Posted in Friday Rambles

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the things I remember from prenatal class was when the teacher said: “You cannot do everything, well.”  I have also heard it said: “Women can do it all.  Just not all at the same time.”

And boy, have I ever found these to be true in my life.

After having my first child, I really tried to cover all the bases on my own steam.  I tried to keep up a successful and current career, keep a clean house, cook all our meals, and spend tons of time with my child.  All by myself.

But I couldn’t.  It tumbled down pretty quick.

I really loved my job.  But, I felt bitter about it when I came home to a dirty disaster of a house, and had to scramble for meals for the family to eat.  I also began to feel disconnected from my child, and worried that if I continued on that path, I would miss out on the precious years of him being little.  Years that I would never be able to get back.

I remember, coming to a crossroads.  The term position I had was ending, but I had been offered another one.  It was the sort of job that I would have never dreamed of having.  It really fed the part of me that craved significance, value, purpose, creativity, and excitement.

But, I was starting to realize that while I worked at a job, there was another full-time job at home and with my kids being left undone.  If I were to continue working outside the home, someone needed to help with all the other stuff.  I sat down at the kitchen table and crunched the numbers.  I knew that I would need to pay for housecleaning, and childcare, if I were to take the job.  However, if I stayed with a smaller 1-day-per-week contract, I would be able to do my own housecleaning, and my son would only need daycare one day per week.

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It may not surprise you, that both options were about equal from a financial standpoint.  So, I chose to stay home and keep a side-hustle that wouldn’t use too much time or energy.  I wanted to spend my days with my kids while they were little, rather than apart, if I had a choice.

The decision of whether to stay home or not is a pretty big deal.  (And let us remember that to even have the option of staying home is a privileged position.)  But since it can be such a difficult decision to make, today I am sharing the things that I considered at the kitchen table that day.  If you are in the same situation right now, I hope the following thoughts will help you.

  • Finances:
    • Can your family afford to live on one income?  Are there things about your life that you will have to change?  Are you all willing to make those changes?  (We eventually ended up selling our house and moving.)
    • What will you need help with if you go to work?  (Housecleaning, childcare, cooking, driving or dropping off children, yard work, etc.)  Who will help you?  Will you have to pay them?  What will this cost?
    • What do you expect to make from your job?  What is left over after paying for the additional expenses you will incur by working?  (Paid housecleaners, childcare, fuel and vehicle expenses, clothing, memberships, other work expenses, etc.)
  • Quality of life:
    • What will your child or children experience while you are away at work?  Will the childcare situation be beneficial and stimulating for them, or stressful and exhausting?
    • How will you keep up relationships with the people that matter?  (Husband, children, other family members, friends, etc.)  Will you have enough time and energy to spend on them?
    • What do you and your family need or want in terms of – household cleanliness, meals, vacations, extra curricular activities, etc.?  How will you best achieve this?
    • What will your own schedule look like, realistically?  Will you thrive on this schedule, or will you be exhausted?
    • Is your job a valuable outlet that you will miss?  (For creativity, socializing/networking, academic stimulation, energy, etc.)  How will you fill this void if you decide to stay home?
  • Professional development:
    • Would having a job right now help you advance professionally?  How?
    • Would staying at home cost you, professionally?  How?  (Loss of: learning, promotion, status, income, etc.)  Would you be able to recover from this loss?  Are you willing to make these sacrifices?
    • Is there a way that you could keep your career going on a part-time basis?  (Reducing your role at work, working from home, starting a small side business, etc.)

While I took all of the above considerations into account, I do remember a pivotal moment when my decision was made, before I even acknowledged it consciously.  After explaining my position to a wiser, older woman whom I trusted (but who was not personally invested in the situation), she did something very bold.  She told me what she thought!  She said:

“Usually, it’s better for the children if the mother stays home.”

And I just couldn’t argue with that.  How could it not be better during those pivotal years, for my kids to have time at home with the one woman who loves them the most in all the world?

I understand that every family is in a different position.  There are families where fathers are able to spread themselves out more between work and kids, and then the wife does the same.  There are families who just can’t afford to live on one income, and if it’s a matter of eating or not eating, they do what they have to do.  There are families with grandparents who are able and willing to watch the kids for a few hours a day.  There are families who thrive on a lot more activity and stimulation than my family and I can manage.

