New Mama Musings

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Don't Ask Me Why I Thought Of This Analogy

Being a stay-at-home mom to a toddler is like constantly putting out fires but never having the chance to clean up the smoldering remains.

What I Know For Sure...About Meal Planning

Things I've learned in my week of getting a meal on the table every night:

  • My husband's work has no respect for a reasonable dinner hour.
  • Chicken thighs should not be purchased as a substitute for chicken breasts, even if breasts are not available. In fact, they should not be purchased ever.
  • Now that we're sitting down to dinner together, my next project needs to be instituting a "no reading at the table" rule.
  • It's a good thing that my current goal is preparing dinner every night and not keeping the house tidy.
  • Tomorrow New Mama appreciates it when Today New Mama does all the prep work. Today New Mama curses Yesterday New Mama's laziness when she spends her free time surfing the net instead.
  • Baked Macaroni & Cheese made from scratch is not nearly as yummy as it sounds.
  • Getting take-out several times a week fills up the dishwasher a lot more slowly.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Eating His Words

My husband told me that my last blog entry made him laugh even though he knew I wasn't trying to be humorous.

Yes, I am more than just a little anal. But funny how my obscene attention to detail didn't come up as he ate the Baked Chicken & Broccoli dish I made last night.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Meal Planning 101

During the first part of my childhood my mother prepared a dinner for us every night. Dishes like pork chops, spaghetti, tuna noodle casserole, liver and meatloaf were all served with an oh-so-appetizing side of canned vegetables. Some of the meals I liked, some I didn't, but it was dinner and I ate it.

As I got older and my sisters all moved out of the house, dinner became a much more casual (and often pre-packaged) thing. I guess this is why I never really learned how to cook or plan meals.

When I moved out on my own I ate a lot of noodles with jarred spaghetti sauce, bagels with cream cheese and Little Caeser's pizza. I also became a vegetarian. Shortly thereafter my now-husband and I moved in together. I tried to cook for the two of us (and his children) but encountered several obstacles.

My vegetarianism and his carnivorism were at odds, to begin with. But I think I could have worked with that had he not been such a picky eater. He would eat nothing with onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers or any other number of items. (To be fair, the first three items made him physically ill). Most soups, stews and casseroles were out of the question. His kids were nearly as fussy.

I finally gave up and just cooked for myself. The only time we ate a meal together was take-out night, which officially was once a week but unofficially, well, let's just say the people at Qdoba had memorized our order.

For a while I was vegan, too, which made things even more difficult. My mom (who of all people should have cut me some slack) would often ask what I was making for dinner for me and my husband, not quite getting that we each went our own way when it came to mealtime.

But now we have a child together, and I really want Henry to experience a shared family dinner. My recent return to the land of meat-eaters and my husband's progressively more adventurous palate have made this goal seem attainable.

In the past few months I've been trying out recipes in the hopes of finding a decent number of meals my husband and I both like. So far I've come up with about ten. I also have a number of recipes for meals I like (because I'm not willing to give up my favorites, and because I want Henry to experience all kinds of food).

At some point I'll work on accompaniments (since veggies from a can only cuts it as a side dish if the year is 1977), but for now I'll concentrate on the entree.

I've typed these recipes up and put them in plastic sheet protectors in a binder, with a list of them in front so I can see all the meal options at a glance.

With some proven recipes in hand, I'm going to plan out our meals on a week-by-week basis:

  • One day a week we'll do take-out;
  • One day a week I'll make something I enjoy but my husband doesn't (I'll do that on Wednesdays, so my stepdaughter -- who eats almost anything -- can share it with me and Henry);
  • Two days a week we'll do leftovers.
That leaves about twelve days a month for shared meals. Since I have ten "shared" recipes right now, I'll make all of those each month and experiment to find more for the other two meals.

I hope to double (or maybe triple, if I'm feeling really zany) some of the recipes so I can freeze the extras. I'll keep track of freezer meals in the recipe binder and use those on days I know I may not have time to cook.

To make the actual weekly meal plan I'll use a calendar printed off the computer and divide each day into two sections. On the top section I'll write the dish I plan to make (or "take-out" or "leftovers") that day. On the bottom section I'll write the prep work I need to do for the meal for the following day (while my husband watches Henry or after Henry goes to bed), like cooking chicken, cutting up vegetables, soaking beans, thawing a freezer meal, etc.

After planning out the week this way, I can compile a list of all the ingredients I need to make the meals and write out my shopping list accordingly. Then I can shop once a week, instead of running out to the store several times a week as I think of things we need.

