Class Schedule Management

It’s that wonderful time of year again, when the weather starts to turn and every now and then you see a leaf that’s a vibrant orange or red. I love the beginnings of fall. My absolute favorite part? Back to school!

I’m not even being sarcastic – I really love everything about school and learning and school supplies and assignments and readings. #hardcorenerd #lifelonglearner

The toughest part of school, to me, is managing the schedule alongside a full-time job and a new part-time job. I shared a little while ago about how I figure it all out, through a process I’ve been using since I started undergrad (12 years ago!) but I wanted to show you all some extra steps I learned over the Spring/Winter Semester!

 

I’m trying to stop using so much paper. I will probably always be a paper planner person, but I thought I’d try my hand at doing this in Excel. I pulled up both syllabi and reviewed them, looking for common themes. I realized there were four categories the work could be split into:

  1. Readings
  2. Major Assignments
  3. Minor Assignments
  4. Discussion Boards

So I made a spreadsheet and key that looks like this:

Step 1 of Organizing School

I have a hard time keeping the “EDH” and “EDF”‘s separate, so I gave myself a little reminder of what each class was. Then, I started plugging things in, based on the syllabus. But, I did it one week ahead of what the syllabus said. So if something is listed there for the week of October 14, I listed it under the week of October 7, because that’s the week I’ll actually be doing that work in. Does that make sense?

It looked something like this:

Step 2 of Organizing School

You can see how the color coding on the side went. I also made one class blue and the other purple. Last year, I did everything in the same color and wrote the name of the class next to the assignment. I much prefer this way in Excel. Here’s what it started to look like towards the time I was done:

Step 3 of Organizing School

So then, I created a new category called “Working Ahead.” For the items in yellow, I looked at them and what the syllabus says is involved and assumed what that means I’ll need to do. So for example, the week of September 2, we’re picking an issue we care about and we’ll be part of a group that writes and presents on that topic. So, that means, the week of August 26, I had to review the Topics:

Step 4 of Organizing School

I continued that process until the end of the semester for both classes, then I printed it out. I only printed it because I knew I had some times the day I made this when I could put some of these into my planner, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have.

I put the items for each week on long Post Its just like I did last time:

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BUT, I looked at my calendar as I did this: when are Birthdays? other work stuff? evening events? For those weeks, I printed out some of these great sheets (link is at the bottom of the post; I just wanted to be sure to give you the chance to read her whole post) made by Megan at Honey We’re Home (who, btw, is amazing, y’all). For my really crazy weeks, I just went ahead and filled these out and stuck them in my planner for that week, so I don’t have to use my mental energy to figure it out at that point! #BAM

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And, for two weeks a head of time, rather than working off a sticky note, I just went ahead and broke the assignments up in to how much I thought I could get done on each day:

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My hope is that this pre-planning keeps me from feeling the crushing weight of all the things I’m juggling. I keep trying to remind myself that this is a choice I’ve made; these are all things that make me happy, and that it’s okay if I can’t always manage it all.

What kinds of things help you survive hectic times? What do you think is the most useful piece of going to (any level of) school that you carry with you now?

A. Rose (1)

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A Weekday in the Life

It makes me feel like a total creeper that I love to read Day in the Life posts from bloggers but I totally do. I did a half-hearted version when I talked about what my Saturday Morning looks like. But the other day, I read this one from one of my favorite bloggers and I thought about making one about the weekday, as a way to truly reflect on where my time goes. I thought it might help me. So, hold tight! Here we go!

Note: If it’s snowing or snowed the night before, all of the morning gets bumped up about 20 minutes, except the part where I get to work around 8am.

6:30am – “Wake up. For the love of all that is good, your day will be so much better if you wake up.”

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Alarm Clock

A few months ago, I realized how much I was on my phone, so I challenged myself to leave my phone in the kitchen when I went to bed. The first step to that was buying an alarm clock. I have yet to regret it.

6:32am – “Brushing your teeth will help you wake up. Seriously.”

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Similar Kettle / Travel Mug

I usually brush my teeth while I get a cup of tea started and take my make up out of the case. By the time I’m done brushing, the tea is usually ready. I pour the hot water in and sit down to do my make up.

6:37am – “I bet you can do your make up faster today than you did yesterday.”

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Dark Eye Shadow / Shadow Pallet / Light Eye Shadow / Brush was bought at Walgreens? like, a decade ago / Concealer / Mascara / Blush (similar) / Mirror (compact) was made by my oldest sister out of a Cover Girl powder that she hollowed out and put a Tori Amos quote on

I feel like that’s not the “normal” feeling about make up. I’m pretty minimalist when it comes to my face. Eye shadow, mascara, blush, under eye concealer and done. I don’t know if this theory holds water or not, but my mother has gorgeous skin. She’s 60 and I’ve never seen her have a breakout, uneven tones or any kind of blemish. She also has never in her life worn a full face of make up. I don’t know if the two are connected, but I’m going to roll with it, because it justifies me not having to spend the time on it. The result is usually something still tired but a little perkier looking.

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6:47am 
– “Why is my hair like this?”

I have weird hair. It’s incredibly thick (like, if I put it in two braids, one of those two is the thickness of most peoples one braid if they were to braid all their hair one time… if that makes sense…) – even the strands are thick – and coarse. It naturally curls in every which way and usually heat causes it to straighten out unless I use a crap-ton of hairspray. If I wake up late, it goes in a ponytail and I just roll with it. But, I’ve been trying really hard lately to actually do it because I feel better when I do.

7:12am – “Thank goodness I picked out my clothes the night before. Sheesh.”

There’s no picture of this because it would just be a picture of my closet. I just group four or five outfits together and that’s my version of setting out my clothes for the week. #lowkey

I always forget that I’ve picked out my clothes the night before until the point of getting dressed. I don’t always do this, but I try to. Sometimes, when I’m really on top of my game, I’ll pick out five outfits on Sunday night!  That doesn’t happen often.

I own a very limited number of work clothes (about 7-9 outfits) which helps to keep things simple if I don’t pick things out the night before. Maybe I’ll write some more about how I got to a point of a limited number of outfits. Would that be something  you’d be interested in?

