I am taking a vacation from all the clutter in my head

I am taking a vacation from all the clutter in my head

My mind has been in overdrive this summer. It’s constantly moving, but not always in a good way.

On any given day it’s a health challenge. Or travel. Or work. Or a toddler tantrum. Or, my favorite, wrestling with unsolvable life questions, which keep me up at night. I am ready to stop.

So I will.

This week I am going to stop worrying. Well, I am going to consciously let go of all the crap that’s been occupying my head for the last few months. It’s starting to get crowded up there.

I will fulfill all of my responsibilities at home and at work, but I am going to stop thinking. Yes, it’s a cleanse for my head.

Throughout my many years, I have found that it’s not easy to banish something in your life without replacing it with something else. It creates a vacuum and it doesn’t always end well. What am I supposed to do if I am not worrying?

Instead I will:

  • Be grateful for this wonderful life I am living, and the wonderful people in it.
  • Stop judging myself for not being perfect. (Ok, I won’t be perfect at this one but I have to start somewhere.)
  • Let myself be at peace, at least for 5 minutes a day. No TV, no internet, no texting, no cleaning, no people. Just quiet.
  • Add smaller items to my to-do list so I can feel a bit more accomplished. It feels so good to cross items off the list.
  • Love more. I’ll work to be more patient, kind, compassionate, and thoughtful to everyone. Including myself.

I am looking forward to this vacation from all the clutter in my head. It’s just a week, right?

Hosting a large brunch? Hold the bacon

Two tips for hosting a large brunch (or any meal)

Some people are natural party hosts.

I am not one of them.

Or at least, I have not achieved a level of mastery or ease in this process.

I work hard to plan every detail so I don’t stress the day of the party. This means I am always looking for easier ways to host, especially when it comes to meal planning.

One day I’ll learn to relax. Well, maybe…

Earlier this month we hosted a large brunch held in honor of a bride and groom on the day after their wedding. Here was the good part: technically I wasn’t hosting the party and it wasn’t at my house, but I played a role.

The brunch went well, and the bride and groom had a great time (as far as I could tell).

On a side note, I don’t believe that the perfect food and the perfect presentation make a party. It’s the people. It’s the host(s) bringing these people together. It’s the feeling of camaraderie that each guest leaves with. To me, that’s the mark of a truly successful party.

But these guests needed to eat.

During the party, I learned a couple beginner lessons about meal planning for larger groups, and here are my top two takeaways:

  1. Serve food that is low-maintenance. Cut it once and serve, or throw it in a crockpot and let it cook.
  2. Outsource. If you don’t have time or the inclination to bake or make it, purchase the food from somewhere that excels in it. Or ask a friend to bring their specialty.

Following these principles, more or less, this was the menu:

1. Croissants. Some with chocolate. Some without. All very yummy. My friends picked these up from a local bakery that morning. We cut the pastries up into more manageable pieces so that guests wouldn’t get overwhelmed by their size.

2. Bagels and Cream Cheese. Get your bagels fresh as well as your cream cheese. Find fun flavors. Just cut and serve.

3. Fruit Salad. My favorite is a variety of berries plus mint and honey. I’ll share this recipe in a future post. I usually keep half of the salad in the fridge so that there is fresh fruit for the stragglers. We also cut up melons.

4. Bundt cake. I am not sure what was in it, but my friend’s mother can bake a cake! I snacked on it all day.

5. Egg, Ham and Spinach Breakfast Casserole. Not all egg dishes can stand the test of a five-hour brunch, but this one worked well! The Greek yogurt preserved its moistness and the crockpot kept it warm. The initial prep took a little time but then you can forget about it. We doubled the recipe, and added a least another half hour to the cooking time. Here is the recipe we used.

We left these foods out for guests as they came, chatted with the newlyweds, and left. I only had to remember to put the fresh fruit out at the half-way mark.

And as it happens, we had one dish that didn’t work quite as well. There’s always one in the bunch.

