Why You Need A Paper Planner

   Mental load – it’s a catchy new feminist term for all the mental gymnastics moms and women, in general, do to keep their households running smoothly.  A comic from a French cartoonist titled “You Should’ve Asked” has been making the rounds on social media.  While I don’t think women are the only ones’ saddled with an overwhelming mental load, I do think that every woman struggles with it.  But, how does someone, in the words of Taylor Swift, “shake it off?”  Easy, a paper planner.  I’ve used a paper planner from my first semester in college and to this day I find it is one of the most valuable items anyone, especially working moms, can use.  From the tactile satisfaction of using your favorite pen on fancy paper to never forgetting another birthday again, there are so many reasons to invest in a paper planner – I’ve compiled my favorites here.

 

        Satisfaction of finishing a to-do list.  Seriously, is there anything better than checking things off a list?  I’ll wait…exactly, there isn’t.  Whenever I’m able to cross out everything that needs to be done I really feel like I’ve got my life on track (even if it’s patently a false presumption).  I’ve used a habit tracker in my bullet journal since I started using that system and the satisfaction of coloring in that little square has started multiple good habits – flossing, taking my probiotics, reading to Livia and having “no spend” days to name a few.  Clicking on an onscreen box doesn’t even compare.

        There is a planner for you.  Do you want a pretty planner?  Look into a Lilly Pulitzer or Vera Bradley.  Do you want a simple, blank planner?  Can’t go wrong with The Simplified Planner.  Do you want to customize everything?  Check out an Erin Condren.  Want total flexibility?  Try bullet journaling.  Paper quality the most important?  Look at the Rhodias.  These just barely touch the surface of the planner universe.   I can think of, at least, another 10 planner designs off the top of my head.  Seriously, whatever is the most important feature (or features) to you there is a planner system that accommodates it.

        Never forget anything ever again.  This is the number one reason I need a paper planner.  I’ve religiously used a paper planner since I started college seven years (geeze, seven years already?) ago.  In that time I’ve used two Mead Five-Star Planners, a Vera Bradley, a Lilly Pulitzer, The Simplified Planner and the bullet journal system – I don’t forget about things like birthdays, appointments or parties anymore.  I can schedule doctor’s appointments a year in advance because I write it all down.  The freedom that comes from unloading that mental load is surprising.  Moms, especially, carry a large mental load and having a planner gives space to get the clutter on paper.  Keeping upcoming events on paper, lets me know well in advance if I have something coming up and I need to make plans or arrangements.

        Bill tracking is easy.  This in the same vein as “Never forget anything ever again.”  It’s easy to write down “pay the mortgage” on the 20th of every month with a reminder three or four days before or to write a reminder that the car insurance gets auto drafted on the 8th of every month.  If you, like me, constantly forget if you’ve already paid the water bill, I write down the check number, the date it was sent and the amount of each bill I pay.  So when I have a moment of panic, I just flip back until I find the bill I was looking for – problem solved!

        Easily get a quick at a glance look at the day, week or month.  This is my number one complaint with digital planners – getting a good weekly or monthly overview is impossible.  I love being able to flip to the month and know what is going on in seconds, instead of having to click on the little calendar boxes for each item.

        Paper planners can keep everything together.  From grocery lists to bills that need to be paid, to party invitations or reminder cards I have all sorts of stuff in the pockets of my planner.  Even better, I can throw half of those away once I’ve transferred the information into my planner.  It’s a great place to plan meals, keep track of kids growth and milestones, make Christmas and birthday lists among hundreds of other uses.  I am the queen of forgetting good gifts or baby names and since I’ve started keeping a running list of things I don’t have to spend time and effort trying to remember what it was I forgot.

        Paper planning provides “unplugged” time.  We, as a whole, spend far too much time in front of screens.  I enjoy the organic and tactile process of getting away from the computer, cell phone or TV and just planning.  It’s time I can spend to focus on getting everything cluttering up my mind onto paper.  Honestly, even if this were the only benefit of using a paper planner I might do it anyway.  I hate how much screens eat up my time even when I make a conscious effort to put the phone down and walk away from the TV.  Screen time hurts our eyes, our circadian rhythms and makes us much less happy with what we have – having a specific time to put all of that aside is grounding and makes me a more pleasant person.

