"Spinning Plates: Coping with the demands of the modern world" or, "the reality behind the scenes"

Dear Reader,

As I write, the laptop is squeezed on just about the only part of kitchen surface that remains clear.  Beside me, in very real danger of burning my arm if I am just a little careless, is a slow cooker (I believe those of you over the pond call it a crock-pot?), with a chicken casserole bubbling away.  Immediately behind me to my left, on the stove, is a big stock pot which has the filling of a meat lasagne also bubbling as it reduces down.  That reminds me, I need to put the red wine in....hang on...

Ok, I'm back.  Now where was I?

Ah yes, the lasagne filling is reducing behind me (now with welcome addition of a quarter bottle of merlot that I'd had left over from the other week), and when that's reduced, part of the filling will go into a lasagne dish, layered with pasta sheets and white sauce.  The other part will then get turned into a chilli, with spices and beans added.

Am I having guests?  Throwing a spontaneous Sunday night party?

Nope.

Also on the stove, is a big stainless-steel, heavy-bottomed stock pot with something else warming gently.  Another meal?   Yarn.   Coming to temperature so that once the lasagne is in the oven and the chilli has its lid on, I can apply the base colour for tonight's colourway.

Another pause as I reach into the fridge immediately to my right to fetch an ingredient for the stock pot - the one with lasagne in.

"Oh bottoms!"  The tube of chilli puree (yes I AM that princessy that I refuse to chop my own chillies), is knocked off the shelf and lands, with a small splash, into the trug of water that is on the floor immediately to the right of me, pressing against my calf in a gentle reminder that the yarn inside is also patiently waiting its turn to be coloured. Disclosure: I may not actually have said, "bottoms".

Swiftly, the tube is retrieved from the trug and the yarn inspected for damage.  None.  Whew!

Shifting my weight to my left leg presses my hip against the dials on the oven, reminding me that I should be putting that on to pre-heat, to welcome the lasagne and also tonight's dinner.  Because, no, readers, neither the lasagne, nor the chilli, nor the chicken casserole are for tonight.  Tonight we're having burgers in wholemeal buns with veggies.  Everything else, you see, is destined for the freezer.

This, I say, with a hint of pride at my own adulting success, is batch cooking!

So what has driven to me to this extreme of cooking 6 dinners for nights that are not tonight on my precious Sunday evening?  Those of you astute enough to have picked up on the fact that I am also simultaneously writing my blog post (which always comes out on Sundays) and heating yarn ready for dyeing, may have worked it out.

I'm struggling to spin plates.  And desperate times, my friends, call for desperate measures.

Another pause as, having knocked the pepper mill over with my left elbow, I opt to pop the ingredients I'm finished with back in their rightful places and, on opening the fridge, espy the tomato puree that should be in the lasagne and turn to fix my mistake.  I consider the lasagne base before me, lips pursed and twisted to the right as I debate the correct amount of tomato puree to add to this volume of mince (never before cooked in one go!).  Deciding I'm too busy for maths, I shrug, and squeeze the entire contents of the tube into the pot, giving it a quick stir and tossing the empty tube into the rubbish bin, before turning back to the business of the blog.

 Where was I?

Ah yes, spinning plates.  For those of you who may not be au fait with your circus skills (and why not?  I ask you), spinning plates is one such skill.  Using skinny wooden dowels of about 5.5 feet, you set a plate spinning atop of each one, and the challenge is to keep each of the plates spinning.  Of course, to keep one spinning is relatively simple, but the more plates you need to set in motion, the longer you leave other plates for and that's when they start to slow, wobble, and crash to the floor.

Smash...

...leaving you to pick up the pieces.

Keeping your plates spinning requires constant movement and attention.  Tonight I'm spinning the blog plate, tonight's dinner plate, the yarn-dyeing-for-this-month's-update-plate, the planning-my-submission-for-a-knitting-magazine plate (this particular piece of crockery is due to be handed over by 9am tomorrow), and the trying-not-to-tread-on-the-cat-plate, while keeping one eye on the supporting-my-girlfriends-who-are-in-crisis plate and trying to cope with my biggest plate: parenting my daughter who is no longer with us, and navigating the plains of grief. 

Spoiler, readers....

I'm not very good at plate-spinning.

Last week the podcaster plate fell tumbling to the ground, cracking right down the middle, so I took the week off.  However, the plate that generally smashes, is the dinner prep plate.  I get in from the day job, dog-tired and grumpy.  I glare angrily at the hoover, as though daring it to justify to me why it hasn't done a Fantasia and sorted the dust and cat-fluff while I was out.  Stomp to the fridge, realise the salmon I was going to cook last night but was too tired to is now out of date and cannot be used.  I stick my head in the freezer, decide that nuggets and chips will do, or perhaps I get Alan to pick up pizza from the supermarket on the way home.

So today, having decided that enough is enough, particularly when our budget doesn't really stretch to the convenience food we've been relying upon (and neither do the waistbands of our jeans), I've made a start on my first attempt at batch cooking.

"Alright," you say, slowly, patiently, "but what has this got to do with The Project Bag, the blog, crafting or any of it?"

If any of it includes my new making and minimalism series, you're getting warmer.  Minimalism is about intentional living.  I'm great with intentions, and there's more on that next week when I discuss my stash and huge mountain of WIPs, but that's for next week..

