To market, to market…

Back in July I posted some photos of black bears that were fishing in one of the coves south of Ketchikan. That location is about seven miles out of town, and those bears were behaving just as bears should. But they do wander into Ketchikan, too, and when that happens, you may see something a bit out of the ordinary.

Check out this little guy:

Don’t worry, he was released after his venture into the produce aisle!

Creature of habit

So what tricks do you use to jump start your day? Or smooth your transition to evening? Spending a week recently with Stephanie and Matt, watching little Riley, and recalling the years of juggling children with life’s demands, I thought about how my routines have changed. Not sure how I can feel as busy as ever, but that’s life.

So here are my top 10 tips for getting out the door and having a productive day:

  1. Get up early! I try to get up by 5:00. When I build extra time into my morning, it doesn’t throw me off to have a second cup of coffee or to check my email. I don’t have to have the extra time to dress if I’m in a rush. But my days are much smoother if I have some quiet time up front. Worth the loss of an extra half hour’s sleep!
  2. Have a plan before I walk out the door. If I have things to drop off (dry cleaning, etc.,) I leave it at the front door, or put it in my car the night before. I list what I need to do so I don’t have to rely on memory, especially if my to dos include appointments.
  3. Take lunch. I usually see this one referenced as a strategy for saving money. You know, the encouragement to save the lunch money that adds up over a month’s time. But that’s not my incentive for eating in. Mine is two-fold. We have a huge parking problem at work, so by staying put, I don’t have that issue to deal with in the afternoon. And more importantly, I use the lunch break at my desk to check my email, make a quick call, or balance my check book. Just taking a few minutes to deal with some personal chores during the day frees evening time later.
  4. Keep lists, whether digital or on paper. Keep phone lists, grocery lists, errand lists, gift lists. It is always surprising to me how long it can take to get around to making a simple call or two if I don’t write it down as a to do. And I have to have reminders for grocery needs, birthday gifts, etc. When I see it, I do it.
  5. Leave a breadcrumb trail at work for the next day, especially when you’re out for the weekend, or for a longer period of time. I can’t tell you how often this has saved me. I keep a running to do list of work projects, deadlines, and chores, on my computer, just as I do for my personal life. I still sometimes forget something or get behind, but I have very few dropped balls using this low tech system. Other low tech ideas: I leave notes to myself on my chair at work. If I have to move something to sit down, I know I’ll see it in the morning. Or I put a note, print outs for a meeting, etc. on my keyboard. And if I need to take something home with me at the end of the day, I put it in my path out the door. Again, the concept is: if I have to step over it to go home, I know I’ll see it. 
  6. Streamline errands. I try to limit my grocery run to once a week. This cuts down on impulse spending and keeps that chore to a minimum. I actually like going to the grocery store. But I don’t need to do it every day. I especially try to limit errands after work, and I particularly limit my errands in the winter months. When it’s cold and dreary, I just want to go home. Batching errands on Saturday instead of spreading them through the week is better time management for me.
  7. If I don’t have a social commitment in the evening, I come in and do two things right away. I take off my makeup, and I get coffee ready to brew for the next morning. I love having most of my evening routine done long before bed time. And I love having hot coffee in the morning with no additional effort.
  8. ALWAYS do dinner dishes as soon as dinner is done. This is a rule I keep almost religiously. If I allow myself to get sidetracked, I find myself doing dishes at 10:00 o’clock at night, or whatever time we finish the movie, or game, etc., and I HATE that. I also hate seeing last night’s dishes when I get up in the morning. Best solution: as the old catch phrase goes, “just do it!” And then, (I realize this my not be possible with kids in the house) close the kitchen for business, except for beverages. Helps with late night snack cravings, and there’s no second round of dishes to do later.
  9. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. This should be an easy one, but apparently for most Americans, it is quite the challenge. So I challenge you: choose your bed time, rather than staying up until you fall over. Take control of yourself, and definitely, if you have young children, take control of them. The best gift a parent can give to themselves (IMHO) is some quiet evening time after kids are in bed. (Good for the kids to have structure too.)
  10. And finally, this is all easy stuff…but the key to making it work is to make it a routine. If you don’t have to think about managing your time, if you automatically write things down as you think of them, or follow a regular pattern for the beginning and end or your day, you’ll find that the small tasks that underpin your day become ingrained. And as your habits become routine, they begin to support you. You’ll find yourself more organized with less effort, and sometimes, you may be surprised that you can operate so automatically, you don’t even remember doing some of the things on your list. That’s ok…better to be able to do the mundane things of life with little to no thought. There are plenty of bigger things to put that brain power on!   

Really? Seriously?

