Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 9

Day 9 was a success! I am pretty excited about this turn of events.

Last night I took a shower before I went to bed. This made my morning fantastic. I wasn't faced with the age old dilemma of letting the baby whimper (or letting the 4 year old harass her) while I took a shower or just skip the shower again. I think this shower at night thing is getting added to my bedtime routine.

Day 9 included:
  • Up and at 'em by 8:30am. We were all dressed and fed by 9am.
  • Dishwasher emptied
  • Laundry rebooted
  • Calendar checked
  • Today's dinner plan reviewed, revised and implemented (more below)
  • Homeschool group attended
  • Lunch, nap for Miss A, quiet time for Junior
  • Cupcakes made and frosted while Miss A slept
  • Laundry folded and put away, then rebooted 2x during Miss A's nap
  • Kitchen tidied up
  • Worked on event planning for about 1.5 hours - significant progress made!
  • Got out winter/different sized pants for Mr. Amen to try on to take on his big Asia trip
  • Dinner with parents
  • Bath for Junior
  • My bedtime routine completed (dishwasher, calendar, menu plan review, reboot laundry)
Today's plan for dinner was originally to make a roasted chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions. I tossed that idea when my parents decided yesterday they were actually going to take the trip to Alaska (my sister is there temporarily) they were talking about and they are leaving tomorrow. So I invited them for dinner before they leave. Well, between my dad, my husband, and my pregnant roasted chicken is more of an appetizer than dinner. So saving that for another day. Instead I decided to order pizza from a fancier place than normal to celebrate my dad's birthday, which will be while they are gone.

UPDATE: When my parents got here they told us that they aren't going. My mom was pretty ticked off because apparently everyone else knew before they did that they weren't going. Yup, suck on that logic for a moment. I guess my sister was supposed to buy their tickets, but hadn't done so yet (typical...she usually waits until the day before or the day of to buy airplane tickets). Well, I guess my sister has some clients coming into Washington D.C. to meet see her and she is leaving Alaska and heading to Washington D.C. for a few days. So she called my parents this afternoon and said she was too busy to have them come visit. They could come some other time, maybe in November. When Mr. Amen got home from work, my parents were here for dinner already and I was out picking up pizza with the kids. My mom said, "we aren't going to Alaska" to Mr. Amen as he was unloading all his work crap from his car in the garage. He mis-heard her as saying "we are going to Alaska" and he answered, "I know." My mom asked him how he knew and he said, "Dad told me." So because of that my mom was angry with me when I got home because I knew before she even knew that she wasn't going on this trip. Which was not even the case. I love getting in trouble for not doing anything at all.

Which led to making the cupcakes this afternoon. My dad like devil's food cake with buttercream frosting. Not just any regular buttercream frosting though, he likes the recipe that his grandmother used to make for him every year on his birthday when he was a child. This recipe is not, 2 sticks of butter creamed with some powered sugar and vanilla. This recipe takes time, and patience. Now, patience is something my darling mother does not posess, so after his grandmother passed, my sweet dad went many years without this frosting. His mom had the recipe, but lived in San Diego and never visited us in October. Since I am the baker in the family, the recipe was inherited by moi! So I am the designated birthday cake maker for my dad.

I'm not gonna lie. The frosting is a lot of work. But I think my dad is worth it. He is the most incredible example of a husband and father. We would be lost without him. But this frosting. Ugh, sometimes I just can't. And with the kids running around, it really needs to be done with them not running around. It involves simmering water in order to ensure the granulated sugar dissolves properly so the frosting isn't gritty. Once when I made it, the mixer bumped my hand as I was adding the simmering water, causing the water to splash ever so slightly onto my hand, causing me to jump like a crazy person, causing me to splash 1/8 cup of simmering water onto my face, causing a minor burn, a scab, but thankfully no scar.

So no great-grandma's buttercream today. Just regular buttercream will have to do. When we get the whole family together upon their return, I'll do the real deal and show you pictures.

Also, did you happen to notice that I slipped into list, ever so innocently, that we attended the homeschool group today at our parish? Junior loved it! He made friends with 3 other little boys about his age and he introduced himself to one of the older boys (a teenager - the son of a friend of mine from church) and asked him if he would show him how to play basketball. It was the sweetest. Not just because my darling 4 year old worked up the courage to introduce himself to an older kid and ask him to play with him, but because this boy actually took the time to play with my son. He was very patient showing him how to dribble the ball, showing him how to position his hands to shoot the ball, and even lifting him over and over as my son tried to throw the ball through the hoop. Junior even succeeded twice! He was thrilled and so was I.

If days like this keep up, good habits will live forever around this house!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 8

Well, here I am on day 8 of my big habit forming challenge and I think I am seeing some progress.

Today was a pretty good day and even though I didn't get a shower in this morning (I'm sorry...that's just the way it is around here some days), I did get more than expected accomplished.

