Well, I'm feeling much better today than I had been feeling all week. My fever is finally gone, I can almost breathe through my nose again and I actually left the house for the first time since Monday! Being isolated and drained got me to thinking and planning - a favorite past-time of mine. Whenever I feel bored or unenthused about life in general I plan things; I plan garden layouts, renovation ideas for our house, goals for my life and things that I want to do with my kids when they're older. I write them out in lists and I have random lists in random notebooks all over my house.
One of the things I started planning this week was a bunch of "How To" ideas. These aren't your typical "how to" instructions either. I won't be telling you how to build a birdhouse or how to wallpaper a room. All of my ideas are composed of two parts: "How to" and "when you don't have..."
First, let's start with How to be productive when you don't have energy/time.
This is a good one for me this week. I've been feeling physically drained and useless but have been wanting more than usual to get things done. The first tip I will offer is to modify tasks where you can. For example, I've been trying all week to get some baking done. That involved getting my kitchen clean, finding time to make something and having enough energy to stand for as long as it took. The kitchen cleaning I couldn't really modify but the time I would need for my baking I could. I had envisioned making cookies just so Matt and I would have something to munch on this week. My shortest recipe for cookies takes about 20 minutes start to finish, not including clean up and cool down. That's not alot of time but I couldn't seem to find it in my day - and yet I still wanted something dessertish in the house. Thank goodness for Jello products. 3 minutes actual hands-on time, chill and ta da! Dessert for two nights. Well, we polished off the Jello tonight and I finally got the kitchen fully cleaned while Matt played with Gabe but I was running short on time and energy again. So what did I do? I made puffed wheat squares on the stove top. Quick go-to recipes like Puffed Wheat Squares and Rice Krispie Squares can substitute for cookies and if you wanted something more pie-like but don't have the time or energy, making squares with a shortbread crust can take 20 minutes start to finish.
Another tip for being productive when you're short on time or energy is to simply do it. I'm not saying "suck it up", but I am saying that some things aren't as hard as you think they need to be. It's inevitable, especially if you have kids, that you will walk from room to room of your house repeatedly through the day. Is your house in need of tidying? Before you leave a room scan it for anything that needs to be put away in the room you're headed to. Does your dishwasher need to be emptied? If you go to pull a single dish out to use it, pull out a few more at the same time, say all the plates or utensils, and put them away before you head back to what you were doing. Cleaning the bathroom is another one that never seems to be a priority task, and yet you go in there multiple times a day. After you pee when you get up in the morning (we all do it) put some toilet bowl cleaner in the toilet to sit there until the next time you come to go "potty" - then you can brush it down before you do your business. After brushing your teeth grab a cloth and wipe down the sink and vanity quickly. After having a bath clean the tub while you're right there. Bit by bit you can get it done.
What if you don't have any productivity goals but still feel the need to get something done? Pick a small task that isn't a daily one and it will feel more like fun than work. Write congratulatory cards to people, whip up a batch of sugar syrup or rearrange the flowers hubby gave you for Valentines Day. Picking small, 5 minute tasks will make it seem more doable and less of a burden.
Next, How to give when you don't have money.
Things are tight in our household this month (we're buying groceries on gift cards) but I keep hearing about these places in need that I wish I could help out with. Food banks, homeless shelters and women's shelters always need help - more often than most of us think about, and while it might not always be in our power to give money, it usually is in our power to give something. For example, lots of soup kitchens have tonnes of dry goods thanks to food drives and donation bins, but alot of them still have high monthly expenses to pay for perishables. They go through bread quite quickly. Well, when I make bread I never really make one loaf at a time. I don't use a bread machine and my go-to recipe is for three loaves. While I may not have money, I always have bread ingredients on hand - so make some bread, and drop some off. (Same goes for cookies, muffins, etc)
Clean out your closet. Lots of us have more clothes than we ever think to wear so do a purge and this time, don't take them to Value Village. Take them to a local Women's shelter. I guarantee they need them more.
Give your time. That's kind of the obvious one, hey? But really, one Saturday morning call the Food Bank and ask if you can help put together bins, or a soup kitchen and offer to serve food. Cleaning crews are always welcome everywhere and if you are not so much an elbow-grease person as a people manager organize a food drive with your work as the drop off location.
How to sleep well when you don't have peace of mind.