7:20am – “Wallet, keys, phone, planner, lunch. Wallet, keys, phone, planner, lunch.”

Planner / Cat Clutch (similar) / Cup / Food Storage Container / Work Tote

I pack my bag in the morning. Sometimes I do it at night, but it’s almost always first thing in the morning. Depending on the day, there’s a lot of different things I might take with me. I almost always take breakfast and lunch. If it’s winter, then non-snow shoes come with for me to change into at work. School stuff and snacks are a must. On Mondays and Wednesdays this semester, I leave my house at 7:30am and get home around 9:30pm, so I usually have a decent amount of food with me.

7:25am – “I shouldn’t wake him up. But I don’t want to not say ‘I love you’ and then drive through the ice.”

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D works four jobs with unpredictable schedules (ex. one of them is snow plowing, so sometimes he doesn’t have any hours of that for two weeks; sometimes he works 40 hours in a row without sleeping) and so I do my best to respect his sleep, and he does his best to respect mine. My most favorite and D’s least favorite part of the day is when I creep into the dark bedroom and say goodbye. He’s always warm and soft feeling and so I gently tell him that I love him and to have a good day. Often, I sit on the bed and put my socks and snow boots on while I talk to him. He hates that I wake him up as it’s happening. But every evening he says thank you to me for it.

7:30am – “I’m glad I have Spotify.”

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Seriously. This is not an ad. I just really feel that way. I drive anywhere between 30 – 90 minutes to work, one way. Having good music, where I don’t have to use my hand and skip the songs, is a must.

I also try to use this time to get ready for work. I don’t make a mental to-do list. I don’t get paid to think about work when I’m not there, so I don’t do it. Instead, I sort through conversations I had the night before; what kinds of things I need to do on my lunch break; and plan out my evening. Some days, a song comes on that gets me thinking about other things and I, instead, use the time to reflect on my relationships with friends and family. It helps. A lot.

8:00-ish am – “Tell the family you’re not dead. Don’t forget.”

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I’m really lucky to work in a place that’s flexible about what time you arrive when it’s snowing out. Most of the office lives 30 minutes away, with some as far as an hour and a half. So, when the snow comes, we all just adapt if someone’s not here. Before I get out of my car, I text my mom, dad and sister and let them know I got to work safely.

Note: I never did this before I lived here. My parents didn’t really care and my sister and I talk so much that she pretty much always knows where I am. But now that I drive on windy roads through fields with strong winds and big hills, my parents are always nervous, so I send the text. 

Slightly After 8:00 am – “Knock out what you can.”

I usually start my morning slowly. I drink my tea and check my emails and knock out as many little things as I can. This doesn’t always work as planned, but it’s what I try for.

Around 9:00am – “It would probably good to eat breakfast at home.”

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That’s what I tell myself every time I pull out a literal bowl of breakfast at work. I usually eat yogurt, fruit and granola. I keep the yogurt and the granola at work and just transport a mason jar of fruit back and forth.

Sometime between 11:00am and 2:00pm – “I should probably use my lunch break to eat.”

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I don’t though. I usually eat lunch around 2pm. Instead, I usually use my hour lunch break to take a walk and then do homework at my desk. I don’t really recommend this but I can’t figure out a better way to get through grad school.

My job is 50% database management, 50% putting out fires that are comprised of the very real emotions of young adults. Talking about a typical day is impossible because you never know who’s going to come in crying, who’s going to scream at you because they’re actually just scared, or if nothing at all is going to happen. I freaking love it.

5:00pm – “Maybe earlier than 5pm. Never later than 5pm though.”

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I leave work at 5:00pm. This time of year, the sun is starting to set. Depending on the weather and how much snow is on my car, I get home between 5:35pm and 6:15pm. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I drive directly downtown (about 45 minutes from the campus I work on) to the other campus to take classes until 9pm. But let’s pretend it’s a Tuesday, Thursday or Friday.

On my drive home, I usually call D to figure out what he’s doing, and spend the rest of the drive home thinking about the good pieces of the day.

5:45pm – “I know you were alone all day. I missed you so much.”

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I snuggle the cat when I get home and then I change my clothes. When I lived in Florida, I would take a shower after work. I usually didn’t wash my hair until before bed, but I had to do something to get the heat off me and it signaled that I was home. Now that it’s the opposite of 100 degrees here, I just change my clothes and put my slippers on, because slippers mean home to me.

6:00pm – “What should we make for dinner, kitten?”

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I’m pretty good about taking meat out the night before for dinner, but it doesn’t always happen. Around 6, I start figuring out dinner and set up at the dining room table to start my homework. If D is going to be there soon, I’ll start dinner (if it’s my turn) while I read. If he’s going to be working through the night, dinner is usually a grilled cheese or some applesauce. If he’s there, he usually watches TV with his headphones on while I do my homework and we eat separately. Twice a week, he does the cooking and while he cooks, I put my homework away so we can talk. Either way, whenever we’re both done, we do dishes together.

8:00pm – “If you don’t stop doing homework soon you’re going to be writing in martian.”

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I know two hours isn’t a lot of time, especially compared to what I did in undergrad, but after a full day of emotionally draining work, two hours of theory is a lot. So, instead of trying to push myself past my breaking point, I do two hours every day, except the weekends. On the weekends, I get the bulk of it done.

I clean up the kitchen table and usually one other cleaning thing – the bathroom, picking up clothes, sorting through something. I try to do one little area so that I don’t completely lose my weekend to cleaning.

8:30pm – “What about a shower? I should take a shower. I should always take a shower.”

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I freaking love showers. My sister calls the shower her “reflection chamber” and feel like that’s 100% accurate. Most of the time D and I take a shower together – sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s actually because we do some of our best talking when we’re trapped in the same tiny place together.

9:00pm – “Remember that time you wanted to start a blog?”

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Yep, that’s right. 9pm is prime blog-writing time. No. No, it’s really not. I usually sort through pictures, come up with ideas for posts, try to figure out how people actually get followers, wonder if I actually want followers, get distracted by Pinterest, plan out next weeks meals, realize I was thinking about blogging, start over again from the beginning.

