A Life in Checklists

organizing my lifeI sometimes wonder how well people really understand me when I tell them how easily I get overwhelmed by the day-to-day.

I feel like most of the people I know are sympathetic in a commiserative way; that they feel like they know what I mean, and maybe even feel the same way – the, “hey, we all have busy lives/work hard/have a lot going on!” mentality.

They probably don’t expect that I mean, if I don’t set an alarm to take a shower or brush my teeth, it might not get done that day.  Or that the accumulation of mess/clutter from daily activities will seem to sneak up on me, and then loom suddenly and overwhelmingly, making me feel incredibly anxious, but utterly incapacitated.  Or that performing a multi-step task – even a familiar one, like cooking – sometimes makes my heart race and my skill crawl with impatience and agitation.

Which is why, when considering how to go about bringing order to my life, I had to consider the most basic, most fundamental levels of organization – the checklist.

My friends are over here with cross-referenced planners, digital calendars and mobile apps, elaborate bullet journals with color-coded spreads – and I’m making simple, laminated checklists.  For things like “eat breakfast. Take a shower. Watch a movie.”  Things that apparently integrate seamlessly into other people’s lives.

But not mine.  And I have to accept that – that for whatever reason, this stuff does not come naturally to me.  But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean I can’t do it.  It’s a massive waste of energy, feeling bad about how my brain is wired, instead of coming up with scaffolding I can build on to compensate for it’s limitations.

So, some people might think it’s a childish thing to have checklists for such basic stuff.

I’d say it’s a pretty damn mature thing, to go any length to ensure these tasks get done with any regularity.

So, I made some freakin’ checklists.

These are the easiest, most basic things I could think of to start with: routines to give me enough options to not feel trapped, yet not so many to incite choice paralysis, with a focus on developing habit and balance.

I’m still working on my lists for the deep clean I intend to do this month, and from there a more detailed daily/weekly chore chart to keep things in order.  I may do one for meal options as well, since outside of dinner, I’m not currently planning my meals, and always find myself either out of food option, eating utter junk, or simply not eating, and none of those are acceptable options if I’m trying to be healthier.

This is an incredibly busy week, but I’m hoping to eek out time tomorrow and Thursday to write the remaining lists.  I plan to start using these beginning Saturday – I’ll be printing out multiple copies and leaving one in my bedroom, and one in the kitchen (that’s one on each floor of the house, where I start and end my days).

Fingers crossed that these help.  They certainly can’t hurt, right?

Feel Good Friday/Friday Faves: June 29, 2018

onnie & Carole

Hey-o, it’s Friday, and I am finally off for the summer!!  (That proclamation comes with a footnote, but we’ll get to that).  So what has carried me over that highest of humps, the last week of the academic year?  Lots of little things – just as this last week has been weighed down by the culmination of lots of little stressors, I’ve been buoyed along by lots of small pleasures and things that made me smile.

First, Dollar Tree has been getting a ton of super cute mugs and glassware lately, my favorite of which I hauled last weekend.  Their mug collection has been amazing for a while now, but I’m really starting to dig their glasses. Along with those cute wine glasses, we recently replaced our entire set of drinking glasses with this really chic-looking collection, all for $1 each.  

Second, Hollar is going crazy, whaaat.  I found a freakin’ french press coffee maker for $5, and they recently got in a whole slew of Beat Bugs and Lion Guard  merch for a pretty hefty discount (that might actually be gone now, honestly.  It was a super good deal). I’m getting ready to stock up on stocking stuffers (I know, early! But it’s so much less of a financial crunch when you spread it out over several months), and they have a ton of great stuff for kid’s (or adult’s!) stockings, or for small birthday gifts.  

Third, guys, I have a problem:  I do not know how to like things casually.  If I fall for something or someone, I fall suddenly, unexpectedly, and hard.  This week, I’ve been listening to Harry Potter audio books with Bear and it’s lead me back down the rabbit hole of Harry Potter fandom (I am a massive, massive Potterhead), which in turn lead to a return to Fantastic Beasts fandom, which in turn lead me back to Ezra Miller, who I had a massive crush on back when I first saw the movie.  I recently revisited him, and discovered his band, Sons of an Illustrious Father. Honestly, I could listen to this song on repeat all day:

It also goes without saying that I’m now on the hunt for any movies I can get my hands on with him in it – first up being Perks of Being a Wallflower because, wow, that book was a part of my adolescence, and I somehow never managed to catch the film. 

