»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Win A Month of Free Lunch!
Jan 18th, 2012 by Nancy

‘Ever get the feeling like the dinner-making well has run dry?

I’ve been trying to nudge that afternoon routine out of a rut lately.  As the primary cook in the household I try, with all good intentions…

  • to serve not one but two vegetables at dinner, and
  • to offer meat not as the main course all the time but occasionally as only a side dish, and
  • to have at least two meat-free dinners a week, and
  • to add more flavor and texture, and especially to make enough for a couple lunches (but not so much that it goes to waste), AND…

it’s all just tapped me out.

FOTT_croppedDid I forget to mention that my husband is gluten intolerant too, so I get to do all the above AND convert dishes as necessary to make them wheat, oats, barley and rye-free?

This is where the menu planning service Food on the Table has been a godsend.  With some initial setup I can peruse a database of recipes and create menus for the upcoming days.  Since Food on the Table uploads the circulars from my local grocery stores I can hone in on recipes that will use sale items.  I can also enter my own recipes and family favorites – useful, that.  Then Food on the Table generates a shopping list from my selections.

In my case I use the service less for every last detail of a meal and a shopping trip, and more for inspiration and organization.  It’s become my palette for thinking through dinners for the week: I see what’s on sale, I recall what I have in the fridge to use up, I hone in on a cuisine category (vegetarian, pasta, etc. – they even let me indicate a gluten free dietary restriction), and without fail, something – and often something I’d never thought of trying – surfaces as the next couple days’ worth of dinner.  What’s more, I can throw the leftovers in the lunchboxes the next day!

If inspiration is that missing piece to your meal planning efforts, I have great news: If you buy a lunchbox this weekend either at the website or at the Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show, you will automatically be entered in a drawing to win A MONTH OF LUNCH.  Here’s what you’d get:

  • A $75 Gift Certificate to the grocery store of your choice – That’s $3.75 a day for weekday lunches, which would be an epic meal if it’s brought from home, and
  • A free one-month subscription to Food on the Table to help you plan those great dinners that will turn into epic lunches.  So far I haven’t found a meal planning service that offers a lunch menu, but many of our lunches are really just dinner leftovers.  Better yet, they pack up in the food containers right after dinner and get popped into the lunchbox in the morning!

The fine print: Contest runs from noon Friday January 20, 2012, and concludes midnight Sunday, January 22, 2012.  To be entered in the drawing you must purchase a small, medium, or large complete lunchbox set while the contest is underway from the booth at the Good Earth Show or on the website.  One entry per complete lunchbox set purchased. Winner will be drawn and contacted Monday, January 23, 2012.

By “month” we mean “a month of weekdays”, since most packed lunches are carried on weekdays, not weekends.  Thus $75 / $3.75 a lunch = 20 lunches, or 4 weeks of 5 days each.

You may get gift certificates to more than one store, as long as the total of all gift certificates is no more than $75. Gift certificates will be mailed to the contest winner, and winner will be notified via email good_earth_logoabout how to sign up for the Food on the Table subscription.

Did I mention?  Lunchsense will be staking out a booth (#1112) at the Good Earth Home, Garden and Living Show this weekend, so if you are in the Eugene area please stop by and say hello!  It’s a fun show and a wonderful bunch of exhibitors and presenters, so you’ll be certain to find a new idea or two.

Foodie Tuesday: The Pioneer Woman's Spicy Peanut Pasta Salad
Mar 29th, 2011 by Nancy

PIONEERWOMANI make the lunchbox.  YOU make the lunch.

Foodie Tuesday, week two: Where would I be without you, Pioneer Woman Cooks?

If you haven’t come across this site by Ree Drummond, you’re in for a treat – this gal loves food, cooking, good photography and her family (and much more), and rolls them all together into a website that keeps surprising and entertaining us with every visit.  When I need a delicious, comforting meal, her site is often my first stop.  My chef-in-the-making daughter browses her site partly for inspiration and partly for sheer entertainment; little does she realize, though, that in Ree’s hands she’s getting a head start on her cooking education as Ree photographs every single step along the way.

Do note: fat is her friend.  Butter is a food group, not a condiment, in Ree’s kitchen.  The results are worth it, but it takes some time to get used to measuring the stuff by the stick, not the teaspoon. Note also that her portion sizes run to the “cattle rancher” sized, especially since that’s just who she’s cooking for – she and her husband are in rural Oklahoma, where they ranch and homeschool their four children.  Whew, it makes me weak-kneed just writing that sentence.  Anyway, adjust her portions accordingly.

