StressLess Holidays: Post-Holiday Debriefing — 10 Minutes, 4 Questions

StressLess Holidays: Post-Holiday Debriefing -- 10 Minutes, 4 Questions

Invest 10 minutes to make your next holiday StressLess!

“Did you have a nice holiday?”      “How was your Thanksgiving?”      “Did you have a good Christmas?”

Everywhere you go this time of year, someone is either wishing you a happy holiday or asking how your holiday went. We usually answer the latter with an automatic “Very nice!” or “Great!”, but there is a lot of value in spending a few minutes alone with that question and answering it more deeply.

I know you are busy today. Most of us are simultaneously relaunching our regular workaday lives and trying to gear up for the holiday for which Thanksgiving threatens to become a mere prelude. But could you find a way to take 10 minutes to sit quietly with a pencil and paper (and maybe a cuppa) just to think a little? Here are four questions to help you stress less during the next go-round:

  1. How did you feel during the holiday? Peaceful? Stressed? Happy? Resentful? Joyful? Exhausted? Exhilarated? Frustrated? Relaxed? How about the rest of the people in your orbit?
  2. What didn’t go so well? Food plans too elaborate? Schedule too packed? Not enough pauses for naps, exercise, prayer? Or, Aunt Winifred fought with Aunt Prunella? Not enough chairs to go around? Forgot to pack extra diapers? Nobody liked the new dessert we tried (and need more pecan pie!)? Long travel day left kids exhausted?
  3. What worked great? Make-ahead turkey freed oven for other cooking? Ditching the kids-table and mixing ages got all generations interacting? Post-meal walk suggestion proved popular? Everybody raved about your sweet potatoes?
  4. What can I do to make the next holiday StressLess?
    • When it comes to what others control or what affects the group, think in terms of nudging: Give Aunt Winifred plenty of tasks to help her feel needed, and seat her far away from poor Aunt P. Ask if the mealtime might be adjusted from 2 pm to noon or 1 o’clock to allow littles to get a nap afterward.
    • When it comes to what you control, you can make bigger changes faster: Sacrifice some of the afternoon fun and games to withdraw to a bedroom with your toddler for a rest. Go outside every couple of hours for a ten-minute breather. Give new recipes a test-run before the big meal. Round up some extra folding chairs. Simplify the menu — make more of fewer items.
    • When it comes things that can’t be changed, work on your attitude: Recognize how much you set the tone for the rest of the family, and lead by example. Realize it’s only a meal, it’s only a day, it’s only a weekend, and nobody will die from missing a nap or having to wear a tea towel for a diaper. Count your blessings — everybody has ’em. And, try to forgive Aunt Winifred for being Aunt Winifred.

So, how was your holiday? Share the good, the bad, and the ugly here!

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Thanksgiving for Lazy People — Make-ahead Turkey and Gravy

Let's hear it for make-ahead turkey!

Thanksgiving without turkey stress — it’s a good thing.

In a Facebook discussion about my last post, a friend asked how it is possible for my mom to make the turkey and me to make the gravy at two separate houses. It was revealed that I actually make the gravy at their house before our shared Thanksgiving meal but that Mom makes the turkey ahead of time. Stop the presses! Thanksgiving turkey cooked before the big day? How is it done?

Well, it’s really no big deal. Several years ago, we had a bit of a turkey fiasco on Thanksgiving when Mom and Dad’s oven partly quit — it felt hot when we opened the door to check that turkey 18,000 times, but it wasn’t finishing the silly thing. After delaying the meal for awhile, we finally hacked Mr. Tom into pieces and microwaved him — a rather unsatisfying ending to his short life and a rather unsatisfying result on our plates, too. While we worked, we talked about how it was too bad we couldn’t have made the turkey the day before and realized the oven wasn’t working. (Thankfully, my parents have another oven that had been faithfully baking the sides all morning.) “Why couldn’t we do that next year?” we thought. Our reasoning went like this:

  • We never present the whole bird in all his golden glory at the table anyway — we always carve him in the kitchen and bring out the meat on a platter.
  • We always have plenty of leftover turkey and never mind eating the reheated leftovers the next day, so why not reheat the turkey for the big Thanksgiving meal?
  • And think of the other benefits — the ones besides finding out in advance that one’s oven is kaput:
    • A free oven on Tday for baking sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green bean casserole, and so on!
    • No turkey-carving-what-exploded-in-here mess in the kitchen on the big day! Just think of that for a minute. This is huge!!!
    • Make-ahead turkey = easier gravy: Just pour off and strain the drippings. Once chilled, the risen-to-the-top solid fat is easy to lift off.

Mom and I did this the very next year and we have NEVER looked back. Now, our entire Thanksgiving menu is prepped before the big day except for two items — Mom’s dumplings and my gravy — and if we were eating at my house the gravy would be mostly made ahead as well. If I wanted to, I could drive over to Mom’s and get the drippings ahead of time and do the gravy at my house, but that’s more effort than just taking 15 minutes to make it on the day. With everything else prepped and only the baking of side dishes to be done, Thanksgiving morning is a breeze.