Fourth, it took forever to do so, but I finally got confirmation that I am working two days a week this summer!  I’m happy to have a little bit of structure, and still have the freedom and time to pursue personal projects and develop a prep routine/curriculum to get Bear ready for hopefully starting kindergarten in September of 2019 (again, I know it’s a long way off, but after this summer I’m going to have way less time to work with – basically an hour a day – so I need to do some planning and be ready to spread it out).

Fifth – and finally – guys, I have a plan.  Or at least the stirrings of a plan. In a previous post I made it a priority to create some order in my life and establish a routine, and I’m making some headway in that department and hope to be back with updates and progress notes soon.  I’m so, so glad to be getting somewhat of a break from the daily grind of sleep-work-home-sleep in order to work on developing these changes.

So that’s it from me, guys.  What has carried you along this week?

Getting Older

You’d think that any number of things that have transpired in my life so far would make me feel old – getting married, buying a house, having a kid, even just seeing my birthday circled when I flip over the calendar to July – but no.  You know what makes me feel old?

Earlier this week, I got an email from my assistant principal looking to recruit staff to work at the summer high school orientation to welcome the class of 2022.  

Excuse me, what?

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I feel you, John Mulaney.

Like I said, I don’t usually feel “old.”  In fact, I often have to remind myself of how old I really am. I actually have this problem where I’ll sometimes have to bite my tongue to stop myself from referring to recent college grads as “about my age.”  Like, no sweetie, she’s 23. You’re almost 36. You need to stop.

But… 2022.  2022 still doesn’t even sound like a real year to me.  I graduated high school in 2000. I started working here in 2005.  When people refer to something being from “ten years ago,” my mind still turns to the 90s.

So it’s not having a kid, or owning a home, or having a career.  It’s getting emails about future graduating classes. And other similarly inconsequential things.

How I Know I’m Getting Older

  1. Waking up at 9 am, which used to be a perfectly respectable wake-up  time, now feels like I’m sleeping half the damn day away.

  2. I have favorite tupperware.  It’s got an attached lid (whaaaaaat.  I hope whoever figured that out got a medal.  Seriously. I’ll start with fifty Tupperware lids and wind up with five.  Attached is the way to go.)

  3. I get excited when we go to the “nice” supermarket, and I’ll take an extra leisurely stroll down the expansive ethnic food and produce aisles.  Do I buy anything different? No. I seriously just window shop produce, now. It’s concerning.

  4. I look forward to cleaning days with the same fervor and enthusiasm with which I used to anticipate snow days as a kid.  Days when I can get up early, get myself a big mug of coffee, kiss my husband and son goodbye for the day, and just clean??  Yaaaaaas.

  5. I can no longer count my grey hairs.  They are legion.

  6. I weirdly care more about cultivating an image, but care less if some people don’t like that image.  Meaning, I guess, that I’ve become more concerned with being happy with the way I present myself, and less concerned  about others being happy with it.

  7. I’m obsessed with The Dollar Tree, discount stores, thrift shops, and over-all just getting more for less.  Which isn’t strictly an age thing, I suppose, but for me there’s been a definite upwardly thrifty trend as I’ve gotten older.

  8. I’m basically ready for bed after one glass of wine.  Which rarely stops me from having my second glass of wine, but means I now put on my pajamas first.

  9. I need coffee more now than ever in order to feel human, but that same amount of coffee now gives me the caffeine shakes.I used to be able to drink a large Dunks Coolata before bed and sleep like a baby.  Now I have a cup of coffee with breakfast and I’m trembling like a leaf by 10 am.

  10. I have “bad” body parts.  Like, the other day, I complained to my husband that my “bad ankle”  was acting up, and suddenly it was like, ‘oh crap – I have a bad ankle.  This is how it starts – this is how the whole system starts to crumble.’