Now to hone in on a recipe from her site…I’m aiming for something that cooks up easily, packs up nicely in a Lunchsense lunchbox, serves well at any temperature, and is mouth-wateringly tasty to boot.  I think I’ve found it:

SPICY PEANUT PASTA SALAD

Spicy-Peanut-Pasta-Salad

Spicy Peanut Pasta salad: click the photo for the recipe.

Here we have peanut+garlic+sesame+sweet/sour effects of vinegar and brown sugar, blended and dressing room-temperature linguine and garnished with cilantro.

What I love about this recipe is that it barely breaks a sweat in the prep department: boil noodles, make sauce in blender, pour over noodles.  I also like that it starts with a solid base (the peanut sauce) made from readily available components, but it’s infinitely adjustable depending on the current inventory in the kitchen and preferences of the diners.  Outa red chile oil?  Not a problem, use…a little chili pepper, maybe, for heat, or possibly red chile paste.   No cilantro?  Sure, coarsely grate some carrots and/or cabbage and it’ll be fine.  Toss in bean sprouts or steamed pea pods if they’re around, it’ll be great.

To complete the meal Ree served it up with sliced roasted beef tenderloin and roasted asparagus – note that both of these other dishes are great served hot or cold, making them perfect lunchtime companions to the pasta salad.  They aren’t essential, though, and if you have another combo that works I’d love to hear about it!

Portlanders: Better Living for you!
Mar 17th, 2011 by Nancy

BLS posterDo tell, oh neighbors-to-the- north: does the new program Portlandia change the way you refer to yourselves? Are you now Portlandians, or do you remain Portlanders?

My husband and I lived in Portland for about 7 years.  Our daughter was born in there (okay, Milwaukie, technically). We moved to Bend for a lovely 18 month period, where our first son was born.  We moved to Eugene thereafter, where our second son was born.

We’re not moving anymore.

I will be making the trek at the end of this month to the Expo Center in Portland for the Better Living Show, which (if the last couple years is any measure) is bound to be a great time.

Many good reasons to go….

Food samples!

Admission is free, and here’s why: the Better Living Show organizers want to counter the impression that “green = expensive.”

A wonderful kid’s pavilion!

The weather will not improve, so while you’re waiting for a break in the rain to mess about in the garden, you can pick up some new gardening tips and ideas.

1,001 ways to green your home!

I’ll be having my annual drawing for a free lunchbox in any size and any color, but you have to stop by the booth to enter.

More samples!

Enjoy a 20% discount on every Lunchsense lunchbox set purchased at the Better Living Show!

You can train, bus or bike to the show, but if you must drive you get a buck off parking if you carpool (3 or more).

If you don’t make it to the show but do “like” us on Facebook, you will help your friends who order later – if we reach our goal on Facebook we will offer $5 flat rate shipping for all of April!

Fashion!

Lots of other presentations!

Did I mention food samples?

Last but not least, a fabulous lineup of lunchboxes!

Check here for a slideshow of last year’s event, stop by booth 529 and say hello, and maybe even walk away with a marvelous new lunchbox while you’re at it.

‘Hope to see you there!

Foodie Tuesday: a new series
Mar 16th, 2011 by Nancy

I make the lunchbox.  YOU make the lunch.

This has always been my response when customers ask if the Lunchsense lunchbox they’ve just ordered will come, um, pre-loaded.

You might think I’d be all about recipes, clever tips, great photos – an endless resource for what to put in that fancy new lunchbox.   As you might know, I’m a huge fan of food, from growing it to cooking, reading about, and most of all eating it, in (most) all its wondrous form.

But how do most of MY lunch-packing adventures go?  Not so adventurous, frankly.  I usually only pack lunch for my 3rd grader and 5th grader, and their tastes are…still developing, shall we say.  If I were to even try writing about what I usually pack for these two I’d run out of words by Friday, and you’d get pretty sick of what I had to say by about Wednesday.  ‘Hardly inspiring,  I’m sorry to say.

I’m not doing you any favors, though, if I’m not sharing some of the eye-popping, jaw-dropping, mouth-watering delectables that come across my desk and browser in the course of business, so as of today I will officially start fixing that.