Here’s the how-to:

  1. One or two days before Thanksgiving, cook your turkey with whatever method you prefer — open-roasted, covered-roasted, grilled, stewed, oven bag — whatever. I don’t think deep-fried would work as well made-ahead, however. We roast ours breast-side-down, uncovered because he’s so very big. When I’ve made a smaller version, I often cook him in a covered pot or enameled roaster.
  2. Remove Mr. Tom to a big cutting board — now’s the time to use the one with grooves cut into it to catch drippings, if you have one.
  3. If your roasting pan is stovetop-proof, Put it over two burners turned to medium, add a cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Scrape up the delicious fond stuck to the bottom of the roaster. (If you can’t do that, don’t worry — just scrape up what you can and continue.) Pour off and strain the turkey drippings into a container. Chill that in the fridge. (This step is only if you roasted the bird, natch.) Save all the strained bits.
  4. When the meat is rested and cool enough to handle, carve it and wrap well in foil. You can even arrange it right on an oven-proof serving platter and wrap that in foil. Alternatively, I just read somewhere, and can’t for the life of me remember where, that somebody puts a layer of gravy on the platter under the arranged turkey to act as insurance against drying out during reheating. We haven’t felt like our turkey is dry, but that’s an interesting idea. Just seal it up tight and refrigerate immediately.
  5. Now for the fun part. (Kidding — I don’t like this part, but it is beyond terrific to get it out of the way long before the meal and not have to face it when I am stuffed full of stuffing afterward.): Pick that bird! Pull every little bit of extra meat you can off the carcass. Bag it up and refrigerate it to use within a few days, or label and freeze it as a treasure up your sleeve for another time. Save the skin and extra bits that reveal themselves to not be meat.
  6. At this point, you are looking at a rather naked skeleton. Into the trash? Au contraire, Pierre! It’s time to make stock! Or not, if you don’t want to. You can either freeze the bones and skin until you have time to deal with them after the holiday, or even throw it all away, although I would shed a little tear if I was there with you because stock is dead easy to make and can simmer away while you prep your made-ahead side dishes. Your call, though. If you want to make stock (I’m so proud of you!), put the bones and skin and strained roasting pan bits into your biggest pot. If necessary, use the heel of a heavy chef’s knife or even a washed hammer to break up the skeleton to make it fit down in there properly. Cover everything with cold water and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. A grey scummy foam will form on the surface. Use a spoon to scoop that off and throw it away. Turn the heat down so the liquid just simmers — just a bubble or two or three at a time is breaking the surface — and THAT’S IT. Walk away and go on about your life for anywhere from two hours to overnight. If the heat is set low enough it won’t boil dry because you aren’t boiling it. If you want to, you can add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the water to help leach minerals from the bones and into the broth, which many people think is very healthful. I do that if I think of it. You can also add onion skins and root ends, celery bits, carrot, a bouquet garni, and so on. When I was newer to stock-making I used to do that and felt very French and homemaker-extraordinaire-ish and everything, but now I make stock almost weekly (usually with rotisserie-chicken-from-Sam’s-Club leftovers) and it’s just water and a splash of vinegar.
  7. On Thanksgiving Day, remove the meat from the fridge a little more than an hour before service. Thirty minutes later, pop it in a 350-400 degree oven (offering a range because I know you have other dishes baking or heating in there, too) for about thirty minutes until it is hot. It doesn’t have to be screaming hot, you know, because most people are going to blanket it with hot gravy or eat it with bites of hot dressing and sweet potatoes. If you are really worried about it being too dry because maybe you overcooked it just a little the day before, then spoon a little water or stock over the meat before you heat it. Don’t drown it, however.

Now, do you want gravy to go with your turkey? You can handle that a couple of ways:

  • To make it completely ahead (amounts below are for 1 quart of gravy):
    1. Remove the hardened layer of fat from chilled turkey drippings and set aside. Melt the congealed fat-free drippings in a saucepan or in the microwave until they are hot.
    2. Melt 1/2 c. of the fat from the top of the turkey drippings in a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat.
    3. Stir in 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour if you are entertaining any GF diners).
    4. Stir, stir, stir until you have a smooth mass. Keep stirring and cooking for about two minutes. This will prevent your gravy from having a raw flour taste.
    5. Leave your roux for just a moment (That’s the fancy French name for a flour/fat mixture cooked together when making a sauce or gravy.) to measure 4 cups of the hot drippings. If you don’t have enough to make that amount, add hot water to equal 4 cups. If you brined your bird, you may want to use half drippings and half water to prevent gravy that is too salty.
    6. Add the hot drippings to the roux, whisking or stirring all the while. Because the drippings are hot, the mixture will thicken almost immediately. If you see a few lumps, no fear. Just keep whisking and it will smooth out. You can do this!
    7. Taste the gravy to see if it needs seasoning. I don’t season mine until now because there are factors that affect the amount it needs — whether the turkey was brined or rubbed with seasoning before cooking matters a lot! Add salt and pepper as desired.
    8. Pour the gravy into a storage container, cover, and chill until shortly before serving time.
    9. To reheat, dump the gravy into a saucepan and heat over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a little water to get it to the right consistency. Taste it for seasoning again when it is hot throughout. Adjust as needed and serve.
  • To make the gravy shortly before serving, just omit steps 8 and 9. It takes about 15 minutes to make the gravy, so factor that into your Thanksgiving Day timetable. You can make it about 30 minutes early and let it sit in the pot, covered, off heat. Five minutes before service, put it back over low heat and let it heat up a little more. Whisk it again, pour it into your serving container (We use a 1 quart ceramic pitcher instead of a gravy boat because we are feeding a crowd.), and take it to the table.

