Category Archives: Work It! For Working Moms!

Work It! For Working Moms: Lunches

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In this economy, everyone is trying to save.  I happened to be married to a frugal man, and really want to transition to be a SAHM, so I’ve always been trying to save!  One of the biggest ways to save is school/work lunches. We all need them, and they can be insanely expensive if we order out, and mildly expensive if we go for a school lunch plan.  Not to mention, unhealthy.  Go for prepackaged food and you still get an expense, not to mention upped amounts of sodium and sugar. All downsides.  But, as a working Mom, you’re overworked, and you need a break somewhere, and so home cooked lunches are low on the priority list.  It’s easier than you think.  Here is how my lunch packing goes down:

  • I cook supper.  I might cook two dishes at once, if the supper I am making is a popular dish, and I know leftovers aren’t in my future.  aka, last night I made tacos.  No leftovers EVER happen with tacos, so prior to serving them, I packed the girls lunches, and then I threw together a quick casserole, and popped that in the oven.  There! Lunches for a least two days accomplished! Added benefit: portions are easily controlled this way.  When I know I have to pack lunches out of a meal, I eat less.
  • I keep quick stuff on hand for extras.  Chips are expensive, and so are baggies, not to mention, not the healthiest option.  So we always have apples on hand.  This is an easy extra.  Yogurt is fairly cheap if you catch the sales or go generic.  This is also an excellent extra to the main course.
  • In a pinch, Tuna or PB and J is a crowd pleaser in this house.  I can make it quickly, and its healthy.  I know that realistically not everyone can make a homecooked lunch the night before.  Also, when kids are in school, there is no way to heat lunches, so you have to get creative.  sandwiches are a good option, packed with fresh fruits and veggies, and yogurt.  There are ways to switch it up beyond sandwiches if Junior is getting bored with the same lunch. Check out this article for ideas.
  • Be prepared to get creative with containers.  I have found that dip can be wrapped in saran wrap, and that those little tupperware cups are invaluable. And yes, I am one who asks for ketchup packets at the restaurant whether I want it or not, because its easy to pack in a lunch later.
  • Freeze it! If you make a batch of muffins, freeze ’em, if you make alot of soup or chili, freeze it, this way you can pack your own “to go” frozen lunches, so that when you’ve in a HUGE pinch, no bread, out of peanut butter, no apples, whatever, its there, in the freezer, and you can grab and run.  Who says you need to pay Marie Calender for your lunch, when you can do the same for much cheaper?

There are more ideas and ways to get creative, but like most other things in life, this is only worth it if you commit, and are ok with doing a little extra work.  It is well worth the benefits of healthier, yummier, cheaper  food.

Happy Lunches!

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Work It! For Working Moms: Cooking With The Fam

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Many people think young children can’t help cook.  There are lots of reasons why not:

  • Dangerous heat
  • Sharp knives
  • Juices and Oils (Pepper residue anyone?  Wipe your face after cutting those puppies… I have! Its not pretty!)
  • Waste of ingredients/improper technique
  • (This one is mine) Its MY alone time! Why let children ruin it?

Well, despite all these very good reasons why not, there are many reasons TO have the rascals in the kitchen while you cook.

  • Teaches them safety: They’re gonna have to learn sometime! It is more dangerous to chase them out, and have them run into a hot stove, or Mom carrying a hot pot unexpectedly, than to have them stick around, and teach them how to avoid these things permanently.
  • Teaches them math and measurement in a practical, experiential way.
  • Teaches them self control: Don’t lick that! It has raw eggs in it! OR: Only ONE testing cupcake!
  • Teaches them following directions: Put wet ingredients together, then dry ingredients together, then combine the two.
  • Helps fine motor control: All that stirring. Ever had a 3 year old try using tongs?
  • Teaches science: Chemical reactions anyone?
  • Good bonding time: I have my kids sprinkle love into things before we cook it.

Now, we don’t have to have the kids in the kitchen EVERY time we cook, but as a rule, its a good idea.  On holidays, on weeknights, I usually have my kids in the kitchen with me.  At first it was out of necessity, my husband worked second shift, I did not, and I needed to supervise my wee hellions closely, but then it grew into a wonderful bonding time.  I found little ways to include them before long, and it was fun!

