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Less IS More—De-cluttering Our Schedule

I learned a valuable lesson at the end of the summer.  When it comes to your life, de-cluttering needs to happen in more places than just your closet.  I realized that when scheduling activities for our family, sometimes less really is more.  We spent most of our summer running around doing fun things or work things or lessons of one kind or another—and we had very few days or chunks of time at home to just…be.  The whole summer flew by, and when my daughter started school this year, it seemed like the summer was a fleeting memory.  We really did tons of fun activities and visited some cool places around town, but I came to realize that given the choice, she would choose to stay home and play.  She got so excited on the few days I told her we had nothing planned and that we could stay home all day.  All she wanted was some time with her toys and her neighborhood friends—and to just be a little kid playing.  She NEEDS that time.  She is only little once in her life, and she should have the chance to really enjoy it.

So, I made a decision.  When it comes to our schedule, less will be more.  We already have tons of items on our calendars—PTA meetings, dentist appointments, professional commitments, productions to see on our season pass to the children’s theatre, etc.  It’s a mixed bag of fun, work, and needs done.  As we looked to see what activities to involve our kindergartener in, I was really excited in the beginning to get her registered for dance class, girl scouts, swimming lessons, and whatever else came along.  But, after some soul searching, I decided I didn’t want to be the parent who shuttled her kid(s) to and from activities all week long and barely had time for dinner together at home let alone unstructured play time.  We tried out a dance workshop—and as much as my daughter likes to dance, she decided it wasn’t want she wanted to do.  I listened.  No dance this year.  And, I made the decision that we would have no swim lessons the first semester—at least—to give her time to adjust to her new schedule.  So, for the fall, she just has girl scouts once a month.  We can handle that easily (especially because I will be the leader) and still be home in time for dinner as a family on those nights with time to play after.  And, instead of finding every family activity going on in my city each weekend and cramming it into an already hectic schedule, we are going to pick and choose. Some weekends (like this one), our only outing will be to go to the grocery store.  And, I am ok with that.  I will not let folks make me feel guilty for not having her in t-ball, or music lessons, or whatever six days a week (which has happened).  She is 5 and needs a chance to be a little kid.  We will still schedule some fun outings here and there, but it won’t be every minute of every weekend/evening.

Watching my daughter use her imagination and set up a “house” in our living room, lounging outside while she runs around playing with the neighbors, and playing Ants in Your Pants and Jenga as a family is too precious to give up for another frantic day trip somewhere or for lessons she’s really not that into.  The bonus, we are really able to spend time as a family and watch as our daughter grows and changes.  We have more time to listen to her thoughts and watch her mind at work.  While this line of thinking is a complete 180 in many ways for me, just thinking about it makes me calmer and happier.  And…I am really looking forward to just hanging with my kiddo while she plays today.

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A Healthier Me

For a long time, I have had the great desire to be healthier in my life.  My baby is five and I still am carrying around some of the extra weight I gained when I was pregnant–which is not good for my health and makes it hard to have the energy and get up and go I need with a five-year-old.  It’s hard to admit out loud to people that you don’t know that’ you’re not happy with the way you look and feel.  But, part of the blogging process for me is to hold myself accountable for the goals I set in my life.  One of those big goals right now is fitness and health for me–and it seems to be for many other people by the amount of pinterest boards and blog posts dedicated to fitness and healthy living out there.

My big goal is not only to lose some extra weight, but to also gain energy, to just to feel better on a daily basis, and to be a good model for my daughter.  To accomplish this, I have set out some goals.

Personal Truth:  I have come to know about myself that I am an all or nothing kind of gal.  I never would have thought this about myself, but it really is true.  For some things I want to make sure I do, I have to do them every day.  For somethings I don’t want to do, I have to give them up entirely.  You will see that idea reflected in my goals below.

1)  Exercise daily.  Finding the time and ways I can exercise took a little trial and error.  In my daily schedule, going to the gym is not really something I have time for.  I have had gym memberships in the past, and I did try one when my daughter as younger.  They had a childcare facility at the gym, which is great, but I hated taking my daughter from being in daycare for about 8 hours and putting her into another daycare for another hour.  I thought about going in the mornings to the gym, but the added time with the commute to and from the gym–even at less than 10 minutes one way–added too much time to my routine.  So, paying for a membership didn’t really make sense if it only worked for me on the weekends.

I realized I needed a plan I could easily complete at home.  But, there were some other truths about myself I had to take into account before a true plan could be made.  First, I am not a runner.  Some people absolutely LOVE it.  I am not one of those people.  Second, I get bored easily.  A repetitive routine is not the thing for me.  I wanted to be able to pick and choose what I did each morning.  My available work out time is before 5:45 AM–which means if I want to exercise for 30-40 minutes, I need to get up at 5:00 AM.  How to make all of this happen?