There you go — make-ahead turkey and gravy.

How do you fix turkey for Thanksgiving? Or, do you fix turkey at all? Maybe you have a different main dish tradition — please share in the comments! And, I pray for all of us a happy and blessed Thanksgiving week. For more about making Thanksgiving Day easier, look here.

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Life for Lazy People — Thanksgiving Prep

Prone -- probably my favorite position

Prone — probably the favorite position of lazily-productive people like me

It is one short week until Thanksgiving, and I hope you haven’t been waiting for me to tell you to start planning. I have been sick this week, and each day I think, “Tomorrow I’ll work on a grocery list and get to the store,” but tomorrow comes and I’m still here in my yoga pants and and fuzzy socks on the sofa, spending way too much time on Facebook and taking naps. But Thanksgiving will come no matter how much I think it might be a good idea to put it off for another week, so I’d best get cracking.

I start planning for a holiday celebration with a little scrutiny of our particular situation. For this Thanksgiving:

–The place: at my parents’ house

–The guests: 20 at last count

–Special needs: three elderly guests with limited mobility (What will work best: pass food at the table, buffet, young people serve older people?)

–The meal: Mom and I divide most of the cooking. We have a pretty standard menu for this holiday:

Turkey — Mom

Gravy — Me

Dumplings — Mom

Cornbread Dressing — Mom

Bread Stuffing/Filling — Me

Cranberry Sauce — Me

Sweet Potato Casserole — Me

Chocolate and Sweet Potato Pies — Mom

Pumpkin Pie and another dessert — Me

In addition, we invite our guests to feel free to bring anything “without which it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving to you,” which means we often have green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, some kind of yummy salad, and more on the table. Also, some people bring cheese, bologna, crackers and other nibbly things to have later in the day during all of the game-playing and puzzle-putting-together that typically happens.

–Decorating: This is not my area of talent, but our daughter, Alyssa, does a beautiful job. She organizes the kids and has them make place-cards, she sets up a Thankful Tree, and she makes the table beautiful.

Our situation changes little from year to year, which is both comforting and helpful for the ones doing the hosting.

A half-hour spent gathering my thoughts about Thanksgiving saves time in the long run, a hallmark of lazy productivity.

A half-hour spent gathering my thoughts saves time in the long run, a hallmark of lazy productivity.

This week, I need to think of what I can be doing to make next week easier:

  1. Make space in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry for extra ingredients and finished dishes.
  2. Look over my recipes and make a detailed grocery list.
  3. Make a food prep schedule, taking into consideration how well each dish keeps, oven space, and storage space. Oh, yes, and take into account my energy level and time availability!
  4. Buy all I can at the grocery store this week. Save produce purchasing for next week.

Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you have special considerations in your planning? How do you feel about the “big meal” holidays — love ’em or loathe ’em?

Other Lazy Productivity posts you might find useful:
Life for Lazy People — an Introduction

Life for Lazy People — Defining the Vocabulary of Lazy Productivity

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Flow: Lose Yourself in Something Now and Then

Flow: For Good Mental Health, Lose Yourself in Something Now and Then

Many people call it flow. Athletes call it being in the zone. I call it a Very Good Thing, a state of grace, a blessing. What is flow? Wikipedia says flow “is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

Why should we care about flow? I suppose just because it feels so wonderful. When I experience flow, I emerge on the other side feeling refreshed, enthusiastic, and pleased with what I have been doing. I have mental clarity. I feel energized. I am happy.

Want to flow? Here are some tips:

  • I have no data to back it up, but I hypothesize that people experience flow most often when they work on tasks of their own choosing and without close supervision. This is an often ignored perk for homemakers and entrepreneurs.
  • Flow is most likely to happen when a person is already competent with a skill but challenges herself to rise to a slightly higher level of effort with the task at hand. An example is a little project I completed a week or so ago. I have been cooking for almost forty years and I have learned more and more over that time. I love it — reading about it, watching other people do it, doing it myself, and eating the results. On this day, I got the idea to try making potato gnocchi. I had seen a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe for it a few days earlier, and it occurred to me that I had all of the ingredients and the time to tackle it. I dove in and emerged an hour or two later feeling accomplished and quite proud of my little ridged barrels of pasta.
  • Flow seems to occur most naturally when one is doing something creative. Knitting, drawing, playing an instrument, designing a garden space, building a piece of furniture — these kinds of activities, in the hands of a person skilled at them, are great for flow, which brings us to…
  • …you gotta know to flow! Beginners don’t experience flow because they have no competence at what they are doing. Every step is unfamiliar, every moment is filled with uncertainty and possibly angst. So, if creative work is not a part of your life, think of what looks appealing and possible and see if you can take it up. Pottery? Sewing? Folk dancing? Get past the beginner stage, and you’ve got a good chance to start flowing.
Sometimes flow makes a mess.

I got so into the flow of making gnocchi that it didn’t occur me to take photos until the very end!

Tell me: Do you ever experience flow? What gets your creativity going? How do you make time for it?

