Using Passion Planner to Support Your Back-to-School Routine

Back to school blog header

Today was the first day of school, and you know what that means… a fresh start! A do-over! A chance to reboot my family’s routine! We’ve had a lovely summer in the Diamond household, but we’ve picked up a few bad habits along the way. (Exhibit A: very pokey mornings. Exhibit B: copious amounts of kiddie TV. Both of which drive me nuts, make me short-tempered, and exacerbate my already overgrown guilt complex.)

I’m taking advantage of the externally imposed schedule (public school for Big Sis, preschool for Little Bro). And I’m making routine my personal focus for September.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my habits… those little shifts that I can easily initiate and track, shifts that can have (I hope) a hugely positive domino effect. Check it out! These are the items I want to accomplish at each routine point in our day:

routines close up

Now, how did I land on this particular list?

  • I tracked moments in our day when I felt I was going off-track (anxious, yelling, feeling burned out on the whole parenting thing). I asked myself why I was feeling that way. What was really bothering me, what could I actually control, and what concrete actions could I take to affect assured change? (Example: while I can’t force my children to get along and/or be cheerful in the afternoon, I can institute a daily period of independent quiet time.)
  • Based on my reflections, I chose 3-5 things to focus on during three key times of the day which already have a certain rhythm to them (greater chance of success if the shift in routine feels manageable!)
  • How did I narrow down where to put my focus? I wanted to pick habits that, if I can make them automatic, will yield the greatest positive reward. For instance, I hate feeling anxious and rushed in the morning. I also hate yelling at my kids. Usually, I’m cranky because I’m trying to fix breakfast and lunches simultaneously. Meanwhile, we’re running late to the bus stop and everyone’s shoes have gone mysteriously missing. Ergo my resolve to make lunches and locate our outerwear the night before.

To make this shift in our collective routine, I’m using a trifecta of habit-forming strategies. As explained by Gretchen Rubin (author of Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives), these strategies include the clean slate, scheduling, and monitoring. If you want to know more about each strategy and how they impact your psyche, just follow the links (but if you’re actually reading this post, odds are you already love leveraging these strategies in your groovy paper planner).

So how does this all play out in my Passion Planner? Well. Usually, I pencil in vague plans for my day and then later record what actually happened with Sharpie pen and color-coded pencils. (Want more details? Read about my regular process here.)

This month, I’m switching it up. I’m planning to track my plans and my actual activity side-by-side. Will scheduling my plans and monitoring my progress help me put my plans into actual practice? I hope so! To that end, I added my routines to the habit tracker boxes I make in my “personal to-do list.” (I find myself intensely motivated by check boxes, all the more so if meeting my goal for 7 days straight yields a perfect rainbow. Make of that what you will.)

habit tracker

Want more pics? Here’s this week’s attempt at a split layout (Plans only thus far… and I’m starting to doubt I’ll have room for what actually happened!)

this weekForecasted plans on this week’s layout

I’m already prepping a different strategy for next week. I’m guessing I’ll want my plans to be less obtrusive, so I’m just marking off the routine sections of my day with some cut-up Avery labels.

next weekNext week’s layout: not as pretty, but more space to record actual activity!  

I’ll be tinkering throughout the month and definitely plan to share my favorite layout when all is said and done. In the mean time, I’d love to hear from my fellow planner nerds: how do you effectively record both your intentions and your actual activity for thoughtful comparison within your Passion Planner

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September Meal Plan #1: International Appreciation

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Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, originally posted to Serious Eats

Big Sis goes back to school this Wednesday! And Little Bro starts preschool the following week! I’m excited for the externally-imposed routine to recommence, and I’m trying to take best advantage of this time to make tiny (but hopefully high-impact!) shifts in our routine. More big picture thoughts on that later. For now, here’s how it relates to food.

I already do A LOT to manage the food around here. I meal plan, stick to my grocery list, and (usually) adhere to my food budget. But one aspect of meal-planning always escapes my attention: lunches. Lunches are my Achilles heel.

