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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Do You Have Any Habits That Make Life Easier?

I started doing two things last year that I thought would make things a little easier, but, wow, I had no idea the amount of time and anxiety these very simple habits would save me…

1. I started making weekly meal plans. Groundbreaking, right? I don’t know why it took years and years of feeding a family of two and then three and then four to figure out that having a plan for the week would be so helpful, but it is. Even better than a meal plan is the formula I have for it: Sundays are pasta; Mondays are chicken; Tuesdays are for fish; Wednesdays are salads and/or soups; Thursdays are for chili (or another bean dish); Fridays are take out; Saturdays are tacos. Some weeks I might rearrange a bit, like if I get a craving for tacos on Tuesday, I’ll make them and then maybe we have something different on Saturdays. Sometimes we even get pretty wild and order take-out on a day that isn’t Friday. Before the pandemic we used to even go to restaurants and sit down inside them and order, and then someone else would clean up when we were done and, oh my God, THE LUXURY.

Anyway, I don’t always make the same dishes or recipes (I try to spread them out so that we don’t eat the same dish for at least two weeks) but within this formula – like Pasta Sundays – I can have some flexibility to try a new recipe or stick to an old favorite. I also like to make doubles of a recipe and then freeze half for another time (I do this a lot with homemade marinara – this is my go-to recipe – and meatballs, which I don’t form into actual balls until I’m going to put in the oven).

You know what counts as super exciting for me these days? When we get home from, say, an afternoon of ice skating and it’s 4:30 PM and time to think about dinner and we spent enough money ice skating so let’s not order in, but I’m really tired and don’t feel like cooking, but then I remember the meatball mix and marinara sauce that I pulled out of the freezer the day before in preparation for this very moment, and bam!, an hour later, we’ve got a delicious home-cooked meal that hardly took any effort at all, and I feel like when is New York Magazine gonna call me up for one of those “how she manages it all” puff pieces so I can tell everyone how life falls into place when you freeze your meatball mix and pick a day of the week to eat it?

2. I started tracking my damn period already. Why didn’t you all tell me – why did you let me take DECADES to figure out that writing down and keeping track of when you get your period will save buttloads of time worrying about whether you’re pregnant, menopausal, losing your damn mind or just PMS-y?! It turns out I am not as crazy as I once believed – I just get really intense PMS, and I didn’t notice the pattern so much until I finally started writing down the dates of my period, and now when I feel burning rage bubbling in my lower belly and working its way up to the heat of my head, steam escaping through my ears, a roar the size of Newark bellowing from my lungs, all I have to do is check my little period tracker and when I see that today’s the day for PMS (not today-today, but hypothetically speaking), I instantly feel calmer, because it turns out that a wonderful antidote to feeling like you’re losing your damn mind is validation that: a) it’s not all in your head; and b) it’s just hormones.

So, that’s it: my two secret weapons in the fight against the mundanity of life doing me in. And I guess it’s really just one secret weapon when I think about it: being organized, or taking the effort to organize some part of my life that felt disorganized or overwhelming so that I can function more productively, happily, and with far less anxiety and stress. And in that vein, later today, before the kids get home from school, I’m going to go through a couple of overflowing drawers in my dresser that I can barely close anymore and I am going to purge whatever I haven’t worn in the past year to make room for the cute new swimsuit I bought for an upcoming vacation and the kaftan Drew got me for Christmas that I’m going to wear as a cover-up. And that, my friends, is how she manages it all.

How about you? Do you have any tricks or hacks or tips that make your life more manageable, less chaotic, more enjoyable?

42 comments… add one
  • Miss MJ January 25, 2022, 10:02 am

    I’ve been on the plan your meals weekly train for a long time and it really does work. Another meal trick I’ve started is that I keep a numbered list of go-tos and favorites and want-to-try’s along with the location of the recipe. When I get stuck on what to cook for the week, I go to a random number generator, and boom – whatever number it picks, I add the corresponding recipe on the list to the week’s menu. (If I’m so inclined. Sometimes, you can’t eat Mexican all week. Or so I’m told.) I also then plan the grocery list accordingly, broken down into each section of the store: produce, dairy, meat, etc. it really doesn’t take long, but it saves so much time.

    I also keep a weekly to do list that is actually realistic that includes work, outside activities, house stuff, hobbies, exercise, appointments, all of the things I need to get done that week. It’s taken me a long time to make my daily to do realistic – and this absolute key, knowing what you can and cannot accomplish in a day’s time – but seeing it all laid out helps keep me from being overwhelmed and checking things off really gives me a sense of accomplishment. And it cuts down on the stress because I know exactly when I’m going to get all this stuff done.

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    • Maeve January 25, 2022, 10:58 am

      Yes to breaking down grocery shopping lists! It saves so much time when you’re there, and I know the layout of the shop so well I have it in the order I go around too. Makes life so much easier. I’ve also started using the app notion with my partner and we put the list on there, so either of us can go as it’s all there for us.

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    • Dear Wendy January 25, 2022, 11:00 am

      Yes! I write down everything I want/ need to do, and I break it down into daily, weekly, and seasonal lists. It really helps clear mental space for other kind of thinking when I can write something down and not worry that I’m going to forget.

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      • anonymousse January 25, 2022, 3:23 pm

        God, that’s a great idea, Wendy, I do lists but I haven’t been doing long term ones. I’ve been so focused on short term for the past two years. I need goals again.

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      • Dear Wendy January 25, 2022, 4:01 pm

        I gave seasonal goals (like learn basic ice skating) and I also have seasonal to-do (clean out all the closets and drawers). Goals are more fun!

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      • Miss MJ January 25, 2022, 8:02 pm

        Seasonal lists are something to which I definitely need to aspire!

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  • Kate January 25, 2022, 10:46 am

    Hello Fresh, Fashion Pass, and a really good paper planner with a weekly view that has a big space for each day.

    Fitbit tracks my period, which has been helpful since I went off the pill, mainly so I don’t bleed onto things.

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    • Kate January 25, 2022, 10:55 am

      And I only write in my planner in pencil.

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  • ktfran January 25, 2022, 11:29 am

    Not only is meal planning a life saver, so is meal prep! My life hack is to spend two to three hours on Sunday prepping all of my vegetables and then also prepping for lunches, like making a soup or roasting vegetables and grains and making a sauce for some kind of bowl. If I don’t do this, my eating for the week isn’t as healthy as I prefer.

    Paprika is an amazing app for meal planning and grocery shopping. I’ve tried several, this one is the winner. It also stores recipes.

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  • Guy Friday January 25, 2022, 11:50 am

    I’ll echo the meal prep, but here’s some other stuff:

    1.) I got two of those really big old-man weekly pill holders (one for AM, one for PM) and fill them up for the week on Saturdays. SO much easier to not only track what I take when, but also to know days in advance that I’m running out of a given medication so I can order it.

    2.) I lay out my clothes for the next day the night before. Then, when I’m waking up all bleary-eyed I can just grab the clothes and not think about it.

    3.) I started setting email reminders on my Google Calendar for deadlines at 1 week before, 3 days before, and the day of. That way if I’m on track I can just delete the email, and if it had slipped my mind I can remind myself again.

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    • Miss MJ January 25, 2022, 8:03 pm

      I love being able to delete the reminder email because it’s already done! (Also, the snooze feature is my friend…)

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  • CanadaGoose January 25, 2022, 12:01 pm

    Having a house cleaner makes life SO much easier. I am much calmer when the house is clean but don’t want to spend the small amount of free time I have on that. I still tidy all the time but I have not scrubbed a shower in years and am ever so grateful for that sanity-saving time.

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    • TheLadyE January 26, 2022, 1:17 am

      YES to a house cleaner! I absolutely love not having to mop or scrub showers or toilets. I’ve had one for years and it’s magical.

      I also meal prep when I’m feeling my mentally and physically healthiest, and almost always lay out my clothes for the next day because I am so very much not a morning person.

      I’ve been tracking my period for years. Sorry for not mentioning it, Wendy! Oops.

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  • Moneypenny January 25, 2022, 1:33 pm

    Wendy, thank you for this marinara recipe – I have been wanting to make my own for some time, but haven’t found a recipe that looked enticing enough to make! I’ve become more and more aware of the salt content that is in soups and sauces that you buy pre-made, and I’d much prefer to just make my own.

    My habits: Putting a grocery list pad on the fridge. This way, as soon as I think of something, or use the last of something, it goes on the list. My bf does this too. Then, when he or I go to the store we just take a picture of the list or take it with us.

    I have been using my google calendar more and more just to keep track of things, like my dance class dates, hangouts with friends, etc. I used to just keep it all in my head but it’s nice to see it all in one place. I also use labels in my gmail – at the moment they consist of “orders,” “fun stuff,” and “house stuff” but it’s nice to see at a glance.

    I also use the Reminders app in my phone a lot – I have a list for my yearly goals (so I can look at it and remind myself constantly), a wish list for stuff I want to purchase, a to-do list, a travel wish list, and a miscellaneous list of random stuff. I am always looking at it and rearranging and adding/removing.

    One thing I do want to get better at is meal planning. My parents basically do the same thing as you, and I really think it would make my life a little easier! Working from home at the moment helps too, since I can get stuff out of the freezer during the day so I’m not last-minute trying to thaw something. 🙂

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    • CanadaGoose January 26, 2022, 2:55 pm

      I LOVE Google calendar. SO much better than my old paper planner. I created calendars for me, each of my kids and our family. My husband has one too. Each of the kids can see their own and the family one, and my husband and I can see them all. It makes managing activities and appointments infinitely easier and I love that an appt I add to my phone shows up on my desktop. AND because it allows attachments addresses can be linked to maps, either parent can step in on a task with everything they need at their fingertips. Brilliant.

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  • MaterialsGirl January 25, 2022, 2:40 pm

    100% on the meal planning and have a “set schedule” for meals each week. We plan on saturday nights while having dinner (and drinking wine) what the week’s meals will be. There’s always a cereal night, sometimes a smoothie night, friday is order out, one freezer meal (meaning something we’ve made before that we saved for another time. this one really does feel like winning at life), Fish on sundays, and two meals we make.. one easy and maybe one a little more complicated. Depending on the week, we may throw in charcuterie night.
    and then the husband grocery shops on sunday mornings. bam! we did try hello fresh recently and it was very quick prep which surprised me and quite delicious. Good for an “easy” weeknight meal. May think about doing one box a month or something, but I do love to search through recipes from ATK or Martha Stewart living or Southern Living.
    I guess i should start tracking my period now that I’ll have one again for the first time in .. 4 ish years? and this is the first time not on a pill and NOT trying to get pregnant. Have already noticed the mid-cycle egg drop pain (and bloating, gas etc)
    hmm other life hacks. i do need to set out clothes in the morning. it’s not terrible but would help. I set out the kid’s clothes the night before so we don’t have tantrums.
    housecleaning 100% helps as does my bullet journal (which i keep at a very minimalist style set up)

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  • anonymousse January 25, 2022, 3:19 pm

    My husband and I have a shared notes doc with our grocery list. We add and edit and keep it current. That helps a lot. I am not great at meal planning but he does more of that, and we’re more daily cravings people. We also have a shared calendar app.

    We do a lot of batch and freeze cooking, even with sauces. Like tonight we’re making pork mole in the instapot for tacos, but we made the mole a few months ago and put it into like, 12 small restaurant containers and froze it. We also mass make Marcella Hazan’s meatballs, pancakes and various other foods that my kids love and are easy to reheat.

    I just got an Apple Watch which I am hoping will help me rebuild my strength and fitness slowly. I’ve had it a few days and I love it. It tracks my sleep, heart rate, etc all the stuff. I am a late adopter to technology but I love it.

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    • redgirl January 25, 2022, 8:39 pm

      Oh yes to the shared grocery list! My boyfriend and I use the Anylist app and we have lists for every kind of shopping — grocery store, Costco, drugstore, etc. We even splurged for the paid version so we can do things like add photos. So when I need deodorant and he happens to be at the store, he can see exactly what brand/scent I use.

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  • MPS January 25, 2022, 4:36 pm

    I have ADHD as an adult so use the Tusk app for keeping all my daily to-dos in order (from flossing to applying SPF to remembering to eat 3x a day) and set tons of timers for went to leave for things because a feature of ADHD is time blindness!

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    • Dear Wendy January 25, 2022, 5:36 pm

      “Time blindness” is a very descriptive phrase!

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  • Rangerchic January 25, 2022, 4:51 pm

    I recently tried Hello Fresh and made our first meal last night and it was a huge success! I enjoy cooking and making/searching for meals but not for every day of the week. I think I’m going to love having 3-4 nights during the week already planned and delivered (so less grocery shopping) then I can do the cooking new things on the weekends.

    I also started using a period tracking app about 2 years ago. I’ve found it helpful too. Mostly now because since I’m on progesterone, I don’t always bleed a lot so sometimes I get all my symptoms and then I think I’m going crazy – nope, it’s just hormones. But at 46 and in perimenopause sometimes the hormones never stop. Or, I’m not getting enough hormones which is causing a real lack of energy sometimes for weeks at a time. It’s been a real struggle lately.

    I might try a cleaning service so I can enjoy. more of my free time and not spend so much of it cleaning especially with low energy lately. Not sure how that would work since one of my dogs is not super friendly. He’s old but he doesn’t like strangers. So they’d have to come when I’m home. Then I’ll feel like I need to help lol.

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    • Kate January 25, 2022, 7:29 pm

      What meal did you make?

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    • MaterialsGirl January 26, 2022, 3:09 pm

      the four meals we (i) chose were as follows (chosen because they were easy weeknight meals)
      Monterey Jack Unfried Chicken
      sweet chili pork and cabbage stir fry (really delicious)
      Za-atar spiced chicken with bulgar stuffed tomatoes (yum)
      Sheet pan pork with creamy mustard – good but.. typical? like yeah a sheet pan meals isn’t hard it’s just a lot of cutting

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      • ktfran January 26, 2022, 3:21 pm

        The sweet chili pork and cabbage stir fry sounds amazing!

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      • Rangerchic January 26, 2022, 3:29 pm

        Those all sound good! We got pecan crusted trout (which we cooked Monday and it was very good), beef tostadas (last night – good but not my fav), then have balsamic pasta chicken and I think the sweet chili pork bowls (or something similar). I’m looking forward to those!

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      • MaterialsGirl January 27, 2022, 10:12 am

        I saved the recipe card because it was so easy I can just grab the ingredients and put it in our rotation. We are also the crazy people who have and use all the sauces anyway (ponzu, fish etc)

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  • LisforLeslie January 25, 2022, 6:39 pm

    I pretty much eat the same thing every day so I don’t have to meal plan.
    That said I have many habits:
    1. I set up my coffee pot and breakfast dishes the night before. In the morning I scoop coffee and put nuts in a bowl and turn the pot on and then go put on makeup. By the time my hair is zoom-call ready, coffee is done.
    2. Like Guy Friday I set out my pills for the week, but not in a fancy box, just an old mint tin. It was mostly because I traveled so much, now it sits on my desk and I do refills on Sundays. But it does make me think ahead and get my refills.
    3. I shower at night. I wash the whole day off. My morning routine from wakeup to in front of the computer with coffee & breakfast (and fully made up eyes) is less than 15 minutes.
    4. I make my bed and fold my pajamas. It doesn’t make life easier per se, but I feel better.

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    • Kate January 25, 2022, 7:32 pm

      I had a Mr. Coffee drip machine that had a timer on it so you could set it the night before and it would turn on in the morning at the right time. And it was personal sized, only a 4-cup capacity. I used it when I lived alone. We got a Nespresso as a gift, but I still keep that machine around as a backup.

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      • LisforLeslie January 26, 2022, 12:14 pm

        I have the Mr. Coffee 4 cup (and broke the carafe yesterday so waiting on a new one). But I don’t like leaving anything that has a heating element plugged in so I unplug and plug every day. It’d be on my list of “habits that inconvenience you”.

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      • Ange January 26, 2022, 6:44 pm

        Our coffee machine does that. It’s not a drip machine, it does the beans with the tamp/grind and the milk – the whole shebang. But you can set it at individual times every day so it’s ready and warmed up by the time you stumble into the kitchen. It’s my favourite feature.

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  • bondgirl January 26, 2022, 9:40 am

    After a few times discovering stuff still on the counter the next morning after cooking dinner (some things getting spoiled as a result), as well as seeing Rachael Ray’s husband start cleaning up after on her cooking show, I decided to start on post-meal cleanup while still preparing it. Makes the kitchen a little less cluttered when I have a few minutes between steps and creates more space for whatever else needs to be done. For instance, I start putting spices back in the cabinet while sautéing vegetables, discard meat packaging after it’s thrown in the cast iron skillet or air fryer, things like that. Definitely cuts down on cleanup afterwards and helps de-clutter countertops, especially if you have a small kitchen!

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    • ktfran January 26, 2022, 9:45 am

      It’s so much easier to clean as you go! I’ll also do some dishes as I go if there’s some time while vegetables or roasting or something is simmering. That’s mostly for weekend meals when there are a lot more steps / prepping / involvement.

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    • TheLadyE January 26, 2022, 12:11 pm

      Yes, absolutely. I live in a townhouse and the kitchen is small. It’s the one thing I really dislike about it. If I can’t clean as I go (or if someone else is in my kitchen and isn’t doing so) I go a little nutty/obsessive.

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    • LisforLeslie January 26, 2022, 12:16 pm

      Oh yes, the prep clean up. Granted, for me, it’s mostly just putting everything away and wiping down the counter while something heats in the microwave. I was trained as a child to never leave dishes in the sink. I’d say 99% of the time, I hold to that.

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    • MaterialsGirl January 26, 2022, 3:12 pm

      I’m getting better at it. My husband has been hounding me for years about the dish pile up in the sink.. usually i wait to do some of the dishes til items are hands off like in the oven

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  • Copa January 26, 2022, 11:47 am

    I’ve gotten out of my old meal prep habit. We have a loose plan before our weekend grocery trips, but MAN has it been nice, after so many years of meal prepping, to not eat a lunch or dinner I pre-portioned and packed into Tupperware a few days prior. Some things, like fruits and veggies, I’ll wash, chop, and store away so that they’re easy to grab for snacks or to throw into meals. When we cook, we’ll make more than we plan to eat and mix and match leftovers for a few days. We have a few meals neither of us get sick of that are in pretty heavy rotation (blackened salmon and panko salmon top our list) and we’ll make something new or different in between. If we make waaay too much or get bored of something, we’ll freeze it for a later date. I’m a big fan of less planning but know I will default back to being more organized when I eventually go back to the office in some capacity.

    I also rarely made my bed before meeting my boyfriend unless I was expecting company. I now love having it made every day. Even before I started working out of our bedroom, it makes our place feel put together even when it’s not quite put together. Same with folding the throw blankets on our couch after using ’em. We also can get into the habit of draping our winter coats over our bar chairs in our kitchen area because it’s close to the front door, which we use more often, but the small effort of walking to the back door, where we have coat hooks, to hang it up, also makes things feel more put together.

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    • bondgirl January 26, 2022, 1:27 pm

      I can’t really get on board with meal prepping lol. Instead I got more realistic with the portion sizes to purchase and remembering to look in the pantry on occasion. Thanks to watching Salt Fat Acid Heat, along with many episodes of Chopped, I save myself extra trips to the grocery store by using what I’ve already got and improvising on substitutes when necessary.

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      • Copa January 26, 2022, 4:39 pm

        Meal prep was great in that it saved me time and money when I used to go into an office everyday. I’d be out of the house for 10-12 hours/day and I’m not one of those people who forgets to eat. I also didn’t want to spend on too many meals out during the week.

        Is Salt Fat Acid Heat also a show? I’m familiar with only the book.

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      • Dear Wendy January 26, 2022, 6:44 pm

        Fun fact: one of my best friends won an episode of chopped a few years back. She’s a chef (obviously) and gives me good cooking and baking tips.

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      • bondgirl January 27, 2022, 9:45 am

        Apologies if this didn’t nest correctly…@Copa, Salt Fat Acid Heat became a limited series on Netflix after the book was published. Samin Nosrat hosts the 4 part show, doing a deep dive into each of the basic cooking elements. It was really well done and I felt like I got a much deeper understanding of how I can improve the quality of my cooking.

        Wendy, that’s pretty awesome to personally know a Chopped champion 🙂 an acquaintance of mine recently applied for a casting call they had where they were looking for teachers (they did an episode with nurses a few months back, and another with firefighters years ago), so I’m hoping she made the cut cuz I think she’d make it pretty far.

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  • CattyGoLightly January 27, 2022, 6:33 am

    I’ve been working and in school (time for a career change) and found that my planner is necessary. I love having a monthly view to give me a big picture of the next few weeks in terms of professional, academic, and personal life, and a weekly view with space on each day to write my to-do lists/ reminders. It’s also where I track my period/ mental breakdowns.

    Making sure the kitchen is clean before I go to bed most nights. I make a smoothie for breakfast every morning (one of my best habits: I get all my veggies in and am regular AF. I know I’m an adult now because I’m pleased about bowel movements) and having everything ready to go makes my mornings less of a cluster.

    I just don’t cook that much anymore. It’s a time suck, and to get my time back I might get one of those prepared meals at whole foods (entree and two sides) and that’s lunch for Monday through Thursday. I also might order two dishes to-go at a restaurant and that’s lunch Monday through Thursday. I eat a lot of toast as well.

    I’ve started using the target drive-up app. I don’t have the time or energy to go in, and they bring everything to the car and put it in your trunk. It gives me an hour of my life back every time I use it.

    Depending on what’s happening with covid, I try to go the Korean spa once/ quarter on a weekday so it’s less busy. A day relaxing with 1 or 2 friends and without technology gives me a reset.

    That’s all I can think of for now. I feel like my life is still an ADD tarpit of an existence so maybe these are not that helpful

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    • Dear Wendy January 27, 2022, 8:07 am

      The quarterly Korean spa one is my favorite.

      A few years ago I was getting acupuncture regularly (twice a month) to treat my alopecia but I wasn’t sure I was getting much out of it. I decided to switch this particular self-care practice with foot reflexology, and it’s been one of the best things for managing my health. I took a year off from it bc of covid and then started going more after getting vaccinated and now go when cases are low, so it’s been a couple months since my last session and I feel it. I hope maybe next week I can go back.

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