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Kiss in Front of Your Kids

Why You Should Kiss in Front of Your Kids

Kiss in front of your kids. Smooch. Squeeze each other. No, I’m not taking about anything that causes heavy breathing — I’m talking about:

  • Promoting a sense of security that can never be achieved through words alone. Telling your child, “Mommy and Daddy will never get divorced,” doesn’t come close to what they understand by watching you laugh together, speak affectionately to each other, and touch each other with love.
  • Letting them see what healthy marriages look like — two individuals who are in the never-totally-completed process of becoming one but are reaching for that state every day.
  • Showing them that physical expressions of love, in their proper place, are good and right.
  • Helping them find their place in the family and in the world. You hug and kiss each other, and then you draw your children into the circle of loving. They learn they are not the most important person to you (Their daddy is!), but they are way, way up there. This, too, is good and right.
Couples who play together stay together!

Couples who play together stay together!

How do you do this if it doesn’t come naturally?

  1. Work at becoming playful! Yep, for some of us lightening up is an effort. Be free with tickles, grab your husband when he walks by and dance him once around the room, have a family roughhousing session on the floor. Give smurfets. (I think everyone except us calls these raspberries.)
  2. Give warm greetings and farewells.
  3. If you have to, start small and build: squeeze your husband on the shoulder, sit next to him on the sofa and then snuggle for a few minutes, hold hands when you pray before meals. (If he acts surprised, this is a sign you need to do it much more often!)
Never stop laughing together!

Never stop laughing together!

What about you? Are you and your husband affectionate in front of your kids? I think how easy this is has a lot to do with how we were raised. Were your parent huggers and kissers?

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Parenting for Lazy People: Acknowledge Wants, Parent for Needs

Parenting for Lazy People: Acknowledge Wants, Parent for Needs @

Look past the want to see the need!  photo credit: Lauren Bingham


Every child gives his or her parents multiple opportunities per day to practice wants vs. needs parenting:

I want a popsicle!

I want to take Prunella’s toy!

I want to stay up!

I want to go to the dance!

I want an iPad!

Wise parents hear these wants and send them through their Needs Filter:

I want a popsicle! —————> Needs Filter: dinner in 30 minutes, healthy-food-appetite-training —————> Wise Response: I know your tummy feels empty. You may have a drink of water right now, and then we will have dinner pretty soon. No popsicles so close to dinner time.

I want Prunella’s toy! —————> Needs Filter: You need to learn fair treatment of others, appropriate sharing, ownership, and self-control. —————> Wise Response: You can’t always have what you want as soon as you want it. You need to wait until Prunella is finished with it. Maybe you could ask her, “Prunella, after you have played with your toy for awhile, I would like a turn to play with it.”

I want to stay up! —————> Needs Filter: rest vital; Mommy and Daddy grownup time vital —————> Wise Response: I know you’d like to stay up, but it’s bedtime. Go choose a book for us to read while I help your brother.

I want to go to the dance! —————> Needs Filter: lascivious atmosphere; you need to learn to stand for righteousness —————> Wise Response: I know you want to be with your friends and have fun and I want that for you, too, but sinful things happen at dances in a far more concentrated amount than in many other situations. Let’s talk about that and some alternatives…

I want an iPad! —————> Needs Filter: working for luxuries = good; need discernment re discretionary money and to appreciate belongings —————> Wise Response: If you want an expensive item like that, we can talk together about ways you might go about earning the money for it. Do you want to think first about whether it will be worth it to you to work so hard for it?

Does this kind of thought/filtering and answering take a lot of time? I am sorry to have to break it to you but, yes, it does.

Two truths:

The wise way is rarely the easy way.

Wise parenting = investment parenting

Every little thing you do and say as a parent is an investment in the future — for good or bad. Think about that for a minute. Everything, really and truly. It kind of makes you want to make an appointment to be sterilized right away, doesn’t it? Just kidding. Sort of.

Thankfully all of the work and investment of parenting doesn’t happen in one day, but here’s the thing that’s easy to miss: the work and investment of parenting does happen every day. Every day matters, every decision matters. Every choice gets added to all of the other choices and snowballs into a path of life, a character, a trajectory.

But here’s the really cool thing: even though the wise way is not the “easy way,” in the end it turns out to be far easier than the “easy way.” So, the hard way turns out to be the easy way and the easy way turns out to be the hard way. Crazy, I know. It’s sowing and reaping, suffering and glory, investing and dividends.

It’s acknowledging wants, but parenting for needs.

For more parenting posts, see the Parenting Practice page.

What about you? Do you find it challenging to look past wants and parent for needs? What strategies to you use to parent as wisely as you can? Please share in the comments!


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Autumn Basil Bounty? Pesto!

Freezer Pesto -- step-by-step @

Make this freezer gem now!


It’s been a banner year for basil around here — regular rain and moderate temperatures have left us with a big, beautiful plant loaded with those fragrant green leaves that speak summer to me. Now is the moment for pesto — pesto for tonight’s pasta supper and pesto for the freezer to enjoy during frigid days when fresh basil is a fond-but-distant memory. There are four things I love about pesto:

1. Freezer pesto is one of those satisfying kitchen jobs that just makes me feel happy.

2. It’s one of the main reasons I love my food processor.

3. It is a feast for the senses: It’s just the coolest thing ever to shove handfuls of leaves through the processor’s feed-tube and watch them transform magically before my eyes. The aroma — so fulsome, so utterly unique — it fills the house for the rest of the day, so everyone knows what I’ve been doing and what’s for supper from the moment they walk through the door. And the flavor — the intensity is almost too much, but it leaves me wanting to taste it again and again.

