Don’t put your life on hold

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This picture will forever make me laugh.  It was taken two years ago, on a crazy-long (over 24 hours) trip back to the US.  It was our yearly winter visit, and for some reason everything on this trip went wrong: flat tires, delayed flights, missed flights, you name it. But what’s so funny about this picture  (besides my sad/disgusted/hilarious expression) is that my then-20-month-old daughter is sleeping soundly under the airport chairs.

Yep.  Her sweet, healthy, clean little body is laying on the floor under the nasty, dirty, I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what’s-under-there, airport waiting chairs.  I remember resorting to this after she had been awake for some ridiculous number of hours, and this was the only way we could make a dark enough environment for her to fall asleep.

I laugh because this picture captures what travel seems to do to our family.  For some reason, time stops, reality stops, and a strange survival mentality of ‘anything goes’ starts to emerge.  By around hour eighteen I find myself saying things like, “sure honey, go ahead and eat the raisin that dropped on the airplane floor, that’s fine” or “just let her sleep on the floor” or “I say we buy one of those oversized M&Ms bags for $20 and eat it in one sitting.” Gross, right?  I’m actually a very clean and organized mom, but for some reason when the stresses of travel start to wear on me, I seem to slip into a strange ‘anything goes’ mode.

 Have you ever felt like this?  A season where time just stops and it seems your idea of ‘normal’ life is on hold?

I remember reading an article on the pressures of a being a ‘caregiver’ to someone, either as a family member or as a career.  What struck me about the article was that the best caregivers were the ones who don’t put their own lives on hold in order to care for the life of the other.  It’s one thing (and such a incredible sacrifice) to give up everything for a sick family member and become their carer every waking moment.  But I suppose it’s another thing (and incredibly hard) to care for someone constantly, while at the same time trying to maintain a healthy sense of one’s own life as well.  I think I face the second kind of struggle with parenting.  And similarly, I’m convinced that I’m a better mother to my daughter when I set aside time to take care of myself, or to be involved in areas of interest outside our family circle –basically, when I don’t wear my ‘mom hat’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I feel like we’ve touched on this topic on TGW a few times, but as the new term is kicking off and we have some new readers, I just want to encourage you not to let time stop while your spouse or partner is in graduate school.  It’s a strange, isolating, and sometimes confusing time, but don’t give up your entire life in supporting your partner in his or hers.  If you’ve made career sacrifices by moving to a new place, start work as soon as you are able, or volunteer or take some classes on a new or old hobby.  Over and again, people have shared with me that a part of their dreams died when they signed on to be a supporter through grad school for their significant other.  Don’t do it!  Let the dreams take new shapes and avenues, but don’t let them die, and don’t put them on hold too long.

And don’t ever buy the $20 bag of M&Ms – it’s so not worth it! :)

-M.C.

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Getting Your Hands Dirty

working with hands

Here’s the thing: I’m cool with not knowing where we might end up in two years when the PhD is over.  I’m cool with an academic wife’s life, or even the chance of not being an academic’s wife if my husband’s career path turns.  But what I’m not cool with is a life in academia (or any other job for that matter) that sticks my husband in front of a computer screen allllllll day long doing research.  Sigh…I know there’s not a way around that these days, but after our first year of PhD research, I realized that something needed to change.  I was not cool with him coming home exhausted from straining and staring, and totally spent due to the mental stress of being on a computer 24-7.

Don’t get me wrong – I love working on the computer.  I’m even a graphic designer on the side; there is, however, no denying that there is a profound difference between holding a knitting needle, a wooden spoon, a paint brush, a screwdriver, a garden hoe, and a musical instrument, on the one hand, and putting one’s fingers to a keyboard, on the other. Both can produce amazing results, but only one can give you something to touch, to eat, and to rip up. There’s a sense in which engaging with the tools of craftsmanship forces the artist into a relationship with creation. Conversely, could it be the case that typing on a computer all day fosters isolation from the world?

From what we have experienced, working on the ever-evolving and translucent (almost imaginary) world of PhD research can certainly leave you feeling disconnected from the tangible, material world around you. It can often leave you exhausted and frustrated because of the hard work necessary to produce something invisible, something that can never be held in your hands (until it is printed on paper).

Over the past few years of grad school we’ve noticed this tension, and as you can tell from my rant above, we desperately needed to do something about it. We started asking, ‘how can we make this PhD process more humane, more liveable, more energizing?  Put more simply, how do we avoid letting my husband become drained from his research?

