Category: Daily Practices

Creating a Warm Apartment

a warm apartment

We started talking about how to prepare yourself for a successful workweek last Sunday.  In my life, it’s so easy for things to spiral out of control during the week as you grow steadily more exhausted each day until you can collapse on Friday evening with a glass of wine or a mug of cocoa.  And when things start to spiral, my preparations can maintain my dressing and eating habits for a few days, but my apartment starts to show wear almost immediately.

It’s harder than it sounds to maintain a welcoming home.   And it’s hard to welcome anyone into your home while the shame and embarrassment you feel that someone can SEE your apartment like THIS echoes through your brain.  To stay happy and reduce stress, I know I need to keep my apartment a little straighter than I consistently do, and I need to spend some time on the weekends to make sure it is ready for the onslaught that the work week will bring.   The problem with this post is that while I know I need to do better in this area, and I really want to do better in this area, I haven’t really mastered this yet.  So, I’ll mention a few things that work for me thus far, but on this issue in particular I really covet your own success stories.

Over the weekend, I know that I need to focus on:

  • Actually putting my laundry away.  I am TERRIBLE at putting laundry away.  I don’t always take the time to put clean laundry in the proper drawers.  My biggest problem, however, is multiple wear items.  When I come home from work and take off my dry-clean-only pants, they should go into the closet to be worn again.  But I just can’t seem to do it.  Even now, as I am writing this post and as guests have just departed our apartment, my dresser is covered with half-clean, partially rumpled clothes that should be put away.  On the weekends I put it all away so I can start with a clean slate.
  • Putting books, mail, movies, laptop chargers, and all of those odds and ends that pile up out of sight.  I just use a basket but really, anything that will keep those things from cluttering up counters and sofas will be great. When my flat surfaces are clear, I feel calm.  When they are cluttered, I want to hide under the covers and never talk to anyone.
  • Vacuuming, sweeping the kitchen, windexing the bathroom mirrors, all that kind of stuff.  Dust accumulates even in rooms you don’t use.

The big kicker for me to make my apartment nice is doing a little something every day.  I’m lucky that H and I can tag team these tasks, with one of us making dinner and another doing the dishes or taking out the trash.  Each day, it is best if either H or I do the following:

  • Take 20 minutes each evening to do the dishes and wipe the kitchen counters.  It’s amazing how easy everything else is if you do only this.
  • Keep the dirty socks out of the living room.  We all do it, I think — take our socks off at weird times and just throw them down wherever.  I hate the way socks end up everywhere.  I try to find them and toss them into the hamper as often as I can.
  • Scoop the kitty litter.
  • De-clutter the coffee table and entryway table.

So, that’s where I am.  Still struggling to keep messiness at bay as my weeks get busier and days fly by.  Do you have any tips for maintaining a calm home in the midst of a busy life?  If so, please include them in the comments.

 

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Tips for a Successful Week: Easy Meal Planning

This week, we’re talking about ways to make your work weeks easier by doing a little advanced planning.  Check out the introduction to the series here and yesterday’s post on planning outfits here

eating well

When I hear the term “meal planning,” I think of housewives with a half-dozen children driving from soccer practice to dance classes.  And that is so not my life.  A lot of online resources for meal planning are keyed toward families and children, but even if you are single or childless you can save a lot of money and time by planning your meals — and your grocery shopping — in advance.

Over the weekend, H and I take a few minutes to talk through our work weeks so we know when one of us is expecting to work late, grab dinner with friends, or eat lunch out instead of packing lunch.   Then, we throw out ideas for what we’d like to eat the next week.  I typically like to make one nicer dinner we can look forward to, but otherwise we like to keep it simple and 30-minutes or less.  Here’s what we’re eating this week:

mealsthisweek

As you can see, this is a piece of paper folded in half with the dinners written on the left and breakfasts and lunches written on the right.  It’s not rocket science.  We choose meals in advance but for breakfasts and lunches we keep options ready that we can grab and go if needed.  I eat the exact same lunch every day:  turkey or chicken soup packed with veggies, carrot sticks and hummus, and grapes; I take a LUNA bar for mid-afternoon snacks.  I change soups from tomato-based to broth-based or throw in an apple and pretzels instead of grapes and carrots when I need variety.  It’s a simple life.