Bacon. I admit the bacon was hugely popular. We would pull one batch out of the oven and it was gone in minutes. We served Uncured Apple-Smoked Bacon from Trader Joe’s and we threw it in the oven to make for a more simple preparation. But we had to cook batch after batch, which took time and attention. Although it was popular, I would omit this for the next brunch for a large number of people or over a long duration of time. It’s not worth the effort to keep it going the entire party.

When serving for large numbers, it’s always simpler to serve things that don’t need attention. Either outsource your food or serve food that is low maintenance. Also, serve food that you know will work.

Otherwise, you will miss the party.

An unexpected lesson I learned in motherhood: How to set boundaries for myself

Here is one thing I am learning through motherhood: How to set boundaries.

I knew I had a lot to learn when I became a mother, like how to overcome sleep deprivation and how to stop a toddler meltdown. The one thing I didn’t know I needed to learn was how to set boundaries.

Not for my kid (which is important), but for me.

I work. I mother a toddler. I wife. I have other interests. I think I still have friends. The house gets dirty.

Most times I can’t do it all, or things get half done. Not because I don’t have enough time, but because my attention is pulled all over the place.

Do you know how many half-read books are on my bedroom floor? That pretty much sums it up.

I am at a stage in my son’s life where boundaries are difficult. There are always two Duplos stuck together that need to be unstuck or a shoe that needs to be put on. A temper tantrum to be handled or a diaper to be changed.

My son also wants cuddles. Tons of cuddles, which I won’t complain about.

Some days I wake up and I need more order. More room, even if it’s just mental. I know my life is inherently complex (at this moment in time), but I need my own space.

I set boundaries for my son. What about me?

It took me a while but I am finally starting to figure out how to carve out space simply for myself. This change only has been possible with the help of my husband who makes sure I follow through.

In the morning, I now make time to read, to journal or to maintain my spiritual practice. It’s a priority. I have to fight for it some days and sometimes it’s only for a few minutes.

Even a few minutes counts, and I am happier for it.

I have regular gym times that I set aside during the week and I am starting to kick butt. I don’t always want to go but I do. I always feel better.

Last weekend, I spent half an hour reading a book at a coffee shop. It was divine.

Recently at work someone tried to schedule a call to start at 5 p.m., which was too late for me. At that point, I am usually at home with my kid, possibly starting dinner. I usually get 2-3 hours at night with my son. That’s it before bed, and our family time is precious.

This meeting wasn’t worth ruining our dinner time.

I said, “No” to the meeting. It was magical. I could say no. Of course this meeting wouldn’t make or break my career and the meeting time was ultimately changed.

Before I had my son, I would have made it work, even if the call was at 8 p.m.

Damn, it feels good to say no sometimes.

In some areas of my life, I have always had trouble setting boundaries. Now as a parent, it’s particularly challenging. For me, it is easy to put off self-care like exercise, reading, a trip to the hair salon or other things I used to enjoy, because my son (or our home) occupies much of my available physical and mental space.

I am now learning to make space for me.  To read more. To move more. To relax more. It may be easier with just one kid but if we ever have another, it’s probably wise to start this practice now.

It’s starting to feel good.

What I learned from my failure as an artsy mom

What I learned from my failure to be an artsy mom

Last year I realized as a relatively new mom that I needed an arts and crafts box. I must have gotten that idea from Pinterest. Yes, it definitely was Pinterest. It was the pretty pictures of all the wonderful educational crafts I could make my son. All the pretty pictures. They were sirens calling me.

I ran to the store and bought a few cheap crafty essentials: felt, construction paper, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, glue. It was a meager beginning but it was a start.

I wanted to make an educational felt quiet book for my son to take with us for an upcoming road trip to North Carolina. Life got in the way and it never got made. The crafty essentials stayed in a bag.

Fast forward to last week: I was cleaning out the hall closet and realized I had a whole plastic bin to spare. I could finally finish my crafts box. I felt some regret that I never started the educational book for ZJ. We have a few more road trips coming up soon, but I wasn’t going to delude myself into thinking I would finish it now, either.