By the way, how do you define a foodie?  Is it someone who’s a food snob?  Someone obsessed with eating “correctly” (whatever that means)?  Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts about “my-lunch-can-beat-up-your-lunch” food snobbery (or would that be “my lunch can have your lunch for lunch”?)  vs. genuine, heartfelt foodie-ness.

So then, today: what’s on the (virtual) menu?

Since it’s lunch, and that conjures images of sandwiches, I’ll start with this: Raspberry Chipotle sauced Pulled Pork Leftovers topped with Candied red onions & provolone cheese, found on My Year on the Grill:

pulled pork sandwich

Didja get all that?  Here it is again: sweet and smoky raspberry and chipotles slow-cooked pulled pork recipe; bright, tangy candied red onions; velvety provolone.  Crunchy+pillowy+salty+seedy bun. Pull all this out of your lunchbox and you’ll be the envy of all your office mates.  For the surprisingly fast and easy raspberry chipotle sauce, see here .

I’ll be getting Foodie Tuesdays out every week.  I’m open to suggestions as well – if you see something just too good to hide, let me know!

HouseSmartsTV Gives Lunchsense a Green Light
Feb 14th, 2011 by Chris

The bustling staff at Lunchsense world headquarters is a proud, yet mostly humble group.  The truth is, we get a little squeamish about blowing our own horn, so—it’s always nice when someone else decides to tell more folks how helpful our lunchboxes can be.

HouseSmartsTV.com is primarily a home-improvement site run by Chicagoland’s “Mr. Fix-It,” Lou Manfredini.  They also occasionally produce cooking or lifestyle pieces, and they recently featured Lunchsense in a video about healthy, environmentally-conscious, noontime-meal solutions.  Hooray!

Check it out, pass it on and above all else—enjoy your lunch!

Nancy's Yogurt: what customer service should strive to be
Oct 20th, 2010 by Nancy

nancys_logo_wstarsI wrote a few weeks back about how and why I gave up my fax number, and mentioned that I’d have a nice customer service story as a follow-up.  Here it is:

Awhile back I bought a small tub of sour cream (Nancy’s brand – a local dairy) and, upon opening it found it was laced with grainy little bits.  The sour cream tasted fine but the texture was unsettling, so I pitched it and dropped the Nancy’s company a quick email explaining the problem.  I didn’t have my receipt, and it was only a couple of bucks’ worth of sour cream, so my highest expectation was that they’d write back and say “thanks for letting us know” and maybe they’d send me a coupon.

But no.

I did get that email, which explained that the grainy bits were protein something-or-others, and the writer asked if I could tell them what I paid for the sour cream so they could reimburse me.  They also mentioned that they taste-test every batch of sour cream before it gets packaged and shipped.  Overall it was a very nicely penned note, and I was satisfied.

I wrote back to tell them that I didn’t know what I paid, and a coupon would be fine if they had one, and I envied them their taste-testers job.

Then about a week later I received a big, bulky enveloped from none other than the Nancy’s yogurt company.  In it was not one but three coupons, and a beautiful canvas shopping bag, AND a HAND-WRITTEN NOTE from Elaine Kesey, owner of Nancy’s yogurt herself, thanking me for my support.  The postage alone for that package far exceeded what I paid for that grainy-but-otherwise-edible sour cream in the first place!

As a small-biz owner I’m confronted daily with one of the hard facts of business life: expenses.  Customer service is just one of many, and happens to be one expense that (unlike rent, payroll, taxes, etc.) we are not beholden to pay just to stay in business, or at best we pay “in-kind”: we reimburse our dissatisfied customer with just what that customer paid.

But the problem is that we can’t put a dollar amount on dissatisfaction.  Nancy’s yogurt demonstrated exactly what I hope Lunchsense will always offer: a genuine, heartfelt, personal response to every customer.

Please, let me know how your experience with Lunchsense turns out.

