Family, Personal Change, Writing and Blogging

Christmas Lessons, Part 2: Using a Planner (or Old Dog, New Trick)

The Problem

I am notoriously disorganized and messy, but long to corral my creative tendencies to achieve a productive lifestyle.

The Gift

I mentioned previously that I am not a fan of planners (the objects, not the people). Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my daughter had already purchased by birthday gift when that post was published. It’s a lovely, flowery thing with inspirational quotes throughout; not too big, not too small… just right. She included a set of comfortable, smooth writing pens and an add-on for the planner, pages of moveable lists with the phrase ‘listers gonna list‘ at the top, just to add a welcome splash of hip hop to my day.

My girl is that rare creature, an organized creative. She started using a planner in college to keep track of work, classes, homework, etc. Over the years as her life has evolved, so has her planner. It now includes work, social engagements, general budgeting, and doctor and grooming appointments for herself and her pack of hounds. Her planner is a work of art and a wondrous combination of planner and diary.

I enthusiastically accepted her gift and the promise of coaching. On Christmas morning, we spent about an hour setting up a very basic planning routine. She emphasized to me that the planner is a tool to alleviate stress, not a master or a source of guilt, and that it’s OK if I make mistakes, don’t follow it exactly, or forget to use it for a week. (She knows that perfectionism is one of the hurdles I’m trying to overcome.) That gift, along with her pep talk, have already made a huge difference in my life.

A Solution?

If you are struggling with disorganization, stress, or both, maybe you could try a planner. Here are some tips for getting started.

  1. If you don’t have a planner, get one. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, there are all sorts of free options available online. The Handmade Home has some beautiful free printables, including some stylish covers.
  2. Write out some short- and long-term goals, and whatever steps you can identify to achieve those goals over the next days, weeks, and months. Mine included setting up a thank you card system (cards, pens and stamps in box), exercising regularly, drinking more water, blogging twice a week, and organizing my sewing room.
  3. Go through and plug in annual events like birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. You can also put in one-time events that you already know about like upcoming graduations, weddings, or vacations.
  4. Next, add monthly events like meetings and standing appointments for the next three months, or whatever horizon seems useful to you. I only did one month because my primary job right now is homemaker and carer for my elderly stepfather, and my schedule is largely dictated by his ever-changing needs. At the end of January, I have a note to remind me to fill in February’s schedule. Don’t forget your goals! This is also a good place to plug in bills you pay and payments you receive on a regular basis.
  5. What weekly and daily things do you want to schedule? Probably your work or class schedule, especially if it varies from day to day or week to week. Again, don’t forget your goals. I placed a legend at the top reminding me to exercise, drink water, and organize my sewing room for a few minutes each day. In theory, I should place an asterisk or a check on the days I complete these tasks, but mainly I just use them as a reminder.
  6. Good start! As you go along, put in new appointments or events, or reminders to make phone calls and follow-up calls if necessary. Whatever will help you accomplish what you want to, but also free up space in your head. If something is stressing you out, think about how your planner can help. For example, I sort my dad’s pills into a pill organizer once a week, but it was always running out on Saturday evening. Every Sunday morning when I really just wanted a cup of coffee and twenty minutes to myself, I would have Dad wanting his coffee, pills, and breakfast, and the dogs wanting walks, attention, and breakfast. It was not the best time to be sorting pills, and I was cranky. I put ‘fill pill organizers’ on my schedule for Friday evening, and now my Sunday mornings are a little less hectic, and I’m quite a bit less resentful.

My daughter recommended that I leave my planner open in a place I would see it several times a day and not carry it with me. I sit down with it in the morning to review the day and the week ahead, and in the evening to add new appointments or make changes. I keep my monthly to-do list under ‘Notes’ on the margin, and use the ‘listers gonna list’ pages for daily and weekly to-do lists and shopping lists.


My stress level has plummeted over the past two weeks or so, and I know a lot of it is that I no longer have to try to keep so much stuff in my head. I’m sleeping better, and I’m seeing results.