My morning routine was thrown off slightly by the lack of a shower but except for that and not making my bed, I did get everything on the list done:
  • Dressed by 8am
  • Both kids up, fed, dressed and out the door by 8:30am
  • Swim class for Junior - done (this was his last class. Because it is soooo expensive and he hates it, we pulled the plug on this activity)
  • Dishwasher emptied
  • Homeschooling done before lunch
  • Laundry rebooted
  • Menu plan consulted and dinner started before lunch (crock pot french onion soup)
  • Lunch for kids, quiet time for Junior and nap for Miss A
  • Worked on my new paying gig for 2+ hours
  • Holiday pre-planning
  • Dentist appointment for Junior
  • Fed everyone dinner
  • Parable Project at our parish tonight
  • Bedtime routine for the kids
  • 20 glorious minutes of TV for me :-)
  • Dishwasher loaded and laundry folded
  • Shower before bed
  • Reviewed calendar/menu plan and prepped for tomorrow
I took on a new paying activity. I am planning a big social event for pay. Not really my thing, but it fell into my lap, so I'm going to give it my best shot. I've done some party and event planning (besides our wedding) in the past for corporate events, so I figured I could do it again for a little extra money. The pay will allow me to hire a doula for Baby Waywei's* birth this winter.

I also mentioned that I did some planning for the Holidays this year. I started putting together my "flight plan" to get me through them smoothly and with as little stress as possible. After quitting my job, our income was literally halved so Christmas will be a little less extravagant than in years past. I don't want the kids to notice though, so I have come up with some cool ideas to stretch our Christmas buck and still deliver a WOW to the kids. I even have an idea of two things for my darling husband that I think will delight him.

If time permits during this month, I'll share some of the planning tools I am using for getting through the Halloween/All Souls Day/Thanksgiving/St. Nicholas Day/Christmas/New Year's crush with my sanity (potentially) intact. Last year's holiday season was pure struggle as I had exactly 4 hours available to do everything. Thankfully my sister was in town and set up my tree for me just before Christmas Eve. She is a life-saver of the sweetest variety. I took the tree down just before St. Valentine's Day, but was very tempted to just leave it up and decorate it for that holiday instead.

*Baby Waywei (pronounced:  way-wee) - name given to the baby by Junior. He insists the baby is a boy and that we are naming him Waywei. He made it up and "it just sounds like a lovely name" per Junior. We have explained that Waywei is not really in our ethnic wheelhouse, but cultural barriers mean little to a 4 year old. If the baby is a girl, he has selected the name Lauren after a little girl in his day care pre-school class that he wanted to marry. Neither of these names are on the docket for this baby. I told him that the doctor would just read the baby's tag when it comes out and tell us the name. What? I'm not going to be the one to disappoint him when the baby's name is not Waywei. Let the doctor take the blame. We also don't know if we are having a boy or a girl. The baby looked perfectly healthy and "normal" on the ultrasound a few weeks ago. S/he was waving to her/his siblings on the monitor. It was precious.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 7 - Menu Planning

One of my friends posted on Facebook recently looking for menu planning ideas. I think she is a pretty typical busy mom of 2 boys who wants to feed her family well, but isn't a professional chef and just isn't sure how to organize and get started with menu planning.

Menu Planning has been on my mind lately. When I am home alone all day for weeks at a time with 2 ex-utero kids and 1 in-utero kid, I spend a lot of time thinking about food, preparing food, cleaning up food, shopping for food, and wishing all these people could just feed themselves. But they can't. At least they can't feed themselves anything that is worth eating.

And I need to eat too. Not just junk food or whatever gorgeous thing happens to be posted on one of my food blogs today (I'm looking at you How Sweet It Is). I inch closer and closer to my 24th week of this pregnancy knowing full well that I am likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes again and that I will have to really watch my diet over the remaining 16 weeks (give or take).

Here are some thoughts, tips and tricks I've gathered over the years when it comes to menu planning. I find that at different stages of my life, different plans work for me and my family. For example, now as a SAHM, I need to plan all three meals a day every day, plus snacks - otherwise, CHAOS, whining (Mr. Amen), meltdowns (Junior), tantrums (me) and hunger (Miss A) take over! I never stop searching out ideas because I never know when something will throw a kink into the planning method I've been using, making it no longer workable or manageable.

Figure Out What Your Family Eats
Face palm, right? What does your family like to eat? If your kids can talk, ask them what they like. Ask each person in your house for 5 ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or just dinner if that's your menu planning focus). If you are married with 2 kids, including your own choices...that's 4 weeks worth of menus right there if they don't duplicate one another (leaving space for leftovers, eating out, pizza night, etc.). Ask them again when a new season comes around so you can change up your menu depending on what fresh produce is available at various times of the year. Most people aren't that into stews and soups in the summer as much as we are at this time of year (if it ever cools down, of course).

Think along these lines:
  • What do I/we like to make?
  • What do I/we realistically have time to make? (Take into account your busiest days and your laziest days)
  • What can we afford?
  • What do we need to get more or less of in our diet?
You can also look through your cookbooks or recipes you've cut out or browse some food blogs or get lost in the rabbit hole also known as Pinterest for meal ideas. If you do this however, be warned, you are likely to get overwhelmed. I don't recommend selecting more than one new dish to try every 1-2 weeks unless you have tons of time on your hands. New recipes take longer to make because you are unsure of the procedures to follow. Maybe you can plan to try one new recipe each Thursday evening because you don't have any commitments so you have some extra time. Or you can try a new recipe every 3rd Saturday because, well, you're just crazy like that. Or ask your husband or kids to select one new thing to try each week. Or throw a bunch of new things you'd like to try into a hat or jar and select one to try this week.

