Dress even when there’s noone to impress

If you get up every morning and go to work there is a big chance that you are dressed up and have at least a slight make-up on. Your hair is done, your nails are done, and you are all sleek and chic. Why would that not be applicable to a woman who works from home or better at home? Cleaning up in a suit and on high heels – are you kidding me?! Agreed. That would be over the top. However, it has been proven that how we look influences how we feel and how we behave. A robe and a pair of cozy slippers, no make-up and a messed up hair is not going to discipline you! On the contrary, that relaxes way too much. And yes, of course, when you have small kids you think that you have an excuse – they will spill something on you, they will maybe even throw up on you, it’s all going to be too messy. And how does this explain that you didn’t comb your hair?

I can understand all the excuses: there were days when my second kid was just born and the first one was but 1,5 years that I didn’t care that much about how I look. That’s what I thought. And then I started feeling bad about myself. So it is not that I didn’t care, I just removed the item from my priority list, yet in the hindsight I shouldn’t have done that.

Nowadays, the only part where I compromise is the shoes, I do wear my favorite cozy UGG’s slippers. For the rest, I am picture-ready at all times. Usually I wear either a knee-high dress, or regular pants and a shirt or a turtleneck. I never use foundation or much make-up in general on any occasions, but: 1. pencil and brush for brows; 2. a bit of mascara; 3. lip balm; 4. hair comb and a bit of hair spray – these items are my everyday routine. It takes literally 5 minutes of my time and it immediately gives me a better feel about how I look.

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Managing your food stock – saving time, gaining choice

For myself I have identified several core principles towards managing our food stock:

  • there should be a variety – I like to experiment, I like trying new things and new food combinations, so there should be diverse ingredients;
  • my freezer should always be as full as possible! And freezer is my best friend in general – I’ll talk about it in a bit more detail further.
  • as less waste as possible – if there are leftovers they have to be if possible integrated in a new dish. For example, when one of these days I had a bit of boiled rice, unfinished steak, a bit of broccoli left from our dinner the day before, and some old but not yet bad cheese – all that was “recycled” or better “up-cycled” into a nice lunch: just put everything together, add eggs, some spices, a bit of cream and put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with some toasts. Done.

In this post I would like to talk about frozen food. For me this is a perfect way how to increase my efficiency in the kitchen without sacrificing the important aspect of having a variety in food. I must admit that I switched to using my freezer to the full capacity not that long ago. Before that I only had some pizza’s, ice-cream and ice cubes lying there. Nowadays, there is everything from steaks to chicken breasts, at least five if not more different vegetable varieties at all times and slices of bread in small sealed packs. And it is so convenient!

I will start with bread. When I am not baking bread myself (and I do that occassionally) we buy bread at a local bakery. It is very tasty once fresh and stays being so for another day after the purchase. The problem is that the loaf of bread in our household is usually not finished completely in these two days, and I am too lazy to take out a toaster on the third day. So what I do nowadays is buy two loafs of bread, divide them in three or four “sets” and immediately after purchase put everything but one “set” in sealed plastic bags in the freezer. Defrosted at a room temperature in about 3 hours this bread has all the properties of the freshly bought including a soft inside and a crusty crust.

For vegetables I have it all – I grow my own vegetables (zucchini’s, tomatoes, broccoli, etc); I buy fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market and I have a selection of frozen vegetables in my freezer. To note, that frozen vegetables usually contain more vitamins than supposedly fresh products from the supermarket. How come? Well, they are harvested at optimum ripeness; there is usually a short path and fast processing after harvest; they are stored at about -25C and at such temperature e.g. green beans lose only 20% of its original Vitamin C content within a year. In comparison, since Vitamin C is heat and oxygen sensitive already within the first 4 days in the chilled environment the same green beans would lose more than 60% of their original Vitamin C content. That gets even more dramatic if the green beans are stored at room temperature, as the lost Vitamin C value spikes to 80%. So the bottom line is that actually deep-frozen vegetables are far better than their “fresh” counterparts. Of course, that does not apply to home-grown vegetables, but I want to have broccoli also in February!

