Meal planning: The “what to cook blues” and what to do about them

In our house, we share the cooking duties. I cook supper for a month, and then my husband cooks for a month. In the month we aren’t cooking, we take care of the laundry.

It wasn’t always that way: for many years Bob was the chief cook, and I was the washer of clothes.

At some point I realised that I was bored to tears with doing the laundry and suggested we take turns at these two major household tasks. Turns out he was bored with the cooking too, and so our new regime was born.

Our approaches to the cooking month could not be more different: Bob looks in the freezer, takes something out and cooks it. Simple.

I, on the other hand, do a Meal Plan (and am about to do one as January turns into February).

I do that for many reasons: I think it saves time, money and allows, oddly, for more creativity.

Here’s how I do it

A day or two before the turn of the month – I take stock: see what’s in the cupboard, the fridge and the freezer and make a list.

Then on a piece of paper I write down the days of the month, along with the actual day of the week, like this:

Mon 1
Tues 2
Wed 3

And so on, till I get to the last day of the month. Then I note any days where I know something is going on that affects supper (this is less of a thing in lockdown since we never go anywhere) – so Saturday the 6th might say “supper at Gill’s” – and that’s one less night that needs a plan.

(Note – we all do our own lunches and breakfasts, so only supper needs to be part of the plan).

I then allocate meals per night based on what’s in stock, and what I feel like, and what I know people like. Quick meals for week nights, longer or more elaborate meals for weekends. I try also to incorporate one or two new recipes, to prevent boredom.

So the first week of February is probably going to look something like this:

Mon 1 – fish finger bhorta (a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s that I discovered in a previous cooking month)
Tues 2 – pasta meal (find recipe – we have some olives in the cupboard)
Wed 3 – kedgeree (a recipe using tinned fish – I try to do fish once a week)
Thurs 4 – burgers (remember to buy rolls)
Friday 5 – roast chicken
Saturday 6 – paella
Sunday 7 – butter chicken (use the chicken left over from the roast)

I then transfer the list to the pages of my diary, and add reminders to take things out of the freezer (so the page for Thursday the 4th will have an item that says: take chicken out of freezer).

And then I go about my month secure in the knowledge that my previous self made sure there is one thing in my day that I don’t have to think about at all.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Main picture: Eli Eshaghi on Unsplash

 

There’s a system for that!

When I was a child, in a country far, far away, there was no television.

It was South Africa, and what there was, was the SABC (look at page 8), divided into three categories: the A service (in English), the B service (in Afrikaans) and Springbok radio (with adverts! And popular music!).

And on the A service, every weekday afternoon there was a 15-minute children’s programme.

I’ve tried to find these programmes on the Internet, but they aren’t there, so we are going to have to rely on my memory. I remember a weekly programme where a woman called Midge talked to a squirrel called Frisky, and they played music requests and read out birthday wishes.

There was a serial about a pair of children who lived in what I now think was the Bo Kaap, voiced by Gabriel Bayman. I still find this strange – why in apartheid South Africa were the lives of coloured children being celebrated on a radio station for white people? Perhaps the intention was to indoctrinate us into the supposed inferiority of coloured people? If so, it didn’t work. The lives of those children sounded wonderful to me, and their walks up and down a windy hill sounded impossibly exotic (we lived in Johannesburg at the time). I wanted to be where they were, to be friends with them. But that was a dream that could only come true a long time in the future.

And then there was a rather strange serial about a family in which the father was a time-and-motion scientist. He was the comic relief (when I think about it now) and kept making his children do things like take baths in which he would time how long each component of the bath routine took, and then make them bath again, taking more measurements, until he could get bathtime down to mere minutes.

It is telling that all these years later I remember the father clearly (he had an American accent) but have no clue as to who the children were or what the rest of the plotlines might have been.

I was fascinated by the idea of time and motion study, by the idea that you could apply systems and knowledge to everyday things, in order to make them more efficient.

It was an early indication of my lifelong interest in systems – how they work, what they do, how they can help make human life better.

(Systems thinking also underlies my true superpower: the ability to untie knots. You just have to start in one place and follow the steps until the piece of string is straight again. Simple really.)

A look at my posts over the years shows how often I talk about systems:

A system for getting things done
Filter, filter, filter – the key to email organisation
Simple self-care – just get organised
A tip for working with multiple tabs in a browser
Three ways to save time by getting things done faster
How to make a list that lasts
Curation: How to find shareable content for your readers

I know that a lot of people think systems are boring, or nerdish, or “not fun”. And yet, so much of society runs on systems (just think of trying to distribute a Covid vaccine without a system). And so many things could be made easier by applying systems thinking.

One mundane example: when I was young, we had a linen cupboard. Indeed, many people have linen cupboards. In our house, I abolished this years ago. Applying systems thinking, I wondered about the inherent silliness of taking all the laundry off beds in different rooms, washing it, folding it and then putting it all in a central place. Only to have to take it all out of that central place and carry it around from room to room in order to change the beds.

In our house, all washing gets folded and then put away in the room it belongs in, all in one go! Kid’s bedroom cupboard has kid’s bedding and kid’s clothes in one place, at the same time. You have cut out that distribution step from the linen cupboard, and saved time. Plus there’s now a cupboard or shelf that you can use for other things.

That man in the children’s serial would have loved me!

If you would like to apply systems thinking in your own life, I’d suggest the following steps:
1. Identify a task that seems irritating and futile (opening and closing the kitchen cupboard doors every time you take something out or put it away, for example).
2. Throw away any preconceptions you have about how things “ought” to be (kitchen cupboards must have doors… surely they must?).
3. Figure out what would make this process simpler by thinking through the steps in the process and seeing where the inefficiency is (taking the doors off the cupboards! yes!).