Whatever your situation, there will be benefits and drawbacks.  I’ve seen kids thriving at home, and at daycares.  I’ve also seen the opposite…at home, and at daycares.  If you pay attention to how your kids are doing, make the best choices that you can within the options available to you, and ask for help when you need it: they will thrive.

Is this a decision you have made or are making?  Where’re you at?  How’s it going for you?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

The Lost Art of the Roux

What do scalloped potatoes, creamy enchilada sauce, chicken pot pie, and cream of broccoli soup all have in common?  In my kitchen, a homemade roux is the foundation for all of them.

When I first learned to cook, I did so by opening cans.  My mom had given me a few of those Campbell’s soup recipe books, and I thought that was the only way to go.  I became the master of cream-soup-goop-based recipes.

And honestly, I don’t have anything against them.  I still use them from time to time.  However, I was troubled by the fact that unless I had those cans stocked up in my house, I couldn’t cook many of my favorite dishes.

How did they do it a-way-back-in-the-day…before Campbell’s soups??  (Gasp!)

I had been duped into thinking that a creamy, tasty foundation to a multitude of tasty dishes had to come from a can.

The truth is, that you can achieve the same flavour and texture quite easily by learning how to make a basic roux from scratch.

Here is the incredibly simple process:

Take equal parts butter (or margarine) and flour.  Melt the butter on the stove.  Add the flour, mix it in, and cook for a minute or two.  (It will look like a paste.)  Add liquid (broth or milk, or a combination of the two) gradually, whisking it in, until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.  Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

Here are the quantities I use for 2 cups of roux (with a creamy, sauce-like consistency):

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups liquid (broth or milk or a combination of the two)

Since developing this skill, I find myself in the canned soup aisle very infrequently.  I feel great about making my food ‘from scratch,’ and can adjust the taste and consistency to my liking.

For additional flavour, you may cook chopped onions or garlic in the butter before adding the flour in the process I described above.  Salt, pepper, and other seasonings can also be used to adjust the flavour of your roux.

Do you use a roux in the dishes you make?  Do you use the same process/ingredients in your roux as I do?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

It’s Summer in Manitoba!

Ah…summer.  We’ve dreamed of it all year.  Planned for it.  Reminded ourselves wistfully that it actually does exist, when the 6 months of winter have seemed too much to bear.

Vegetable seeds, planted with joy, have begun to sprout.  Anything seems possible!

Tents and supplies are hauled out and dusted off, as we all compete for prime camping spots.  We will clamour to live as sun-burned, homeless, mosquito-bitten nature-lovers for as long as we can possibly endure.

We’ve gleefully collected plastic 4 litre pails all winter (a great excuse to buy ice cream), in anticipation of strawberry picking season.  $10 a pail: fill ’em up, and shake ’em down.  Rounded – no…heaping on top.  “Don’t eat breakfast, kids!  We’re going to the strawberry patch!”

Mamas everywhere will wear themselves out with beach trips and bucket lists and litres upon litres of potato salad.  We’ll observe with wonder the gradual bronzing of our children’s skin, and the fading of their hair.  We’ll lovingly count their freckles as they appear.  We’ll watch proudly as they remember long-forgotten skills – bike riding, tree climbing, and flailing around in the water.  We’ll cackle with satisfaction at the wild little creatures they will become.

The privilege of manual labour will be re-discovered, when paired with hot winds, cold drinks, and copious amounts of vitamin D (aka sunshine).

Smelling of soil, sweat, smoke, and sunscreen, we’ll forego our make-up but look nicer than ever.  We’ll linger outside, and watch the sun setting over the lake at 10:00 pm.  We’ll wonder why the kids are still up, and then let them stay up a little bit more.

For, we know how brief the summer is.  Soon, the nights will grow longer, and darker, and cooler.  We will sigh, and lament the seasonal change…outwardly, at least.

But the truth is, we’ll be tired.  Our old routines will beckon us, and we’ll quietly welcome back the casseroles, hot drinks, and comfy sweaters.  We’ll wash off the sticky sunscreen.  The sunburn will fade and the bug bites will heal.  We’ll winterize: our homes, our yards, our cars, ourselves.

