Holistic organization

I suppose I have been discussing organization here a lot lately. Since I have transitioned over the past month or so to being at home, a lot of that (non-job-hunt) time has been spent either sorting through all the tasks that haven’t been done in a year or getting ready to switch gears into a summer where I am not working and the family dynamic has changed.

Whether we like it or not, organization is the key to a happier life. I am not even being flippant when I say that! Wasting time trying to get things done when you don’t know where things are, where you should be going or what you should be doing is a complete life-killer.

Of course, when people think of organization they think of de-cluttering and cleaning out the closets. Certainly, organizing is definitely these things but I am speaking more of a holistic view of organization, a mentality that keeps all the cogs in your life wheel turning, so to speak. So while sifting through the junk drawer is important so is making sure all your ducks are lined up. In fact, our entire life over here in bungalowville would be near impossible if we didn’t stay on top of the big life stuff. In fact, if a chore or organizational is costing you more in time, money or stress than just ignoring it, it’s time to get a handle on it.

Discovering what an overall view of organization looks like to you involves a deep dive into the way your family functions. You need to determine what tasks cause the most chaos in your life and then find a way to mitigate that chaos. Oftentimes not being organized in one thing can snowball into a bunch of things in your life falling out of sync. For example, if we don’t plan meals properly it can lead to more eating out, which leads to food spoilage, less cash and (almost always) poor health. Because missing a meal just doesn’t mean missing a meal, it means various parts of my life are touched. By simply always making sure that I have at least one or two meals frozen by doubling up recipes for those nights where we are exhausted and need something quick. Toss in some fresh stuff from the crisper into a salad or veg side I can ensure we stay on track.

Conversely, I have a friend who has three kids, two jobs, a rental property and her husband works long hours. Given their time crunch and their dislike of cooking, they made a decision to buy as much pre-made food as possible. Pre-made entries can be heated and served with a pre-made salad, for example. Sure, most frugal folk would balk at the idea of doing this but for their family it ensures that they spend more time at the table talking and less time cooking and cleaning. With the availability of so many healthier frozen options at the stores these days, it can even be relatively healthy. That way my friend can ensure she spends more time around the dinner table with her family rather than use their sparse time in the kitchen. It keeps the family out of restaurants so they are saving money and eating healthier.

A few solutions

I am no personal organizer by any stretch of the imagination. I am still trying to get my kids to adhere to the “one in, one out” philosophy for art pieces and toys. It sounds mean but we are 4.5 people living in a 1200 square foot bungalow and we can’t possibly keep everything. Still, I try and run our lives like a finely tuned machine and so far these things have not led me astray. Keeping with the holistic approach I’ve added an “Alternative Universe” blurb at the bottom explaining what would happen if we didn’t do these things.

The family calendar: ok, to be fair I have two calendars, one typical paper calendar that has events for the year and one giant one-month dry-erase calendar that the entire family can see. Since only has a month at a time & it’s huge so we can see at a glance what the upcoming events are. We also have the rule that if it isn’t on the calendar, it’s not happening. So Mr. Tucker are really good about writing down our events so we don’t miss them due to scheduling or a lack of sitter.
Alternative universe: never knowing what we have going on, buying expensive gifts last-minute for parties because we forgot, arguing over who drives the kids where and when, double-booking ourselves for events and then arguing about who gets to go, forgetting to organize babysitting.

So I guess everyone knows what my July looks like!

Weekly food prep: I know I linked to my food strategy earlier in the post but we try and take some time and do some weekly food prep, as required. When I am working Sundays are usually the time we bake a loaf of bread, prep the yogurt for the kids for the week, make muffins/cookies & I’ll also cut up vegetables as required. Sundays are a good time to look at the food you have on hand and plan meals around what needs to be eaten before it spoils.
Alternative universe: tons of spoiled food, spending money on more convenience food, boring lunches & dinners for the family that would lead to buying more meals out, lack of prep costs more in higher energy costs, being tired at the end of the day means we would most likely eat more dinners out.

A basic budget: I know this is a knee-jerk idea for some people but honestly, knowing what I have to spend frees up my time to worry about other things. Most of our bills are automated but I still find comfort in a basic spreadsheet detailing what we have spent and what we can spend. I also love looking at how our financial goals are doing keeps us on track.
Alternative universe: this one is kind of easy, it would mean bounced payments, overspending, having to spend more time thinking about money than necessary, using credit to fill the gaps, not knowing if there are erroneous charges in our accounts, bad credit.

A good start: I allow the kids to pick their clothes the night before or if they don’t, the rule is I can choose. That’s had a fairly good success rate. Getting books, papers and other accoutrements all ready to go the night before saves so many headaches. Knowing I just have to stuff a lunch into a backpack makes the mornings run so much smoother.
Alternative universe: absolute chaos in the morning, arguing with the kids about clothes, lunches taking twice as long to make as we are trying to do too many things at once, the day starts out on a stressful note.

All of it and more? Stress, stress, stress. Unhappy parents, unhappy kids, more bickering and less time to spend together. Being disorganized is a complete life-killer.

My Achilles heel

Do you know what causes the most chaos in our lives? Laundry. Both Mr. Tucker and I don’t mind washing it but we hate folding it and putting it away. We both intellectually know that if we spend the time to actually fold and put away the laundry it will save us hours of time where we won’t be hunting down miniature socks at 6:30am. However, do you think that knowledge spurs us into action? Nope. For some reason we always insist on what I call the “roving basket” system: one dirty, one clean. Take from one, wear, toss into the other. It’s incredibly inefficient, it stresses us out, it clutters our bedroom and inevitably we end up re-washing clean stuff when the baskets get mixed up – and usually during high peak times when electricity is at a premium. It’s Holistic disorganization! I am still working on ways to get ourselves on track with this one thing, it seems to be the one holdout chore that negatively affects our life that we can get a handle on.

Ugh.  Bane of my existence.
Seriously laundry, I really don’t like you

In the end, everyone has their own things that they excel at and others they don’t. It’s important to not think about tasks in a vacuum, however. Oftentimes, when you let something slip it becomes a snowball of bad habits, stress and often money. Giving yourself an intervention and changing the behaviours that negatively affect your life may mean you get huge returns in life quality that you may never had even considered.

Many bags: the lazy organization dream

This heaping mess is actually organized, no kidding!

I’ve spent the past couple of days in Excel to help me plot all the amazing things available to sign up for this summer. I needed a calendar system so that things didn’t overlap. After a few days plotting the course, I can honestly – and finally – say we are organized for the summer!

While we won’t spend the majority of our days in organized activities, I have planned for a couple of fun 1-hour classes such as dance and science for kids. These activities usually happen late enough in the morning so that we don’t have to rush but early enough that it kicks our butts into gear to start our day. When the kids are in class, I get the added benefit of a workout at the gym. How is that for incentive? And it’s all thanks to the local library and our YMCA family membership.

