Thursday, June 30, 2011

household management (3) food and shopping

Menus, groceries, errands, shopping - they're a huge part of running a household, and they can absorb huge amounts of time. Here are some ideas for managing the mayhem.

  • At the start of the week, plan your menu and write a shopping list. I have a collection of lists in plastic folders hanging on my notice board:

    • meal ideas - all our common meal choices sorted according to type, including ones the kids like to cook listed under their names - I use this to write my weekly menu

    • grocery check list - this goes around the kitchen clockwise and lists all the things we might need in each category e.g. freezer, cereal, green groceries - I use this and my menu to write my shopping list
    • chores lists for me and the kids

  • List in hand (and not hungry) do all your weekly shopping at once - market, supermarket, green groceries. During busy times, do your grocery shopping online.

  • Minimise time for errands. Do them on the way to or from something else. I try to do all my errands at once (post office, kids to gym, return library books etc.) instead of going out multiple times for different things.

  • Limit your clothes shopping to twice a year. Go through the cupboards first and make a list of what your family really need. Set a budget. Avoid sales unless you were planning to buy clothes or household goods anyway. If you're an op-shopper, keep a list of what you need in your bag.

  • How do you plan your menu? How do you manage your shopping? Tell us here.

    Next time, I want to talk more about finances. This is an area of struggle, not strength, for me! So if you have any suggestions for effective budgeting, saving or careful spending, share your ideas here.

    You can follow this series here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    household management (2c) keeping track of time

    Here's a comment from Valori that I found helpful. Like her, I prefer flexible routines to meticulous schedules, and tend to underestimate how long tasks will take. Here's her solution.

    Apart from lists, I have a broad overview "schedule" -- what are my "routines" for the week? I am not very good at meticulously keeping a schedule (i.e. at exactly 8:30, I will sweep the floor!), but knowing about how much time I need for my normal weekly responsibilities and leaving room for those items really serves me. For example, I know it normally takes about 1 1/2 hours total for dinner prep, about 30 minutes a day to keep up on laundry, about an hour for lunch prep and clean up, about 4 hours a week do run errands, 1-2 hours for exercise, depending on whether or not I do something at home or go to the gym, 40 minutes to shower and dress (I used to think 30, but then I'm always late, so it's better to be realistic!) etc. etc. When I put all these things together (kind of like doing a puzzle), I realise that it's no wonder I don't get any "special projects" done! And I haven't even added in devotions, home-schooling, family time, eating, and (very important) sleeping.
    You can follow this series here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    watching my daughter grow (listening to Slipping through my fingers)

    Five months ago, my 12-year-old daughter had her first day at high school. It seemed she walked out the door a child and returned a teenager.

    It happened so suddenly that it left me breathless, my rosy ideals replaced with the reality of a growing relationship. I spent a term grieving the loss of my little girl (how did she grow up so quickly? Why didn't I hug her more when I had the chance?). I love the new Lizzy - bursting with happiness and friends and independence and new experiences - but it's felt at times like I've been left on the platform while she's boarded the train.

    One day earlier this year, I poured my sense of loss into a blog post that I never published, because I didn't want to trespass on my daughter's privacy. But I heard a song on the weekend which expresses it perfectly. It's from ABBA's final album The Visitors, and it's called Slipping throughmy fingers. For copyright reasons, I can't post the lyrics here; but if you get a chance, listen to it.

    The song says it all: the feeling of guilt over all the opportunities for time spent together that I let slip by, the inability to truly enter my daughter's world and know what's going on in her mind, the 'absent-minded smile' as she leaves the house each morning, schoolbag in hand.

    Of course, this isn't just a time of loss. It's not a time for passive acceptance of any increased distance between us, or decreased influence in her life. It's a time of opportunity: a time for new conversations and ways of relating, as I help my daughter grow into the woman God wants her to be. We're enjoying reading Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre's Girl Talk, and I've been helped by Paul Tripp's Age of Opportunity.

    My mother taught me not to dread the teen years, but to welcome the opportunities they bring. I watch my daughter and pray that God will go with her into the places I can't, that he will give her wisdom and courage and love for him, that I won't forget my continuing responsibility to love, teach and train her, and that I'll know when it's time to pursue her and when it's time to let her go.

    image is by Markus Bollingmo from flickr

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    family catch-up: Thomas

    Thomas hasn't changed a lot. He's stillaffectionate,hilarious,enthusiastic,inquiring,irrepressible,and the family clown.Some things have changed. He learned to ride a bike,and grew a tooth -but he'll always be our Thomas.

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    household management (2b) more on lists...