We talk about what we want to eat, I quickly sort through the cabinets to see what we have and look in the fridge to pull out anything that’s expired, and then we write down our plans for the week.  We put the items we’ll need on our grocery list, and we don’t buy a lot more than what’s one the list.  Some, of course — is the beer we love on sale?  Are cranberries in season?  [I’ve been hoarding cranberries in my freezer like a crazy person.]  Did we just discover that there are Triple Double Stuf Oreos?  Then we’re totally buying that too.  But overall, we stay close to the list.

Using the paper method is helpful on the front end: we spend less at the grocery store.  Because we are working on managing our budget better, we’ve been trying to keep our weekly grocery bill under a set amount that is right for us.  It’s easy to over-spend at the grocery store if you don’t go in with a plan, but even if we weren’t saving money with this system [we are], I would do it because it is such a stress-killer.  Ever walk into your apartment/home and think “what should I make for dinner?”  Ever had someone you love ask you “what should we have for dinner?” Ever think that choosing something to make for dinner is too hard and even if you could choose something that sounded good it would be too hard to make, so you should just order a pizza or grab some takeout because decisions are hard?  That’s me pretty much every day.

When you have the paper on the fridge, it’s  easier to stay on track.  The answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is written on the paper you taped to the refrigerator.  You don’t have to decide anything — just read.  It is a great plan.  Not feeling what is listed for the evening?  You have all of the other nightly meals you can choose from before you resort to the takeout option.

Do not think that we don’t ever resort to takeout even when we have perfectly good groceries in our kitchen.  We absolutely go off the list all the time.  But we do it less, saving money, time, and benefiting our health while being less wasteful overall.  It works for us, and even H agrees that it is a good idea.

Do you plan your meals in advance?  Do you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, or do you need daily variety?  Any other tricks for staying on-plan during the week?

Tips for a Successful Week: Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed

dressing professionallyI know what I like to wear.  It’s usually three, maybe four outfits that I mix and match.  I have less-loved filler in my closet too, but there is one pair of jeans I always prefer, a few pairs of wool socks that are soft instead of scratchy, the perfect tank to wear under a sheer blouse.  When I’m running late, I can never find the pieces that need each other.  Half-dressed I’ll realize something essential is missing.  That first outfit is thrown to the bed/floor and I try again.  Sometimes, it takes a few re-starts to get it right.

As much fun as this whole dressing-undressing-redressing experience probably sounds, it isn’t.  I end up later than planned to work, or else have to skip breakfast because my precious morning minutes have been used up frantically searching through drawers.  When I’m even five minutes later to work than planned, I fret on the bus instead of enjoying catching up on blogs, and my morning work time (which is my most productive time of day, when I’m not thinking about shoes and tights and sweaters) takes a hit.

There is a simple fix for this unnecessary stress:  planning ahead.  A lot of people recommend choosing your clothes the night before, but I know myself well enough to know that there’s always a night or two each week that I can’t be counted on to care about morning stress.  Perhaps we’re out late at a dinner or met up with friends for drinks or trivia; if I get in late, I’m pretty likely to go to sleep without choosing outfits or ironing slacks.

It may sound a little intense, but I’ve started choosing an entire week of outfits on Sunday evenings.  It has completely changed my morning routines.

First, I do the regular load or two of weekend laundry.  In a perfect world I actually put that laundry away, but if we’re being honest that doesn’t always get done.

Then, I check the weather.  I grab a post-it or an index card or my planner or whatever else is handy, and jot down the ballpark temperatures [lately, just “cold” or “really cold”] and take note of any days where it might be rainy.

Finally, I stand in the closet and pair tops, skirts/pants, and sweaters together and hang them in a group in the front of the closet.  I go to my drawers and choose the tights/socks/underneath layers necessary for each outfit.  I also think of what shoes will be necessary and make sure I gather up all of those shoes from where ever I might have stashed them and place them in my closet.