Are you worried? Stressed? Counting sheep not cutting it? This is another subject I have alot of experience with. I myself am an anxious person. I've been getting better, but nature supplied me with a whole lot of overactive anxiety, to the point where I would get physically sick when I was in middle school if I forgot about a piece of homework and I have spent many, many, MANY a night wide awake worrying about the next morning. What nature (read: my mother) bestowed on me, fortunately grace has relieved me of in many instances. My first tip will be the biggest and best and the one that will always work most effectively: Give it up to God. Are you worried about the thought of your house burning down? Are you panicky whenever you hear a bump in the night? Do you think that the closest trees are going to fall on your house in the middle of a big wind storm? (If you've never experienced any of these thoughts or sensations, lucky you. You are not an anxious person.) If you can relate to any of those descriptions the first thing you need to do is realize that there is nothing you can do. Nothing. Sure, you could build a house out of metal so that it won't ever burn down (I'm never visiting during a lightening storm) and you could cut down all the trees around your house so they won't fall on you (over-kill much?) and you could pay for the most expensive security system available, but the truth is that you aren't in control of what happens. If someone wants to break into your house, they will. You can do things like lock your doors and stuff, but really, who doesn't have big windows on the front of their house that someone could break into? Yes, there are ways to be smart, and things you can do to discourage intruders (dogs, locks, lights, etc) but I feel so much more comfortable knowing that it's in God's hands than I would feel thinking that it's in mine. God is a sovereign God and He oversees everything that happens on this world. Bad things can only happen because God allows them to. Now, God is not a cruel God either - he is a compassionate God with plans much bigger than we can comprehend and everything, be it good or bad, that happens in this world will be to His eventual glory. Lying awake and worrying about storms and thieves and "acts of God" won't ever get you any rest. But realizing that they are truly acts of God will. If you trust in God and trust in His will, then you can sleep easy.
Secondly, and obviously less importantly, take charge of your dreams. Lucid dreaming, as it were. I'm not talking a full-blown Inception adventure, just some dream maintainance. There was a point in my life where every night I would dream that I would get up, go to work, make the bread and muffins and scones and do the dishes... and then wake up and have to do it all over again, but for real. Not really a restful sleep. One day I gave my notice at work (one month's notice mind you) and that night I went to sleep, got up in my dream, went to work, started making the bread... and decided that was enough. I threw the bread dough in the garbage, walked out of the cafe and lit it on fire. I also slept very well for the rest of the night. Now, maybe don't have dreams about burning down your place of employment - that does seem a little psychotic - but if you are dreaming about work, stop it. It really is that simple. Just stop. You don't have to wake up, but you do have to realize that it is just a dream. Prep yourself before you go to sleep by a) not thinking about work, b) thinking about what you do want to dream about and c) reminding your brain that you will be sleeping. And then, if you ever get the chance to, throw the bread out. I never had another cafe dream after that.
Lastly, if you are being plagued by a to do list. If it is one thing that you forgot to do but you're too comfy in bed to get up and do it - probably just get up and do it. If you're like me you'll not only get it off your mind, you'll also be more tired from your trip and you'll fall asleep quicker. If it is a mounting to do list I suggest two different things. One, write it down. If you're worried you'll forget about something, jot it down on a notepad and it will help you make sure you get it done in the morning. Two, realize that there's nothing you can do about it at 11:00 at night and that it will have to wait until the morning anyway. Did you forget to buy something from the grocery store? Are you really going to run out to a 24 hour Walmart in the middle of the night? No. Did you not get around to dropping something off at someone's house earlier? Would they really be so happy to get it that they wouldn't mind you waking them, their kids and their dog to drop it off late at night? No. Breathe, relax, resolve to take care of it first thing in the morning and get some sleep.
My last one: How to feel like you have alot when you don't have anything.
