Sunday, January 20, 2013

Monkey Wrenches in My Career Plans

Fair warning: this is one of those posts I write to sort things out in my own head, and is therefore very navel-gazey. If that's going to both you, click away now.

One of the things making me feel less than 100% at home in my own skin lately has been some ongoing uncertainty about what I should be doing with my career. I've been feeling a bit bogged down, but it is hard to know if that is a sign of a problem, a side effect of the subtle sexism that still exists in my field, a symptom of my scanner nature not getting what it wants, or just a sign that I'm mid-career and the novelty has worn off.

Also, last yer was a difficult one at work, with lots of projects and not enough help managing them, so not much time to do anything but manage (I'm happiest when I get to do some hands on techie or science work, too). We've hired me some help this year, which should make things much better. Once I get the work load rebalanced, I suspect I'll go back to being pretty happy in my current job, which really is a good one. Petunia is sleeping through the night fairly regularly now, and we are starting to teach her to go to sleep without company. The kids play on their own more, too. All of these things together have given me more time for my hobbies and non-work projects, which will probably keep the scanner part of me happy.

So why I am angsty? Well, I still doubt that I'll be able to retire from a job similar to the one I am doing now- the biotech industry seems to moving toward more small, barely scraping by sort of companies, which means fewer companies that have the money to invest in the things I do. I think that is sad, and that good IT can make companies of all sizes more productive, but if the money isn't there, it isn't there. I have been kicking around ideas for ways to solve that problem (and also keep me employed), but nothing compelling has coalesced yet.

Given that uncertainty and the ever present possibility that my non-work projects won't keep my inner scanner happy and I'll need to move on to something different, I want to have a contingency plan. This became clear early last year, and I spent a fair amount of time thinking about things, until I came up with a plan. I was going to steer my non-work projects towards things that might either make me money or build skills for a second career. I even had a list of projects sketched out, with a plan for how I would progress through them. The fact that I don't actually know what I'd want to do for a second career made this challenging, but I think I managed to come up with some good ideas. I figured that would keep me happy for at least 5 more years at my current job (assuming the job lasts that long!) thereby giving us time to pay off our second mortgage and get both kids out of day care and into public school. Those two things would free up a lot of our income, and we would no longer need my salary quite so much- giving me the freedom to take more career risks, perhaps even do something as risky as start my own company.

Guess I just keep going
And then my company threw a big monkey wrench into all of my plans. They announced that we are moving to a new building that is in a far less convenient location for me. It will be OK once Petunia is in Kindergarten- taking my commute from an average of 20-30 minutes to approximately 30-40 minutes. Unfortunately, Petunia doesn't start Kindergarten for another 2.5 years, and while she is still in day care, the commute is much, much worse.

And then my husband's company announced they were moving, too, and one of their three possible sites was even more horrible for us than my company's new site.

My 5 year plan crumbled. Suddenly it seemed like I might need to make a decision about my current career path as early as this year. Mr. Snarky announced he'd probably change jobs rather than tolerate the commute if his company moved to the distant site. If he changed jobs, would I want to do something risky with my career before we saw how his new job went?

We talked about moving Petunia to a different day care, and while that was an option we would have considered if Mr. Snarky's company moved to our least favored site, we hated it. We love our day care, and so does Petunia.

Luckily, Mr. Snarky's company decided to move to one of our preferred sites, choosing a location that is right around the corner from where they are now. This means that Petunia can stay at her day care- instead of splitting the child shuttling duties into drop off and pick up, we'll split by child. I'll do all the Pumpkin shuttling, and Mr. Snarky will do all the Petunia shuttling. I'm still not thrilled about my company's new location, but I think we can make it work.

However, to make it work, we may need to get some more help and/or cut some new corners. I've been gathering ideas in the background, hoping to convince myself that my 5 year plan can continue. I'm nervous that the commute will be longer than I expect, and that even if it isn't, the extra time in the car will leech away so much time that I won't be able to make even the excruciatingly slow progress on my non-work projects that I make now. I won't know for certain until we're in the new building and I see how the commute really goes, but I'm not very good at "wait and see." So here is my list of ideas so far:
  1. I can get some books on CD or podcasts to make me feel like the longer commute is not completely wasted time. Or I could find some better "learn Spanish in your car" CDs. The ones I have are so dull that I stopped listening to them. (One plus of the new arrangement will be that my commutes will be child-free.)
  2. We could rejigger our evening routines and eat dinner at 6:30 instead of 6, taking some of the time pressure off my commute. (Pumpkin would still need to be picked up no later than 6, though. The "cost" of this change would be the loss of after dinner playtime and a slightly more harried feel to our evenings.)
  3. We could hire a household assistant, to do some of our errands- and also possibly to get our dinners started and/or pick up Pumpkin.
  4. We could upgrade our kitchen and get a fancy stove that we could program to start boiling water before I got home (not sure if I could convince myself to do that, though- what if I got delayed and the pan boiled dry?)
  5. We could eat even less inspired weeknight dinners than we do now. Currently, I try to make something sort of interesting twice a week. We eat leftovers once, pasta with sauce from a jar once, and frozen pizza once. We could go up to two leftovers and add in something like quesadillas (currently a weekend lunch item).
What would you do? Anyone have any other ideas to throw into the mix?

66 comments:

  1. It's hard to find a good household assistant, but it is worth a try.

    Have you ever seen the Zojirushi rice cookers? I can program it the night before and have brown rice or beans ready when I get home.
    http://www.amazon.com/Zojirushi-NS-ZCC18-10-Cup-Uncooked-Premium/dp/B000A7NN4I/ref=sr_1_21?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1358759494&sr=1-21

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  2. Anonymous2:54 AM

    When I had a long, nasty commute, language courses made it bearable. Music, books on tape, podcasts, and the radio didn't cut it. I found Pimsleur to be the best audio-only courses. You need something that accommodates frequent interruptions and diverted attention while remaining interesting. Learn to pause/unpause while keeping your eyes on the road. Good luck!

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  3. Anonymous3:34 AM

    You might have thought of this already, but a slow cooker can also be a good weeknight option. We have it as a regular menu strategy for everyone out, home at dinner time only days. Beyond the standard stews, we've had success with dahl, lamb shanks, curries. Our slow cooker has a delay function so you can load it up in the morning and set it to be ready for dinner, plus it automatically switches to warmer once the programmed time is up. Good luck with finding a way to make this new situation work for you and your family.

    Karen

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  4. With #1, DH has been loving his audible subscription. He downloads books to his mp3 player and listens to them in the car. We listened to redshirts on the way back from the midwest and it made driving a good portion of the 15+ hours surprisingly bearable.

    I wouldn't get an automatic stove because I'd be afraid the house would burn down without someone there to smell smoke.

    I agree that a slow cooker can make exciting meals more safely (and cheaper than a new stove!) Another thing you can do is make large batches of food on the weekends occasionally (see: make-ahead cookbook) and freeze for easy weekday use later. Get the kids involved in prep work, and it can be an occasional "anchor" event.

    I'm sure your DH is right and that you're still too underwater to refinance, but just in case things have changed, it could save you a ton of money to look into that.

    Good luck!

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  5. Re: the slow cooker. I have one and use it, although it is old so not one of the fancy programmable ones (I could fix that, though). The problem is that I have yet to find a single recipe that my kids will eat. They are both picky eaters in their own ways, and generally do not approve of food that is all jumbled together. Also, neither will eat meat.

    I think I could possibly use it to make a taco filling. The kids won't eat the filling, but they both like tortillas.

    Yes, I'm familiar w/Ellyn Sater's advice about feeding kids. I was a very picky eater as a kid, so I have made some modifications that I think will have the best chance of helping Pumpkin (who is the pickiest) add some variety to her diet. A full explanation of that aspect of the problem is longer than I want to put in a comment!

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  6. I actually like #3...what if you got someone to pick up Pumpkin and get dinner started (i.e. a human #4, which I agree sounds way too risky for me). We also pre-make or at the least pre-prep ALL our meals for the week on Sunday and also do some pre-make and freeze things. There is nothing to ever cut or grind or bake on the weekdays...we just pop whatever it is on the stove or grill or reheat and eat. Because my husband doesn't get home with the kids until 5:45-6, we don't eat until around 6:30 which is a bit harried, especially since my younger is 15 months, not used to the 1-nap-per-day in the toddler room, and is basically melting down in the high-chair by 6:45 every night. I'd like to eat earlier but it would involve changing our entire workday schedule.

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  7. I was going to make the same suggestion as nicoleandmaggie - depending how much time you have on the weekend, you can prep a bunch of stuff and through it in the freezer. For really quick readiness, freeze in 1 serving portions.

    I hope you find the commute isn't nearly as bad as it could be!

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  8. Good ideas, everyone. I'll explain some more of the parameters constraining us:

    The other thing to keep in mind on the slow cooker idea is that my morning commutes get longer, too. So our morning routine is going to lose some slack time, too.

    RE: making/prepping stuff on the weekends- this is probably a really good solution, but for some reason I hate the idea. I think it is because weekends are my days NOT to worry about cooking. Maybe I can get over that. Or maybe I could convince Mr. Snarky he should do the prep...

    The issue with hiring help is Mr. Snarky. He just barely tolerates the cleaner. He has some weird hang up about hiring help in our home. But he may have to get over that.

    @ana- the later dinner times get a lot easier as the kids get older. Up until Petunia was 2, there is no way we could have had dinner at 6:30. Now we have dinner at 6:30 every Monday, because of Pumpkin's swim lessons, and as long as I let Petunia have a snack when we get home, that is no problem.

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    1. Maybe Mr. Snarky could take a cooking class or just a knife skills class. My DH did that and it made him much faster and more comfortable in the kitchen, particularly for prep work.

      We do the slow cooker at night (after dinner) and stick it in the fridge so the only prep time in the morning is taking it out of the fridge and putting it on low.

      re: hiring help, either Mr. Snarky should do it or he should hire help... that seems like a simple solution.

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    2. Mr. Snarky is actually a really good cook. We just currently have our schedules arranged such that he does weekend dinners and I do weeknights. I think arranging it so that he can do weeknight dinners will be even harder once my company moves, because he'll have to do both day care drop off and pick up, and it will be too hard for him to make it home in time to cook dinner while also working a full day.

      I've prepped some slow cooker meals the night before. But that cuts into my project time or play with kids time! It might be part of the eventual solution, though. Clearly, something is going to have to give to accommodate an extra 20-30 mins per day in the car.

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    3. You know, one thing that is also hard about the longer commute, it's not just the additional time, it's additional fatigue. It's hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it (like my hubby) and I could't really explain it myself but I have much more energy now that I don't have that extra 30 minutes (1 hour total every day) dodging through traffic.

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    4. Yes, it does suck a bit on Sundays to have to do the food prep (we divide it; though its actually 60-70% him, 30-40% me most weekends)---but every weeknight we say a little secular prayer of gratitude for having delicious food ready to go.

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  9. Man, I hear you.

    I have a long commute already (1 hour when all goes smoothly) and a potential office move in a year or so hanging over my head. Plus we're looking for a new place and I have no idea what THAT might do to our commutes.

    Meal planning is what I hate the most at the moment. I have two picky eaters, neither of which would probably go for the slow cooker stuff (not sure my husband would either, for that matter). I feel like I make the same darn things over and over again. And I refuse to even buy much less prepare stuff for an entire week on the weekend because not only is it a terrible chore, but when the day arrives I often don't want what's on the menu.

    I'm lucky, though, because my husband and I have a fair amount of flexibility in our hours, he has a short commute and does the morning routine with the kids, and I'm still not working on Wednesdays. Plus my in-laws are local and can pinch hit (though that will most likely change when we move). So we keep on keepin' on.

    But if you come up with anything to simplify things in your household, let us know, because I may want to apply them here, too!

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  10. I don't even have kids, but as a dual grad-student couple, a programmable slow cooker, rice cooker and bread machine make eating "real" dinners way easier. Although I'm sure with picky kids that can be a problem (I was a picky kid and I live in fear that my future kids will be too).

    Depending on exactly how picky your kids are, they can also eat the same thing more often. My parents' rule was two bites of each dinner food and then we'd get something simple that we were willing to eat, like a hardboiled egg and PBJ. I think the sheer boringness of some of the dinner options made me try more stuff!

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  11. Books on CD would probably appeal to me, although when I tried listening to audiobooks during my walk to work and found that I got really anxious - I needed the quiet time to think about other things.

    Evenings, I would probably go for a combination of #2 & #5. The later mealtime will work better and better as the kids get older. Feeding them a snack as soon as they get home should work too - I find that my daughter is totally unwilling to try new food when she is really hungry. We also have a rule about "you must sit at the table" during official mealtimes, if she has filled up on snacks and leftovers while dinner was being prepared - we tend to have carrot sticks, hummus, apple sauce, yogurt, pickles & sometimes tuna where she can get at them.

    So I would have a basic (and boring) plan in place to make dinners really easy, with the option of making something more interesting if was feeling inspired or managed to get home early. But that only works if you're able to switch dinner time on the fly.

    Good luck. It sounds pretty frustrating.

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  12. I do the sort-of meal planning, in that I buy random vegetables and pieces of meat, and then over the week decide whether I would do roasting or stir-fry or pan frying, depending on time and mood. I try to shop twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays, so there is less planning and less chance to throw away food that goes
    bad between weekends.

    I usually cook more elaborate (i.e. time-consuming) dishes on Saturday and Sunday, and the Sunday one I make enough for two days, so we eat leftovers on Monday. Tuesday-Friday I cook something quick (sometimes there are leftovers): stir-fry with couscous, pasta with my "quick" Bolognese which both older kids love (the sauce is home-made but without the 3-hour simmering), or something frozen (e.g. very good breaded chicken from Costco). The boys and my husband love meat, so that's a must in each dinner.

    I prep lunches for the week on Sunday and I hate hate hate it. It's Sunday at 10 pm and I am buttering innumerable sandwich buns. I could not do all the week's meals on the weekend. Kudos to whose who can, I am sure it's a major time saver!

    My husband is also completely anti-hiring help, he just wants me to do more work around the house, and this is a great source of friction. I can't offer you anything useful on that front other than wish you luck!

    On your commute, why don't you try to learn a completely new language? I really like German -- it has a beautiful structure, very mathematical. Or if your Spanish is any good, try another Romance language, like French or Italian. Or as N&M said, books on tape -- who says the commute must be productive? It can be "me time".

    In any case, best of luck! I am sure your new equilibrium will emerge in no time.

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  13. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Re: dinner - we kind of combine ideas and make big-batch slow-cooker meals on the weekends to eat during the weekdays. We either start the slow-cooker overnight, or to finish in the evening (not necessarily for that night's dinner), stick it in the fridge once it's cool, and eat during the week. Especially if you do this twice, you have some variety for dinner (or lunches and dinners). We also freeze some and can pull out other meals from the freezer for more variety. Very convenient to come home and just eat homemade meals, without worrying about food prep for most of the week.

    We also roast/cook big batches of veggies on the weekend (we have a CSA box), which keep pretty well and simplify veggie consumption during the week too. We also use our new Dutch oven ($50 on Amazon!) to make one-pot meals, a la http://www.amazon.com/Glorious-One-Pot-Meals-Revolutionary-Dutch-Oven/dp/076793010X . We end up cooking maybe once during the week too as things run low. I find overall this cooking big-batch strategy, especially in advance, is more efficient and frees up time (especially time after work when energy is low and hunger/crankiness is high :), because cooking 10 portions isn't 5x the work of cooking 2 portions. But we don't have kids, so I have no advice on the picky eater front. Good luck!

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  14. Maybe your husband can alternate with meal planning/prep? That might alleviate some of the mealtime stress. I find that alternating meal prep helped me a lot, because you have to start thinking of meals as soon as you get in the door whereas on your day "off", you can unwind a little (even if the trade-off is doing dishes). Speaking of, a dishwasher helps a lot!

    I never got much use out of my slow cooker, though I keep trying a variety of recipes. Even if i get 2-3 decent meals out of it, it will help weekly mealtimes.

    Truthfully with a long commute, we rely much more on trader joe's! they have some decent options and you can toss together a vegetable dish or salad to make it a healthier meal. With picky eaters, it's hard though!

    I understand the impetus to learn while driving, but I often just listened to music and daydream/zone out on my long commute. Sometimes you get good ideas while doing that and it's a "break" from the go, go, go mentality of work (and homelife!)

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    1. Anonymous2:29 PM

      >I second the "zoning out" - I used to read/email/work on the train, and sometimes still do, depending on my mood. But I also find for me, letting my mind "sprawl" and decompress often results in some good ideas, either about work or life, about issues I've been thinking about. Gretchen Rubin said the same thing about "loose moments", as cited here in #2: http://www.booksforbetterliving.com/2012/09/go-to-it-control-the-cubicle-in-your-pocket/

      To be honest, Cloud, about the cooking: it sounds like the issue here might not necessarily be finding time to boil water (we often boil water and make rice/quinoa/whatever the night before, sometimes after dinner, and just reheat it the next day when we come home), but the picky eater situation seems to be the real complication here. Since I don't have kids though, I unfortunately don't have any advice here!

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    2. I'd probably do books on CD or a language CD in the morning, and just music or NPR on the drive home. I agree about the value of time to let my mind wander a bit!

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  15. As you know, I have a pretty blah commute, so I feel you on the lost time. I tried doing audio books/language programs at one point in time, but honestly, they never took for me. Instead, I *try* to use it as my time to let my mind wander or decompress after work, or prepare mentally for things I have coming up in the day. Or, I just sing along really loud to my music ;-)

    For meals I also suggest a slow cooker (there's a somewhat astounding amount of stuff you can make in that thing that goes beyond a big mush of stuff). We also rely pretty heavily on Trader Joe's, and breakfast for dinner.

    The final thing I'll say is that I was picked up from daycare & school by babysitters for years, and my mom to this day maintains that even the 30-45 minute difference that this made was instrumental in her not losing her mind. Her's was less a commute issue and more a logistics issue, but it was really helpful. If having someone else pick Pumpkin up would help with the timing issues, I'd consider it.

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  16. Calee1:16 PM

    My first year of college I was the help you describe in #3. 3 afternoons each week I went to a family's apartment (they had 3 kids so the oldest walked the younger one home from school) and I helped with homework and made dinner. The second year, I took over bedtime reading too at least once a week. I was technically hired to tutor but I did substantially more after the first few months. Perhaps if you found a college student for even a few days a week, that person would feel less "luxurious" to Mr. Snarky and could still be an asset to both Pumpkin and the home.
    Also, what about a Dream-Dinners type service, but one that delivers ready-to-cook food? It may not be the stuff the kids love, but they can eat their own food a couple of days a week.

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    1. I tried the ready to cook dinner thing after Petunia was born, courtesy of some friends. It was great while I was at home, but they aren't really optimized for short total time, just short prep time: the time to warm up the oven and heat things up was often well over 30 minutes.

      I've been arguing for a college student personal assistant! I might use your comment to help Mr. Snarky see the wisdom of that approach.... :)

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  17. I've become a complete audiobook convert. In fact, the only downside to our relocation last year is that my commute got shorter, so I didn't listen to as many books.

    And we can see your new location from our dogwalk in the mornings, which suggests you should be stopping by for after work cocktails in the evening.

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    1. After work cocktails... now THAT is an excellent idea. I suspect Mr. Snarky would get annoyed if I told him to pick up both kids and fend for himself too often. But maybe every now and then....

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  18. I sympathize with the dinner madness. I'm trying to figure out a new set-up because, more nights per week than I'd like, I'm scrambling to get food on the table for three kids while I'm watching them too and then some or all of them fuss about what I've made. It drives me nuts. I like the idea of an after-school sitter for Pumpkin who will grocery shop and cook.

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    1. I have completely given up on making meals that make everyone happy. If by some miracle both kids like something, Mr. Snarky will probably find it bland. And of course the things he likes, they hate. So I just try to make it so everyone has one "favorite" night where they'll like what we eat, and the rest of the time focus on making sure no one starves. Mr. Snarky has been making liberal use of his hot sauce collection....

      The cooking while watching kids thing got easier once Petunia turned 3, for what that's worth.

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  19. Thanks for all the comments and ideas, everyone! It is great to get other people's perspectives.

    Several people have noted that the picky eating thing throws extra obstacles into the mix. That is true. It is also true that I'm stuck with it, and that I really want to "play a long game" on this front, i.e., do things that I think maximize the chances that my kids will have reasonably diverse palates once they are a little older. So in the short term, we just deal the best we can.

    I have to admit, that the solution I'm leaning towards most is a personal assistant/after school nanny. All of the other ideas just move the cooking work around in MY schedule. The assistant idea is the only one that claims some time back for me to work on projects. But we'll see how things go once the move happens- it is still several months away.

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  20. Rinna8:38 PM

    Why don't you consider a full-time nanny for Petunia instead of daycare? It probably won't be that much more expensive, but I can't underscore enough how much your quality of life will improve...

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    1. The full time nanny idea is a complete non-starter for Mr. Snarky, for a variety of reasons. He was even opposed to the idea when Petunia was getting frequent fevers and we had to think about whether or not she could stay in day care. I might have argued for a nanny if her fevers hadn't improved, but they did, and now Petunia is very, very happy at her day care, and is thriving there. I have no desire to change that!

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    2. I think 3+year-olds in general (especially those with big siblings) do better (by that I mean have fewer meltdowns, better social skills, and learn more academics) in a part-time to full-time daycare/preschool setting than they do being cared for at home full-time with a nanny where they can get bored. I say that as someone who has had an amazing nanny for the past 2.5 years but still also sends the kids to a Montessori preschool because they positively thrive in that environment. Also, I can't see pulling out at kid Petunia's age after all the time she's enjoyed being at school. Don't get me wrong - nannies are fantastic for newborns and tiny babies.

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    3. I would agree. Last night I went to a meeting at our 5 year old's school regarding the future of their program for 3 year olds. Even though I LOVE our nanny, it will be time for him to spend more time with other kids (she already takes him to the park for 2+ hours each day). But having someone at home makes life so much easier.

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  21. Oof, how annoying (the work situation).

    Can you list the top ten (+/-) foods or types of foods your kids *will* eat in hopes that will help us brainstorm on your behalf? My sense based on my admittedly limited experience is that kids in general expect/require/desire less food variety than do many adults, so one partial solution might be to have a fallback kid-dinner twice/week (or whatever) where the kids eat X and you and Mr. Snarky eat Y and Yprime, whatever those may be. But whether that is appropriate may depend not only on preferences but on your household meal practices, i.e., is it important that everyone partake of the same meal and if so what constitutes "sameness."

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    1. Well, the food thing is complicated by the fact that Pumpkin and Petunia are picky in different ways. Pumpkin, for instance, will eat applesauce (but not apples) and strawberries and some dried fruits. The only fruit like thing Petunia will eat are Trader Joe's fruit snacks. Petunia, though loves bacon and eggs and will eat mashed potatoes. Pumpkin won't touch any of those things.

      But I think I can give you an idea based on a summary of the current menu situation:

      Mondays we often have soup (different soups for the grown ups and kids, and Petunia won't eat either type) and Pumpkin scones. This only works because swim lessons make dinner late on Mondays.

      Tuesdays we have leftovers- again different leftovers for different people. This is my workout day, so I am not willing to cook at all.

      Pumpkin has asked that we have tortillas every Wednesday. I rotate through several options: egg burritos w/smoothies (Petunia eats eggs+tortillas, a little bit of smoothie, Pumpkin eats tortillas+smoothies); sloppy joe tacos + baked sweet potato fries (kids eat tortillas + sweet potato fries); fish-haters fish tacos + sweet potato fries (kids again eat tortillas + fries, Pumpkin may consent to eat a chunk or two of pineapple). I think I could do a crock pot pulled pork w/tortillas in this slot, too. Again, I would be shocked if the kids ate any of the meat, although it is of course always offered to them. The grown ups have greens and tomatoes on their tacos/burritos.

      Thursday: cheese tortellini (Buitoni) or mini gnocchi with red sauce from a jar (I like Classico- nothing funny in the ingredient list, not even sugar) + salad or zucchini. (Pumpkin eats hers plain and Petunia eats hers with the red sauce.)

      This week, I'm mixing things up and putting baked potatoes (done in the microwave) and smoothies here, since we're not having smoothies on Wednesday.

      Sometimes I do pancakes here, again with smoothies. I have yet to find a pancake recipe Pumpkin will eat, but Petunia will eat just about any pancakes as long as I don't try to put choc chips in them to entice Pumpkin (that doesn't work, anyway). So sometimes it is carrot cake pancakes, sometimes it is pumpkin pancakes, sometimes it is oatmeal applesauce pancakes, and sometimes it is plain old pancakes.

      Fridays: frozen pepperoni pizza + salad. Petunia devours the pizza, as long as we pick off the pepperoni. Pumpkin usually eats one piece, but not always. She often scrapes the sauce and cheese off.

      Weekends: Mr. Snarky usually just cooks whatever he wants. If it is a pasta dish, the kids will eat plain pasta with cheese. If it is a meat dish, they both like chicken nuggets. They are always offered the main meal, too, but we figure the adults deserve some variety on the weekends, so we don't push it.

      I'm always on the look out for new ideas, but Pumpkin won't eat anything with sauce, and doesn't like plain white rice, either. Petunia is also not a fan of plain white rice, but loves Mexican rice. I have a carrot risotto recipe that could be done easily in the microwave, but neither Pumpkin nor Mr. Snarky like it, so it doesn't get made much.

      Neither kid will eat any green vegetable, but to be fair, neither would I until graduate school, when I finally figured out how to make them palatable to me (I get strong bitter/medicinal taste from most green veggies).

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    2. One more thing: my guess is that both kids inherited my issue with green veggies, and that Pumpkin also has some serious neophobia going on. I think Petunia is just in the garden-variety toddler/preschooler picky-eating phase and will likely continue to slowly add to her list of approved meats and starches. My goal is to find at least one fruit or veg she'll eat (in non-baked form- she loves pumpkin baked goods) before she goes to Kindergarten.

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    3. Yeah, my meals for my kids basically involves a rotation of the following: pasta with butter (and cheese for the little one) (I can now secretly beat an egg into the pasta before giving to them without Christopher Robin noticing); quesdillas (cheese only); peanut butter sandwiches; gnocchi (Pooh only); mac n cheese (from a box). Side of veggies. My picky eater will eat veggies frozen, and kale chips. Basically, I always cook them a separate meal (from adults) and default to the pickier one. Pooh (less picky) will occasionally eat what we are eating in addition. I went to the happy place about the family meals, and figure we'll slowly introduce new things. I'm not worried about C.R. I was like that too and I grew out of it. I respect that he has hyper sensitive senses (taste, texture, and smell - he cannot bear most cooking smells). He does not eat most meat, beans, or fish. On the plus side, I can make any of those in about 15 minutes as I'm doing something else. They eat tons of fruit & occasionally nuts/seeds, so I don't worry about vitamins/nutrients. C.R. will do a thank you bite even of something he detests. That's enough for me.

      I vote for after school nanny who will do food prep for the kids. That's my vote. I had a pick up from school guy and that helped so much, though he didn't help with dinners.

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    4. Oh and I also wanted to say how much I sympathize about the commute. I've been really lucky in that department, and it's a huge thing for me. I think a 40 minuted daily commute would just do me in.

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    5. OK. I have zero experience of kids who are picky eaters. I guess what occurs to me is to keep a default option (for the kids) handy and pre-prepped, e.g., I find that pasta will keep for nigh on a week, once cooked, in the fridge, so if you could have that "on hand" then the kids can eat it whenever they don't like the alternative (maybe you are already doing this). Also I routinely freeze cooked shrimp, ground beef (and other ground meats -- poultry, pork), chicken, and sausage, which I know doesn't help with your kids' meals but can be handy to have around to use as part of an (adult) meal. (I do also keep frozen cooked rice which I find warms up surprisingly well in the microwave with a splash of water, but I don't know how this would work for Mexican rice. Maybe?) A lot of what I prep to have "on hand" can be cooked in about the time it takes to tidy up after supper and can be done at pretty much the same time as tidying up after supper, so (rather than allocate separate time blocks to that) maybe you or Mr. Snarky can add (some) food prep to cleanup time? Do I remember right that Mr. Snarky handles cleanup b/c you do bedtimes?

      Something else I had thought of suggesting in some of your earlier posts about balance, kids, etc., is the following, and it may sound nuts in this context (heck, it may be nuts in this context) but what if you and Mr. Snarky each took one night out? DH and I do this and as nutty as it probably sounds, having one night when I don't have to leave the office is surprisingly freeing. So in this new circumstance of yours that would be one night when Mr. Snarky (and you of course) would have to get both kids, obviously a major hassle, but the upside would be one night when you (and he) didn't have to get, or cope with, any kids. DH takes DS out to supper on his sole-parent nights whereas I usually declare mine to be an "apple-and-cheese, it's what for dinner!" night, but the point is, both of us do minimized routines and conversely, reap the benefits on our nights out of having no routines. It would be hard to describe how much I enjoy this. On his night, DH often comes home quite late, say, midnight (he goes out with friends) and I come home (usually) relatively earlier (say 10), as I sometimes work or do other stuff that tends to end earlier than DH's activities, though I (mostly) try to be sure I am NOT home until I can be sure DS is asleep. With two kids and different locations and commutes that might not work, or might conversely be the ideal moment to hire a helper to do some picking up, if such a person's services can be procured.

      That's all I've got, except of course good wishes for finding some set of solutions that works well for you and yours (oh, and the thought that this, too, shall pass).

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    6. We do occasionally each go out (individually) at night. The idea of doing it more often is interesting. Hmmmm....

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    7. Alexicographer6:11 AM

      Also, it occurred to me this morning while driving in that (at the risk of stating the obvious!) it doesn't, of course, have to be one night per person per week. It could be one night per week spread across two people or, or, or ... you know, something in the "whatever works for you" vein. Not having to deal with any aspect of the bedtime routine one evening ... just saying ...

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  22. Zenmoo5:28 AM

    w.r.t to the slow cooker and prep-time issues, one suggestion is to run the slow cooker overnight. If you dished it out into containers first thing on getting up, it would be cool enough to put in the fridge as you left. Then when you got home it would just require a microwave (and the cooled stuff in the fridge could be transferred to the freezer). It might not help feed Pumpkin & Petunia, but at least it could be good for you & Mr Snarky.

    Really though, if the commute is that bad, Mr Snarky might just have to bite the bullet and hire help (or try negotiating an hour's less work a day with his job).

    I don't think you can underestimate just how tired a long commute can make you. I had a 1hr 15min commute each way on public transport for about a year - I loved the neighbourhood we lived in and the commute itself was actually kind of nice (I walked 10 min, took a bus to train station 5 min, was on train for 35 min and then another 15min walk - but it was really tiring. So we moved and halved my commute time. Which is good, but we don't go to the beach as much as when we could walk there. it's now a 20min drive and a bit of PITA drive at that.

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  23. Maybe you could get Hungry Monkey on audiobook...

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    1. Maybe, but I'm sort of done worrying and reading about picky eating. I'm well aware of the standard advice, and the rationale behind it. I think that there are a range of reasons why kids are picky eaters, and the standard advice works better for some than others. So we've modified it based on what I think is going on w/Pumpkin and how we want to live our lives right now. Picky eating is not a character defect. I come from a long line of picky eaters... right back to my grandpa, who is over 90 and going strong. So I figure there's no point stressing about it, and I'd rather read some good Sci-Fi!

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    2. Hungry monkey takes away stress, doesn't add to it. It also throws out some of the standard advice. (Though I think the standard advice of not reinforcing that a kid is a picky eater in front of the kid is good. Kids like having an identity-- one of my husband's colleagues is always bragging about how his kid will eat nothing but lobster and shrimp and the kid, now 10 or so, is so proud of it. Even if he wanted to try new things, it's so entwined with his identity and his father would make such a big deal about it, he can't even start.)

      And you DO stress about it! It's the one thing you seriously stress about that I'm afraid to bring up and try to keep quiet about (though it is difficult to keep quiet given the amount it gets brought up). I honestly don't care what your kids eat or don't eat, I figure it will all work out if left alone and healthy foods are offered. Kids naturally get enough nutrients when they're young. But it's obviously a big source of stress and something you think about and talk about a lot.

      Remember when you told us your second was your not-picky eater? Now she's getting to the age where ALL kids hate greens except vegetarians. She can go back to not being a picky eater after that stage is over. It is possible. It's less likely to happen if she identifies with being a picky eater.

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    3. Trust me, the only stress I feel about dinners these days is the time constraint.

      I've stopped writing about picky eating much because if I write about it everyone wants to tell me how to fix it. Frankly, I don't want or need advice on how to fix it. We have a plan, we like the plan we're following, and we don't think we have a problem. Really, truly. I'm not sure why you think I'm stressed about it. I did stress about this more a couple of years ago, and perhaps that is what you are remembering. I was definitely stressed about it when I needed to get Pumpkin eating finger foods so she could move to the next room at day care, but that was more than four years ago now. Anyway, I figured out that the stress was external, caused by well-meaning people telling me how to fix children I do not think are broken. Also by less than well-meaning people who think how we eat is a reflection of our moral health, but those people are just obnoxious so I try to avoid them altogether now.

      We do not call our kids picky eaters when they can hear, and we try to keep other people from doing that, but it is hard because other people like to tell us how to fix it, and haven't gotten the memo about how making a big deal out of it is counterproductive. Heck, I know that from my own experience as a kid. I can *remember* digging my heels in and refusing to eat something because some relative or the other was trying to cajole me. Our standard response when our kids say they don't like something is to shrug and say that perhaps they aren't old enough to like it yet and will like it when they get older.

      I only brought picky eating up in this thread to explain why the slow cooker solution is not the magic solution people think it is. For us, it is just a source of meals that only the grown ups will eat. Does Hungry Monkey suggest that we just feed the food they won't eat to them anyway, perhaps along with bread? That is the "standard advice" I am talking about, and my opinion is that it is suited for an eater like Petunia but not for one like Pumpkin. I don't really want to go into my reasoning, because I don't really want to discuss it.

      For the record, Petunia has never eaten green veggies, not even as a baby when we fed her purees. She just spit out the ones with green veggies and refused to take more bites. She did used to eat some fruit- loved strawberries even- so I suspect that will come back in when she's a bit older.

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    4. I know I said this just above, but I feel like I should reiterate that I'm not looking for solutions either. Nobody has ever said anything to me about Christopher Robin's eating, but it's not a "problem" I'm trying to "fix". I'm belaboring this only because I'm so sympathetic to what you say here, and because I know only too well how hard it is to maintain normalcy when everyone is intent on making something a problem. I was picky as a child and terrorized by adults not my parents policing my eating until i could scarcely bear to eat in public. It's like when everyone was going crazy about that French people raise their kids better, especially about the food stuff, and I was like why do we CARE? why is this a cultural value if someone's kid eats green beans? I mean, if they do, fine, but it's almost pathological the weight we put on what and how kids eat. No wonder we all have disordered eating.

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    5. Oh, how I dislike the common narrative out there in the blogosphere that the children will eat kale for breakfast if only you are a better mother, taking them to kale farms and growing kale in your backyard and so forth. Same with sleep. Your children will go to bed at 7:30 and sleep for 12 hours straight if only you turn into a fundamentalist follower of XYZ sleep expert!

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    6. Learning to relax about kids eating and sleeping and thumb sucking and sleeping through the night and weaning from the breast etc etc has really improved my quality of life and enhanced my enjoyment of parenting (not that I have mastered the relaxing bit, but we are getting there). It pisses me off when the pediatrician keeps telling me that I should wean my 18-month-old and that he should not nurse at night; why not? I plan on weaning him after the flu season, what's the hurry?

      But I digress. My soon to be 13 year old now eats everything. He used to be very picky, still is, but somewhere, somehow along the way he managed to learn to eat a variety. The 5-year-old is an exclusive carnivore, and we don't stress; sometimes he feels adventurous about trying new foods, most of the time not. The baby is a baby and it all depends on his mood and how the food looks to him. Generally, we insist on family meals in that everyone sits at the table together. Apart from the oldest, the kids rarely eat what we do or eat only one item, and that's fine. Life's too crazy even without obsessing about what they don't eat. Some battles are not worth fighting.

      I am very high-strung about most aspects of my life, but somehow I don't really obsess about kid sleeping or eating, maybe because I've embraced the fact that the power parents have over anything kids do (assuming normal, non-abusive parents) is very limited. And that's how it should be, they are their own people.

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    7. @Laura, to be fair, from what I've heard about Hungry Monkey it isn't in that narrative at all. I haven't read it because I've heard that its core advice is very similar to Ellyn Satter's (parents choose what and when to feed, kids choose how much to eat), and while I think that advice is pretty good and likely to "work" for the vast majority of kids, I also think it won't work unmodified for Pumpkin. If I were still actively looking for ideas about how to handle Pumpkin's eating, I'd probably read the book, but since I'm not... I don't want to. Also, it is usually recommended to me as being written by a real foodie. Which is not a selling point to me! I am soooo not a foodie.

      @GMP- I can't believe your pediatrician is pressuring you to wean. Mine was thrilled that I nursed past 2. I like your last line, about kids being their own people.

      @Nicoleandmaggie- I hope my comment didn't offend. There is a lot more going on with Pumpkin's eating than I discuss here, mostly because I've decided discussing it here just makes me stressed about something that does not need to be stressful.

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    8. I thought Hungry Monkey was a great read, but the guy who wrote it was (is?) a SAHD and had lots of time to cook, so his recipes aren't super fast. And his kid sounded like a pretty adventurous eater as well (more so than even my grown husband).

      Another book reco is Dinner: A Love Story. Lots of recipes, lots about feeding kids with 2 working parents, and kids with different food prefs from each other and from the grownups. I'm loving it so far.

      We rely on a lot of Trader Joe's cooked BBQ chicken, and "snack dinners" of pepperoni or other lunch meat, soyogurt, a fruit, a veggie, and maybe some starchy thing. Ours can't do cheese or dairy so that limits it a bit, but we still get by.

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    9. Alexicographer12:17 PM

      @GMP count me standing next to Cloud on the ped's advice re: nursing thing: What?!

      My kid self-weaned ~14 months but drank (cow's) milk out of a "baby" bottle until he was ... 4? This, too was discouraged and ... really? If a little kid enjoys warm milk a bottle that's a ... problem? I decided "they" needed to get over it and learned just not to mention it to folks (including the ped and the dentist, and for the record, DS wasn't falling to sleep drinking it though he did enjoy a bottle as part of the nighttime routine, before we brushed teeth, of course!). I think some of these recommendations likely originated in contexts where many families have 2 (or more) kids spaced ~2 years apart and need the older one to be done with the "baby stuff" so it can be used for the new arrival, but that wasn't applicable in our family and therefore irrelevant to us.

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  24. Life is what happens when you are making other plans, am I right?

    Most of these issues seem dinner-related. I echo crockpots and preparing food en masse on the weekends, and also relaxing your standards.

    If you can find a babysitter/assistant and it works with your budget, that would be the least harried option and probably more fun for the children. IF you want someone in your house picking your food and/or being bossed by you.

    Or a huge life change? New jobs in a new place? Sometimes these outside circumstances can prompt changes you wouldn't otherwise get around to. That's how I ended up in rural Sweden.

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    1. We love living in San Diego! The most likely life change would be for me to quit my fulltime job and become a contractor in my current field to finance an attempt to change careers in a more drastic way. That may be on the horizon, but I was hoping to wait until my kids were a little older (and in public school as opposed to expensive day care) before making that decision. But we'll see how I do with the commute.

      The most obvious problem caused by the longer commute is dinner, which is why I've focused on it. But there are other things that an assistant could help with. Like remembering to pick up my %$#@! dry cleaning. I've got no problem employing someone to help my home, but my husband does- both because he hates to spend money paying someone for something we can do (even though we can easily afford it right now) and because he finds it weird to have someone working for us as an assistant in our home. I'd probably only need one a few days a week. And he or she would just get the dinner I planned started (i.e., turn on the oven to heat up, start water boiling for pasta- our stove is slow, prep the potatoes, etc). But I suspect that would evolve as we got used to having an assistant!

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  25. I don't think anyone has made this suggestion yet - in light of the fact that Mr. Snarky can't abide in-home help, you could hire a weeknight meal delivery service. When I lived in Chicago, there was one called Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating that would drop off healthful meals to your home, and would tailor them to your dietary restrictions.

    There are also dry cleaners that do drop off at your house.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I've seen dry cleaning delivery trucks driving around and I keep meaning to try that. But I have dry cleaning once every quarter or so, so I never remember at the right time!

      I've considered the meal delivery services, too. I suspect that would feel even more extravagant than a college kid assistant to Mr. Snarky, so maybe it would be useful as a discussion point. Hmmmm....

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  26. Anonymous9:14 AM

    I know you have to find what works for you, but:
    (1) Audiobooks (or podcasts) are great to make the commute feel more "useful." We get MULTIPLE audiobooks at the public library because there are a lot of duds out there that are just painful to listen to. So we might try 2 or 3 before hitting on one that is enjoyable, but then it will last for a few weeks since they are so long. A good podcast I can recommend is Radiolab. The earlier episodes were probably better.
    (2) Prepping meals on the weekend. I was just complaining to my husband how exhausting it was to spend EVERY Sunday evening cooking, but really - it does make the rest of the week much more smooth, and is the best option. An alternative is to only do this every second Sunday, and switch between prepped meals one week and then slow cooker meals and super quick meals the next. Another middle ground option is to make double batches of things on Sunday or a week night and then you have at least two days of food, but it doesn't feel like you spent 5 hours cooking a bazillion meals.

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  27. Just had a thought -- have you considered replacing the stove with an induction model, which boils water like immediately? I would never personally feel comfortable with programming anything to start cooking automatically, I'm too freaked out about fire danger. But induction stoves do have an appreciably better response time, especially if you have an old electric stove, the difference will be night and day.

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    Replies
    1. My parents have a stove with an induction burner and love it. My cheap solution to the slow water boiling problem w/my current stove is to preboil the water in our electric kettle.

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    2. I like to parallelize the process whenever I can -- e.g. you could put smaller amounts of water in multiple pots on multiple burners, all would boil in fraction of the time!

      We have a gas stove, so water boils pretty fast, but I "massively parallize" whenever I am making (large quantities) of French toast (my homeland variety) or crepes or Wiener schnitzels -- I take up 3 or 4 burners and am done in no time!

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    3. Anonymous1:36 AM

      We have an induction stove and it actually turns itself off when it gets too hot, say when you try to sterilize the pacifiers by boiling them and then forget and all the water boils away and they start melting... We later found partially molten cold pacifiers in the pot.
      So you could actually program something and still not be afraid of fire if you get delayed.
      You might have to replace your pots though.

      Irisevelyn

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  28. OK, with 54 comments you probably don't need more solutions :) but I hear you about wanting to make plans. We're in a weird spot right now too with TJ not working and me returning after mat leave in 6 weeks or so, but not sure what our longer term life looks like. It's kind of driving me nuts, to be honest.

    A couple of quick thoughts re: tips for you:

    1. Re: learning Spanish, even though they're kids' songs, I LOVE the Whistlefritz music CDs in Spanish. They are the music from the DVDs which T also loves, but they may be a bit young for Pumpkin. But the music is awesome, catchy and you will pick up a lot of Spanish just from listening, though it's not useful - it's about things like the farm, making a cake, the alphabet, parties, etc :)

    2. Re: boiling water - get yourself an Instahot faucet installed. It's a few hundred bucks and pretty easy to put in. It dispenses near-boiling water, which makes pasta boiling, instant-oatmeal and tea-making very, very easy. (Also bottle heating for babies.)

    3. Have a template for the weekly cooking and plan ahead of time - one or two nights go out or get pizza, one or two nights eat something that you cooked in a big batch over the weekend like soup or chili, one or two nights grill something quick and serve w/ frozen veggies, one night sandwiches, one night pasta, etc. I think if you know what "night" it is, and they're all relatively easy things, it won't seem as daunting.

    4. Or, if you don't want to deal with it, look into getting a personal chef who will cook and freeze several weeks of meals at once. It's actually not as expensive as it sounds. If we were both working full time, we'd totally do this. There are also meal delivery services which will drop off a cooler full of food (or you pick it up) and then all you need to do is reheat, though you'll have less choices that way.

    5. Can you convince your company to let you work from home one day since the new location is more sucky?

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    Replies
    1. My company officially does not allow telecommuting arrangements. Unofficially, I can do it now and then and no one minds.

      I might look into the Instahot faucet. I hadn't thought of that option. I'll probably look into meal delivery, too- if I can find a flexible enough service that might help.

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  29. When we had our twins (a year ago!), it was a big kick in the pants for us about getting more help. When I went back to work, we started ordering dinners from a local place that makes pre-made meals. Their menu changes every week, but they always have 2 different types of soup, a casserole-like dish (e.g. shepherd's pie), and some other items. I order 3-4 meals a week from them, and then have a frozen pizza on reserve for the other night. It costs slightly less than what we would pay for takeout, but the food is healthier, and there's no nightly dithering about what-should-we-order. When I get home, I heat up a meal, feed the babies, and then we eat. Boom. The caveat is that the meals are really just for us. We too have a super-picky almost-4yo who will not eat most of what we eat. So he eats a lot of frozen chicken strips. It's not ideal, but there you go. My mantra with all of this is "It's not going to be this way forever", and these things get us through what's happening right now.

    I really enjoy hearing your bigger picture thoughts on career. I am a scientist who is still at the bench (and enjoying it) but I too wonder if I really want to do this forever. I'm not really good at the management stuff, so I don't know that I'd really want to go that route, so then what? I'm glad I'm not the only still wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up. :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I think I'll look into the food delivery options around here. I'd forgotten about that until you and Hush mentioned it!

      I'm glad you're enjoying the career posts. I probably have a couple more coming up soon, depending on how my time works out over the next couple of weeks.

      I'm starting to think that not really having this all figured out is not just OK, but good, at least for certain types of people and certain types of careers. One of the posts I'm kicking around in my head is about that.

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  30. Oh here are more suggestions, as if you needed more.
    There are tons of interesting or just plain funny podcasts you can listen to on your drive home. That may help you clear your mind while learning something new, or not. Like I said, sometimes you just need to do nothing and zone out a bit.

    Also, there's a pretty good book by Jerry Seinfeld's wife (Jessica?) that has good kid/adult-friendly recipes. She purees veggies like bell pepper, carrots and cauliflower and then integrates these into recipes from turkey chili to ragu sauce to mac & cheese, as a way to sneak in nutrition for her picky eaters. I am not sure you're worried about nutrition but just thought I throw this out there for other parents with picky eaters. When my youngest was being super picky, I mashed avocado or sweet potatoes with yogurt and he would gobble it up.

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  31. Anonymous1:07 PM

    I can't learn a new language in the car (I absorb by reading not hearing), but I love The Teaching Company courses for commuting. Anything by Kenneth Harl or Robert Greenburg recommended!

    I doubt I can make much in the way of cooking recommendations since I don't have kids so it's much easier for us, but I find stir-frys are ideal for quick weeknights (especially if you buy a programmable rice cooker). Our backup dish when we are truly too tired for anything else is black beans and rice with lots of sour cream, cheese, scallions, and salsa.

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