        Planners are keepsakes.  I’ve kept all of my planners since Doug and I got married and sometimes I like to pull them out just to see how different our lives were four years ago.  Sometimes I’ll flip back through an old planner to get inspiration for meal planning.  My favorite is to look back on the months that I was pregnant with Livia and remember the excitement that came along with expecting our first baby and after she was born, I wrote down her height and weight from doctor’s visits (because I’m terrible at baby books).  One day, maybe, she will come across this stack of planners and get a look at what our day-to-day was like before she was born or when she was a little kid.

 

        Paper planners save my butt.  They keep me on top of everything I need to take care of and they remind me of anything upcoming.  I love being able to take quick notes about something funny Livia said or did to remember in the future.  The freedom that a planner gives me to forget all the clutter in my head keeps me sane.  What is keeping you from using one, if you don’t?  What is your favorite planner design or planner system?  Let me know in the comments below!

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10 Hacks for Working Moms


Before Livia was born, I thought that adding another person to our family would be an easy transition – really, how hard can it be?  It turns out a lot harder than I thought.  Seriously, working outside of the home for 40 hours a week, plus the commute time, is hard, way harder than I imagined it would be.  I spend most of the day at work so ready to get home, but my real job is much easier and less stressful than what I have to take care of at home.  It’s almost like I leave my easy job at 5:00 to go to my crazy one at home.  I’ve spent the last 19 months working to create some sort of balance between work, home, family and personal time.  It’s never easy to spread yourself thin – but with a few “hacks” I’ve picked up over the last year and a half, it can be a little bit easier.

I’ve split these into three categories:  Meals, Home and Kids.  Plus a few extras at the end.

Meals

Meal prep as much as possible.  Whether it’s batch cooking on the weekend, chopping veggies for a later meal or plating a week’s worth of lunches at once – eliminating tasks, therefore time, when cooking each meal can add up to extra time at the end of the day or before supper is ready.  Doug and I bring leftovers for lunch pretty much every day, eating out for lunch or grabbing a frozen dinner aren’t viable options for both health and money reasons, so keep the number of leftovers you need in mind when meal planning and cooking.

Utilize kitchen gadgets (aka: slow cookers and Instant Pots).  I know that everyone and their mom has at least one slow cooker in their kitchen, but they are easily one of the biggest time savers for getting supper on the table with minimal work.  Personally, I prefer the Instant Pot.  They are great for preparing staples – rice, hard boiled eggs, and broth.  But, are used for so much more, they are the ultimate one-pot, time-saving solution for supper time woes (man, I should have been an ad copywriter).

Have a list of easy, quick meals and keep the pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients.  For us, that’s Half Baked Harvest’s Caprese Chicken Bolognese, The Kitchn’s Sloppy Joes and rice and beans.  Find something your family loves, takes less than 30 minutes to cook and is easy to keep the ingredients in the house.  I’ve talked about some of my favorite meals before, here.

Home

This is a rough subject for me.  I’m not a particularly neat person (as my husband and parents can attest), so spending time cleaning is not high on my priorities.

Figure out something that works for you.  Do you need to do clothes once a week?  Every day?  How often do you want to fold and put away clothes?  What’s the best time of day to sweep or vacuum the floors?  Who’s doing what chores?  Ask yourself, your spouse, heck, even your kids, questions like these to figure out what cleaning schedule works best for your family.

Trade off with your husband.  Do NOT try to keep the house clean by yourself, all you will end up doing is running yourself ragged and resenting everyone else that lives in your house.  You both work full-time, you both wear clothes, you both eat supper, you both helped make those babies – make sure he’s an equal partner in all aspects of your life.  Example:  I cook supper while Doug plays with Livia.  We eat as a family and after one of us bathes Livia while the other cleans the kitchen.  I shower while he gets her dressed.  Then I get her (and me) ready for bed while Doug has some free time.  Then she and I go to sleep and he does whatever he feels needs to be done for the next day (at this point in my life sleep is more important than free time).  Our evenings are busy, but not hectic since we’ve started splitting the chores, additionally, I appreciate him so much for taking an active role in keeping our lives flowing smoothly.

Have a Top 3 list.  I normally have a running list of the most important things to get done for each day or week on top of our daily tasks.  Sometimes it’s get groceries, wash sheets and mop floors.  Other times it’s go through Livia’s clothes, clean out the fridge and hang up all my work clothes.  I never write these down, but this list is always in my head.  I don’t necessarily get to everything all the time, but I do my best to make progress.

Kids

I’m still really new at this whole parenting thing, I only have one kid, and she’s only 19-months-old, but I have learned a few things that seem to help keep our evenings less cranky.