LUNCH RESOLUTION: I’m going to try pre-making all of our lunches the night before until this (hopefully) becomes a not-even-worth-mentioning part of our routine. The kids are pretty easy. I bought sandwich fixings for Mr. M. And I’ll be working my way through a big vat of slow-cooker Indian-spiced lentils. You can definitely eat them with rice, though I prefer them with naan and yogurt.

CSA UPDATES: This week’s treasures include wax beans, Thai basil, Chinese eggplant, broccoli, garlic, arugula, tomato, and cucumber. I’m going to make and freeze pesto. The cucumbers and tomatoes will go into lunches. And garlic… well, that goes into everything in the Diamond household. The rest? Well, the rest has inspired this week’s dinners!

INTERNATIONAL APPRECIATION: You’ll note an international flare to the week’s menu. Yum! We’re lucky enough to live on the Pacific Rim in a diverse area replete with fabulous Asian markets. This week, we’re taking advantage and treating our taste buds.

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Vegetarian DinnerEggplant stir fry

The Big Easy – Szechuan dry-fried beans and pork chops

Fast and FlavorfulArugula salad (with shrimp added) and Dutch oven bread

Too Hot to Handle?spicy garlic-fried chicken and char-grilled broccoli (Yes, I’m assuming the children will have pancakes or peanut butter and jelly that night. The spice factor’s a bit high for the 6-and-under crowd.)

Slow Cooker Mealsausage, spinach, and white bean soup 

 

August Meal Plan #3: Lazy Days of Summer

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Our grilled onions are delicious… and quite tasty alongside grilled oysters! 

This week’s CSA box includes carrots, zucchini, broccoli, Serenade melon, cherry tomato, and several sweet onions. I’ve also got to use up some red pepper. And I have a head of lettuce that Mr. M forgot to chop up for his fantasy football draft party (he had a taco bar, which always works well–with or without the leafy greens!)

Yes, this week will be salad heavy. And that’s good, actually. I’ve been noticing lately that I never take care of my own lunch. I’ll literally plan and pre-make everyone’s lunch but my own, and then somehow wind up surprised when I end up choking down the kids’ leftover sandwich crusts and broccoli stems for me meal. Perhaps it’s time to treat myself like an actual human being, instead of a sentient garbage disposal? Um, yes. And to that end, I’ll be stocking up on some salad swag for my lunches… and probably still have leftover lettuce for a meal.

Also, a pattern here: every meal involves my CSA produce and is SUPER easy. Apparently I’m also on a chicken kick and eschewing my usual vegetarian meal. Oops!

Ah, well. Bring on those last few lazy, hazy crazy days of summer!

Meal #1 (peppers)pesto chicken pasta with sliced veggies and spinach dip

Meal #2 (broccoli)chicken quinoa casserole with sliced veggies and spinach dip

Meal #3 (lettuce, cherry tomato)crispy chicken salad

Meal #4 (peppers, onion) – chicken fajitas, just using the recipe on the back of the spice packet

Meal #5 (zucchini, onion) – grilled oysters and sweet onions with zucchini tots  (I’ll have to post my recipe ASAP for the onions!)

August Meal Plan #2: Veggie Catch-Up

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Image from Sally’s Baking Addiction

This week’s CSA box includes a lot of veggies I can just slice up and eat with spinach dip (carrots, colored bell peppers, broccoli, and cucumber). That’s good, because I’m still desperately trying to use up last week’s bounty–which includes Swiss chard, green onion, and green lettuce. I’ve also factoring in some fresh melon and potatoes this week.

CSA Vegetarian Meal #1 (chard)Swiss chard and black beans over rice

CSA Big Easy Meal #2 (Poblano peppers)slow cooker chicken tacos

CSA Freezer Meal #3 (potatoes, melon)clam cakes, oven-roasted potatoes, and fruit salad

CSA Freezer Meal #4 (chard, green onion)quiche with this pie crust and a filling of chorizo, green onion, and Swiss chard

CSA Big Easy Meal #5 (lettuce, cucumber in the salad) – spaghetti and meatballs with green salad and store-bought garlic bread (almost everything in this recipe comes from a jar or a box… no recipe links necessary!)

August Meal Plan #1: Catching My Breath

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Image and recipe from Kristin at Yellow Bliss Road

Sorry I missed you last week, Internet. I was busy (a) celebrating my 9th wedding anniversary with Mr. M (b) suffering through a heat wave and (c) obsessively setting up my new Passion Planner. (More about that last one later!) Here’s the least you need to know about last week’s menu: Giada De Laurentiis’ dirty risotto is delicious for a celebration, especially when paired with champagne, ice cream, and a simple green salad.

Okay. Moving ahead. We’ve officially entered the tail end of summer, which means that I’m feeling pulled in multiple directions. Mr. M and I are trying to savor several more hot-weather adventures with kids, but we also need to finish up this season’s home projects (which, yes, we’ve totally been putting off). I’ve got to get Big Sis ready for first grade and Little Bro ready for preschool. I’m also traveling for work. Oh, and pretty much everyone in my family has a birthday this month. Soccer. Did I mention soccer? (Pause. Breathe into a paper bag.)

In richly busy times such as this, the thought of meal planning can be overwhelming. I need simple. I need fast. And I need to acknowledge my tendency to eat my stress… which means that everything has to taste fabulous. So I’m reviewing my target rules for tastiness (namely, that everything tastes better when rolled in a tortilla, dipped in soy sauce, covered in sour cream, or made into a pancake). Oh, pancakes. You’re definitely taking a starring role this week!

Other factors: this week’s CSA box includes melon (which we’ll have for breakfast) and slicing tomatoes (which will go on sandwiches). I’ll be building the week’s dinner recipes around scallions, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes, and kohlrabi. Hard to believe that I’m halfway through the CSA season! Ten more weeks to savor fresh veggies 🙂

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Vegetarian CSA meal #1 (scallions)sesame-crusted tofu and scallion cakes

Vegetarian CSA meal #2 (zucchini, kohlrabi, and carrot) – veggie fritters with herb yogurt sauce, summer fruit salad

CSA meal #3 (cauliflower, potatoes) – mashed cauliflower, oven-roasted potatoes, and pan fried pork chops

CSA meal #4 (green beans)slow-cooker roast chicken with steamed green beans and boxed rice pilaf

leftovers re-imagined (shredded roasted chicken) – chicken pesto sandwiches with fruit, sliced veggies, crackers, and store-bought spinach dip (yes, this is a portable meal I’ll be taking to a family picnic.)

Mindful Parenting with the Passion Planner

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Over the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with my Passion Planner. In the past, I’ve written about why I love the idea of a paper planner (check here if you’re curious). And in the future, I’ll probably write about why I chose to go with this particular size and brand for all my current planning needs.

But for now, I’d like to tell you how I use my weekly layout to support a more mindful parenting style. 

Let me start with the caveat that there are tons of great resources already out there, often geared specifically towards moms who bullet journal. If you’re looking for cute and/or efficient ways to set up a meal plan or a chore chart, you can easily fall down a Pinterest rabbit hole (or, even more dangerous, go on an Etsy sticker shopping spree!) Even if you stick purely to Passion Planner-specific web content, there’s still plenty of eye candy out there.

And yeah, I LOVE that kind of information. I drool over gorgeous layouts, and I dream of a life codified by little check boxes. But that’s not a surprise, because I tend to be frightfully detail-oriented. Yeah, I don’t just lose the forest for the trees. I lose the forest for the individual tree leaves I’m obsessively scrutinizing and categorizing.

Hence why my current planner practice is less about trying to get organized and more about trying to get intentional. I need help when it comes to aligning my plans and follow-through with my true priorities. So I’m trying to harness my detail-oriented tendencies in service of something larger.

Here’s how I’m currently planning for and then reflecting on each week:

1. Some time over the weekend (or Monday if life’s busy), I pencil out a plan for the week. I fill in our set obligations and routines first, then I add how I’d like to spend the remaining time. I also give the week (and then each day) a potential focus. This step helps me several ways:

  • First and foremost, it reminds me that our family life is actually quite full… and that saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. This helps me prioritize (easier to do now that I’ve actually done some values pondering). For instance, if I’m focused on “routines” for the week, I might (theoretically, at least) pause before agreeing to an all-day adventure that will screw with meals and quiet time.
  • On a purely practical level, I can (again, theoretically) spot and address any imbalances or potential problems with my week before they blow up in real time.
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the week ahead, in pencil

2. After my day is over, I review it and set down what actually happened in pen. I summarize the true focus for the day up top and indicate the dominant weather. (Yeah, the weather thing started during a particularly depressing stretch of winter. I was thinking my whole life was horrible and needed completely revamped. Really, it was just raining a lot. Good to know.)