  11. I’m now over a decade older than all six Friends during Season One.  Whaaaat.

  12. THEY ARE REBOOTING A REBOOT OF A SHOW I WATCHED AS A KID.  No one should live long enough to see such atrocities.

  13. I once told a student I loved vintage video games – the really old school stuff – and he replied with, “oh you mean like the N64?”  This was, itself, already several years ago. I’m terrified if I said this today, the kid would be like, “Oh, you mean like the PS2?”

  14. I buy a lot of tunics, now.  I don’t know, is this an age thing?  I don’t remember owning this many when I was younger.

  15. We listen to the radio when we ride the bus for student internships and I recognize literally none of the songs on the radio anymore.

How and when do you most feel your age?  Comment down below!

Organizing the Chaotic Mind

organizing my lifeI’ve spent the last two and a half hours trying to clean the house.  I can’t say it hasn’t been successful – my living room and kitchen are looking pretty spiffy right now – but it’s taken longer than it would likely have taken most other people, because in the midst of completing one task, I have these intense compulsions to stop whatever I’m doing and start something – anything – else.

While I’m tidying up the kitchen:

I should organize Bear’s busy bins for summer.
Did I ever download that preschool curriculum?
I need to touch up the paint along the baseboards.
I should go out and buy organizers for the cabinets.
I still have to make those worksheets for Bear’s binder.
I have to look up home remedies for carpet stains.
I’ve got to scrub down these walls, I haven’t done that in ages.
When was the last time I washed windows?

While I’m vacuuming the living room:

I should steam clean the upstairs shower.
I need to look up those picture frames I found at WalMart.  Ooh, I should see if RetailMeNot has coupons for them.
Maybe I should order the materials to make those sconces for the wall.
I still need to find floral foam and fake succulents.  I wonder if I can order in bulk from Dollar Tree?
I should get new bins for Bear’s clothes.

And those are at least semi-on task.  A ton of them aren’t even cleaning related:

I should do a shopping haul video.  I think most of my stuff from this week is still in shopping bags.
I’ve gotta start doing mail exchanges again.
I should totally start a bullet journal.
I have a great idea for an art piece I could vlog.
I need to go make more headers for my blog.
I’ve gotta update my social media links.

…and on.  And on.  And the amazing (and frustrating) thing is, after thirty-six years, I still don’t know how to just not listen to those compulsions.  I can, for the most part, resist – but it comes at the cost of temporarily stalling out.  Like the act of pulling myself away from the temptation of distraction is, itself, an act that unbalances me,  knocks me just a little bit off-track, and requires a few moments to re-rail.  Usually this looks like me, sitting on whatever surface my butt settles on, and just staring around the room, trying to remember what I was doing, or what I could do next.  Sometimes it’s grabbing a snack.  Today, it was jumping on here.

The problem is, I don’t have a system for dealing with these intrusive thoughts, and it’s not like they don’t all have some merit.  But I have no system worked out that allows me to address them all – if I think of something and don’t do it immediately, I will put off (or forget) doing it indefinitely.  If I have the motivation and the energy for something one day and don’t jump on it, I will lose momentum and that unfinished task will gnaw at me and drain my mental energy for days or weeks, until I manage to pull myself up again.  I’m not proud of my limitations, but I know them.  I know them very well.  This is living with executive dysfunction.

But, I thought, maybe turning to this blog while I’m trying to recoup isn’t the worst thing to do.  After all, this blog is all about navigating parenthood with a chaotic mind, and the first step to navigating chaos is to impose some sort of order.

And no, it won’t be perfect.  But it’ll give me a structure to work within.

So, while I try to reorder my thoughts and get back to the task at hand, I just want to welcome you to what will be an ongoing series of posts about imposing structure and organization on my life – checklists, schedules, journals, organizational tools – what works, and what doesn’t. 

I might as well utilize what would otherwise be a distraction as a tool, right?  Make it public, hold myself accountable.

It’s a work in progress.  It always is, isn’t it?

Back to the tasks at hand.  One at a time.

Feel-Good Friday/Friday Faves: June 23rd, 2018

onnie & CaroleWait, I’m sorry, what…?  It’s not Friday, it’s Saturday?  Uh, oh, yeah, I know.

