When life gets real

The idea for this blog started almost two years ago.  Work began about a year and a half ago, with the idea that we would launch when everything was ready.  So it sat for months and we would work on it in spurts.  Finally, in January, my husband and I buckled down and decided to pick a launch date and work to have anything ready that we needed by then.  For no real reason, other than it was the perfect blend of attainable and it lit a fire under us to finish, we picked March 1st.  And everything was done by then.

One factor that did not get considered in picking a launch date was my pregnancy.  We found out that I was pregnant at the beginning of February and it never occurred to me that the pregnancy would affect any goals we had for the blog.  I was wrong.  This is my second pregnancy, and I have suffered the typical exhaustion and nausea that comes with the first trimester during both of them.  This time, it really knocked me on my butt.

There was no maximization to my days whatsoever.  If a day ended with my daughter still alive and well and our house was standing, it was a success.  I slept every possible minute and laid down whenever my daughter let me.  My husband took care of grocery shopping and I’m fairly certain that we will be responsible for a spike in profits for the Stouffer’s company.  All the while, this little blog went live and my ideas and insights for squeezing the most out of life were available for anyone to read.

I felt like such a hypocrite.

My day to day life looked nothing like the habits I was promoting.  Family and close friends kept reminding me that this was just a phase.  It won’t be like this forever.  And while I knew that this was true, it didn’t make me feel any better.

I finally started to turn a corner at the beginning of April and had grand plans for a month of posts about the benefits of and tricks for menu planning.  Obviously, that never happened.  Even though I was starting to feel better, it took me a lot longer than I would have liked to get back in the swing of things.  And the longer I didn’t do anything with the blog, the more the hypocrisy lingered over me.  Who am I to make suggestions to people when I don’t do them myself?  Even when I’m not nauseous every waking minute of the day.

Then I remembered why I started this little endeavor to begin with.  It’s so easy to look around and be overwhelmed by what we think we should be doing or look like or have and settle for the lie that it’s not possible.  There are limitations, obviously.  I’m never going to be the mom that runs marathons, looks like Kate Middleton or has the shoe collection I covet. But parts of what I desire for my days to look like are attainable with some self-discipline and help from others.  And I firmly believe that this is true for everyone.  Our surrounding circumstances do not dictate what our life has to look like.

When I started reading blogs a few years ago, I found a few that I really enjoyed and read faithfully.  But most of what I found on the blogosphere made me feel inferior (through no fault of those bloggers – it’s just my own insecurities).  When I first thought about ‘Maximizing Days’, my hope and goal for it was that it would be a place where people would be encouraged and feel equipped – and that it would show real life.

Pregnancy sickness and exhaustion lead to two months of inactivity, missed opportunities, messes, and a lot of tears.  But, by God’s grace, in four short months, the end result of that will be a beautiful bundle of joy that I can hold in my arms (along with more inactivity, missed opportunities, LOTS of messes and a lot of tears).  Those days are over now.  New days are here.  And with each of those days, I can choose to make the little decisions that make life better in the big picture.

And you can too.

Those grand plans that I had for meal planning tips are now in the works for the month of June.  Stay tuned.

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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Receipt Organization

How long do you keep receipts for things you purchase?  We keep them for a year – because almost everything is not able to be returned after one year.

I have a (cheap) accordion-style coupon organizer.  It’s small (6”x12”), so it fits in a drawer and it has 12 compartments.  Each of the compartments are labeled for each of the months.  All of our receipts go in that month’s compartment.  At the beginning of each month, I pull out the previous year’s receipts from that month and go through them.  Every once in a while there’s a receipt that I think we should keep for a little longer, and it goes in the very back of the accordion.  All the rest get thrown away to make room for this month’s purchases.  It makes it really easy to minimize paper clutter due to holding on to unnecessary receipts, and it makes it easier to find a receipt if you do end up needing to return something.

Receipt Organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

Receipt Organization - maximizingdaysblog.com

*We only keep receipts for things that may need to be returned.  Once logged in our checking account, receipts for things such as groceries and gas get thrown away.

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!

‘Wish for It’ Pinterest Board

I am that person that always has a list of things that I would like.  I grew up in a family where you wrote wish lists for Christmas and your birthday, and I’ve carried on that tradition.  The other reason that I still make wish lists is because I am a terrible gift giver, and whenever it comes time to get someone something, I always wish that they had a list.  Some people say that it’s lazy, and maybe that’s a small part of it, but a bigger (in my opinion, the more selfless) part of it is that I want to make sure that I get the person something that they really want.  Add to this equation my inability to do subtlety, so unless someone explicitly says to me “This is what I want”, I won’t pick upon it.  Thus, I love when people have wish lists and I always have one to help out those who are generous enough to give me gifts.

With the advent of technology, I no longer write my lists and mail them – like I used to do when I was a kid.  I have created a board on Pinterest called “Wish For It”, which is my digital wish list.  Almost all of the people who give me gifts follow me on Pinterest, so they can look at it anytime.  I can also add things to it at anytime.  My favorite feature, however, is that by putting the items on my Pinterest board, a person can click on the pin, and get directed to the link where they can order the item.  I like to think that I’m helping them save time and maximizing their days too!

I still get all kinds of gifts that aren’t on my “Wish For It” board, which is awesome.  But I have also had a number of times that people have said “I found this on your Pinterest board”.  Mission Accomplished.