    Woke up, read this, and just had to post it. I do love a list-lover. Thanks, Meredith! :)

    What's your favourite kind of list? Well, there's a red rag to a bull if ever I saw one!!

    Can I tell you about my book of lists? I can't function without a list. I've been like that forever. Which can mean that I have several lists on the go at any one time. Which can be dangerous if there are too many scraps of paper lying about the place.

    So in recent years I have taken to having a notebook on my kitchen bench. A5, spiral bound, $4 from the local supermarket, nothing fancy. And I write my lists in it.

    My TO DO list for the week. Which usually includes all the weekly preparation I need to do (Sunday School, Scripture lessons etc), people to email, people to ring, people to write to and then all the things that need my attention at some time during the week. If I am not making much progress and feeling overwhelmed then yes, I add "cook dinner" and then proudly put a line through it when it is done!

    And then if we are going on a holiday the packing list gets written in the book. There is also the list of possible holiday locations and other holiday planning.

    The list of things I need to take to school/church/an event.

    The list of books I'd like to read. On-going and added to frequently. Added to faster than items are struck off.

    The list of present ideas as inspiration comes to mind.

    The list of blog post ideas.

    And I just scratch things out as I go. It's pretty untidy but in between the scratchings out it makes for interesting reading when I get to the end of one notebook and have to start a new one.

    I also use this book to write down phone messages, prices from quotes, those bits of info you get off the phone or the internet... Basically everything that would otherwise go on a scrap of paper goes in that book.

    The result - no more scraps of paper. And it is the "no more scraps of paper" that increases my efficiency in the organising and outworking of my day.

    Lists are good. A whole book of them...glorious!!

    Tell us about your favourite kind of list.

    image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    household management (2) organising your day and using lists

    More ideas for household management, with thanks to Valori, Soph, Alison and Catriona.

  • Have a VERY simple morning routine e.g. get dressed, do beds, dishes, laundry. Once you've done that you'll feel more on top of things and ready to move to the next thing.

  • Prepare food in the morning (dinner, sandwiches, snacks) and clean up afterwards. That way you go from mess to neat rather than the other way around, and you have food on hand throughout the day. Slow cookers can be a great help with this.

  • Lists are great when you're feeling overwhelmed, when you can't think of what to do next, or when your day needs routine and structure. For example:
    • A rough, daily 'to do' list that you jot down in the morning, pray through, and work through.
    • A permanent everyday list to laminate and put on the fridge. Include tasks like cooking dinner, washing clothes, and cleaning up after meals (don't forget me-time and playing-with-kids time and kids' quiet time).
    • A list of what needs to be done when you're feeling overwhelmed by the mess. Put simple, achievable items on it e.g. 'make beds', 'put clothes in washing machine'. Tick items off one by one. Don't worry if you don't get it all done.
    • A list of those little jobs that you keep forgetting about (e.g. tidy that messy drawer, mend those pants, clean out the fridge) to look at next time you have a spare 5 minutes and can't think what to do.

    How do you organise your day? What's your favourite kind of list? Tell us here.

    You can follow this series here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie from flickr

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    household management (1) organising your week

    You've given me so many great ideas for organising family and home life that I'm going to post your suggestions over several weeks - starting with ideas for organising your week.

  • When you plan your week, make sure you have enough free days to get things done. I keep 2-3 days a week free from extra commitments to care for home and family. At the start of the year, set aside these days before making any regular commitments; at any stage, if you're getting too busy, stop and rethink. You might have to cancel something.

  • Allocate particular tasks to particular days. I love Bec's example (the fact that it includes the word 'ironing' shows it's not mine :) ):
    • Monday: check over diary for week's tasks, plan menu for week, do shopping list, catch up with washing from weekend.
    • Tuesday: fruit and veg and grocery shopping, ironing.
    • Wednesday: busy day for us, so low tasks.
    • Thursday: second catch up on washing (and housework) day.
    • Friday: gift/miscellaneous shopping, errands.

  • Get the week off to a good start. First thing Monday, I clean the house; my friend does a market shop and cooks meals and snacks to stock the freezer and cupboards. In our different ways, this makes both of us feel ready for the week.

  • Create a 'control centre': a space for family organisation in the kitchen or living area. Include a family organiser calendar, phone, note paper, notice board, shopping lists, menu planners, drawers for bills and notices and stamps, and whatever else you need to keep life organised.

  • If you've got any other ideas, share them here.