So after yet another endless week, I decided to wrap yesterday up by spending the afternoon looking after my niece and nephew, followed by an evening tending to Bear while Andy was gaming, and then turning in for the night at, swear to God, 8 pm.  So, posting didn’t happen.

I still have a week of work left, guys, and I’m still not sure if I’m working two or four day weeks this summer.  Keeping me float this week:

After going on sale on June 22nd, Andy scored us Welcome to Night Vale Live tickets for the showing in Northampton.  We’ve been fans of Night Vale since starting to listen to it in late 2013, and saw our first live show in March of 2014.  This will be our fifth time seeing them live, and our second time in Northampton (which is a special treat, because Northampton is about two hours from us, and we have no cause to ever really go there, save special events, and I adore the town).  If you’re a Night Vale fan or are curious about it, tickets for the tour are on sale here.

Next, Nailed It – why haven’t I seen this show before?  It’s cheesy, silly, fun.  Watching casual home bakers try to mimic these intricate creations in the kitchen just makes me laugh and shake my head and feel slightly superior for a little while (even though I know I would absolutely do no better than any of the contestants).

Third, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum.  Yeah, I know, these Friday posts are making me sound like all I do is drink, but wht can I say?  I like to unwind with a drink at the end of the day.

And, in what will likely be a feel-good for no one who doesn’t already follow her, my favorite YouTube Dollar Tree hauler/DIYer, Bargain Bethany, just put out a video announcing her engagement.  YouTube – and the internet in general – is a funny thing, isn’t it?  I’ve never met Bethany in real life, she doesn’t know me at all, but I’ve followed her videos for a long time, and got genuinely excited when I saw the announcement.

That’s all for this week – what’s kept you going these last seven (or eight) days?

My Picky Eater in the Kitchen

I’ve never been a picky eater; at least not that I can recall.  My parents, too, seem to remember me being pretty open to new culinary experiences even as a kid, and as I’ve grown, my appreciation for new flavors has only increased.  I love trying out new recipes, new restaurants, and new cultural cuisine.

Which puts me squarely at odds with Bear, whose agenda seems to be “all carbs, all the time.”

And trust me, no one loves carbs more than I do.  But it’s the same carbs. And it’s bland carbs – grilled cheese on white bread, shoestring fries, white toast, buttered noodles, mac and cheese (but only Annie’s, not homemade.  God forbid, homemade). My husband, whose palate, as an adult, is just as expansive as mine, reassures me that he went through a lengthy phase as a “picky eater” when he was a kid, so, rest assured, Bear will grow out of it.

And, I mean, Bear is three-and-a-half.  Lots of kids his age have their safety foods, their comfort food, their routine.  I know it. I get it.

But man, is it frustrating.

Then, the other night, something happened.

I often get overwhelmed in the kitchen, especially when prepping a new meal.  I have trouble following recipes as they are typically written, and will often skip steps and have to backtrack, or forget to prep an ingredient before it’s immediately needed, and inevitably, I will have to read and re-read a step several times.  I either make a dozen trips to the fridge, frantically grabbing and returning items, or let things pile up on the counter and just hope at the end I’ll remember to make sure it all makes it back to the fridge (meanwhile, growing frustrated with the clutter).  So, given the already inherent frustration, it’s been a general rule that Bear stays out of the kitchen while I’m cooking.

But the other night, I was making enchiladas – a pretty low-stress meal, as I’d made it before – and Bear wanted to help.  Being that I don’t want to raise a boy who has no homemaking or self-sufficiency skills, cooking is pretty high on the list of things I want him to learn.  And if he’s actively interested and pro-actively asking about it, how can I discourage that?

I sat him a safe distance from the stove, but close enough that he could see what I was doing in the pan, and narrated each step as I completed it (Bear’s constant chorus of “What are you doing?” every time I moved spurred me along).  He helped as much as he could, wen he could; he gave the onions and garlic a stir. He opened the package of tortillas.

“Is this bread?”  Bear’s a big bread fan.  Classic carb lover.

“It’s like bread,” I agreed.  I pulled a piece off and handed it to him.  He ate it. Good to see, but not a huge surprise.  Again – carbs.

“You want to see the beans?”  I grabbed the colander full of black beans and brought them over.  “They look like bugs!”