1A)  Go to bed on time!  Lights out by 10:30.  It’s hard to get up at 5:00 AM if you don’t get enough sleep–and even harder to add exercise to the mix.

1B)  Sleep in clothes I can exercise in the next morning.  Simply not having to change my clothes is one less barrier to getting my butt up and going. I simply have to add a support garment before I begin my routine.

1C)  Find exercise programs that challenge and interest me, but are not time heavy.  I have two workout DVDs that I do first thing–Bob Greene’s 8 Week Total Body Makeover and Jackie Warner’s Circuit Training–which I rotate.  Each of these DVDs provide 10-15 minute routines that focus on strength building, among other things.  I try to pair these with a 20 minute cardio workout from GAIAM’s Wake-Up Workout that I access through Hulu Plus.  I can run all of this through our media area in our family room–which is such a time saver.  Also, I don’t need a bunch of equipment.  All I need is hand weights.  I like the two part routine because I can vary it as much as I’d like, and if I have a time constraint that day for some reason, I can at least get half of it in during my morning session.

2) Eat healthier.  There is a lot involved in this part of my healthier me plan, but mainly it involves cutting out the bad and boosting the good.  First thing, I cut out all soda (or pop or soda pop) from my diet.  I found that if I even had a little bit here and there, I would start drinking more and more.  So, no more pop.  The other thing I would like to give up is some sweets.  It is amazing the amount of cookies, cake, etc. that is provided to you through work and friends.  And, I have little to no willpower when it comes to these types of goodies.  My goal is to “just say no” when it comes to cake, cookies, brownies, etc. when they are given away at work or gatherings–unless it is a family birthday.  I will allow myself the pleasure of ice cream or frozen yogurt–which is really my favorite treat and what I’d rather have anyway.  So, mainly give up pop and really limit my sweet treats.

On the other end, I want to add healthier items to my diet.  To do so, I have started pre-packing healthy snacks for my work days and have healthy snacks available for when at home.  Boost the amount of fruit and vegetables in my diet.  Simply having these items on hand is not enough though–I found if I wash, chop, and package these healthy nuggets as soon as they enter the house, we are more likely to pick them.  And, limit or eliminate entirely the less than healthy.  If it’s not in my house, I won’t eat it.

2A)  Pack healthier workday food.  I pack my lunch each night and add my healthy snacks right to my bag.  This saves me money and time.  Snacks include things like wheat things, raw almonds, frozen grapes, cut celery, carrot sticks, etc. that can easily be eaten at my desk.  I also pack my large fill-able water bottle everyday.

2B)  Meal plan and budget for healthy eating.  It can be a bit more expensive to eat healthier, but the benefits make it worth it.  By simply having a meal plan, we are less likely to grab food on the way home, and I know what we are eating is healthy.  I also make sure we have fruit or vegetables or both with every dinner.

2C)  Eat breakfast.  During the week, this means fruit smoothies with protein powder for the grown-ups.  I take a large bag of frozen fruit and scoop out about 2 cups and add a banana to a freezer bag–and repeat until the large bag is empty.  In the morning, I take about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of juice, 1 scoop of protein powder, a handful of ice cubes, and my bag of frozen fruit and blend it all together to make two small smoothies.  On the weekends it is high fiber cereal or a fancier breakfast of heart healthy pancakes and scrambled eggs.

3)  Be active.  I sit quite a bit at work.  A ton, really.  And, being sedentary is not a good thing.  I decided that if I am deep into a project at work, I need to make myself get up every 1-2 hours and walk around–even if it is just to the bathroom.  This keeps me moving.  I am also trying really hard not to just sit on my butt when I get home.  This first week back at work has been tough for this, because I am EXHAUSTED when I get home.  But, if I stick to my plan, it should get better as time goes on.  I don’t want to just sit around at night, and I don’t want my daughter to do that either.  I must model good behavior.  Plus, it would be nice to get outdoors more before winter hits.

3A)  Move around at work.

3B)  Don’t be a couch potato–this includes reading or just watching my daughter play.

3C)  Get outside!  (But don’t just sit round out there either).