Everyone will have their season of financial shortcomings. It's tough when they come and no one really looks forward to them at any time. Often they come after a period of relative affluence which makes it even harder. When Matt and I first got married he hurt his knee and needed to take 6 weeks off. We thought money was tight then. Of course I had a job then and eventually the Worker's Comp money came so really we weren't all that bad, but considering where we had been at, we felt it as a big hit. With two incomes for the first month of our marriage we had been living it up: trips to IKEA, lunch after church every Sunday with some friends, dinner out once a week and a nice new recliner for Matt to sit in. I think the shock of having to change our lifestyle so suddenly was what hurt the most. No more dinners out, no more after church lunches, IKEA was blacklisted and Matt got a lot of use out of the recliner since he wasn't allowed any physical activity. It starts to get to you. You want a latte but you feel bad shelling out the $4.50. You head somewhere early morning and before would grab a Timmy's but even that seems out of your budget. Grocery shopping becomes more of a chore than ever and you seem to notice how your clothes fade faster, all of your lightbulbs seem to burn out at once and your DVD player starts blipping out (true story). Right now we're going through this phase again, a little bit more in the extreme though. Top it off with unfulfilled pregnancy cravings and the fact that we actually ran out of Kleenex this week and you can see how things might be a little tense around the house. So what do you do? Embrace what you have. Last night I was craving chinese food. It happens about once a month but when I'm pregnant I don't feel like eating anything but chinese food until I finally get some. Normally I would pick up the phone and shell out $30 for dinner that night. Not this week. So I decided to make my own chinese food. Being short on time and not having any shrimp in the house I decided I'd just make some Chicken Fried Rice. I lucked out and had everything I needed in the house: Chicken, eggs, green onion, peas, rice, soya sauce and oyster sauce. Perfect! I made a tonne of it and that was all we had for dinner - and none of us minded. If you are craving fancy Starbucks drinks, make them yourself! 2 minutes, a cup of sugar, a cup of water and some vanilla will give you a vanilla sugar syrup - add that to some heated and frothed milk with an earl grey tea bag and you've got a London Fog. I find not going out for food to be one of the hardest adjustments about cutting back, but if it's just to fill a craving figure out how to make it yourself and you'll not only save the money but you'll also have a new skill (FYI, I make my own sushi all the time now instead of running out to a store and buying some, and since I can keep most of the stuff stocked regularly I usually have everything I need in my cupboards)
Embrace gift cards and coupons. Say that you decide to splurge and have dinner out. Decide whether it's the food you really are craving or if it's the novelty. If it's the latter, check your SUTP or local flyers for coupons to indulge cheaply. Matt and I went to A&W last week thanks to some 2 for 1 coupons that came in the mail. That was fun! It was a meal out! It hardly cost us a thing! If we feel the need for a fancier time out in the near future we have an Earl's giftcard that we got for Christmas that still has enough on it for desserts for us. Going out for dessert instead of a full meal fills the novelty and a sweet tooth. If your birthday is coming up, request gift cards to restaurants so that you can keep date night running in tight times.
Have people in. Sometimes it's just company that you miss about the lifestyle change. If you were used to hitting up a hot spot with friends once a week or doing lunch with some people regularly, don't cut out the people just because you're cutting out the spending! Have people over to your house for coffee or a poker night. Potluck desserts work great for a party and no one will think less of you.
In need of mental stimulation? If you're the type that normally spends on things like books, magazines, art supplies or sporting tickets, find a new, cheap hobby. Via internet you can find all the reading material you need. If you enjoy doing Crossword puzzles either look for them in your newspaper or hit up an online games site. If you are an avid painter who is running low on supplies, try posting an ad on kijiji for used paint supplies for free - you'd be amazed how many people will be willing to give you things if you ask. If you like to attend local hockey games but can't afford it, either tune in on TV or the internet, or change your league to Peewee or beer league games that you can go to without paying.
If you are a shopper that suddenly has to kick the habit, first off, good luck to you, second off, take delight in shopping for necessities. Is the thrill of the hunt what gets you? Flyer shop for the best grocery prices in town! If you have a favorite store that you feel the need to browse in and like to buy something everytime you're in, try buying something you actually need. My favorite store is HomeSense, which is attached to Winners, so that is pretty easy for me. I can buy shampoo there for cheaper than I could at Walmart usually so if I ever felt the need to just "buy" I could find a cheap necessity. Mix up where you buy too. Matt and I needed pants quite badly so last week we went to Value Village where I found two of the nicest pairs of Maternity jeans that I've ever tried on and I paid alot less than I would have elsewhere.
It's probably safest to refrain from shopping trips - window shopping is a dangerous hobby and more prone to make you want what you can't have than to appreciate what you do have. Stay at home and maybe take on a new project like finally painting all the doors in your house with that can of paint that's been sitting there waiting for you for a year. Your desire to get it finished will overshadow the fact that you haven't gone out and spent money in a week.
And my last tip of all tonight is to realize that hardship is only for a season. Some seasons may last a lot longer than a month or two, but if you only ever look towards the end you may forget to enjoy life that you're living and if that season lasts for a year, or even four, it'd be sad to look back at the end of it and realize that you wasted that much time waiting for things to get better instead of embracing how they were.
Mrs. Vander Leek ;)