9:45pm – “Remember that time you said you were going to relax more? Do that.”

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9:45 is usually when I crawl into bed, turn on Pretty Little Liars, and lie to myself about how I’m just going to finish the 20 minutes left on this episode.

11:00pm – “Honey, you said you were going to sleep at 9:30…”

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Every night, D reminds me of my constant mission to go to bed on time and how I’m not accomplishing it. Not in a mean way. He just points it out. I make an excuse. He suggests that I might be making an excuse. I huff about it. He lets it go. Then we hug and go to sleep.

I’m not a good sleeper. And as you can probably math from all of this, I usually get about five to six hours a night, which isn’t good for anyone in my life, least of all: me. I really am working on it. I got a Fitbit for Christmas and have set a reminder for 9:30 to start winding down so I can try to be in bed by 10am.

D and I have been talking a lot about what I could take off my plate and put on his to create more time in my day so I can sleep. The housework is the big conversation because right now it’s technically divided equally (in terms of a time/effort combo that we agreed on), but I’m still either not getting enough sleep or not getting enough relaxation. I’m open to suggestions! For real! I know I won’t last long at this pace!

Javi No Eye

Thanks for sticking it out, if you made it through this whole thing. I actually didn’t know a day in my life would have this many details and it was really nice to reflect on it.

How to Survive Grad School (while working full time)

Truth? I don’t 100% have the answer for that. Classes started January 8. I’m taking two: one on Mondays and a hybrid one that meets six Wednesdays a semester. For context, I’m at work from 8am – 5pm and have anywhere from a 30-90 minute commute, depending on the weather. And usually on Saturday night I help D with work from 9pm – 4am.

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So, there’s not buckets of time, which I’m trying to figure out how to manage. So I thought I’d write down my top 5 things I’ve figured out so far, to help me remember.

1. Don’t be Hyper Organized

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I know that this seems counter-intuitive, but the thing is: life happens. And it happens. And it happens. I believe in being structured and having a schedule, but I include in my schedule the chance to miss a day of homework. I think it’ll help me out to actually write out how I came up with my current homework schedule, which is working really well.

2. Get Good at Saying No

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Yep. I know. Annoying. BUT, here’s the thing about saying “no” that took me a long time to figure out: you’re actually being kind to other people when you acknowledge your own limitsIf I tell you I can do something at a time when I’m overwhelmed, I will likely only give it a max of 80% of effort. How does that help you? Whether that’s a conversation or a pie, you aren’t helping by giving only a portion of your attention of something to someone else. So, get good at “no.”

I’m a big fan of “no, because, and.” “No, I can’t come over because I’ve only gotten 10 hours of sleep in the last three days and I want to be able to give you my full attention.” “No, I can’t take on an extra project because I have four going right now and I wouldn’t be able to give you my best work if I added another.” People almost always are like “Yeah! That’s totally fine!”

Note: use this with your boss sparingly.

3. Sleep is Your Friend

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My moms cat is hilarious

When I was 20, I could operate on 3 hours of sleep a night and still submit/create fabulous work. Now that I’m just a few months away from 30, getting around 6 a night is a serious struggle. I will adapt, but I also know that if I drop below 6, or don’t get more than that on the weekends, I’m going to turn into a zombie who can barely make sentences. I am willing to forego a lot to ensure that I’m getting enough sleep. It doesn’t do me any good to be half-asleep in class, and it’s risky to be half-asleep at work.

4. Meal Plan/Prep on the Weekends

meal plan

I cannot stress this enough. You can totally fly through life and never meal plan if you’re better at choosing healthy options than me. I just really like foods that don’t contribute to my overall health and what I’ve found is that when I don’t have something already with me, I’m not going to stop somewhere and get a salad – I’m going to stop somewhere and get a fried thing, or a carb-filled thing or a thing full of refined white sugar.

On the weekends, I fill up four mason jars with fruits (I keep yogurt and granola at work), make three or four salads, bag fruits and veggies for snacks and plan dinners. I look at my class schedule and my homework schedule and use that to determine how much of whatever it is I’m making. I take leftovers with me to class and on heavy homework days, I make sure to throw something in the crock pot the morning of. This is giving me good, natural energy and saving me a lot of money.

5. Post Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing

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In undergrad, I had to get homework done. I needed A’s and I needed to get through it to get a job. That was it. I learned a lot. I had a lot of fun. But it wasn’t in my soul the way this program is. On some level, I’m in grad school because I can’t move up and get a better job with more pay without it because the field I’m in. That’s never not going to be true. But what brought me here is the idea that I cannot stop caring about children and education and the things that influence both. I would stop being me if I stopped caring.

And so all over my desk at work and all over my house, are these reminders that the purpose of me going isn’t to get it over with: it’s to be fully inside of it and soak up every little detail as best I can. That’s what will make the difference in the end.

 

What I’m Learning to Avoid

Have you ever read The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot?

It’s a poem about a man, so consumed with anxiety that he asks himself these absurd questions like “Should I dare to eat a peach?” My favorite line in the poem is “I measure my life in coffee spoons.” I think about it frequently and often use it to describe how I’m feeling.

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Prufrock was so anxiety riddled that he could only focus on these small increments of time. And he had to focus on them. He had to measure his life using the smallest measuring device he could think of. And he missed life because of all the measuring.

I do that a lot. I time things – laundry, cooking, my drive to work. I’m in a constant state of measuring and missing out on living. And I’m trying really hard to make that different.

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Which seems like the opposite of what’s happening by writing. Here I am, sharing thoughts and ideas on saving time, saving money, saving space, but saying that I want to stop being so focused on time.

The truth is, I do all these things so that more of my time is flexible. Certain piece of life need doing – laundry, bill paying, grocery shopping. Those things might change over the year, but you’re always going to have things in your bucket. So I’m trying to figure out ways to do them and use the least amount of time possible.