    You can follow this series here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie (very appropriate!) from flickr

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    what I'm reading: being a grandma - or older woman - from Melbourne's Child

    What does Titus 2:3-5 mean when you're a grandmother? What does it mean when you're an 'older woman' caring for younger women with babies? I think this model (from Rose O'Reilly's article Time to Care in June's Melbourne's Child*) is really helpful (and it includes some interesting reflections on retirement too):

    The matter of how much grandparents can or should help out with the new generation always requires sensitive negotiation. When my eldest grandchild was born, I didn't help enough. It was only after the difficult early weeks were over that I realised that a couple of hours a week minding the baby was not all that the new parents had needed. They'd needed advice and reassurance, and an extra pair of hands when the baby wouldn't feed properly, or sleep, or stop crying. They'd needed me to be there; but I was off chasing a passion of my own...

    Many older people have a lot of freedom, and we tend to think that we deserve it after so many years of working and raising our own children; but life doesn't work like that, and neither does family. There may be a few years that are all our own,** between when our children become independent and when their babies start to arrive. Then the new family demands begin - and they are demands of the nicest kind.

    All too soon those gorgeous grandbabies, those miraculous little cooing bundles of brag material, will grow up and be gone. Then we'll be able to spend the rest of our lives shopping for screwdrivers or going on cruises.** I for one will find these things a poor substitute.
    * Or Sydney's Child, or Perth's Child, or...
    ** Or devoted to serving Jesus with all our energy - which I hope goes for all of life, retired or not!

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: book review

    I've just read - with a kind of horrified fascination - Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (you've probably heard about it - it's created quite a stir). It's a book written in defense of the 'Chinese mother' approach to parenting, as opposed to more indulgent Western parenting. Amy Chua writes,

    Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.
  • I was particularly struck (horrified? flabbergasted?) by a few events, like when Amy threw her 4-year-old daughter's carelessly made birthday card at her and told her to do a proper job, declaring 'I deserve better than this! So I reject this'; when she made 7-year old Lulu drill a piano piece far into the night without toilet, water or meal breaks, threatening the loss of her dolls' house and telling her to 'stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic'; and when she said to Sophia, 'If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!'.

    For me, reading this book felt a bit like watching a slow-motion train crash: you can't look away, even though you can tell it's heading for disaster (although my friend, more experienced in parenting, tells me that teen rebellion is hardly a train crash). By the end of the book, Amy Chua is standing in the wreckage, still gamely declaring the advantages of 'Chinese parenting'.

    There are a few things I think us 'Western parents' can learn from Amy:

    • We assume fragility, not strength, on the part of our children, so that self-esteem depends on praising and not criticising them. Amy argues that true self-esteem comes from having high expectations for our kids, on the assumption that they are strong and capable enough to meet them.
    • Our kids don't need a protective environment, but skills, work-habits and inner confidence that will equip them for the future.
    • Our goal shouldn't be to be our children's best friend: good parents risk disappointing and being disliked by their kids. Children don't need to pursue every passion and fulfil every impulse.
    • Western parents try not to burden their children, but it's good to expect children to respect and care for their parents (although I'm not sure the Asian 'never disappoint your parents' or 'you owe me everything' is any better than the Western 'you are free to go your own way and make your own choices').
    • Nothing is fun till you're good at it, and to get good at anything you have to work hard; after that, success is self-replicating. I see this in my children's piano practice (on a small scale - no child prodigies here): discipline produces achievement which produces joy which reinforces discipline.
    • Honesty about a child's weaknesses and failures can be a good thing: it assumes that they are capable of more, and that they are strong enough to handle the truth.
    • Good parenting involves dedication and self-sacrifice: coming alongside our children and helping them to learn skills and character.
    In the end, it's not Amy's methods (extreme as they were) that bothered me most. Parenting has as many different methods as parents: some will be more strict (although I hope not harsh) and others more gentle (although I hope not indulgent). As long as there is grace, love, discipline, prayer, a godly example, and teaching and training from God's word, we've covered the essentials.

    What really bothers me is what Amy boasts she was trying to achieve: the 'dreams' she had for her daughters. Musical prodigy, academic success, career advancement: if these are the things we aim for, we're encouraging our kids to pursue idols that will come up empty. Better to aim for things that last, even if it means our children aren't high-achievers: love for God and his word, self-sacrificial love, a longing for people to come to know Jesus, and a willingness to give up everything for him.

    In the end, whatever our methods, our parenting will be driven by one of two things: our love for idols or our love for Jesus.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    what I'm reading: reflections on emotions and moods from Joe Forgas

    I read an interesting article by Greg Bearup in Good Weekend the other day, about psychologist Joe Forgas' studies on emotions and moods - which, it seems, are not the same thing at all.