Snacks, snacks, snacks.  I know I’m not the only parent whose kid turns into a monster when she’s hungry.  Livia could be the star of Snickers commercial – she is a perfect picture of hangry.  Keeping easy, healthy snacks for her on hand has made a world of difference in our evenings.  She currently loves pickles so I’ll give her five pickles to snack on while I cook supper or she will share a sandwich with Douglas (because adults need snacks, too).  I really like Plum Organics snack bars, and their snack sticks, both are really easy for her to self-feed and I don’t feel terrible about giving them to her.

Quality time over quantity time.  This is such a sticking point for me, I want to be with Livia all the time, but I can’t quit my job (for both personal and financial reasons – but that’s another story), so I end up constantly feeling guilty I’m not the one putting her down for her naps or eating lunch with her.  It took a long time to realize that just because someone spends all day long with their kids, that doesn’t mean their entire day is true quality time.  In the evenings when we are relaxing after supper, she is my main focus, I’m not worried about anything else and I do my best to keep distractions to a minimum.  I appreciate every minute I have with her because I have so few of them.  It took a long time and dealing with a lot of guilt to get to being okay with only seeing her for an hour in the morning and a few hours in the evening, but we are all happier this way.

A few odds and ends that don’t really belong well anywhere else or belong everywhere:

  1.  Grace, not perfection.  Perfection is unattainable, so give yourself a heaping helping of grace each day.  Sometimes, Livia eats a Gerber meal for supper or I just don’t want to wash clothes, so I don’t.  Instead of letting silly things ruin my mood, I give myself (and everyone around me) a dose of grace.  It will really change how you view yourself, your spouse and your kids.
  2.  Use the weekend to prepare for the week, but also use them to rest and recharge.  Like I said before, working 40 hours a week is hard, and you need those two days to recharge before gearing up to do it all over again – but spending a few hours getting everything ready for the week ahead will make all the difference on Thursday when you are just done with everything.  Balance – it’s important – find what works for you.

Working mama, I know it’s hard, I’m right there with you.  Sometimes all I need is a jug of coffee, a margarita and a massage (maybe all at the same time), but know that you are doing a great job no matter how swamped or inadequate you feel.

 

Working moms, what tricks get you through the long work-week?

Once A Month Meals Review


Around Christmas time last year I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, Hungry Squared  and they did an interview with the founder and creator of Once A Month Meals (OAMM from here on out), Tricia Callahan.  I was intrigued, “I only cook once a month and my family gets to enjoy home cooked meals all month long?  Where do I sign up?”  I listened to the podcast, used their coupon code, read all the literature online and set my cooking date:  January 2, 2017 (the day I was off since New Year’s Day fell on a weekend).  Let’s start the new year out with a bang, right?

What is Once A Month Meals, Anyway?

If you are unfamiliar with OAMM, it’s a paid service that helps you plan, prep and cook a month’s worth of freezer meals in one cooking day.  You choose and modify a full menu or mini-menu to suit your family’s tastes, diet preferences and method of cooking, as well as, how many servings you need from each meal.  There are thousands of recipes in their collection, and they have all been tested by OAMM to freeze and thaw well.  OAMM then prepares a master grocery list, master prep list, cooking steps, freezer labels and thaw/reheating instructions.  It’s a lot – my monthly instructions were nearly 20 pages long.  

My Experience:

In the podcast, Callahan said again and again, first-timers shouldn’t start out with a full menu because they get overwhelmed and then never try it again, but who’s one to listen to warnings?  Not me.  I chose to go with a heavily modified full easy-prep menu, most of my recipes were dump slow cooker meals.  I did, however, listen to her warnings to shop and cook on separate days, in fact, I shopped on two different days and prepped on a third.  She was right, starting with a full menu was intense.  I chopped something like 5 pounds of onions, my eyes hurt so bad I ended up using swimming goggles to protect my eyes.  I lost one of the sets of directions, and so my whole prep/cook process was thrown off.  We lost power midway through and I had to stop prepping and cooking for a few hours until we regained power.  It was basically a disaster, I’m sure most of it could have been avoided if I would have heeded Callahan’s warning and made sure I had all the literature I needed to accomplish what I set out to complete.  Honestly, though, closing our freezer full of meals that evening was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I’ve had in awhile.

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I was so proud of how full our freezer was, both of meals for Doug and I and liquid gold for Livia.