It was time to box up my supplies and find a resting place for it in the basement.

What I learned from my failure to be an artsy mom

In the process of filling my new crafts box, something happened. ZJ found the bits and pieces meant for the inside.

First, it was the googly eyes. I have to admit even I like googly eyes. ZJ spent hours playing with the larger ones. He was so excited about these cartoonish body parts that he brought them everywhere, repeating the word “eyes.” Eyes.

Shortly after, he found the rest of the box and immediately started to play with the rectangular pieces of felt, fresh from the pack. He would arrange them by colors in perfect order. Move them. Rearrange them. Throw them in the air. And smile.

We had trouble getting him into the bath that night because he was so happy playing with simple pieces of felt.

I never had to glue, cut, sew or manipulate pieces of fabric to make him happy.  All I had to do is provide him with a blank canvas. Or, simply give him access to my crafts box.

Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t have time to make these super wonderful educational tools, or monogrammed pillows, or adorable organizing cubbies, that I see on Pinterest or on blog posts.

I’d like to, and I would if I had the time.

The lesson I learned this week is that all I have to do is give my son the tools. That’s all I need to give. He’ll take care of the rest.

What I learned from my failure as an artsy mom. www.theshortcutmom.com

What I am reading: Make summer entertaining easier, help dessert-obsessed kids and more

Happy Friday! Here are some articles that I’ve been reading lately:

My Secrets to Making {Summer} Entertaining EASY!

I will admit that entertaining scares me sometimes, and often I am at loss as to what to serve. I probably over complicate the process. I love Organizing Made Fun‘s tips for easy outdoor entertaining. Keep it simple and know your strengths. Know what foods you are good at cooking and keep the ingredients on hand in the freezer.  As we prepare for our annual Memorial Day barbecue, I am going to take a few of these tips to heart.

Got Dessert-Obsessed Kids? This Solution Sounds Crazy–But It Works!

Serve dessert with dinner.  From Parents.com, the premise of this tactic is to take away our kids’ obsession with dessert by including it with the main course. Dessert can play a part in a balanced diet, and doesn’t need to have overwhelming power. I think this may be worth a try if your kid rushes through dinner just to get to the sweets at the end.

5 Ways to Stop Worrying About What Everyone Thinks of You

Number one point: “Remind yourself that most people are NOT thinking about you anyway.” My husband is a master of not caring what other people think of him, yet he is still caring and compassionate. I look to him as a very good example because I still worry (a little) about what people think. I like Marc and Angel’s five tips to stop worrying about what everyone thinks of you. 

The One Tip Every New Parent Needs to Hear But Nobody Will Tell You

The one shortcut they won't tell you!

Guest post by The Shortcut Dad

Greetings Shortcut Mom readers! As you’ve probably guessed I am the husband to The Shortcut Mom, and I’ll be appearing with an occasional guest post. My first one is on a topic that is pretty simple, but one that every parent will look back on and nod their heads in agreement.

Nobody approaches parenthood expecting their life to continue as it did before their first child is born. Expecting late nights, early mornings, messes, even signs as basic as getting rid of old furniture that once occupied what has become the newest family member’s nursery warn that big changes are about to happen.

When were expecting ZJ we went to a birthing class and breastfeeding class at the local hospital, and I did some reading on the basics – I found the Baby 411 book that a neighbor gifted to us to be very informative (I was quite proud of my ability to identify meconium at our first encounter with it).

However, there was one piece of information that I did not hear from other parents, books, online articles, or anywhere else that could have warned me about the most surprising change that was coming:

When you have a baby the biggest change that catches you off guard is losing the ability to procrastinate.

When it’s just the two of you, things like buying groceries, getting the laundry done or even cleaning up dishes after dinner can be put off for a bit. That ends as soon as Little One arrives home. First, you are assuming that you will be able to physically do whatever chore or errand you had in mind. The first time some strange ailment or accident befalls your baby, you suddenly find yourself in the Emergency Room for several hours that you were counting on to take care of business.