This is all probably really obvious to most of you. Heck, it seems obvious to me after writing it all out. But although my mother must have done meal planning in order to get dinner on the table for a family of six every night, it's not something she ever shared with me. I wish she had, though, and I intend to include Henry in this process so he knows what's involved with planning a meal.

When my son grows up the people at the local take-out place may know his order by heart, but it won't be because his mama didn't raise him right.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Art of Noise and Other Forms of Communication

As someone who occasionally needs to be reminded to speak up, I'm shocked to find myself the mother of a toddler who makes more than enough noise for both of us. Sometimes when my husband and I are trying to talk, Henry will start babbling so loudly that we'll throw up our hands and say, "I'll tell you later."

The other day my husband took Henry to the library, where Henry ran around exclaiming about, well, everything. The librarian's observation: "I see we have an enthusiast."

And that's what my boy is, an enthusiast. Everything is worth commenting on, and commenting on, and commenting on, until Mommy or Daddy confirm that, yes, Henry, that is an airplane, and I acknowledge you.

For all his enthusiasm, though, he still gives voice to only a few words. He says "Dada," of course, and he'll say "Mama" upon request. He'll also say "house" if you ask him to, though it comes out more like "hus." The name of the zookeeper in "Good Night, Gorilla" -- Joe -- is another word he'll repeat.

Also, in the past few days I've noticed that he's echoing the first letter of some words -- "dark," "dog," "banana." And then there's inflection -- when you ask him where something is, he'll spot it, then say, "hey yah" ("there it is"). It really seems like he's trying to figure this talking thing out.

His signing, which had stagnated at "more," "dog," "fan" and "toothbrush" (which morphed into an index finger in his mouth, which then became his sign for "want") recently has taken off again, with "milk," "airplane," "finished," "hat" and "eat." His version of "eat" is to make a fist and pound himself in the face with it. Again with the enthusiasm!

Despite the small number of words and signs Henry knows, he's able to pretty effectively communicate with me. I think part of it is the bond we have -- I know how he thinks and what he finds interesting. Often after we've been apart for a bit, while he's playing with Daddy or one of his siblings, he'll run up to me and show me different things. It's clear that he's trying to tell me what he was doing during our separation.

I can't wait to hear what he has to say when he really has the words to express himself. Let's just hope he doesn't feel the need to say it so loudly.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Precious Treasure

Here, Mama, a gift for you!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Blessed Are the Listmakers

Before having Henry I was known for my organizational and frugal ways. Now, well, people may still think of me as having these attributes, but like the tears of a clown, inside I'm a mess.

It's easy to blame the baby; heck, I think I just insinuated that it was his fault. But the truth is that I got lazy. Sure, having a baby is overwhelming, tiring, and all-consuming. But I think if I'd had a better plan in place to keep our household humming, things might not have fallen apart so much.

This is not to say my home is a hovel. My wonderful husband has become adept at doing laundry and using the dishwasher, and he and my stepkids clean the whole house every other Saturday. But things aren't going as smoothly as they used to.

Pre-Henry I did almost everything in regards to keeping our household running. A few years ago, in a fit of feeling under-appreciated, I actually made a list of it all. This is what I wrote (feel free to skim):

Birthdays and Holidays
• Do all gift planning, buying & wrapping.
• Buy all decorations (except tree).

Budgeting & Bill Paying
• Maintain list of all accounts with contact information.
• Create & reconcile monthly budget.
• Track short- and long-term financial goals (retirement, debt-reduction, etc.)
• Reconcile checking & savings accounts with statements monthly.
• Transfer money between checking and savings accounts as needed.
• Keep track of & pay all bills.
• Do all banking: deposits and withdrawals for all cash needs.
• Do quarterly financial statements.
• Do research to try to reduce costs & find cheaper/free ways to do things.
• Maintain supply of checks.
• Maintain supply of stamps.
• Research & handle mortgage loan and refinancing paperwork as required.
• Keep records of all financial transactions.

• Keep track of maintenance schedules.
• Take in for oil changes.
• Arrange for other repair or maintenance.
• Take through car wash every few months and vacuum interior once or twice per year.
• Do research on any potential vehicle purchases.
• Take in for emissions testing.
• Do title paperwork.
• Take care of annual registration.

• Buy all clothes – shop around for best price & fit, do returns when necessary.
• Do all laundry – washing, drying, sorting, folding & ironing (when necessary).
• Also wash all sheets, towels & blankets, including taking oversized blankets to Laundromat once per year.
• Do all repairs as necessary – zippers, buttons, sewing seams, etc.
• Put out fresh towels weekly.