Here are a few of our attempts at answering that question:

We started with a ‘makeshift’ workshop.  My husband has always liked bikes and taking care of them, so we’ve collected quite a few used bikes in our tiny garage.  They are great for when friend’s come to town or if a friend here needs an extra to borrow.  He spends time fixing these bikes up and then selling them off again, and he even offers to help fix friends’ bikes as well.  It’s not a weekly thing or even a monthly thing (although I know he wishes it was), but it’s a start.  The tools and set-up are there.  It’s a chance to connect to something tangible, to feel a sense of accomplishment by seeing a task come to completion.

Cooking is another area in which we have tried to foster this idea.  Anyone who has known me longer than seven months would probably share that I was a pretty average cook.  And I must confess (to my sister-in-law’s dismay) I used to buy fajita/chilli/taco/cous cous pre-made spice mix packs.  I was that kind of cook, even though there is nothing inherently wrong with the method.  I just wasn’t an adventurer in the kitchen.  Due to some health issues I’ve touched on before, we decided to go gluten-free and dairy-free.  It’s become absolutely therapeutic to dive into the joys of cooking.  Maybe my friend Laura will share a bit more on that one day, but for now, let me just say that cooking is powerful and healthy for one’s soul.  It’s real, gritty, messy, savory, satisfying and incredibly intimate when shared.  My husband and I definitely don’t cook together every night, but when we do (or when we make dessert, which is more often the thing we create together) it’s cathartic and stress-releasing and freeing.  And it’s so rewarding to see and enjoy the result of your hard labor -only a few minutes later.

And music: an art of creating something beautiful from nothing.  We cherish taking time to close out the virtual world and listen to the stillness and the rhythms around us, to create order and harmony.  I make us sound like aspiring composers.  Very far from it, but the small act of buying a keyboard for our living room has been incredible (I know design friends would find it an eyesore, but I am working on a cute skirt for it).  Digital, I know. I wish we had room for a real piano. Regardless, it is inspiring and cathartic to sit down and conjure up tunes. I’ve watched my husband unwind as he starts playing something for my daughter, and it has provided us with hours of helpful stress release.

I share this in the hopes of helping someone out there with the almost anchorless reality that the PhD can sometimes bring.  We’ve found ways to find fulfillment and satisfaction, and a bit of stability, in a few of the ideas shared above.  We’ve found that making time to engage the material world brings us back to reality and takes the microscope off ourselves and our research.  So, if you find yourself in a place like we were, and you need a balance of hands-on, real world craftsmanship to pair with your mental exercise, perhaps finding your inner artist through a tactile hobby is your answer.

-M.C.

What Does a Balanced Life Look Like? Part VII (your average day)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is the last section of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!


6) What is an average day like for you?  Do you wake up before the kids? How do you handle that “It’s 5pm and my child is hungry but I am cooking” time of day? What aspects of your days energize you and add fun to life? Do you do home-related things while your kids are awake or wait until naptime? When you need to distract your kids while you tackle something, what things work for you to do the distracting–playdough, kids DVDs, favorite toys? 