  • Have alternate activities! I have in my kitchen, the following: a kids kitchen set and play food/dishes, coloring books/crayons/glue/scissors/stickers all stashed in a drawer, pandora station is always playing on the laptop, and homemade playdoh/cookie cutters/rolling pins in one cabinet.
  • Think of little jobs as you go: I have my children clean veggies, strip them of nasty parts (taking ends off of green beans for instance.) retrieve/put away/dump in ingredients, knead dough, place things on cookie sheets, stir, mix, pour, push buttons as needed, get needed utensils and things, put dirty dishes in the sink, and watch the timer while they color.
  • Cook from scratch: My kids HATE opening a few cans and then setting it out.  I know it takes extra time, but making flour tortillas from scratch is fun, easy, and something my kids LOVE doing.  It is built in bonding.  Don’t skimp on the amount of time you commit to your children, they know when you do. You’ll eat healthier too.  Some recipes we love making together: salads, baked goods, homemade tortillas, vegetable soup, meatloaf/meatballs, and eggs in a hole.
  • Involve children in decision making: They love to eat a dinner they’ve not only cooked, but chosen for themselves.  You’d be surprised the great choices kids make when given the chance.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try try again! oh, and make good friends with All Recipes.

Good luck and happy cooking! Here’s a recipe to get you started: (I highly recommend clicking on the link, it contains step by step directions. Cooking playdoh for the first time can be a bit difficult to master.  After you’ve cooked it once, you will not need step by step directions anymore, but for the first time, its a good idea.)

Homemade Playdoh

Playdough is a classic childhood toy everyone can have fun with, and it’s so easy to make at home you’ll never buy that stinky store variety again.

Basic ingredient ratios:
2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon cream of tartar (optional for improved elasticity)

food coloring (liquid, powder, or unsweetened drink mix)
scented oils

Work It! For Working Moms: There Is No Such Thing As Perfect Parenting

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“I wish I was a parent like her, her life is so perfect”

“You look like you have it so well together!  Good for you! I wish I had it together like you!”

“Tell me, what is her secret? She’s so perfect! I wish my life was like hers!”

How many times do we utter these phrases, or something like them? We think that Frances over there has it perfect.  She bakes little cupcakes in the shape of something bizarre and difficult, like a cape or a bat or a baseball field, or better yet, those cupcake lollipops.  Who knows, something complicated! (You can tell baking is not my forte…) Or maybe Gertrude, She always has her nails done impeccably, and looks so well put together!  Then theres Gladys, her kids are always beautifully behaved, and she somehow manages SIX of them! AND a job! I wish my life was like HERS.

We all know this envious thinking is not constructive or useful. But do we ever go so far as to realize how damaging it is?

  1. First, it is damaging for Florence over there, with the perfect garden.  We’ve put her on such a high pedestal, that when she inevitably falls (and shows her humanity) we despise her.
  2. Secondly, it is damaging for us, it creates a strong sense of discontentment that makes us useless.
  3. Thirdly, it is damaging for our families.  This kind of thinking requires them to meet unrealistic expectations, and live with a discontented, frustrated, angry, nasty mother.

THEN, there is another kind of thinking, even worse:

“She is such a terrible mother, I’m sure if I let MY kids get away with that, I hope you’d tell me!”

“I don’t know how she lives with herself. She has REALLY let herself go.  At least I don’t look like that! And she’s always so antisocial!”

“How rude can you be? She only brought those gross corn muffins, and most gatherings all she ever brings is drinks! Just so its easy! She is so lazy!”

This is an even worse train of thought, one that feeds our self esteem at the cost of another woman’s. It is damaging in a whole other list of ways.

  1. Firstly it shows your young family that belittling others to benefit yourself is ok. “Do like I say not as I do kids!” doesn’t cut it.
  2. Secondly it damages the sisterhood of mothers, the little community we have at our disposal.  Do we need a faceless friend at a website to network with, or would it benefit for us to relate to our coworkers, our family, our friends at church?
  3. Lastly, it ruins a person’s reputation.  You don’t know the circumstances.  Maybe her mother just died, maybe she’s feeling overwhelmed, or maybe she’s struggling with a chronic health issue.  And don’t even think of believing or spreading the local gossip about her.  That is a whole other ball of wax. The majority of gossip suffers from whisper down the lane type of transformation.

Let us think of mothers in one light:

In the light of their humanity.

Etta may make killer cupcakes, but did you know she does it to escape the chaos in her house?  It is valueable alone time to her.

Eudora keeps her kids behaved because she works hard with them, teaching them, guiding them, disciplining them, they are not by nature “good” Eudora spends a lot of time working with them to be that way.

Lydia looks good because she found some killer deals on nailpolish and knows her stuff, rather than being impressed and silent, maybe you can invite her over to talk about what she does.  Meanwhile, Lydia is making an extra effort to look good because she is struggling with her chronic illness and deep in debt over medical bills. The one thing she CAN control is her appearance.

