Preparation

Busy moms know better than anyone that if you want to be productive and accomplish things–ANY things–you need to have a routine and you need to be prepared ahead of time. At least I have found this to be true over and over again. I am definitely at my best and can do ALL THE THINGS when I have prepared well in advance. It literally calms me and makes my heart happy.

Is it any surprise then, that when I am on my game, I take preparation to the extreme? I’ve been killing it in the last few weeks in this department so I wanted to share some of my honed methods with you all in case you’d like to be a beast in the preparation department as well.

Meal Planning

I start writing my meal plan for the following week on Thursday or Friday. I take into account any events/commitments we have for the upcoming week and what amount of time that leaves me to prepare supper for each night of the week. I also plan in cheat meals or treats.  I use Google Calendar and also my planner at work to keep track of all of our events (we’re not super busy most evenings but if I don’t write things down, I will most certainly forget!). I also keep sports schedules and a calendar clipped on one of my cabinets in the kitchen (hubby can reference these).

**Full disclosure: I’m in charge of scheduling for my office at my day job and we are VERY scheduled. It’s not easy at first but it’s something you get better at over time. Scheduling is something I think about in depth and at length every single day.

On a busy evening, for example, we are in the thick of baseball season right now for my oldest stepson. His games begin at 5:30pm and I get off work at 4:30pm, leaving only one hour (not including commuting time and clingy toddler time) to eat something before his games. Clearly, these are nights when I need to have something ready to go in the fridge that can just be microwaved and eaten immediately. This was the case last night so I had some fancy meatballs ready in the fridge. After using this recipe a few times, my family prefers hamburger to turkey and cheddar cheese to mozzarella in the middle of the balls (and yes, I do make Schweddy Ball jokes to my husband while we are eating these). You could change up any of the chopped veggies too (hidden veggies for the win!). They’re pretty yummy balls, who doesn’t love a good ball? I also packed a few small tupperware containers with snacks for the game (cut strawberries, goldfish) so we wouldn’t end up heading to the concession stand.

On other nights, it might be easier to have something in the crock pot and mostly ready when I get home from work. Or, if I am cooking something (which is actually pretty rare during the work week), it’s best if I have veggies chopped/meat thawed/ingredients ready to go so that my cooking can be as quick, efficient and excuse proof as possible (if I’ve got all of the ingredients prepped, I’m much less likely to ditch my meal plan and order pizza). And, the toddler begins acting ravenous around 5:30pm, so I gotta be on the ball!

As far as my meals other than supper, I try to make those excuse proof also and have something prepped and in the fridge for every day of the week. For lunch lately, I’ve been having salads. For breakfast, it’s been oatmeal with berries and an awesome shake blended with fruit, spinach, coconut/almond milk, ice and Shakeology. Snacks have been cut veggies and hummus or yogurt, granola and berries. Typically, I eat almost the same thing for 5 days in a row except for supper so you bet I make sure it’s something I really LOVE to eat.

Salad Prep.jpg

p.s. if my salad photo ignites some organizational feel-good vibes for you,  have you ever looked at “Meal Prep Porn” on Pinterest or just a google image search? It’s one of my happy places.

Whatever the meal plan is for the week, it’s all written in advance before I go to the grocery store on Saturdays. I also find it’s been helpful to put my written meal plan somewhere visible in the kitchen (on the fridge, taped to the cabinet, stuck to the microwave with a magnet–whatever works as long as it’s visible).

Now–the toughest part of all of this (for me, anyway) is to get a solid 4-6 hours on the weekend to get all of this food ready. That includes my trip to the grocery store, chopping all fruits and veggies, cooking my oatmeal in the crockpot and portioning out into small containers, prepping my lunch salads, putting together the crockpot meals in a ziploc bag and freezing if necessary so they’re ready for the day I need them (this can be done weeks in advance as well if you’re freezing), cooking any other suppers in advance to have ready in the fridge too. This is A CRAP LOAD of work. Some weekends I can get more done than others and my plans are bigger than I have time or energy for. BUT–this weekend prep time is what truly sets me up for success for the week so I don’t get caught with pants down when it comes to meal time and make a crappy food decision.