Of course, now that things are planned out, it means organizing the kids and I properly so that we don’t get confused. A lot of people I know keep one bag and just change the contents when they switch activities but I have always found that makes me lose stuff all over the house. Inevitably I panic when we are late, toss all the contents in a random place and refill it with the stuff I need as I run out the door. Then, over the next week those things get moved again, shuffled around and usually separated. The next thing I know I need all the stuff again and it’s strewn about the house in separate corners. Not a good use of my time.

Keeping things all together in one place for when we need it has been my safety net in the chaos of the school year. Now that it’s summer, I plan to stick with the same game plan except out go the kid’s backpacks for school, in comes the giant beach bag.

Honestly, the amount of re-useable bags I have either purchased or been given with purchase (of gifts, or left at my house) is staggering. Most of us have a bajillion of these crowding hallway entrances and closets worldwide! Use them – at least the nice ones that are easily wiped down with a cloth. They are generally sturdy enough to carry heavy stuff and there are enough of them in different colours so you don’t mistake them.

One of the reasons I try to be relatively organized is because it removes barriers that may otherwise make me throw up my hands and just decide to stay home. When I can just reach out and grab a bag and run out the door to the gym, I am more likely to run out the door to the gym. When we are invited to an impromptu play date at a local beach, I know I have a bag of hats, sunscreen, towels and bathing suits ready as wrangle the kids out the door. Knowing what to have prepped in what season is an absolute game-changer for parents – especially ones who have a hard time getting over-excited kids to wait as you get it together.

Here are some of the prepped bags I have made:

The gym’n’swim bag: The one sturdy bag I do keep around is a backpack Mr. Tucker picked up at a conference. I use it as our gym bag and it holds not only the things I need to hit the gym, but all the things the kids need for swimming lessons as well. I learned a long time ago to buy other copies things that I would use both at the gym and at home so it contains it’s own soaps, brushes, flipflops etc. so that I don’t have to run around trying to find these things as I am running out the door, late for swimming lessons. It also has a handy pocket where our gym passes are so that I don’t have to carry them in my wallet all the time. I never forget our cards and I always have the things I need to do a workout while the kids are in lessons.

Beach bag: this is my summer staple because more often than not we are out at the park pool, a splashpad or a beach. The bottom is usually littered with granola bars and other sturdy snacks followed by sunscreen, hats, towels, a change of clothes, baby wipes and water bottles. I keep a lot of extra hats, towels and water bottles in the house because I find it easier to make sure that they get changed often but that we don’t have to wait until they are clean to leave the house again

Music bag: this contains all the sheet music and music books as well as our teacher’s notebook to write the lessons in. It’s the brightest bag we have in the house, probably because it gets lost the most often.

Library bag: Let’s face it, if you are a huge user of the library, the books are the bane of your existence. Toss in a couple of kid selections and it can be chaotic to keep it all organized. I keep one bag for books that have come in and I need to read, and one for books out that I have already read. While it isn’t a perfect system, it keeps the library fines down. I spend less time looking for books these days.

We have other bags kicking around but the above ones are the ones that will get the most use over the summer months. In the winter our bags tend to multiply and reflect the season: school bags, ski bags, and ice skating bags. Most of them hang on a hook or sit in the front hall without any trouble and we can swap them out from season to season. With a new summer ahead of us, I’ve already dragged out all the things we will need to enjoy the hotter months, all I will need is to grab my bag and go.

All the bags lined up in the front hall like little organized soldiers

How to have a fun, low-cost, low-key summer

On facebook recently I came across this great tongue-in-cheek article: 10 ways to give your kids an honest-to-goodness 70s summer. I laughed at how similar it was to my own childhood but it also reminded me of a conversation I recently had.

A couple of weeks ago a friend had asked a friend asked me what I planned to do all summer with the kids. “I plan to hit the pool at the park, go for bike rides, head over to the beach.”
“What? All summer?”
“Yes? That’s what I did when I was a kid and I have fond memories.”
“But aren’t they going to get bored? Won’t they drive you crazy? We’ve signed up for camps for at least a few of the weeks.”
“Well, am home all summer, so many parents would love the opportunity to be home with their kids all summer.”

This conversation was revisited a couple of weeks later when we all got together at the neighbourhood book club. After they had a chuckle at the fact I planned to spend most of my summer at the park pool, they went on to describe all the different camps their kids were signed up for – and these are people who are home in the summer! The thing is, we also have a lot of things I have planned over the summer they just tend to be no/low cost and typically low-key. Here is an idea of what our summer will look like:

– The summer reading program at the local library has amazing weekly events for kids of all ages. With weekly themes such as “Let’s make some noise,” and “Let’s get messy.” The piece de resistance will be a tech crafts day where they can make their own crafts using LED lights, circuits and conductive materials. These free events will be a nice break once-a-week for the kids to enjoy.
COST: $0
Time: once a week for 6 weeks

– Our YMCA membership includes some great drop-in programs such as a science class, a dance class and arts and crafts. The kids will also be signed up for swimming lessons over the summer as well. While they are enjoying classes, I get to enjoy a workout.
COST: included with membership, Mr. Tucker’s work pays for 1/3 of the monthly cost (and we get a tax credit).
Time: once a week for the drop-ins, once a week for swimming

– Two small camps: one is a half-day camp, and the second one is a ¾ day camp both at nearby churches. We do this because they are incredibly inexpensive and their friends all go to the same camps.
COST: $175 both camps (and we get a tax credit).
Time: Two weeks of camp

– We are lucky enough to live a 5k bike ride in either direction to city beaches. One beach in particular has an amazing play structure as well. Usually we reserve this for the weekend when Mr. Tucker can join us and we can spend the day there.
COST: $0 ($10 if we all supplement our picnic lunch with an order of fries or ice cream from the canteen).
Time: as much as a full day of fun

– City parks: within a 2k radius we have two city parks with lovely wading pools as well as a splashpad. We either walk or bike over to the parks with a picnic basket in tow and spend the day there. Because they are in our neighbourhood the kids are always guaranteed to find friends there.
COST: $0
Time: 4-6 hours of outdoor enjoyment

– Museums & Art gallery: Now that both kids are in school full days we haven’t renewed our memberships to some local museums because we never have the time to enjoy visiting. However, the summer is an excellent opportunity to be able to explore the museums we haven’t been able to visit for over a year. Luckily for us, the library has free passes to local museums. While they are wildly popular, I try to check at night to see if there are any branches with passes close to us. I have had great luck being the first in line in the morning to grab the passes! I also happened to receive a free family membership to the Art gallery, so that is a win as well!
COST: $0
Time: ½ to a full day exploring the museums.

Living in a northern climate I generally prefer to be outside and active as much as possible but some days you just need a break. Like most kids, we have piles of books, toys and craft materials at home to entertain themselves on rainy or lazy days. Luckily for me, my kids are old enough now that I can bring my laptop with me when we are out and apply for jobs or work on personal stuff as they don’t NEED me all the time.

So if I had to answer the question, “What are you doing all summer,” all over again I think I would say something like, “A lot! We have dance and art and science and reading and picnics, swimming, and biking and visiting museums all planned for the summer – and two weeks of camp!”

