Thursday, September 29, 2011

Simplifying Life with Easy Dinners

I love to cook, but there are days when my projects are running long and cooking a meal is the last thing I want to do. When we switched roles, Steve took on the task of cooking dinner but, more often that not, it was either a simple, not so healthy meal (think meal in a bag), or I ended up doing it anyway.

After months of this, I started looking for other options. I read somewhere of a busy mom who cooks her dinners early in the day and then warms it up at dinner time. I ran that by Steve, and he thought that would work.

We tried it this week and it worked wonderfully. I prep the meal the night before and place it in the refrigerator with instructions on how to assemble the meal. If its really easy and quick, he finishes it up right before we sit down to eat. Otherwise he cooks the meal earlier in the day and does a quick microwave right before we eat.

One of the foods this really worked well on was the chicken potpie pictured above. Since I used leftover chicken and potatoes, all that I needed to do was cut up some of the veggies and pop everything in a freezer bag. Using a store bought pie crust, he assembled everything and cooked it in the early afternoon. When it was time to eat, we popped it in the oven for about 15 minutes to warm it up and placed it on the table. It turned out so incredibly yummy!

This weekend I am going to try some freezer meals to see if it saves even more time. I will let you know how it goes. I'm looking forward to an even easier dinner schedule next week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I can do anything...

I am a firm believer in "signs from the Universe" (Or God, depending on your beliefs). If I am hit over the head with something repeatedly I take notice. Now, I say repeatedly because sometimes the Universe has to make it painfully obvious that I am getting a sign. Considering I have seen the quote above about 100 times, in rather obscure places, over the last few days, I am taking it as a sign and making it my new mantra. I even printed it out and put it above my desk.

I have always been a believer of doing "everything". I have tried every craft and almost all of the jobs that I have been interested in. I have degrees in both Psychology and Computer Science. My minors included Philosophy, World Religions and Technical Writing. I just want to do it ALL! Unfortunately, that makes me a "jack of all trades, master of none."

As I get older, I have realized that I have to settle down if I want to actually do something with my life. Steve's surgeries has made that even more clear. On a typical day presurgery, I would have about 20 things on my to do list. Each one of them set to priority 1. After Steve's surgeries I became pretty upset that I couldn't get to even half of my list.

Even as of last week, I had more on my to do list than there was time to do it. After being hit on the head by the Universe, I decided to sit down and decide what is important. I chose three areas of my life that I want to excel in -- my writing, organizing my household and my health -- then I made 10 goals for the week.

Now, as I drink my coffee in the morning, I review my weekly goals and look at my to do list. If the list item fits with my goals, I set it to priority 1. Otherwise, it gets a 2 or a 3. Then I get to work on my priority 1 tasks. If I get them done, I go on to priority 2 tasks, and so on. Eventually, I am going to have to decide if the priority 3 tasks should even be on the list, but I'm not ready for that yet.

So, do you have a mantra or motto? If so, what is it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shortcuts to Make Life Easier

As Steve and I begin to feel our way through this new life, we have come to realize there are some changes that are necessary for us. I have already discussed our role changes, but we need more than that.

We have always kind of lived by the seat of our pants. We went to work, ate dinner and then did what we felt like. There was really no structure or rhythm to our days. We both had our personal schedules but, more often than not, they did not sync with the other person's. So, whoever was more adamant about his or her schedule won.

With Steve not driving and not being able to do a lot of the "heavy lifting" around the house, a more structured day is necessary. At first, we attempted to just switch schedules. I gave Steve my chore schedule and told him when laundry needed to be done. For my part, I tried to fit my work day in his 9-5 schedule. That bombed almost immediately, and we went back to relatively unstructured days. Everything suffered.

Yesterday, Steve planned a two hour trip without really consulting me. Oh, he told me about it, but it was more a "I may plan this trip" kind of conversation and it was never brought up again. Imagine my surprise when, on the way home from church, he said. "So, if we leave at 3, we should be home at a reasonable time." My day was completely shot.

One good thing came out of the trip -- we had two hours of uninterrupted (well, as uninterrupted as you can get with two kids in the car) time to talk. And, we were both in the mood to talk, not argue. As we talked, I brought up some of the time management skills I have learned by reading sites like Life As Mom and Money Saving Mom.