Our kitchen, in a midday mess.

4. Implement your change and see what happens. In the case of the cupboard doors, the fear of course is dust and grease getting on the dishes. But if the dishes get washed often, that’s not an issue. In our kitchen, the cupboard with the everyday plates and glasses has no doors. Everything else still has them – not used so often, so the doors are less irritating.

If you can apply systems thinking to something simple, and like the result, you can scale up to pretty much anything. Email? No problem. Getting big projects done? No problem.

Figuring out where all the pairs of scissors go? I’m still working on it.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Main picture: Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash

Simple self-care – just get organised

The other night, my 17-year-son said: “Mom, you were right.”

I sat up and listened. It turns out he had been persuaded by a video he saw on YouTube that he does indeed need a diary to keep track of his schoolwork.

I smiled, and said we would go buy one.

Readers, I have been telling him he needs a diary since he left primary school, when the school made every kid keep one for their homework.

I am an organised person because being in control of things makes me less anxious. And large parts of the way I organise things, especially in the home, are derived from a guru in the United States.

I found my guru when that same son was much, much smaller and I was trying to balance being a working freelancer with caring for him (and he was as lively as a box of frogs) and doing my share of running a home.

I had the constant feeling that things were slipping away from me. I was talking to a colleague at one of my workplaces about my frustration about not being able to find something in the house.

Flylady, she said mysteriously. You need Flylady.

And she was right. I did need Flylady.

Marla Cilley, aka the Flylady, is a person who lives in Brevard, North Carolina in the States. She runs a business in which she offers a free email service and website which aim to help people get rid of clutter and sort out the chaos in their lives. (The business model is that she sells all sorts of organising and cleaning tools which support her method).

Her approach is simple: start where you are, do things in small increments, take care of yourself (that’s my take on it, anyway).

The true magic of the Flyady method though is that it is not about decluttering your home, or sorting out your paperwork, or getting your house clean in one big swoop. It is about finding sustainable ways to do those things, and finding ways to keep doing them. Marla Cilley is about systems and the importance of sorting things that are apparently mundane and boring into doable tasks that in the end make your life better.

To give one small example, her starting step for everyone is to clean your sink. She says:

After you do this, you will keep it shiny by drying it out after each time you use it and making sure when you go to bed that it is shining so it will make you smile in the morning. This is how I get to hug you each day! That shiny sink is a reflection of the love that you have for yourself. Our FlyLady system is all about establishing little habits that string together into simple routines to help your day run on automatic pilot. You can do this!

Read that paragraph carefully: she is saying the one small step is the start of a routine. Don’t clean the whole kitchen and then three months later you are back where you started. Just clean the sink every day, consistently, and then build on that.

At first I leaned heavily on Flylady, mainly in the department of daily and weekly routines. Before I had a baby, I used to do the washing when it occurred to me. Now, 15 years later I am still following the routine I established in those early Flylady days: wash clothing twice a week, and bedding over the weekend.

As time went on, I have developed my own system and no longer have the needs of a small human to consider. But there are fundamental Flylady things that I still do, and always will. Here are those things:

1. You can do anything for 15 minutes

Flylady’s basic principle: don’t procrastinate. Just set a timer for 15 minutes and start. Just start. I do this all the time – and once you’ve started, it’s easier to keep going. I cannot emphasise enough how revolutionary this is and urge you to try it. The next time you have some slightly unpleasant thing you have to do, and have been putting off, set a timer for 15 minutes and start. At the end of 15 minutes (and this is the important bit in the learning phase), stop and go do something nice. You can repeat the sligthly unpleasant 15 minutes tomorrow, or later in the day. This simple thing can really break logjams at work and at home.

2. The calendar

I order a Flylady calendar every year even though it us ruinously expensive to have it shipped from the US. Partly because it is my way of saying thank you to Marla and her team, but also because it is a superior calendar. It has really big blocks, so you can write lots of things in it. And that’s important because everything should be written in it. The regular extra-murals, the birthdays, the social engagements of everyone in the house. In our house, if an event is not on the calendar it doesn’t happen.

3. Routines – write them down

Flylady advocates a Control Journal, in which all the information about running your house is stored. She says: “The control journal is our own personal manual for listing and keeping track of your routines.”

I have never liked the name Control Journal and I know it seems ridiculous to write down the things you do every day but it does help.

To this day I have a diary in which I plan the week, and have items like “do the washing” (see above). It means that no matter what else happens, no matter how much real life throws curve balls (and boy does life throw curve balls) I have list of items that need to get done to support all the other things I do.

Remember – all of this means figuring out what the inter-locking systems are that you need to live a good life!

The heart of the Flylady method is the idea that you should love and care for yourself. And that is such a profound thing: you are not doing self-care by having your toe-nails done. You are caring for yourself by paying attention to the small, mundane details of your life, by drinking water and getting enough sleep and tackling all the anxiety-provoking chaos in the corners of your home and workplace.

To quote once more from Flylady – by using the parts of her system that work for you, you are:

(Changing) your To Do list from a stew of chores into a daily walking meditation on the value of life.

That’s a quote from an emailed testimonial to Flylady. And how valuable is it now, when Covid-19 has made all of us more aware of how valuable life it, while at the same time taking away all the things we thought were important?

And here in front of us are our homes and ourselves, waiting to be loved.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media). And you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Main picture: Mikael Cho on Unsplash

 

 

One handbag shall bind them all

I have friends who have different colour handbags for different outfits. It appears that they transfer the contents of their bags on an almost daily basis. And that they must have a shelf of handbags somewhere in their houses.

I also know people who change handbags every few months, buying new ones just because they feel like it.
Continue reading