Lost in the Supermarket
Oct 6th, 2010 by Chris
Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

The line of glaring shoppers gathering behind me has nearly snaked its way back to the meat department.  “No, I’m going to be late,” one of them relays via her cell-phone, “I got behind some idiot at the grocery store again.”  My items are beginning to form a small mound near the cashier because I can’t keep the conveyor moving fast enough as I struggle to bag the haul.  I realize I left an envelope of carefully clipped coupons somewhere behind me, probably near the paper products or maybe in the cereal aisle.  The beads of sweat forming on my scalp and streaking down my face are starting to fall on my groceries in audible “plops.”  The total is coming and I don’t have my bank-card ready.  I’m shuffling through the multi-colored plastic plates when I discover—I’m missing one—the one with the money—“$163.85, please”—and I’m without a single cash cent.  I look to my children for a sympathetic smile, or some indication of a greater good, and I notice only one of them is in visible range and he is choking down an unauthorized grab from the candy rack.

Grocery shopping sure ain’t for sissies, and until recently it was a task handled mainly by the super-moms of the world.  I don’t mean to suggest that men can’t buy groceries.  I realize there are millions of single guys out there, and at least half of them have moved out of their parents’ houses and now have places of their own.  But, generally speaking, outside of a few professional cooks I know, grocery shopping isn’t very highly regarded (or appreciated) among the dudes.  To underestimate the effectiveness of a well-honed shopper’s acumen is a fatal mistake however, that can lead to vein-popping stress-tests like the one described above.  As the traditional roles of “husbands” and “wives” become less defined by gender, more men are being pushed into unfamiliar territories (like “produce”), and it is advisable to get your game-face on.  Don’t be alarmed.  I’ve been there, and in my ongoing effort to discover my inner “House-Husband,” I’ve found some essential practices that are sure to ease the strain.

  • Treat it like a job.  Become the House Manager for your family and attack the assignment as if you were getting paid for it.  Make it a challenge.  See how much money you can save the family by kicking butt on aisle nine.  If you manage to save just $25 a month, you’ll have $300 by the end of the year, and then you can dust off your golf spikes and stroll confidently to the first tee knowing you’ve actually earned it.
  • Before you start your list, make a plan.  Every shopping expert says the same thing—“start with a list.”  This is a no-brainer, but men often forget to consider the end-product (a meal) when they shop.  A list comprised solely of individual items is a recipe for waste, money consuming return-trips and numerous pizza bail-outs.  If you want to shop like a real pro, you’ve got to start with a menu plan.  I know.  It sounds so Martha Stewart, but a menu plan is essential to any effective grocery list.  You don’t have to become a chef or anything.  I only plan dinners, and I try to have between six and eight before I write my list.  Think entre, veggie, and a side.  Maybe a couple of casserole dishes.  The internet is a limitless resource for recipes, and I’d recommend investing in a cook-book or two (with color photos) for inspiration.
  • Clean out your fridge.   Most guys tend to enter the ice-box with blinders on.  Their determination to quickly locate and acquire the one item they need (“cold beer”), conveniently permits them to disregard everything else.  Without a loving wife/mom, or conscientious House Manager on hand, a guy’s fridge can get out of hand in a hurry.  You should always clean your refrigerator before you go to the store.  It’ll help determine what you need, you’ll discover what’s not getting eaten, and it should clear some space for the new arrivals.
  • Consider cash only.  If you only take cash, you’re more likely to stay within your budget, and you get the immediate satisfaction of actually holding any excess loot you save.  Just don’t forget to bank it.
  • Timing is everything.  Don’t underestimate proper timing when planning a grocery run.  Avoid shopping on weekends, if at all possible, or during rush-hour, after work.  Crowds are stress-breeders that can undermine the savviest of shoppers.  It is never a good idea to “squeeze in” a shopping trip.  Only go when you have enough time and are focused on doing a thorough job.  Return-trips wreak havoc on budgets.  Don’t go when you’re tired (or hungry, duh), and shop by yourself, if you can.  On top of eliminating possible distractions, research suggests we spend less when shopping alone.
  • Choose your store(s) carefully.  Guys often go for the fancy ones with the free samples, awesome beer/wine selection and a café attached.  I like to hit one of these occasionally too, for the excellent deli meats, fine butcher and appealing selection of organically grown produce; but a can of beans is a can of beans.  You will save hundreds on all the basics like toilet paper, condiments, frozen foods, cereal, canned goods, etc., if you make use of a warehouse-style, bag-your-own store.  You can still explore specialty options like farmer’s or fisherman’s markets, but don’t overpay for a tube of toothpaste.
  • Learn how to read (a label).  Listen up gents—you may not care if your own waist-size has decided to race your age to 50, but if you are the primary food buyer for your family, you really need to give health and nutrition some consideration.  This can get tricky.  Food Inc. isn’t going to help you here.  They don’t want you to know exactly what you’re eating, because if you did, you might not buy it.  They will try to divert your attention from important nutritional info like “calories per serving” or sugar content with flashy terms like “low fat.”  The truth is—you could get fat eating “low fat” foods.  “Calories per serving” is a much better gauge when dieting.  Look for “whole” foods or grains for the highest nutritional content, and try to avoid things that are “processed,” or “prepared.”  Deciphering the terminology of modern food labels is the key to making intelligent, health-conscious choices.
  • Find the “real” price.  When comparison shopping, between stores or particularly between brands, always note the per item/serving cost.  Sometimes food companies get slippery with sizes or items per container and what initially looks like a good deal is actually a rip-off.
  • Be practical with produce.  Yes, you want to stock up on a colorful range of fresh fruit and veggies; but remember—it can spoil, if left unused.  Rely on your menu plan and only purchase fresh items you’re going to use.  Learn which items spoil quickest, so you’re sure to use them first.  Hearts of romaine, for instance, generally stay fresh longer than other leafy greens, so this is a good staple.  Pay attention to ripeness when making your selections.  Don’t overlook frozen fruit and vegetables.  The taste and texture isn’t that much different than fresh, and they work great in casseroles (veggies) and smoothies (fruit).
  • Organize your cart.  If you use a bag-your-own store, don’t just haphazardly toss your items into your shopping cart.  You will benefit later by situating most cans and boxes (bottom of the bag items) so they can be placed on the conveyor first when you check out.
  • Double check the checker.  Try to keep an eye on the register’s display as items are being totaled.   Sometimes scanners hiccup or incorrect codes are entered and you end up paying caviar prices for a can of chicken noodle.  This can be challenging while bagging your own, so give your receipt a quick perusal before you leave the store, paying particular attention to any high-cost items.

