Reclaiming Sunday Nights

Reclaiming Sunday Nights :: maximizingdaysblog.comUgh.  Sunday night.  It’s not my favorite.

I was one of those strange kids that liked school and even more fortunate adults who liked her job, and now enjoys staying home with my kids – and I still dread Sunday nights.

The finality of the weekend is such a bummer.  It seems counterintuitive, but it’s even harder now that I am a stay-at-home mom.  I work hard to get all the stuff that is necessary for life done during the week so that when the weekend comes, we can focus on enjoying it.  And enjoy it, we do.  And then Sunday night comes and all I can think is “it’s five long days until we’re back here again.”  It’s a terrible attitude.

Reclaiming Sunday Nights :: maximizingdaysblog.com

A couple months ago, I read an article in Real Simple where people shared meal highlights and ideas.  One lady wrote about how she grew up with Sunday nights being the one night a week that her mother didn’t make a complete meal or they didn’t sit at the dining room table to eat it.  I can’t remember the exact menu, except that it included a baguette and popcorn and they ate it at the coffee table while watching TV.

I was immediately drawn to the idea of doing something “special” – but simple – on Sunday nights as a family.

So I instituted Sunday Night Snacky Supper.  We have Bible Study every other Sunday night, but on the Sundays when we’re home, it’s Snacky Supper.  The menu varies slightly, but usually includes a meat and cheese tray, crackers, veggies & dip, and fruit.  I joke that it’s snacks disguised as a meal.  (My husband says that I don’t disguise it enough.)  If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll add a hot appetizer or store-bought sushi.

We’re not big TV watchers.  We do, however, love sports, so if we’re watching TV, there’s a 90% chance that a sporting event is on our TV. Most Sundays, I bring Snacky Supper to our family room and we eat supper while watching a game.

Reclaiming Sunday Nights :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Last Sunday, there was no sporting event on, so I suggested that we have a family Wii tournament.  I honestly don’t know where the idea came from.  I’ve played Wii ten times in my life, maybe.  But I thought it would be a fun change of pace.  We invited family to join us, but they had other plans, so it was just my husband, me and our 21 month old.

My husband and I played tennis, bowled, hit home runs (or, in my case, didn’t hit home runs) and golfed.  In between turns, we ventured over to the supper trays and grazed.  We let our daughter do the same thing.  She’s never had a meal that didn’t involve sitting in her chair with her food on her plate, so we weren’t sure how it would go, but she did great.  We started out with a plate on her lap, but once she finished that, then she did what Mom and Dad did.  This was in between her laughing at the funny dances I did when I had a great shot and cheering for whoever was up at the moment she decided to cheer.

It was one of the most fun nights we’ve had a in a long time.  And it happened on a Sunday!  It wasn’t until I laid down that night that I realized that it was Sunday night and I was in a good mood.  It had been too long since that had been the case.

Snacky Supper had been a tradition for a while now, but this new game component of it was here to stay.

It won’t always be Wii Tournaments, if, for no other reason than I’m not sure which emotion would hit first for me, boredom or frustration with constantly losing.  This summer, it will probably be an assortment of lawn games.  During the long Minnesota winters, I’d imagine it will be back to Wii and good old-fashioned board games.  The common denominator being that there will be some sort of fun activity for our family to do together.

The reason that I was always so grumpy on Sunday nights is that our family time had come to a close.  What Snacky Supper made me realize is that instead of wasting the little bit of remaining time left mourning that, I should take advantage of it with the very people that make the weekends so great.

Reclaiming Sunday Nights :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Reclaiming Sunday nights (or whatever time where you need what my Grandpa used to call an “attitude adjustment”) was all about figuring out what brought me the most joy.  For some people it may be that they need to be alone.  For others, they may want to enjoy a really nice dinner on their fancy china in their formal dining room.  For me, it was being intentional about spending time with my family and doing something fun.  As far as the meal, the key has been that I don’t have to decide what to make each week and I don’t have to spend a lot of time with prep, cooking or clean-up.

Now the problem is looking forward to Sunday nights so much that I have to be careful not to wish the weekend away.  Not a bad problem to have.

Reclaiming Sunday Nights :: maximizingdaysblog.com

Bonus: Snacky Supper is a great excuse to get all the fruits and veggies washed and cut up before the week.  Both my husband and I are great about snacking on fruits and veggies if they’re in a container in the fridge.  If they’re “whole” and in the crisper drawer, we don’t touch them.  I don’t know why, it’s just the way we both are.  So prepping supper on Sunday nights does double-duty for getting easily accessible healthy snacks.  See more about fridge organization here.

How to Organize your fridge - maximizingdaysblog.com

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How a Whiteboard Changed the Way We Use our Deep Freezer

Use a whiteboard to track inventory and maximize deep freezer organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

One of my husband’s favorite stories to tell comes from our first move. Upon pulling the entire contents of the freezer out, it became clear to him how much stuff we had in there.