With respect to frozen meats, fish and poultry there are almost no vitamin and mineral loses because protein, vitamins A and D and minerals are not affected by freezing. Some claim that the taste for instance in a steak, is lost, but I disagree. Actually, chemically speaking, deep-freezing and subsequent defrosting should make meat more tender. Yet, as mentioned I do not really see the difference in the end result. Maybe I am just good at cooking? (LOL) I must admit, that also here I do buy fresh meats and fresh fish, but most of the times my main course comes from my freezer.

Additionally, my freezer has some fresh herbs frozen in olive oil, the leftovers of wine for subsequent cooking, a couple of ready-made deep-frozen dishes like moussaka and lasagna for those rare times when I get too lazy to cook.

What do I gain by this approach? In addition to variety and freshness, also – a choice. I like the freedom to open my freezer and decide right there on the spot if I want to have a duck breast or a beef steak or a pork tenderloin or a salmon fillet, instead of going to the shop everyday or other and buying them fresh.

I save time and gain choice.

 

Don’t forget the language!

That was my mistake which only made the process of an adaptation so much longer – I thought I could do without the knowledge of a local language. Actually there were three mistakes. First, I did not immediately recognize the need to learn the language; second, I was putting blame on others instead of myself; and third, I thought it will just stick by itself in the end.

Fluent in English in addition to my mother tongues – Russian and Latvian, with a decent French, some notions of German and Spanish I have moved to Belgium to do an MBA. In English. After that I started my PhD and working for the business school – likewise in English. I talk to my husband in English and – hey! – majority of Flemish at least understand English, but a lot even speak this language fluently. Why bother? And that was what I did for the first 4 years of my life in Belgium: I did not really bother. I was just getting frustrated at my Flemish colleagues in the business school talking Flemish in between themselves; I was just annoyed at the family parties when the family of my husband was talking Flemish. On top of that I always believed I was good at learning foreign languages and thought that Flemish will just stick somehow by itself without me putting any special effort into it. Besides, I was not sure that we will stay in Belgium.

What I do know now the later does not matter. Even if you are in the country for a short period of time – learn the language! Even if everybody understands English – learn the language! Especially if you are already undergoing a change in respect of your professional career and in general – your identity – learn the language! You will never be fully accepted in the society and will not feel good yourself if you are not able to communicate.

I totally lost 4 years and was still not sufficiently active in the following two. My knowledge of Flemish at this particular point in time is in terms of European classification something around 2B, which is a conversational with a good understanding. However, I am now finally putting a lot of effort in learning this language. A great tool I found recently is a DUOLINGO app for the iPhone. They also have a website, but I find it very convenient to use an app. Totally free, pleasantly diverse and overall I would even say an addicting way of learning with an offer of Dutch, Spanish, Italian and a bunch of other languages.

To note that also with respect to learning Flemish I apply the principle of the set time limit. It is a difficult, close to impossible, task when you have kids running around to find an hour to learn a language, but finding 4 time slots of 15 minutes at some point in a day is so much easier. Same total time, yet better output due to a more concentrated effort.

Why is a “stay-at-home mother” a profession?

Just a stay-at-home mother does not exist! It cannot be be “just” when you have to balance in between so many different professions and change so many hats throughout a day. Let’s have just a quick peak at a non-exhaustive list:

  • a caregiver;
  • a teacher. Even if your kids go to the kindergarden there are still a whole bunch of things that you need to teach them;
  • a cleaning lady. And yes, you can just sometimes take out that vacuum cleaner and dust off some shelves, or you can approach the whole cleaning up differently and follow, for example, a”fly lady” concept. I am not talking about hiring a cleaning lady, that’s also possible, but then that requires you to hire, delegate and supervise, which also is a set of professional skills;
  • a laundress. Same as with a cleaning lady;
  • a psychologist;
  • a stylist. And for your own kids, while they still allow, and for your husband (LOL);
  • an interior decorator;
  • a stock manager. It’s up to you to fill up the pantry after all – in time and on budget;
  • a chef. And once again – yes, you can just heat up ready-made meals or order pizza, or make one and the same dish over and over again, but you can also become a real master in the kitchen. It is a skill and it is an art!
  • an animator;
  • an arbitrator;
  • an emergency situations’ manager which is so-to-say a first-aid specialist plus. Anything can happen and usually does happen: from a torn favorite sweater to a broken tap in the kitchen, cut finger, drawings on the official documents,… You have to be able to keep calm and figure out a solution. On the spot.
  • a family life manager. You have to learn to divide tasks, to delegate, to supervise, to search and hire help if you need it. You need to be a strategist and a planner, and a supervisor,… Well, basically you need to be at least a CEO (!).

The above list as I have already mentioned is in no way exhaustive. Of course, everything is a matter of choice. But that is the same everywhere else, in all other professions. You can be an ordinary sales manager or an ordinary nurse, or you can choose to excel. This is the same with being a stay-at-home mother – you can be ordinary or you can bring this profession – and damn it! it is a profession! – to the highest level.

Managing cleaning-up

Cleaning-up is one of the most annoying chores around the house. At least for me. First of all it seems to be never-ending, especially when you have kids. There always seems to be dust everywhere and spills of all sorts, not even talking about toys all over the place, books on the ground and piles and piles of all the different junk. Secondly, it is really frustrating that you seem to never have the time to finish anything – you’ve been cleaning for an hour, but it’s only the floor that is more or less clean. There is still a pile of dirty dishes and laundry, and dust on the TV, and… the list goes on. And it doesn’t even seem like you would have done anything! How to survive in all of this?

I am not going to talk about hiring help at this point in time. Now it is about doing everything yourself just without driving yourself totally mad.

Ok, let’s think like a manager – after all we have a mess to manage.

Step number one – de-clutter! This is a priority number one and one of the most difficult tasks. However, the less junk the less sorting. There is absolutely no way how to effectively sort junk. It clutters your home and your life and will keep on doing that forever until you get rid of it.

Practically speaking using the example of toys. Kids never play with all the toys they have, what they love to do is to throw these toys all over the place and go back to those couple of favorite ones. Elimination! I am not encouraging to throw away toys, but toys can be strategically put away. We have a set box of favorite toys and a couple of rotating boxes of other toys. This is a great way how to always have “new” toys. Other junk has to be analyzed on the regular basis and sold/given away/thrown away, you pick. But is has to go!

Step number two – How to get to it? Now, the approach I personally like towards the time management for the cleaning-up is the FlyLady (r). This is an approach by Marla  Cilley which in the nutshell can be summed up as follows:

  1. 15 minutes at a time. This point I sincerely consider to be genius! As Cilley says herself this is a way to stop procrastination and reduce opportunities to get sidetracked or bored. Indeed if you have a concrete task and a limited time allocated to it there is a big chance that this task gets done. Results! That is what is so much missing in the life of a stay-at-home mother. You seem never to have results – tangible, concrete, visible! If you say – now, I have 15 minutes, I am doing the dishes, tik-tak – there is a big chance that you will manage to do the dishes and you have your result. Now, next – laundry. Same 15 minutes. In half-an-hour you have two tasks realized, two results that you see.
  2. Clutter cannot be organized. That’s what I already said. Be as strict as you can on this one.
  3. Weekly routines and zones. This point I personally use with precaution, as I don’t like too much structure in my life. If I see that somebody messed up the drawers of my kitchen island I am not going to wait until it is a “closet cleaning-up day”. Although, Cilley has some point on this one, because routines allow for additional focus.

What Cilley also recommends is to keep a “Control Journal” which is some sort of a household management notebook or binder. The purpose of this would be to keep track of the routines, lists and other important household information. I personally don’t have a journal like this once again for the same reason that I don’t like to have too much structure and having a journal for me is a “too much”. However, also here I do see the point related to the psychology. If you have a journal of routines, tasks and consequently tasks scratched out, you visually see your results, your achievements and your goals. Just like a manager of any business unit or entity.

Finally, and this I also consider to be an extremely important one, is to always keep in mind that perfectionism is a b*tch! This is applicable not only to cleaning-up but to literally everything, because the only outcome of being too much obsessed with perfection is your procrastination and inefficiency.

Self-development, reaching goals and lifestyle balance through the prism of parenthood and immigration

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