More and more men are starting to shoulder their way up and down the aisles of our supermarkets, and their inexperience causes them to underestimate the complexity of the job.  This often leads to a mismanaged household and worse still, reinforces a guy’s apprehension about doing it.  Do yourself a favor, get serious and get good.  Successful grocery shopping is an exercise in proper planning and refined technique.  Everyone develops their own routine and there are countless effective strategies.  I’ve only included basic practices aimed at assisting the novice shopper.  With a little preparation, anyone can determine a personalized approach that meets their family’s needs.  Most guys will puff-up at the slightest sign of an accomplishment, so roll-up those sleeves, unleash the “guns,” and show June Cleaver who’s the boss of the bulk bins.

Lunchsense always appreciates your comments and suggestions.  Don’t be shy.

Life and times of a small biz: what's a fax number worth to me?
Sep 24th, 2010 by Nancy

fax machineA couple months ago I eliminated my fax number.

Although I wasn’t going out of my way to get rid of it, I am now no longer reachable by fax.

I guess it isn’t accurate to say I eliminated my fax number.  Actually, it was taken from me.  Here’s what happened:

I subscribed to a service called eFax that assigned a telephone number to me that served as my “fax” number.  If someone wanted to send something to me, they’d dial that number then eFax would email me a digital file (like, though not, a pdf) of the sent pages, and I’d be good to go.  Best of all, it was free, simple, and seemed a good environmental choice – no trees were killed in the conveyance of information to me.  eFax did offer several other “premium” plans that came with a monthly price tag, but since I’d receive maybe one fax every other month, the free option was absolutely sufficient for my needs.

Recently, I worked with a customer that apparently didn’t have my email address, but did have my fax number, so he sent me a handful of faxes – about six in all, each about three or four pages in length.

What I didn’t realize (or more likely since I’d had this service for a couple years, what I didn’t remember) was that if I sent or received more than 20 pages in a single month I’d not qualify for eFax’s free service any longer.

So I was a bit surprised to get a notice from eFax stating that because of my recent activity I no longer qualified for the free option and in order to continue using their service I’d have to upgrade to the premium plan.

SO – Does $17 a month seem a bit steep for a biz to pay for a service that it uses maybe 6 times a year? To send or receive information that can also be conveyed – in better form – via email?  Which, ironically, became my only choice not because I sent a bunch of faxes, but because someone else sent just barely 20 pages in a 30 day period?