 

 

Why It Wasn’t For Me:

In case you couldn’t tell from the above, January was the only month I’ve done OAMM for our family.  Aside from the easily and uneasily avoided mishaps, there were other reasons I chose to forego additional months.  First, I learned really quickly that prepping a ton of a meal neither I nor my family, have ever tried isn’t necessarily a good thing.  There was more than one recipe that turned out bad, either the texture was off, the flavor was bland or it just wasn’t something we enjoyed.  It’s a real problem when there’s no backup plan because all the meals for the month have been prepared and frozen.  Another issue is that OAMM doesn’t eliminate the need to cook during the month, all of their recipes had a protein, most had a grain but few included vegetables.  My family likes vegetables and I really like to have at least one green food on our plates at night.  This process left me scrambling to find a box of mac and cheese or a can of green beans in our house because, once again, I’ve already cooked our meals for the month.  Additionally, it’s a lot of work.  From choosing the menu to grocery shopping, to chopping five pounds of onions, to the freezing everything correctly – it’s an entire weekend gone.  Sure, I probably saved time, but I lost sleep and sanity over it and it wasn’t worth it for me to complete again, and who wants to spend an entire weekend slaving over meals?  Finally, I relearned how much I actually enjoy cooking during the week.  There are days I would love nothing more than coming home to a prepared meal cooking away in the crockpot, but as an everyday part of my life I really missed the satisfaction and relaxation cooking brings me.  I love spending time cooking in the kitchen while visiting with Livia or watching her stack cans of tomatoes.  And, honestly, the time I was saving I was just sitting on the couch and watching Netflix, so it wasn’t really a huge win.

One caveat to my whole experience, I am toying around with the idea of completing a few mini menus before this baby comes in December.  I’ve started working on my list of freezer meals to stock our freezer and it seems easier to just let someone else figure out how many chicken thighs I need to triple this recipe or the best way to freeze this casserole.  I’m still early in my second trimester and I don’t plan on doing any freezer stocking until after 30 weeks so I have plenty of time to make up my mind, and I’ll probably let you know how that all works out.

My Takeaway:

Once A Month Meals is a fantastically developed program – the interface, instructions, and community are all top notch.  However, it’s a ton of work at one time.  Try grocery shopping for all of your food for an entire month in one go, it’s a lot of food and I was really stressed out about getting enough of everything, and accidentally skipping an item on my list, thus throwing everything into disarray.  You may not mind chopping a potato or two, but when you need to dice five pounds of potatoes you get really bored, and, then imagine you have to dice another five pounds of onions on top of that.  For my family, the effort wasn’t worth the return.  I have the time to cook in the evenings right now and I enjoy cooking, it helps me decompress from a day at work and it helps Livia develop an interest in cooking.  I’ve streamlined my meal planning and grocery shopping process, and I discussed it here, and it really works well for us at this moment in our lives.  But, if we were a busy family, with multiple kids doing multiple extracurricular activities or sports, I would probably be much more inclined to try again.

Have you ever tried freezer cooking?  What system works best for you?

On Loss

It was two years yesterday since I miscarried our first baby.  Just because that sweet life was an unexpected surprise, it didn’t make the pain any less.  Below is what I wrote two months after our loss.  Looking back to those months is painful, I was in a dark place and I wasn’t sure if I would ever see happiness again.  But I’ve come through to the other side, and the crippling pain I felt then has slowly morphed into a dull ache, a hole where that baby should be.  To anyone going through that dark place following a miscarriage remember you aren’t alone.

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Until you have been there, you can’t imagine the depth of true loss. You can’t imagine what it is like to plead with your body to do what it is supposed to and keep your baby safe.  You can’t imagine the utter desperation felt once you know that you are, in fact, miscarrying your child.

Douglas and I found out we were going to be parents on August 26, 2014.   We were scared out of our minds, but excited to experience this new adventure.  From the moment the test turned blue our entire world changed.  We were no longer just two somewhat-newlywedded twentysomethings, but parents to an a precious, unborn child. We began planning, from nurseries to car seats to prenatal diets to child care.  I quit coffee, caffeine and junk food. I had the model prenatal diet, I knew that my choices were not only affecting me, but my child.  I struggled with exhaustion and other less pleasant symptoms of pregnancy and marveled at the fact that I was growing another human being.  We kept our glorious news a secret, waiting until our first doctor’s visit before we told our families.  We shared furtive glances and almost let the news slip multiple times, but we held on to our amazing secret.

Our excitement grew as my first prenatal visit, scheduled for September 11, crept closer. Finally, we were going to tell our families.  Finally, we could express our excitement and trepidation at this huge journey we were taking.  That joy turned to sorrow the morning of September 11.