Survival mode will kick in as we brace ourselves for winter.  The first cold snap and the first real blizzard will carry an air of excitement that nobody wants to admit. 

Because: we’re in it together.  For the long haul.  The same people we sat with in the sun are the ones we will huddle with, over steaming mugs and frosty clouds of breath.

Wherever you live, and whatever the season, it is the people in your life that give these moments their meaning.

What’s the weather like where you are today?  Who are you spending the day with?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Free Printable Teacher Appreciation Gift Tag

As Manitobans, there are two things we become very good at: fending off – the cold in the winter, and mosquitoes in the summer!  Because of this, I am giving my child’s teachers each a small citronella candle as an appreciation gift as the school year comes to a close.  I have created a free teacher appreciation gift tag to go with them, that I am sharing with you today.

Simply click here to download the pdf file.  Then print the tags on card stock (there are 4 per page), cut them out, punch a hole in each, and tie them around the candles with string or yarn.

This is an affordable, easy gift that most people (male or female) should be able to appreciate and use.

I can usually find small citronella candles for as little as $3 each at Wal-Mart, Superstore, or Canadian Tire.  At that price, you may want to grab one for your child’s bus driver and principal as well!

This gift tag would also work well attached to bug repellent or mosquito coils.

If you use this idea, let me know in the comments how it goes.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

 

Posted in Friday Rambles

The Driveway Rumble

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is hang out on our driveway.  We moved to the town from the country, so a paved surface is kind of a novelty.  They rumble around on bikes, scooters, and ride-on toys, while I sit with a coffee or tea at my bistro set.  (Or plant myself at the mouth of the driveway as a human barrier between them and passing cars.)

For me, it’s a rare opportunity to soak up some warm sunshine while the short summer is here.  I relish the chance to sit for a while and sip on something while enjoying the beauty of my children as they play.  For them, it’s a chance to motor around together and have the full attention of a happy mom.  A mom who is happy because, quite honestly, she is meeting her own needs while simultaneously meeting theirs.

This, I believe, is the true nature of play: it’s fun for everyone involved.

As a younger mom, I nearly wore myself out with all the “playing” I did with my son.  I thought that I should do whatever he wanted when we spent time together, because he was the developing child and it was his needs that were most important.

To a point I still believe this.  Sometimes as parents, we need to sacrifice our own desires to support our kids in their interests.  (No, I don’t actually feel like playing Lego/trucks/Uno/fill-in-the-blank, but I’ll do it for you, because I love you and what you like is important to me.)  However, if taken to the extreme, we defeat the very purpose of play.  It’s supposed to be fun!  For both parties.  And let’s face it: they’re kids, and you’re not anymore.  What is fun for them will not necessarily be fun for you.

I’ve also noticed that my mood really impacts my kids.  My joy multiplies theirs, and their joy multiplies mine!  Because of this, I’ve come to re-frame the way I think about playing.  I now think of it as sharing joy.

When we have a chunk of time to spend together, I ask myself, “What could we do to have some fun?”  For us, this may look like:

  • Playing on the driveway, as I mentioned
  • Walking or biking to a park
  • Skating a few laps around the neighborhood rink (the little guy just slides around on his boots)
  • Going tobogganning
  • Cooking or baking something yummy together
  • Heading to the dollar store and spending pocket change for a small toy, activity, or treat
  • Doing a special, seasonal craft (e.g. making Christmas decorations or coloring Easter eggs)

None of these activities are a drag for me, because they are things that I actually enjoy too.  When I structure our time in this way, a few neat things happen:

  • I am more patient in dealing with the inevitable squabbles and behavior problems, because I’m in a decent mood myself.
  • The kids learn that the wants and needs of other people matter too (the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that’s actually ok)!
  • I have a chance to pass on my passions, and the kids learn from what I teach them.
  • The kids experience things that are different from the usual play that would occur either on their own or with other children.

And you know what?  In the middle of these activities, I often find myself spontaneously joining in on what the kids are doing.  We’ll throw a ball back and forth, push a truck around, or dig in the sandbox.  It is still about them and their needs.  But because I haven’t sentenced myself to an hour of doing just that, I can do it cheerfully.

Quality time spent with your children is never wasted, but if it’s fun for you too, your children will feed off of the joy that you are sharing with them.

