Making work manageable

These last two weeks I’ve been working rather a lot.  The start of school is always pretty busy, and I find a lot of things other than work slip by the wayside (hence the radio silence here, and the pile of canned tomato sauce and baked beans sitting in my recycling bin).  Recently, I’ve found myself groaning a lot about work.  True, there’s a lot that needs to be done, and not all of it is completely wonderful.  But the truth is, I think my feelings about work have made the things that I have to do feel a lot worse than they actually are.

Given that I’ll be teaching more than twice as much this year as I did last year and I have brand new courses in the mix as well, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the work more manageable.  This is to help preserve my sanity, but also to make sure I have time for things that also matter a great deal.  Friends and family.  Rest and downtime.  Cooking and preserving food.  Applying for more secure jobs.

I’ve been making a list of things that have worked for me at various points in the past and that I’ve been trying to use this last week.  I thought I’d post it here as a reminder of things to do, to keep it fresh in my mind for when the work really hits.  I imagine this year will be a good test of how effective they are (or how good I am with sticking to them, I suppose), but perhaps they’ll be helpful for someone else as well.

Give up on perfection:  I am a perfectionist.  Always have been.  But trying to make something perfect takes a lot of energy, and if I put in all that time, I don’t have as much left for other, really important things that do require more time and effort and will hopefully have a much greater payoff (job applications, I’m looking at you).  And so I’m trying now to accept that some things don’t have to be perfect, and that good enough will be…well, good enough.

Don’t think about it first: this was a trick that I used when I used to run.  if I let myself think about something for too long before doing it, I can always find a way out of it, or work it up so much in my head that it’s nearly impossible to get going.  So instead, I sit down and start on whatever it is without allowing any thought in advance.  This works even better if I can prep what I need to work with ahead of time – the night before, I’ll leave the word file that needs to be edited open on the computer, or set out the papers to be graded with a pen, pencil, eraser, and calculator.

Make it pleasant: as much as possible, making work more pleasant – or, more accurately, making the place that I work more pleasant – can make a difference in how I perceive work.  Having nice candles on my desk, a cup of tea in my favourite mug, and a really nice pen make the experience of working that little bit better.

Break it up: I’m not so good at this yet, but I’m working on it.  Rather than seeing things as one monolithic thing that needs to be done, I try to see them as a series of small steps to be done one at a time.In general, dividing projects in to smaller tasks makes them a lot more approachable.  It can also feel like a lot more is getting done over time.

Make lists:  lists are great for two reasons.  First, getting things down on paper means that you don’t have to remember it, freeing up a bit more attention for what’s at hand.  No more nagging feelings of “what was that thing I had to do…?” is really very helpful.  Second, lists mean you get to check things off.  Finishing something and crossing or checking it off the list can be rewarding and pleasurable, and make you want to do more to get the feeling going.  This is especially helpful with a lot of smaller tasks (like above), because it feels like a lot is getting done.

Celebrate: okay, maybe don’t celebrate with something big every time something small gets done (although a nice celebration for the end of big projects is rather lovely), but enjoy the moment.  Have a stretch or take a walk.  Make a cup of tea or a hot chocolate.  Enjoy a chapter in the book you’re reading.  Taking the time to positively associate getting things finished with something nice can be a powerful motivator, and make it that much easier to keep up with the work.


Independence Days – August 26

For me, late August is an antsy time. (Okay, who am I kidding?  A lot of my time is antsy time, just for different reasons).  In any case, a few weeks before classes start for the fall is the time when I’m selecting readings, choosing assignments, and getting syllabi ready.  It is, I find, somewhat uncomfortable – I haven’t yet settled on everything that needs to be decided, and the start of classes feels like it’s creeping forward at a far too rapid pace.  At the same time, it’s also the start of job hunting season, and so I have a series of applications to pull together and submit that need to be dealt with too.  In short, the work-related to do list is long, and it feels like time is rather short.

This means that I tend to slow down on just about everything else at the same time, including Independence Days (except perhaps for thrift store shopping, since I usually pick up a few things to replace my clothing that has worn out or become too dirty through summer activities and wind up with a number of new and useful things).  The timing is not great, since this is the ideal time of year to be putting up food.  But I’ve had to accept that there are some other priorities that I need to work on – especially related to fulfilling work requirements and looking for a more permanent job – and that there are some things that I won’t be doing as much as I’d like.