‘Seemed that way to me, but I wanted to find out if eFax felt the same way.  I called them several times, and was given the same answer several times – in order to keep my fax number I had to cough up $16.95 a month.

After mulling it over, I realized that (even though it feels otherwise) THIS WAS NOT BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.  The eFax phone people were cordial, honest, and straightforward. The 20 page limit was there in my original plan, I exceeded my free limit, and I was shown the door.

THIS IS ONLY A REALLY LOUSY BUSINESS MODEL.

The fax number just sat there in my signature block, quiet and safe and staid: address, phone, fax, email, website.  It wasn’t really doing anything except adding one more line to the block, and maybe adding the perception of one more nugget of legitimacy to my operation here: “see? I’m a REAL biz – I have a fax number.”  Now that it’s gone, though, I realize it won’t be missed.  While I feel for the people that have my contact information but don’t know the fax number isn’t live anymore (although so few of them fax anything I’m not losing any sleep over it).

But as a small biz owner, I am somewhat more concerned to think that eFax considers this a viable way to do business. Yeah, they weren’t making any money off me, so why should they care?  Here’s why:

They hasten the demise of their own services by kicking me out.  They weren’t losing any money on me either, but they did lose a whole lot of goodwill.

I hear it said that bad customer service stories are repeated nine times by the “victim”.  I don’t want that kind of storytelling about Lunchsense, ever.

It’s actually not been that big of a hassle to get my fax number off my “collateral” (that’d be the name for all the paper stuff that has my biz information on it), as most of it I print on-demand – for example, I have the file with the letterhead, and when I need to write a letter, I write it and print it (or, more often, email it).  Invoices, packing slips, carton inserts, whatever – most of it either didn’t have the fax number to begin with or I only print in small quantities.

I can also email printer scans for someone who has to have my signature, so the ONLY THING I’m now left without is the ability to receive a fax.  It is no significant loss, frankly.

Please: do you have a similar story?  If you were me, what would you have done?

Next week: a customer service tale that I strive to emulate.

It's a wrap
Sep 17th, 2010 by Nancy
Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

We’ve all had bad weeks.  This one is no exception.

Lunchsense is my “full time” job, which means I attend to it every weekday after my two boys get to school (8:15) and before they get out of school (2:35).  This isn’t nearly enough time to keep all the plates spinnin’, so I often return to work in the evening after dinner.  Since I work at my house, to keep it – work, house, kids, laundry, groceries, dinner, whatever – all together I try and keep to a pretty tight schedule.

With the start of the school year I’ve tried to get a steady supply of playdates to keep my kids busy (and happy) so I can avoid having to shlep over to the grade school at 2:30 and lose an otherwise very productive hour (or more).  Ideally (so the plan goes) at least half those gigs would be at someone else’s house, and the perfect storm would find both my boys going somewhere other than our house so I don’t have to kill that hour going to the school only to say that yes, they can go to their friends’ houses.

I’m Oh-for-five this week, though. Ouch.

I’ve had a houseful of “spares” (as in kids – also known as “strays”) all week long, which would be fine (we call it “subtraction by addition”, this bringing-in of kids to keep mine out of my hair) except several have been the recalcitrant types who don’t WANT to be here, and to prevent them from breaking out and trying to walk home I’ve had to keep a weather eye on them.  I actually did have to chase one four blocks and carry him back.  It is, sadly, not a great way to work.

We’ve also had houseguests.  I really like houseguests, and as members of couchsurfing.com we have a steady stream of fascinating, generous, kind, complete strangers staying overnight here.  Of course we have complete control over who stays and who doesn’t, but when we agree to host a couchsurfer we have no idea what life will have served up in the interim.  Our most recent guests were delightful – among the favorites of everyone we’ve ever hosted, in fact – but haven’t we all had that night of “I am having an absolutely wonderful time with these people, which is only slightly ruined by the recall of the huge pile of work I should otherwise be doing”??

I’ve also had evening meetings.  Again, they are for groups I absolutely love and wouldn’t dream of giving up, but the end result is that I haven’t been able to carve out even an hour or two for work most nights this week.

Did I mention that one of my boys misplaced, in a record-setting 48 hours’ time, his glasses, his shoes, two sweatshirts, the family camera, and his school binder?  All were eventually found, but you know how it is.  Just one more thing.

