brogan recently featured a brilliant post written by online marketing strategist Tommy Walker about the 106 excuses that prevent you from ever becoming great. It’s an eye-opening read, because I’ve heard myself say some of them time and again, but hadn’t really thought of the way I was undermining myself with my own words. Words like these:
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So, how do you do it?

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle

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“I Don’t Know How She Does It,” the movie based on the best-selling book about working moms and the juggle they face, hits theaters tomorrow. And while I identify with the character and disagree with the ending (of the book, at least), I don’t really feel like seeing the movie. I’m kind of tired of the whole premise: Woman determined to “have it all” faces burn-out or failure until she chooses one part of her life over the other.

People routinely ask me how I do it. “How do you work full-time with so many kids?” “How do you get back to work once the kids are in bed?” “How do you keep it all together?” I have a few answers:
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