Plant something:  As ever, more kombucha; trying out some lettuce seeds in plastic bins

Harvest something:  Mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, and borage; green peppers, sweet peppers, chard, kale, tomatoes, and lettuce

Preserve something:  Dried herbs; refrigerator pickles

Waste not: Made a whole lot of thrift store purchases this last week (thanks, in part, to the big back to school 50 percent off sale at the large local store) including nine books (Girl in the Kitchen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jams, Jellies, and Preserves, Food Rules, The Worst Hard Time, A Brief History of Time, Made from Scratch, The Family Fang, Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and a nice edition of The Grapes of Wrath), a large round casserole dish (for use as a bread bowl), a cow-shaped creamer (a long-held but rather frivolous desire), three pairs of pants, a t-shirt, two pairs of boots, one pair of shoes, two throw pillows with shams, a tomato presser, santoku knife, glass jar with spigot, honey pot with dipper, Le Parfair jar, plaid wool blanket, spice rack with jars, oven mitt, quilter’s pencil, bag of beeswax votive candles, and four candle holders – the grand total was $84, and now I I’m looking forward to doing even more of a serious clean out to make room and keep things under control around here; added two more boxes to the donation pile

Want not:  Organized the large closet and the front hall closet for better food storage; stocked up on books and clothing for back to school and the coming months (I’m hoping for more time at home when I’m not teaching, especially time spent reading on the couch and cooking)

Eat the food:  Many salads, sandwiches (tuna on multigrain, cheese on whole wheat), oatmeal, pasta with veggies, frittata, fajitas, fish and chips, soup, dried and fresh fruit

Build community food systems:  Nothing this week

Skill up:  Getting back into knitting (I’m working on a wool log-cabin blanket); still playing the guitar and making a bit of my own music; reading up on different approaches for making bread, and especially wholegrain options

Get healthy:  Working on the cholesterol-improving healthy eating plan; regular bike rides, walks, and yoga; nightly meditation; extra sleep

This week’s to-do list:

  • can one thing that’s currently stashed in the freezer or reading to pick from outside (yep, this one’s still on the list)
  • add another box of stuff to the donation pile (still aiming for at least one per week)
  • finish course prep so I can stop thinking about it
  • apply for two jobs

Thrift scores

Sometimes, I go to the thrift store, and there’s nothing there that’s on my list, and nothing that’s all that interesting to me.  In those cases, I usually don’t walk out with anything anymore, since I’m trying to simplify things around here.

But then sometimes, I stop by, and when I walk in and it’s like the stars have aligned and the heavens have opened and the most awesome stuff is right there and waiting (sadly, no auras or halos of light though).  And then, after a good browse, I walk out with one of these, because I was looking for a new knife:

And one of these for kombucha:

And one of these for tomatoes, which I have been wanting for quite awhile now:

Grand total?  $15.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good month for thrift things (more on that in my Independence Days update).  Once September and the start of school roll around my time’s going to be a good deal more limited, so I’m doing a bit of second-hand shopping now to pick up the things that I need and want.  I’ve wanted a few things to build up my work wardrobe, and managed to get some nice jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, and boots for only a few dollars each.  I’ve added a few bits and pieces to the kitchen as well, and found a few books that I’ve had my eye out for. It’s taken a bit of time, and a bit of money of course, but overall I’m pleased with my purchases, and looking forward to making room and clearing out the non-essentials to make way for these useful things.

Independence Days – August 19

Other than preserving some additional food, I did pretty well on last week’s goals.  It was a weird week health-wise, and a busy week work-wise, but I’ve managed to do a lot of work on cleaning up and clearing out the kitchen, making more room for food storage, eating from our food storage, and just generally get domestic things a bit more in order as the new school year approaches and my free time continues to dwindle.  That said, I’d like to figure out some ways to keep up with food production, preservation, and storage through the winter, if possible – it’s something that I think so important that it really should be part of my schedule rather than an after thought, or something that gets relegated to “free time”.

Plant something:  A few late lettuce and kale; two batches of kombucha now that the mother’s started producing babies

Harvest something:  As always, mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, borage, and violet; green peppers, sweet peppers, chard, kale, and tomatoes; was hoping for zucchini, but someone or something seems to have walked off with those from our community garden plot (this is in addition to our missing tomatoes, peppers, and radishes)

Preserve something:  Still drying a lot of herbs; still behind in terms of actual preserving – a batch of pickles didn’t turn out well, and the kitchen’s been in such a shambles that I haven’t yet done the jam or salsa that I wanted, but we’re working on getting things cleared out and in order, and at adding in an extra work surface in there, since there’s so little space to work.