Using a tip from an episode of the Clutterbug podcast, I set up a Google calendar. It’s nice because you can access it from just about any device, and you can sync it with Alexa, which I find very helpful to my ADD brain.


Christmas Lessons, Part One: Margin and Macarons

When my family decided on a simple Christmas, I imagined a quiet day of games and puzzles, snacks and naps. No big meal to prepare, no big mess to clear up later. Of course, reality rarely matches the imagination; with 11 adults, three small boys and five dogs in the house, the whole day was a bit more energetic than I had envisioned. 

© Daniaphoto | Stock Free Images

The lack of a formal schedule was amazing. The out-of-towners were able to wake up on their own and arrive refreshed and unhurried, we all enjoyed wonderfully long FaceTime calls with my Army Guy brother in Korea and my cousin and his family in Houston. I even got to go for a short walk with my dog with no guilt about leaving my guests.

But there were two things that were particularly meaningful to me: a lesson from my daughter on the art of using the planner she gave me for my birthday, and helping my cousin conquer her cookie Everest, the macaron, both of which were made possible by our relaxed agenda.

Susie has been an enthusiastic and prolific baker since she was a preteen. She and her best friend would spend long afternoons creating cakes and cookies, while simultaneously destroying her mother’s kitchen and grocery budget. She has kept it up as an adult, baking in her free time and always volunteering to bring desserts for family gatherings. Baking is her comfort and her guilty pleasure, and she can be pretty ambitious in her confectionery undertakings.

To me, baking is a pleasant chore. I tend to stick to the basics: biscuits, cornbread, brownies and a few simple cookie recipes, eschewing anything that requires ingredient or tools not available in any moderately well-stocked and well-equipped kitchen. My husband bakes and decorates the birthday cakes, and our pies often come from the freezer section of the local grocery store.

Back to the macarons. I had been following Susie’s saga with the fussy French confection on Facebook for a few days, but I did not realize that the struggle was actually a year long and that she had made four or five failed attempts at the little beasties. I didn’t understand her obsession, but I sympathized.

When I saw her on Christmas Eve, she was tired and emotional. We visited a bit about our mothers (both gone for some years now) and the holidays we spent together as children. We spoke about balancing family tradition with the needs and desires of the current generations. She also mentioned her disappointment with the cookies, and I asked her to bring the recipe and whatever special ingredients it required, and we would give them a try together.

She did, and in the early afternoon we cleared off space on the counter and went to work making the macarons, which it turns out are a meringue-based cookie often served sandwich-style, filled with buttercream or jam. The recipe she brought called for the creation of a ganache , which is one of those words I like to make fun of, often in conjunction with a phrase like, “The macarons and ganache marry beautifully to form a lovely, delicate dessert that melts in the mouth and sets off the silvery raspberry notes of the digestif.” My husband tells me that the Food Network is not meant to be a comedy channel, but I’m not convinced. (Mirepoix!)

We carefully followed each step of the recipe, including using kosher salt and the food processor; Susie had used table salt and skipped the food processor in her earlier attempts, thinking the ingredients were fine enough. We carefully whipped the egg whites to the proper stiffness, folded in the dry ingredients, piped the cookies onto cookie sheets, and let them sit for a bit before baking.

The cookies turned out beautifully. Susie had to improvise a piping bag because my kitchen isn’t so-equipped, so they weren’t exactly uniform in size, but they were well-formed and chewy with the characteristic ruffled edge and ‘foot’. The main thing is, Susie was happy with them. Delighted, even. If you’d like to give them a try, you’ll find the recipe here.


First, whether you’re baking cookies, knitting a cap, building a website, or trying to get your life back on track, it’s often best start at the beginning a proceed one step at a time. This may seem obvious, but I’ve often misread instructions or made incorrect assumptions resulting in costly mistakes.