  • I do try to clean etc while our son is napping. It doesn’t always work out like that, but I’d rather be doing something fun while he’s awake, then have him be bored (he gets majorly destructive when he’s bored). Obviously, there are times when that cannot be avoided, so that’s when I let him watch Thomas the Train or Chuggington…which is a treat. Recently, I’ve also found that if I’m including him in with what I’m doing – moving groceries in from the pram, allowing him to help me cook – he’s much happier. Yes, it takes 3 times as long, but he’s learning in the process, so I think it’s a win-win for us all. On most days. :)
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  • Hmmm. . . average day. Usually, our daughter wakes at about 6 AM, and my husband gets her up and plays with her for the first hour or so of the day. He is also able to check email, make coffee and plan his day at this time. I get up and eat breakfast with them and our daughter then takes a morning nap, so I usually use this time to catch up on emails, plan/prepare the meal for that night (which is my greatest strategy for the whole ‘it’s 5 PM, and our daughter has had enough’ experience) and clean. When she gets up, we try to go do something (Monday Mums, open air market, flea market, go for a run, playground, etc.). Then, I get her back around 12 or so for lunch and a second nap. The timing of the second nap is good for phone calls to the US. And I can clean and organize while I talk. My mom is often asking, “What is that noise?” :) My daughter and I sometimes go out and do something after her second nap, which usually is just a walk or a run or something. Then, my husband comes home and plays with her while I either run or cook dinner. He tries to be home by around 5 or 5:30, which is sometimes pushed back due to various obligations (I am often annoyed with the meetings that are scheduled right at 5:30 or 6 – do people at the university have families?).
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  • A typical day for us usually looks like this…(i say ‘usually’ because things are always changing when you have a toddler and a husband in a demanding program).  My husband gets up with our son around 7/7:30am.  I stay in bed a little longer then get up and take a shower/get ready.  If it’s a work-out day I sleep longer and take a shower later in the day.  My husband leaves or starts working by 8/8:30 and I play with our son then get him dressed.  Then we go out for our morning errands, Mon. Mums, etc. by 9:30am.  He loves a change of scenery so he does pretty well in the stroller…but  I always make sure I have snacks!  We are home around 11:30/12:00.  We eat lunch and I try to clean up right away.  Luke goes down for a nap around 12:30 and sleeps until about 2:30/3:00.  During that time I workout, do laundry, catch up on emails, blog, listen to sermons, read, clean, try to relax for a bit, etc…When he wakes up from his nap I give him a snack, we play for a bit, then I get him ready to go outside (which takes a while, but it’s getting better).  I like to be out from about 3:30ish-5:00ish( again…depending on the weather).  We go to the park or play around our college…see the ducks in the pond, play at the playground, run on the grass, play in our courtyard.  We are back home around 5pm and I feed him dinner.  I usually feed him the left overs from the night before so I can get him started right away and start cooking for my husband and me.  If I have to prepare him something I usually start him on fruit or crackers to hold him over.  If he’s being really fussy I’ll put Sesame Street or a video on for him.  My husband usually gets home around 5:30, plays with our son, and starts him in his bath.  I try to finish up the meal, do the dishes, and meet them in the bathroom.  Our son loves his bath so it’s always a really fun time for our family.  We always have a lot of laughs so I don’t like to miss it!  Then we get his pj’s on and eat dinner in our living room so that Luke can play while we eat.  We play, give Luke his milk, read books, and sing songs.  Some evenings we Skype with family and friends around this time.  Our son goes to bed around 7:30pm.  My husban and I then spend from 7:30-9:30pm together.  Then I get ready for bed and read or go on the computer.  I try to be asleep by 10:30/11:00pm.