At this point, just make a list of recipes. If you cook by recipes most of the time, you can write the cookbook/location of the recipe to make it easier to find. Don't go crazy figuring out how you can cook everything on Sundays or make the most of your leftovers or anything like that at this point. Just make a list.
Salisbury Steak in process
What Kind of Cook Are You?
Not in a "I'm a pretty good cook" or "You'll need a hazmat suit for dinner" type of cook. I'm thinking more of a "What is your cooking philosophy?" Do you prefer to cook each day? Do you like to prep things once a week (or once a month)? Do you use your crock-pot frequently? Does your family eat leftovers? Can you remember to take things out of the freezer ahead of time?

Knowing your cooking style can really help cut down on the stress of meal times.

As an example, when I was working 55 hours a week with a 2 hour daily commute and a baby in the house, I didn't have time to spend an hour or more each day cooking. At that point in our lives we ate things out of the crockpot (dump the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning, plug it into the timer to ensure it would be ready when we were ready to eat). I also used a meal-prep service where I would go once a month and spend 1-2 hours assembling 11 main dishes. When I got home I would throw these main dishes in the freezer and pull them out 2 days before we needed to eat them (to give them time to thaw in the refrigerator). They were typically things that I could pop in the oven for 20 minutes to 1 hour and nuke some veggies in the microwave. These things kept us from eating cereal, sandwiches, and eggs every night.

Now that I'm home during the day, I have more time to prepare dinners. Not that I do every day, but I do have a little more freedom than having to rely on the crock pot every night of the week. But now I have a toddler and a preschooler who tend to hang on my apron strings, literally, while I am cooking dinner, so things that splatter grease all around are not an option.
But I mostly make cupcakes

So if you are the type of person who can remember to get something out of the freezer a day or two ahead of when you'll need it, maybe prepping several dishes ahead of time and freezing them, will work for you. You'll need to remember to keep track of what is in your freezer though, and have suitable containers for storing these meals. And perhaps most importantly, looking at your meal plan to see what you need to take out of the freezer and when so it all works nicely together.

Stock Your Pantry with YOUR basics.
This seems so obvious, doesn't it? But I've struggled for years figuring out what my basics are. Sure, I could use a list I find online about what a well stocked pantry contains. These lists are great places to start, but I have to remember that even though someone might think powdered milk is essential to a well-stocked pantry, we don't use it, so it's a waste of our resources to buy and store it.
Chocolate is a basic at our house
Look at the list of recipes, dishes, meals you and your family just compiled.What are the shelf stable things used in these recipes? Those things are your pantry items. If you use a lot of tortillas or taco shells - stock up on them. If you see a lot recipes with cheddar cheese - stock up on it (it freezes just fine).

So go ahead and try a pantry list, or two or three but whittle it down to what you use on a regular and frequent basis. Add additional items that you do use regularly, but aren't on their list. Shop for pantry items often and watch for sales and use your coupons to stock up on shelf stable items.

Don't limit your pantry items to just your pantry though. Think of what items you need to keep on-hand in your fridge and freezer too.

Get It In Writing
I drive my husband crazy by keeping plans inside my head. I do this mostly to avoid feeling like a complete failure when things don't go according to my plan.

This will not work with meals. Food spoils if you forget to eat it. Crock pots meals don't assemble and cook themselves. Meals get left in the freezer if you don't know when you are supposed to take them out.

It is critical that you commit your meal plan to writing. Maintaining it electronically is just fine as well. One way to keep it in writing is to just write each meal on your regular paper calendar (we use the Fly Lady's paper calendar). Using your calendar is especially helpful in planning meals appropriate to your schedule each day. Doing it like this ensures you don't plan a Chateaubriand roast and gouda souffle on a night when there is a soccer games for three kids at two separate locations on the opposite sides of town, a committee meeting at church and piano lessons.

Sit down and choose one thing from each person's "request" list for each week. Arrange them on your calendar on the days that work according to your schedule. If you need chicken twice in one week, plan on cooking it all on the first chicken day to save yourself time on the next chicken day. That way you could actually do a "better" meal on a day when you might be a little short of time since you already did your mise en place earlier in the week.

* A suggestion that will save you time & money - plan to use any fresh produce items in the first few days after your shopping trip. This ensures you don't have food that's gone bad before you get to use it (saving money) and keeps you from having to make extra trips to the store to pick up green onions or non-blackened bananas at last minute (saving time).

Once you have your dishes selected for each day, get your recipes together to make your shopping list.

If you use a recipe from a cookbook for Monday, put a post-it note on the page in your cookbook on that page that says Monday. Find your Tuesday recipe print-out and put it in a page protector, slap a Tuesday post-it note on it. You know your Wednesday recipe by heart, so make sure you have all the ingredients on-hand. Do this for each day and put the recipes together in a stack in a particular place near your food prep surface so you don't have to hunt for them. Or, if you are a techie, e-organize your recipes and drop them in a file/folder or for the week/month or use an online tool to gather your recipes - then you can just pull them up and cook from your laptop or iPad on your countertop.

Once you have your recipes together, check your pantry, fridge and freezer, then make your shopping list. Hopefully you'll only really need fresh produce, but more realistically, you'll need a few other items as well. Just grab your pantry list and highlight the staples needed, then add this week's items (or the next 2 weeks items) to your list.