Same boy, different day: he brought to me (to his credit, sheepishly) three food containers for his Lunchsense lunchbox that had been waylaid under his desk for…weeks? I have no idea.  And I had just ‘bought’ (from company inventory) three more of the exact same containers that very same day.

So here it is, Friday afternoon, and my to-do list for the week is not only NOT shorter, it’s way, way longer.  Simple things – what the &^# do I do when a printer has “print skew”?? – have completely shut down my productivity.  THE WHOLE WEEK has been a testimonial to bad customer service: technical issues that should take 5 minutes to fix have taken 30; Thirty minute problems have taken 90. To top it all, I’ve spent over an hour on customer service hold lines every day this week, and every day has been for a different problem.

Speaking of “customer service,” I’ve created my very own disaster, all by myself, by shipping an order meant for Malta…to Malaysia.  Seriously.  (Therein lies the great downside of autofill. Type M-A-L and hit return, yeah? Um, no, Nancy.)   Another hour went down the rabbit hole trying to un-disaster that beauty.

So, to all who care to hear, I’ve dug down deep and found a refuge from this week’s frustrations.  Here it is (Forgive me, in advance, for showing my age. Note, though, I highly recommend this to them of any age):

Lynryd Sykynryd.  Freebird.  Really, really, really ear-bleedin’ loud.  (I have to acknowlege – painfully – that it’s not loud enough.  Have I finally wasted my hearing?)  Nine minutes and nine seconds of escapist bliss. I’m on about my seventh time ’round and it’s exhilarating, liberating, and exactly what I need to scrub out the memory of this wretched week, and I highly recommend it to anyone with ears and a bad day in the rear view mirror.

Next up: Inagaddadavida (Iron Butterfly).  Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group). Hold Your Head Up (Argent.  First line: “And if it’s baaaad, don’t let it hold you down, you can take it”  Aaahhh, pearls of wisdom).   Sunshine of your Love (Cream).  Hocus Pocus (Focus). Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress (the Hollies).  Bungle in the Jungle (Jethro Tull).  And, of course, Stairway to Heaven (Led Zep).

And I’m not even going to try and fix iTunes, which seems to unable to find over half the music in my library.  That’ll be Monday’s problem.

Under Construction
May 15th, 2010 by Chris

under constructionThere’s a major renovation project going on at our house, and I’m the architect, contractor and primary recipient of this refurbishment.  That’s right; I‘ve decided to expand and rebuild myself.  The current floor-plan is simply not accommodating our family’s needs.  I‘m one of a growing number of men who has been thrust into a “house-husband” role, and I have to admit—I’m struggling with it.  I’m having trouble reconciling who I am with who I am.  In fact, there are times when it feels like I’m disappearing altogether.  What is required of me often conflicts with what is desired by me, and my current “position” (house-hubby/dad) has me feeling like the “Incredible Shrinking Man.”  My circumstances and domestic responsibilities have conspired to squeeze me into a corner closet with a box of old records and a fondue pot.  I’m doing a fair amount of kicking, screaming, stomping, moaning and groaning about it, and I’m not an easy person to ignore, but with the piston-driving engine of home, wife and children churning in the foreground, I’m always going to be outgunned.  It all adds up to an inefficient (and cranky) household, so we’re going to have to knock out a few walls and move some things around.

If I sound like a “typical man” with some “spoiled, only-child” issues, the shoe fits.  I see a problem and I want to fix it (with a home repair metaphor no less).  I also want to get mine.  Don’t worry moms; I understand (by now) that parenting (and husbanding) requires near-legendary levels of selflessness.  And, I realize that no person is above “grunt” labor.  But, remember that age-old question, “Whatever happened to the woman I married?”  She becomes a mother and a homemaker and her husband doesn’t recognize her anymore.  I’m facing that same kind of thing: an identity crisis and a little “stuck in the rut blues.”