In which we explore the harrowing world of HVAC and finance

Earlier this spring our old, crumbling heating system decided to die a slow death. Slow because it still works and we’ve been using the AC but it means we do have to replace it. To be honest, I know almost nothing about HVAC systems and so armed with minimal information from the internet I sought out – and received – quotes from three local installers.

The good news is that all three quotes are basically in the same range and the systems are comparable. The bad news is that that range is $2k-$4k more than I thought I would have to pay! Brutal.

So now I am sifting through the quotes and trying to nail down a budget to have it paid off in six months. One company offers a 36 month no interest plan but I would have to apply for a store card and that would mean a hit on my credit. For a family that is hoping to get a mortgage in the next couple of years, I don’t want to risk it with applying for new credit only to save $370 if that means I won’t get as good of an interest rate on something as large as a house purchase.

Speaking of finance, I did want to sit down with a financial advisor from another bank but when I looked into it, the index funds I’d like to purchase from that bank can only be purchased online. So now I have to explore the other options such as Questrade and Vanguard. To be fair, I had been a little lazy about looking into those companies and now it’s forcing me to investigate, which is the little kick I may need to jumpstart a better financial plan. So now I am spending a bunch of time reading up on the options.

Only one more week until the kids are out of school! I’m slowly getting through my 2-for-20 list and applying for work. Slowly but surely but first, HVAC decision!

2-for-20 is more like 4 every couple of days

The idea of 2-for-20 is that anyone can nail out two tasks a day to help organize and improve their lives. So far, I am day 7 of the adventure and things are up and down. The kids had a PD day one day and I was under-the-weather for another, which has meant I have had to double up.

6. Planted an herb garden both inside and outside: Mr. Tucker and I are no green thumbs by any stretch of the imagination but we do like fresh herbs. It’s one of those things that is do-able for any person even with space limitations. We took some of our food budget and bought herbs & a small florescent light for the kitchen. The kids and I planted some herbs outside in a corner of our (overgrown) garden.

7. Put away the winter gear: I know, I know some people do this the first sniff of spring in the air. However, I have learned my lesson from the past when winter came back with a vengeance after many days of spring. June seems safe!

8. Organize summer gear: In order to keep on top of things during the summer, it’s important that our front hall is well-stocked with things we will need to spend a day in the sun: sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, bike lock etc. Knowing where everything is makes throwing things together easier.

9. Unclog bathroom sink: This sink is the bane of my existence as it’s constantly clogging. To be fair, I didn’t take care of this one: my father unclogged it for me after being frustrated when he was over last.

10. Organized sheet music into a binder: We had so many pages of sheet music disorganized and being stuffed into our music bag and it was unmanageable. So enter a dollar store binder and a hole-punch. Hopefully we can continue to keep it organized.

11. Get into the habit of making bread: This is one of the first things that falls out of habit when I am working. Aside from the fact it’s super easy to do if you make a no-kneed recipe, it saves big cash. We also have a breadmaker (gift) that pumps out wonderful loaves of bread with very little work (and still much cheaper than store bought, given the electricity use). I have two batches of no-knead not kneading anything right now (see what I did there? Ok, ok, I’ll stop).

12. Clean front hall. We have a small bookcase that separates our living room from our front hall. Most of the shelves are filled with books but there are also cubbies for storage. I emptied all the buckets, got rid of the ones that were falling apart and then organized the dog box, the two seasonal (now winter gear!) boxes & went through the box of re-usable bags and sorted them. By organizing I freed up two cubbies where I then put a box of shoes for each kid because…

13. Sift through kid shoes: For some reason I can never comprehend, the kids have a plethora of shoes. Considering they mostly live in Crocs, this is a bit disconcerting. I piled all the shoes up, sorted them, organized them into personal bins and got rid of all the shoes that didn’t fit, which will be donated.

14. Clean up the fireplace: In the winter we use our fireplace a LOT. While this means we will have to get our chimney swept regularly it also means a lot of ash and dust collects in the fireplace itself. I cleared this out to prepare for next winter.

15. Only use cheap electricity: I know this is a weird ongoing one (some of these are) but I have been hyper-diligent of only using the electricity when it’s the cheapest. While it’s not always 100% possible we’ve already seen a $16 reduction in our bill – and I’ve been doing it for less than a month! I’d like to see how far down I can get the bill over the summer.

New chairs that don't break under your butt!

16. Find new dining room chairs: We have the 1900-esque chairs my grandparents bought and sadly they are reading the end of the road. One has already snapped from underneath Mr. Tucker who found himself poured unceremoniously on the floor one dinner. In the end, I found decent chairs for $5 each on Kijiji. They have a fabric seat, look decent and will probably outlast the damage our kids can do.

We are getting into the more complicated 2-for-20 stuff over the next couple of weeks, which is making me a bit apprehensive! Some pretty huge things have to happen, including getting quotes for a new furnace installation.

Summertime, and the living is easy

Enjoying a relaxing day at a friend's pool

For many years we used to spend two weeks in the summer heading to Maine. We had a great, inexpensive place mere blocks from the beach and we loved the fresh sea air & the time away.

The last time we went though, the landlords had taken us for granted as customers. When we politely informed them the first day that the internet wasn’t working we got nothing but crickets for the rest of our time there. Previously, we had informed them that the internet was a dealbreaker for us because we didn’t want to use up all our data plans.

That year it also poured rain for the majority of the week leaving us stuck inside with a toddler and a preschooler and nothing to entertain them with. After that experience (and the exorbitant international data roaming costs) we decided that it was a little silly to spend all that money to head to the east coast when by comparison all-inclusive Caribbean deals were bottoming-out right before hurricane season. Besides, being from the Great White North meant that it was much nicer to GTFO in February rather than travel during the only warm time of year.

“This is ridiculous,” I said to Mr. Tucker.
“Agreed,” he replied.

& the Tuckers never took another summer vacation again.

Since then we have decided than instead of traveling during the summer we stay put and enjoy all our city has to offer. Summer is such a short season here and there is so much to do that it seems kind of weird to spend a fortune renting a cottage somewhere when we live a 5 km bike ride – in either direction – to two beaches.

There are also enough lakes, museums, galleries and other interesting things that put on summer-themed programming all within the city or an hour or two out of the city, if you crave a change of scenery. Even in our wee neighbourhood there is a plethora of kids who hang out at the wading pool all day. In fact, our go-to most years is to take a picnic and spend a full day at the park with our friends.

Outdoor swimming lessons at a city-run pool.  Inexpensive, super fun!

With cottages a decent driving distance from us going for $1200-$1500 a week or more but with less amenities and are more work than anyone wants to admit, I am not interested. It would almost make more sense to drive to NYC in November and spend the money on a cruise when they bottom out at $400 a head, if that’s your thing. At least you won’t be washing dishes and cooking the whole week.

Who doesn’t have great memories of riding bikes, eating popsicles and swimming in the pools, lakes or oceans of our childhoods? There is something relaxing about having the summer laid out before you when you are a kid. Not having to have to go to school or go to bed early. From sun up and sun down just running around with our friends adventuring.

