Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meal Planning 101 - Part I

This is the first of a multi-part post on how to plan your meals

First off, what do you mean when you say "plan your meals?" I'll be the first to say that there's no right way or wrong way to do things - there's just your way that works for you.  I've used formal month long meal plans with breakfast, an afterschool snack and dinner planned every day, I've also scribbled a couple of dishes on the back of a slip of paper and used that to go grocery shopping.  Both methods work, and are as different from each other as the east is from the west.

When I say "plan your meals" I'm basically saying have an idea of what you're eating every day for a defined period.

Ok, so what good does that do me?  Why should I plan my meals?  In my case, my brain either works overtime when I'm under pressure or it completely shuts down.  I wish I could pick which one would happen, but usually at 5:30 when I'm tired and hungry I simply can't think of what we should eat for dinner.  Having a menu for the week posted on the fridge restarts my brain and having the supplies I need just inside the refrigerator door lowers my stress.

Eating at home saves us money and allows us to eat healthier meals.  You save money three ways:  one is by getting fresh foods and skipping the overhead that a restaurant has to add on.  Also, by not running to the store all the time you save a ton on impulse buys.  Finally, you save money by using the food you've bought and not having to throw it out when the tomatoes get squishy and the lettuce melts into a yucky mess in the produce drawer.

You also eat much healthier, too.  In 2007 when I did Weight Watchers we were encouraged to plan all of our daily points in advance. That way if I was tempted by something I had my daily planned snacks and meals to look forward to, which made it easier to resist temptation. Cooking at home also gives you complete control over the ingredients, which is important if you have someone with food sensitivities/allergies or a vegetarian/vegan in the family.

I try to do all of my shopping on one day each week.  This saves time because instead of having to run to the grocery store to pick up two items (and invariably forgetting one of them!) I have everything at home when I'm ready to cook.  I also like to use listmakers like Allrecipes.com shopping lists to help me get everything I need in each part of the store.  Best of all, I save time and stress by not having to worry about what's for dinner each night.  I come home, look at that night's menu, and I'm good to go!

What do I love most about eating at home?  The relationships. We often hold a "Make Your Own Pizza Night."  I'll make an easy dough earlier in the day and let it rise.  Then we have friends or family over and give everyone their own dough ball to toss and make into a pizza.  Anything you could ever want on a pizza is laid out on the kitchen counter. Picky kids get to make a pizza with exactly what they want on it - no more and no less - and gourmet parents finally get to have their spinach artichoke garlic black olive pesto pizza.  We enjoy the time together making the meal and the time spent at the table eating the meal.  The very best part?  No check at the end of the dinner and the knowledge that the memories and dinner in cost less than half of a similar dinner out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

All the ways to reach me

I figured I should write a quick post with a list of all the ways and places to find me.

This blog:  Phera's Focus http://pherafocus.blogspot.com

Podcasting at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/phera

My Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Phera/140641690464

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/phera

Call/text me at (909) 90-PHERA

And last but not least, Email phera at ymail dot com (Replace the "at" with "@" and the "dot" with "." I'm just trying to keep a little of the spam out of my mail box!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Laundry Warning Light

A lot of things have indicators to let you know that you're almost out.  For example, the receipt roll at stores generally has a pink bar pattern as you get to the end of the roll.  Your smoke detector is really good about letting you know when batteries run low.  Our cars even have a light that comes on when we start running low on gas.  Wouldn't it be cool if we had something like that at our houses to let us know we were low on certain supplies?  

Here are a couple of ways to build in your own "low supply indicators"
  • Laundry:  Check each family member's sock and underwear drawer to see what their supply looks like.  Make sure that you have fewer pairs of underwear and/or socks than anyone else.  Designate (or buy) a particular pair of underwear as your "laundry light" pair and make sure to always put it on the bottom of the underwear stack.  When you pull that one out of the drawer, you know you need to do laundry!  If you've got fewer pairs than anyone else in the family, they'll never run short on shorts again because you were able to step in and take action before they ran out.  
  • Toilet Paper/Paper Towels: Put a square of red masking tape or write "BUY MORE" on a roll almost at the end of the stack. When that roll comes out of the pantry add toilet paper or paper towels to the shopping list.  
I'm going to check around the house this week to see what other items lend themselves to "Low Supply" warnings.  Any ideas?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Power of Autopilot

When our son was three he used to go to a daycare that was on my way to work.  One Saturday morning as I was on that road headed to the grocery store I found myself pulling into the daycare parking lot.  It took me a minute to realize that a) I didn't have my child with me. b) It wasn't even a weekday.  When we do things on a daily basis, we learn how to do it so well we eventually start doing it on autopilot.  In my case, I seem to turn the autopilot on and zone out so fast it isn't even funny.  This can be hard to deal with when the autopilot decides that we should log on, cycle through facebook, IM's, email, and youtube instead of paying a bill.  Whoosh!  There went an hour.  