Having a lot of food in the deep freezer isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  That’s what they’re there for.  The problem was  how long much of the food had been in the freezer.  Every time I cleaned it, I would find things that I forgot were in there or that I’d probably never use.  But because there was nothing “wrong” with them, I’d think “I’ll use it sometime” and pack it back in there.

In an organized fashion, of course….

Josh made a strong case that if I hadn’t used much of this food in the last two or three years – yes, YEARS – I wasn’t ever going to use it.  I insisted that I would and he asked why I hadn’t used it yet.  I tried defending myself, but honestly, when I put food in the deep freezer, I forgot about it.

Then my husband had one of his best husband-moments of our marriage.  He helped me problem solve.  Knowing me as well as he does, he came up with a solution that catered to multiple facets of my craziness.  He suggested that we inventory the freezer and make a list of all the food in there.  He actually said, “It’s like that list it is one of your to-do lists, and your job is to erase things off of it by using that food.” 

BRILLIANT.

Josh was successful in convincing me to throw out much of the old food before we moved to the house, so I started fresh.  This made a huge difference in making this system work.

I started by making a list of all the food in our freezer, along with the quantities of each item and broke it up into categories (Meat, Bread, Meals, Vegetables, Fruit & Misc).  We adhered a whiteboard to the deep freezer door and I wrote all of the contents on it.

Use a whiteboard to track inventory and maximize deep freezer organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

The whiteboard works perfectly, because it’s easy to keep the list updated.  When we take something out, we adjust the list and when we put food in, we write it in.  It’s a quick, at-a-glance way to know what we have in our freezer.  Having this system for a couple of years now, we’ve found that it is beneficial for even more reasons than we originally intended.

1 – It’s a lot harder to completely forget about those items that get pushed to the back.

Inevitably, this happens.  We all have food in our deep freezers that only gets pulled out when getting ready to defrost it. Whether you see something when you look in the freezer isn’t the determining factor in whether that item gets used.  Looking at the list allows me to see everything in the freezer, even if I can’t easily see it when I open the door.

2 – Helps with bulk purchasing

We buy a number of items from Sam’s Club or Trader Joe’s – both of which are at least an hour away, so we don’t get there often.  When we do go, we buy multiples of things.

Before the whiteboard, we’d stand in the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s and try to recall what we needed more of.  We had about a 50% success rate.  We would predictably get back from one of those trips and put our three bags of frozen mangoes away only to find that we already had three, but were completely out of mixed berries.

Now, before we leave for Fargo or Minneapolis (where I joke that there are “real” stores and I can do “real” shopping), we take a picture of the whiteboard.  No more guess work in the frozen food aisle; we just pull out our phones and we know exactly what we need.

3 – A Menu Planning Game-Changer

I start my weekly menu planning at our deep freezer.  Looking at the list of everything that we have helps me get started for ideas of what to make.  As much as possible, I try to use what we already have to minimize the amount that we need to buy.

4 – It’s a great motivator

I don’t write dates on the whiteboard, but because we’re constantly updating it, I have a fairly good idea what’s in there that’s getting old.  So, like a to-do list where items should be crossed off, the items on the whiteboard should be consumed.  This probably isn’t true for everyone, but it totally works with my competitive nature.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I had to throw something away because it got old in our freezer.

 

Use a whiteboard to track inventory and maximize deep freezer organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

The whiteboard is a game-changer because it makes tracking inventory easy because it’s right there and is easily edit-able.

TIP: The whiteboard markers that have the magnet on them are necessary.

Use a whiteboard to track inventory and maximize deep freezer organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

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Coordinating Gift Meals

One of the greatest gifts we got when Elida was born wasn’t anything (directly) for her. My friend, Brooke, visited us in the hospital the day that she was born and said “I will take care of coordinating meals for you, so if anyone asks you about bringing you food, have them talk to me.” I was in the post-partum exhaustion/elation haze and just said “Okayyyyyy”, not really knowing what that means.

Brooke has had four babies. She totally gets this bringing-home-baby craziness that I was experiencing for the first time. She knew what a blessing this would be. When someone offered to bring us a meal and asked what we’d like, I just said, “Brooke is taking care of coordinating that. You can call her.”, and didn’t think anything else about it.

The day after we got home from the hospital, Brooke called me and asked how often we wanted meals (every day for the next week, every other day for the next couple weeks, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc.), what kinds of foods we didn’t like and what time we’d like them to bring the food. Then she said that she’d coordinate the meals and let me know who was bringing what when. And that’s just what she did.