In the end, we have all this outdoor space in the summer that we don’t even see or use for 5 months of the year so I would rather stay put and use it. There is nothing better than hosting BBQs with friends, playing outside with the kids, or creating a garden. I honestly want to enjoy the space around me whether it be my backyard or the greenspace around the city. It seems kind of silly to me to make plans to vacate from it when it’s the only time of year you can really enjoy it at its best.

So unless I get the opportunity to, say, spend a summer in Europe or something equally different, you will find me right here at home, enjoying the amenities that surround us.

You can can!

halfway done

Being urban/suburbanites on a shady lot means we don’t do much gardening. If you have lots of space and light to grow things on your property, then canning is probably a worthwhile adventure for you.

Still, Mr. Tucker and I can a few things a year and it can be a worthwhile venture for you as long as you are canning things that are either expensive to buy or that taste better home made.

In the past I have canned Concord grape jelly from local grapes and every year I can a year’s worth of strawberry jam that only contains strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Since we can also take the family to a PYO strawberry place, the adventure triples as a family outing as well as teaches the kids about where food comes from. All over win, really.

This year though I decided to add Mr. Tucker’s delicious (supah sekrit) BBQ sauce to that list. He often makes only one batch at a time but I asked him to double it so we could preserve a year’s worth of sauce. As a bonus, we also made little jars to use as gifts: just add a ribbon with an info card and a dollar store basting brush and VOILA! Awesome gift of deliciousness.

We haven’t spent much on canning because we lucked out after a friend’s wedding. They had a country-themed wedding near our city because it was a central meeting place for both their families who lived literally on opposite sides of the country. Given that they were both living near the arctic circle at the time. When it was all over, we became the happy recipients of all the custom mason jar candle-holders they had made for the wedding (and the cool dress-up clothes from the photo booth that the kids still use). So all told we have received over 100 mason jars of varying sizes (and their unused lids).

By my calculations we have spent about $10 in ingredients to make 5 quarts of BBQ sauce. That’s $2 a quart. The fact that it is thicker than most commercial brands and has no thickeners or fillers is also a welcome bonus. In our city, you can often get a thin, water sauce on sale for $1 but you have to use twice as much and it tastes like bargain basement ketchup and burnt onions. So I call our little experiment a win.

BBQ sauce is SRS business

“Isn’t canning hard?”

When I posted on facebook that we were planning on canning some BBQ sauce a few friends questioned whether or not it was worth it. The answer is: it can be (*groan*). The key is that it has to be something that can be waterbath canned, which limits you to high-acidity foods. High-acidity foods can be done in a large stockpot (as long as the water covers the top of the pot). Low-acidity foods have to be done in a pressure canner due to botulism concerns. I don’t have the money, time, or access to cheap, fresh produce that would make pressure canning a viable thing for my family. Unless you have a farm (or other access to lots of fresh foods, cheap) the cost of a pressure canner + supplies wouldn’t have a decent payback, especially considering the hassle.

So while it’s not always financially doable, given the massive amounts of lids, jars and supplies we have, water bath canning is definitely within our reach and does lead to decent savings and better food. In fact, my father has a large garden where he grows a wicked amount of tomatoes so this year I plan to grab some of those and can huge batches of fresh, organic, crushed tomatoes. Being able to crack open a jar of summer in the middle of a snow storm will be a welcome comfort when the winter comes.

The fruit of our labour

Not with a bang*

WELP. As of today the Tucker household is completely debt-free! Strangely, it feels a bit anti-climactic and I joked on FB that I should celebrate by tossing something on the credit card – for old times sake.

If I am to be completely honest, we had a super spendy year. This was all because of the following: some leftover debt from our month spent in Puerto Rico, a Disney trip (my mother offered to pay half so I took the girls and Mr. Tucker stayed home), we took up skiing (and Mr. Tucker and I bought skis), and more activities for the girls this year (Sparks, harp lessons). However, I did manage to get a well-paying job and so even with those over-the-top expenses (and paying for parking at work) we still managed to get our $17000 total debt down to zero in less than 8 months. No small feat, that.

I have always been pretty frugal so this year was a bit of anomaly. Having experienced it, I am not tempted to run up the debt again! Still, we did keep up with savings while we were paying stuff off so it wasn’t too much of a loss but still TSK TSK TSK in my general direction. I have learned my lesson and have no plans to go there again.

I was kind of hoping for great fanfare – or at least a parade – but the debt has gone out with a whimper. On that back of that, Mr. Tucker and I have a fairly comprehensive budget we have put together that sees us planning for almost everything – including emergencies and the next month-long sabbatical – so it’s nice to be able to start all that with a clean slate & THAT feels really good.

* with apologies to T.S Eliot

I’ve been lazy but I have been given a reprise!

So 2-for-20 officially started June 1st because I miscalculated the end of the school year.

For some strange reason I thought that the school year ended three days earlier than it does. As it turns out, I had the secondary school calendar pinned to the cabinet, not the elementary. It kind of begs the question as to how I am only figuring it out now, though.

Still, even though I haven’t accomplished tons (I have yet to see the inside of the gym, oops!) I have still ahead by one day, which is good considering there are two PD days coming up & I will have to double-down. I was hoping to be ahead by now but what can you do.

1. Budgety: Mr. Tucker and I sat down and figured out a new budget to carry us through until the end of the year and beyond. We’ve plotted an incredibly optimistic budget based on a high savings rate and have decided to scale our discretionary spending WAY down based on just the one salary. Hopefully I will head back to work in the fall and then we can just add that salary to the pile.

2. Volunteer: Since I am often working for most of the school year I don’t get the chance to head into the kids’ school and help out. They ask us a lot and Mr. Tucker will often take a day off and go but I don’t want to lose the money. Luckily, most of my contracts end in May so I have now been able to volunteer twice at school.

3. Blog: The old blog style was driving me nuts and I wanted something more intuitive so I spent the morning doing that. It’s looking much better and is so much easier to navigate.

4. & 5.Hooky days: One of my goals for when I was off work was to allow each of the children to have one day alone with me doing whatever they wanted to do. They both chose lunch at Ikea and an afternoon at a kid’s entertainment centre. I managed to come out relatively unscathed financially and we got to bond, so I am glad we did this.

On the list for the rest of the week:

Cleaning out the winter gear
Bringing out the summer stuff
Cleaning the front porch
Making BBQ sauce for the year
Clean the fireplace
Wash & air dry the duvets
The unending piles of laundry I thought were done

Etc.

So right now I have accomplished 6/40 things I plan to do. Not bad! I am about to bike over to the library to pick up some holds and then I am right back to it (I am looking at you, laundry).

2-for-20

One of the things I found overwhelming was just how much had to be done around the house after the winter. With two full-time jobs, two kids and a plethora of extra-curriculars for all of us, so many organizational tasks just got away from us. Since I am home for the next 20 (now 19 days!) without the kids, I wanted to make sure I tackled as much on the list as possible without feeling overwhelmed and throwing in the towel. Enter 2-for-20.