It turns out that the problem with my cousin’s first attempts at macarons was probably simple physics. She assumed that it wouldn’t make any difference to substitute table salt for kosher salt, but the larger grain size results in about half the salt by weight than a similar measure of table salt. It’s all explained right here on the website of the network I disparaged in fun earlier. The food processor is need to reduce the size of the salt particles, if not the other ingredients. At least that’s my best guess.

Second, traditions are meant to serve us, not rule us. We have chosen to celebrate Christmas in an apparently much different fashion than our mothers, who celebrated in much the same way as their own mother. But we honor them by making an effort to be together, by loving one another more as sisters than cousins, by cherishing one another’s children and dreams, because in doing so we acknowledge the esteem in which our mothers held each other, and the value they placed in family. We have the recipes they loved and make them regularly, but they are not imperative for observing a holiday. I have shed any number of tears over an absent loved one, but never one over a missing Texas Fruit Salad.

Finally, when you set aside slavish adherence to family tradition or societal expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy what you love, and you create margin for pursuing dreams or being present for those you love. By skipping the big dinner and focusing on family, we don’t dilute our family tradition but distill it to its essence.

Grandma’s Texas Fruit Salad Recipe

2 21-oz. cans cherry pie filling
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges
1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks
1 cup pecan halves, lightly chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 banana, peeled and sliced

Drain mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks; mix into cherry pie filling. Add pecans and coconut. Refrigerate for an hour or so, or overnight. Add bananas immediately before serving.

Honestly, it’s not that great, probably some Depression Era holdover that my family forgot to let go of. But Grandma would be pleased that I shared it, and it does make a nice change from pie.’?

What is it that’s important to you? How would you spend time saved if you weren’t doing what’s ‘expected’? Or do you prefer things to stay the same? (Because that’s OK, too!) Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please follow and share this blog with someone who might enjoy it.

Photo by Carl Attard on

Responsible Parenting: What To Do With Your Grown Children

There are so many blogs about raising children that Mommy Blogging is it’s own industry. I heard a podcast this week featuring a woman who writes a blog for people who want to start a mom blog.  Seriously. And that tells you a little something about how seriously some people take this whole child-rearing business and how much insecurity there is about it.

Long before the advent of the parenting blog, Paul and I were well on our way to ruining our own children with non-organic food, backpacks, candy, cartoons, video games, toy guns, Barbie Dolls, and all manner of unhealthy food and politically incorrect toys and activities. We even spanked them occasionally, mostly for form’s sake and without enthusiasm, usually as a last resort. I don’t think it did any harm, but I can’t say it did much good.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have raised a child or two to adulthood, have a crop that is about ready for harvest, or are at least curious about the process. Raising people is a huge investment of time and money, and people rarely discuss what to do with the produce.

More and more parents these days are choosing to keep their adult offspring at home. My husband and I keep 2/3 of the yield (two individuals) in the basement, and and 1/3 of the yield (one individual) is located off-site at a safe but convenient distance as a designated survivor.

*Net Yield, 1989-2018. Estimated Value: Priceless

When planning your children’s education, it is important to consider their interests and aptitude, but also to take into account the family’s long term needs. Our children each hold at least one post-secondary degree, and two of them hold two or more degrees or certificates. Our off-site DS has been gaining skills in veterinary medicine and pet care, as well as floor installation, welding and assembly work. The youngest has been honing his virtual first-person urban combat skills for years, has experience as a tutor, furniture assembler, and bookkeeper. Our firstborn has worked in management, cooking, sales, and mechanics. When combined with the skills and experience my husband and I have accumulated over the years, we feel the family is well-positioned to survive an apocalyptic disaster. 

I’m kidding, of course. It’s completely true minus the calculation and paranoia. Our oldest and youngest live at home, and we love it that way. Some parents bemoan the kids who won’t leave; we installed high speed Internet service to lure them back. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Parenting my adult children is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have to stand by and watch while they make decisions, and sometimes mistakes, that affect some of my favorite people in the world. Sometimes I’m consulted, sometimes I’m not, but I no longer get to call the shots. All illusions of control have been removed.