Winifred never brings anything “good” to gatherings because their budget is so tight, she doesn’t have alot of money to drop on food their family won’t eat.

Agatha let herself go because she lacks the information on nutrition and exercise, and she’s over there in the corner, wishing somebody would reach out to her. Meanwhile, she’s struggling with a recent health issue.

Beulah’s kids are ill behaved, not because she doesn’t discipline them, she does so constantly, but because her kids have ideas of their own, and her husband is always working.  She’s doing it all virtually alone. She’s exhausted, and wishes she had some support.

Remember the times you feel alone, overwhelmed, or the things you keep to yourself, hide at your house, don’t share with others.  We all have our times of need, obvious strengths, or hidden weaknesses.  Remember that every woman is a human. don’t put her on a pedestal and then delight when she falls, don’t despise her, and then feel guilty when you find out her true story.  We need to reach out to each other, not tear each other down! Motherhood can be a lonely job.

 

In lieu of a recipe, I give you this

Work It! For Working Moms: When Somebody’s Sick

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As working Moms, we all sincerely hope that if anyone has to get sick, it happens on a weekend.  Managing our home, our job, our family, and our relationships is hard enough without tossing bad health into the mix.  But toss that puppy in and it can get downright complicated.

Take for instance this week.  Emma has a cold. Ava was congested. Sarah was just fine.  No fevers anywhere.  Everyone went to daycare as expected, and to Grandmom’s as expected.  Nobody felt 100%, but then nobody felt down in the dumps either.

Then along came Friday. Emma woke up at 4 am with a fever, after staying up till 1 am preceding, coughing a lot. Emma was obviously sick, I was obviously exhausted, and the workday was a bit of a stretch for us both. Thankfully, Emma was acting fairly close to normal Emma, and I have a rockin’ caregiver on Fridays (Kaitey is truly a supermom, whether or not she has her own kids is immaterial.) who handled it all with her usual panache.

But what do we do when our kids are sick? Or rather what should we do?

  • Firstly evaluate the situation. Does this need immediate attention? Or is it something that can wait till after work, or towards the end of the workday?
  • Is it contagious?
  • Would I go to work feeling like my child is now?

We all know that when we are sick, we take a sick day. When our child is sick, we take a sick day. Sometimes, its easier to send our child to a caregiver, than it would be to send ourselves to work.  I did not know how Emma truly felt, and sometimes it is easier to talk myself into going to work when she is too sick, or into staying home when she’s not.  I don’t know how she feels, but my choice is often colored by my desire, or need for a paycheck, or a day off with or without consequences. So what are some guidelines for evaulating our child’s ability to enter a group situation? (Be it a party, or in a caregiver’s care.)

  • Is this child participating? Acting their normal self, or close to it? (If Johnny is still running and jumping with nothing but a fever of 102, don’t sweat it.  Johnny is generally cool to be in care, with a side of motrin.)
  • Can this child’s bodily fluids (trying not to be gross, but motherhood is nasty sometimes…) be contained by a toilet, diaper, or tissue?
  • Is it a known contagious condition untreated by antibiotics? (Think Pinkeye.)

If the answer to any of these is questionable, try to keep them home.  I know thats hard, I’m a working Mom too, and we need that paycheck, or else we wouldn’t be working, right? So I try to have a backup plan.  If its a grandmother, a neighbor, or somebody who can keep them home for you, that is often a good alternative to taking off of work. They cannot do Dr’s appointment’s for you, but depending on the nature of the emergency, the appointment can wait till you can take Jr. yourself.

Work It! For Working Moms: Don’t Do It Alone! (Part 1)

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My friend, Alaithia Humphrey posted this as her facebook status, and it got me thinking:

“so I totally forgot I had to bring a snack for Ethan for school tomorrow. So I will be making cupcakes til one in the morning. Fun fun:)”

Many Moms have been here!  We’re exhausted, we have a ton of things to do on a daily basis.  Get lunches, get everybody out the door, do our jobs at work, keep track of everything there, get home, keep house clean, feed everybody, house is messy again, exhaustion hits and time for be… OH CRAP!  THE CUPCAKES!

Go back downstairs, dig out the pans, and its go time.  No sleep for the weary…

Why are we like this? We have a lot to manage! Its rough, I’m tired, and I forget things, because I have too much to do.  Sound familiar?  We don’t have to do it alone!  For starters, even kids can help around the house.   I know Dads can (and should!) help too (I promptly did a jig in my kitchen just this morning, because I found my husband had done the dishes!)  But why should our kids help?  Cleaning up their own mess, and contributing to family life teaches teamwork, and responsibility.  This is truly making the most of your time with your kids, You are teaching them, working with them, and loving them in a unique way.  Not to mention, having a 5 year old who can mix a batch of cupcakes singlehandedly is a fun thing to brag about!  There so are many ways that kids can help:

Tell the kids when something is coming up they are involved in at school and should cook/bake for.  Involve them in the decision making process of what to make.  Its a great learning experience, and an opportunity to exhibit responsibility.  They can help get out and mix ingredients, decorate, return the ingredients and clean up the mess.  The first few times will be tough. It seems like more work to start, but it saves everybody in the long run. Safety is also very important! At the start, always make sure young children know their boundaries when in the kitchen.  Mine are not allowed to even touch the stove. Children can also help with regular household tasks.  Even a 1 1/2 year old is old enough to begin to help clean up toys.  They won’t do it perfectly, but at this age, that is not the point.

Here is a list of some ways to establish good habits.  Take it slow for starters, and after you’ve established specific tasks, introduce more complex tasks.

1. Don’t get it all out!  Let them do some of it! (Emma gets ingredients out of the fridge)

2. Pick up as you go.  Your children can place some things where directed (Sarah returns all finished items to the pantry for me)

For both ideas, you can also give children a specific domain, obviously Sarah has the Pantry, Emma, the Fridge, and they can do all the reasonable fetch and carry.

3. Give THEM the towel!  Let them wipe up their messes, and encourage good handwashing.

4. Let them have ownership in the kitchen too, this will increase pride in good work.  Sarah helps unload the dishwasher (I go through it first and remove all sharp objects) and she puts the silverware away.   Emma puts everything in the bottom cabinets (tupperware) away. Both girls assist in wiping cabinets, tables, chairs and sweeping the floor.

5.  Our golden rule is, if you make a mess, clean it up! (applies to everyone!)  Let them clean up their own toy messes, food messes, ANY messes! Be consistent!!  Don’t ever clean up after them.  If they say “I can’t do it by myself!” Chances are the size of the task overwhelms them.  “Help” them by breaking it up into parts for them.  Maybe by identifying types of items to clean up at a shot.  I tell Sarah, “Find all the stuffed animals, put them here” and Emma “Put all the trash into this can.”    They are also responsible for their own laundry placement.  They put it in the laundry bin when it is dirty, and after it is washed and folded, they put it away.

6.  Keep a community piggy bank.  If it is broken, and needs to be replaced, messed and it needs to be cleaned professionally, money from this fund will help pay for the mess.  My children hate the thought of the piggybank being dipped into to replace a lost game, or broken toy.  They are more responsible with their things because of it. What is left over can be deposited into their student bank accounts later.

7. Last but not least, the dreaded trash bag.   If my children fail to help clean up their messes, I reserve the right to use the trash bag.  Usually the threat is enough to have them clean the whole house spotless right then and there.  Once, I had to use it, little do my kids know I hid it in the attic and replaced the toys later.  They never noticed, but I got my point across!

I know this all sounds really hard hearted, but if we don’t teach our children to be responsible, who will? We need to teach them patiently, lovingly, and consistently.  No one else will support them like we can.  No one else can teach them like we can.  When they succeed, who else will praise them like we will?  There is something wonderful in a life lesson with Mom or Dad.

One day, I heard Sarah exclaim, “We did it!! We cleaned the kitchen!  Oh Mom! Its beautiful!”  Hearing the excitement, seeing the smile, knowing she was proud of her own hard work was the best reward ever.  It is well worth every difficult moment, extra clean up, and tantrums to reach the day when your child is excited they accomplished something worthwhile through good old fashioned hard work!  I am so proud of my children!

The Recipe

If all else fails, and everybody simply forgot the cupcakes/cookies etc, here is a recipe that will save you in a pinch (inexpensively, I might add.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup quick oats

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

3/4 (packed) light brown sugar

3/4 granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 pack semi sweet chocolate chips

yield: 4 dozen(ish)

1. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.  In another bowl, cream butter and sugars, beat in eggs and vanilla.  beat in flour mixture, then stir in chocolate chips.

2. turn half of the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper, shape a log 2 inches in diameter.  Roll up the log into the wax paper, twist ends closed.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Chill until firm.  This can be refridgerated for one week, or frozen for 6 months in an airtight plastic bag.

3. to bake: preheat oven to 300 F.  If using frozen, give it some time to soften a bit.  Cut the log into 1/2 inch slices.  Arrange on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.  bake for 22-24 minutes, or until set. (a little trick, I always bake for 21 minutes, they are softer, and more moist.)


Work It! For Working Moms: The Dishes Are Breeding!

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So, all along this blog has been about me me me.  And while this has been a freeing and enlightening exercise in self expression, it is not at all fulfilling.  So, I will take a cue from DIY parenting and create a weekly column, entitled: Work It!  For Working Moms!

I am dreading my return to work, it means I have to juggle again.  I love my children, and I want to spend as much time with them as possible.  During my maternity leave, I’ve been experimenting with routine and tasks to create a balance that will give me the best of my time at home, and not leave my responsibilities as Wife, Mom, Employee, Woman, Chief Cook and Bottlewasher in the dust.  This column will discuss some of these one idea at a time, and will run every Sunday (because I can write it ahead of time, and that gives me more family time on a Sunday!)  You will hear from me what I found works, what does not work, and all from the unique perspective of a working Mom who not only works, but also works WITH working Moms, and their young‘ins.  (I am a preschool teacher at a local learning center.)

Alright: Down to business!

I was thinking to myself the other afternoon as I was woefully staring at my dish pile while contemplating what to cook.  Everything I wanted to cook required I wash something.  Now, Moms, lets be honest with ourselves, we are not always the perfect Mom with the empty sink, and every once in awhile, dishes (and laundry) breed like rabbits, and before you know it, you have to wash something to cook something, at least if you have as sparse a dish collection as myself.  I have 3 saucepans, 2 frying pans, and 2 large pots.  That’s it for cooking dishes folks.  This leaves me in a bind.  If I chose to make eggs and pancakes one morning.  2 frying pans out.  Then for lunch, mac n cheese, that’s 1 saucepan, and 1 pot. For supper, egg noodles and stir fry.  Uh oh.  No frying pan to substitute for a wok. Dang. Gotta wash it.

Now, ladies, haven’t we all faced this at one time or another?  Or, as working Moms, several times in a week? (Or maybe I’m a worse housekeeper than I thought… hmm.)  As I face the looming dishpile from a family of 5 on a daily basis, I think of when try to stick to Flylady’s rules: always wear your shoes when cleaning, make sure your sink is clean every night, do a 10 minute declutter every day… It ends badly.  I clean and clean and clean daily, and do nothing else, and THEN, I have a dirty binge.  Where I clean NOTHING for two days, and then realize my house is an UTTER WRECK!  Lets face it, Flylady isn’t me, and I’m not her.  Her rules are too strict for me.  SO, a SORT OF clean sink every night is ok by me.  I could do 2 dishwasher runs a day if I wanted.  As it is, I stick with one.  Maybe this kills me, I dunno.  I also do the wash/cook rule (of my own making) which is as follows:
When I must wash a dish to cook, or if I COULD use a specific dirty dish (even if there is a clean one in the closet) to cook.  I should wash that, PLUS more dishes either before or during cooking time.  (while the noodles are boiling, or something is baking.) Its kind of like a cooking time trial.  Like an Olympic event.  I see how many dishes I can wash BEFORE somebody yells, cries, has a hissy fit, or loses their attention span at what activity I’ve got going for them (to be covered in another post) OR something burns!  I get some dishes done, it doesn’t kill me, cause I’m already moving anyway, and, its kind of fun to race the clock.
And now: the piece de resistance! Every Sunday column shall end in a recipe.  I don’t promise healthy, I don’t promise dairy free, but I DO promise quick, easy, adaptable recipes that end up in a cheap meal in that comes together in minutes.

Crunchy Chicken

Crunchy Chicken and a Salad

Crunchy Chicken: (Prep: 5-10 minutes bake time: 20-30 minutes)

Crushed Corn Flakes (I ziplock baggie these in place of breadcrumbs, Allen buys Cornflakes on sale, and I save ’em for this.) (about a cupful)

Paprika (a dash)

Garlic Salt (a dash)

Pepper (ditto)

Shredded Cheese (optional.  I like to blend mozzerella with cheddar)(eh, sort of a cupful)

Put ingredients into bowl.  Blend.

Put Olive oil in another bowl.

Cut chicken breast into strips. Drag breast through oil, then mixture, place in pan. Bake at 375 for about 20-30 minutes depending on how thick the breast is.  Serve with frozen veggies or salad.  Another preferred side dish is noodles coated in olive oil with herbs.

This goes fast around here, and if you cut the breasts thin enough, you can limit portions very well and spoon out more of the frozen veggies and noodles, which makes the meal even cheaper.  This is a good go to recipe for those days you need to grab out of the fridge and make something out of nothing.