Every parent needs a couple dinners in their arsenal that they can bang out with minimal time and effort. Bonus points if the kids will actually EAT the dinner. I make most of our dinners in advance and freeze them, but when I need to actually cook something right now, I have two meals that I make (successfully!) time and time again. Obviously, my kids are not your kids, so while my kids gobble this stuff up, YMMV.
Meal 1: Turkey Kielbasa with Onions and Peppers
Turkey kielbasa, sliced 1/2 inch thick circles
1 large green pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
several cloves of garlic (I use a lot of garlic)
While rice is cooking, heat up olive oil in large skillet. I don’t measure this or follow a recipe, but I think I use about a tablespoon. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, green peppers, and onions. When the vegetables are mostly cooked, add the kielbasa. Cook until brown. Serve over rice. I usually add a fruit or additional vegetable as a side.
Turkey vs. Beef Kielbasa: Taste-wise, I prefer beef kielbasa, but the high fat content is unconscionable. My kids don’t notice a difference.
Meal 2: Steak with Sweet Potato and Broccoli
Once every three months, we order a box of ten 4 oz steaks from Omaha Steaks. They come individually wrapped, which makes it super easy to only cook what you need. They are small (perfect size for children or me). I use a George Forman grill and the steaks are d0ne in 10 minutes.
While the steaks are cooking (with absolutely no work on my part, thanks to the grill), I throw some sweet potatoes in the microwave for seven or eight minutes (depending on size) and then steam some broccoli, also in the microwave.
Twenty minutes later, steak dinner. It doesn’t get better than that.
About a month after I first started running, I felt a slight twinge in my left hip. I figured it was just normal muscle pain that comes from starting a new sport (ever tried riding horses after a ten year absence?) and ignored it. When it didn’t go away, I Googled the crap out of it, learned all about IBT issues, and decided it was probably somewhat maybe related?
This is why I am not a doctor.
At this point the pain was so bad that it hurt all the time. My walk was now a hobble. I started to worry that it was actually a hip fracture. Finally I decided to go see an orthopedist. After a quick exam and some x-rays, he ruled out IBT and stress fractures. So what was my problem?
Muscle sprain brought on by being really fucking weak.
“That can’t be right,” I told him. “I have been active most of my life. I walk, I ride horses, I bike, I do step class. I’m not weak.” (In my mind, I’m starting to think maybe it’s because I’m not 25 and 30 is the new 60 and OMG I AM OLD.)
“You do all that now?” he asked.
And then it hit me.
No, I do not do all that now. That was pre-kids and pre-office job. A week before Lily was born, I went for a five-mile walk. And then, up until the day I suddenly decided to go for a run, I hadn’t done more than an occasional short hike in FOUR YEARS.
“Do you sit a lot?” the doctor asked. “Usually I see injuries like this in people who sit a lot.”
Well, let’s see. There’s the eight hours I spend sitting at my desk, with maybe 30 minutes of walking around spread out throughout the day, so let’s say 7.5 hours. Then (before moving into D.C.) I was commuting 2 hours a day at least. And then, of course, there were a couple hours in the evening where I parked my ass on the couch. So…11.5? At least.
That’s a lot of sitting.
And all that sitting made my ass muscles extremely weak, which made my hips overcompensate, and BOOM! Injury.
The cure? Stop sitting.
Also: I had to stop running completely for three weeks and start strength training two times a week (I did Pump class until they switched the time on me). When I was clear to run again, I followed a strict and slow timetable for getting back to where I was.
Now, six months later, I am back up to running three miles, three times a week. But most importantly, I have changed my lifestyle. I make sure that I spend 10 minutes of every hour at work standing (whether I go to talk to someone in person, or stand while talking on the phone). Moving cut my commute down, and I take the Metro instead of drive.
And when someone offers me a seat on the train, I just say no.
Monday’s Q&A made me think back to what it was like during the first year after he left. I realized that I am in a much better head space now, although it has been a slow, rough road. The first year was…bad. I was pregnant when he decided our marriage was over, and because he wasn’t ready for our friends and extended family (ie, anyone other than parents and siblings) to know, I had no one to lean on. At the same time, someone I loved very much was going through a terrible crisis, and I had to be there for him. And I had to show up every damn day to work and act like everything was great, and I was so excited for the baby. (Which, of course, I wasn’t. I mean, come on. I loved the baby, but being a single mom of two was not my idea of a good time.)