Over the last few months when I’ve been using this system, I’ve learned a couple of things:

  1. Always choose an extra outfit.  This is great for two reasons.  One, you can wear any outfit during the week that you’ve chosen, and if you decide you hate something at the last minute you have a back-up.  Two, if you fail to be responsible on the following weekend, you have an outfit nicely waiting for Monday morning and you can catch up on Monday evening.  I’m taking advantage of my extra outfit right now, wearing black tights, a black dress, and whatever cardigan is the least-wrinkled in my closet.
  2. Pull that blouse you never wear out of the back of the closet and try putting it back in rotation.  You bought it for a reason, try to remember what it was.
  3. Develop a balance between dry-clean-only and regular-wash items, so that from one week to the next you still have clothes to wear.  When I finally get to the dry cleaners, I have a slew of items I love that I haven’t worn in a while (because who goes to the dry cleaners regularly?  Not me…), and I want to wear them all at once.  Doing so will only result in them being back in the “please take me to the cleaners” pile right away.  Space those beloved items out so you have at least one thing each week you love.

Do you have any tricks for dressing well without stressing out?  If so, please share in the comments.

Tips for a Successful Week: Introduction

Successful Week One

When I announced my decision to join NaBloPoMo this month, I mentioned that using Sunday afternoons to prep a few advance posts for the week makes a huge difference in my ability to post daily.  The first week of November, I did this well and had a pretty great week, on the blog and otherwise.  Last week, I didn’t make my time count over the weekend and spent the entire week paying the price.  It is only half-way through the month and already I am frustrated with having to blog each day; the timing of my postings is getting a little later each night of the week.  So today, while the rain and wind and thunder and hail bounce against our windows, I’m putting in the time it takes to get things back on track.

While planning for the blog is a big part of what I do on the weekend to prepare for the workweek, it isn’t the only thing I need to prioritize if I want to be successful.  When I’m being responsible, I take a few minutes on the weekend to make some decisions in advance so that I can head to work each morning with minimal stress and spend my weekday evenings doing things I enjoy instead of constantly playing catch-up.

I know that doing these small tasks on the weekend makes me happier and more successful, but I don’t always do them.  I sometimes struggle to follow through on things I want to do, especially if they are good for me.  As we enter the busy holiday season, I must remind myself how important these small things are for my own satisfaction and save time on the busy weekends to take care of myself.  H and I have two special guests arriving mid-week and staying with us until we all leave for Thanksgiving in Tennessee, so I need to fit in all of my usual tasks along with the extra baking, cleaning, cooking, and shopping I want to do so we all have a wonderful, stress-free weekend and holiday with our families.

Since it’s timely and a needed reminder for myself, I’ll be posting a bit this week about how planning ahead helps me stay on-track in the following areas:

  1. Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed
  2. Healthy and Budget-Friendly Meal Planning
  3. Keeping your Apartment Comfortable and Welcoming

As we go through the week, please be sure to share your own weekly and/or nightly rituals that keep you on top of your game.

 

 

The Blessing and Curse of Daily Goals

So let me just tell you guys – this whole daily blogging thing is starting to make me crazy.  As I mentioned in my tip post, one of the best ways for me to stay on top of daily posting without feeling disappointed in the content is to blog early, getting posts sketched out and mostly finished one or two nights before they need to post.

So, after prepping a post on Monday night that had “Wednesday” in the title, I spent all day yesterday thinking it was actually Thursday.  Yesterday afternoon, I was talking with a co-worker about how exhausted I was from this week and how I was so glad I could wear jeans tomorrow and only had one more work day until the weekend.  He paused, and carefully told me that it was actually only Wednesday at 3 p.m., and there were two days left before the weekend.  The sadness of his smile indicates just how convinced I was that it was almost Friday.