4. I love to say the very word: PESTO! Put the emphasis on the first syllable and it’s like saying POW! PESto packs a POWerful wallop!

And here is how I make pesto to eat fresh and for the freezer:

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

Harvest the basil before frost turns it brown and sad.

Basil Pesto for the Freezer @

A useful old cookbook

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

The basic recipe I use for the freezer, in batches x6 (the amount that will fit in my processor in one go), minus the Parmesan and with somewhat less oil

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

Toasting the pine nuts — use LOW heat and be patient — these babies will burn when you turn your attention away from them

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

Removing basil leaves from the stems — I do not wash the basil before use. There are no pesticides to worry about, and I try to harvest AFTER we’ve had a nice rain and the leaves have dried in the sun. Inspect each leaf as you work, because you’ll sometimes find…

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

…one of these — anybody know what sort of critter makes this little web of cotton?

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

About to give the garlic cloves a smack with the bottom of the skillet to loosen their skins — such a satisfying thing to do!

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

Pesto ready to divide and freeze; this is the yield from 8 c. of leaves instead of my usual 6 c.

Basil Pesto for the Freezer

I scoop pesto into mini-muffin tin wells, freeze for a day or two, and then bag them in a heavy ziploc. Pesto without cheese freezes best, so I add cheese when I use them if desired.

Lori’s Basil Pesto for the Freezer

makes about 1 quart

6 garlic cloves, peeled

3/4 c. pine nuts, toasted and cooled

6 c. firmly-packed fresh basil leaves

1 T. coarse Kosher salt (or less of finer salts)

1 t. ground black pepper

1 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Start the food processor and drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube. When the garlic stops whirling around and has transformed into bits stuck to the sides of the work-bowl, turn off the processor and scrape the work-bowl. Add the pine nuts and process until finely ground. Scrape the sides of the work-bowl again. Add the basil leaves and process until finely ground. Scrape the sides of the work-bowl again.  Add the salt and pepper. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a thin steady stream until it is incorporated and a sauce has formed. If you are using the pesto immediately, you may want to add 1 rounded cup of grated best-quality Parmesan to the pesto. For the freezer, leave out the cheese.

Scoop the pesto into mini or standard muffin tins. Freeze for a day or two until solid. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of each pesto “muffin” to pop it out of the tin. Bag the  pesto and return to the freezer quickly. It will stay fresh for at least a year if you keep it well-wrapped.

To use, I simply thaw the desired amount at room temperature for use on pizza dough, with pasta, or in dips and spreads. To use it in minestrone, I add frozen pesto to the almost-finished soup and let it simmer a few more minutes to thaw the pesto.

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Parenting for Lazy People: The Napping House, Part II


How to turn your house into a napping house

“The more they sleep, the more they sleep.” –a wise great-grandma I know; Photo credit: Lauren Bingham

Naps: bane or blessing? The thought of a regular time each day when our children sleep (and we can think our own thoughts and do things hard to accomplish with little children underfoot) can seem like an enticing but elusive dream. I wrote (a long, long time ago) about the why of napping here, but let’s have a brief recap:

Nappers are more content and better-behaved because they are rested.

That is the main point of my last post, but here is more: Even if you turn out to have a non-sleeper (and these are rarer than many moms think), there is value in the day-dreaming and, yes, boredom that comes to a resting child:

He learns to stop.

He learns to think his thoughts.

He has a built-in daily opportunity to practice obedience and self-control.

The Nitty Gritty of Napping — how-to:

Constancy and Consistency: If you want to have a Napping House, this phrase is a valuable mantra. (And it applies to most aspects of parenting — how convenient!) Nap time must become as much a normal part of the day as eating, dressing, and washing, and with rare exceptions it should come at a predictable time in the day. That does not necessarily mean the same time on the clock, but at the same point in the flow of the day, which leads us to the next point…

Rhythm + Rituals Rule! When I was in the trenches of parenting littles, I tried a little bit of everything when it comes to schedules. (I don’t really recommend doing that — it jerks the children around so much — but I suppose we are all guinea pigs to one degree or another while our parents figure things out.) What I found that worked vastly better than either a rigid schedule (“It’s 9:15, Darling. Time to change your diaper!”) or an anything-goes, children’s-whims-run-the-mom way (“It’s 6:15, I haven’t started dinner, but you want to play a game? Certainly, Darling!”) was to spend our days within a framework of certain routines which mostly centered around four points in the day: getting up/breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime. Your routines will look different than mine, but what I mean here is deciding when certain daily activities will happen and then forming a habit so you don’t have to make those decisions all over again every single day. For us, that meant we all got dressed shortly after getting up and before breakfast. We made our beds and tidied our rooms before breakfast, too. Nap time, once the kids were past the multiple-sleeps-per-day stage, fit into the rhythm of our days this way:

Pick up toys —> Lunch —> Story —> Nap

See how we had a routine centered around a meal? Lunch might have come at 11:30 or noon or 1:00, but whenever it was, each activity segued into the next pretty effortlessly once we formed the habit and everyone knew what to expect. Further, we had a nap time ritual that I think helped, too. Each child old enough to care chose a book for me to read while I cleaned the kitchen after lunch. Everybody had a turn on the toilet or got his diaper changed. We snuggled on one person’s bed to read stories.  After stories, everyone went to a separate sleeping spot. (See more below about that.) I closed the blinds as I talked softly with each child. I prayed briefly with each. I turned on the tape-of-choice from a small selection of sleep-time-approved story or song tapes. (Now I suppose this would be an ipod playlist or similar?) I said, “Sleep well,” as I went out of the room and closed the door. If I was teaching this routine, I might quietly go over the rules about staying on the bed until time to get up or whatever that child was still learning.

Doesn’t that sound perfectly wonderful? Now I had a couple of hours of no interruptions from little people! Break out the bon-bons! Turn on the grown-up movie! Take a nap! Make phone calls!

Wait, you say, you don’t understand my kid. There is no way he will stay on that bed. I’m gonna spend the whole nap time taking him back to bed, listening to him whine, and arguing with him. It’s just not worth the hassle.

I get it. Remember, I used to be a day care teacher, I’ve been a nanny in other people’s homes and in my own, and I raised three offspring unique in their own ways. Getting a child to nap is no different than getting them to do what’s best for them in any other way — you’ve got to train them.

Enforce Only What You Can Control: “But I have a kid who just won’t sleep!” Fine — don’t worry about that at all. You are not requiring your child to sleep. You are only training him to rest. You set up the framework — a time and a place he can count on each day when he will stop his usual activities, stay in one spot, and be quiet. Whether he sleeps or not is beyond your control and largely beyond his, but you have made it possible for him to sleep if his body needs sleep, and as the family’s new daily napping habit becomes entrenched you will probably find him sleeping more often than not.

So what is it you will train him to do at nap time?

Stay on his bed and stay quiet.

Just those two things, but they will keep you busy enough if naps are a new concept for your family! Our children napped in a crib when they were babies/toddlers, but when they graduated to a big bed we had several days of teaching them to stay on their beds at nap time and at bedtime. That’s perfectly normal and should not stop you from continuing to insist that they remain there when you’ve put them there — it’s just a part of what a growing child needs to learn. You need to figure out ahead of time what the consequence will be for disobedience. We chose to spank our children for getting out of bed for a non-emergency reason or for speaking above a whisper. When I was a daycare teacher, the consequence for not resting quietly at nap time was to have to stay right by me with nothing to play with during the outside play that came after nap time.

When you are training, remember to be calm, be quick, and be consistent. If your child comes wandering into the kitchen or if he whines or if you hear him out of bed and playing in his bedroom, go to him quickly and calmly state what he is doing that is disobedient. Tell him the consequence and carry it out. Return him to bed. Make it utterly counter-productive to disobey every single time, and I guarantee he will begin to cooperate. (We don’t have to mention that under ab-so-dee-lute-ly no circumstances should your child ever get what he wants when he has disobeyed, do we? I didn’t think so. ) Children aren’t stupid.

Ages and Stages: I am sharing what we did in our family. You may feel differently. That’s fine — we can still be friends.

Infants: I suppose I practiced a combo of scheduling and baby-led eating and sleeping in the first several months. I nursed when they were hungry and helped them sleep when they were sleepy, but I also kept an eye on the clock and tried to notice their patterns and nudge them toward some consistency. Some infants sleep a lot and some very little. Our three spanned the range. You can’t train them to simply rest at this stage, so you are only concerned about giving them the space and time to sleep when they want it.

Rock the baby to sleep or put him to bed sleepy-but-awake? I fear to tread here — I know some parents are passionate about this topic — but with our first we rocked her to sleep and became her rocking-chair-slaves. A three-week stay in a furnished apartment without a rocker gave us two nights of three hours each of jiggling a strung-out, squalling one-year-old until she finally exhausted herself to sleep in our arms. We decided to put her to bed and let her cry it out the third night. She cried (and I cried outside the door) for an hour. The next time she cried for five minutes. The next time she cried for less than 10 seconds. I do not believe we taught her to despair of her parents coming to her when she needed them; I believe we taught her to fall asleep without a long, drawn-out production that left all of us glassy-eyed. We went from an hour-plus going-to-sleep process even with a rocker to a story-prayer-sleep routine which resulted in a happier, better-rested child who was still just as cuddly and secure. With our next two, I nursed them before sleep — sitting up or lying in our bed — but we tried to put them down sleepy but still awake.  #2 was super colicky and didn’t sleep well, but falling asleep was not a big problem for him. #3 was average — he sometimes fussed for a few minutes before falling asleep, but most of the time he was out quickly.