* There are all kinds of ways to organize a shopping list: by store, by aisle in the store, by category, by the way you prefer to walk through the store; electronic (we like Cozi because we can both see it all the time and we can both add things to it; we keep birthday lists, grocery lists, Christmas lists and other shopping lists this way), handwritten, typed, templates. It doesn't matter how you do it - do what works for you.

Another big component to getting your plan together will be to set reminders for yourself. If you need to take the ground beef out of the freezer on Tuesday evening so it's ready for Wednesday evening's meal, set a reminder on your electronic calendar (google calendar or Cozi are two that I've used that have worked well for me). There's nothing like an email or text message reminding me to get dinner ready. If you need to remember to get things ready for the crock pot for Tuesday, set a reminder for Monday evening to gather anything you need to prep, then set another reminder on Tuesday morning to set up the crock pot/set the timer before you head out the door in the morning. We all respond to our electronic leashes promptly, so make them work for you for once! If e-reminders won't work for you, put a post-it note where you'll see it (bathroom mirror, coffee mug, car door window, cell phone, on your keys, at eye level as you walk out your door in the morning - wherever you can't miss it).

Execute the Plan
Lastly, you have to execute your plan. Did you decide that you were going to spend your day off prepping meals for your freezer? Then you have to do it. Did you decide that Thursday evening is your grocery shopping night? Then you have to get in the car and go to the grocery store on Thursday evening.

If you don't execute your plan, you may as well have not even made one. I think many people will get excited to do the planning and organizing their particular system, but when it comes to the execution stage...dum, dum, dum, things fall apart. Executing your plan is the most important step to having a plan. Unless your family enjoys eating paper or 0s and 1s for dinner, then feel free to just make a plan. I'm betting they don't, so execute, execute, execute.

OK, so you just executed your plan. And it was a nightmare or just felt off or it was soooo close to working for you.

Change it. Go ahead, you have my permission to change your next plan. What worked? Do it again! What didn't? Scrap it, toss it, burn it (pun intended). Try something different next time. Don't stick to a bad plan just because it is what you wrote down once upon a time. This is real life people!! And this is food we're talking about.

Other Tidbits & Ideas
  • Don't do all the work yourself. If you have older children, teach them to each make 2-3 meals and make them responsible for family dinner once a week. Ask your spouse to commit to making one meal a week, if possible. Even if s/he can only do scrambled's one less meal you have to contend with.
  • Build in a leftover night (call it a buffet to make it sound more palatable). If you make one thing each week from each person's request list, there'll be something there for everyone!
  • Keep a few frozen pizzas in the fridge or the ingredients to make bean & cheese quesadillas on hand (or your go-to, easy-peasy, ready-in-a-flash favorite) for the days that don't go as planned.
  • Know what's in your freezer. Keep a list of any dishes you make and the dates you put them in there - cross each one off when you use it (I keep mine on the side of my fridge).
  • Double a more labor intensive recipe and put the extra portion in the freezer for another day.
  • Consult your calendar or menu plan to see how old those leftovers are before eating or throwing out.
  • Keep your pantry list printed out so you can highlight the items you need and watch for sales/coupons on the items on your list. Tape a copy inside your pantry door so you can quickly look at the list of what should be there to see when you are getting low on something. 
  • Do the same for your fridge (sour cream, ketchup, hot sauce, lemon juice, swiss cheese, etc.)  and freezer (frozen veggies, pizza, chicken nuggets, ice cream, yes, it's a basic at our house). Keep the list on the side of the fridge.
  • Shop 1-2 times per month for non-perishables or items with a longer shelf life. Even better to only shop for these items when they are on sale and you have a coupon. Check the brand website for coupons on the items you use!
  • You don't have to menu plan or grocery shop on Sunday. Do it on a day that works for you. Your family's weekly rhythm may run on a Tuesday-Monday schedule and that's perfectly fine!
  • Shop weekly for fresh produce. Find our when your grocery store re-stocks the fresh produce and go that day!
  • Shop from a list and eat something before you go to the store. Not only will this keep you focused and help you remember everything you need, but you won't waste money on things that sounded good at the moment, but'll never get used.
  • Use a reminder system that works for you.
  • Make it a habit to look at your menu plan each night before bed so you know what the plan is for the next day.
  • Make it a habit to look at your menu plan each morning before you leave the house or get going for the day so you don't forget to start dinner.
  •  If you struggle with ideas, look at other people's menu plans and take what you like, leave what you don't. Here are a few places to start:
  • Get more fruits a veggies in your diet by using raw veggies or fruit as a side dish at your meals. They are very fast to prepare (or you can just buy the pre-made trays at the grocery store) and great for munching on as snacks between meals. I actually don't mind if the family walks past the table and grabs a handful of carrots or broccoli while I finish prepping the meal.
Got any other ideas or tips to share? I'm all ears.

Happy planning and even happier eating!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 6

Sunday is a day reserved in our home for God and family. We try to have a leisurely day and really focus on bettering our most important relationships this day.

This Sunday is a bittersweet day because it is our last "free-day" before Mr. Amen leaves for a 7-8 week business trip. He is doing a Japan and China trip back-to-back. There is one week between assignments, but it isn't worth the toll it would take on his body to fly back to the states for essentially 6 days. A 12-13 hour time difference is difficult to overcome for his 20-something co-workers...and it is especially tough on him (and us).