Or maybe you don’t get hit directly – you put something off until tomorrow but don’t factor in being up three hours in the middle of the night dealing with a fussy infant. Baby might be fine the next day, but after a long day at work you might not have enough energy to move from the couch after dinner, feeding, bathing, and putting the wee one to bed.

And if you don’t get those chores done? Not going to the grocery store might lead to a late night emergency run to the nearest convenience store for diapers or milk. Putting off the laundry might mean no clean spare sheet to put in the crib after the one being used is suddenly puked on in the middle of the night. Even something as simple as not gassing up your car could leave you having to make an out of your way trip during rush hour just to get you to work the next morning.

So trust me new parents, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. The first time an emergency hits you’ll be glad that you did!

For better or worse, our toddler attends his first wedding

Last weekend, our family took a road trip to New Jersey to attend a wedding for an old friend of my husband’s. We knew it would be a gamble to bring our newly minted two-year old but we wanted to give it a run before we head to Seattle this summer for another wedding.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

Friday at 9:45 p.m.: After a long and snowy drive up the Jersey Turnpike, we arrive at the hotel. Of course, ZJ gets his second wind, and explores every nook and cranny. He tries to get in the refrigerator. We hide the hotel phones.

Being awake at 9:45 p.m. is bad.

Taking a toddler to a wedding is not for the faint of heart!

Saturday Morning, 6 a.m.:  Sleeping in is for sissies. It doesn’t matter that ZJ went to bed three hours later than normal. There are things to do, places to explore. The hotel room is his oyster.

9 a.m.: Surprise morning nap. Whew!

10:15 a.m.: Getting close to departure time. ZJ refuses to wear any type of pants that aren’t sweat pants. I even bought special pants that feel like sweats on the inside and look nice on the outside. No dice. Must. Wear. Sweat Pants. We put on his nicest sweats, and pair it with a blue and red long-sleeved polo-type shirt. Hopefully no one will notice.

10:50 a.m.: We arrive at the hall where the wedding will take place. Quick debate: do we let him bring his favorite stuffed Doggie into the wedding? Yes. It’s the lesser of the evils. We hope that Doggie will keep him calm.

10:55 a.m.: We walk inside. Lots of people and hallways to explore. It’s a toddler’s paradise.

11:10 a.m.: We take our seats strategically at the back of the room. But why sit when you can run?  He runs to the alter (Doggie in hand) to make sure it’s suitable for the bride and groom. We gather him up and bring him back to our seats. He runs back down the aisle. Repeat. Again. Repeat. None of the other kids are doing this.

11:30 a.m.: The wedding ceremony starts, and thank goodness ZJ ran out most of his energy out and is sitting happily on Daddy’s lap. The groomsmen come in. The bride walks down the aisle. Beautiful. Then ZJ decides he wants to talk. And walk. So I take him outside the room so my husband can enjoy the ceremony. That was the plan.

11:31 a.m.: As we walk outside the room, he announces: “I tooted.”

11:44 a.m.: We have fun exploring the venue as the wedding ceremony continues. My guard is down. He looks at me, grins mischievously and runs. Fast.

11:45 a.m.: The 28-pound bundle of squirm barrels into the ceremony room, screaming in a language that only another toddler can understand. The bride is starting her vows,and luckily my husband has kept an ear out for his son. The doppler effect of a laughing/screeching toddler warns Jeff of approaching trouble, and he is already moving to intercept the boy.  ZJ is two steps into the room before my husband catches him and whisks him out. Jeff and I were relieved when later in the reception he was able to confirm that nobody at the alter heard the boy. Whew!

12:10 p.m.: Wedding is over (sigh of relief), and the reception is underway. ZJ is happily munching on cheese and fruit oer d’oeuvres in the reception room. He makes sure Doggie gets his lunch too, feeding him leftover fruit he doesn’t want. As usual, Doggie is unresponsive.