I decided that I could easily manage two things a day for that twenty day period, if I paired difficult tasks with easier tasks. That way I would have a task that I could finish quickly and feel good about before tackling the larger, more daunting task. Some of the ones I chose were super easy – such as finally folding and putting away three weeks of laundry – but some were more difficult, such as cleaning the front yard.

The idea behind forcing myself onto this is schedule is to break down the daunting list of all that needs to be done around the house into easier to manage pieces. When the kids are out of school I won’t be able to spend as much time on the backlog so managing now will ensure we can have a relaxed, fun summer. I won’t have to worry about all that needs to get done which is wasteful mental energy.

Here is what I have done this week:

May 25: kickstart blog posting & fold/put away 3 weeks of laundry
May 26: volunteer at the school & do summer/fall budget
May 27: wash all linens and hang on the line & clean out medicine cabinet

Not bad so far, here are some other things I need to do:

Clean the buffet
Clean out my closet, donate clothes
Clean out the kid’s closets, donate clothes
Put away winter gear
Organize front cupboard

I will have a full calendar done on Friday but until then, I will chip away at the things I can over the next couple of days.

Switching gears & housekeeping

Last week, my contract for 2014-2015 came to an end, and while I am looking forward to some time off and spending summer with the kids, I always find the transitions difficult. This year is much better than previous years, however. With two kids in full day school I now find myself with almost a month of kid-free time between the hours of 8:15 and 3:30. Amazing! Needless to say, I took a few down days last week where I caught up on reading and relaxed.

With a fresh new week on my hands, I realized that I have an opportunity to get a plethora of stuff done. I am sure most people know that there is always something that needs to be cleaned, organized, fixed or purged around the house. My goal is to try and get as many of those things done in the 20 weekdays I have between now and the end of the school year. I also have some personal goals I may throw in there – making it a list of anything I couldn’t accomplish when I was working. Look for more on that this week.

***

With the summer here and a little more time on my hands (I hope!) it’s my goal to post three times a week to this blog. I feel like this summer is going to be a good time to set goals in general, whether it be health (biking not driving), food (less eating out than we did over the winter) or personal (practice harp more often). Mr. Tucker and I have made some personal changes recently and I hope this snowballs into a more relaxed – yet accomplished – summer.

Are you using all the entitlements and deals available to you?

Many people are deep into tax season right now so they are itemizing and calculating their amounts. As for myself, my taxes were done in March (yes, I am a nerd) but I have thinking about other ways we can reduce our expenses lately, namely the hidden things. One thing about having a husband who works from home is that he often has benefits he never uses. Since his company’s office often does events such as happy hours he also gets a certain amount of money set aside that he can use for these things as well. Of course, he never uses them because he works from home and often forgets. Here is a sampling of things he has available to him:

Gym $40 a month
$20 every 2 weeks for lunch
$50 month happy hour

That is over $100 a month in non-taxable benefits that he forgets to use. The worst part is that our family YMCA membership is $130 a month. We technically could be saving $40 on that alone if he just did the paperwork. The problem is that doing the paperwork is often a hassle. For the longest time he had a corporate credit card and didn’t have to file receipts, so the incentive to bill for these things just wasn’t there. His company just redid their corporate card policy and now he has to submit receipts for his expenses again, which means it’s no more of a hassle to submit an extra one.

So basically, for 20 minutes of paperwork we would be getting more than $100 worth of benefits. Since the YMCA membership includes all the kids sports activities (for which we also get a tax credit) and gets us deals on summer camps and birthday parties, we are coming out even more ahead. I mean sure, Mr. Tucker and I go to the gym to work out and to take classes as well but the real benefit is the kids’ activities.

$50 is also a decent night out for us, so we are foolish for not taking advantage of this considering it’s like his company is paying us to have a date night!

$20 buys more than enough pizza for a family of four!

While the point of this story is to review the things we often forget about, everyone has something in their lives they could be taking advantage of, but don’t. Some employers offer reduced public transit passes, gym memberships or other benefits that employees don’t often investigate. Your membership in a professional or an alumni association can get you lower rates on insurance, car rentals and hotels all you have to do is look into it. We currently pay 50% less on term insurance because we get it through my alumni association.

So check to see if you qualify for extra benefits and deals based on your job, school or professional associations. You may be surprised.

Two organizational tasks that keep me sane

Life is a constant attempt at staying organized but it’s even more important when the two adults in our household are working. Life is completely chaotic all the time and it always feels like you are running to catch up. Recently though, I realized that there were two important things that needed to get done in order to control the chaos in our lives. I know homework can be found, toys can be put away quickly and lunch containers usually make a reappearance somewhere down the line so those things don’t consume a lot of my mental energy or time. So I don’t worry about that stuff. What I do worry about:

Meals: I usually spend 10 minutes on Sunday figuring out what we have in our fridge and freezer and then write down on our kitchen calendar what we should eat over the next week. A quick peek into the crisper can also give me an idea of what will last and what needs to be eaten ASAP. This exercise allows me to plan five days of dinners based upon the things we have going on that night. If there is an activity, or if I have a class and only Mr. Tucker is parenting, one of our stockpiled meals made on the weekend is in order or maybe it’s a good night for pasta.

Bu having it written down Mr. Tucker and I avoid the 2pm email conversation that goes something like this,

“What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s just get take-out.”
“Ok.”

It also allows us to plan ahead if we know that something has to be defrosted. One of us can just take a quick look at the calendar in the morning and figure out what needs to be pulled out of the freezer, what needs to be prepped, and how long the actual dish will take to cook. That allows us to think about what needs to be done and plan our day accordingly.

Knowing that something is planned out makes it less likely that you will end up eating out. It also helps us reduce the amount of fruits and vegetables we waste over the course of a week.

Laundry: anyone who knows me knows that laundry is my biggest Achilles heel. Unfortunately, I also married someone for whom laundry is a challenge. More often than I like to admit, we spend our mornings combing through piles of clothes looking for stuff for the kids & I (luckily, Mr. Tucker works from home and can be less picky!). I know intellectually if I just spend the hour and put it all away our lives will be so much more organized but yet Mr. Tucker and I often avoid it because it’s our least favourite chore.

We both know how much better our lives are when we keep on top of the laundry so we’ve been forcing ourselves to work on it. The worst part is that since Mr. Tucker is home during the day he will often toss in some laundry because it’s a hands-off thing he can do with only about 20 minutes of actual hands-on time. So I have no real excuse not to take the time to fold it and put it away. Also, the amount of time it takes to search through piles of laundry for little socks for the kids is way more annoying to do every morning than it would be to just do it once and have them all done for the week. My clothing choices are much simpler – dresses, mostly – but the kids need an array of things depending on the day of the week. Two days a week are outside gym days and dressing for the weather is super important in a northern clime.

It honestly takes about one hour to fold and put away and another 15 minutes to plan out the outfits in order to save 15 minutes every morning. Completely worth it!