    Emotions are usually short-lived and intense, and we're usually aware of them. There are 6 basic human emotions: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise (try fitting all your emotions into these 6 categories and it will twist your brain a little...). Emotions are the extreme peaks and troughs in our emotional landscape.

    Moods, on the other hand, are less intense than emotions, and we're mostly unaware of them. They fluctuate many times during the day as we swap between happy and sad, positive and negative. Moods are the gentle undulations in our emotional landscape.

    We live in a society that pursues happiness with dedication; but it seems that sadness (not depression, which is intense and long-lasting) can be good for you. When we're happy, we're more free-flowing and creative. When we're sad, we're more perceptive, our memories work better, and we think more clearly. We might also be more interesting:

    Being a bit glum can make you a more interesting person. 'I think most people worth talking to are slightly depressed...It is part of the human condition. It may be that people who are a bit on the negative side see the world as it really is...It tends to be these people who see the world clearly.'
    In a world filled with real sorrow, all this emotional navel-gazing seems more than a little self-indulgent. 'Just go and put on a sad movie and you'll be a more interesting person.' But at least it might make us less impatient with feeling sad.

    The article was by Greg Bearup, the quote-within-a-quote by Joe Forgas.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    a season of grief

    I'm not writing much at the moment - too busy with work (I'm doing a big editing job, which I'm fitting in around the family, saving money for piano lessons and holidays) - so I was surprised to get the post seasons of grief in my inbox.

    It's a post I once wrote about responding to grief, and it appeared on Mentoring Moments the other day. You can read the post here, and the comments are really worth reading.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    what I'm reading: the pleasure of weather from CS Lewis

    I love to walk in all kinds of weather (any kind except hot, really - nothing worse than sweat and uncooled muscles). I love to walk in the cold, face and hands icy. I love to walk in the wind; I close my eyes and imagine it's blowing clean across the ocean. Best of all, I love to walk on those paradoxical Autumn days when the sun is warm and the air crispy-cold.

    I love to walk in the rain, whether in a civilized manner, with an umbrella, or unplanned, caught in the open with hair dripping. Everything glistens. The trees are veiled, mysterious. Your shoes take in water. You walk in the door, and the house is warm, your clothes damp, your face chilled and wet - which is all part of the fun.

    It was CS Lewis (and my mother, who delighted in thunderstorms and rain on the roof) who taught me to enjoy weather. When I'm caught in the rain, I remember what he learned from a teacher:

    I fancy it was on a run with him in the sleet that I first discovered how bad weather is to be treated - as a rough joke, a romp.
    While searching (unsuccessfully) for this quote on line, I discovered another one. It describes an attitude to weather as necessary in Melbourne as in England:

    "Don't you like a rather foggy day in a wood in autumn? You'll find we shall be perfectly warm sitting in the car."

    Jane said she'd never heard of anyone liking fogs before but she didn't mind trying. All three got in.

    "That's why Camilla and I got married, " said Denniston as they drove off. "We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It's a useful taste if one lives in England."

    "How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?" said Jane. "I don't think I should ever learn to like rain and snow."

    "It's the other way around," said Denniston. "Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it is you grown up. Noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children - and the dogs? They know what snow's made for."

    "I'm sure I hated wet days as a child," said Jane.

    "That's because the grown-ups kept you in," said Camilla. "Any child loves rain if allowed to go out and paddle about in it."
    When it hails or rains heavily, my husband calls the children to the front porch and they stand and watch it pelting down. One of their greatest pleasures is to run bare-skinned in the rain, up and down the back verandah. They melt hail on their tongues and catch the rain in cups and taste the snow and watch for lightning and splash around in mud.

    The pleasure of weather isn't just for childhood.

    Quotes are from CS Lewis Surprised by Joy and That Hideous Strength.

    image is by VinothChandar from flickr

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    a question for you: lazy around the house?

    After all that talk about housework and work, it seems a good time to ask you a question from a friend. (My friend, by the way, is pregnant with her second baby.) This is an issue I struggle with too, so we'd both love to hear your advice!

    I want to ask how you organise your time? I know we're at very different stages of life, and I shouldn't aim at being some kind of supernatural wonder woman, but sometimes I feel like I don't get anything at all done, and it's mostly because I'm disorganised and generally lazy about things around the house - it's so easy to be lazy at home when nobody else is watching! Of course, that then leads to guilt about not getting things done... I've also just read Shopping for Time, so I'm starting to try to implement some of their suggestions, but is there any extra advice you could give?
    Have you ever felt like this? Have you got any suggestions? Share your experiences and ideas here.

    image is by Aunty Cookie (very appropriate!) from flickr