I also don’t want to give anyone the illusion that I’m perfect when it comes to all of this. There have been weeks–and I’m not proud of this–that I have let prepared salads and chopped veggies go bad in my fridge because I fed my emotions junk food and drive-thru instead of sticking to my meal plan. Thinking of the money I wasted makes me feel kind of sick. But, I’ll keep starting over as many times as I need to. It gets easier every time :).

A few other small things I do daily to save myself time and keep myself on track:

Having water bottles filled and in the fridge so I can easily grab and go. I know 6 water bottles seems intense and I don’t usually make it through all of them in one day (they total up to 160 oz) but I share them with the toddler or forget them in the fridge at work frequently so it’s good to have backups.

Water bottles

Laying out my workout clothes including socks, sports bra and underwear the night before. This saves valuable lunch break minutes and solidifies my intentions to workout. I’m setting out 2 outfits per day lately since I’ve been waking up at 5am to walk and doing my 21 Day Fix Extreme workout DVDs over my lunch break currently. It’s not easy to keep up this workout schedule and it’s not something I plan to do indefinitely but, when I work out this often, I literally have so much energy throughout the day, it’s incredible.

Workout Clothes.jpg

I realize my whole set-up can be a little overwhelming to the preparation newbie and I don’t want you to be intimidated! I built up to this level over time and there are some weeks when I am not at this level of meal prep as well, this is what a “best case scenario” week looks like for me!

It’s much easier to make small changes when trying to get into good habits/routine rather than bite off a huge chunk at once. It’s kind of a gross analogy, but it really works here. Can you imagine taking a humongous bite of something (let’s just picture meatballs here, shall we?) and trying to chew but your mouth is so full your jaw can’t move enough to make any progress and you either end up choking or spitting it all out? Don’t bite off so much meal prep that you end up spitting it all out.

Take baby steps!

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Snowballs

Please tell me that I’m not the only one out there that develops mini “obsessions” from time to time. You know—like when you get really, really excited about trying something new and you need to know everything about it or get all the accessories that come with it and it consumes all of your free time?  I need to know that I’m not alone here.

Some obsessions are pretty minor. Like that time I was obsessed with loose leaf tea for a few months. I mean, I still love loose leaf tea and I will probably drink a lot more of it again in the fall and winter months but there was a short period of time where I was OBSESSED and needed to try all sorts of flavors of get different kinds of steeping mugs….I went a little overboard.

Then, there was my short love affair with jane.com…..oh my. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t go. Just don’t do it. You’ll thank me later. But, if you’ve been there, then you probably understand the desire to try out EVERY $5 pair of fleece lined leggings or $12 adorable tunic because it just looks so damn cute on those models, right? And, they’re not just models, they become your friends because the same 10 models are used again and again so you get really accustomed to looking at pictures of them and knowing just how something that looks cute on them will SURELY look cute on you. That’s how that works, right? Not to mention the fact that these deals only last 24 hours! Get ‘em while they’re hot girls!

Over the years, I’ve also had some hot romances with J. Crew, Reddit (who can resist those meaningless internet points?), keto dieting, my Trek road bike, Dooce, Fitnessista (I still love you Gina–I’m just no longer obsessed with your life and becoming just like you–it’s not as creepy as it sounds. Just go with it.), looking up pictures of dead bodies on Mt. Everest–you know, normal stuff. I’ve also been known to really get into a good book series including audiobooks (before motherhood, obviously, when I still had time to read). Ok, so not all of them were good book series (I’m talking about you, 50 Shades of Gray) but damn if I didn’t get sucked into them!

Now, these “obsessions”, while some are innocent and entertaining, some were not always easy on the pocketbook and I’ve never been the best at managing money (there are blog topics for the future here, can’t you just feel it?) And, like the millions of average Americans in my age range, I have amassed large amounts of student loans…..which leads me to my newest obsession (and I’m really thinking this one is going to stick around for a long time).

Dave Ramsey.

Have you heard of him? Have you read his books? Do you listen to his daily radio show or podcast? Has he changed your life with a Total Money Makeover? Are you working your Debt Snowball?

Dave has helped millions of people make a budget and get themselves out of tons of debt. He’s a fascinating guy that’s made a lot of financial mistakes in his past but has now basically built a christian based financial empire that focuses on turning people’s minds around about debt. His ‘Total Money Makeover’ has 7 Baby Steps.

I’m on Baby Step 1. Save a $1000 Emergency Fund. I’ll have it finished in the next 2 months. Then, I’ll move onto Baby Step 2, which is to start tackling all of my debt, smallest to largest. Dave calls this a Debt Snowball. Basically, you attack your smallest debt first and throw any extra money you can at it while you continue to make the minimum payments on the remainder of your debts. You live on beans and rice. You sell things. You take on additional work to increase your income. All of your friends and family think you’re weird. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you take the money you were throwing at it and throw it at the next largest debt. You can see how you can really start hacking out some huge chunks once you really get going (picture a snowball rolling down a hill…GET IT?)

So, I know that this really doesn’t sound like any fun…at all. And, I have no idea how Dave has gotten me whipped up into such an excited frenzy about paying off my debt, BUT HE HAS!! I’ve been waking up at 5am and going on walks for the last week and a half, not just for the exercise, BUT TO LISTEN TO HIS DAILY PODCASTS!!

I am officially obsessed. And I’m on my way to financial freedom. And I feel empowered. And I feel like it’s all totally doable. And I’m not even mad about it.

No longer will I snowball out of control with pricey “obsessions”. I’m now in a romantic relationship with my budget.

Is it Bedtime Yet?

Oh man, last night was ROUGH. I definitely won a bad mom award of some kind. I felt like I was spinning my wheels getting no where. Here’s a rundown…..

-Picked up my toddler from daycare and arrived home about 4:45pm. Got her out of the car, into the house, put down my bag and purse, greeted the dog, took off the toddler’s shoes. Greeted my 10 year old stepson that had been holed up in his room with his iPad.

-Got prepared in my office for an important scheduled banking/student loan type phone call at 5pm where I needed to listen/provide some info.

-Limped through 20 minute phone call with a whiny toddler in the background. Tried to distract her with a crate of her books and peanut butter protein balls with chocolate chips (delicious!) but she made it very clear that she would rather climb onto my desk, pull my hair, rip earrings out of my ears, tear books off my shelves and rip a few of my book covers.

-Finish phone call as toddler begins officially crying. Give her a bottle of water, put on her flip flops and usher her and dog out the back door while yelling at stepson to join us (he didn’t).

-Attempt to water my droopy container garden while encouraging toddler to play with her multitude of toys on back patio rather than tugging at my legs and demanding to be held. Nearly trip over the  dog several times as she insists on chasing her ball directly into my legs.

-Take toddler and dog to front yard, turn on sprinkler for dog to play in. Try to engage toddler with more outdoor toys with no luck. Knock on stepsons bedroom window and ask him to come play with us (he declines). Determine it’s just too hot outside and take dog and toddler back inside at about 5:45pm. Towel off dog.

-Start preparing supper for toddler and myself (leftover cauliflower cheesy sticks with tomato dipping sauce). Toddler is very intrigued with tomato sauce. She eats a little. Cut up a mini watermelon and offer some to toddler. She eats a little. Ask stepson what he’d like for supper (he’s a very picky eater) and offer him watermelon (he declines the watermelon and doesn’t respond to my supper question).

-Use the restroom. Toddler insists on sitting in my lap so that she can reach necklaces hanging on the wall next to the toilet and try to yank them off their hooks. I convince her to go in the shower and play peek-a-boo by opening and closing the shower door so I can finish.

-For the next 30 minutes, I attempt to engage the toddler with some toys and books in the living room and her bedroom and even try to get her to sit with me on the couch, relax and watch a little TV. She’s just so whiny tonight, I’m not sure what her deal is, I can’t get her to stop fussing. Could be teething? (I feel like I’ve been using that excuse for her for a year now). The dog (who should be exhausted from her outdoor play) has a sudden burst of energy and growls and chases my feet continuously and pounces on me. I get frustrated with the dog and put her in her kennel. I get frustrated with the toddler and finally ask her brother to watch her for a few minutes in his bedroom (she loves his bedroom, so many off-limits toys) while I run outside quickly to pick up some of the outdoor toys we drug out and finish watering my plants.

-Come back inside, turn on Disney movie for toddler and stepson and prepare for video call I want to participate in for my fitness coaching side gig. Toddler screams throughout video call, pulls my hair, tries to climb onto my desk, tries to pull everything off of my desk when I don’t let her climb onto it. Dumps out a container of puffs. Husband FINALLY returns home from work around 7:15pm and tries to tell me about his day while I try to listen to video call and toddler continues to scream in the background and rips apart some papers she got her hands on in my office. It’s a sad scene. Husband heads to shower (he smells like pigs) and leaves me with toddler (I promise she’s not normally this unpleasant).

-I’m getting very frustrated. I nearly begin to cry as I hear a few sentences from the speaker on the video call about investing enough time into your business in between toddler whines and trying to coax her with toys or soothe her by holding her on my lap (she responds by smacking my cheeks). The call ends at 7:30pm just as husband emerges from the bathroom. He senses my frustration and is confused by it. He thinks I’m mad at him for getting home so late. I try to explain that I just wanted to get a few things accomplished and it just seems impossible.

-Husband asks if I’ve fixed anything for stepson to eat and I realize I hadn’t followed up with him about his supper. Ugh, I’m a horrible mom. I’m not accustomed to having him here during the week but it’s summer break. Husband asks if I’ve fed dog yet either. Failed again! Husband feeds them both.

-I sink into the chair into the living room and veg out for a while feeling frustrated and like a failure and a bad mom. I’m also exhausted. I start trying to get the toddler to relax and calm down at about 8:30pm.

-I finally take the toddler to our bed a little after 9pm because I’m exhausted and that’s about the only way I’ve been able to get her to relax and fall asleep lately.

-I fall asleep in the bed with her and when I wake up it’s 11:45pm. I bring her to her crib. Husband is finishing a movie in the living room with stepson and he comes to bed with me soon after that.

-What a pathetic evening.

-My alarm goes off at 5am this morning. Time to start all over again.

Mind Games

I play mind games with myself like you wouldn’t even believe. I hardly believe it myself sometimes. I get so sucked up into my emotions and they overtake my thought process and my attitude and, in those crappy instances, all I want is immediate comfort from these negative feelings. Immediate comfort for me is junk food, holing up in my house and vegging out, or shopping. All of these things are really not healthy behaviors and I know this, believe me I KNOW THIS. But, the emotions want what they want when they want them. I frequently give into them.

So, this got deep pretty quickly. But, I think it’s important to really understand the process that keeps me from being able to meet my goals on a pretty regular basis. These mind games send me into a downward spiral and sometimes even into a depression. A few negative emotions lead to more negative emotions and on and on and it gets really hard to dig myself out. It can get pretty dismal. BUT, this process also works in reverse! Some good emotions and healthy behaviors (showering daily, working out, eating healthy, being focused and productive) lead to more feel good emotions and healthy behaviors and, if I can keep it going for long enough, those healthy behaviors turn into healthy habits.

Some of those healthy habits that I’ve developed over time have even been able to stick with me through my downward spirals so digging myself out has gotten easier over time.

I’m always a work in progress.

For some, it may not be easy to wrap your head around all of this and my downward spirals and why I can’t just knock it off and be ‘normal’ and I get that. If you’ve never been through it yourself or you don’t have to fight your own emotions on a regular basis just to keep functioning, it would be really hard to understand. But, I didn’t really write this for others to understand per se, I wrote this for the people who are going through this and who do battle those negative thoughts every day. I want them to know that I do too and it sucks. But, I’m going to keep working at it and trying and it will feel like I’m starting over again and again but maybe someday I’ll have built up enough healthy habits that these downward spirals become more like a bad day here and there. And, I want to help other people feel that hopeful too when it seems impossible.

So, the whole point of this post was to tell you that I’m currently coming out of a downward spiral and that I’ve been feeling ah-mazing the last few days.

I got in a little backyard workout on my lunch break and it felt great. The dog loved it too. I’m excited to keep these good feelings rolling and see where they lead!

Backyard Workout

Fear

I’ve been reading blogs for years. I’ve fallen in and out and then back in love with certain bloggers over time and as I went through major milestones in my life, I’ve found new bloggers that were going through the same life experiences (half-marathon training, marriage, pregnancy, healthy meal prep, budgeting etc.) and I’ve felt comfort in being able to read about what someone else was going through that related to my life.

