1. Date nights with the kids. On Mondays, after dinner, either my husband or I take out one of the three older kids. It is a rotating schedule for the kids and alternates between the two parents. Dates start when dinner is over and finish…whenever. This is a good one for all of the obvious reasons- one on one time with our kids, a chance to connect, etc etc.
My dates tend to be pretty simple- usually the library and Sweet Frogs, or something like that. My husband is more creative- bike rides around town or a hike using the headlamps, for example. Tonight I will take Monkey to the Dollar Tree to shop for his siblings and us for Christmas. (He is using his own money…hence the Dollar Tree). Once I took Chicken to her sitters’ house for our date night. She (Joanna) lives with a bazillion other UVA roommates and they have an electronic piano keyboard. Chicken declared it the “best date ever”. Win!
2. Monday dinner guest(s). Sometime at the end of last year we started inviting people over for Monday night dinners. The kids help make the meal and set the table and we talk ahead of time about who is coming and how to be good hosts. We really geek it out- I have the kids act out good ways to greet a guest and bad ways to greet a guest. We practice asking questions and being good listeners. And so on.
The menu is often the same- spaghetti and meatballs- because everyone likes it. There’s no energy spent on “yes, you have to eat one bite” and that whole thing.
The weird part of this is that- I’m just going to say it- we rarely invite families over. I know! In an ideal world we would, and the kids would scamper delightfully underfoot while the adults laugh heartily and drink red wine under the cafe lights we have strung up on the patio. The reality is…whatever you picture when there are seven kids under the age of seven. Mayhem. Conversations that start and get interrupted. My kids getting more and more hyper and loud. Very little of them being involved in the dinner because they are, understandably, having too much fun with the other kids.
So- I awkwardly explain that we would love to have you over. Just you.
I dunno. It works for us, at this stage. And if you are someone who does enjoy having a family of six over for dinner, please tell me your secrets.
Happy you are still reading!
3. A book journal. I saw this first here and adopted it mid-Septemeber. I don’t rate the books or anything. Just record them. It’s gratifying to see the list get longer. I’ve read 17 books since September!
4. Regular sleep hours and waking up before my kids. For me, this means 10-6:00. (Earlier than a few years ago, when I tried this for a month!). I have a reminder on my phone to move toward bed at 9:00 and to turn off all screens at 9:30 (which helps me add to #3- more time to read!)
I have had a couple of bouts of depression this year and sleep is usually a contributing factor. A few good nights’ sleep does wonders. Remember- going to bed early is the new sleeping in.
5. Meal planning. I know. So boring. And yet so helpful. Right now, I know what we are eating for dinner for the next few months. For some people this is constricting. For me this spells F-R-E-E-D-O-M.
This idea came courtesy of my husband. This fall he was ready to go to the grocery store for us and heard- one again- that I was not ready with the grocery list because I had not picked out dinners for the week. Cue the angst and self-pity. I don’t know- sometimes that is how I feel when I am in charge of something I do not enjoy. My husband handed me some notecards with his meal system that he had been trying to convince me of for quite a while. This time, I listened.
I looked through my recipe box and pulled out 12 recipes that fit my criteria: easy, and liked by enough members of the family to create an enjoyable mealtime experience. I allocated three of the 12 meals to each week, for four weeks. On the fifth week I start all over. Each week gets a notecard and I rotate them front to back. I also have a notecard with our typical weekly staples- milk, eggs, Greek yogurt, Cheez-its, etc. The grocery list is easy because I am not doing a full food inventory every week.
Why three dinners? Because one night both of us work late and the kids have pasta or mac and cheese with the sitter, Friday’s we usually eat out, Saturdays are leftovers, and Sunday is milkshake night.
I mostly picked recipes I can freeze. If I have to chop veggies and measure stuff for a dinner, I may as well triple it and freeze two extra dinners. I do not really enjoy cooking a ton, so I do it in big spurts and then coast on the freezer meals for days at a time. I roast veggies on the side and add rolls or cornbread and that’s it. I love it.
Thank you, dear husband, for persisting with this idea. It is totally working for me.
Steering confidently into 2016.
6. A set work schedule that includes breaks. I have worked part time since I’ve had kids, but this is the first year I have incorporated breaks into my work day. Game changer! Before, I would schedule all of my meetings back to back to minimize the amount of childcare I was using. That changed this spring.
The catalyst was when my husband came home one evening and told me about lunch that day with so and so. I was completely, totally jealous. The luxury of lunch with a friend- uninterrupted, no kids, and no babysitter on the clock at home- I mean…I was bowled over.
So now I make breaks a part of my work day. I decided not to use the time to do anything home-related (if you catch me at Kroger on a Wednesady afternoon you can tackle me and throw me out of the store). Instead I use the time to read for work, enjoy a meal, or bother a coworker with witty banter when they are trying to get stuff done. I am paying more for childcare than ever, but we love our sitter so it feels like a win all the way around.
So. There you have it. What worked for me in 2015.
You know what has not worked for me in 2015? This slow iPad! 2016 might be the year of the upgrade.
What has worked for you this year? I am all ears. Also- thoughts on inviting one person, and not an entire family with small children, to dinner? I know it is weird. And your children are delightful. But…still…