What this has to do with, is running a business, crafting the life for yourself that you want and is fulfilling for YOU.

I've had so much wonderful encouragement from followers, and my own family and friends, who look at the business from the outside-in, see it growing from strength to strength (which it totally is) and I feel it a duty to share the reality of creating a business from scratch, before hitting the big time has happened, when you're so exhausted you wonder if you can stay awake long enough to cook your dinner, let alone eat it.   If you're with me on this journey, knowing so many of you that want to craft your ideal life for yourselves, I feel I want to share what I learn.  I also feel that perhaps I am making it look unrealistic.  In actual fact I want to quit at least once a day.  Often more.

I'm not sharing this because I want you to be impressed with me.  Honestly, there's nothing to be impressed with.  I screw up on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.  Just last week I got an e-mail from a designer I'm test knitting for, wanting to know if I'd finished the test knit, and I got a bit huffy (not directly with the designer, of course, but in the privacy of my mind) until I realised the mistake I'd made.  The due date was 1/3/19.  This is not 1st March 2019, but the 3rd January 2019.  See?  I'm a dolt at times.

I'm sharing this because if I can help others as I learn from the mistakes I make, the mistakes will be doubly worth having made them.  If that makes sense.

I am also very lucky to have received support, encouragement and advice along the way, and I want to share some of that with you too.

Now, I want to make it quite clear, I am NOT moaning.  I am NOT seeking praise, and I most certainly am NOT perfect.  I repeat, my business is only just 1 year old.  I am not taking a salary from it.  It may yet all collapse around my ears.  And yes, I am very aware that I am very lucky in lots of ways.  Hear me out...

What I'd like to do is to start a conversation, to build a community where we share helpful advice.  What plates do you set down?  How do you cope with the pressures of modern life?

I know my own challenges are personally tough for me, but I'm not contending with chronic illnesses, or being marginalised in society, or with juggling bringing up children alongside trying to run a business and home, or with a relationship breakdown, or with Brexit (one bonus of being a fledgling business based in the UK with no real international work yet).    Everyone here has a voice worth hearing, everyone will have things they've learned that they may wish to share, for the betterment of all.

Here are my personal little titbits that I've picked up so far...

1)  There's no such thing as perfect.

2) Don't judge your own life by the front-of-house of everyone else's - the only back stage you see is yours, and chances are, theirs is just as chaotic.

3) Do your research.  It takes guts and sweat and tears to try and make it on your own, and plenty fail.  I still might.  But as I always tell my students:  planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.  You wouldn't believe the number of people who don't have even the basic outline of a business plan.  I certainly didn't, when a very experienced friend told me.

4) Plan ahead to make things a little easier for yourself.  Tonight I'm batch cooking 6 or 8 meals so that during the week, when I'm exhausted, I can just dig something out from the freezer and still eat something relatively healthy.  It helps ease my conscience, as well as hopefully saving money and time in the long run.

5)  If you've got too many plates to spin, try setting one down.  Last week I took the decision not to podcast.  Yes I know some people would have been disappointed, but I wouldn't have been able to bring my best to it.  I had some personal things going on, and also some real time restrictions and deadlines to adhere to.  Not all of them were essential, so I had to....

6) Prioritise.  Remember you are one person, even if you are lucky enough, like me, to have the support of a good partner and the emotional encouragement of friends.  You cannot do it all, and sometimes you have to set aside the things you want to do for the things you need to do.

7)  Remember why you're doing this.  Believe in yourself.  All you can do is your best and if you do this, even if it goes wrong and ultimately doesn't work out, you will know you tried.

8) Look after yourself.

I was finding myself falling deeper and deeper in this vicious whirlpool of events.  I would shop when tired and shop thoughtlessly.  I'd get home too tired to cook, or not wanting what was there, and search for convenience food, wasting money not once but twice.  I'd eat carb-heavy convenience meals that didn't take care of my nutrient requirements as a regular human, let alone consider the fact I'm iron deficient and also have an underactive thyroid.  The meals would leave me feeling heavy, sluggish and tired.  This would hit my self-confidence, affect my productivity, and also lead me to thinking that I can't do this.  I'm failing.  I should give up.

I'm not saying that batch cooking is a miracle cure that will suddenly make everything wonderful, but it's a purposeful considered step towards taking better care of myself physically, so I can face the challenges of every day.

So yes.  My business is growing.  It is going from strength to strength, and I am so excited to be vending at my first festival this summer.  However, I'm still just human, I still make mistakes, I still want to give up at least once a day, I'm stressed out of my tree and...

AND MY BLOODY CAT HAS JUST STOMPED MUDDY PAW-PRINTS ALL OVER MY CLEAN KITCHEN FLOOR!!!!  AAAARGGGHHH!!!



Comments

  1. One of my long time blog friends has had a bleak year and it is spilling over into this one. I am making her a wall hanging using dark blues along with some bright and light fabrics. I want this to say to her that you have to have some dark to show off the light. I have put an unnecessary join in the border fabric to underline the fact that anything does not have to be perfect for you to see beauty in it.
    Your podcast is great, you keep it real, I hope that the time out helped ease the pressure.
    I am long retired but still batch cook, it gives me the freedom to spend all day crafting and still put a good meal out.
    The pain of losing a child never goes away, I can assure you that the pain will slip into a little corner and lessen in intensity. It took a few years for me but it did happen.
    Take care of yourself.
    Pam xx

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