Today was about spending time together. We all went to Mass this morning together, then ate lunch together, then went to the cider mill together. Then the three of them napped together; well, they napped simultaneously; well, Mr. Amen and Miss A napped at the same time mostly; well, maybe not so much. Miss A fell asleep just before 2pm; Mr. Amen followed shortly after her. Junior was sent to his room to nap, tucked in, snuggled for 10 minutes, but he stayed awake for the next 90 minutes, visiting me in the family room approximately a dozen times to see how much longer he had to stay in his room. Miss A woke around 2:45, requiring a bottle and went back to sleep.
Just a boy and his monkey
 She was a hot mess (anyone else dislike that phrase?) when I went to get her out of her crib. Her hair was all messy and matted. Her shirt was pulled up and behind her head with her arms still in the sleeves. Her socks were off and thrown on the floor and she was jump-dancing in her crib while laugh-grunting. 
Just a girl, watching her brother, drooling cereal

Next, we all went to my parents' house for dinner, like we do every Sunday. My mom started doing this a couple years ago - hosting a family dinner every Sunday. It's a lot of fun with my brother and his family there and the kids all playing together. They were absent this week, but we went anyhow and enjoyed some time with my folks. My son says that PaPaPa is his "very best friend." And I'm pretty sure my dad feels the same way about him.

Then we call came home together and got the kids ready for bed.

Thank God for my no-nap policy, otherwise literally nothing would have been accomplished around this house today. During naps I did 2 loads of laundry, picked up the toy mess, spent some time writing, reading and praying.

Hope you had a very blessed Sunday!

P.S. - When did they shrink the donuts at the Cider Mill? We bought a dozen, but they were like mini-donuts. What an absolute rip-off. I'm gonna make them at home from now on.

Habit Forming - Day 5 - The No Nap Habit

One habit I worked hard to break myself of is napping. That's right I have a no-nap habit.

Growing up Saturday and Sunday afternoons were reserved for napping. In fact, I do believe I typically napped daily even in high school - falling asleep doing homework between school and dinner counts as a nap, right? Sunday afternoons when we got home from church, after lunch, my sister and I would curl up on the couch and put on a movie - usually something along the Jane Austen lines. Then fall asleep. It was always my favorite part of the week.

When I moved out on my own, I continued my napping habit on the weekends. Lounging around lazily, waking up and ordering a pizza. It was heavenly. After Mr. Amen and I married, we kept the tradition going. Weekend naps were the best cuddled up with my fella. After we welcomed our son, we were tired new parents so when the baby napped in the afternoons, so did we. And we continued this tradition up until recently.

One thing that bothered me as I got older was that I no longer found the naps to be refreshing. I would wake up with a headache and remain sluggish for the remainder of the day. I had the feeling I had wasted my "free-time" by sleeping and hadn't accomplished anything on my ten mile long to-do list.

So I quit.
Cold Turkey Style

Now I am a committed no-napper. Am I still tired in the afternoons? You bet, but I don't give in to the temptation to lay down and rest my eyes. Not even for 10 minutes. Not even if I set the timer. Not even if I set my alarm clock. Not even if I know the kids will be up in 20 minutes. I do not nap.

I use the time to catch-up in the middle of the day to keep things from becoming completely overwhelming by the end of the day. Nap-time is now mommy's break time. Well, if you consider these things a break:

  • Pick-up the family room/living room/dining room/kitchen of any toys/clothes/other random crap that has found its way to these spaces. This is critical to keeping me sane for the rest of the day. By the time the kids go for their afternoon naps (or quiet time for my oh-so-grown-up 4 year old who refuses to nap), the house is destroyed. They have to pick up before naps, but then I do the real heavy lifting after they are in their rooms.
  • Start dinner. Sometimes I cook the meal at nap time, then just heat it up at dinner time. Sometimes I do my mise en place during naps. Sometimes I do my baking if dinner doesn't require any pre-work.
  • Read. I take at least 15-30 minutes to sit down and read. It can be blogs, other stuff online, a book, a newspaper, a devotional, my Bible, doesn't matter. I just try to do some reading each day.
  • Work on our finances - update the checking account register, pay bills, etc. It is much easier to concentrate on this stuff when the kids aren't hanging on my arm or asking to watch the Alphabet Song again and again.
  • Pray. I might spend some time in prayer specifically for my husband or I might saw a Rosary or a Divine Mercy Chaplet. I might just spend some time meditating on the day's readings from Mass.
  • Every now and then I get the chance to watch TV. I am partial to Food Network (though I think the commercials they are airing are getting out-of-hand and are no longer always child friendly). Sometimes I'll watch an episode of The Office on Ne.tflix. We all need time to zone out, right?
  • Laundry reset. I'll go move the load I started in the morning from the washer to the dryer. If there is still a load in the dryer, I'll fold it. If I am feeling especially ambitious, I might start another load or if I am washing cloth diapers that day, those require three full cycles (well, really only 2 cycles and an extra rinse, but I usually do another full cycle instead of just the rinse to make sure all the soap has gotten out), I will start them up again, knowing I'll need to do another wash that night before drying them in the dryer or hanging them on the line the next morning.
Not napping has made a big difference in the rhythm of my day. It gives me the "break" I need to accomplish things without the kids hanging on me. It gives me time to "catch up" and get my peace of mind - or just a piece of my mind - back before the afternoon/evening routine kicks off around here.