Do you like playing with your kids, or is it difficult?  What kinds of things do you do together?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Chore-a-day Cleaning Schedule for Busy Moms

Today I am sharing a simple cleaning schedule that I have followed (more or less) for years.

Everyday tasks such as dishes, laundry, and meal prep are listed, plus one additional cleaning chore for each day from Monday to Friday.  There’s a blank spot for each day, to fill in what you are planning to make for supper.  In the Thursday column, there’s another blank spot to fill in one monthly job of your choice.  (See the list below the schedule, for a few suggestions.)

By having this schedule in place, my house can stay reasonably clean without much thought or stress.  And on the weeks when I don’t complete each and every task (hey, it happens 😉 ) I simply take a breath and start again, from scratch, on Monday.

For more background on how this routine came about, see this post.

To access the pdf file of the schedule to print, click here.

Let me know in the comments – what is your cleaning routine?  And if you try my schedule, tell me how it works for you!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Friday Rambles

Cleaning House on Auto-Pilot

Ah, cleaning.  The necessary evil, some might say.  I’ve flip-flopped between having a good and bad attitude about it.  In the end – one way or another – it needs to get done.

The internet is loaded with housecleaning schedules and lists of all kinds.  We’ve all seen them on Pinterest.  As a younger mom, I found these schedules fairly helpful.  Because quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how often I should be doing all the different tasks.

After a while I made my own schedule, and put it up on the fridge.  I followed it pretty well, most of the time.  Then I had a second kid, and even the schedule I had made (as basic as it was) became a little too daunting.

These days, I work off of a list of priorities.  I knock off the things at the top of the list first, which are the most important (think: basic survival).  And then I work my way down, in-amongst the multiple interruptions that may occur throughout the day.  The things at the end of the list – truthfully, they don’t often get done.  Needless to say, my house is not sparkling clean.  But we stay fed, and clothed, and in a basically neat and sanitary space, as often as I can possibly manage.

Here are the things I keep on my mental list, in order of importance:

  • Dishes (there are always more)
  • Laundry (ditto)
  • Food (meal prep)
  • Tidy (put all/most of the things away)
  • Clean the bathrooms
  • Sweep or vacuum floors

Those 6 things, on a good week, I can keep up with for the most part.  When I have the luxury of moving beyond the basics, these are next:

  • Mop the floors
  • Wipe down kitchen cupboards and appliances
  • Organizational tasks (e.g. sorting through clothing)
  • Dust
  • Clean doors, windows, and walls

During the years of having a child under 3 at home, it is the exception (and not the rule) that I actually complete those final items on my list.  And for those of you who have more than one child under 3, well – bless your heart!

The nice thing is, after being a mom for a whopping 8 years, the list has become pretty automatic.  Which is helpful for me, because I do become overwhelmed with a lot of commotion, or when jobs pile up so high that I know I can’t possibly do them all.  My tendency, in those situations, would be to circle the house in a distracted and confused way, jumping from one task to the next and then forgetting what I was doing before.

Now, when I get to that overwhelmed place and can’t imagine laying eyes on a cleaning schedule of any sort (like really: just shoot me now), I flick on my auto-pilot.

Dishes, laundry, food.

Everything else will wait.

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And once I have a handle on those 3 things, I relax a little.  Any step beyond that is icing on the cake.  The further I move down the list, the more competent and relaxed I feel.

Sometimes I have a bad week, and I don’t move beyond the first 3.  Yikes.  This is when I take a deep breath, collect myself, and decide that I will be starting fresh on Monday.

Because, the cleaning will always be there.  My children won’t.  They’ll grow up, and move out, and the house will probably stay a lot cleaner.  But while they’re here, they need to be cared for and nurtured.  That takes a lot of time and effort.

So in the meantime, my husband and I put up with the stubbed toes (seriously, those toys are everywhere), sticky floors, and overflowing laundry baskets.  And no, it’s not always with a smile on the face.

I think other moms probably keep up with their houses better than I do.  But, I’ll keep on tryin’.  And besides, when it comes to loving my kids – that’s one job I know I’m best at.

What’s your housecleaning routine?  Do you like schedules, or hate them?  Any cleaning advice for me?

Warm wishes,

Lisa