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  • I’ve been waking up before my daughter (7:00ish) but almost always stay in bed as long as she – or the day’s schedule – will allow.   We try to eat dinner around 5:30.  When my daughter gets hungry (as she inevitable will) I tell her that we are going to have dinner very soon but that if she is very very hungry she may have 3 (or whatever number) breadsticks or carrot sticks or grapes (or whatever) but only 3. Then I have her count them out.  (I used to do it for her – obviously.)  When she finishes them and asks for more I remind her of what I said before and say something like, “You already has some carrots.  Remember, you were very very hungry so I told you that you could have 3 carrots and then we counted them out, 1, 2, 3.  Remember?  Weren’t those yummy carrots?!  You ate them all up!  Good job!!  We’re going to have some dinner in just a little bit and then we can eat some more!”  It doesn’t mean she won’t still whine for snacks, but it’s important for her to know that A.) she can wait, that B.) I am a woman of my word, and that C.) the world does not revolve around her.  Plus I don’t want to spoil her appetite for dinner.  If left to her own devices she would eat nothing but pretzels for days!  Of course it helps if my husband is here and can be reading with her in the living room or can be outside with her or whatever, but that’s not always possible. Also, I try to do as much prep beforehand as possible (like during her nap or) even days before.  Like if I have 2 different chicken dishes that week, I might cook up all the chicken on one day so it’s ready to go the next time I need it.  Or grate enough cheese to last me all week or slice some of the veggies I’ll need for dinners that week on Sunday night and then just use them as I need them throughout the week.    I am currently loving gardening and am so glad to have a bit of a yard this year.  I am wanting to sew more.  I love taking our daughter to the library to pick out and discover new books together – we go to the Rhyme Time almost every week (Wednesday, 10:30 – 11am, central library) and then we go to the outdoor market to pick up fresh produce.  She really loves the library and I really love the market!  I’m also enjoying engaging with the very lonely old woman across the street… it takes so little to brighten her day and by extension to make mine feel a bit more significant. Do you do home-related things while your kids are awake or wait until naptime? Both, but no strong chemicals while my daughter is nearby.  She loves to help (I give her a clean cloth to wipe the sink while I’m cleaning the tub or a small hand broom and dustpan while I’m using the big broom.)  When you need to distract your kids while you tackle something, what things work for you–playdough, kids DVDs, favorite toys?  I just never know what’s going to grab her attention.  A video will almost always work but we don’t have many that will play on my computer so that doesn’t work while my husband is gone with his.  She’s always been a pretty independent player and so I usually wait until I see that she is already happily engaged in an activity and then I seize the moment to tackle something off my list.
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  • No, I don’t wake up before the kids and I am so over trying to make that happen! I absolutely love having the kids wake up at 7 (the boys have their own clocks now and aren’t allowed out of their rooms until 7) and then come pile in bed with us. It is one of my favorite times of the day. In fact, some days I do wake up and exercise early (usually Mondays and sometimes Wed) and I find that I really miss our snuggle time. What aspects of your days energize you and add fun to life?  Making my kids feel special, making our home a warm, friendly place, connecting with my husband, having a good conversation with a friend…all these things give me energy.  Do you do home-related things while your kids are awake or wait until naptime?  I’m a little old-school here, but I like for my kids to know that they are not the center of the universe and that I have lots of other things to do in addition to caring for and playing with them. I found (when the kids were young) that if I gave them 20-30 minutes of my undivided attention, then I could realistically ask for them to play on their own for at least that same amount of time. Playing on their own is a great skill for kids to learn. And they have to learn it the hard way….by doing it! My daughter is 3 now and can play on her own for an hour at time. And the boys can go for longer than that! So all that to say, I do house work and other responsibilities while the kids are awake and save their nap time as ‘my time’.

7) What are the ways you inject humor into your life and get some good laughs? :)

  • My ridiculously entertaining 2 year old and youtube keep me smiling.
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  • I find that my son is always making me laugh.  I love acting silly with him and making him laugh.  It’s especially fun to see my husband be silly with him since he’s usually so shy and reserved with everyone else.  We love listening to music and dancing around our flat.  My husband and I love to watch comedy sit-coms.  Some of our favorites that always make us laugh are Modern Family, The Office, Better With You, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory, and Parenthood(this one also makes me cry every time…it’s my favorite show!).  It’s fun to watch them together and most of them are only like 20 minutes since there are no commercials.
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  • When we really need a laugh, we watch WipeOut.  (Or look at our budget.  Ha!)
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  • My daugher! That child cracks me up. My husband and I also love joking about the English. We must laugh at least once a day about some way that they are so very different from us! They surprise us regularly! And I love them for it! :)

What Does a Balanced Life Look Like? Part VI (Fanning the flame)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part VI of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!


5) Part of a balanced marriage means allowing for time alone with your spouse to connect and share experiences together.  How do you spend time with your husbands in the midst of their intense studying/working schedules?  What are some big and little ways you connect and keep the flame alive?

  • Spending time with husbands – I don’t know if anyone else can relate, but my husband is a massive perfectionist, and would work 12-16 hour days if I’d allow it. But, all that to say, we’re both fairly independent people, so most of the time, I don’t mind him working so much. However, sometimes, it does get to be a bit too much; but luckily, we’re both fairly astute at identifying it. We tend to spend most of the day on Sundays together, and once a week, we try to do something together like watch a movie, take a long walk, etc. Other than that, having dinner at night and fun emails and texts throughout the day is the way I feel connected to him. We try to do a date night once a month too, which I’ve found helps. When he does have a big deadline looming, I tend to give him his space, and let him do what he needs to do, so he’s not receiving any added pressure from me. I do find that during that time, it’s really difficult for me, because I often feel like a single parent. But, I also realize it’s only for a short season.
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  • My husband and I spend time each night after our daughter is in bed (usually around 7:30ish). However, there are times when he’ll have collections/tutorial essays to mark for the next morning or a lecture to prepare. And Saturdays are workdays for him, though they are ‘flexible’. He works from home, and we do something together as a family either in the morning or afternoon. Sundays are family days. Breakfasts and dinners are good times for us to connect, too.
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  • During the week my husband and I spend from about 7:30-9:30pm together.  We enjoy watching a show on our computer, talking, reading the bible, etc.  On days when he is going to be home after 6pm he tries to eat lunch at home so that he can see our son and we can have a little time together.  We are very blessed because he gets to eat lunch at home about three out of five days.  Saturdays he usually works part of the day and the other half we do something fun as a family.  Sundays he usually takes off most of the day.  There have been the dreaded weeks when he’s been working a ton and we don’t see each other as much.  Those weeks are hard usually because our toddler is a lot of work when you have him 24-7 on your own…I think all toddlers are!  But my husband will usually make it up to me by watching him one afternoon so I can have some “me” time.  What’s worked best for us is always talking about our needs and expectations, and compromising.
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  • Ever since my husband began graduate work (2006!) we have worked VERY hard at treating his studies as a job.  It’s 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday for him.  That way when he comes home he is a dad/husband and not a 24-hour student who is taking a short intermission to tuck his kid into bed. (That wouldn’t be fair to any of us.)  The truth is, once we leave school, life isn’t going to slow down and get easier.  There aren’t going to be less pressures on his/our time and energy.   The truth is, there is ALWAYS going to be more to read, research, study, write, DO. Everything isn’t going to magically become perfect once this grad school phase is over.  So for me, it’s important that we work hard to maintain a healthy (for us) work/school/job balance NOW and make it a habit.  And because of this, (I believe) he is more disciplined/focused during the days.  That’s not to say he doesn’t work some nights and weekends or that he doesn’t send emails in the evenings or cram in some more latin homework the night before class – he does.  Believe me, he does.  It’s just the exception and not the rule.  This commitment frees our nights/weekends up to play games, bake cookies, work in the garden, watch our favorite TV shows online, go punting, take our daughter on outings, do crosswords, etc.   Some nights we just sit next to each other on the couch reading and on those nights, while I’m reading some riveting novel, he will most often choose a book for school.  Which is fine – because we’re both reading.  But there’s not much of a worse feeling (to me) than when your husband has been away from you all day reading books at the library and then he comes home and he would rather keep reading those same books night after night after night than spend time with you.  I hate feeling like I have to either A.) Reluctantly DRAG him away from his books or B.) Live my life alone.  The truth is, I WANT him to like what he does.  I’m GLAD he loves his work.  I just want him to show that he likes me (and our family) more.  So his efforts to stick to an 8 to 5 schedule helps maintain my sanity and makes me much more gracious and supportive when working hours must be expanded (for whatever reason.)
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  • Well said above… things aren’t going to get easier once PhD is over and hubby has a job. If anything, from our experience, it is just the opposite! It only gets busier and more pressure packed once they have a job. My husband has been so good at setting boundaries for work. I am very thankful for this. There was a time during his first masters (in the States when there was tons of coursework) that I had day dreams of putting his computer in the bathtub and then just smashing it to bits! :) We’re in a much better place now, and it started when he was doing his PhD and we’ve carried that through. We connect by having dinner together as a family every night. He always does the dishes (I cook, he does the dishes) and then we put the kids to bed together. We’ve always said, our favorite time of the day is when the kids wake up in the morning and when they go to bed at night! We put them to bed early (usually by 7) and then enjoy our evening together. I love just chatting and hearing about his day. I feel important when he wants to tell me stuff or ask my opinion about something. He doesn’t enjoy watching tv so our evenings are tv-free. We talk, read, relax…enjoy our quiet house!
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How do you spend time with your husband during this graduate season?  How do you make time and what do you enjoy doing together to connect and get away from busy work schedules?

What Does a Balanced Life Look Like? Part V (Keeping House)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part V of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!

4) Part of a balanced life involves keeping your house in order.  How do you do it?  Do you keep a chore chart? A cleaning schedule? How do you maintain things from week to week and month to month? How do you take care of the very basic things like who washes up the dinner dishes each night?