So, on day 5 of my Habit Forming Challenge, this is what happened:
  • Out of bed at 7:30am, showered and dressed.
  • Both kids up, dressed and fed (liquids at least) so we could leave on time at 8:30am sharp for picture day at football. Che.erios in the car for all :-)
  • Picture Day at flag football. It was just my darling SIL and I with only 4 kids between us, so you think we would've been fine. But not really. It was about 85 degrees and humid inside the building where they were taking the pictures...and there was a gaggle of 4-5-and-6 year olds running around like chickens being prepped for supper. All the big kids decided they needed to use the potty at once so we took over the unisex, handicapped bathroom to wrangle them all. The 6 year old thought it was sooooo fun to push the door opener button repeatedly, until he was threatened with an untimely death, then it ceased to be fun. The 5 year old was having trouble with her pink leggings and was too giggly about us all being together in the bathroom. The 4 year old struggled with his belt and required Auntie's help to wrangle his boy-bits out from under his extra long football jersey. And the 1 year old just thought the under-side of the sink was the coolest thing she'd ever come across. Meantime, Auntie and I just about sweated our derrieres off and I wondered why I had chosen to wear light grey sweat/yoga pants. Now I couldn't sit down because when I stood back up all my sweaty grossness would be visible. 
  • Flag football game!!! The kids had a blast.
  • Home for lunch and naps for the kids and Mr. Amen.
  • Laundry
  • Finances
  • Reading
  • NO DINNER PREP!! Well, I mean, I did make sure we had chicken nuggets in the freezer and mac 'n cheese in the cupboard. My parents came over to watch the kids so we could go out for an adult evening!!
  • Eucharistic Adoration of the exposed Sacrament for an hour. I had the chapel all to myself as my holy hour is during Mass at my parish. Sometimes at the beginning of the hour there are a few people finishing up their penance having just come from the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), but not this time. There were 2 other Adorers there when I arrived and they both promptly left at 4pm. No one else even came in until 5pm. It was so refreshing to spend an hour with Jesus and to have Him all to myself :-) Swoon! I'm in love.
  • Dinner and movie date with Mr. Amen. He looked so handsome in his jeans, dress shirt and jacket. He's a snazzy dresser that husband of mine. I wore a nice outfit (should've taken a picture) - maternity jeans (what's up, stretchy waist!?!?), a white tank top, a black maternity/nursing tank over that, with a black sweater with green accents, my green pendant necklace and houndstooth high heels (6-inch). Unfortunately my hair was in a ponytail and I wasn't wearing any makeup, but pregnancy glow, right?
  • Indian food for dinner, Rus.h for the movie. We're Fo.rmula 1 fans, what can we say?
  • Loaded dishwasher, watched some TV, did some more reading.

So a good, productive day, especially considering all the sweating I did early in the morning at football.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 4

I had a great conversation with my sister-in-law as we sat at flag football practice watching the kids tonight. I told her about my series on ye old blog for the month. Before I get into our conversation let me tell you about her.

She and my brother went to high school together and they started dating in 1999 and married in 2004. She is a wonderful wife and mother to 4 spectacular kids (so far) and 2 fur babies. She is pretty, witty, intelligent, fun, kind and did I mention pretty? She is a birth doula and a baker and a great friend. Most of all she is a SAHM, and she is darn good at it. She'll deny this of course, but she is a very wise woman and I would do well to listen to her advice.

So I told her that I was struggling with adjusting to my new role as a SAHM. Most days I feel like I am failing at this "job" in every possible way. She knows me well and knows that I have wanted this opportunity for a long time. By asking a very simple question she really got to the heart of my struggle. "What are your expectations of being a SAHM?"

And that right there is exactly my struggle.

I want to take care of my kids. I want to make good food. I want to have time for leisure. I want to homeschool. I want to keep a clean, orderly and organized home. I want to support my husband in his role as provider for our family.  I want to have fun. I want our lives to look like what I see on other people's blogs. But mostly I want to enjoy being at home.

"You need to lower your expectations. I think you are just too hard on yourself."

Am I being too hard on myself? I know the things of which I am capable. I have high hopes and high ambitions. I will push myself pretty hard to accomplish the things I feel are important. I think she is right though.

I feel like a failure when I look around at the end of the day and the house is still covered in toys and unfolded laundry, but I should see my sleeping children with full bellies and be content with taking care of them. I feel like a failure when my 4 year old can't tie is own shoes, but I should be content with his zeal for sharing God's love with everyone he meets. I feel like a failure when my 13 month old leaks through another diaper, but I should be content that she walks straight to her room when I say "Time to change your diapee!" I feel like a failure when I look at our bank account and realize I could do better at saving at couponing/sale shopping to save us money, but I should be content that God has met our needs and many of our wants and we are very fortunate to have the resources we do.

Here's what my day looked like:
  • All of us up and dressed by 8:30am
  • Kids fed three decent meals
  • 2 loads of laundry completed (including one load of diapers, which is really like doing three loads)
  • Homeschooling done - letters E and F reviewed
  • Read a book to the kids (multiple times because they love it so much)
  • Ran errands to Lo.we's,,, dry cleaners
  • Worked on some writing I'd been wanting to get done
  • Vacuumed the floor in the kitchen because I didn't fit between the van and the wall in the garage to reach my broom (bathroom where I usually keep it is under construction)
  • Flag football practice done (we were about 15 minutes late, traffic was ridiculous!)
  • Gassed up the van (Mr. Amen pumped the gas, but I drove)
  • Dishwasher loaded
  • Junior bathed and ready for pictures tomorrow
  • Bed time routine completed, all items ready to go to football game tomorrow, including the camera
So I'd say it was a good day. Not perfect. But I feel content with all I accomplished. And that's good enough for me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 3

Today was off to a rough start from the beginning. Mr. Amen woke up late and got in the shower late and our son, who had an accident during the night, but changed himself and didn't even wake us up, woke up and immediately started talking (nothing out of the ordinary), but he woke up his little sister, who then demands attention. And today, big brother's attention was not getting the job done. She wanted "MAMA" and she wanted me now.