As it turns out, there were a number of generous people who wanted to bring us food after we brought E home so that I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. I was amazed. What I would have never known, but that Brooke had learned in her birthing of four children was that sometimes that generosity can actually make things harder. Well-intentioned as people may be, if left to their own to bring meals may mean having 3 meals show up in one day, another one the next evening as you’re finishing making something (awkward!) and another one that your family simply will not eat.

After being on the receiving end of this, I decided that this is a great gift and this kind of gift is totally up my alley. (I get to make a spreadsheet!) When one of my friends have a baby, I let them know that I will take care of coordinating this for them. I ask them the following questions: (which I learned from Brooke)

  1. How often would you like a gifted meal (daily, a certain number of times per week, one day a week, etc.)?
  2. What kinds of food do your family particularly like?
  3. What kinds of foods would not be enjoyed by your family?
  4. What is the best time for food to be delivered?

I also give them a few cards with my contact information. That way, if a person says something to my friend about bringing a meal, they have a very easy way to say “My friend is taking care of this so that I don’t have to think about it.” Use this printable and fill in your contact information and then give them to the new mom (ideally, before the baby is even born).

I use this chart to track who is bringing what meal when. After I’ve got it all scheduled, then I simply let my friend know who will be coming on which days with what delicious meals.  The newborn stage has it’s challenges, but it also is filled with so much joy, and if there’s something I can do to diminish challenges and allow friends to enjoy more of the good stuff, then that is a gift I can’t wait to give!

Diaper Bag Essentials

Diaper Bag Essentials :: maximizingdaysblog.com
I live in an ongoing tension between my desire to be prepared for anything that may arise and my aversion to excess.  This was played out in deciding not only what type (and size) of diaper bag to purchase, but also with which  items should go in the diaper bag.  

Diaper Bag Requirements

  1. Plenty of room for the obvious, but also little extras
  2. A compartment for my stuff.  I didn’t want to carry this bag AND a purse, so I needed this diaper bag to do double duty
  3. Not look too diaper bag-y.  In appearance, I wanted it to be father on the purse end of the scale rather than on the typical diaper bag end.
  4. (Seemingly contradictory) Not look too feminine.  My husband needed to be able to carry this around and not feel like he was carrying a woman’s purse.

https://www.skiphop.com/skiphop-diaper-bags-tote/VC_216008.html

Thanks goodness for Amazon.  It took a long time to find one that fit all of the criteria.  We decided on the Skip Hop Grand Central bag.  It was a lot more than I wanted to spend on a diaper bag, but more than one person warned me that the cheap bags were not worth it because they fell apart so quickly.  I quieted that cheapskate voice in my head and purchased this bag.  

I have not regretted it once.  

It does exactly what I wanted it to do.  The middle compartment is sizable and fit all of her diaper stuff, a set of extra clothes, ointments, and a pouch with medicine and other toiletries.  One of the outside pockets has a designated spot for my phone and worked perfectly to hold my stuff.  We use the other outside pocket for toys or stuff for feeding.  

One of the reviews I read said that they didn’t like it because it got bulky.  It can get bulky, but that’s usually because we’re stuffing it full.  

One feature that I didn’t think would be a big deal, but that I have come to LOVE are the straps that allow it to easily hang on the handle bar of the stroller.  They are sturdy and easily hold a very full bag, which allows us to use the entire under compartment of the stroller for other stuff without having to carry the bag on our shoulder.  

Diaper Bag Essentials :: maximizingdaysblog.com

My one complaint is that I wish that it had a crossbody strap so that I could carry it across my body.  That being said, I’m not sure that a bag this size would be able to be comfortably worn on my hip.  

Once we had the bag, we had to decide what to put in it.  I handled this much the same way I handled all of these issues that came up with a firstborn – I went to Pinterst.  I found a number of lists that were helpful, but almost all of them had a bunch of things on them that I didn’t intend on even using, let alone carry around in our diaper bag.  

Truth be told, in my tension between wanting to be prepared and my desire to not have a lot of stuff, more often than not, the minimalist tendencies win out.  And if something happens, I make due with what I have.  It is almost always sufficient.