Clearly, this is a major reason why people write  blogs! So, I love reading blogs (we’ve established this) and I love writing. I’m not a fantastic writer but it’s always been a tool I’ve used to get my thoughts out clearly and concisely. I love the organization of it.

So, what exactly has been holding me back all of these years from finally taking the leap and starting a blog of my own?

Fear.

Fear of putting myself out there and being judged harshly. Fear of people not liking me, especially people I already know. Fear of embarrassing myself. Fear of failing. Fear of the amount of work and effort involved in starting a new venture like this.

I think I’m finally ready to face all of those fears and put myself out there in my own little corner of the internet. Finally.

Jenny-grass

 

When the weather is nice, I take my dog out over my lunch break to the backyard and let her chase her ball. She loves it. She goes crazy for that ball. It’s actually really fun to watch her chase her ball. We live next door to an apartment building. I’ve actually had residents of this apartment building yell at me from their parking lot adjacent to my backyard that they love watching my dog chase her ball.

So, Jenny and I were outside this afternoon (doesn’t the grass look amazingly green? I just want to roll in it), and there was this guy outside next to the apartment building. He had a tripod set up and he was talking to a camera. I’ve seen him outside talking to his camera a few times before. I have no clue what he’s talking about. It’s impossible to tell just by looking at him. He’s wearing a baseball cap, t-shirt and cargo shorts. Just a regular looking, slightly chubby guy in his early twenties.

I assume this guy is recording himself to put on the internet. In which case, he has absolutely no fear. This guy is standing there and sharing himself with the world. He does not care one iota that I’m in the next yard over watching him while my dog wildly chases her ball.

So, I’m ready to be that guy and face my fears and share whatever the hell I want to on the internet.

 

 

By Way of Introduction…

I’ve been reading blogs and dreaming about setting up my own for years. As a busy working mama of a toddler, you might be thinking that this would be the absolute worst time period in my life in order to do so and you’d probably be right!

I regularly take deep sighs and repeat, “this is just the phase of life that I’m in right now,” to myself, especially as I groggily hustle down my hallway at 3 am to the kitchen in order to find another pacifier for my screaming toddler that just tossed one between my headboard and mattress and absolutely will not go back to sleep until she has that little piece rubber back in her mouth. Notice I said my headboard and mattress. Now,  I’m not against co-sleeping and I certainly love snuggling with my little one but it’s just not a comfortable set up for my hubby and me and it leads to less sleep for all of us, including the 58 lb English Bulldog that also sleeps in my bed but that’s a story for another day. So, she’s only in our bed as a last resort on those nights and you can guarantee that all of us will be sleepy and crabby the next day! Kudos to those that make it work and enjoy it, baby snuggles are fleeting and should be cherished!

I also repeat that phrase on days when my house is messy beyond recognition, I need to call 3 people back, the dog is growling at my feet for treats and attention and the toddler is giving me only one of two options to choose from: 1) hold her while I prepare her supper one-handed or 2) watch her scream and cry at my feet. Have you ever tried chopping an onion (or anything) one-handed? It’s not pretty. These are the days I feel like curling into the fetal position under a blanket until everyone just stops touching me and demanding my attention, but we moms just keep soldiering on, right? The hubby’s work schedule only coincides with mine here and there so he often gets to miss this circus act. I frequently envy him (and maybe resent him just a little) when he comes home to supper on the stove and a happy, fed and bathed child to snuggle before her bedtime. Ugh.

If the scenarios above resonate with you and you like drinking wine (or coffee or Diet Coke), I think we should be friends. Can we be friends? I don’t really have time to make friends the normal way anymore and I think my coworkers (as great as they are) can get a little tired of me after 8 hours a day so how about it? I’ve been told I can be a little intimidating at first but I think that’s just social awkwardness that I somehow manage to cleverly disguise as intelligence. Crazy, right?

I may not remember your birthday or even to return your text messages everyday and finding time to escape my home without my toddler attached to me may be even more difficult than escaping Shawshank Prison a la Andy Dufresne. But, I will cherish and enjoy every precious moment of girlfriend time that I get my hands on! Sound like an enticing offer you can’t refuse?!