Grief

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The weirdest month of my life, right here.  March 2020!  My father-in-law fell on February 27 and it turned out, broke a vertebra, and a week later, on March 5, he died.  The next Tuesday, my union went on strike and we were on the picket lines for 3 days.  With COVID19 closures looming we reached a contract settlement and the next Sunday we learned we’d be closed for the remainder of the month preparing for a massive scale distance teaching of children of all ages.  Said preparation was spent with my own two small children at home with me, competing with my husband for work time, and binging on faaaaar too much Facebook.  I let myself indulge in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve been eating a lot.  Too much.  Trying to avoid feelings.  Needless to say, my stress levels have been somewhat elevated.

On week 3 of this, we are settling in, figuring it out.  My husband started actually distance teaching; we are officially on spring break so ours doesn’t start for another week.  I’m sleeping kind of better and kind of worse.  I’m walking every day.  Inspired by this post, I’ve been doing little projects that have just kind of sat around forever and it feels good to finish them, use them, put them away, be done.  I’m pushing myself to actually finish up things rather than get close and not see them to completion, and to avoid my old foe of spending time researching and ordering yet more supplies for projects and then not actually doing them.

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I left off writing that last night . . . just couldn’t feel out where this was going . . . but I’m back again today.  I have a vague feeling hanging about me, a constant unease.  Maybe, as this article suggests and much more aptly describes, it’s grief.  So many griefs this month, and it feels shallow to admit that the one that feels the biggest right now is this sense that I’ve spent 15 years in a career that I’m consciously choosing to be in said career at this time in my life, but is renowned for its degree of superfluous crap.  The paperwork.  The meetings.  The documentation.  The events.  The committees.  The TESTING.  The TIME.  All of that, in the snap of a finger, gone.  Done.  Don’t have to do it!  Now:  Do only the most important thing (teach) and in the simplest yet most effective way you can given the novelty of the format, etc. and take care of yourself while you do it.  So while my intellectual brain knows that it’s temporary, and because of a very unusual circumstance, I also wonder . . . will I actually be able to go back to that?

Scarcity v. Abundance

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I’ve been pondering a concept lately and that is the idea of financial abundance deriving from frugality or a scarcity mindset, and that of financial abundance deriving from an abundance mindset.

For years, I doggedly pursued frugality as paramount.  I was on message boards where frugality was held up as THE way to early retirement.  Basically, spend ONLY in accordance with your values so that you retain as much as you possibly can in order to liberate yourself from outside employment.  And then often, it became in my mind: spend as little as possible for the sake of doing so.  Case in point:  I was in therapy after my son was born for post-partum depression and part of what was stressing me out that particular day was that we were always arguing about supper – what to have, who would make it, etc.  We were both working full-time in high-demand, moderately high-income jobs with an infant at home.  It was tough in many ways, but we had plenty of income.  When the therapist suggested that we buy an assortment of convenience meals, salad fixings, etc., I remember thinking and maybe even saying, “but that will cost so much money!”  And it was kind of a wake-up call.  I was punishing and stressing myself out for no good reason.  We had tons of resources right in that moment, and I was thinking thoughts that made me feel like a pauper.

With that, I started to spend. I did almost a 180 on spending.  I started buying and even had my word for the next year be “permission,” mainly to get over the feeling that I was not supposed to spend any money at all, OR any money without consulting with my husband, even though I actually earned more money than him.  (Mind you – none of this imposed by my husband.  Allllll me.).

Since I’ve joined The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program, I’ve been exploring money concepts and thoughts again.  Brooke, like many others, teaches about creating feelings based on thoughts of abundance.  I’m not yet super clear on how to apply this to my own life.  I’m not over the idea of early retirement espoused in the voluntary simplicity literature and movement.  I find it very appealing.  But for me, it’s always been about escaping the work world, about NOT having the freedom and fancy-free life I imagine I’d have when early-retired.

So I guess one way I’m trying to live the idea of abundance versus scarcity is in thinking about the business I plan to start (website is still a skeleton, ‘kay?) and WHY.  Initially, it was for reasons like freedom, not to have a boss, etc.  Just like for ER, those reasons are to escape something.  It won’t work.  I will find some other way to feel restricted or constrained in my business.  So I’m trying to envision what I HAVE that I can bring to the business, not what I’m trying to GET.  I will serve.  I will bring my experiences to share with others.  I have everything I need right now, so I don’t need the business to be anything more than that right now.  And from there, I will not be focusing on what I DON’T have, I’ll be focusing on what I DO have.  And even if my trajectory takes the same amount of time, I will feel so much better along the way.

I do have one old and funny story about this, though.  I dated soooo many guys in the ten years leading up to getting married.  Obviously none of them worked out, for so many reasons.  So one day I’d had it.  I threw my hands up – I was DONE dating.  And didn’t go on the dating sites, and quit looking at every man as a potential partner I had to impress, and did my own thing (including, LOL, paying down a ton of debt and locking in some of those frugal behaviors).  Anyway, it was then that my now-husband asked me out.  And I’d known him for 2 years!  But I was never able to see what was right in front of me for focusing on what I DIDN’T have – a good boyfriend.  It was when I released the scarcity that I was able to get the best boyfriend.  ❤ ❤ ❤

I am still finding my way with this concept.  What are your thoughts?

Thoughts on Planning

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I’m feeling a need to do some reflecting on the practice of planning.

I am a member and/or current devotee of three main personal growth programs.  First, The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program (owned by Brooke Castillo) which has a monthly mindset focus.  Secondly, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year long cohort program to help teachers maximize their time to find peace and be more efficient.  I’ve completed the year but it is so dense and amazing I have rejoined the Graduate program to eek out more value.  Last, I also closely follow Phit N Phat, a weight loss coaching program whose Queen Corinne trained with The Life Coach School, so the philosophies are similar.  While these programs may vary in topic, there is a strong thread connecting them:  effective, intentional PLANNING.

I hate to think of all the years I wasted pursuing a willy nilly approach.  And really, I actively pursued it.  In fact, in college I was a good planner, kind of natural.  The problem was that I also overdid it.  I overpacked my days and I got shit DONE.  I was in a go-go-go mode from about 18-25 years old.  Folks, no one should be burned out at 25.  So I turned to voluntary simplicity readings and study.  And I started cancelling things.  And scheduling less.  And slowing, and flowing.  And often, not planning anything.  And some of that was a gift – until sometimes it wasn’t.  Because in teaching, you can’t really just wing it.  And I tried.  (My poor students.)  I even left the classroom, thinking in a coaching role I could be less regimented with time during my workday.  It was somewhat true, but I also felt I was doing nothing many days.

Once I had kids, I started to really realize I had to make some changes.  I HATED planning meals, planning activities (especially on the weekends), planning basically anything.  And what that got me was being on childcare duty all the time, because my husband DID make plans, and have ideas of what he wanted to accomplish in a weekend, and since I didn’t, he went ahead and did his thing.  And I didn’t like that.  I was also rushing, frantic, and unprepared most of the time at work and at home.  I had to make a change.

It started about a year ago, first with the 40HTW Club.  I was also part of a mandatory coaching program that all probationary educators go through at work, so there was a huge focus on planning there.  We grouped our tasks by time periods (before school, mid day, after school, evening) instead of making strict appointments for each task.  We identified the main task to be done in order to do it first to feel the pride and reduced stress around having that done.  And that started to work!

In the spring, I found Phit N Phat and started planning what I would eat the next day and evaluate how well I’d stuck to the current day’s plan.  And I started to lose weight!

I was starting to like planning again!  It was getting me results, reducing my stress . . . then came September.

I joined Self Coaching Scholars six months ago and the whole focus of one month – September – was to plan out an “impossible” task per Brooke’s scheduling and planning system.  Basically, in this system you break down the whole task, you schedule every component into a set time, and you don’t allow yourself to exceed the time scheduled.  So I did this.  I scheduled the whole ambitious task for the month, and right away realized I hadn’t planned enough time in each slot, and also who-knows-what happened with the kids and I started to miss slots (ANATHEMA to the approach because really, that’s not honoring myself and my word) and got hopelessly behind and did NOT accomplish my planned goal.  So instead of having the desired effect, which was that we would build a ton of confidence and buy in for the planning system, it had the opposite effect for me, which was to confirm for me what I had been (mis)thinking for years – that planning is hard, that it is impossible to follow a plan, and that if you have kids you can forget even trying to have a plan.

I kind of threw up my hands on all personal planning, but did stick to the work stuff.  Thank God, because one day in October or November, I had nothing to do.  Unheard of.  I was caught up.  I was planned ahead.  And I knew I had to revisit planning once more for myself and my outside-of-work dreams.

Well, a few months later, I am realizing I perhaps overdid it in September.  I think I tried to do WAY too much, and didn’t acknowledge my limitations.  I have a new “impossible” goal, and I want to keep making progress toward it, even if in baby steps.  So I’m studying Brooke’s approach further.  She advocates:  scheduling your free time FIRST.  So one thing where I was mistaken in September was that I scheduled the whole month solid – not only did I choose that “impossible” task but it was our first month back in school!  What was I thinking?!  Ok, so now, there will be no scheduling of anything after bedtime.  It just won’t get done.  Or in the morning before school.  And, I don’t want to work all weekend on regimented stuff.  So that will be protected too.

One confusion I have looking forward is that also in Brooke’s system is that you weekly do a brain dump of all the to-dos rattling around in there, and then you schedule time on your calendar to do it throughout the week.  And then you throw away the brain dump list.  Well, I did my first one and cleared out SEVEN PAGES of to-dos.  I can’t do that all in a week – so then what?  Do I put it all back in my brain?  So another part of my planning evolution is that I need to make it work for me, not blindly adhere to any guru’s approach.  So, I need to have a running to-do list bank for a while until I whittle it down/eliminate some stuff from it.  That’s ok.  I will do that.  I had one going that I hadn’t updated in a while and so it must be time to do that if I had seven pages worth in there!

I think my very biggest thought work and logistics item is where to actually find time to do anything beyond my 8-4 and co-run the household.  We have two young children, and three aging parents – and two of them live an hour away.  I have an autoimmune disorder that is under great control right now and sleep is paramount in maintaining that.  My personal goals feel so insignificant in comparison to this day to day pressure.  I am puzzled about where to find more time.  I may add an afternoon a week of after school care for my oldest who is at my school so I can have an hour to do some business work.  I may do a go-out session every weekend to get some focused work time on it.  So I have a few ideas, but they involve escaping my family, so I don’t feel great about that.  But I also think it could be preferable to what I’m doing now, which is trying to sneak time, diverting my attention from them, parking the kids in front of the TV, and really getting not much of anything done anyway in the end.

Also, I need to make the weekly scheduling process inviolable.  If I reference my brain, my bank of tasks and actually DO make a realistic weekly schedule, I WILL start to honor it, make progress, reduce the amount of pending items, and feel better overall.

I’ll keep you updated!  Thanks for reading my novel!  It helped to write it.

 

Frugal Thinking

forest-path-238887_1920iThe sun is poking through the clouds, shining with unusual intensity for a cloudy day directly into our dining room. The house is quiet – only the animals and I are awake. I am sitting at the keyboard, thinking. This is what I wanted more of when I quit that crazy job. Time to just think. It’s been a year now, and that anniversary as well as the lack of padding in our bank account has made me ponder my choice, which still feels right. I’ve never had a job that felt like such a good match to my skills, and because there is room to grow in the organization, I believe that our income situation will improve in time. In the meantime, Mari’s only home for two more years. I want to make those happy years, not two more years with a stressed-to-the-limit mom.

I met my friend Mary to walk and talk yesterday, and our conversation turned to how I have more time now. I definitely do, though its source is not really obvious. One hour of daily work time saving has been given to sleep that I didn’t know I was missing until I felt the resulting change. I am not spending hours each week on a job hunt, as I was for much of 2018. Overall, it’s hard to say whether reduced stress or the changed work environment is the most significant factor.

My previous job required “deep work” for the entire day.  Every task, every day, required problem solving in a different situation, resolution in a timely manner, with close to zero tolerance for error. But all day long I was interrupted by someone in person or by phone, text, or page at least every 15 minutes. Sometimes it was something that could have been asked in an email. Sometimes it was production staff asking me when I would be done using some equipment (I managed to never say, “Sooner if you stop interrupting me.”). Sometimes it was actually something urgent. Every day when I came home, my brain was exhausted – and then I would still continue to receive texts and emails and ponder unsolved issues, often in the middle of the night. My coworkers were similarly stressed, which multiplied the effect.

Now, I am still interrupted for most of the day, but I have at least an hour every morning with close to zero interruptions. The deep work I do comes in concentrated bursts, and there is no manufacturing urgency. When I leave for the day, I am done. I don’t have to make tentative weekend plans around the possibility of being called in to fix something. I have mental energy left in the evenings to learn new things, to begin creative projects, and, most importantly, to be available to my family in more than robot mode.

It is still difficult to catch up with friends due to everyone’s different schedules and time demands, but when I do, I can to settle in and enjoy the time, rather than being stressed about what I’m not getting done. Yesterday, Mary and I walked for an hour on a day with weather that can only be described as perfect (yes, in January!). Both the outdoor time in the sunshine and the discussion were therapeutic.

So, life is very good, but there is some threat of financial strain. To minimize that I will be renewing my focus on frugality, continuing to seek ways of saving on a regular basis. My budgeting approach is somewhat casual except for one rule, which covers just about everything: don’t spend if it’s not necessary or if it’s not in line with family priorities. (I have a formal budget in a spreadsheet, but I don’t look at it very often… it helps that I have a strong memory for numbers.) Our default when something is necessary is to first consider if something else can be substituted or repurposed, which results in many fun creative experiments and a lot of learning. I was considering some sort of formal budget challenge, but after reviewing expenses from the past year, think that I would rather just focus on that one rule, and allow that energy to go to new learning instead.

Is frugality part of your simple living path?
What tools do you use to maintain a frugal lifestyle when there are so many anti-frugal influences every day?

Weeknight Meals, December

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A weekend dinner!

Some years ago I witnessed this exchange between two acquaintances, as we all picked up our children at 6PM from an activity:

“I guess now I have to decide what’s for dinner.”

“I’m going to get a pizza on the way home.  We had Subway last night.”

This really surprised me, because, in those years that I worked only about quarter-time, I saw DIY tasks, particularly cooking, which has the potential to save a huge amount of money, as part of my contribution to our living on one salary.  I thought that everyone would have started a crock pot dinner or have a plan for something quick to cook on their arrival home (“scrambled eggs and fruit” is one of my last-minute plans… but it beats fast food!).  Since returning to full-time (or more) work, I’ve honed my previous routines to save time.  Continue reading “Weeknight Meals, December”

Work Week Routines Part 2: Food

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During the years that I was a SAHM, I learned to cook. I had been cooking for over a decade by that time, not including my undergraduate years of pasta and sandwiches, but meal preparation prior to really learning to cook was time-consuming and exhausting and also created massive piles of dishes.

 

By “learning to cook,” I mean

  • cooking without a recipe, just creating things based on what I have on hand
  • looking at a recipe, and knowing what would need to be changed to meet our preferences
  • reading ingredients, and mentally compiling the aroma and evaluating it

Although I generally like to cook, I am not excited about it Mondays through Fridays after a full day at work. As in the routines mentioned previously, I’ve also tried to minimize the daily brainpower needed to get everyone fed.

Here’s what works for me:

Meal plans: I shop weekly, locations selected based on what we need and what’s on sale. Considering what’s on hand and the week’s evening schedules, I sketch a rough meal plan.

Freezer cooking: We have a freezer in the garage and it is one of my major timesavers. I use it to freeze:

  • extra servings from meals
  • sauces or other meal components
  • garden produce
  • any ingredients that are convenient when frozen, such as ginger cubes or cooked rice
  • foods with short shelf life, such as nuts and cornmeal

The night before a busy day, it is heavenly to go “shopping” in the freezer and find something to thaw in the fridge.

Make lunches: We all eat homemade lunches every day, and we all eat very different lunches every day (since there are only 3 of us, that’s manageable). Here’s what we prepare:

  • Mari’s Pasta: Pasta for dinner turns into a few extra lunch servings, packed for school in an insulated food jar.
  • Thom’s Meat and Potatoes: I cook large batches of meat or sausages, and slice before freezing, placing waxed paper between slices as needed. Each Sunday I remove a few servings and place in a container in the fridge. He has this with rice or potatoes and microwaves everything at lunchtime. Fresh vegetables are always available – carrot/celery/pepper/radish sticks or a salad.
  • My Lunch Salads: I prep salads 3 days at a time, on Sundays and Wednesdays. My salads are always different and might contain any vegetables I have available, plus beans or roasted tofu, nuts or seeds or avocado, berries or other fresh or dried fruit, and potato or grains. I put them in plastic containers ready to grab from the fridge.

(I know, 3 different lunches isn’t really simple.  But it keeps everyone happy.)

Vegetable prep: We eat a lot of vegetables, and they require work before going into any recipe. When I have about 30 minutes of time, such as on weekights after an easy dinner, I’ll work on veggies for the next night’s dinner or for our lunches. Fresh vegetables last longer when cooked, so I prefer to cook all the vegetables I buy within a couple of days and then use them throughout the week. For stir fry, I chop and freeze mushrooms and peppers, and other veggies I cut fresh.

Cook vegetables for many uses: I batch-cook my various vegetables individually, without seasoning, to use in different dishes. For instance, fresh zucchini or mushrooms can be roasted or sauteed and then stored in the fridge or freezer. Once cooked, they can be used on sandwiches, in salads, in chili, in omelets or frittatas, etc. I season the final dish and the vegetables just need to be added with enough time to heat through.

Buy frozen fruits and vegetables: Frozen berries are perfect for smoothies or yogurt parfaits. Frozen vegetables have no waste and no prep time.

Bread baking shortcuts: I bake all of our bread, using a few different methods that I’ll detail in a future post.

Please share your food shortcuts!  I am always excited about maximizing my kitchen efficiency.