Grocery Shopping
• Do all grocery shopping, including doing comparison shopping, going through weekly sales flyers, & keeping track of coupons and rebates.

Home Cleaning
• Do the majority of all cleaning, including dusting, vacuuming, washing floors, cleaning bathrooms and changing sheets.
• Do daily straightening (make bed, straighten throw pillows, run dishwasher, etc.).
• Empty vacuum cleaner bag as needed.
• Make homemade cleaning products (vinegar & water disinfectant spray, powdered laundry detergent, air freshener, etc.).
• Do occasional “spring”-type cleaning (cleaning ceiling fan blades, washing inside of medicine cabinet, etc.).

Home Decorating
• Do all painting, including searching for colors and doing tests.
• Shop for furniture, curtains, rugs, & accessories (throw pillows, lamps, pictures, etc.)
• Hang curtains, shades, pictures, hooks, etc.
• Refinish furniture.

Home Maintenance
• Change furnace filters monthly.
• Vacuum refrigerator coils as required.
• Defrost upright freezer twice a year.
• Arrange for furnace & central air clean & check once per year.
• Touch up paint as needed.
• Do all gardening & landscaping.
• Wash porch furniture each spring.
• Research & shop for new appliances when needed (blender, dehumidifier, vacuum cleaner, freezer, etc.).
• Do minor repairs (caulking, fixing holes in drywall, weatherproofing, etc.).
• Research, get estimates from, and hire contractors to do any work I can’t do (tree trimming, plumbing, floor refinishing, lawn grading, etc.).
• Take care of indoor plants: water, prune, pot, and fertilize.
• Replace water filters as needed.
• Shop for all hardware needs.
• Flip mattress quarterly (with help).
• Test smoke detectors quarterly.
• Oil paper shredder every month.
• Clean fans each spring.

Insurance (Car, Home, Life)
• Shop around every few years for best possible deals.
• Research what coverage we need.
• Make sure we have adequate & up-to-date coverage, including calling with any changes.
• Pay all premiums on time & file proof of payment.
• Maintain inventory of home and contents for insurance purposes.

Insurance (Medical)
• Keep track of insurance statements & medical bills to make sure they reconcile.
• Call insurance company when needed to clear up a problem.
• Submit medical bills to flexible spending account for reimbursement.
• Submit stepkids’ medical bills to their mom & keep track of what & when she pays.
• Maintain records of all insurance & medical paperwork.

• Keep track of "kid weekends."
• Keep track of kids’ school schedules.
• Keep schools informed of our interest, rights & contact information.
• Order kids’ school photos and frame & store them.
• Set up chore/allowance/banking system for the kids.

Miscellaneous Household
• Sort through mail.
• Maintain supply of videos from the library.
• Maintain supply of ink cartridges for printer.
• Take donations in to the Salvation Army.
• Take scrap paper to recycling center.
• Drain/cut open product bottles (lotion, shampoo, etc.) to get last little bit.
• Set up organizational systems (medicine, Tupperware, freezer, etc.).

Shared Chores
• Do dishes/empty dishwasher.
• Take out garbage (kitchen, bathroom, laundry area).
• Keep track of garbage day.
• Shovel when needed.
• Fill gas tank.
• Empty compost bucket.

Special Events & Situations
• Research and coordinate moves (three times in eight years), wedding, trip to Germany.
• Research things that affect our family (medical issues, tax audits & appeal, child support, etc.).

• Research tax law annually to keep up with changes.
• Do state and federal taxes each year.
• Keep track of paperwork needed to do taxes throughout the year.
• Make copies of tax paperwork & take to post office to mail.
• Maintain files of taxes.
• Calculate estimated tax liability for current year & do paperwork to have work withholding adjusted.

Excuse me while I go lie down.

Seriously, though, while I didn't do all of these things perfectly or all the time, I did them fairly well and at least some of the time.

Now? Despite my husband's much-appreciated contributions, things are spotty at best. And I've been thinking for a while now about how to get back on track.

This is what I'd like to tackle:

* Cook dinner several times a week.
* Update and maintain a price book.
* Keep on top of bills, the budget, paperwork, and the mail.
* Go through the house and de-clutter as much as possible.
* Have a routine for basic cleaning/straightening up/doing laundry.

And here I have to acknowledge what I'm sure some women are thinking: How sad that her goals revolve around domestic chores. Does she not have any higher purpose other than to cook, clean and take care of a child?

To that I would respond, I love my life. I love running a household and taking care of my family. I have other interests, sure, and as Henry gets older I'll have more time to pursue them. But for right now, I'm okay with where I'm at.

So stay tuned for more on New Mama's renewed zeal for housework in future blog entries.