Toddlers at weddings! Help!

12:30 p.m.: It’s still cocktail time but it’s dancetime for ZJ as he heads to the empty dancefloor. Dance. Dance. Dance. To the Beatles. To Frank Sinatra. Then it’s time to throw his stuffed Doggie into the air. It’s so crazy — Doggie can dance too. He’s pretty good.

12:35 p.m.: ZJ starts to flirt with the woman working coat check. They become fast friends and he introduces her to Doggie. The woman must have been pretty special to meet Doggie.

12:45 p.m.: All of sudden, ZJ starts to slow down. Is it a change in music? He asks for “Huggies,” a word he picked up from me that sadly makes it very difficult to resist his pleas to be picked up. This is not a normal request because there are worlds to be explored. This kid has been known to go non-stop for six hours at events.

His forehead is a bit warm. As he sticks his entire hand into his mouth, it appears he may be teething. Oh no!

12:55 p.m.: Still warm. Still glued to us. It’s clear the wedding is over for ZJ. Time for me to say goodbye. If he was older, I would have him sing the “Good-bye, Farewell” song from The Sounds of Music. Or maybe not.

1 p.m.: I leave my husband at the wedding. ZJ and I head to the hotel for some cuddles, Lightening McQueen and naps for all.

ZJ survived his first wedding — sort of. We can now revise our playbook and get ready for the next big wedding in July. He will be older: in toddler years a few months are huge in terms of development. His dancing skills will likely improve. Doggie will be going too.

We will also make sure to bring his best pair of sweatpants!

My son started preschool and I am being forced to learn a few new lessons

I didn’t expect the transition to preschool to be easy, but I had no idea that it would be hard for me too!

A month ago, our in-home daycare provider told us that she was closing shop. ZJ had been apart of this family for almost two years. I would drop him off every morning before my morning commute to work and he would stay with them all day. It broke all of our hearts to hear the news but it was the right thing for that family.

Luckily, the preschool we had lined up for him would accept him early. But we weren’t ready to move on. Well, I definitely wasn’t ready.

So last week ZJ started preschool. It’s more of a daycare at this point with a learning component, but it’s still a change from the family home he went to for two years.

As a first-time parent, I didn’t understand how this would go. Yes, ZJ cried when we dropped him off. In fact, he cried the morning that I am writing this, which is day 7.  However, everyone at the daycare assured me he quickly gets over it quickly and plays hard. He comes home every afternoon happy.

I know it’s the right move.

What I didn’t count on is that this change would affect me so much. It breaks my heart that we had to leave his second family who watched him for so long. It breaks my heart to hear him cry as I walk away from the classroom in the new school. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect him from the unknown. I think I’ve taken this transition harder than he has!

Yes, you can chalk it up to being a first-time parent. If we have number two, I am sure it will be easier or at least more tolerable. But it’s these types of changes really hit home that I can’t protect my child from everything.

This is my child’s journey. 

A friend of mine who works with teenagers every day reminded me that kids are extremely adaptable and resilient. They are built that way. After a certain number of years as an adult, I forgot that point. I have my favorite coffee drink and my favorite routines. I probably don’t deal with change as well as I used to.

Our kids are equipped for change. Every day of my two-year-old’s life has an element of surprise, as he explores this new world.

It’s been hitting me that my son and I are in two very different places. This is my son’s journey. He is adaptable and he is more than ready for this new experience.

He gets to play with new toys, interact with kids, learn new words and figure out what it means to function in a school. He is so excited and happy when I pick him up at night.

Through my son, I am forced to re-learn the joys of being adaptable. He has already taught me a lesson or two in change when he was born. Holy cow, that was a shock to my life! I had him later in life and it seemed even more difficult for me to adjust. But I did, and it’s been worth it.

Now it’s time to change directions again.

How I significantly boosted my productivity at work and home, Part 2

How I boosted my productivity, part 2!

