Wednesday, February 05, 2014

end of the day

This January has been a particularly long, snowy and cold month.  As the temperatures continue to dive down to arctic equivalents, the motivation to get up and get moving in the morning has been challenging for both adults and children in the household.  Often I'd barely open my eyes, peeking out at the morning frost on the window, staying cuddled under the oh-so-warm comforter, hoping to hear the phone ring with an early morning call from the school to inform us that it's a snow day.

A brief but timely article in 'Inc. Magazine' had some interesting tips on how to end your day to become more productive.  Although this article was geared towards having a productive business day, I think many of the points would work for parents.  Here are 5 of the points that I think not only work well with adults, but are good habits to start teaching children when they are young.

1.  "Finish one (organizing) project".  Every semester, there is at least one long term project that is  due at the end of the term (or during "report card season").   Book reports, science projects, or other assignments that require various work phases to complete (like research, rough drafts etc.).  I always find these assignments are generally due during a frantic time...right before Christmas holidays or March Break, and there is nothing worse than trying to cram all your work into the last week before a holiday.  So on our school calendar, we mark due dates, and every single night, the kids are required to work on at least one hour worth of work towards completing their assignment.  By doing this, often they feel accomplished that they did something, and usually finish their projects way before it's due date.  There's never a better feeling than a worry free holiday instead of cramming last minute for school work.

2.  "Address all communication".  After school in our house, it is required that the kids empty their backpacks and present all notes that come from the school.  Notes from teachers, other parents, newsletters, birthday invitations, playdate arrangements etc. are determined, discussed, arranged and questions are answered.  This way we all know what is expected of us, and the next steps we need to take (like buying a birthday gift early, not on the way to the party!)

3.  "Review your calendar and to-do list".  After school, the kids are required to go over their agendas and check off all the homework, tests and assignments they must complete for the next day.  I usually take this opportunity to also probe what's happening (socially) in the class, and help them prepare for future assignments. Making sure an agenda is reviewed EVERY NIGHT is key. Luckily our school provides these agendas, but keeping an inexpensive one in the backpack sets a good habit for the kids to keep on top of things.

4.  "Set out your clothes".  Every night, we review the weather forecast and set out all the clothes for the next day.  We consider their school schedule (gym, outdoor recess), and make sure that that all the necessary items are ready to go.  This shaves at least 15 minutes off the morning routine, as the kids have already coordinated their outfits the night before, items are checked to ensure they're clean and don't have holes, and there are no arguments on what to wear.  This also teaches them to understand how to read the weather reports, and prepare for the next day.

5.  "Set out your shut-down time".  This one is the most challenging for me, especially since technology plays a large role in our family life.  Our rule of thumb is: no video games during the school week, so we can concentrate on school work/extracurricular activities.  No technology allowed at the table during meals....only real conversations allowed.  And we try to shut down all media at least one hour prior to bedtime, so we can unwind and avoid media driven stimulation.  This last hour, prior to bedtime is spent either reading, writing in journals, drawing, playing with legos or (my favourite), a quiet conversation about our day.   As much as I love everything that comes with our digital devices, it's the quiet time that truly allows us to connect.  It's a cathartic time to release any negativity that hinder us, and provide clarity or perspective of the day to help us realize how grateful we should be.

I guess it's true that how you end your day can be just as important as how you begin it.  As I shudder at the thought of driving through one more snowy cold morning, with end of day planning, organizing and then settling down (maybe with some warm homemade soup), we'll be well prepared for tomorrow.  Whatever the weather.

Quick and Easy Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup
(Makes approx. 4 servings)

This recipe is very adaptable.  You can add all kinds of spices to give this more depth, like rosemary, parsley or thyme.  It's not a lot different than making a mushroom roux (or gravy), but adding other spice elements along with cream makes this a simple and easy soup.  Side note: If you're making a recipe that requires condensed cream of mushroom soup, I discovered that this can be used in lieu of the "canned" version (bonus: no preservatives).  Just follow the instructions but omit the cream.

  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons onions, chopped (I used red onions...shallots would work well too)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour (separated)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (I used low sodium organic broth).
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme or parsley
  • Cut the mushrooms into slices.
  • Melt butter in large frying pan. Add in onions, garlic, and mushrooms. 
  • Cook until onions are soft.
  • Blend in 2 tbsp. flour and stir.
  • Slowly add the chicken broth until slightly thickened while stirring frequently.
  • Add one more tbsp. of flour and seasonings, continuing the stirring.
  • Slowly add the cream to the soup until desired thickness and consistency.
  • Top with croutons or parsley.

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