The good news is that we can make out ADD brains tendency to cruise on autopilot work for us.  There's a couple of ways that you can do this:  
  1. Work with a focused friend.  This is by far my favorite way to get things done.  When I'm talking to a friend it's easy to clean up the muckiest messes and come up with the greatest ideas.  This seems to work best for me in person and over the phone - I haven't yet been motivated by text messages, IM, or twitter.  I'm hoping to try Skype cleaning to see if that works as well as an in person visit.  I'll keep you posted on that. 
  2. Distraction.  I know you're probably going "Wait a second! Stop!  I read this because I'm trying to figure out *not* to be distracted, and here you are telling me to distract myself to get things done?  Explain yourself, Phera!"  Here's what happens to me:  My mind wanders when I'm sorting socks, doing dishes, sweeping up, or any of the zillion mindless things that have to be done around the house.  I find it really helpful to have some sort of an anchor to keep my mind from wandering.  This can be a cleaning podcast or watching a movie while I do laundry, even a really good radio station.  I think of this directed distraction as as kind of trellis - I can do anything around the trellis that I want to, but in the end I'm growing up towards the sun. 
  3. Repetition.  By far my least favorite method, I'm including this because it works.  Yes.  If you do something enough times, it becomes a habit and you'll do it without even thinking about it.  Why isn't this my favorite? Well, it's really really really hard to do a routine enough times to make it a habit.  Once again, this is where the cleaning podcasts come in really handy.  It's easier to start small, so I'd recommend a short 15 minute routine to begin:  AM Basics or PM Perkup are good 15 minute routines to start off with.
My advice for the day?  Accept that your brain will sometimes want to do things that drive you nuts, and work with your strengths, not against them. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monkey Mind

I heard this term for the first time today and I'm wondering where it has been all my life. Mind monkey or Monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable".  Yup, that's my mind.

The article I read went on to talk about ways to meditate and still the mind, but as my mind wandered (yes, it does that frequently) I realized that I had accidentally found one of the most powerful ways to calm my mind:  my podcasts.  Simply put, from the minute I decide to record a new podcast, my mind settles down.  I start to figure out the best way to get the job done and how long each sub task will take.  While I'm recording I'm totally focused on what I'm doing, and I'm narrating the task to you, my listeners, so much so that occasionally I lose track of what I'm saying as I focus on what I'm doing.  Thank you so much for helping me conquer monkey mind.  If it weren't for the encouragement of my listeners I don't think that I would have recorded past that first year.

Thankful 2010

A good friend of ours sent my husband the perfect sweater for Christmas.  You know, the one that is dressy enough to wear to church, casual enough to pair with jeans, not too loud, but not too boring.  He's worn it twice since Christmas.  Yesterday I realized I still hadn't sent her a thank you card.

Today I sat down with my card box and pen and started to write my thank you notes.  An hour later I realized that I was still going strong. It was humbling to realize how much had happened in the last month that we were grateful for.

Let me back up just a tad.  My husband lost his job in November 2009.  Even though there are some positive effects of the job loss (I get to see him now!), for the most part this has resulted in a major rise in our stress levels and a change in our financial situation.  No more eating out, a serious crimp on gift giving, deep discussions over every financial outlay.  We've tried not to focus on the negative, but it was a very different holiday season for us. 

The interesting thing has been that instead of spending our holiday season shopping, we spent it with friends and family.  Instead of going out to the cineplex or renting movies, we broke out the board games. In fact, except for the minor discomfort of not having gifts to give our extended group of friends and family, this was one of the best holidays we've had.  It sort of snuck up on us, too.  It wasn't until this week when I was writing thank you cards that I fully appreciated the value of the people in my holiday.  I'm going to rectify this oversight by making a conscious effort to be more grateful on a daily basis in 2010.  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more thank you cards to write.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Four Inches of Ice

Four Inches of Ice or Do It Now

A friend got stuck pulling out of her driveway so this afternoon my husband and I went over there to clean up the drive.  The driveway hadn't been cleared when the snow was light and fluffy, so instead of a quick 1/2 hour job he was out there for about four hours.  In addition to the snow that was packed down near the garage, the accumulation from the plows had built up at the foot of the drive.  He ended up having to take a mattock to break up the four inch deep ice that stretched across the base of the drive.  I was really amazed to see how something that started out so light and beautiful and airy became so dark and dense when we let it lie.

Moral of the story?  Don't wait for the sun to come out and melt away your troubles - start working on them now before they get worse.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Step Away From the Computer

They say that writing it down makes it easier to do, so here goes nothing:

Step Away From the Computer

I have stuff to get done today.  It's the first Monday of 2010 and it's a paperwork week.

  • I generally use this week to get the old files boxed up and out of the way and put the new files in.  
  • Medical reimbursements have to get sent in
  • It's usually easiest to get the tax paperwork receipts set aside while I'm doing paperwork
  • Property taxes are due soon, now is a good time to get those notices in order
That's it for me.  Really.  Step away from your computer now and tell me what you got done today.  

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I feel like I'm bouncing all over the place, which is fun, but not very good when it comes to getting things done.  It's 2010, it's time to focus.  I need to get back to blogging and podcasting on a regular basis.

It's too easy to get caught in analysis paralysis, so I'm skipping that step.  This blog may not be as focused as I'd like, but if it helps me to focus in real life, it has served its purpose.