I love finding hacks to increase my productivity. It’s all for the sake of spending more time with my family, as well as taking care of myself.

Last week, I wrote a post on how I am increasing my productivity by simply choosing the most difficult tasks first. (You can read this post here.) This was inspired by reading how author and productivity hacker Tim Ferriss hacks his day.

After you choose your most important tasks, Ferriss takes another step: Focus on that task until it’s done.

This is how he describes it (full post here):

6) Block out at 2-3 hours to focus on ONE of them for today. Let the rest of the urgent but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow.

7) TO BE CLEAR: Block out at 2-3 HOURS to focus on ONE of them for today. This is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work.

I’ll be honest: I’m not good at focusing when I am doing something I don’t want to do. It’s easy to surf the web, or find another thing to do, all to avoid the “monster” task.

So I started to block out time to do the hard or undesireable tasks.

Most of the time it doesn’t take 2-3 hours to do what needs to be done. But I allow myself to sit (or stand, or run) with the project until it’s done. If I got distracted, I recognize it and go back to the task at hand.

This goes for work expense and written reports, piles of junk on our buffet cabinet, putting away clean clothes, organizing the front table in our house, etc. Just stay focused. Stop flitting about!

Frankly, I am 10 times more efficient when I focus. I get the task at hand done quicker. I feel better and more accomplished.

Here is where I admit that I don’t do this 100 percent of the time. I am still learning and the temptation to avoid the hard tasks is still there. But I do it more often, and the more often I focus, the easier it gets.

I am learning more about what my priorities are and how to fit them in my day.

In the end, I feel better about my to-do list. Wahoo! So far my favorite hack of the year. Thanks Tim Ferriss!


How I significantly boosted my productivity at work and home, Part 1

Just a few easy steps to be more productive at home and work!

“Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions,” –Tim Ferriss.

One thing you should know is that my to-do list can completely overwhelm me. I want to do everything and usually that means nothing gets done efficiently.

Since ZJ was born, I’ve been particularly challenged because I have half the time to do what I need to do.

After two years of a frustrating never-ending to-do list, it became clear that I needed to learn how to set priorities and follow them. I’ve always understood this concept, but implementing it has been another story.

A few weeks ago I ran across a blog post from Four Hour Work Week author Tim Ferriss. He is the master productivity hacker, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work. I don’t follow all of his advice, but it’s good food for thought.

His post “Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me) is a bit dark at points, but contained a few key ideas on how to prioritize. Those key points are starting to revolutionize how I get things done at home and at work.

Ferriss describes his productivity process every day. It’s all one process but I am tackling this in two parts.

Here are the first two steps I started to follow this year: (excerpted from his blog post)

3) Write down the 3-5 things — and no more — that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, to the next, and so on. Most important usually = most uncomfortable, with some chance of rejection or conflict.

4) For each item, ask yourself:
– “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
– “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”

There are always projects I would rather not do. Naturally, I procrastinate. They weigh on me and I keep avoiding them. Unknowingly, this process is taking a toll on my productivity, and happiness.

I decided to give this new process a try.

Every morning now I choose 3-5 top priorities from my to-do list for work or home, depending on where I am. Out of those, I really ask the questions: Which task, when completed, will most help me today? Which task am I most afraid of? Which one will calm my anxiety and make me even more productive? Or, will knocking out some mundane work allow me to focus on something more meaningful or fun?

It’s a simple concept but it’s been life changing. I always put off the hard stuff. And now I am forced to face it head on.

Why not get the hard stuff done first? Why not finish the paperwork that’s been sitting on my desk for a week? Or write that report? Or make that phone call? Or go through my son’s closet and box up the clothes he has outgrown? Or have that difficult conversation? Or …

Just identify and handle your monster first thing in the morning and your day will likely be infinitely better!

The next step in Ferriss’s productivity process is to REALLY FOCUS on the task at hand. Pick your monster and then stay with it until it’s completed.

Stay tuned for Part 2!