Bear shrieked; he loves anything silly and gross.  The idea of bug beans was pure comedy gold. “Bug beans! Bug beans!”

“You wanna try one before we add them to the pan?”

Surprisingly, he managed to stay actively engaged through all the prep, and finished up by helping me pour the sauce and sprinkle the cheese.  He clapped when they went into the oven, and gave me a high five when I thanked him for helping me. It was a great moment.

And when they came out, he was waiting eagerly to see the finished product.  When I put a serving of it on his plate, he smiled and dug in with gusto.

…Hahahaha, no, I’m kidding.  He adamantly refused to eat it and demanded we give him chicken nuggets instead.  He didn’t eat that black bean I offered him, either, he just put in it his mouth, chewed it, gagged and spit it out rather theatrically.  I found a piece of it stuck to the kitchen door this morning, so he got some good distance on it, too.

But.

He put it in his mouth.  And he tried it. He didn’t like it – which is fine – but he tried it.  And he tried a tortilla. And this week, he tried prosciutto, and pear, and honey.  And cooked tomato. And pasta with homemade sauce. All recipes he helped make, or, at least, components of those recipes.  I didn’t turn him into a connoisseur, but I made him a part of something he was curious about, and his curiosity, at points, overwhelmed his stubbornness, and he tried things.

He eats pears now.  I’m okay with him not eating enchiladas.  He eats pears. That’s a start.

And having to narrate my cooking journey was strangely helpful.  Verbalizing what I was doing kept me more on track – maybe I didn’t take the most direct route, but I had fewer wrong turns, you know?  Being able to keep Bear in the kitchen in a way that didn’t distract me from my cooking meant I knew where he was and could keep an eye on him, spend some time with him, and introduce him to a life skill that would benefit him in the long run.  

And if he takes a bite or two of something new along the way, all the better.

PS:  Every. Single. Tortilla.  Had a bite taken out of it by the time we were finished.  Freakin’ carbs. He truly is my son.

Feel Good Friday/Friday Faves: June 15th, 2018

onnie & CaroleWe are officially in our last full week of classes!  Note, I said “classes,” not school.  the winter was brutal, and I am working straight through the 29th, sadly.  I’ve said it before, I’m incredibly lucky to love my job, but this truly has been just The Year That Never Ends.  Hopefully next year’s pre-Labor Day start will prevent this from happening again.

Anyway, things that buoyed me along this week…

First off, Dollar Tree (I have a bit of a Dollar Tree Problem™, which will become apparent in time) is carrying some really awesome Sassy n’ Chic acrylic nails, as well as Kiss brand gel polish and nail glue.  I absolutely love nail art, but have neither the time, patience, or money to spend on getting them done (and honestly, I don’t love spas/salons so much to start with).  These are an awesome alternative.  They look great, and I’ve had my current pair on since Sunday.  If you’re a fan of shorter nails, but still like the patterns, they trim and file down really smoothly, too.

Next, upon the recommendation of a friend, my husband ordered a book for Bear called Dragons Love Tacos.  It’s adorable, and this edition came with a little plushie dragon (with taco!) that’s Bear’s been bringing to bed every night.  He had fun recounting the book to my parents, and politely refusing to give the plushie to his little friend, Emmy, who had also fallen in love with it during their brief rendezvous.

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Next, guys, I just heard about Making It, which is going to air on NBC this summer.   A crafting competition.  Hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.  Are you freakin‘ kidding me??  And it’s going to kick off on my birthday???  No joke, I am so pumped about this show.

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Lastly, I’ll be honest: I’m just thrilled that it’s summer, and that summer break is fast approaching.  Contrary to popular belief, as an educator, I do not have summers free – I work as part of the Extended School Year program in a variety of capacities – but my hours vary between 8 hours and 16 hours a week during the summer (as opposed to 35), so I do get a lot more free time, and I am so, so looking forward to having time to myself.  I’m excited to work on my home, to write, to craft, and to spend some time with Bear and Andy at home, and on vacation in Florida this August.  Hopefully you have something fun and summery to look forward to yourselves.

That’s all for this week!  What got you through this week, and what do you have to look forward to this weekend??