Not everything goes smoothly when four people are rushing in the morning and three of them have to be places at a certain time but with a little forethought things can go mostly better. Not having to worry about what everyone is eating and wearing takes a huge stress off and saves us both time and money.

Is enough ever enough? (Part II)

How fine are you?

Every year near the end of my contracts, I panic. I go through this dramatic internal phase where I believe that no one will hire me again, I’ve just had good luck and that I’ll end up not working for so long that no one will hire me. The reality is that I have been hired 4 years in a row doing increasingly more and more interesting work for better and better pay AND I have been able to take the summers off with my kids. Chances are my current contract will not be my last one. I will not starve; there will be more work and I just need to learn to relax. But we are the products of our history and we tend to think of the worst case scenario so my brain automatically goes to all the times things were NOT ok as opposed to the fact that through some good decision making and savings, we will definitely be ok.

A little panic is good, it spurs us to find better work, to save more than spend and essentially helps with good decision-making. But it can also prevent you from living your life. My dad has more than enough money to do the things he wants to do in retirement but I worry that fear may prevent him from fully enjoying these things. What is the point of working hard all your life to spend the last years needlessly worrying about money?

Make a decision, give yourself permission

I decided that in order to not worry all summer I would put together a plan where as long as I hit some networking and job application milestones I would allow myself to just relax. Similarly, my father could agree to spend only X amount on travel on hobbies and then not worry about it. It requires a shift in mentality to strike a balance but if you know where you stand and have a plan, you worry less. You have to decide for yourself what is enough, change your mentality and give yourself permission to enjoy things.

When my father’s work situation changed, he needed to really sit down and change his mentality along with it. I have seen some finance gurus suggest to people undergoing life changes (retirement, living off one salary, parental leave) to try to living off that same amount for the 6 months before you actually have to and save the difference. That way you know what is feasible AND you have 6 months of banked savings to rely on. My dad spent the years leading up to his retirement doing all the major renovations to his house such as new insulation and a new roof. That way, he shouldn’t have to worry about any major work on his home for the rest of his life. Smart!

Our plan was to always live off about half of what we make and save the rest for goals and travel. We also contribute to various savings accounts (retirement, vehicles, etc.). We build in our hedge by knowing exactly what the bare minimum we need to survive is and aim to save that much in an account in case of a major job loss. It is that way I give myself permission to let go. It also helps that we can batten down the hatches and live off very little money if we need to. Having a bread and water mentality can help when the going gets rough.

Reset and rethink

In order to change your default mentality – sometimes after years of the same reinforcement – you have to consciously rethink the way you view things. Here are some thoughts:

If you are young, start now: it will be harder to change the longer you have done it. If you want to see the world from a different angle then you have to start as soon as you can. That way you will have years of experience off the beaten path and will know instinctively that the most popular way of doing things is not the only way. Besides, it’s easier to buck the status quo when you are younger.

Have a positive outlook: Often people will say “I wish I could do that,” or, “that may be fine for you but it would never work in my situation.” Don’t be that person. That kind of negative thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think of all the ways you COULD do something instead of listing the ways you can’t.

Stop listening to other chicken littles: We do get value when comparing ourselves to others in the same situation as us. It’s nice to feel like we are similar to others but humans are also prone to exaggeration. Someone who is claiming how tight things are may not be telling the whole truth or may have completely different challenges even though things look the same on the surface. You should be mining your own situation and comparing it to actual things in your own life, not the lives of others.

Determine you own minimum comfort level: do you need to have x amount of dollars in the bank to feel safe? Figure out what would allow you to let go and then once you reach that level, give yourself permission to relax.

Doomsday planning: if everything went wrong tomorrow how much would it cost to get back on track? Are you properly insured and do you have a plan for emergencies and people you can rely on?

Count on your tribe: who can you rely on either emotionally or physically when the going gets tough? Do you have friends with special skills or in a position where they could help you out? I often have friends who could help me find work if I needed it and I tend to keep them in mind when I feel like I will never work again. My father could also rely on us if he, say, ever got sick and needed help.

Fake it til you make it: even after all your planning you may still have some nagging in the back of your head. The best way to get into the habit of not panicking is to roll with it and pretend it’s all going to be fine. Chances are you will discover that things are fine. Heck, if you are the kind of person to meditate it’s a good opportunity to start a new mantra to train yourself to live in the moment.

Overall, focus on all the ways things have gone right instead of the ways things have gone wrong. The point of all this toil is to enjoy it and if you aren’t enjoying the good parts of life you are letting work and money control you. If that is happening you have to ask yourself why you worked so hard in the first place if you can’t even relax.

Is enough ever enough? (part I)

My father is retiring this month. Instead of looking forward to the time off after working so hard his whole life, he is panicking. He is panicking because despite a) having his house paid off, b) having low-cost hobbies, and c) a large pension with cost-of-living increases he is scared he won’t be able to live. He recants tales of other retired colleagues not being able to afford to do anything and is convinced he is going to live hand-to-mouth in a couple of years. The worst part? His pension will be a third higher than the average Canadian salary. So essentially, there are entire families with mortgages and cars and children to support who make less than he does.

He’s not alone

We have had a rough week here in Casa del Bungalowville. The gastro typhoon has hit everyone in my household and I am the last person standing. Today I was called from work in the morning to pick up the eldest at school after she succumbed. So that’s how I found myself at 3:30pm waiting for the youngest to get off the school bus. It’s also how I ended up having a conversation with a neighbour about our parents retiring.

Like my father, her parents also live in our neighborhood. Also like my father, they both have good pensions and savings but worry about money constantly. Of course, my neighbor and I are of a generation where pensions have been essentially eliminated from the majority of jobs and replaced with retirement contribution matching (if you are lucky). The idea of a pension with a cost-of-living increase every year seems like winning the lottery to us – especially since our personal salaries aren’t even close to that amount!

Perception vs. reality.

I wonder though if maybe our parents just haven’t escaped that “making do” mentality. Spending years and years raising kids and allocating money carefully to make sure all the bills were paid was an almost 30-year habit. So even though those worries are gone, the habit remains. The reality is that they will be fine, the perception is that it could all fall apart at any moment.

We are all chained to our perceptions. We are all the chicken little’s of our own lives and of our own design. Whether it be money or health or interpersonal relationships we can often be a product of our habits and previous experiences. More than this though, we are also the product of our own grit and our own ability to persevere. Think of all the times you only had $10 to your name and you go through it. The times where you felt the entire world were crashing down on you and you go through it unscathed.

But yet, we only remember the hard times and not how we got through them with a combination of good habits and talent. My father is used to having a large paycheck – true – but all he needed to do was pretend not to have that paycheck for the past couple of months to know that if he had to be at his most frugal, he could still surpass more than a 50% savings rate if he really hunkered down. Considering how much he saves now, it should not be a problem. Heck, he could spend every cent, every month and still be fine. What he just needs to do is change his mentality about how he sorts his money. He is going to be fine, he just needs to give himself the experience of being fine.