  • Chore chart – When we were first married, the BEST advice we received on this was: find a chore that you and your spouse hate and switch! I hate to vaccuum, so my husband does that; he hates to grocery shop, so I do that. It has worked out well. We don’t have a set time in our house of when the vaccuuming will take place – as he knows it’s his job (although I do it on occasion) – and I refuse to nag him about it, as he is an adult. Usually, he’s pretty good about helping around the house.  I do try to follow a cleaning schedule (bathrooms on Friday, kitchen floor on Monday, laundry on Tue/Wed, etc) – so my cleaning is staggered and I have more time to spend with the family on weeknights.  We (my son and I) normally don’t arrive home until 6pm on the days that I work. I immediately feed him dinner (which requires planning ahead, as he usually doesn’t eat with us). While he’s eating, I start our dinner, pack lunches for the following day, and then start washing our dishes. I try to do it as I go along, as it cuts down on cleaning time after dinner. My husband is home by 615, and my son normally finishes dinner by 645. My husband plays with him for a bit, then gives him a bath – this allows me to finish dinner. We put our son down for bed at 8, and eat dinner then.
  • I clean continually rather than all at once. When I worked, I would blitz the cleaning on Saturday. Now, I do it when I have a second (i.e. daughter is in her highchair eating lunch, so I take the few moments to clean around her – do the dishes, wipe the counters, etc.). Bathrooms get done when she naps or goes to bed. I clean her room and our room while she plays on the bed with toys (granted, I have a baby who doesn’t crawl or walk and plays in one place!). I don’t keep a cleaning chart. I would imagine this will come in handy as our family expands, though! As for dinner dishes, my husband does those at the moment because our daughter still nurses once before bed. There are days when it’s really hard to get the cleaning done (or be motivated to get the cleaning done), though, so I look forward to hearing other thoughts.
  • I have a chore chart in my head and in my calendar but if something comes up I just move it to another day.  I do two loads of laundry (whites and darks) on Monday, two on Tuesday (colors and grays), and a load of towels on Thursday.  Wow!…How do we have so much laundry with just three of us?!!  Is this normal??  I clean the floors and vacuum on Wednesday when my son is napping.  Sometimes I vacuum when he is awake because he likes it.  I clean the bathrooms and vacuum on one weekend day, usually when my husband is watching our son.  I am constantly doing dishes and dream of having a dishwasher someday!  When I’m cooking I try to do the dishes as I go.  I also clean daily so when it comes time to do deep cleaning it’s not so horrible.
  • I’m a list maker.  I usually have my day’s to-do list and my week’s to-do list.  So my cleaning stuff goes on there.  My husband cleans as I ask him to and is usually very willing to help out.  After all, he uses all our stuff too! But if I wait for him to notice how dirty the bathroom is or the carpets are – he never will! My husband does the dishes 9.5 times out of 10 – because he knows I hate doing them and he is a wonderful husband like that. haha. He eats so fast and my daughter eats so slow that he can usually have most of them finished by the time she and I are done eating and since we eat in the kitchen most nights, we are all still able to interact while he’s working on them,
  • Oh my goodness, haha my husband would LOVE it if I had a chore chart (he loves charts and to-do lists!)! But it’s just not me. I keep the visible things tidy and I like the house to smell nice, but beyond that, my main motivation to clean is when we’re going to have guests! :) My husband is very organized and neat, so I try to have things tidy (with the kids help) when he comes home from work. It helps him to relax and is like a love letter from me (his love language is acts of service). This has been a big learning curve for me over the last 13 years and has been one of our big ‘issues’….how to balance my laid back attitude with his need/wish for things to be in order. It’s a work in progress on both our parts!

What Does a Balanced Life Look Life? Part IV (Cooking)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part IV of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!

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3) How do you plan your meals and shop weekly for your family? How do you make healthy choices?  Do you have favorite recipes books that help, a good website, a super easy vegetable prep method? Any ideas on meal planning you’d like to share?

  • Meals – I reserve one hour on Sunday nights to do meal planning for the week. This usually gives me enough time to peruse our family diary, determine how many meals I need to cook for the week, do my meal planning – looking for recipes,etc – and then ordering my groceries online. Since I’m not home 4 days of the week, it helps to plan ahead I just invested in a cookbook called “Less Meat, More Veg” I’ve been cooking out of it, and have found it has lowered our grocery bill a bit (I tend to buy mostly organic items). I also try to chop veggies up when I get them, and then put them in the freezer (if I’m not going to use them that week), as I find it cuts down on prep time as I’m trying to cook.

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  • I plan for a week’s worth of meals, and we use Tesco.com with great admiration and joy. And I LOVE the Martha Stewart recipe finder at the moment and am rarely disappointed with the outcome of cooking one of her meals. She has an ‘everyday food’ series, and they are simple and healthy meals. I have organized my favorite recipes under my ‘bookmarks’, so I will often scroll through those when planning for the week and pull out faithfuls (Butternut Squash Baked Risotto and Moroccan Chicken Stew are two really good ones – just noticed they’re pretty wintry, but oh well). I also feel I should share this little gem, a no-knead bread, tweaked by a friend from St. Andrews but originating from Mark Bittman. It is shamefully easy, and we have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner lately. All this being said, frozen pizza, Peppers Burgers and The Mission happen in this household!

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  • I plan meals a week in advance.  I usually plan it out and do online shopping on the weekend.  I also get an organic fruit box delivery from Able & Cole once every two weeks.  I don’t like to order much produce online because I’ve been disappointed with the quality, so I found that this fruit box lasts us almost two weeks.  I’ll go to Tesco, Co-Op, or M & S for other things I need throughout the week…usually produce.  I’ve found out which stores have the cheapest prices for things we like to eat and then I hop around to all the stores.  I’m probably crazy, but It’s saving us a bit of money.  Some of our usual meals are greek chicken salad, baked ziti, chicken and veggie casserole, chicken/bean burritos, salmon and veggies, and “jazzed-up” frozen pizza(I usually get a frozen margarita pizza and we put chicken, mushrooms, olives, etc. on it…it’s cheap and yummy!)  The baked ziti and chicken/veg casserole are great as left overs!  I also like to do the frozen pizza on Fridays when I’m usually burned out from cooking.