Even so, it’s very nice having goals and sticking to them.  I’m the kind of person that can follow a schedule but spirals a bit if I don’t have a plan.  My “friend” Anne is blogging about that this week, and I think we may have similar tendencies there.  [And I say “friend” because I read her blog daily, and I did meet her once, but I’m not sure we’ve reached the non-air-quotes category of friendship just yet.  One day.]    For you email and blog reader subscribers, I hope that the daily content isn’t overloading your inboxes too much.

This morning, although I was wearing two jackets and wool socks and tall boots and slacks and a top and a scarf, I was incredibly cold while waiting for my bus.  Which was late, which left me standing outside for about sixteen minutes.  There was a noticeable coldness in the area between the bottom of my jacket and the top of my boots.  As in, my butt was freezing cold.  So there’s that.  When my supervisor mentioned there was a ten-percent chance I might be needed in Orlando for a few days mid-December, I may have been slightly too excited when I said I was pretty sure I could make that happen.

Planning Three Fantastic Days in Chicago

Three Days Chicago

My parents and sister came up for a visit over Columbus Day weekend, and we had a fantastic time!  I spent a lot of time online searching for good ideas and options for us to do while they were in town, and I wanted to share those ideas here as a resource for others.  Each item on this list meets the following requirements:  (1) not too expensive, (2) easy access by car, (3) close to parking/car in case of a health emergency, and (4) family friendly, as well as caters in some way to the personal interests of my family.

Because we needed a plan we could play by ear, I put together a lot of options and then chose from those options based on how everyone was feeling and the weather.  We had a few extra hurdles this weekend, as this past Sunday was the Chicago marathon and there were many road closures and lots of extra people in the city.

Planning for Meals

No one has fun when they are hungry all day, so I typically plan days with guests around meals and am sure to include snacks.  Before my family arrived, I made sure to cook/purchase lots of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks, based on what my family likes and what I like.  I made sure to have carrots and hummus for a healthy snack, meatballs, cooked chicken, and nuts for protein, and some homemade and purchased cookies and candy for sweet snacks and desserts.

Feeding five people requires a lot more food (and effort!) than feeding two, so it’s important to take that into consideration when shopping.  I thought I did this well but still ended up running out of eggs before we ran out of mornings!  We planned to eat breakfasts at home and to make at least one dinner at home (so we could watch football), but made sure to have other things on hand in case our plans changed and we needed to stay closer to home.  And, there’s always takeout.

Choosing Restaurants

Instead of making reservations that would put stress on our days to be at certain places at certain times, I made a list of restaurant options that I knew we could go to without making reservations.  Here’s what we had on the list:

  • Deep Dish Pizza (a Chicago must) at Lou Malnati’s
  • Sandwiches from Panazzo’s Italian Sandwiches, a lunch location within walking distance from our apartment and with great Yelp reviews
  • Bongo Room, the current winner on my search for the best brunch locations in Chicago — get cheese on your breakfast potatoes.  Trust me.
  • Pita Heaven, another casual walk-in for lunch that added a little variety to our options
  • Uncle Julio’s Mexican Restaurant, with on-site parking and an easy-to-please menu
  • Chinese Food in Chinatown, since Chinese food is a favorite in my family — we ended up choosing Go 4 Food which was delicious!

Sightseeing

There is a lot to see and do in Chicago, but I know my family and I know they’d rather do a few enjoyable things than rush around the city trying to fit too much into each day.  My number-one choice for seeing the city without getting a workout is Shoreline Sightseeing’s Architecture River Cruises.  These cruises are fun, informative, and give you a chance to learn Chicago history and really get to know the major elements of the skyline.  I’ve been on two now and would absolutely go again — each tour guide gives you a different feel for the city.  And if you don’t love architecture, it’s still really fun to be on a boat, and kids love the boat noises, going under bridges, etc.  I think it’s a perfect start to the city.  After the architecture cruise, no matter where you go in the city you’ll see a building you remember from the cruise and feel like you’ve learned a little about the city.