I mentioned the idea of running our household like a business. This is something I try to do anyway, with my budget and household "notebook", but I've never included Steve in the "business". He laughed initially, but then he thought about it and we decided to try it out.

We decided that we would sit down on Sunday nights or Monday mornings, at the latest and have a meeting. We would discuss what appointments we had personal goals for the coming week. That way we could determine how to get the time to fit everything in. We also quickly decided that there would be no more "unplanned" adventures. Little things could get added here or there through the week, but large trips, purchases and time sucks would have to wait until the following week.

We also decided to implement a morning and night routine. We already had one in place, somewhat, when it came to getting the kids ready for school in the morning and bed at night, but it was still slightly chaotic.  In the evening, all of the dishes are done, the kids get baths and all morning necessities including clothing, lunches and any money needed are assembled. In the mornings, Steve and I wake up in time to have a cup of coffee without the kids and then the kids are dressed and taken to school.

We put most of it into practice today, and things went well. I got a little upset because I couldn't find some stuff this morning, but that's another aspect of "Operation Household". Tonight, the house is neat, everyone is calm and things are ready for the morning. Steve is even sound asleep. Something that doesn't usually happen to the wee hours of the morning.

I'll let you know how we hold up. How do you manage your time? Any special tips?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Negative Thinking

Anyone with chronic pain knows negative thinking creeps in, especially during moments of intense pain. How is this a life? Am I ever going to get better? What has my life amounted to? These are common questions I hear from Steve and other chronic pain sufferers.

If left unchecked, the negative thinking can creep from the pain sufferer to everyone around him. It is an insidious process. You may not even realize that it is happening until you wake up one day and you realize every sentence in the conversation you just had with your loved one was tinged with negativity.

It is such a tough habit to break, too. It is harder to find the positive in a life of chronic pain than it is to find the negative. But, remember that the negative thinking does not just affect you and your loved one. If you have kids, they hear it, too.

One simple negative statement can do a lot of damage. Here's a little example. Due to the nature of my job, I spend an incredible amount of time sitting in front of a computer. Because I am working on increasing my client base, I am spending even more time staring at a screen. I know that, eventually, I will get back to my normal work schedule. However, Steve has begun to look at this in a negative light.

The other day when we were discussing my work schedule for the week, he made the comment "I hate the fact that you work so hard and have so little to show for it." He went on to complain about my work schedule and started to use my lack of time for him and the kids as a way to drive home his point. Before this conversation, I knew that the extra time I was spending was a sacrifice now, but would pay off in the long run.

After that conversation, I started questioning every minute that I spent working. It became a large source of anxiety. I found myself wondering if I even knew what I was doing and where I was going. One simple conversation could have derailed my entire career. It took almost a week for me to remember that I never questioned when he worked on a project at home because he wanted to excel at something. The black little thought wormed its way into my head and almost destroyed my confidence.

If you find yourself in the same situation, please get help for both you and your loved one. Counseling has helped Steve see how being negative is hurting him and us. You definitely do not want to spend 20 or 30 years with a born again pessimist. Life isn't worth it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I finally joined Pinterest after seeing everyone else's boards during my InterWeb travels. One of the first pins I came across is the print above.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am not feeling very strong right now. This print reminds me that even when I am feeling my absolute worst, I am still strong.

I have handled a newborn baby and toddler by myself while Steve was in the hospital. I drove 8 hours one way two weeks after giving birth to make sure Steve got the care he needed. I may not feel great right now, but I am still getting things done. When push comes to shove, I can stand on my own and fight.

I may not be feeling 100% now, but I will survive and I will be strong. It is the only choice I have.

What keeps you strong when you are feeling like the world kicked you in the teeth?

Monday, September 19, 2011

When is it My Time?

It has been three plus years where the focus of our daily lives, at least in regard to health issues, has been centered on Steve. Learning what he can and cannot do. Learning what the medicines do to him. Learning how the rest of our lives fit in and around his needs.

I would love to tell you that I calmly and compassionately accept that my life has been changed so dramatically. I would love to tell you that I happily place everyone else's needs before my own. But, that would be a lie.