Waste not:  Thrift store purchases have totaled five books (Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, Fragile Things, Smoke and Mirrors (love Neil Gaiman’s work), Irish Sagas and Folktales, and Wherever You Go, There You Are), a fine mesh strainer (for jelly, I hope), jeans, and yoga pants, since it seems like my wardrobe is giving up all at once; delivered a bag of donations to the thrift store; continued adding more to the donation pile; working on a food inventory system to keep track of what’s where and needs to be used up

Want not:  Stocked up on 16 pounds of lentils; working on figuring out better ways of creating and using storage, as well as assessing what needs to be store and would be useful to have versus what can do to make more room

Eat the food:  Lots of salads, frittata, shakshuka, fish and homefries, tuna on multigrain bread, steel cut oats, granola, various versions of vegetable soup including homemade minestrone and creamy broccoli with splitpea and sweet potato

Build community food systems:  Nothing this week

Skill up:  Some knitting here and there; playing the guitar and trying to figure out how to make my own music

Get healthy:  Received a measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis B vaccination; had a blood test; found out about slightly elevated cholesterol levels that are now being dealt with; currently developing a cholesterol-improving healthy eating plan; regular bike rides, walks, and yoga; nightly meditation

This week’s to-do list:

  • can one thing that’s currently stashed in the freezer
  • add one more box of stuff to the donation pile (aiming for one per week)
  • clear out and clean front hall closet
  • keep up with the new and improved eating plan
  • declutter cookbooks
  • bake something – I’d like to figure out some healthy treats to make at home

Minor health concern

Recently, I’ve had a number of health-related things to do, and a few tests were on that list.  A few days ago, I got the email.  The one from the information nurse saying that someone at my doctor’s office needed to talk with me.  The one with the subject line that might as well say, “Prepare to freak out, frail human”.

It took a long time and an eventual trip to campus, but I finally got in touch with the information nurse, who told me that my cholesterol was off.  This was better news than my runaway imagination was expecting, given that it had over three hours to ponder the possibilities and had finished with all of the reasonable options within the first half hour and had moved to the progressively scarier options.  Trouble is, the information nurse didn’t actually have that much information beyond her pronouncement that “something is not quite right”.  She had some numbers, but the not the ratio or any of the important details on what exactly was the problem, and she didn’t know how to calculate them out or figure out where the problem was.  She suggested a low-far diet and exercise, but when I explained that I was already on top of those things, she didn’t have anything esle to suggest.  So, that was about as helpful as you’d imagine, and I was left largely to my own devices.  On the up side, I’ll be talking to my doctor soon to work out a plan and get more details, which I hope will help.

In general, this is a bit frustrating.  Admittedly, my parents both have slightly high cholesterol, and genetics play a huge role in cholesterol.  But I eat well, and I exercise regularly, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke, and I’m reasonably young.  Basically, I do all of the things you’re supposed to do to keep your cholesterol low, and mine’s just…not.  It’s more than likely genetics, but this is a concern since I’m going to need to figure out what needs to be done to improve my results when most of the standard advice is stuff that I already do.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a few steps on my own.  I’ve added omega 3 and 6 supplements to my diet and will be eating a bit more fish.  I’m increasing my fiber intake, especially soluble fiber which helps to reduce bad cholesterol.  This means steel cut oats every morning, a veggie-and-legume soup for lunch, and extra nuts, seeds, and fruits and vegetables every day.  I’m drinking more green tea.  And I’m making sure I get in some exercise absolutely every day.

Happily, none of these changes require any great sacrifice – at most, they demand a bit of extra planning for things like making oats ahead of time, or soaking beans for the next day’s lunch.  They’re also not that expensive – most of the food I already had, and picking up some extra seeds, green tea, and dried fruit didn’t add much to the grocery bill for the week.  I did need to pick up the supplements, but they were on sale.  But even if they weren’t, I think it’s worth spending a bit of money to try and get this under control now before it turns into a bigger issue down the road.  It’s certainly not ideal, but things could be much worse.  After all, this is something that should be manageable once we figure out what my body needs and how best to keep this under control.

Despite my frustration and concern, I’m actually a bit…well, glad.  I’ve recently been talking about stepping up how I take care of my health, and this seems like a good way to get that going.  I’ve taken the last few days to read up more on whole foods recipes in general – Nourishing Traditions, Laurel’s Kitchen, and Super Natural Cooking were a great help – and I have some more ideas about recipes to try and things to incorporate.  I’ve had an easier time saying “no” to the things I shouldn’t be doing, and I’ve been better about making healthy choices in terms of what I eat and how I exercise.  Basically, I’m stepping up the things I already do, and the things that I’m adding are really things I should do anyway.  This is the direction I wanted to go.  Now I just have a more pressing reason to do so, and a bit more motivation to keep on track.

Independence Days – August 12

I suppose I should be used to it by now.  This has been another week in which I wish I’d done more.  But it’s starting to feel like that will always be the case.  There will always be more to do, and sometimes some things will have to slide a bit.  It’s simply not possible to do it all, as much as I’d like to.  And so, here’s what I’ve actually done this week.