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Both of those things are crucial to a healthy pregnancy, so I needed a way to stop my brain long enough to do either (preferably both). Here’s what worked for me:
1. I read a lot. I wasn’t really picky about this; I only required a happy ending. I binge read everything by Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, and Joan Didion. I read memoirs of women who ran off to Europe. (For the record, I did NOT read Eat, Pray, Love. I tried to watch the movie once and was so bored I couldn’t finish.) I found a blog, Amalah, and read it from beginning to end, all seven years of it. I’m not even sure why I did that, but it was nice getting lost in someone else’s perfectly imperfect life.
2. I watched a lot of British television. Downton Abbey, Inspector Lewis, Jane Austen movies, Top Gear. Speaking of, please allow me to introduce my next two husbands:
I have good taste.
3. I bought myself something pretty. Namely, my first DvF wrap dress in a bright plum shade that in a previous life I would never have considered.
4. Lily. One day, when I could not stand even one more second of it all, I locked myself in the bathroom and sobbed while Lily knocked on the door and asked if I was all right. I was not all right. To say that was a low point is like saying August is a touch warmer than January. But you know what? She needed me, and there was no one else to take care of her and feed her and read her books. It’s surprising what you can do when you have to. I had to pull myself together, so I did. Going to the park with her did wonders for my soul.
5. Evelyn. Nearly two months before my due date, I got very sick. I had an emergency C-section and Evie went to the NICU for three weeks. Obviously this made my life so much harder in so many ways. And yet…
After the surgery, they wheeled me to the recovery room to stay for the next few nights. “You need to be up and walking at least a little within 12 hours,” the nurse told me.
“You’re joking, right?” I said. I mean, they had just cut open my stomach, after all.
No, she wasn’t joking. If I didn’t want blood clots, and if I wanted my body to start working again, I needed to move.
“Your baby is right across the hall,” she said before she left.
I was up and walking within an hour. It took me probably thirty minutes to cross from my room to hers, a distance that would have taken me mere seconds pre-op, but I did it.
Before Evelyn, I was paralyzed, just going through the motions and trying to make it through the day for Lily’s sake. With a baby in the NICU, I had a laser-like focus on something outside of my own little sad story.
Evelyn got me moving again.
6. Running. I’ve said it before (here, for example), but I’ll say it again. Running saved my sanity. I would be a lot angrier and a lot more bitter if I didn’t run.
I know I’ve come a long way in the last year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come in the year ahead. I think that’s the biggest change of all.
I had great intentions when I started thinking about this blog post. I could write about the perfect hot cocoa recipe, and how to keep a few unread books squirreled away just for this occasion, when the kids are mind-blowingly bored and need something new. I could write about puzzles and art projects and baking cookies. And all of those things were great–the first few snow days. We are way, way past that now.
The truth is, there is only one to survive the kind of snow day that comes in March after dozens of other snow days have come before it: Accept it.
Accept that you are going to spend thirty minutes wrangling the kids into snow gear (and smush your four-year-old into 2T snow pants) for a solid ten minutes of blowing off steam before they are too cold to take another second.
Accept that you are going to spend obscene amounts of time on the couch watching TV. If you’re lucky, you get to watch Frozen. If you aren’t so lucky, Carebears. Today was both.
Accept that your children will make up weird games that you don’t entirely understand.
Accept that at some point you will lose your shit and your child will look at you like this:
Accept that there is nowhere else you would rather be.
Dear Lynn, my husband left me and our six-year-old son last August. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say he left our son, because he still sees him every other weekend. So, really he just left me. I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. I was devastated. Now here it is seven months later and I am still devastated. I can function, which is a step up from where I was last summer, but I can’t shake the overwhelming sadness. Everyone expects me to dust off my hands, say that I’m better off without him, and be happy already, but I just don’t feel that way. I’m trying, I really am! But I thought we would be a family forever. How do I move past losing the fairy tale to a place where I’m “fine”?