For months at a time I go through my days finding joy in my children, taking care of everything, helping Steve when he needs it, ferrying people from one place to another. Then, the downhill slide starts. Everything starts to overwhelm me. I become angry at the fact that I haven't had a day "off" in months. I no longer find joy in the simple things. I start to wonder where has my life gone, and how do I get back on track?

I start finding myself praying for any kind of a break. Any kind of happiness. But, I know, deep down, that happiness won't show up When I'm this low. You have to be able to see past the darkness to see the happy side of things. All I can see is the darkness.

Usually, it only takes a few days of "pampering Mom" in order for it to lift. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery or a really good cry. But, sometimes, it takes a few days to lift and I start to wonder if I will ever see the light again. I start to wonder about my worth and I start to question whether I can be replaced by a maid.

This weekend was one of the worst periods of darkness for me. I had just gotten over an bout of the flu, the house was a mess and I had not worked as much as I like. I was still exhausted and not feeling up to par. As luck would have it, it coincided with one of Steve's low periods. He was feeling bad mentally and not his normal supportive self.

I spent a lot of time in tears this weekend. With terrible dreams and thoughts. Luckily, Steve snapped out of his depression quickly and could help get me out of mine. I'm not at all worried about my mental health. I see a counselor and a doctor on a regular basis and both agree that this is typical of people in my situation.

It is hard to look at your life and see such a drastic change. It is hard to change your hopes and dreams to match the new reality. It's also incredibly hard to deal with these changes while raising two very active little boys. Any Mom worth her salt can tell you that being "on" for your kids all of the time is exhausting. I simply hit the proverbial wall.

After a couple days of "Mom pampering," things have started to look up again. I'm not one for "getting a manicure" or "window shopping". Those things exhaust me and, to be perfectly honest, end up pissing me off. I'm more a "lay in bed and read a good book" type of person. So that's what I did.

I'm not going to lie and say that all is sunshine and roses again. These episodes are useful in that they make me think about what is important to me. Not for the kids, not for Steve, but for me. They help me make the little changes that will keep my family on track. They also help me discover what is really going on in my head. The honesty of what comes out in an all out crying jag is both disconcerting and enlightening.

No, it's not sunshine and roses, but there is a little bit of blue in the sky and the rain clouds are lifting. That's all I can ask for.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Thing at a Time

I have always considered myself the queen of multitasking. I can't simply watch a movie, I have to knit, work on a scrapbook, or work while watching a movie. I am constantly doing 30 different things at one time. Lately, I have realized how completely non-productive that is.

I started to notice it while I was reading a book about organization (I can't remember which one now, but they all seem to say the same thing about multitasking). The theme reoccured while I was readingNo Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracey.

The last couple of weeks I have been trying to monitor my work habits. I noticed that when I have multiple browsers, tabs and documents open, I am very slow. When I simply focus on a single task, I complete more work in a shorter amount of time. It seems so obvious, but I have always thought that by moving between tasks quickly, I was more productive and faster.

My illness of the last few days has really drove the "multitasking doesn't work" message home. When you can't think to begin with, trying to think about 10 things at once almost kills you. So, today when I woke up, I decided to tackle one item at a time.

While I was drinking my coffee, I decided what was the most important tasks for today. Then I looked at my schedule for today. I already knew that the kids were going to daycare late and that Steve has a therapy appointment this afternoon. So, I planned my day around him.

Surprisingly, I already have most of my household chores checked off for today. I even switched the kids seasonal clothes around. That was something that was on my to do list for this weekend. Now, I can focus on working during my work time.

Another thing I started today is writing down ideas and tasks that pop into my head at random times. I read somewhere (again, I don't remember where) that instead of acting on an item, you should write it down as soon as it pops into your head. When you write things down, you spend less time thinking about it and it takes up less "head room".

I'm hoping this new plan keeps me organized and more productive. How do you handle your tasks during a given day? Are you a "one thing at a time " person or a multitasker?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Taking Care of YOUR Health

I have been thinking about this post for quite some time. My needs are the first thing to go when things get tough or I get busy. I cut myself short on sleep, my eating habits become absolutely deplorable, I stop journalling, knitting, and reading anything for fun. I will also go without my medication and vitamins, if we need the money for something else. I think many moms do the same thing. Our spouses and children come first always and we always think "There will be time for me later."

I have had recent conversations with my aunt and my therapist recently where I defended this view and both of them looked at me like I was an alien from the far reaches of outer space. I did concede to my Aunt that I believe God intercedes when I work too much by giving me a blinding migraine, but that even those only slow me down. Yes, I am the crazy lady with the lights dimmed, noise canceling headphones on, trying to squint through a migraine in order to read my email or Twitter feed.

Lately, with all of the fun of applying for Social Security Disability (Steve), starting school (the kids) and expanding my client base (me), my health and well being has seriously been neglected. I've been experiencing more headaches, my skin is terrible and I am almost constantly dehydrated. This hasn't been enough to slow me down, though.

So, I should not have been surprised when I got a full blown, all out flu on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were spent mostly in bed. Today is the first day that I can actually think about sitting at my computer for more than five minutes. Actually, sitting with my laptop on the couch is all I feel up to today. If it wasn't for Steve and my mother in law, the kids would not eat and none of us would have clean underwear.

Did I learn my lesson? Kind of. As of now, I have vowed to get a doctor's appointment, eat better and spend some time exercising. Will it happen? I don't know. I hope so. I do see the need to take care of myself. A little bit of prevention each day -- taking my vitamins, eating better, exercising -- could have saved me from at least four days of down time. But, I still have the mentality that others come first. We shall see.

How do you take care of yourself?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee Aftermath

I am going off topic today. Yesterday and Wednesday our area of Pennsylvania was hit hard by Tropical Storm Lee.  Here are some of the pictures of the devastation:

We were extremely fortunate that our house was not affected at all other than a small bit of sediment in our tap water. Couple of gallons of spring water and we were completely fixed up. My friends and neighbors are not as lucky. The clean up will take some time.

Fortunately, we live in a rural area. Everyone who could get out to help, did. Our volunteer firefighters worked tirelessly to pump the water out of basements, rescue stranded people and block off roads. That's what we do. We help where we can. As more and more people begin moving about, neighbors will help neighbors and friends and families will work together to clean up the mess.

That is probably the best part of living in a small town. I grew up in a small town, moved out to live in two major cities, and moved back. I know, without a doubt, that, if there was a problem, my friends and neighbors would be here in a heartbeat. Helping out. In the cities I've lived in, I didn't even know my neighbors.

This storm reminded me to be thankful for my neighbors, my firefighter friends, and my family. I am so glad we made the decision to move "back home."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cold Weather is Coming

For most of my life I have thought of fall and winter as a large inconvenience. I have a mild case of  Raynaud's phenomenon , so when the cold weather hits, I have a hard time keeping my feet and hands warm. Typing becomes problematic and I can often be found wearing fingerless gloves indoors. It's annoying, but not terrible.

For Steve, the colder weather is torture. He started wrapping up in a blanket in the evenings a month ago when the evening temperatures dropped below 70 degrees. With the onslaught of Tropical Storm Lee, he has started wrapping in 4 or 5 blankets.

He wasn't always averse to cold temperatures. Until a few years ago, he would hunt in sub-freezing weather. He was always my heater when things got too cold for me. Since his activity has slowed so dramatically, the cold is unbearable.

Cold weather causes extreme pain for him. His muscles tense due to the shivering which exacerbates the pain. Short of keeping the house at a tropical 90 degrees, there is not much we can do for him. One of the reasons we chose this house when we moved was because it included a wood burning stove as the main source of heat. Steve can sit near the wood stove and warm up and the rest of us can hang out further away. But even he won't start a fire when its 60 degrees outside (thank God!).

Things get a bit interesting around here when Steve starts assuming the kids are as cold as he is. I have to remind him that the kids are typically running around and not sitting still all day. They don't need a long sleeve shirt and sweater unless they are going to be outside for any length of time. Otherwise, they are sweating and uncomfortable.

How's the weather where you are? Are you keeping warm and dry?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Waking Up from Limbo

s. e. smith, the author of this ain't livin' wrote this lovely post about not treating disabled individual's as if they are in limbo. Limbo is a good way to explain the state the we have been in for the past year. We knew that Steve's pain would never get any better and that the "fixing" was complete, but we were at a loss as to how to proceed. So we stagnated.