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And more than anything else, I’m trying to get right with all the times I fail at it. All the times I wake up 30 minutes late; all the times I forget to turn the dishwasher on; all the times I decide to watch TV instead of whatever I’m supposed to be doing. What’s that line from that song? “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans?”

I don’t want to be too busy to see it. I don’t want to be too busy to love myself through my mistakes. And I don’t know if this is the right way. I just know this is the way I’m doing it.

30-Minute Breakfast Pizza

Disclaimer: I have gotten this recipe down to 30 minutes. It took some practice and patience and a commitment to this not taking a lot of time for me to get there.

This recipe is based on this one, but modified to feed two people…and because I have a limited amount/style of kitchenware.

What You Need

Food Required:
Four eggs
Some milk
1/2 Tbspn Butter
1/4 onion (cut however you want)
2 cloves garlic (cut however you want)
Frozen Crispy Crowns
Ground sausage (you could probably use bacon too, or spinach; whatever you like!)
Salt
Pepper

Equipment Required:
Oven
Stove
Bread Pan
Large-ish Frying Pan

How to Make It

Step One: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
IMG_3677.jpgI feel like this is pretty straight forward. I will share, though, that I learned that when you live in an old apartment that has a gas stove with no preheat indicator light, preheating takes about 10 minutes, or the length of time it takes me to complete Step Two and begin Step Three.

Step Two: Line your pan with Crispy Crowns while the oven is preheating.IMG_3678.jpg

Oh, Crispy Crowns is apparently a brand name.. I had no idea until just now.

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So, put tater tots on the bottom of the pan. Pretty easy-peasy. But you want to go up the sides as well.

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This looks confusing. There are two rows of tater tots along the side of the pan. This doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do the best you can to get as many on there without them all toppling over.

Set this pan aside.

Step Three: Saute the good stuff: garlic and onion, while the oven is still preheating.

If you don’t like garlic and onion, you can skip this step. I tend to add it to everything.

First, with your stove on medium-low, melt some butter.

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Then, add in the onion.

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Stir the onion around until it’s coated with the melted butter (maybe two minutes), then add in the garlic.

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Stir that up to. Coat everything in delicious butter.

Your oven should be preheated by now, so pop in your tater tots.

SET THE TIMER FOR 15 MINUTES. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Step Four: Add the sausage.

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Once the onion and garlic start to get soft, add in the ground sausage. You can buy it in that like, uncomfortable tube of sausage (that’s what I buy) or you can actually just buy sausage crumbles from the refrigerated section of your grocery store.

step five

You just want to brown it, because you’re going to keep cooking it for a while.

Step Five: You can do step five while you wait for the meat from step four to brown. Stir in eggs, milk, salt and pepper.

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I use four eggs. You can use as many as you want. You also don’t have to use a square food storage, I’m just in a constant state of not having enough bowls in my life.

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Add a splash of milk (literally turn the carton so it pours then lift it upright), three or four shakes of salt and three or four shakes of pepper. If you’re not a milk fan, then don’t add milk.

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If you’re fancier than I am and actually own a whisk, you can whisk the egg/milk mixture. If not, use a fork. If you don’t own a whisk or a fork, let’s talk. I’d like to learn more about you.

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Pour the eggs into the meat that’s been cooking. Using your egg fork, keep the eggs moving. You want them to still be a little wet when you add them to the tatertots.

Step Six: Get the tots ready while the eggs cook.

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By now, your 15 minute timer has probably gone off. When it does, pull the tots out. Using a non-egg fork, mash them a little bit. You’re not trying to do anything other than create less space between the tots since they’re round and supposed to be your “crust.”

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Add a big handful of cheese on top of the tots.

Step Seven: Combine!

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By now, your egg mixture should look something like the above photo. Awesome. Add it to your tots.

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This part is kind of gross because eggs are a weird texture (just in general, but especially when they’re half-cooked). Just put them in the tot basket and pretend it’s fine.

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Use the back side of your spatula(?) to flatten out the eggies and make a clean top. It should end up looking something like this:

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Add another handful of cheese. Or don’t. I didn’t get a picture of the second cheese layer. I’ve done it both ways. Personally, I prefer the extra cheese, but that’s always the case for me.

Step Eight: Bake at 425 for another 12-15 minutes.

egg result

The end result should look something like this, with soft, flavorful eggies and crunchy tots.

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This is a staple meal in my house. If you don’t mind reheated eggs, it keeps fine for two days, but I wouldn’t go beyond that because, well, eggs.

Hope you enjoy!

 


 

Ingredients
Four eggs
Some milk
1/2 Tbspn Butter
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Frozen Crispy Crowns
Ground sausage
Salt
Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425. Line a bread dish with Crispy Crowns and bake for 15 minutes.
2. Saute garlic and onion in a pan with butter. Add ground breakfast sausage and cook till browned.
3. In a bowl, stir eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add mixture to breakfast sausage until eggs are partially cooked.
4. Remove Crispy Crowns from oven after 15 minutes. Add a layer of cheese, then add egg and sausage mixture. Cover with cheese. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.
5. Enjoy!

 

Christmas Truths

I usually start my holiday shopping in September. I start thinking of presents in July. I have my decorations out before Thanksgiving. I prep myself perfectly to just have a restful holiday and not get sucked into the overwhelming, oh-my-gosh-it’s-Christmas-and-I-didn’t-do-this-and-this-and-this.

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Instead, this year, I got super sick and had my gallbladder out, while trying to work full time and go to school. #brilliantplan

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So, here we are, six days from Christmas. One day from one sister arriving, four days from another. Five days from my brother-in-laws family being here. I still haven’t finished half my handmade presents. I haven’t even gotten the stuff to make my dads present.

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I took a walk on my lunch break today and I thought about feeling overwhelmed and I looked at the snow. I remembered the year my mother went to Chicago and broke both her feet slipping on ice on some stairs. She was there because my sister had a life-saving surgery. Three days later, my paternal grandmother died and two days after that my uncle. My mom came back to south Florida, my father went to Chicago. He and my sister were together for that Christmas in Chicago. The rest of us were in South Florida. It felt so strange.

 

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My parent’s dog is too cute for words.

I can remember in the middle of the night during that time, getting out of bed and finding my mother at the kitchen table, wringing her hands. We talked.

I am not of any organized faith, though I would say that my faith in certain things is incredibly strong. My mother is a very strongly and quietly Christian and many of our conversations are rooted in understanding the others faith. I told her that night, ‘Luke 2:19, momma. “But Mary gathered up all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”‘

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When the shepherds and wise men and angels come to the manger and praise the newborn baby Christ, Mary takes it all in. A new mother, surrounded by strangers, with her baby sleeping, away from home. She gathers it all up and feels it.

Isn’t that a lesson for all of us?

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And so inside of the rush and traffic and birthday parties and holiday parties and calls from far away friends, I’m trying to sneak moments where I gather them all up and ponder them in my heart, even the feeling of chaos. How lucky am I to love so many people that I choose to spend my time finding them the perfect gift? What fortune is in my life that I get to see my siblings during the year? How honest I have grown with myself that I can feel frustration and give it a name?

It’s easy to forgot, or to shame oneself for getting caught in the present rush. It makes it feel much less like a rush when you’re able to be grateful for the work that lets you buy the presents, despite the traffic.

Luke 2:19. It’s not just for Christmas.

Let’s Talk About Meat

Meat: one of my least favorite subjects. When I was 12 I announced to my mother that I was no longer going to eat meat. And I didn’t, for about three weeks. Eventually I caved because of a combo of not understanding what I was doing and my mother not being 100% on board.

Then, when I was 18 and in college, I mostly ate in the dining hall, and the meat was less than desirable, so I cut it out and stuck with it for about five years years until one day, I really wanted a turkey sandwich. Then I stopped again a few years later for a few years… I’ve gone back and forth like this for most of my life and learned a ton about nutrition and myself throughout the process.

Now, I eat meat two to four times a week, depending on the season. I would prefer to be meat free, but I have a series of competing GI issues that makes getting adequate protein from plants complicated, so I eat it.

I talked in this post about how I buy meat once a month, but I didn’t say much else about that. I came to that in part because of my relationship and in part because I found that I either end up spending more buying smaller quantities or I end up having more trips to the grocery store because I’d underestimated what I needed. Those last two things got old REAL quick.

So, about a year ago, I started buying it once a month and putting it in the freezer. But then I ran into two problems: 1) my freezer was full of meat and not much else and 2) defrosting things takes forever and is a pain in the tail.

And then I remembered the “book stacking method,” as my mother calls it, where you flatten everything out and stack it.

Say what?

I’m going to show you using a package of almost five pounds of chicken.

Step One: Figure Out How Many Meals You Can Get from One Package

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This is the pack of chicken I typically buy each month. It’s about 4.5 pounds and will turn into about six bags worth of meat, with each bag weighing a little over three quarters of a pound.

I’m using chicken as the example because I’ve found it’s actually the most complicated of meats.

Step Two: Label the Bags

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Every time I do this, I do it a little different. I always put the date, and sometimes I write chicken. Sometimes I write how the chicken has been cut. Usually it’s pretty easy to distinguish chicken from other meats, but since I do this every month, sometimes there’s leftover meat from the month before. So I always make sure to write the date down so that I know which bag needs to be eaten first.

I open all the bags up after they’ve been labeled so that filling them will be easier.

Step Three: Trim the Chicken

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If you like the fat on the chicken, then don’t do this. I don’t care for it so I always end up trimming it off. Rather than having to do that when I go to cook it, I go ahead and trim it off before I bag it up.

This is the most time consuming step in the whole process. You want to make sure that you’re getting all the white parts off the chicken. It should end up looking like the picture above.

Disclaimer: I’m not a spectacular chef, but I do alright. And I didn’t go to culinary school or anything like that. I’m sure there’s great ways to cut the fat off chicken that are much more precise than I do. I just know that the white parts taste yucky so I cut them off.

Keep going with it, and you’ll end up with two stacks: one of chicken and one of grossness.

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I’ve found that if I cut the plastic off the top, so just take my knife along the inside edge of the container, I end up with a good place to put the fat.

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Step Four: Cut the Chicken

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Once I have a little stack of chicken breasts, I start to cut them in different ways. Some I’ll leave at whole breasts (or I’ll cut one in half to be able to split between packages). Those will be for crock pot meals. Some I fillet and some I turn into cubes or strips to go on salad.

Since I’ve already done my meal planning when I did my grocery shopping, I have a good idea of what I’ll be using the chicken for. I’ve found it’s easier to cut ahead of time, since I’ve already got the cutting board, etc. out and I’ll have to cut it anyway to make it fit evenly into bags.

Step Five: Wash the Cutting Board

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I’ve heard many different kinds of things about using a wooden cutting board. It’s the only one I have, so it’s the one I use. I don’t put it in the dishwasher. Instead, I wash it by hand three times with dish soap and scalding hot water (I highly recommend wearing gloves if you’re not used to that). I usually also scrub it with sea salt after the first wash. I don’t actually know if it helps, but it makes me feel better.

I’ve had this cutting board for eight or nine years (when an awesome friend gave it to me for my birthday) and I have yet to get sick using it, so I think whatever I’m doing is probably just fine.

Step Six: Bag and Flatten the Chicken

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First, I put all the chicken into the bags they’re supposed to go into using one hand. So, keep one hand for bagging and one hand for touching chicken, or get someone to help you. Then, I wash my hands.

Once my hands are clean, I hold the top of the bag and hit the bottom on the counter a few times to settle the chicken to the bottom. Then, I lay it on the counter and press it into the corners of the bag. With full chicken breasts, I don’t do that. I just let them be what they are. But with everything else, I make it as flat as possible and then seal the bag.

Step Seven: Repeat Step Six

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I keep going with this process until I’ve filled all the bags.

Each month I also buy pork chops, steaks and ground beef. I tend to buy the small pack of pork chops that has six in it and only two steaks. Those are already cut and typically already trimmed so I just put two in each bag and place them so they’re lying next to each other when the bag is flat on the counter.

For ground beef, I usually buy over three pounds and make four bags. Once the meat is in the bags, It’s pretty easy to just flatten out.

Step Eight: Admire Your Handiwork

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A) It felt really weird to take a picture of the inside of my freezer and B) that’s basically taking up no space. Each bag stacks on top of the other. It’s pretty easy to tell from the colors which meat is which so pulling it out takes two seconds, rather than sifting through packages and floppy bags.

And, best of all, I’ve found that it takes about 10 minutes in cold water to defrost chicken, ground beef  & pork chops (steaks take longer because they’re thicker). It used to take almost half an hour! And, if I’m really on top of my game and pull it out the night before and it’s guaranteed to be defrosted by the time I get home from work.

I never thought I’d reach a point in my life where I was doing this or thinking about this. I got overwhelmed a while ago by the amount of food in the house that was coming in when I started shopping monthly. I was frustrated all the time by the freezer and the process of having to wait to defrost what I was going to eat.

This kind of prep (I guess it’s prep?) takes me about 15 – 25 minutes. That’s it. But making this change has saved me money, space and both cooking time and emotional time.

How to Plan a Grocery Trip

Usually on Saturday morning I do laundry and go grocery shopping. My Saturday morning has been halted a little bit by a combo of D having my keys (which let me into the laundry room and into my car) and my mother letting me know she’s not sure what I’ll be bringing for Thanksgiving dinner.

So I decided I’d use to the time to plan both my weekly and my monthly grocery trip.

A Little Background

I didn’t start doing grocery shopping this way until about a year ago. When I lived in Florida, I went once a week, bought what I needed and went home. Often I ended up going more than once a week because I forgot things. Typically I spent somewhere between $40-$80, depending on the week and if I needed shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc.

About a year ago, though, I noticed my grocery bill was through the roof and I couldn’t figure out why. So I did a very rough audit of my grocery shopping. I had started eating meat occasionally when I moved back to South Florida. And I often told D there was “more than enough” for him to have dinner with me, not accounting for how often I saved money by eating leftovers for lunch.

Plate / Glass Container / Bowl

So we talked about it. And decided that, once a month, he would buy meats and pantry/freezer items, and once a week I would buy perishables. We’ve found that this a) keeps us on budget because the desire to keep our relationship balanced forces us to look at the number and b) means that my dread for grocery shopping is turned into 20 minutes once a week, and 1-2 fun hours with him once a month.

How I Plan It

I talked a little bit in this post about using the sale ads and coupons to determine my groceries. That’s more true for the monthly list than the weekly. Week-to-week, there are certain things I know are going to be consumed: milk, fruit, vegetables, cheese and crackers. So, I’m more likely to just go to the produce section and look at the prices than to look at the ads. My baseline of what I get is so low (usually about $30) that if I decide to splurge on a super exciting dinner or need to buy both wet and dry cat food it doesn’t really break the bank.

But the monthly trip is a much more involved process.

Planning Essentials

It doesn’t really take many items to plan the monthly shop. There are certain things I know we’re going to buy: meat, potatoes, frozen vegetables, pop and quick freezer meals. That usually brings the cost close to half. So the other half is spent on “special” items (chips, cookies, spices, etc.). It’s the other half that’s hard to figure out.

Planner & Pen

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When I first started trying to figure out how to feed myself, I lived by the Meal Plan Printable made by Jen over at iHeartOrganizing. I still use it when I know I’m going to have a super busy week. But, typically, I just write a meal on a sticky note and put it in my planner. Since I’m just one person (with a plus one), I’ve found this to be a better method.

There are some standard meals I know I’ll make each month, but I try to add in two or three new ones. I know that doesn’t sound like much but I only cook 2-3 times a week. My standard meals are…

  • Tacos
  • Chicken Noodle Soup Casserole
  • Cheesy Chicken and Rice
  • Shake n’ Bake Chicken & Salad
  • Baked Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Salad
  • Shepherds Pie
  • Taco Pasta
  • Steak, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes
  • Breakfast for dinner

My main goal is to spend no more than 30 minutes standing in the kitchen, which is how these made the cut. I will work on actually writing down the step-by-step for each of these because who doesn’t need more 30 minute meals?

Slippers (similar here)

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I actually do a lot of walking while I’m trying to figure out the groceries. Okay, not like, a lot, but I’m back and forth between the kitchen table and the pantry probably 20 times.

But that’s really only half of why I wear these.

I’m what you’d call an emotional dresser. My clothes make me feel a certain way and certain clothes make me feel different than others. Slippers automatically mean home to me. I don’t often wear them anywhere else (except maybe at a family members house). So I wear them while I’m making the grocery list because it makes it feel more like a cozy activity and less like homework.

I decided a long time ago that whatever I can do to make this process more relaxing and less task-feeling, I’m going to do.

Notepads & Pen

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You could probably just use one notepad. I don’t though. I like to have one for the monthly shop and one for the things I know I’ll end up writing down that are actually for the weekly trip. I like to use this size of sticky note because it’s long enough to accommodate most of what I need, but it’s also small enough that I don’t get carried away. Also, the sticky part lets me prop it up on the cart baby-basket-thing.

Knowledge Base

There are some things you have to know and ways you have to mentally prep yourself if you’re going to plan out a month worth of groceries, at least, that’s how it is for me.

  • How much money do you have? I run my budget before starting this list. And I rank the list in order of expense so that if the cap is hit, the things that aren’t bought are easy to pick up if there’s extra at the end of a weekly shop.
  • How much meat are you (& whomever else you’re shopping for) going to eat? In this house, if D is eating, I make a pound of meat. I probably eat 1/6th of that, he eats about 3/4 (per the doctor), and the rest is my lunch for the next day. If he’s not, there probably won’t be meat. So, having a good idea about your schedule is key.
  • On average how much are you going to cook? This one is my achilles heel. Some weeks, I cook every night. Other weeks, not at all. I’ve found that, on average, I cook 2-3 times a week; D cooks about the same. So we’re eating a meal at home almost every night of the week. Before we were together, my answer was twice a month. So what I brought in groceries was a lot different.
    • If you don’t know how to figure that out, audit your grocery list. I think I’ll make a post about that.
  • Be prepared to list more things than you think you need. Every single month when I sit down to write this list, I find myself overwhelmed by how many things are written down. Then I remember that it’s for the whole month and it calms me down a little bit.
  • It’s okay to write vague ideas. Last shopping trip, I wrote down “frozen snacks.” What does that mean? It means snacks that are frozen – pizza rolls, tater tots, french fries, etc. I don’t need to list all of them out. I wasn’t going to get all of them. I just think it’s good to have a frozen snack on hand and when I got to the store, I bought the “frozen snacks” that were on sale.
  • You’re the only one that knows what you need. I once wrote “26lb. Granola” on a shopping list and judged myself really hard for it. Who the heck needs that much granola? Well, two people who eat it every day for a month need that much. It happens every week that I write something down and I’m like, “What is my life???” and then I remember, it’s mine. Then I keep going.

Where Are You Gonna Put It?

I don’t actually recommend doing a big monthly shop for non-perishables if you don’t have storage space for it. Prior to getting a bakers rack, if I had more than one box of pasta in the house, I was just annoyed every time I walked into my kitchen.

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Write your list anyway. You may find that many things can be frozen, or at you’re willing to find spots for your favorite cereal that went on sale. I day dream about having a beautiful pantry with beautiful containers holding all the sweet food items. But I live in an apartment and have student loans. So, for now, I’m making do with what I’ve got.

Shop the Sale Ads and Coupons

I’m not a couponer. I will never be one. But, you know that little coupon flyer that comes in the mail? Usually there’s a coupon for dish soap and batteries. I clip that. I always need dish soap and I don’t often need batteries but when I do I find their price overwhelming.

The Sale Ads are really where it’s at. Your grocery store probably puts theirs online (most do). Flip through it. What kind of long-lasting tubers and legumes are on sale? Cereal? Pasta? Chips? Don’t write it down if it’s something you don’t like. But if it’s something you do like that last a long time, write it down.

I usually start with the sale ad, then go through the pantry to see what’s missing, and then I use my grocery stores app to clip coupons for what I already wrote down.

It seems counterintuitive to clip coupons last. I know. What I found is that if I clip them first, I buy stuff I don’t like. Or I see the actual price of the stuff the coupon is for and I don’t buy it and I end up with a million expired coupons floating around my life.

That’s it

Use your planner/calendar/agenda book.
Make it a relaxing activity.
Try a fun meal every now and then.
Trust what you know about yourself.
Clip coupons last.

Here’s a little example of what a monthly grocery shopping list looks like for me:

Grocery List

How to Make Grocery Shopping Less Boring

I don’t like grocery shopping. I try to tell myself I do and it doesn’t work. But I’ve learned some things that make it more bearable.

Step One: Split it up!

I do two different kinds of grocery shopping: a monthly big shop and a weekly little shop. Once a month (sometimes every other month depending on the weather) I drop around or over $100 and I always buy certain staples that either go in the freezer or pantry. Here’s a little breakdown of what that monthly trip looks like:

Grocery List

So that’s a lot of food, but it accounts for usually eating with D, plus hosting people for dinner. I usually have left over of everything except chicken and vegetables. I’ve found that this makes it easier to budget and it’s much easier to grocery shop weekly for twenty minutes and only spend an hour and a half in the grocery store each month.

My weekly grocery list looks something more like this:

Get Some Groceries

Way more confusing. & mostly produce. This means that I can spend most of my time in one area, meaning I’m in and out much faster. The weekly grocery shop has turned into a game that I play, which makes it much more fun!

Step 2: Bring Minimal Supplies

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I bring a very limited amount of things with me when I go grocery shopping: reusable bags, grocery list, headphones, my clutch (similar here) & my phone. If you think about it, it’s really all you need and holding on to your purse just slows the whole process down.

Step 3: Treat Yo Self

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My grocery store has a Starbucks in it and when I do my big monthly shop, I definitely am all about a White Chocolate Mocha (or a White Chocolate Hot Chocolate if it’s night time). But I can’t justify a $4 coffee every week (that’s $20 a month!), so I bring my little coffee mug with me. Yes, I do feel slightly ridiculous. Sometimes I bring my travel mug instead, which makes me feel slightly less ridiculous. I’ve found that having a drink (even just some water) actually makes me feel relaxed, more than anything else.

Step 4: Rock Some Tunes

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My Driving playlist is my go-to for everything, basically, because it’s the right mix of feelings. I don’t always listen to music while grocery shopping if I go early in the morning. But if it’s the afternoon and I want to be in and out as fast as I can, I put headphones in and it helps me stay focused on what I’m doing, and also helps me to enjoy the fact that I get to pick through beautiful, fresh produce.

Step 5: Make it About Others

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I try to challenge myself on each grocery trip to find something for someone else. If it’s under $4, I get it for them (last weekend I got my Chicagoian dad a bag of this popcorn). If it’s more than that, I take a picture of it. My cousin’s girlfriend loves skulls and bright colors so I texted this to her with a little note that I was thinking about her.

My grocery store has more than just groceries; it’s more like a Michigan-only, super clean and friendly Wal*Mart. So I try to give myself a little leeway and spend some time in the Home section, not just strictly spend my time in the food area.

I also don’t always do this – sometimes I get all the way through the check-out lane and discover I got too focused and forgot, so I take a look at my coupons, and if I somehow ended up with coupons for baby formula or something, I pass them to another shopper who I see has a little one. And if all else fails, I give a stranger a compliment and a nice smile.

Step 6: Time Yourself

I know, I know. That sounds so weird. Here’s what happened: I usually do my grocery shopping in between loads of laundry. When I do the laundry, I set a timer because it’s in my apartment complexes basement and I will forget it. Like, for days. So one day, I thought to myself, “I have an hour. What can I do with an hour?” And my grocery list only had like, 10 things on it and my grocery store is 5 minutes from my house. So I tried it — what was the worst that could happen? I got groceries and laundry done at the same time! It. Was. Amazing! So, it became a thing. I do keep my timer on, but I also run the stopwatch on my phone to see if I can get below a certain time.