You know that scene in Love Actually where Emma Thompson tells her husband she knows about his affair, and “life would always be just a little bit worse?” Of course you do, because you love that movie as much as I do.
In a perfect world, I would have eight sisters and three children and one man for my entire life. That’s a perfect world. In the real world, sometimes your sister dies in a motorcycle accident, and sometimes you find out that your body doesn’t handle pregnancy as well as one might hope, and sometimes your husband leaves you.
But that’s life, isn’t it? It is always just a little bit worse than the fairy tale. If we’re lucky.
It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to mourn the fairy tale.
But the truth is, you never had it. What you had was a flawed marriage between two flawed individuals. Maybe divorce is a little bit worse than the fairy tale (a lot worse, honestly) but maybe it’s a little bit better than the actual marriage. For me, I would say that when my husband left, I would have done anything to make him stay. Eighteen months later, I can only now say that marriage to a man that could leave the way he left would always be just a little bit worse than divorce. And yet…even now, I still think “but if he…” The good news is that he never will, and so that saves me from myself.
So 18 months later, I am still grieving the fairy tale, and I probably will for the rest of my life. But you know what? I’m fine. And most of the time I even find ways to be happy. It turns out to be surprisingly easy. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy.
You’re fine. Really. But since you don’t feel fine, go make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in post-divorce. Everyone needs a little help sometimes.
And after you make that appointment, go play Legos with that boy of yours. If you can’t have the fairy tale, at least you can have that.
And having that makes you pretty damn lucky.
Got a question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
We pretty much live off of frozen food–but it’s all homemade and mostly healthy. This is, in a nutshell, my secret to surviving as a working mom. It didn’t take me long to figure out that cooking in a tiny galley kitchen with a toddler tugging at my pants and crying was impossible. Now I cook once or twice a week, tops. And it’s almost always after the kids are in bed. Of course it would be easier to just buy the frozen food instead of making it, but have you checked out the nutrition labels on frozen chicken nuggets? No way am I feeding my children that. (I mean, no way am I feeding them that on a regular basis. It’s not like they’ve never been to McDonald’s.)
Almost anything can be frozen. It saves money and time. On Friday nights I make a dozen muffins or scones after the girls are asleep, put aside enough for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, and freeze the rest. Nothing goes to waste, and we have breakfast ready for two weekends. I telework on Mondays, so during my lunch break I make enough meatballs for a few meals and freeze them. You can also freeze chicken tenders, chicken nuggets, taco meat, any kind of soup…really, anything.
Seriously. Living out of our freezer has turned evening chaos into…a relaxed family dinner. Awesome.
Lily’s Favorite Meatballs
1 lb lean ground beef (I use 92% or higher)
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Seasoning to taste: Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, Worcester Sauce, Ketchup, garlic salt, dried oregano (I really can’t help you here, because I have never measured any of it and I don’t follow a recipe. I just dump it all in and hope for the best. Surprise! It always tastes the same.)
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. See above note about dumping it all in. Do that.
3. Mix well with your hands (wear gloves if this is too gross). It should easily stick together.
4. Make balls. Maybe an inch or so in diameter? That seems right.
5. Place balls on baking sheet so that they don’t touch. Place in oven for 20 minutes. To see if they are done, cut one open. If it is pink, it is not done.
To freeze them, I divide the meatballs into meal-sized portions. One pound of meat makes three dinners for us, but YMMV. We are just one adult, a four-year-old, and a toddler, so obviously a bigger family (or older children) would eat more. I put each portion in a quart-sized freezer bag, and then I put all three bags in a gallon sized freezer bag and lay it flat in the freezer.
And now we have dinner for Tuesday, Friday, and next Monday. Done.
Disclaimer: I am not tough. Compared to many (like Beth at Shut Up + Run, who is a freakin’ Ironman), my workouts are not tough, either. I get that. But I am still a newbie, and running is still hard. Otherwise, everyone would do it, right?
Here’s what went wrong:
1) I spent the last several days eating pie and drinking caffeine.
2) I did not hydrate properly. In fact, before I went for a run, I hadn’t had water in nearly 24 hours (instead, see above).
3) I didn’t cover the treadmill screen with a magazine, like I usually do. (Time goes slower when I can actually see it.)
4) My running partner was injured, so she was doing weight training and not on the treadmill next to me.
The result? After slogging through an unbearably long 20 minutes (thanks to numbers 3 and 4), I found myself with a sharp, stabbing pain in my right side (thanks to numbers 1 and 2).
Sometimes side cramps go away quickly, so I tried to breathe deep and keep going. When that didn’t work, I dropped down to a walk.
I wanted to stop. I wanted to say fuck this and go pout over on the mat area while I stretched. I wanted to quit.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I walked for four minutes to recover and then ran for another six. I had only intended to run another five minutes, but every time I get all whiny in my head, I get more and more annoyed with myself until the mean mom in me rears up and says I DON’T LIKE YOUR ATTITUDE, MISSY. And that’s why I had to do an extra minute.
Finding the mental strength to keep going when you just want to lie down and stare at the ceiling is hard, no matter who you are. Here’s what keeps me going when I want to stop:
1) Accountability: This is a big one for me. One might call this pride, and one would be right. I don’t want to tell my running partner I quit after 20 minutes. I just don’t.
2) Goals. My major running goal this year is to run an 8k. I will never get there if I don’t push past the hard parts.
3) Theory. I have a running theory: If a run is really craptastic and takes a lot out of you, the next one will be better. But only if you push through. If you quit, your next run will totally suck.
How do you push through a hard run?
To celebrate Black History Month, Lily has to do a poster about Harriet Tubman for school. (And by school, I mean preschool. Yes, she has homework in preschool. Shoot me now.) For now, let’s set aside the part where I misread her homework and thought she just had to draw a picture of Tuskegee Airmen and thus missed the due date for the poster and now have to turn it in late and gah I let my daughter down!
Yes, let’s just skip that part and move on to where I told Lily everything I (and Wiki) know about Harriet Tubman. It went about as well as you think. Unless you think it went well.
ME: Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 in Maryland. She was a slave.
LILY: What’s a slave?
ME: A slave is a person who is owned by another person, called a master. The slave has to do everything the master says, all the chores, all the cleaning, and working on the farm.
LILY: Mommy, am I a slave?
ME: (pause) No. Why would you think that?
LILY: You make me clean my room. And you say you are the boss of me.
ME: You are not a slave. I am the boss of you because I am your mom, and you don’t know enough things yet.
LILY: I know everything.
ME: Anyway. Slaves were not treated well. Sometimes people hit them.
LILY: Because slaves are bad people?
ME: No, slaves were not bad people. They were just people. People should be treated nicely and you should never hit. That’s why slavery is wrong. (Please note: I know there are other reasons, but the concept of “freedom” was a bit much, considering how the talk was going.) So Harriet Tubman decided she did not want to be a slave. She escaped, and then she helped other people escape. They went from the states in the South to the North. It was called the underground railroad.
LILY: Nods like she understands.
ME: So tell me about Harriet Tubman.
LILY: Harriet Tubman ran away because she didn’t want to clean her room.
ME: (long sigh) Let’s start again from the beginning.
I think it’s safe to say that the end of February is not the best time for feet. Most ladies haven’t seen a pedicure since September (or possibly New Year’s Eve, but that was a long time ago too). Cold, dry air = scaly, cracked heels.
Did I mention Spring is right around the corner? Let’s get those feet ready, shall we?
I love Bliss Spa at the W Hotel, but as a single mom I can’t afford to shell out $55 + tip to get my feet sandal-ready. My bank account combined with my abnormally dry skin means I have perfected the art of keeping rough patches at bay. Follow these four steps, and I promise you, your feet will be perfect in no time. (That’s a lie. Your feet will be perfect in about a month, because that’s how long it takes really awful heels to heal. <– See what I did there?)
Step One: Exfoliate. All that dry skin is full of dead skin, and the only way to heal it is to remove it. There are two ways to exfoliate: Physical and chemical. I find that a combination of both is best when dealing with the tough, thick skin on your feet. For physical exfoliation, use a file or razor (I like PedEgg, but some people don’t like razors) in the morning before you shower. Don’t do this too often; once or twice a week should suffice. Then for chemical exfoliation, use a lotion with lactic acid before you go to bed. I like AmLactin, but since it turns runny when your skin is wet and doesn’t sink in fully, don’t use it after a shower.
Step Two: Moisturize. Like exfoliation, I take a multi-pronged approach to moisturizing. In the morning after a shower, I put on a thick cream, usually Nivea, but also pure coconut oil. Then, morning and night, I apply a cuticle oil. No, it’s not just for fingers. Your toes have nails, too, you know. I’m not really loyal to any particular oil. I’ve used Essie’s, Dior, and Burt’s Bees. They all work equally well. At night I alternate the AmLactin with Nivea.
Step Three: Protect. This step is critical, but most DIY pedicure guides seem to leave it out. The key to locking in the moisturizer is to follow it with a petroleum-based…um…goop. Think Vaseline or Aquafor. Petroleum jelly and mineral oil do not actually moisturize, so absolutely do not put this on your feet before you rub in lotion. But it does do an awesome job of creating a barrier, so your feet will retain whatever moisture it has. (This goes both ways, obviously! If your feet have no moisture, petroleum jelly will make them even dryer. Huffington Post has a good article about it here.) Let the lotion sink in for 10 minutes, then follow with a layer of Aquafor. Put on some socks and call it a night.
Step Four: Repeat. Soft, polished feet need to be maintained. Don’t let up!
Also, please don’t send me before and after pictures of your feet. I’m just not into it.
Q: Hi Lynn! I really liked your post on what to put in a divorce agreement. (Ed. note: Link is here.) My soon-to-be-ex and I both come from families that love to ski. When we were kids, we both spent all of our vacations at various ski resorts. (It’s actually weird that we didn’t meet until college. We were at the same places at the same time for years!) After we got married, we continued that tradition. Now we have a three-year-old daughter and are getting divorced. We have never taken her skiing, but we always talked about how excited we were for her first ski trip. This is what I would want to put in our divorce agreement: That we are both present for her first time skiing. The problem is, we don’t really get along, and honestly, I would rather it just be me taking her skiing. I don’t think he’ll go for that, so the next best thing is to do it together. I think you mentioned before that you get along with your ex. So how do we get along long enough for our daughter to have a great time?
A: Hmm. How to get along with your ex. That’s such a hard question to answer because every couple is unique and has unique problems.
HAHAHA. I’m just screwing with you. We’re all the same.
After rereading your email for the dozenth time, I see your problem as really two related issues: 1) You don’t want him there, and 2) you fight a lot. And I think that maybe, just maybe, if we can fix issue (1) then we will be a long way to fixing the overarching problem of getting along.
The good news is that you actually DO want him there, so problem solved. (YAY.) Think of it this way: You might strongly dislike the man right now, but your daughter doesn’t feel that way at all. No, your daughter lights up when he walks in the room, and shrieks “Daddy!” when she sees him. For your daughter, Daddy is the Best. Thing. Ever. Imagine her first ski trip, and she’s super excited and also a little scared, but Mommy and Daddy are right there and everything will be fiiiiine. She’s happy. (Disclaimer: Try to reduce your expectations of this trip anyway. She might hate skiing. My daughter hated the beach. But you know? It will still be good.)
I’m pretty sure that however much you want to be there for her first ski, your ex wants it just as much. So just try to have a little compassion, for your daughter and for your ex. Compassion and empathy are necessary if you really want to get along.
Speaking of which: Issue 2, you fight a lot. Solution: Don’t fight.
You’re right, my ex and I do get along–as long as we do not discuss our relationship or divorce. Then we fight. In fact, we have been having the same two fights for our entire relationship. You take those topics off the table, and voila! Nothing to fight about.
I am betting the same is true for you, just like millions of couples everywhere. It’s the same fight over and over again. So just don’t. Agree ahead of time that certain things will not be discussed, and follow through. Sure, avoidance isn’t the best way to have a healthy marriage, but that ship has sailed. Now we are talking about surviving a divorce without scarring your child. All those old issues? No longer your problem.
Bonus points if you can manage to be generous and considerate, because that also has a tendency to nip fighting in the bud.
Have fun, laugh, and take lots of pictures!
Got a question? Email me at email@example.com!