Of course, we first tried to go back to "normal" life. But after a few weeks of Steve crying in his sleep because of the pain from sitting in a chair, in front of a computer monitor, all day and me watching his depression deepen and his anger increase, we knew that wouldn't work.

So, he went on short term disability (again), we moved closer to a more sympathetic doctor, then we entered limbo. Every day was exactly the same as the last. The pain lessened, but will never go completely away, his depression sort of "evened out" but he was still depressed. Day after day of lying on the couch loomed in front of him and he had absolutely no plan or even desire to change it.

I became depressed. I started questioning my life. Would ever have the man I fell in love with back? What would become of us? Was I doomed to be a single mother with the children's father lying right there? Could I handle that? Did I want that? What kind of life was this?

After a few months, his doctor and I convinced him to go to counseling. His first counselor tried to help him accept his limitations, but her viewpoint seemed to be that I should just "suck it up". This was his life now and, if he just accepted that fact, his depression would lift. It was ok to lie around all day doing little or nothing.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), Steve is not a "do nothing" sort of guy. He's always had projects going. Sitting around watching movies doesn't work. Yeah, he liked that life for a little while (who wouldn't) but his depression still didn't lifted.

His new counselor is more proactive. She works with both of us to help us figure out our new life. Steve is still coming to accept his limitations, but he's back to working on his projects and helping out with the kids. Our roles have changed, but at least we are living.

It's going to be a long, hard road ahead. There is still a part of each of us that refuses to accept the change. I still want to be a "kept woman," whose only worry is whether the house is clean and the family is fed. Steve still wants to be the primary breadwinner. (I know, so 1950's, right?) But, that's not our life now. Instead of stagnating, we are living. Each doing our part to make our life better. Each day coming closer and closer to understanding and accepting our new life together.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Am I Being Helpful or Hurtful

As I was floating around the Interwebs over the weekend, I came across the Chronic Pain Blog at Everyday Health. As I do whenever I come across something interesting about Chronic Pain, I dropped everything and started reading.

When I read this post, it made me stop and think about how I treat Steve and the "advice" I give him on a daily basis. Am I helping him or am I hurting him? Item seven in the article states:

Your public persona learns to listen politely while someone gives you their opinion about what you should and should not do. The private you knows you’ll do what you damn well like and just smiles knowingly. I’ve found one of the most misunderstood areas is exercise. “Are you sure you should climb that hill? Should you be doing that? Are you up for that?” There is this public idea that believes caring is shown by these inane phrases. We learn what we can do and what we can’t do. We also think privately, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do. Tell me what I can do or don’t tell me anything at all.” Those of us who live within this private club can share advice. We can. It’s different here in this private world and even then, we know each of us is an individual and our privacy and our individual decisions are respected.

I ask him those kind of questions all of the time. I even go as far as to say "You're not going to do that, right?" when I feel strongly about something.

For example, we had family come to camp in our backyard this weekend. The temperatures have been hovering around 50 degrees the last week or so. Now, 50 degrees to me is pleasant sleeping weather. 50 degrees to Steve means thermal underwear, a jacket and a blanket, if he is going to spend any time sitting outside.

The guys were planning on sleeping in the tent that night. Before they got here I told Steve repeatedly, "I don't want you sleeping in that tent tonight." "You're planning on sleeping indoors, right?" etc., etc., I thought I was being helpful and concerned. Now I see that I was just being naggy.

In my own defense, there are some things he does to hide his pain from others that have very long term repercussions. One of them is not telling his friends and family that he can no longer do certain things such as handle colder weather, crawl under a car to change the oil, sit for long periods of time... So, when his family comes to visit, he does all a lot of things he's not supposed to, then he has to lie on the sofa for days.

So, what? Right? Well, when he has to lie on the sofa, I have to make up the work he would normally do. Which puts me behind on my deadlines and makes me tense. The tension results on a tense environment around the house and upsets the kids. Whereas, if he would have admitted his disability, this would have been avoided. He can still visit with his friends and family, just in a different way than before.

So, the question remains am I being helpful or hurtful? Am I being selfish when I try to stop him from doing something that will put him out of commission for days when it is something he loves doing? Should I just keep my mouth shut and deal with the extra work that comes my way? At what point is he being selfish in his pursuit of a short period of happiness? If you have any thoughts on the matter, please let me know!