I know plenty of dynamic moms who integrate their family responsibilities seamlessly with vibrant, unique personalities.  They are confident and interesting, and their kids and husbands are proud of them.  So, what’s my problem?  The number one issue I need to overcome is acceptance/denial.  I have not welcomed or embraced the “home-making” concept.  I have a soft, sensitive side and I’m pretty in touch with my feelings, but I’m still mostly a “dude.”  I don’t really think about this stuff much.  Most men are genetically hindered in their ability to process things like dust, grocery lists, shower-grime, or home-décor.  Even before I was laid-off, I was a stay-at-home dad because I worked nights.  Having a job meant I could guiltlessly slack-off housekeeping, and hold my head high, knowing my kids could say their dad worked in the sports department at the local newspaper.  I viewed our cluttered, undecorated home as a temporary condition.  We (i.e. my wife) would get around to fixing things up eventually, when we were more settled.  That was nine years ago, and I’ve been unemployed for the last nine months.  We don’t always choose what happens to us, and sometimes the choices we do make lead us to unexpected places.  Like it or not, I am the primary housekeeper, cook and child-care provider for our family.  Thus far I’ve resisted putting much of myself into these noble endeavors.  I’ve managed to get things done by just going through the motions.  I’ve been trying to tread water and survive until “something” changes, but just-getting-by on a day-to-day basis for nine years has taken a toll.

So, what can I do?  First thing, take a deep breath.  Look at my smiling, healthy children and pat myself and my wife on the back.  This is hard.  It’s okay if we don’t have it mastered.  Survival in this game is synonymous with success.

Next step, assume ownership over these responsibilities and begin to address the problems proactively.  I’m discouraged and grumpy because I’ve accepted mediocrity from myself.  I’ve been sleepwalking through the cascading to-do lists, and waiting for some special moment to shine again; however, an opportunity exists right now.  I simply need to apply myself.  I should put as much enthusiasm and determination into creating a more-efficient, nurturing home as I would any other personal project.  Just because I lack a little housekeeping acumen doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have taste, style or a willingness to fight mildew.  I’ll admit I’ve held little regard for most domestic duties, instead viewing them as chores to be dreadfully endured.  This is a critical mistake.  I never visualized “house-husband” as a career choice, but I did see myself having a family.  And now, my wife and kids are counting on me to deliver as much (or more) than they ever did when I was bringing home a check.  I need to set a positive example for my kids and make the most of this fate.  It is time to officially “take the position” and begin applying more passion and ingenuity to the task at hand.

Once I’m committed to the project, I can begin to develop strategies for overcoming my deficiencies.  House-hubbies, like kids, require a lot of structure.  I can’t continue to apply a “take care of the basics and wing the rest” approach to my daily agenda, or I‘ll remain powerless over the fortunes of each new day.  A schedule reestablishes control.  Things are addressed when I determine.  Schedules eliminate uncertainty.  Does that shower really need to be cleaned? Yes, today I scheduled “bathroom scrub.” Most men function efficiently when they’re “on the clock.”  The successful house-husband mandates specific hours for specific tasks.  There are children involved, so the calendar should maintain some fluidity, and it might take a while to establish the authority of the household schedule because it has lapsed for so long.  It must be written down.  The commitment to writing is a tangible statement of intent and a personal contract.  When something exists on a family calendar, the entire family tends to acknowledge and respect its importance.  I’m not too comfortable with contracts or dictating structure, so I’ll have to convince myself of the benefits we all stand to gain from the concentrated effort.  Improved time-management increases efficiency which enables more productivity.  Ultimately this should create more quality “me” time.

Two other vital elements of my renovation project involve expansion and repair.  Life is a brutal contest that really requires top physical condition, especially when kids are present.  As my propensity to feel overwhelmed has increased through the years, my dedication to health and fitness has waned.  This is backward thinking.  Aging and added stress necessitate improved fitness.  I’m not just going to say I should get in shape while regretfully eyeing my paunch in the mirror.  I’m going to schedule it.  I’m also determined to get out of the house more on my own.  I need to plan and participate in activities that will provide intellectual stimulation (or physical fitness) and networking.  I shouldn’t isolate myself.  I have to broaden the range of my daily experiences.  In order to truly value myself, I must find ways to integrate who I am with what I do.  All those super-moms that I mentioned earlier find a way to incorporate elements of themselves into their homes, their meals, and the activities they share with their children.  If I lend more of myself to home-improvement and take pride in what I’m doing, I might find new means of expression.  Defining and discovering who I am outside the traditional work-place is an ongoing project, but I’m determined to reassert myself rather than just passively enduring my circumstance.  The blueprint has been sketched; it’s time to break-ground.

Lunchsense is always looking to become more sensible, so please share your experiences, suggestions, or shrieks of laughter below.  I’ll continue to post select moments from my misadventures, offering relevant insight when I can, and together, we might make some progress.

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa