Staying on top of Everything?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I came across your site from checking your book out on Amazon.  I love how you give every day a certain task or chore or area to clean.  I did not grow up in a home where I had regular chores.  Both my parents worked so daily cleaning and upkeep was mostly pushed to the weekends.

I am doing things differently!  I am a stay at home wife/mom.  I have a husband who works, and 3 kids, ages 5, 3, 1 and a baby due in October.  We are homeschooling our kids so my home is busy with kids all day long versus any of them going to preschool or public school settings.

My question to you is do you have any advice on how to keep up with these daily housecleaning tasks while having the constant needs and demands of 3 young children all day?  I am not happy with the state of my house and home and desire for there to be changes!  I have attempted to follow your weekly chore schedule.  I just can’t seem to do the tasks to their entirety.

I saw you have a husband, 3 kids and a dog (I have one of those too!) and wonder how you manage to get it all done amidst the care of the people in your home.

Thank you for your website for your time to read this email and for any ideas you can pass on.

Signed,
In the Trenches

Heather says:

I sent an answer privately, a week ago. I was going to leave it as that, just a private reply, but it has been on my mind since. Life has changed a lot for me since I wrote that book. My husband and I are no longer together, I work full-time, the kids are now 10, 8, and 6, and the dog passed away. I was open about my sisters’ passing last year, but I didn’t call much attention to the reason for the move, as it felt like a failure.

The funny thing is, even with all of those changes, I still run on the same chore schedule and when I don’t, I fall behind. Life doesn’t care, but my sanity does.

As far as advice, all I can say is in these next few years, give yourself grace. I really wish I had. There are going to be times where everything looks like it is falling apart, but you feel okay. Just don’t let there be times where everything looks okay and you’re quietly dying inside, nothing is worth that.

There will be seasons where the house is messy.  It is okay to ask for help from your spouse. Being a stay at home parent does not give the other adult a pass on all domestic chores. Raising young children is a tough gig, but you’re in it together.

Pregnant with a whole crew of little ones is absolutely one of those messy seasons, take the nap you need, the laundry pile will still need folding when you wake up. It’s okay.

It’ll probably get a little worse before it gets better. You’re going to have a newborn and three very young children.

Feeling Desperate is the post I reference whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. There are days where the have tos are the only things that happen. Those days will eventually be outnumbered by the good ones. There is a lot of good advice from the wonderful Home Ec 101 community in the comments. Unlike many comment sections out there on the interwebs, we’ve got a good thing here with kind, intelligent, and genuinely caring people. Some of those commenters are the reason I’m still standing  thriving¹ after the last year. I’ll never fully be able to express my gratitude.

I promise, over time,you’ll get beyond the have-tos and more into the should-dos and eventually you’ll even have time and energy for the want-tos.

Keeping on top of the dishes, the trash, and the laundry probably go the farthest in making the house feel more put together than any other chores.

The kids are more able to help, now that they are a bit older, but I absolutely remember what it was like when they were the ages of yours. I started this site when I was pregnant with my youngest and now she’ll soon turn seven.

Hang in there and congratulations on your newest little one.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

¹I took off a few hours on Friday and took my minions and their sitter to the beach. I took a long walk and reflected on many things – shoes, and ships, and ceiling wax- and it hit me, just how content and happy I am. Right here, right now. I’m no longer waiting for some change, milestone, or event to make it easier to be happy; I simply am. It’s not the life I planned, it’s the one I have and that’s all that matters.

Feeling Desperate

The holidays are here and it’s the first time I’ve dealt with them after a year losses and huge life changes. I thought now would be a good time to revisit this post on feeling desperate. Please remember, if you ever do feel completely lost, help is available, whether it’s through IAmAlive.org, 1-800-SUICIDE, 211, or reaching out to a friend. You and your loved ones are worth making that effort. This was originally published on August 18, 2011. ~Heather

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I am a slob. My house is a disaster area most of the time, though I’m starting to realize a lot of it is clutter. My husband hates coming home to this chaos, and while I thrive in some forms of chaos (my desk will never make sense to anyone but me) it’s even starting to get to me. We have two young children, a 2-year-old and a 5-week-old. About this time last year CPS was involved because of the mess, and it’s not an experience I want to repeat.

Do you have any advice on slob salvation?

Sincerely,
Living in Chaos

Heather says:

You are living in one of the busiest and most stressful parenting points of your life.

You are sleep deprived. Your hormones are out of whack.

You have not one, but two tiny, irrational dictators controlling your every move.

New babies are hard. Toddlers? Hard.

A baby and a toddler? That, my friend, is very hard.

I’ve been there twice. My kids are all just two weeks shy of two years apart. (We’re in birthday season right now, they are now 7, 5, 4 -and 16, but I wasn’t around for her earliest years). I started this site while I was pregnant with my youngest and the chaos of life after she arrived made me feel like a hypocrite.

This part is very important, more important than anything else I will tell you today.

If you are fighting this feeling of being completely overwhelmed and that feeling is winning, you MUST talk to your doctor.

He or she is there to help you and post-partum depression is serious, as is antenatal depression.

Will it make you feel better to know that my desk is a mess, too? I stay on top of the rest of the house pretty well, but my work area is a constant battle of paperwork and school books, pencils, pens, and cords.

Today:

When you read this I want you to do a household triage. Today we’re not worried about clutter. Today we are only worried about the things that would cause CPS to be concerned. Today -and the hardest days- we are working around the clutter.

  1. Feed, bathe, and dress the kids.
  2. Make sure there are no dirty diapers sitting out.
  3. If there are animals in the house, all of their waste must be removed immediately.
  4. Take out the trash, especially any food waste that may be on the counters / coffee table.
  5. Dishes.
    Empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher. If this doesn’t take care of all the dishes, fill the sink with soapy water and soak the rest.
    If you do not have a dishwasher, rinse, scrape, and stack neatly the dirty dishes. Begin washing as you can.
  6. Laundry
    Gather it in a place that makes sense. It’s ok to be behind on laundry, you just have to appear to be making the effort.

These are your mandatory things and on some days even they will feel nearly impossible.

One thing at a time, with the baby and toddler coming first and you coming in a close second. You need sleep and probably a lot more of it. The world will not end if you go to bed at 8pm for the next few weeks. You’re probably getting up at 2, 4, and 6 any how.

Do me a big favor and email me your mailing address. I’m going to send you a copy of my friend Tsh Oxenrider’s book Organized Simplicity and one of my book Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living between the two of us, I’m sure there’s an approach to getting out from under the weight of your clutter.

In the meantime, do you see that yellow sticky note in the upper right hand of this post? Right click it and open the link in a new tab. That will bring you to a breakdown of the weekly chore chart.

Each day of the week has a major chore and a minor chore, if you attend to these consistently, your house will slowly become cleaner, these two chores are outside the bare minimum which includes:

  • Do the dishes and sanitize food preparation areas
  • Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet
  • Sweep or vacuum as needed
  • Put your stuff away
  • Check your schedule
    Currently you have well baby visits, well mom visits, etc. Do not miss those.

And please, listen closely when I tell you that life will get easier. At the moment your life has shrunk to pretty much what goes in and what comes out of your babies. It will expand again, I promise. When you have a moment, where you feel good enough to really start cleaning, here’s a strategy for when you’re overwhelmed by mess.

I know a lot of you have been in her shoes, please share with this reader what helped get you through.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

So, Are You Like Martha Stewart? Donna Reed?

Heather says:

When people ask what I do, after I joke about working in a bar, describe my job at FeedBlitz, talk about my app, I then have to explain Home-Ec101. This happens a lot and generally I get the confused puppy head-tilt.

I run a website on home economics -head tilt- I write about lifeskills for adults -increased angle of said head tilt-

Oh, so you’re like Martha Stewart?

Well, no, it’s a bit more basic than that. I’m not into frou-frou and I think there are a lot of people that genuinely need the basics more than frills.

I talk about cooking, cleaning, basic home repair, and laundry.

Oh, so you’re like Donna Reed?

No, not her either.

I bet your house is immaculate.

And it’s at this point that I just force a smile and try not to let out a huge guffaw. I have three kids. Who has three kids, more than one job, and an immaculate house?

Not this gal.

I know HOW to keep a clean house, but every so often in a while things -deadlines, the kids get the flu, I get called in to cover for a sick co-worker, etc all pile on and the daily chores just don’t get done.

Yesterday, if you had walked into my home, I probably would have died of embarrassment. Thank you for not coming over, by the way.

I admitted this over on Facebook -you are a fan, right?- and someone asked, “How do you get back on track after a couple days (or more) of not being able to do daily chores?”

I enter triage mode.

I either start a load of laundry -or restart it, if it was neglected in the machine for a couple of days.

I then head into the kitchen and start on the sink and dishes.

Next I clear counters and the table-papers may get put into a couple of piles -this depends on how long I have to perform the triage and everything else gets put away. The counters and table get a quick wipe down.

Next up come the bathrooms -not a deep clean- a dump some cleaner into the bowl, give it a quick swish -wash my hands, find the toothpaste cap and get the globs out of the sink. Then it’s wipe off the sink, followed by the toilet seat and rim. The bowl gets a scrub, a flush and I make sure there are clean towels.

Finally come the floors.

All the crap that shouldn’t be out and that will interfere with sweeping / vacuuming gets picked up and put away. -Sometimes I use a timer and put on music to encourage the minions’ help, but if they are at school, I just knock it out, asap.

I set Gertie -my robot minion- to go and I head upstairs to at least get the coffee cups out of my office and to vacuum the floor up there.

Everything piddly gets to wait until the next time the chore comes around in the rotation. This isn’t a perfect clean, this is a crisis clean for communal areas. My bedroom door can and will be shut until I have the bandwidth to deal with it and that’s okay. The same goes for the kids’ room.

No one is perfect. Not you, not me, and definitely not the perfectly coiffed lady in the coffee shop.

Hang in there. Things are going to eventually get better and well, even if they don’t, hanging in is the only option, so make the best of it.

 

Food for Thought

Heather says:

It’s been a long time since I have brought up my thoughts on why I believe cooking “from scratch” is a vital life skill. Notice I didn’t say important, I said vital.

Over the weekend I had to spend some time in the car, so I loaded up a couple of podcasts, as I tend to do. The first one is only tangentially related to today’s discussion, but it’s fascinating, nonetheless.

The podcast is “Stuff to Blow your Mind” and the show is titled “Cat Parasites Conquer the World.” Right about now you’re probably wondering, “What on earth do parasites have to do with Heather going off on a rant about food?” Just bear with me for a few moments. There have been some interesting studies lately on how parasites can affect behavior. It has fairly recently been discovered that rats infected with Toxoplasma gondii are influenced by the parasite in ways that make them more likely to become prey for cats. The organism seems to make rats slower, clumsier, and even specifically attracted to the scent of cat urine. This attraction helps ensure that rats end up in the belly of the host necessary to complete the parasitic life cycle.

First of all, it’s insanely creepy to learn that a parasite may be able to not only influence the behavior of rats, but humans, as well. There have been some studies showing that 30 – 60% of the human population may have Toxoplasma gondii,  and a few studies suggest that those with the parasite exhibit behavioral changes, much like rats, not necessarily a specific attraction to cat urine, but a loss of fear that results in taking unnecessary risks. Crazy stuff, right?

I found the topic fascinating (and have been ruminating on it for the last few days). When that podcast ended the next one in my queue was WNYC’s Radiolab Show “Guts.” Which wasn’t about parasites, but rather how the bacteria we carry within our digestive track (about 3 lbs worth) may affect our mental health. See, I told you there was a segue!

Much of the show focused on a study of mice given lactobacillus, the bacteria that gives us all kinds of delicious foods including yogurt. Some mice were given foods fortified with lactobacillus and two other groups of mice were given a control food and sterile food. The mice were then dropped into containers of water and observed. In general mice paddle around freaking out for 4 minutes before giving up in despair and just floating. This happened with the two control groups, the mice acted as expected and their stress hormone (cortisol) levels did what your would do if you were dropped in a container of water and believed you were going to die (they went through the roof). The mice on the lactobacillus diet continued to paddle around until the 6 minute mark when they were removed from the water (dead mice wouldn’t do much good for the study) and it was found that their stress hormone levels were significantly lower than those in the control groups.

Now how does a bacteria in your gut influence what’s going on in your brain?

There is a very large nerve that runs between your digestive track and your brain it’s known as the vagus nerve. The study with the mice was repeated, but this time the vagus nerve was severed in some of the mice. The gut was no longer communicating with the brain. Guess what? The mice with the severed nerve responded just like the control group mice in the first study, freaking out for four minutes and then giving in to despair.

There are now studies happening that are investigating the possibility of using lactobacillus as a means to treat some mental disorders including anxiety and depression. As a person who sometimes struggles with anxiety, I find this incredibly fascinating.

So what does this have to do with processed food? The more we refine and process our food, the further we take it from the state from which we, and the bacteria we host, evolved to digest it.

We are learning that we have more of a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria within our bodies than we ever thought. (Does anyone else remember the book by Madeline L’Engle A Wind in the Door? No, I don’t believe our mitochondria are sentient, I’m just musing on the broader concept)

The next time you’re in the grocery store choosing between a food that has been designed to survive a nuclear holocaust and a food that is highly perishable, but as close to fresh as possible. . . you may be doing your body more good than we know.

If nothing else, eat a little more yogurt, it just might make you feel better.

Obvious as a Heart Attack? Know the Warning Signs, Save a Life

Bobbie says:

As you probably know, February is Heart Month – all month long there have been events & promotions to turn everyone’s attention toward heart health. Since this is a leap year, today is like a Bonus Day – so I thought I’d share my story. I feel like the rest of my life is Bonus Days, because I would not be here now if I hadn’t been paying attention.

You’d know if you were having a heart attack. I mean, how could you NOT know, right?

Quite easily, as it turns out. Especially if you’re female:  Heart attack symptoms in women can be quite different from those in men.

I learned this first-hand on Friday May 20, 2011.

On Thursday, I’d mowed my small lawn, stopping halfway through to go inside and “catch my breath,” when I felt I couldn’t take another step. I woke up in my recliner two hours later, still worn out, but finished the mowing anyway. My arms felt extremely weak, but so did the rest of me, so it didn’t seem that odd.

Friday night I went to bed early, hoping to finally get some rest. After a few hours of tossing and turning, completely exhausted, but feeling too uncomfortable to sleep, I resigned myself to another sleepless night and got up. I’d been like that for about a week – able to catch only short naps, sometimes at night, sometimes during the day, but waking up feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all.

I attributed my inability to get comfortable in bed to indigestion, which I blamed on the spaghetti dinner fundraiser I’d attended earlier. This is kind of gross, but I had terrible gas pains in the upper abdominal/lower chest area. I’d experienced gas like this many times, but not for years, since changing the way I ate most of the time. I was burping like crazy, but it wasn’t helping. I had no antacids or anti-gas medicine in the house, so I mixed a half-teaspoon of baking soda in water – the concoction my grandparents had used as an antacid – but it provided no relief.

Utterly exhausted and living alone at the time, I decided my only choice was to drive to the store to get gas medicine, so I could (hopefully) get some sleep.

At 1:30 in the morning. Obviously, I was not thinking clearly.

In the store, I leaned heavily on the shopping cart. Everything felt unreal – as if I was watching someone else do these things. I took a dose of the gas medicine as soon as I found it, then went to pay for it and drove home. It didn’t get better. Instead, I started getting a slight tightness in my chest. No pain, other than what I’d had before from gas pain.

Something in my head said, “heart attack?” but I dismissed it. “This can’t be a heart attack. It doesn’t hurt enough. Doesn’t a heart attack feel worse than childbirth without painkillers? This is just frustrating and annoying – not something that can kill me.

Fortunately, my brain nagged me and the internet exists. I googled heart attack symptoms and read some, which gave me a notion that heart attacks look different in women. So I searched on heart attack women and found some scary news.

It’s common for women NOT to have the “typical” chest pain associated with a heart attack, and to have symptoms not generally experienced by men during a cardiac event – making it harder to recognize what’s happening. Consequently, women wait longer to get medical attention, and are more likely to die from a heart attack.

Don’t feel stupid if you didn’t know this – it’s pretty new information. Lots of doctors and hospitals still don’t realize that heart attacks can look very different in women. How can that be? In the past, heart studies were primarily done on men, and it was assumed that the findings carried over to women. But women are not just smaller versions of men with different naughty bits. Our chemical makeup and internal anatomy affect how heart disease develops, how accurate standard diagnostic tests are on us, and how we respond to medications. It’s relatively recent that studies have been conducted on women in this area.

Heart attack symptoms that women commonly have include:

  • Unusual fatigue – much more than what is typical for you
  • Prolonged sleep disturbances (not just a couple restless nights)
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety
  • Lower chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure/discomfort that can feel like indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Perspiration (when you really shouldn’t be)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaw pain

Actually, the unusual fatigue and prolonged sleep disturbances may be an early warning sign – some women report having these symptoms as much as a month before their cardiac event. (I’d had them for a couple weeks, and it kept getting worse.)

As you can see, none of these, taken separately, are unique and distinct signs that would make you immediately think, “I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK,” but if you have some of these symptoms, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

I looked at the symptoms I found and realized that I had most of the symptoms and YES, IT’S PROBABLY A HEART ATTACK.  So, at about 3:30 in the morning, I made the call. The paramedics were there in less than 10 minutes, hooking up the portable EKG. I was rushed directly to a hospital in the next county, because they had a cardiac specialty unit. Balloon angioplasty was performed to install a stent in a coronary artery that was completely blocked.

If I had just dismissed the symptoms and not called for help when I did, I would have been dead before the sun came up Saturday morning.

The bottom line is this:

PAY ATTENTION to your body. Know what is normal for you so you can recognize when something is off. If you start to wonder whether you’re having a heart attack, don’t wait until your heart stops to find out if you were right. Your life may depend on it.

For a slightly humorous take on this serious subject, enjoy this video by Elizabeth Banks.