When the kids first went to college and  later their first jobs, I worried and my husband practically stalked them by monitoring their checking accounts. In the first few years there was a bootleg tattoo, a boyfriend procured from the Internet and kept past the return date, a bruised heart or two…

There were more tattoos. I don’t have anything against tattoos, but sometimes it’s hard to see my beautiful child cover her body with artwork that she may not want to wear for as many years as I pray for her to live. But in this I am not consulted, much less a decider. And that’s all right, I have my own body to decorate or pollute, or not. 

Later there was one seriously broken heart, two college dropouts, an unplanned pregnancy, an adoption, a frightening car wreck. Another wrecked car; not our kid, but her car.

The thing about painful experiences is that they can be excellent teachers to willing learners. My children are good learners. They are more cautious and less manic than I am, and they have taken life’s lessons thus far to heart. I’m very proud of them. 

You don’t quit being a mom or dad when your kid turns 18 or gets married or graduates college. But at some point along the way you quit being responsible for them and start becoming a trusted resource, and a friend. And one day you realize that your kid knows something you don’t know, or has a skill you don’t have, and is fun to talk to. And they become a trusted resource in their turn.  We can love without controlling, have boundaries without building walls.

No, Mom! I don’t want you to call my boss and ask him to give me a raise.

And if you’re blessed with kids who are emotionally intelligent and generous, and if you’re wise enough to be vulnerable with them, perhaps the day will come when you will have the privilege of having your child tell you something real about yourself. Maybe it will be painful, but actionable. But maybe it will be encouraging or consoling. Or just true. After all, who knows you better?

Do you have parents or grown children? I’d love to hear your stories your questions! Comment below and please ‘follow’ if you found this fun or helpful.


Monday Morning Mistakes: Confessions and Takeaways

I didn’t sleep well last night. It wasn’t my usual insomnia, but several hours of nightmares fueled by this week’s binge of Homecoming on Amazon. I got up well before sunrise feeling distinctly unrefreshed, had some coffee and went to my office to work until I heard the guys start moving around, at which time I went to scare up some breakfast.

I don’t know why, but I feel I should explain that I did not jump up and make breakfast because I am the only woman in the house and it’s my job. I currently live with my husband, two grown sons, an uncle, and my dad, and we mostly share cooking and cleaning duties; not evenly, but fairly and according to ability and interest. I will post more about that later. The thing is, I was awake, they were waking up, and I felt like cooking them breakfast.

Also, I had a “great” idea for an omelet. We had some pickled eggs left over from the Thanksgiving relish tray, and I thought it would be kind of cool to make a pickled egg-filled omelet. Doesn’t that sound great? It doesn’t to me because I hate eggs, but I thought it at least sounded interesting, and maybe a bit meta.

So I Googled it. There were some recipes for omelets served with pickles and omelets with pickled turnips, but no pickled egg omelets. So I decided to wing it.

I whipped up a couple of eggs with a tablespoon or so of milk and poured it in a pan of hot olive oil. I chopped up a pickled egg, a bit of pickled pepper, added a bit of pickle juice… So far, so good. Right? Right??

brown chicken egg
Photo by Pixabay on

I added the egg and pepper to the scramble, added some American cheese because I thought good cheese would be too salty, and let it cook. Topped with more cheese, served with buttered toast.

black spatula on black frying pan
Photo by Caio Resende on

My youngest and the most ardent fan of my cooking grabbed a fork and yelled, “Dad, are you gonna come try the vomit omelet?” He took a bite, and then another. And accepted my offer to make him a plate of scrambled eggs sans pickles.

My husband choked down the omelet. I don’t know whether it is because he hates to waste food or because he wants ammunition, but I’m certain it’s not because he fancied a pickle omelet.

My takeaways are twofold. 1) I should not try to invent new recipes when I am not well-rested,  and 2) If there is not a recipe for something on the Internet by now, there’s probably a good reason.