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  • We plan a week of meals at a time usually on Sat or Sun.  We don’t always assign each meal to a particular day at the start of the week because then I can wake up on Monday and I still have options.  (Is it a fish and rice day or a lasagna day?)  Usually we plan about 5 meals (assuming 2 of them are bigger meals and will provide another day’s worth of leftovers.)  We try to mix in some easy/quick ones and some more involved ones depending on the look of the week’s schedule.  We look at the weather forecast (warmer days mean lighter dishes, cold rainy days means more roasts or soups.)  We always have at least one vegetarian meal (usually 2 or 3) as we have committed ourselves to ‘Meatless Mondays’.   I make sure there are meals that my husband is happy to make on his own for those days when he takes on dinner.  I try to throw in a brand new recipe every few weeks to keep us trying new things too.  And we try to mix up what type of protein we are eating each night (meaning we try not to eat chicken 5 nights a week.  Then I make a list and do the weekly shop at the local grocery shops to buy whatever ingredients we’ll need as well as stuff for packing lunches for my husband and breakfast stuff too.  I do a big online order once every 4-5 weeks to stock up on non-perishable and heavier items like juice, canned beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, toilet paper, etc.As for healthy choices my rule of thumb is… if you don’t think you should be eating it (or not very often) then don’t bring it in your house (or not very often).  It’s ALWAYS easier/faster to throw in a frozen pizza or snack on a cookie.  But, if there is no pizza in your freezer or cookies on your counter, you’re forced to find a healthier option – like making your own, much healthier pizza or eating some yogurt.  One way we do this is by buying lots of fresh veg (carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, baby corn, celery, cucumber, etc).  Ideally twice a week I’ll cut up a few carrots, cucumbers, peppers, etc. and throw them in a big tupperware.  I’ll do this with thick slices of cheese too.  Then, when we’re in a hurry or need to grab a quick snack for the stroller or are just feeling peckish at home, it’s super easy to grab some veg and cheese (and hummus?) rather than a cookie.  Of course a handful of grapes or an apple or banana (which don’t need cut) works just as well – but not with the hummus… eww.I like to do the same thing with a big old bag of trail mix.  Just mix lots of almonds, sultanas, dried apricots, pretzels, peanuts, cashews, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows etc.  Quick to grab and pick at when you just want to munch on something salty or sweet.  Good to send with husbands to sneak into libraries too!

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  • I shop online at Sainsbury’s and get a delivery once a week (on Wed). I also get an Abel and Cole box of fruit and veg that comes on Tues. I’ve loved being forced out of my comfort zone and learning to cook these really weird British root vegetables! I plan a weeks’ worth of meals and shop online in about 30 minutes! I don’t mess around. Get ‘r’ done! We buy lots of fresh spinach (2-3 big bags a week!), bell peppers, cucumbers and organic carrots and just have them out at dinner. The boys eat a couple of handfuls of spinach and probably half a bell pepper every night at dinner. Very rarely do I cook a veg to go with dinner. I make a main dish and stick the fresh veggies out. And the kids just go for it….no need for Ranch dressing either (unheard of when I was a kid!)! They just love the taste of the veg. When the kids were little I would never have imagined this day would come! Miracles never cease!

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What Does a Balanced Life Look Like? III (Faith)

 

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part III of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!

2) If developing and deepening your faith is important to you, how do you find time to do that with jobs, families, and supporting your grad student spouse? When do you take time and what do you do during that time?

  • Devotional time – this one has suffered greatly since my son’s birth. I used to put enormous pressure on myself about spending time reading my Bible, praying, etc…to the point where I was getting no sleep trying to do it all, and feeling like a bad mother and horrible wife, and frankly, that was true. I spoke to a mentor of mine – who has 5 grown adult children – and she basically said, “God extends grace to mothers.” For whatever reason, that put a new spin on things for me, and I didn’t look at it as such a chore. So now, I look for pockets of time in the day to reflect and pray – I find my runs to be a good time for that – and I usually read my Bible at night before I go to bed. And, by serving my family, I am serving God. I’m finding that God is meeting me right where I am in this current season of life – he sends little nuggets of truth my way all the time. I also listen to sermons when I run as well.