Older Babies/Toddlers: See above for going-to-sleep advice. At some point you notice that your baby who was napping pretty consistently about three times per day is now changing his pattern. The ages are different for each child, but most drop first their earlier morning nap and then their late afternoon nap until they are taking just one nap in the early afternoon. If I remember right, ours completed this process by the time they were about 18-24 months old. A friend gave me some good advice for helping them transition when they have stopped the morning nap and you want to work toward an early afternoon nap. When they start to get cranky because they are getting tired, take them outside for a stimulating walk or playtime. It will keep them awake and happily occupied for maybe a good half-hour or more. (Bundle up if necessary, but it’s good for everyone to get some fresh air unless the weather is really inclement.) When they start to get past the point of no return — obviously tired — whisk them back indoors, change that diaper, nurse if needed, and put them down. Keep doing that until you’ve eased them to a new nap time that works for everyone.

Pre-schoolers: These kiddos are in their prime napping years — they really thrive with a predictable nap time each day. In many ways, they need an official nap time much  more than when they were younger — a baby or toddler will get the sleep they need one way or another. We’ve all seen littles of those ages just fall asleep right in the middle of whatever is going on. The preschooler, though, is more likely to stay awake if Mom and Dad don’t enforce a nap time, and he just gets tireder and tireder and crankier and crankier. By dinner time, nobody can stand him and he can’t stand himself, either.

Elementary Schoolers: One might think elementary children are beyond the need for naps, but I think there is a case to be made for continuing them if possible. My siblings and I went to public school, so my mother had us stop taking weekday naps during the summer before we started First Grade. (Kindergarten was only in the morning for us.) For years afterward, however, we still took a nap on most Sunday afternoons. Our family went to church for two hours in the morning and one hour in the evening, and our parents felt we were more alert during the evening service if we had rested in the afternoon. Do I suspect they also treasured some alone time without the children around? I do, and there isn’t anything wrong with that either.

In my own family, homeschooling gave us the opportunity to extend nap time as long as each child needed it. When the kids reached about six years old we no longer talked about nap time; we called that sacred period of the day Read and Rest. They were just beginning to read silently, so it was a perfect time to have them gather a stack of books and spend a quiet hour on their beds. If they were tired, they often fell asleep, and if not, they looked at their books. Read and Rest was a feature of at-home days in our house for years, and it did all of us good to have some time alone.

Other Tips:

Offer an End-of-Nap Signal for the Non-sleeper: I set a timer for whatever amount of time I thought was reasonable — one or two hours is usually right — and the children knew that if they hadn’t fallen asleep they could get up when they heard the timer. I usually checked on them during nap time and if they were asleep — they usually were — I turned off the timer so it wouldn’t wake them.

Bedrooms for Sleeping, Playrooms for Playing: One reason I think we were so successful with nap time is because we kept the children’s bedrooms for sleeping only. We kept their toys in a playroom, and their bedrooms contained only a few books and some stuffed animals and dolls. You may feel you don’t have space for a playroom, but it would be worth it to me to double or triple-up small children in one bedroom and use another as a playroom. It eliminates the issue of children getting up at nap time or bedtime and getting into things they shouldn’t without Mom and Dad realizing it.

If Possible, One Child Per Room at Nap Time: Another thing I learned by experience was the wisdom of having only one child per room at nap time. I know that is not possible for some large families, but if you can arrange a pallet on the floor (even in a hall) or to have one child lie down on the parents’ bed, you will eliminate a lot of stage-whispering that escalates into giggles and moves on to the need for discipline. In our case, doing things this way meant if I wanted to rest I did it on the living room sofa, but that didn’t bother me a bit. At bedtime, we never felt the need to do this — I’m not sure why it did not seem to be a problem then. I suppose there was whispering and giggling, but we allowed that because we had trained them to stay in their beds and knew they’d fall asleep eventually. I think at nap time that seemed unacceptable because there were often things we needed to do after nap time and I didn’t want to draw out the process of the falling asleep. Anyway, at nap time everybody definitely fell asleep faster if they were alone.

Still not convinced? Consider a trial period — I would suggest giving naps a real go for three or four weeks straight. Don’t tell your child it is a trial period — just act as though this is the new normal and carry on in your dignified, purposeful way to train him to stay on his bed and stay quiet for a period of time each day. Even if he never sleeps — and this would surprise me very, very much — you are giving him the gift of rest, the gift of practicing self-discipline, and the gift of boredom.

What do you think of all this? Do you have a Napping House? Do you wish for a Napping House? What works in your family?

Posted in Family, Parenting for Lazy People, Parenting Practice | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

 How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper
Last winter, three things conspired together to form a perfect storm in my mind — a significant portion of my wardrobe no longer fit (this was a good thing),  I stumbled across a blog called Project 333, and I came across another blog called The Vivienne Files. I’ll wait while you go exploring at these sites. I warn you — you could be gone awhile.

Drums fingers…

Anyway, I became captivated by the idea of a small, curated wardrobe of quality garments in colors, silhouettes, and fabrics I love the most. Actually my interest in things wardrobe-related goes back further than that. Since I read Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion over a year ago, I have become a much pickier fashion consumer. I am tired of cheap fabrics and  shoddy workmanship. I want properly-fitting garments that are a pleasure to wear and last longer than a year or two. Project 333 provided a framework and The Vivienne Files showed me how to select items that work well together.

I began my first Project 333 in the middle of the winter season, using clothes I already owned. Like many people, I worried I would not have enough clothes, or I would have the wrong clothes, or I would get bored with my clothes, but instead I found it a freeing and delightful experience to step into my closet and select what I wanted to wear each day. I was eager to set up my Spring, 2014 Project 333 collection for April-June. I identified a few holes in my wardrobe and filled those easily enough. When I put together my Summer, 2014 collection, I found I had many more holes. Almost everything was worn out or didn’t fit.