Which was a problem because I really required a shower this morning since I had an appointment with my doctor today for a biopsy of a skin condition. Gross and ouch!

So Mr. Amen left at 8am, and I was unshowered. Neither kid was dressed. Both kids needed to be fed. So I fed the kids while unloading the dishwasher. Then I totally forgot to do school. But I did remember to check our bank account to make sure our extra mortgage payment had found its way back to our account (it had - Thanks be to God!).

Then somehow, time completely got away from me and the next thing I knew we were "playing" the piano when my mom pulled up in the driveway, which meant it was after noon. My doctor appointment was at 1:20pm, so I jumped in the shower while Mom fed the kids. Then I took off for my appointment.

It turns out that when I entered the appointment into my electronic calendar (Cozi), I got absolutely nothing right about it, even though I confirmed it verbally with the scheduler before I left last time I was there. I thought I was seeing Dr. B today at 1:20pm in Suite 350. Turns out they had me scheduled for tomorrow with Dr. W at 1:20 in Suite 200. Seriously. Come to find out Dr. B left the practice and Dr. W was covering her schedule for tomorrow.

Of course, the problem is that my babysitter, aka Mom, was there today and is not available tomorrow. They were able to accommodate my scattered mess of a self and they squeezed me in with Dr. S at 2:10pm. This gave me time for a candy bar. Delicious! Gotta get that in before my 24 week glucose tolerance test.

The biopsy, I was told, would feel like a bee sting. However, the thought of a bee sting in this sensitive area of my body just seemed like a root canal with no anesthesia. So the biopsy took place as I practiced my labor breathing techniques (the doctor was not impressed, and I don't think she believed me that I had done a natural childbirth and that I planned to do another). Whatevs!

Then when I got home, the numbing agent wore off and wowee! The Sting set in.

Thank God my parents had us all over for pizza or it would've been soy nut butter and jelly sandwiches all around.

But I did get Junior's sheets and mattress protector washed and back on his bed before 9pm; and I did call our lawn service to see when they are coming out to aerate and overseed. My dad painted the bathroom. Mr. Amen loaded the dishwasher and all I need to do to make my list for tomorrow/check my calendar and get anything ready that we'll need right away.

So basically today was an epic fail.

Oh! And We have a mole in our front yard. He appeared last night and he has already done quite a number on the lawn.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Habit Forming - Day 2

Well, that was quite a day now wasn't it?!?

Last night I started thinking through my bed time routine a little more. Last night my routine consisted of:
  • load the dishwasher
  • clear the counters
  • pick up the toy mess in the family room, dining room, kitchen and living room (the kids do "clean up" before they get ready for bed, but they don't do a stellar job yet)
  • check my calendar for the next day's appointments
  • prep anything I would need for today and put it at my "launch pad"
  • choose my outfit
  • got ready for bed
I think it worked out nicely and I am doing the same thing tonight.

Now for how today fell apart worked out:

  • Showered and dressed by 8am
  • Both kids up, dressed and fed 9am
  • Installed gate at bathroom hallway entry (so I can open the door for ventilation in there to prevent mildew from overtaking the shower, but keep the toddler out of the room so she doesn't drink the toilet water)
  • lunched at home with the children
  • nap for both kids
  • planned dinner and executed that plan
  • grocery store run to return night time diapers bought in the wrong size and pick up 2 things needed for dinner (accidentally used the ingredients in other dishes the other day)
  • Bathed both children (with Mr. Amen's help) and got them both asleep before 9pm
That doesn't sound too bad, except that the plan for the day included attending Daily Mass and Homeschool Group. Those things didn't happen. Just after 9am my parents called and said they were coming over. My dad is renovating our half bath for us, free of charge (it is seriously ugly - before and after pictures will be provided) so I feel that I should just be here when he is here to help him with anything he needs, feed him, and get him water. So since they were dropping by unexpectedly, I didn't haul the kids out the door to Mass. Which means we also missed homeschool group.

But I think it was OK because while I was here visiting with my mom, Mr. Amen texted me and said he was expecting a package of shaving supplies from UPS today or tomorrow. Innocent enough, but the control freak in me needed to know how he had paid for these expensive shaving supplies. So I logged into our bank account to see if he had paid cash or used a credit card. I am so glad I looked at our bank account because I saw that our mortgage payment, which I set up manually each month, was deducted TWICE from our checking account. So our account was overdrawn. By a lot. But we have overdraft protection, so my credit union kindly transferred the money from our savings account to cover the overdraft, then politely charged us a fee to do so. Now our checking account had a very circular balance, as in $0.00.

Well, that about caused me to go into labor.