3. After recapping the day, I add a little heart on times that I particularly enjoyed being with one or both of my children. (Yeah, I always love them, but I don’t always like them… know what I mean? The little hearts–or lack thereof–prompt me to prioritize the actual relationship part of my parenting. I can definitely see it when I’m missing that connection with one of my kiddos.)

4. Finally, I color-code my finished day to see how I spent my time.

  • Green logs all work (of both the paid and unpaid variety)
  • Yellow conveys group fun (two or more family members engaged together)
  • Pink signals time driven by Big Sis’s needs, blue does the same for Little Bro. Mr. M is turquoise.
  • Purple shows all my self-care (exercise, writing, relaxing, time with Mr. M, etc.)
  • Brown is for service activities (helping others outside our home)
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three finished days, hearts and all

That may sound like a long process, but it actually goes pretty quickly and has the added benefit of relaxing me. Yay! It’s like my own personal adult coloring book! And when I’m done coloring my day, I can often identify why I’m feeling satisfied or crappy, where I’m imbalanced, or why one of my kids might be acting up more than usual. So much win!

Of course, I’m a navel-gazing control freak who loves both planning and reflecting. So clearly this sort of process only works for certain personalities. 🙂

I’d love to hear from some other parents and/or caregivers. How do you use your planner to parent more mindfully? Have you found ways to render your ephemeral family hopes or visions more tangible? Are you breaking down your long-range family goals into meaningful yet manageable steps? Please, share your brilliance! 

July Meal Plan #4: a Whole Lot of Hosting

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Image and Recipe from Sweet Anna’s blog

I’ve been laboring under the delusion that this will be a quiet week because swim lessons ended. But then I realized that we’re hosting overnight guests on Thursday and a dinner party potluck on Friday. Then Saturday, we’re helping my delightful 88-year-old grandma move to her new home. All good things that we plan to fully savor… which means I’ve got to have my cooking and cleaning game thoughtfully planned in advance!

So, yes. What party-pleasing recipes do I have that feel appropriately celebratory without totally taking over my life? And how can I make them while using lots of fresh veggies? After all, I’ve still got leftover CSA cabbage to use. Items in the new box include: potatoes, zucchini, sweet red Italian torpedo onion, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, arugula. We also got garlic and carrots, which get eaten and used without any planning. 🙂

So, for our overnight guests we’ll be going on the casserole route. Why? Because they’ve been traveling all summer and are joining us fresh from a long camping trip. I imagine they’ve had tons of barbecue in the past few weeks, and an oven-baked meal might be a refreshing change. I’ll also be making a slow-cooker breakfast casserole for everyone to enjoy the next morning alongside some cantaloupe. (I love a good slow-cooker breakfast when I’m hosting. It means people can eat whenever they’re hungry and no one’s beholden to wake up at a certain time.)

And for our Friday night dinner party? Kebabs! Food on sticks = pretty. Plus, it involves grill work (Mr. M’s chosen domain, which gives me an all-too-brief and very-much-needed break on the domestic front!)

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CSA meal #1 (cabbage and snow peas) – shrimp stir fry (snow peas and chopped onions added to this recipe)

CSA meal #2 (zucchini, potato, onion) – turkey and zucchini meatballs with oven-baked potatoes and grill-charred onions)

vegetarian dinner – Brie and fig jam grilled cheese sandwiches (yes, I have more leftovers to use up!)

hosting overnight guests (CSA arugula) – broccoli quinoa casserole with arugula salad and a fruit tray. For dessert, I’ll serve ice cream and/or some lemon cookies pulled from the freezer.

Kebab-themed potluck dinner party (more CSA zucchini, tomato) – We will grill kielbasa kebabs and piri-piri kebabs. I’ll also serve green bean salad and Caprese salad skewers (note: I’ll be buying balsamic glaze in order to prefer my sanity!)