Stay tuned for more this week…

Quick meal prep (that isn’t once-a-month-cooking)

I know a lot of frugality and homemaking blogs get a lot of mileage out of the once-a-month cooking (OAMC) trend. In case you haven’t heard of this, it’s where you spend one full day making every meal for an entire month. It’s a laudable goal but one I haven’t had much of a desire to achieve. Aside from the fact that I don’t have enough freezer space to store completed meals, I also like to use up anything that is going back in my fridge, so OAMC would be problematic for me. Besides, most of the websites and books on OAMC highlight recipes that don’t really appeal to me.

Still, I do like to save time, energy and money so instead of OAMC there are two things I aim for to make life easier.

The Soup Factory:

If there is one thing that the entire family enjoys, it’s soup. We eat it for lunch & dinner (and I have been known to eat leftover Pho for breaktfast). Although we do use commercial soups in a pinch, the salt content alone is pretty scary & they can be rather blah. I try and fancy them up and add, say, basil and jarred roasted red peppers to a plain tomato soup. All you need then is a whirr with the immersion blender and you have a fairly decadent lunch. Still, a fancy canned soup is no replacement for a homemade version and since soup can be made fairly easily and inexpensively with the help of pre-made broth, I consider it a worthwhile adventure.

As I mentioned before, I don’t have a lot of freezer space. We still have the original kitchen in our post-war bungalow and it fits exactly one size of fridge: 15 cubic feet (no word of a lie). That means I have to be creative with our shopping and storing of food. So in the case of the soup factory, I let the soup cool, I fill a medium freezer bag and then I stack them. I rarely have a problem with the bags leaking and a medium sized freezer bag holds two servings of soup. I can pull out a bag the night before if I need to warm it up for the kids Thermoses in the morning or if it is for me I just toss one of the frozen bricks into my backpack. I reheat half of the soup in the microwave at work and store the rest for the next day.

We all have our favourite soup ideas s but here are a few of mine:
– Spicy tomato kale and white bean
– Black bean
– Minestrone
– Chicken noodle
– Italian wedding
– Pea soup (you know where that Easter ham bone is going!)
– Curry lentil
– Butternut squash and ginger
– Vegetarian cream soups (ie: without cream): broccoli, cauliflower
– Potato-leek

If we are home I will pair soup up with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, crudités or even just a loaf of Mr. Tucker’s delicious Ciabatta. If I am taking it to work, I may just toss in a salad or cheese and a few crackers.

Double-up dinner:

Another reason I am not necessarily a fan of OAMC is that I like to eat things that don’t necessarily translate well to freezer storage. We aren’t really casserole people (but I have been known to stuff a shepherd’s pie or lasagne into the freezer) and most OAMC dishes are heavily casserole-based. There are still quite a few excellent meals that lend themselves to freezing but instead of cooking them once a month, I just double the recipe and make two to three meals out of one dinner preparation. It doesn’t take more than a few extra seconds to prepare the second dish and you only have to clean up once. Although I don’t always hit the mark, I try to have enough for a meal and for lunches the next day for the kids and I (when I am working outside the house.

Some dishes that end up working quite well to the doubling treatment are things such as:

– Ratatouille (my daughter’s favourite and heavy on the chopping!)
– Beef stew
– Shepherd’s pie
– Chicken pot pie
– Chilli
– Pulled pork
– Lasagne
– Curries
– Burritos
– Stir fries

ratatouille
Two Ratatouilles and a soup on the stove

You could probably add a million and one dishes to this list but those are the most popular dishes that we end up freezing. That way on evenings when we have no time or have to rush out we can just pull something out of the freezer in the morning and warm it up for dinner. Add bread, some frozen veggies, rice or a small salad and dinner is on the table in no time.

Baking your way to quick lunch snacks

I am not a baker by any stretch of the imagination. I like cooking but because I don’t have a sweet tooth, I rarely consider whipping up some cinnamon buns or scones unless I have a coffee or tea date planned with friends. Still, with the competition of school lunches being extremely appealing, I do try and keep our homemade lunches interesting. Part of that process is creating interesting things to put in the kid’s lunches, which means I have had to up my baking game. While I will never surpass the greatness of some of the bento box blogs out there, I do make sure to switch things up so they don’t get bored.

Luckily for me, the kids love to help out in the kitchen. I know it makes baking things three times as long when you add children to the mix but they do love to help and it is nice to spend time productively with them. Kids also enjoy eating things they had a hand in making so by working together you can also ensure they will eat the finished product. Also, since everything is a balance of time vs. money when both parents are working, this is a great way to save money, time and get in some family time as well.

So on a lazy weekend day once or twice a month I will prepare all the ingredients for a batch of cookies or a batch of muffins. After they cool, I then freeze them in giant freezer bags so in the morning while I am groggily making lunches, it’s easy to just toss them into a container & go.

Tips:

Use what you have: Batches of muffins usually coincide with the amount of bananas that have gone past their prime or the amount of carrots we have on hand. We always keep pantry staples around (flour, baking powder, oatmeal, raisins, spices) so look through your fridge for ways to use up what may go bad.

Always prep first: If you are doing this with children make sure that you have pre-measured the ingredients so that they just have to pick up the container and add it to the bowl. This may cause a few extra bowls to rinse but will save you the headache of trying to juggle and measure a cup of sugar while the kids get up to shenanigans.

Find a basic recipe and stick with it: older cookbooks such as Betty Crocker will have a generic muffin recipe or a cookie recipe that is easily adapted. All that changes is the spicing and the fruit combo. Once you know the recipe & the steps off by heart it will become second-nature.

Make fun, kid-sized stuff: I always make my cookies about 1-1.5-inches in diameter. Three of those cookies fit nicely in one small salad dressing container. Small muffins in fun muffin cups up the “WOW” factor for lunches. It takes a bit longer but it is worth it.

Alternate & double up: one weekend I may make cookies and then the next weekend I may make muffins. That way I always have a mix of the two to alternate between for lunches. I also always make sure to double the recipe so that they last.

muffins

I plan to try the kids on a traditional French Yogurt cake soon as well. This is the first cake French children learn to make and it’s measured with the yogurt container to make it an easy recipe for kids to follow. I love the idea and plan to give that a whirl soon. If they each make a cake recipe, I’ll probably be able to make a month’s worth of muffins!

A week of food posts: pre-planning meals

Yesterday I signed a new letter of offer for my current position. They are extending me for another month so my last day here will be June 13th. Incidentally, it’s also the last day I have daycare for my youngest, so it works out perfectly.

This week may be food week! I have a few things I wanted to post regarding getting organized food-wise between work-kids-activities-obligations. It seems to be the place I can make the most difference in our time considering how long it takes to buy food, prep food and cook food. With three people taking lunches to school or work every day, it can be a huge time suck so I am always looking for creative ways to reduce the time it takes to deal with food – especially on weekdays.

I do a major grocery run twice a month for the majority of our edibles. In between I may take a trip to a close produce store or to the drug store but almost all our shopping in those twice-a-month trips. Because of this, I tend to organize our weekly meal plan from what we have in the fridge. I try and gauge what is going bad and what could last a bit longer. Sunday night I get out my pad of paper and a pen and then figure out a meal plan based on what needs to be eaten earlier in the week and what can be left to the end of the week. The overall goal is to reduce waste while still providing interesting, healthy meals for the family.