I logged onto the mortgage company website to see what the heck had happened. They had a message that they were experiencing problems with their payment site. So I called, but they said they were experiencing technical difficulties and disconnected me. So I tried contacting the "virtual assistant" on their website, but no one was available to field my questions. So I told my parents we had an emergency and I put the kids in the van and left for the nearest branch location of the bank that holds our mortgage.

The lady that helped me eventually was very kind and honest about what had happened. She actually just read me the email they received telling them what happened and what was happening to resolve it. Seems they accidentally processed the file twice and over 35,000 of the bank's customers were affected by this mistake. We should have the money back in our account today or tomorrow. And if I submit a bank statement showing the overdraft or NSF fees they will reimburse us.

So that little adventure, threw off our schedule a bit and threw me into a tizzy.

Which I recovered from by eating ice cream as the children napped.

Which caused me to experience intestinal armageddon the remainder of the afternoon.

Which made me want to eat comfort food.

Which made me choose this incredible recipe for dinner.

Which I made despite the fact that it was in the 70s and sunny today.

Which was delicious and amazing and perfect and everything I had hoped it would be and got my day right back on track.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Habit Forming

Not this kind of habit.

I have come to realize that being home with my 2-kid wrecking crew will require me to create some better habits. I could let the house fall to pieces and basically live in relative filth or I can build some routines to better manage this zoo.

I'll take Building Better Habits to Better Manage This Zoo for $1,000, Alex.

I've been receiving the Fly Lady emails for about a year or so and have tried implementing that system. It seems to do wonders for other people's households and if I actually follow through with her ideas, I think it would go a long way to managing the chaos here too. Except that...

I don't think the Fly Lady anticipated my unique brand of children. I referred to them above as a 2-kid wrecking crew and I wasn't exaggerating. Well, maybe a little, but not really.

Just before I started dinner yesterday, I picked up all the toys in the kitchen and put them where they belong in the family room. I also asked my darling son, 4, to come get all his crap precious things off the kitchen table so I could set it for dinner. He happily complied, but before I got back into the kitchen from putting all the "floor toys" back into the family room, which is literally one step away from the kitchen, my dear daughter had brought her purse into the kitchen and unloaded it and also found that "someone" had left the diaper bag unzipped and emptied its contents onto the floor. I saw the mess as soon as I stepped into the kitchen, but I didn't see the tiny Jessie doll before stepping on it. That dang thing is worse than a lego.

On Friday, I cleaned up Junior's room, then moved on to Miss A's room, only to have the kids destroy Junior's room as I cleaned Miss A's. Then when I went in to demand that they put Junior's room back together, Miss A slipped past me and strew the contents of her changing table shelves all about her room.

Basically, I am wondering if instead of trying to create new habits and routines for our family, I should just build shelves approximately 5 1/2 - 6 feet off the ground on every single wall and put everything on them thereby removing the temptation to scatter anything they can pick up. Oh, and they should just watch TV all day, every day so I can get rid of all these blasted toys.

Not my best ideas.

So I am using October as my "Habit Forming" month. This month I am going to work my morning and bedtime routines to the max. I am going to figure out the schedule that will actually work for this family. Finally I will be doing some major decluttering around here. I think that clutter is a big part of our problem and if I can get that stuff under control, life will run much more smoothly.

I'm going to use my blog to be accountable and to document my progress.

So far today, here's what's happened:
  • Woke up early and showered and dressed before 7:30am (minor miracle).
  • Finished homeschooling for the day at 8:35am
  • Took Junior to swim class and only yelled once when he peeked under the partition into the changing room next to us just to see "who is having a rough day over there" (again, minor miracle).
  • Made chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast
  • Spaced out and got sucked into the interweb for about an hour Not good!!!
  • Hung the cloth diapers out to dry in the sun at which time the sun promptly vacated the premises. The weatherman tricked me. They said 70s and sunny. Instead we got 60s and gloomy.
  • Fed the kids lunch
  • Put Miss A down for her nap
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Trimmed the bushes and overgrown trees and cleaned up that mess
  • Planned dinner
  • Typed this post
 A few of my bigger organizational goals for the month are:
  • Define my morning, bed time routines and cleaning routines
  • Clean up and organize the basement (well, it's only been 1 year and 9 months that we've lived here, so it's about time to get that mess under control). I don't expect this to be totally done this month, but progress must be made and clearly visible to my father. He has very high energy levels and very little tolerance for (other people's) clutter.
  • Meal Plan -  3 meals a day (with some wiggle room for leftovers and outings)
  • Get paper clutter under control (Fly Lady's habit of the month); focusing on family pictures, recipes, and getting our filing system in order
  • Get sprinkler system winterized
  • Finish organizing the closet and dresser/bookshelf area in our bedroom
  • Not getting lost in the internet during the morning hours
  • Go to Homeschool group and Moms and Tots group at our parish (introverted mama can't seem to get herself out the door to these events, but I must do this for my kids no matter how much it pains me to meet new people)
I am using several blogs and ideas to get me moving in a positive direction and I'll share that information with you as I go. I've been doing some reading on home economics, homemaking and basically how to be a stay-at-home mom. It's not a secret that I've been struggling with this transition to SAHMotherhood. I feel a little lost without a boss to be accountable to and deadlines to meet. I want to be good at this stay at home thing and I want to really live out my vocation as a wife and mother to the very best of my ability. So here goes!

Looking for a little serenity before the three kid tornado hits.