Plant something:  More lettuce, kale, and chard; another batch of kombucha

Harvest something:  As always, mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, borage, and violet; green peppers, sweet peppers, chard, kale, and tomatoes

Preserve something:  I’ve been drying a lot of herbs, but I’m still far behind where I’d like to be on this – there’s so much frozen in the freezer that I need to get through, and I’d still like to do sauce, pickles, and a whole bunch of other things (honestly, it makes me anxious just thinking about it, especially when this is such a busy month in terms of prepping for the new school year)

Waste not:  Recently I’ve been heading to the thrift store with fall and winter on my mind (both in terms of clothes for teaching in and keeping warm) – thrift store purchases have included four books (Perfect Preserves, Moosewood Desserts, the Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook, and Gentlemen of the Road), flannel pants, a wool sweater, shearling slippers, two pairs of wool socks, a pair of jeans, and a wonderful Canadian made pottery mug with my favourite lava glaze; delivered two boxes and two bags of donations to the thrift store; continued adding more to the donation pile

Want not:  Stocked up on potting soil (for indoor micro-greens this winter), rice, oats, sugar, tinned tomatoes, tuna, pasta, toothbrushes, floss, and soap; replaced a few first aid kit items; still working on organizing and decluttering the apartment – clearing out closet space for more food and tool storage, and working to get the kitchen sorted and rearranged to make food-related activities like canning and baking bread easier and more efficient

Eat the food:  Lots of salads, eggs, fish with homefries, shakshuka, eggs and bacon, tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, kombucha, thai shrimp curry

Build community food systems:  Shopped at the farmers’ market; traded pepper for some tomatoes with someone from the community garden; went to a small local eco-event

Skill up: I’ve been slow on this – course prep and apartment cleaning have taken over most of the things I’ve been working on, but I hope to be back to them soon – I now have a fantastic knitting guide and I’d like to learn the principles of knitting, rather than just following patterns

Get healthy:  Lots of walking and biking (which also saves on transit costs); working on meditation and mindfulness; went to the dentist for a cleaning and exam; received a tetanus, polio, and diphtheria vaccination booster

This week’s to-do list:

  • can one thing that’s currently in the freezer
  • add one more box of stuff to the donation pile
  • clear a full shelf in the closet for food storage
  • pick up plastic bins for growing micro-greens this winter
  • organize beans into use-first order
  • cook one meal with beans and rice
  • update measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine

Preventative medicine

Yesterday, I went to the dentist (I was originally supposed to go for sushi, but there was an appointment free so I went, although the dentist was kind of a downgrade).  This isn’t really news in and of itself, but every time I go, as I’m sitting in the waiting room, I make myself a promise that this year, I will be better about doing all the things that you’re supposed to do to prevent health problems.  Unfortunately, this is a promise that I’m kind of lousy at keeping.  I don’t floss enough, I don’t always eat as well as I could, and really, there are all kinds of things that I know I could do more or better to make sure I stay healthier longer.  I’d really like that promise to myself to stick a bit more.

I’ve long favoured preventative medicine before things get bad over reactive medicine to deal with issues that have already cropped up (often not wholly effectively or without serious side effects).  I’d rather eat well, exercise, and take care of myself now than have to deal with any of a multitude of scary medical issues and procedures down the road.  Plus, as of next month I’ll be on a much more restrictive and much more costly extended health plan, so I’d like to do as much as possible to prevent any health issues before they start.  And, as a bonus, many good health practices wind up being a lot less expensive than drugs and other medical treatment, although they may cost a little bit of money up front.

I don’t want to overburden myself, so the plan is to work on and add in a few things at a time and try to keep at them until they become healthy habits.  Up first: flossing, dry brushing, five servings of veggies, and eight glasses of water per day.  There are already a lot of veggies in the fridge.  Today, I bought a brush to dry brush my skin (supposedly good for the circulation) and a new, Canadian-made, natural ingredient, low-toxicity cleanser. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up more dental floss and mouthwash so we have a supply at home.

In some ways, I think I’m doing okay for myself.  I get a lot of exercise from walking, biking, and gardening.  I eat pretty well, with a fair amount of veggies and not a lot of highly processed food.  I sleep okay, and I’m working on more meditation and yoga to try to relax a bit more.  I rarely go to the doctor, don’t take any health-related medication, and don’t even get sick all that often.  I’m even growing some different plants with medicinal properties that I’m looking forward to figuring out how to use for good health.  But things could be better, and I’d really like to work on getting there.  I have a vision in my head of health that is is more vibrant, energetic, and happy than I currently am.  And that alone is worth putting in a bit of extra work to develop some healthier long-term habits.