Ok, I know this is judgmental. I can’t help myself here. I saw a commercial for a new series, I think it’s called “Extreme Couponing” or something like that. From the preview scenes, the premise seems to be that some people (women) spend hours and hours clipping coupons, then are able to buy many hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for practically nothing. Now, I don’t know what these people eat. But when I see coupons, it seems like most of them are for items that I don’t eat, don’t need, don’t like, or can’t use. Or, you have to buy three things to get one free, or stand on your head and hold your mouth just so to get the discount….I don’t know….is it just me? Am I a coupon snob? I don’t feel like a snob. I’ve clipped, torn, folded, saved and forgotten many a coupon in my time. For years we subscribed to a daily paper, and the Sunday edition, with it’s booklet of coupons, was always a part of my Sunday afternoon routine. But alas, coupon management is not my strong suit. I’ve been known to carefully store coupons with exciting discounts (the few really great coupons I’ve ever found) until just after they expire….that’s when I find the ones I clipped with such anticipation, snuggled deep inside my purse…just as they become worthless little bits of paper.

I finally gave it up. To me, the whole thing is just a tease. I think I’m going to save money, but somehow it doesn’t work out that way. And here’s another thing I’ve learned. It may seem counter-intuitive, or even sacreligious. But I find that it’s better for me to buy everything for household staples – laundry detergent, toilet paper, cleaning supplies – at the grocery. It costs more to buy these things there, but if I go to one of the big box storesWalMart or Target, or a Sams or Costco – I always spend more on items that weren’t even on my list. Yes, impulse buying. So I’ve learned, over time, that it’s better to spend a little more at the grocery, and avoid the other stores as much as possible. Not that I have anything against any of these businesses….it’s just simple economics. Or more accurately, it’s Sheila’s economics. And it probably works at this point in my life because I’m not buying for a family any more. But regardless, it’s my system, and I’m sticking to it. And I do not spend hours getting ready for marathon shopping sprees. Maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing. But I’m coupon free, and loving it!

The Grocery

I’m planning my food shopping list for Christmas. It’s very exciting to me. I’m one of those rare people who actually likes going to the grocery store. The only time I dread it is when I have to go alone. For so many years I could always count on having a kid or two with me, and when Stephanie and Alex were no longer available to go, Rob became my shopping partner.

I really love going at this time of year. The local Safeway is brimming with treats and seasonal offerings that make the whole place seem festive. I like to explore the imported cheese display, check out the specialty foods and consider what candies and tidbits to put in the stockings. I am the resident stocking filler, assisted by Stephanie when we spend Christmas together. There are a lot of choices. Since I rarely buy candy except at Christmas and Halloween, I’m surprised by new products that I haven’t seen or tried before. But I usually pick something tried and true: a Toblerone bar or truffles or one of the particular favorites of our kids. Rob doesn’t really eat candy, so I look at fruit for him. The red grapefruit, Clementines and pomegranates are the best. And they fill a stocking nicely.

When Rob and I go to the grocery I am always in a good mood. I think the connection between the intimacy of meal planning and eating together is what does it for me. (Of course he sometimes finds romantic things to say in the produce department, but that’s another post.) It may seem like an odd choice of words to describe something so seemingly mundane. Intimacy and Safeway?! But there’s something touching to me about planning our meals, what we want to share, who will cook what, and it inspires me to look forward to each dinner, each breakfast. We are not simply eating: we are being together. And I’m happy to say that we are both at our low weight goals for ourselves. So even though I consider myself something of a foodie, and we both enjoy eating, we are NOT out of control. Yay! 

My daughter and I had this conversation a couple of days ago…you are either into food, or you’re not. If you’re not, cooking is a chore and not fulfilling. And while there are times when I am not interested in being in the kitchen either, in general I find a lot of pleasure in the process from start to finish. Now, thinking about what dishes to make when Alex visits for Christmas, I remember the things he liked to eat when he was still living at home: shepherd’s pie, thick potato soup with cheese and bacon; homemade rolls; shrimp; cookies right out of the oven are a few of his favorites. I’m excited to cook for him again and to show him that although he’s been out of the nest for a while now, these foods are still part of coming home and being pampered a bit during his stay.

Food taken to an unhealthy extreme is not good. But like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a level that is just right: food fills, cherishes, warms the heart. It’s one of the biggest elements families share together. If you’ve been shorting your dinner time, don’t miss the chance to sit at the same table with the people who are important in your life. And at the risk of sounding like a mom, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer in your home, put some thought into the experience. Knowing the food likes and dislikes of your family shows that you are tuned in, that you are paying attention, that you care. I don’t mean food or the table setting has to be fancy to be nourishing; of course not. But as long as you have to eat anyway, wouldn’t it be more fun if the food is good? And the place to start is at the grocery. My advice: make menus and a shopping list, be adventurous with recipes…it is much easier to have great meals  if you are prepared. And then do it from the heart. Look for the intimacy. It’s there between each aisle.