Other easy options for sightseeing include:  the Chicago Tribune Building, which is right along Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile of shopping and has a very interesting construction that includes pieces of famous buildings across the world, the John Hancock Observatory and/or Lounge (locals recommend skipping the typical price of the observation deck and spending that money on a cocktail or espresso in the lounge instead), and a spot along Lake Michigan for beautiful city views.  The two options I chose for shoreline views were Promontory Point, a southern-view that would be better for afternoon photo-taking, and North Avenue Beach, to get a feel for what a Chicago summer would feel like.  We opted for North Avenue Beach and I think my parents enjoyed seeing the waterfront and the shuttered beach house.

ChicagoCollage

Finally, you will absolutely want to stop in Grant Park and/or Millennium Park and see the Bean.  It’s really cool and a great photo-taking opportunity.

Other Activities

While cookie-cutter sightseeing is fun for a while, what really makes a vacation are the fun things you do.  I had hoped to take my parents and sister to see the Best of Second City show on Saturday night, but unfortunately it had sold out before I purchased tickets and the Monday night showing did not fit our scheduling needs.  Try to get tickets if you can, but we’ll be saving that for their next visit.  We made sure to stop over at the Amish Healthy Foods Unique Grocery in the Ukrainian Village, and got delicious unusual flavors of gelato from Black Dog Chicago.  Also on the list but not on our final agenda was a Saturday stop at the Green City Farmer’s Market (can you tell we love looking at weird organic food?) and a visit to the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium.  On our last afternoon in the city, a stop at the nearby Horseshoe Casino was a fun break.

Finally, be sure to plan for quiet time/individual downtime.  Everyone needs some time to decompress, and that need can be even greater on vacation.  It’s supposed to be fun, so don’t let planning or getting places ruin the fun of it all.  Play some cards, people watch, read that book that’s been waiting for you, and enjoy your time together.

 

So, what did I miss?  What are your favorite parts of the city to share with your out-of-town guests? 

How I Stopped Biting My Nails

biting nails 2

Bad habits are hard to break.  I’ve had my share of unfortunate habits, including a brief period of hair-sucking in the third grade, but nail biting stayed with me a long time.  Nail biting kept me occupied while riding the train to work, waiting in line at the grocery store, watching television.  I usually wouldn’t realize I was picking or biting my nails until I was already doing it, and by then I would be too far in and end up biting all ten nails so they were “even.”  Because ten chewed-up fingernails are clearly better than one.

Nail biting makes your nails ugly and grosses people out.  It’s not a great idea to put your dirty fingers anywhere near your mouth, particularly when you’ve been riding a public escalator, or using public transportation, or otherwise touching things that other people touched.  When others see you biting your nails, or see uneven and ugly bitten nails when they shake your hand, your professional outfit and great-looking hair and make-up won’t leave the impression you worked hard to create.

I started noticing my bad habit a lot more when we moved to Chicago.  My new [male] boss has beautiful nails.  I can’t speak to how he maintains them but they are always clean, shiny, and well-shaped.  Because nail biting is often something I did without noticing I was doing it, the shame of being a biter was never enough to inspire change.  The shame of having uglier nails than my male employer, however, was pretty powerful stuff.

A few weeks after I started this new job, I had to travel back to DC for work.  I was headed to a wedding the following weekend, and met up with a DC-area friend to get mani-pedis and catch up.  Because I needed the manicure to last through the upcoming wedding, I got a gel manicure, something I’d heard was great but had never tried.  And that’s seriously all it took.  The gel manicure was amazing — a beautiful french-tip manicure that lasted for three weeks of compliments and photographs and confidence in meetings.  When my nails got a bit too long for my lifestyle, I simply trimmed them and the mani still looked beautiful.

They say it only takes 21 days to form a new habit.  A gel manicure lasts for 21 days, or even longer if your nails grow slowly.  For me, by the time my manicure was chipping away, I was so in love with having well groomed nails that over the last six weeks I haven’t bitten a single nail.  So, there you have it:  to stop biting your nails, get a gel manicure and fall in love like I did with beautiful, well groomed fingernails.