I tend to like any kind of game, and this is the most compelling grocery shopping game I could come up with.

Step 7: Don’t Leave Your Keys in the Car

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Do you know what that’s a picture of? My car keys, and my wet dress. Because in a freezing, torrential downpour the other day, I couldn’t find my keys as I was leaving the grocery store. I was partway through the parking lot and going through my coat and nothing. I don’t often lock my car, so thankfully, I was able to put the grocery bags in the back and shake my coat out and quickly toss it on the bags and didn’t end up too drenched (my hair would tell another story). I finally told myself to just sit in the front seat and start to retrace my steps, and when I sat down, I found my keys!

This a recurring problem in my life. Remembering what you did with your keys definitely makes for a more pleasant trip to the grocery store!

Step 8: Remember that it’s Okay.

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This was the most soothing image I could find.

Sometimes you spend more than you mean to (would it be good if I talked more about the money of things?). Sometimes it takes a literal 45 minutes to get through the check out lane. Sometimes you totally blank on the fact that you’re having six people over in the middle of the week. Sometimes you get home and learn that you now have seven boxes of pasta when you thought you had none.

Whatever.

That happens to everyone who goes grocery shopping and you know what else happens? Sometimes you spend less than you thought you would. Sometimes you get to talk to the awesome person in line behind you and make a new friend. Sometimes you end up making a super delicious brand new thing for your friends because you have no time to go back to the store. And sometimes, you learn that a friend is having a hard time and you just so happen to have all that pasta you can give to them right at that moment.

They’re just groceries. It’s only a very small chunk of your life and you’ll figure it out eventually. At least, that’s what I tell myself every time I go.

 

What I’ve Learned about Laundry

Let me start this off by saying that I am not a laundry expert and what works for me may not work for you, but what works for me has been working for me for over a decade.
The main, life-saving thing I’ve figured out about laundry is that I don’t have to do as much of it as my mother.
Wait, what? I know, I know. But, I grew up with six people in my house. Three of us wore uniforms to school and played sports and had play clothes. The four of us girls were particularly good at trying on an outfit, discovering it was “wrong,” throwing it on the ground and a week later, assuming it was dirty. Meaning my mom did, at a minimum, eleven loads of laundry a week. When I first went to college I did seven to eight loads a week. In my mind, moms way was the right way so I needed to model what I had seen.
A few years later I realized that I don’t have four children. My cat doesn’t wear clothes and honestly, since I work in an office, if the weather is nice, a lot of times I’ll change right out of my work clothes and into something else and hang my work clothes right back up to be worn again before washing.
I kept some pieces of moms methods though. I’ve tried many different detergents (someday I’ll tell you my peanut butter story) and fabric softener/dryer sheet combos. I like Tide detergent and Downy fabric softener the best, which is what she uses. And I sort my clothes into piles on the floor, just like she did.
laundry floor piles
I don’t make a crazy amount of piles. Mostly I separate out whites/towels, sheets/pillowcases, everything else. If D has things here, I separate his out too because they tend to be covered in motor oil and don’t want to risk that getting on my clothes. I put the piles on the floor the night before I do the laundry so that they can’t be missed.
Because of the length of time it takes to wash vs. dry, I usually wash whites first. It takes 28 minutes to wash whites & over 40 for most other things, but the dryer is pretty much always an hour. So I knock out the shortest wash first.
Mixture of Whites
I was doing whites and towels separately for most of my life. Then one day I realized: whites and towels get washed at the same temperature and typically with the same intensity. So I started putting them together and made one less load because, unlike my mother, I don’t actually have 11 loads worth of laundry.
Sort sort sort
I do my laundry every week, regardless. My sisters can all tell you the laundry motto of the family: do smaller loads more often. The reason for that is actually because the laundry isn’t what’s annoying: the folding is. If you have less to fold at a time, you’re less likely to become overwhelmed.
As I fold, I sort into piles the way that they’ll go into my drawer: jammies, worker clothes, leggings, t-shirts. I make a separate pile for things that will be hung up.
Even Sort Hanging
I sort what will be hung up too. If I’m already in sorting mode, I figure I might as well. Having things already sorted down makes putting them away even easier.
 
A couple tips to make laundry easier:
  • Before I go to bed every night, I put my clothes in the laundry basket. This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes I come home, do a quick change and leave again, which means clothes quickly start to pile up places. I’m also notorious for leaving a stack of cardigans on a kitchen chair because that’s where I got hot.
  • When possible, wear it again. Clothes aren’t made to be washed a bazillion times. I tend to keep a very limited closet and so I change when I get home from work and hang my work clothes to air out. If it’s hot or I walked a bunch with my puffy coat on or just generally got sweaty, I through it in the basket, but otherwise, I save myself the headache of the wash.
  • Wash the load with the shortest wash-time first. This sounds really meticulous, but I found that I wash something that took 45 minutes, then throw it in to dry for an hour while something that took 28 minutes was washing and I’d be really annoyed by the fact that my wet clothes had to sit there that long.
  • If you have kiddos, chances are your mom knows a lot about how to manage the laundry. I’m not a great resource for this. I just know that she did about two loads a day and that worked for her. If I had been a more attentive daughter, I would know when she did those loads, but I was too busy teenaging to pay attention (sorry mom!).
  • If you have a particularly small load, toss in a blanket or two. I do this all the time. I have a bunch of blankets in my family room and at the change of the season I will wash them all in one load. But between now and then, I just toss them in when I can. I don’t have small children with jammy hands and the cat is very particular about his blankets (his get washed when I wash my bedding), so the others don’t get dirty very quickly.
 
Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve figured out over the years:
  • Doing laundry once a week means I know exactly how much to budget for laundry & helps me keep my load smaller.
  • If I do the laundry every week, there’s less clutter in my house because there isn’t laundry everywhere.
  • Smaller loads means less to fold and put away.
  • My moms methods are awesome for a mom with a lot of kids. I’m not a mom with a lot of kids, so I have to adapt.