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  • I am far better at making time to run than to spend time with the Lord (I am willing myself not to delete that comment). That being said, I have found that my most ‘centered’ times are when I am running, so I will often listen to readings or sermons while running. Here are two sites I frequent for sermons:Tim Keller’s free sermons and Lyle Dorsett’s sermons (an old prof). Also, I enjoy using a study or commentary to guide my reading, like Tom Wright’s ‘for everyone’ series. I’m a school girl at heart, so I love filling in blanks and completing lists. It’s always been easier for me to read during the evening sometime, even though I’ve always wished it was the morning.

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  • I try to spend time with the Lord throughout my day.  I am the queen of “breath-prayers” which are just a sentence or two speaking to God.  It has been a challenge for me to have a set “quiet time” with the Lord where I’m not praying and doing something else…but it looks like I’m not alone.  I tend to pray in the shower and when I’m on walks with my son, or on the treadmill.  I also like to listen to sermons from our church back home when my son is napping.  My husband and I recently decided that we are going to spend an hour in the evenings, after our son goes to bed, reading the bible and praying together.  We used to do it before our son was born and started it up again.  I love the Psalms and Proverbs and enjoy reading those before I go to bed.
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  • I think I’ve mentioned this before but I am NOT a morning personal by nature.  Morning is not the best, freshest time for me to give a chunk of my time and attention to God.  So I often do this before bed (assuming I’m not passing out on my pillow exhausted from the day!)  Occasionally, and this is my favorite way to do this, I make myself a cup of tea and spend my daughter’s nap time reading/in prayer.  But mostly I just pray about 800 times a day… trying to include God in each small choice I make (and attitude I assume) all throughout each day.  My husband and I always pray together before we drift off to sleep.  I’m not big into ‘devotional’ style books but I do enjoy reading and there are lots of good books out there which challenge me to read the Bible in fresh, deeper ways and cause me to hear God’s voice in new ways too.
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  • Someone talked to me about ‘seasons’ when my first son was little bitty baby and I have to say that was the single best piece of knowledge I got about having kids and being on a graduate student schedule/lifestyle. Life comes at you in seasons and having little kids in your home is a season like none other! I can remember amazing times with the Lord sitting on my steps in our little flat in Cambridge while I was breastpumping in the middle of the night. BREASTPUMPING!!! As my friends in East Texas might say, ‘Who’da thunk it?’!   Regarding seasons, I do have to say about a year ago, when my last one was 2’ish, I realized that I was out of the ‘baby season’ but that my time with the Lord hadn’t progressed past that season. So I kind of had to kick start myself since I realized I was beginning to have more time to invest in spiritual disciplines again.   I’m a one book at a time kind of girl. I love to be absorbed in a good book and I read, read, read until I finish it. I find this is how I like to do my Bible study. Whatever we’re studying in church or my Monday Mums group, I like to just bury myself in it. So for example right now, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into Isaiah as we go through the book in church. My husband is a biblical scholar so he will give me a good book to go along with whatever I happen to be into at the time and it helps me through the hard bits or historical stuff.  Also, I’m not really a ‘doer’ but more of a ‘be-er’, so I find passages like John 15 where Jesus tells us to ‘abide in Him’ really encouraging. I just want to be connected to Jesus. I want to interact with him, complain to him, talk in my head to him and rest with/in him. But I also want to be stretched by him. I’ve been learning over the last couple of years to allow the Holy Spirit to use my spiritual gifts in ways that I know are not my own ideas. Often times I find it really easy to operate while using my natural gifts. I even find it energizes me. But I’ve been praying that God would use my gifts (hospitality, mercy and giving) in supernatural ways to benefit his people and his kingdom. Last year I felt urged to call a friend and tell her I was bringing them dinner one night. I knew she was pregnant (and due soon) but I had no idea all 3 of her children had had the stomach bug and that she hadn’t slept in 3 nights! That meal was like a love letter to her from God. Then there was a time I felt God lead me to buy one of my best friends back in the states some make-up. I obeyed (with trepidation wondering how I was going to explain to my husband why I spent $80 on make-up for my friend miles and miles away), but then was astounded that she (who’s hubby is doing a PhD and they are on an extremely tight budget) had been praying specifically that God would send her some new make-up! My husband couldn’t argue with that! In fact, he rejoiced with me that his hard-earned money was used by God to love on our friend.  Sorry, that was kind of a tangent, but I’m very relational and to see my relationship with the Lord benefiting others is a real motivating factor for me.