Something wasn’t right, as evidenced by the spotting.  I spent the morning in bed, hoping to halt the bleeding.  We left for our doctor’s appointment and picked up lunch on the way.  That’s when it was no longer just a little spotting, but full-out bleeding. My heart broke at that point.  The amazing Nurse Practitioner at my then ObGyn tried to assuage my fears, and did an amazing job at that appointment.  She sent us on our way with a bit of hope and instructions for a routine blood test.

However, that night, the bleeding was paired with cramping. Around midnight we lost our first child. Prior to the miscarriage, I cried over the loss. I tried to will my body to keep its precious cargo safe. But my pleas were not to be realized. The physical pain was surpassed only by the emotional pain. I woke the next morning to what could only be described as utter defeat.  That weekend passed in a blur, we told our parents and siblings of our loss and tried to understand the loss we experienced. I cried in physical pain and emotional pain.  My body hurt as sobs wracked my body, there were moments when I couldn’t breath from the emotional toll of the loss or the intensity of my sobs.

The following week I began a new job and I was able to heal.  It hurt like heck and I am lucky to have made it through that first week without breaking down at work. The doctor confirmed the miscarriage on Monday. We spent the week trying to put ourselves back together.

Since that weekend, nearly two months later, I’m not whole.  I’ve learned to accept that a part of my heart will always reside in heaven.  Losing our child has increased my hope in heaven.  I know that one day I can hold my first child in my arms, they can show me around their home. Our child has met my Aunt Suzette and Doug’s grandparents.  Though it’s not a Baptist belief, I’ve prayed that our baby will tell his (or her) siblings about us. I’ve learned that my baby lived its purpose in nine short weeks.  For the seventeen days I knew I was carrying a life inside of me, I felt love like I have never known. I believe harder in the promises of the Lord.  I know I don’t know what purpose the Lord has for my baby, but I know there is one.  I may never know that purpose, and I’m okay with it.  I’ve realized that my loss was not a senseless one but part of a plan.

Like I said before, I’m not whole.  Photos of happy newborns are hard to escape and pregnancy photos are even worse. Social media tests my resolve every single day.  There have been numerous times I’ve simply had to close social media site because it hurt. Every photo of a round belly attached to a smiling mother-to-be makes me feel my loss even more. I feel empty. Every post of feeling the baby’s movement remind me I should be feeling my child move, I would know the sex and possibly have a name picked out. We would be painting a nursery and getting a birth plan together. Right now it seems like everyone is planning on a birth in the spring of 2015.  The estimated due date of our baby was April 14.  I can’t discuss Duchess Kate’s pregnancy style without being reminded I could have that adorable baby belly.

I’ve been through hell and back with this loss.  I’ve questioned why and cried myself to sleep.  I’ve learned to live without my whole heart and have known the peace that passes all understanding.  I’m thankful for the seventeen days I shared with my beloved first child.

When Motherhood is Heavy


When I found out I was pregnant I put on the burden of motherhood.  It was light then, I could go about my day without being weighed down by it.  As Livia grew, so did it, it became heavier, it made it harder for me to move around, both literally and figuratively.

After her birth it was suffocating.  The first weeks with a newborn are hard: little sleep occurs, diaper pails overflow and feedings stretch for hours.  And all of this on top of recovering from what is, at best, equivalent of running a marathon and at its worst major surgery.  I remember feeling trapped by early motherhood.  I remember crying in the shower one day during her first week mourning my pre-baby life.  I desperately loved Livia, but I wasn’t sure if I made a terrible mistake bringing a child into my life.  I cried when the sun went down because I was exhausted but knew I would get maybe an hour or two of sleep between feedings.  There was a heaviness in those early days I couldn’t shake. Continue reading “When Motherhood is Heavy”

An Open Letter to July 2015 Sara,


Dear Pregnant Sara,

Hey there!  I know that the days seem so long and December seems so far away.  But, I promise you the next twenty weeks will go by unimaginably fast.  I remember how scary those last few weeks before viability were – the nightmares, the constant worry when the baby wasn’t moving the same as they had been the day before – especially now that you’ve had the big anatomy ultrasound and everything looked perfectly healthy.  I know you are still questioning if being surprised by the baby’s gender was the right decision, and I want to let you know that is 100% the right decision.  There is nothing like hearing Douglas proclaim, “It’s a girl,” in the delivery room, oh, that’s right, the baby you are carrying in your womb is a spunky red-headed little girl, just like the one you’ve seen in your dreams.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to July 2015 Sara,”