On nights where I know it will be busy, I plan something simple such as a quick pasta dish or something I just need to defrost, such as pre-made stews, soups or chilli. On the nights I know we have more time, I work on something more elaborate or fun, like bbq or fondue. If the weather has been cold and rainy I am more likely to make a stew or serve a soup on the days where it is warm we focus more on salads and lighter fare. Like most people, it has become almost automatic for me to take all these variables into consideration for dinner.

On Sunday afternoon I take stock of the fridge and then look at our freezer inventory and then decide what we will eat for lunches and dinner. Then I will write down what I think will work given what activities we have that night, what the weather is like or what we haven’t had in awhile.

The result is a list I post next to our calendar. The list isn’t written in stone but it’s handy because it allows me to know that I packed soup and a sandwich in the kid’s lunch on Monday so Tuesday I may want to switch it up and do veggie sticks and chicken nuggets. It gives us the ability to use up what we have but wisely so we don’t have, say, beef three days in a row.

luncdin1

The great thing about the list is that I can take a quick glance the night before and pre-pack a lot of the things for the kid’s lunches (I generally get leftovers). While Mr. Tucker does dishes, I can assemble as much of their lunches as possible and take out anything that needs to defrost for the next day. That way when I get up the next morning (groggy, sans-coffee) I can just glance at the list, add whatever needs to be prepped that morning and then put it in their backpacks. It’s automatic and I don’t have to think about it. It definitely beats my old method of getting up in a haze at 5:45am and then trying to figure out what to do for lunches!

When I am working, this method works like a charm. It minimizes the amount we eat out because I‘ve noticed that we ate out more when we couldn’t really think of what to do for dinner. Organizing our meals based around what we already have has minimized waste, saved money and made our lives a lot easier.

Brainstorming: nosce te ipsum

Why do you want to work part-time? Is it so you will have more time for friends and family? More time for a creative pursuit? Do you need time to explore volunteer options for a career change? Do you want to go back to school? Maybe you were downsized and had no choice or an illness is keeping you from full-time work? The list of reasons why people want to – or have to – work part-time are probably as long as there are people! Still, you should do some prep work before jumping into the fray and the first step of this preparation should be a brainstorming exercise. You should sit down and think – and I really mean THINK – about how part-time work will affect your life both positively and negatively. To get you started, here are some questions and considerations you will need to explore as honestly as possible:

1 – Why part-time? State the obvious here whether or not it is a selfish reason or an altruistic one. Be realistic about your goals or your limitations. The answer to this question will direct the answers to other questions.

2 – What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you can’t lift a heavy box, you will need to avoid applying for any jobs with that requirement. If you aren’t a morning person, chances are a 5am paper route won’t be for you. If you can’t stand unpredictability, going the temp route may be too draining for you.

3 – Skills. Given your education and background, what types of jobs can you reasonably expect to get? My career has been mostly in communications and administration but I have a degree in psychology and am extremely technically proficient. So given that background I have been able to work my resume in way that opens up the doors to decent-paying contracts in the public sector.

4 – What are your limitations? If you have childcare demands or medical issues you will have to take these into consideration when looking for positions. I have been lucky enough to have excellent and decently-priced childcare available in my neighbourhood. Someone who doesn’t have those options may have to limit the work they can apply for.

5 – Type. What kind of part-time do you think you would enjoy? A permanent part-time job is a bit of the unicorn of the working world but is still a laudable goal. I like the full-time contract for a set period of time which allows me the opportunity to take entire swaths of time off and to also plan for child care.

6 – Finances. What salary expectations do you have and what do you need? You should give yourself a low number and a high number and aim to compare the salary up against other benefits of taking a job such as location and hours. You should also have a budget in place to project what you reasonably need to live.

7 – Location. how far will you go? Everyone has their limits such as how far they are willing to commute, whether or not you own a car etc. If you are relying on public transportation the areas that aren’t serviced by the bus system may be too challenging.

8 – Grooming expectations. if you work in a customer-facing environment you may need to wear make-up or own a selection of business suits. If you work in an IT environment, the expected dress code will be a lot more low-key. You will need to consider the extra time and money.

9 – Benefits. If you do not have benefits already or have to work full time in your current position to receive benefits, that could potentially be the biggest limitation.

10 – Dreams. How do you see yourself in the future? Is part-time work a stepping stone to something bigger in your life? Where do you see yourself in one year, three years and five years?

These teaser questions are a good basis for you to start your own brainstorming session. As the ancient Greeks would say, nosce te ipsum – know thyself. You may go through this exercise and determine that part-time work is just not viable for you at this point in time. That’s ok, too! You may be financially behind at this period in your life and have too many expenses. You may also discover that you are very much tied to your identify as a full-time employee and aren’t quite ready to make the leap. The purpose of this exploration is to put together a concrete document to use as a mirror so you can see the reality of your situation. It’s not about judgment or beating yourself up but instead it’s about creating a starting point from where all other decisions will stem. I recommend you take some time to work through these questions and also to think about other questions that may be relevant. Who knows what you could possibly discover or where it will lead you?

Faux Pho

I had the misfortune of being super sick two days before the Easter long weekend (I get Friday and Monday off for Easter at my current job). So while it looked like a 6-day weekend, I really spent most of it in bed, feverish. My poor husband had to pick up the slack and manage work and all the household stuff by himself.

Friday nights in our house are what I call Faux Pho* and a movie night. After a long, hectic week of us all rushing around to our various destinations: school, work, daycare, aftercare, we all need a night to just relax and hang out. Friday has become the default night and so Mr. Tucker will whip up a pot of broth while I am at work and when I get home I will lay out all the ingredients in little bowls on the dining room table so each person can personalize their bowl. The kids really enjoy it because they get to build their own soup before we ladle some hot broth on from the stove. It’s a fresh, nourishing way to start the weekend.

In all honesty, I use the cheaters method of making Pho because I don’t have time to make a true soup. I use the Vietnamese soup in a teapot recipe from Laurie David’s Family Dinner book. The only thing we really change about the recipe is that instead of cooking the chicken in the soup, I bake it in the oven and slice it thinly. Beef also works well, and making a vegetarian version I feel would also be just as delicious with a few tweaks.

After dinner the kids have a warm bath, settle into their jammies and then help me pop popcorn in our 80s air popper. With our individual bowls of popcorn (we get seasoning from the bulk store & everyone enjoys a different flavour) we settle onto the couch for movie. It is the one night we earmark for family hangouts where the kids get the thrill of staying up late. It’s truly a nice, relaxing way to start off the weekend, especially since weekends can sometimes be equally as busy as weekdays.

pho

After being sick for two days straight, a hot bowl of spicy and tangy soup was exactly what the doctor ordered.  It was an especially welcome dinner on Friday night.

*It’s actually pronounced like “fa” or “feu,” as it stems from the French pot-au-feu.