During these months I found myself adding other fashion advice blogs to my breakfast feedly-reading session. I got brand recommendations and style tips, and when Boden had a good sale with free shipping and free returns in early summer, I was ready to order a bunch of items to try. I was nervous to be ordering so much, knowing most or all of it would be going back. I even phoned the company to make sure they did not mind. They reassured me that they understood I would have to try a variety of styles and sizes. (They have no stores in the US.) I called it research, and it was. It occurred to me that while I was at it I should get some things from some other companies so I could compare. LL Bean always has free shipping and offers free returns to its LL Bean credit card customers. I got their credit card just for that perk and ordered from them, too. I also tried several things from Lands’ End (you can simply return unwanted merchandise to any Sears for no cost), but their quality has diminished considerably over the last few years, and I was disappointed with most of what I received from them.

After trying on all of the possibilities, making lots of notes about what worked and what did not, and analyzing my actual needs, my new-found choosiness and our budget made it relatively easy to ship nearly everything back to the companies. I believe I kept only five out of about 50 items. I felt amazed at myself for ordering so much, for spending the time to figure everything out, and for successfully getting it all sent back to the right places!

It was fun to shop, really fun, but it was over.

Except it wasn’t over. I stayed in the groove of reading fashion blogs, perusing online stores, and adding items to “my” wish lists and shopping bags. I did not spend any money, but I spent plenty of time thinking about my wardrobe. By late August, I was thinking of what I would be wearing in Autumn, 2014 and Winter, 2015. Over the last several months I had decided I wanted to stop using black as my go-to neutral and switch to navy and grey. It is the perfect time to make the change because I still need new pants and some other basics, and this is the year for both of those colors so there are lots of possibilities in the market.

How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

Planners gonna plan — Project 333 done the hard way!

I waited for the Autumn Boden and LL Bean sales and restarted my research, plus I branched out into J. Jill, Nordstrom, Ebay, and thrift stores. This time I have been shopping with xmas money “in hand.” My family is very practical about presents and I know I can spend a certain amount and get my gifts early and according to my desires. If I want to I can ask Mom to wrap some of it and then in late December “I’ll be so surprised!” when I open them — a thing we say about gifts we choose ourselves or already know about — but I think I’m old enough by now to just enjoy them all through Autumn and be pleased for all the good they’ve already done for me when others are opening gifts. As you read, I am just waiting for a couple of straggler shipments — alternate sizes, mostly — to arrive, and then I’ll make my final selections. I have already been wearing a few items I know are absolute keepers; right now I am sitting here in my living room wearing an ebay-find pair of terrific shoes.

How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

My Autumn, 2014 Project 333 Wardrobe

I have gone about this process in the way I go about any new project — with lots of musing, tables in Word (They’d be in Excel if I knew how to design them — must learn that soon!), and certainly too much of my time. Where most women find Project 333 to be a simplification tool, I have managed to take it from simple to complex. If you are looking for guilt and repentance from me, though, I am not sure I have any to offer. I do feel some chagrin, but I also know I have enjoyed delving into an area of my life that usually doesn’t get too much attention. I have learned a lot, and while I’m not certain anybody besides my daughter and my mom will notice any real difference in my appearance, I am walking with a new bounce in my step that I think comes from more than my new-old shoes.

What about you? Do you like to shop? Do you research before you buy? Do you wish to simplify your wardrobe? Does Project 333 appeal to you?


Posted in Balance, Beauty Inside and Out | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Is September Your Real New Year?

September is my unofficial New Year

Until September, 1972, I lived a contented, slow-paced life on the farm with my stay-at-home mommy and pilot daddy and little sister and baby brother. Then I went to kindergarten, and my world expanded suddenly and gloriously. The classroom was a wonder — it was decorated with large, colorful cut-outs of happy children skipping toward a red brick school building amidst the swirling, crunchy leaves under their feet. Immediately, I understood that I was one of those children who had a place to go every day and, more importantly, work to do. I intuited that there were things expected of me in this room, and every task and the materials for those tasks were organized by time and place. Here were the cubbies for our jackets. Here was the rug where we sat while the teacher read stories to us. Here was the table and my chair where I colored and cut and glued and watched with horror while the boy who sat next to me ate the paste when the teacher wasn’t looking. And best, best of all, here was the teacher’s supply closet, a wondrous construction filled with cunning compartments to hold all manner of papers and felts and streamers and stickers and delights I had never imagined could exist. When the teacher opened the door to her magical closet, I used to catch my breath. There was no telling what she might bring out, and what were we going to do next? My days in kindergarten were some of the most organized and productive of my life.

Forty-two years later, September still gives me that gift. Languid August is over, and no matter the forecast, I half-expect to wake up on the day after Labor Day to sweater weather and crunchy red and gold leaves under my feet. I am ready to re-organize whatever has become sloppy, make a fresh start, find a better routine, and be productive. Vacation is over; time to get to work.

What about you? Is September your real New Year? Do you long for a fresh start? Do you have something new to engage with this month? What’s going on in your life?

Posted in About Me, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments closed
  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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