To recap, I really have 3 main goals–Exercise Daily,  Eat Healthier, Get Moving–, but I have tried to personalize these goals to what works best in my life.  I think that’s the only thing we can do to be successful.  There is no cookie cutter program or magic pill that will make us look and feel better.  It takes hard work and dedication.  Also, the results will take time to show.  This is the hardest for me.  I want to see my hard work pay off–like…now–but it is a process and the long-term benefits are what counts.  I can’t expect to drop 3 dress sizes in 3 months or lose 40 lbs by Christmas.  So, instead my goal is to be healthier by the start of the new year.  I think that’s a good, reasonable goal.  Here’s to a healthier me by 2014!

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Why a Meal Planning Service Helps Me Stress Less & Branch Out

I wrote a few blog posts ago about how I do my meal planning.  You can see the whole post here.  But this is a general re-cap.  I plan for two weeks at a time (this just works best for me—some people plan for a week or sometimes a month).  I use the grocery ads and recipes and our calendar of activities to plan my menu.  This way, I can plan a quicker meal for the nights we have commitments after work.

The menu for the two weeks is posted on a Martha Stewart re-stickable weekly calendar—which is affixed to our fridge right about our dry-erase calendar for our monthly activities.  I just split the week into two with a dry erase line horizontally down the middle.  Having a list helps me keep on top of getting everything ready for meals.  I do make changes every so often, because life happens and I just move a meal from here to there.

While meal planning has been a given for the last few years, what I have found is that I like to try new recipes pretty often.  We have standard favorites, but I get bored with them and like to incorporate not so frequently made or even new dishes to spice things up (figuratively—not literally).  My family really doesn’t get bored, but I do.  And since I am the cook, they get to try new things on a pretty regular basis and we find new faves along the way.

To help find new recipes, I would check out a stack of cookbooks from the library or browse through recipe apps on my phone.  The trouble was, I would only find a few at a time—after a few hours, this felt like a bit like a waste of valuable time.  My brain begged for a better way.

Then, I read about the menu services you can subscribe to where the person sends you a certain amount of recipes along with a grocery list at designated intervals.  I was intrigued.  After checking into a few of the services, I realized I am also cheap.  I didn’t want to pay a subscription fee monthly or quarterly for this service, especially if I didn’t like what they had to offer.  (The sample menus only give you so much of a clue as to what you’re really going to get.)  Then, I stumbled upon a shout out from Jen over at I Heart Organizing about a specific service and saw the same service was running a special discount around the first of the year.  I thought, let’s give it a go.  It was $12 for 3 months.  I figured I could fork over $1 a week for the 3 month period, and if I didn’t like it, I could always cancel before the end of my run.  Plus, I could pick what type of menu I wanted to subscribe to.  Winner!

After working with 5 dinners in 1 hour for 5 months, I feel I can give it a thoughtful review.

Likes: 

This service is set up so that you prep 5 dinners in 1 hour and have them stored in your fridge ready to cook.  I like this, because as a working mom I am able to still get home and get dinner on the table by 5:30 or 6:00.

I have expanded my horizons.  I had never used the broil setting or made kebabs before starting this service.  Also, I have used my crock pot for more than making chili.  Many of the recipes use homemade marinades, so we have also tried many new flavor combinations.

The recipes on the classic menu are pretty healthy—and the recommended sides are too.

If you are not a seafood or pork person, she provides alternatives to use instead (usually chicken).

I don’t have to follow exactly what she has laid out for each week.  Usually I pick and choose and make up my own week worth of meals—but I can still usually prep it all in 1 hour on Sunday.

Concerns:

I worry sometimes that what I prepped on Sunday might spoil in the fridge by Friday—especially chicken.  To combat this fear, I usually make the chicken recipes very early in the week or I sometimes prep the night before instead of on Sunday (I know this defeats the purpose of 5 meals in 1 hour, but it gives me peace of mind.)  I really should check out the health and safety regulations for chicken and beef to put my mind at ease.  If anyone knows about this, let me know!

I don’t use every recipe. While we are trying to break out of the box, there are some of the recipes that I know we won’t like.  This number is usually pretty small, and I feel like I still get my money’s worth out of the service.  But, for some people this may be a problem.

I am glad that I started doing this menu service, because it really has expanded our horizons.  And, it really helps me keep my weeknight routines in place by reminding me to prep on Sundays.  While this may not be the ideal menu service for you, there are many out there to try, and you may just find one that fits your needs.  I recommend at least giving it a shot—I’m glad I did.

So, now part of my Sundays are spent prepping meals for the week and preparing snack size portions of goodies to go in our lunch boxes.  And, I am happy to give up that time, because it makes for much less stress during the week.  Anything I can do to make our nightly routine run more smoothly gets two thumbs up in my book.

**I was not paid in any way for this review.  And, yes I did in fact renew my subscription—but I did so with an even better deal than I got for the first 3 months.

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