Diaper Bag necessities - maximizingdaysblog.com

Diaper Bag Essentials

  1. Diapers (obvi…)
  2. WipesHint: When our packages of wipes would get low, I would make them the diaper bag wipes so that I didn’t have to lug around 100 wipes.  It was way cheaper than buying the small package
  3. Diaper disposal bags
  4. Travel size diaper ointment
  5. Sunscreen
  6. Travel size bath wash & baby lotion
  7. Medicines: Tylenol, ibuprofen, gas drops & corresponding droppers
  8. Lightweight toys (Sophie the giraffe, fabric books, etc.)
  9. Nursing cover
  10. Single-serve formula packet – We received these as free samples.  I breastfed exclusively, but decided to keep them in her bag in case we were ever in a pinch and didn’t have a way to get her breast milk
  11. Nipple Shield – This was an unfortunate reality for me, but using this was the only way I could nurse.  I heard horror stories of how annoying it was, but I didn’t think it was that bad.  I had two and kept one in the diaper bag, so wherever we went, I had what I needed to nurse her.
  12. Swaddling blanket
  13. PajamasHint: Instead of carrying an entire extra outfit, I always had a one-piece pajama. It accomplished the same purpose as an outfit, but was less to carry.  That, and I didn’t want one of her outfits to not get used because it just sat in her diaper bag
  14. Onesie 
  15. Hat
  16. Clutch purse – I downsized my purse to a clutch so that I had everything I needed in one spot.  The clutch fit nicely in the diaper bag, but when I didn’t have the diaper bag with me, I could grab the clutch and go.

As she got a little older, the only two changes were that I didn’t keep a change of clothes in there for her because she didn’t have blowouts anymore and there wasn’t the need for the swaddling blanket anymore either.  The only addition I made once she started eating solid food was a container of cheerios.  If we were going to need to feed her, I packed the diaper bag for that with food, a spoon and bib.

For the most part, I feel like I found the balance I was looking for.  

We always had what we needed, but haven’t had to lug around a bag that weighs as much as she does in order to be prepared for whatever her little life brings.  

What essentials do you put in your diaper bag?  What am I missing?

Card Sending

Card Sending 2I grew up in a card-giving family. For birthdays, you always gave and received two cards; a humorous one and a sentimental one. And we were those people who sent “just because” cards on a frequent basis. Most college students spent more money than they should have at bars and at the mall. I did so at Hallmark. (Okay, I spent more than I should at the mall too).
After I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, DC and I still sent birthday and anniversary cards, but I wasn’t as on top of it as I used to be. By the time I moved to Minnesota a few years later, I was doing well if my grandma got her birthday card a week after her birthday. And the ‘Thinking of You’ cards? Forget about it.

Now, I know many people will say that sending cards is outdated, and they may be right. But I’m old school – at least when it comes to this. Even in our instant gratification culture, I still get excited when I receive (real) mail. I like getting texts; my phone dings with a message, I read it, and it ends there. But when I open my mailbox and there’s a pretty envelope with my name and address hand-written on there, it means a little more. See, old school.

I decided that I needed to make this a priority. I needed to find a way to make sure that the people I cared about knew that I cared about them. An action plan was put in place and it looks like this:

  1. I did what I always do when I need to come up with a system for something: I created a spreadsheet. Use this one page printable  or this three page printable and put it in your card-sending station. Use old calendars, your memory and whatever else you used to use to keep track of these things to find all of the “card-sending” events for your loved ones. It’s a quick, at-a-glance way to see how many cards need to be sent in a month and to whom.
  2. Get the cards.  You can buy them individually, in box sets or make them.  I’ve done all three at different times.  Don’t get hung up on this.  Whatever works best for you.Card Sending 1
  3. Create a card-sending station. Having everything you need for a task all in one place is the difference maker when it comes to these kinds of tasks. Have your cards, envelopes, pens, return address labels, address book and stamps all in the same location so that you have everything and you don’t constantly get interrupted to go get something to finish the task.
    Card Sending 2
  4. Write the cards. Once a month find a time to sit down and write all of your cards for the next month. Pull out your list, choose a card for each occasion and write all of the cards for the next month. I have found that the middle of the month is the best time to do this because then I don’t miss those beginning of the month events. In addition to the event cards, I also pick two people each month and send them a ‘Thinking of You’ card. I wish I could do this more, but I have learned that if I don’t do it during this time, it doesn’t get done. Writing the messages in the cards is the most time-taking part of the process. But it is also the best part. When I make myself sit down and put in writing how much I love and appreciate people, it makes me love and appreciate them even more. And it reminds me how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.
  5. Address and stamp the envelopes. I have a spreadsheet that is saved on Dropbox, so I can look up everyone’s address on my phone. If you’re more old-fashioned and prefer an address book, use that and keep it in your card-sending station.
  6. Put a post-it on the envelope with the date it needs to be mailed. To be on the safe side, I pick a date that is six days before the event. Card Sending 3
  7. Put them in a high-traffic area where you will see them and be reminded to stick them in the mail. I put mine in our outgoing mail holder in our ‘Command Center’ which we walk by each day.

Card Sending 4

Card Sending 5

That’s it. You will be amazed at how little time this actually takes. I love the feeling I get when I grab an addressed envelope and drop it in the mailbox; knowing that in a few days one of my favorite people will know how much they mean to me. The only downside is that they may call you to tell you how much they appreciated what you wrote, but because you wrote it over a month ago, you can’t remember. Not that that has ever happened……