Best Practices for Surviving School

The other day I ran into a girl that I used to baby-sit while I was in high school. She’s a little older now so it was fun to catch up and see how she’s grown. I couldn’t believe when I heard she was finishing university this year, and her younger sister is just starting out at my old alumni. She asked me if I had any advice, so here it is. For those of you just starting out in post-secondary school, or for those of you looking to turn over a new leaf this year- I hope you find it useful. For the girls I used to look after- this one is for you.

Practice self-care. Exercise, sleep and eat healthy. These are the habits you’re most likely to let go of when you go to school so I encourage you to make them a priority. It’s not just about avoiding the Freshman 15- not taking care of your basic needs messes with your focus, your understanding and your mood. (I lost 15 lbs. instead because of all of the stress!)

Practice time management skills. Your success depends on well you can balance your classes, your job, your social life, your family, your home responsibilities, and any activities you engage in when you have free time. (By the way, if you don’t learn this quickly, you won’t have much free time.)

Practice discipline. It’s hard juggling all of those different hats you wear, especially if you’re without parental supervision for the first time. School can be fun, but you have to find a balance between work and play or you’ll find yourself suffering the consequences in your academic and/or personal life.

Practice organization. Your life will be a lot easier if you have everything you need, and you know where it all is. Be prepared. You won’t think I’m silly until the moment your pen dries up during an exam and you have to ask the proctor for one in front of 300 people.

Practice thrift. School is expensive and life can be to. It could mean a lot of trouble for you if you don’t learn how to manage your expenses quickly. This is also the time when many of you are starting to build a credit history, so it’s important to make paying bills – on time and in full – a priority.

Practice being open-minded. You’re going to meet a bunch of different people who come from different places and backgrounds and who do things, say things and think things that are different than what you’re used to. Please keep in mind that your way isn’t always the right way- it’s just all that you know because that’s where you come from. We all have things to learn from one another.

Practice kindness. When no one knows who you are or where you come from, all you have are your actions to represent yourself. Make your first impression a good one and the kindness will come back to you ten-fold during your time at school. I’m so grateful to all the friends I made that helped me through that time- they made me food when I was hungry, brought me coffees when I was tired, gave me pep talks when I was down and even loaned me a laptop when mine went on the fritz the night before a deadline. It really does pay to be nice!

Above all, I hope you keep things in perspective- school is not just about the credits, and the lectures, and the piece of paper at the end. It’s about expanding your horizons, challenging yourself and discovering your own talents and skill sets. It’s an exciting time and one I’ll certainly never forget. I wish you all the best of luck.

What’s your biggest takeaway from your time at school? Share it with the class below or let’s chat about it- you can reach me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com.

If you’re looking for more ways to juggle that whole work/school/life balance thing, click here to find more solutions that worked for me.

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The Legend of the Book of Yum

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When I went away to university it was the first time I had been away from home. I wasn’t sure what to expect: would I love the freedom? Would I totally freak out? Either way I knew that I was going to be really homesick.

My solution was The Book of Yum and it started out as kind of a joke between my university friends and I.

In anticipation of missing my mom’s cooking, I painstakingly wrote out some of our family’s favorite recipes in a small black binder, organized using homemade construction paper dividers. Also included were some helpful cooking hints for myself on how to make the basics; for example, tips on making rice nice and fluffy, and how to make your basic white sauce. I was reluctant to call it a recipe binder because it felt more like a compendium of my mother’s advice, and a piece of my family’s culinary history. So I called it “The Book of Yum”, made some dorky labels for it and took it to college with me.

Anyone who has had roommates knows that it’s hard to keep a secret from them, so it didn’t take long before people started to take note of the little binder I was always toting into the kitchen with me. Maybe it was the colorful labels, or the fact that no one I knew had completed a similar project.

Mostly I think The Book of Yum caught people’s attention because I was one of the few people in my group of friends that could actually cook. And bake.

This was the start of a whole new college culinary adventure. While a lot of kids were out partying you could often find me at home with my roommates attempting to develop a garnish for fish, bake a pie from scratch, or experiment with a foreign food. (Ok, maybe I found some time for partying too.)

In some ways, it was my college years that fostered my love of cooking and food. I tried every kind of food, in every kind of restaurant in town and I always had a hungry mouth nearby willing to try whatever it was I was making that day. It was a time of firsts: my first pastry dough, my first experiment with phyllo, and my first roast.

It was also during these years that I discovered how cooking for others felt like a gift more to myself than a gift for them. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching my friends enjoy something I had created and nothing made me appreciate food more than the act of making it myself.

More than anything, though, The Book of Yum was a way for me to honor my family; both my love for them and the traditions that we build and maintain.

I still have it too, even though it’s expanded to accommodate my expanded culinary horizons. Even though that little black binder has transformed, it still opens a floodgate of sense memories as soon as I lift the cover. No matter how successful I end up being in my writing career, I’ll still consider one of my favorite books that I’ve written.

You may not know it, but you’ve read part of The Book of Yum too! If you were looking at it now, you’d recognize these Chocolate Brownies, these Butterscotch Brownies, these Banana Muffins, these Chocolate Banana Cookies, these Sugar Cookies, these Maple Syrup Muffins, this Apple Pie and this Zucchini Bread. I hope you enjoyed them as much as my family and friends have!

KBwB-BFlower-50I’d love to hear about your own recipe collection. Which childhood recipes do you still include in your repertoire? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or comment below. I’d love to try one out!

I try out a new recipe every two weeks or so and blog about the results, so if you need even more baking inspiration, you can find the complete list in alphabetical order here.

 

How to Pick the Perfect Planner

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Ahhh, the beginning of a new year- time to reflect on all the successes and losses of the year gone by, and to plan for the months ahead. It’s bittersweet in a way, but I personally find it to be one of the more exciting times of the year.

Friends, it’s planner time. (Kind of like hammer time, except nerdier.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably excited too. Or maybe you’re wary of the whole planner system and are wondering whether it’s worth it to pick out a new one at all.

For those naysayers who claim they don’t need a calendar to keep track of their engagements, I say congratulations to you! I’m much better at committing something to memory if I record it somewhere, and although I’m generally good at remembering where I’m supposed to be at what time, I do have the occasional slip-up.

Consider this as well: your planner isn’t merely to serve as a reminder of all of your deadlines, important occasions and appointments. It’s also a great tool for prioritizing your workflow, and for forming a plan of attack for the weeks ahead of you.

Or maybe your reluctance to start a new planner this year stems from an inability to find a system that you can customize so that it best fits your needs.

Here are some common planner problems:

  1. Smartphones are just that: really smart, and there truly is an app for everything (and probably for some things I’ve never even thought of before.) But your smartphone is as only smart as the person using it, and if you’re finding it hard to keep track of appointments using the calendar function on your phone, it could be that you’re simply a pen and paper person. Just because a certain way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
  2. Having said that, you may want to consider the format carefully before committingpeople whose days are packed with appointments may want to use a daily planner, while someone whose work involves taking care of more long-term projects may want to use a calendar with a monthly format to get a bird’s eye view of key events. For the electronic calendar users out there, you may wish to experiment with the view settings in your favorite app to get a feel for which one works best for you.
  3. Once you’ve chosen your favorite format, you have to make your planner’s features work for you. People who use a three-ring planner format often have the advantage of being able to include different sections they can use as resources to help plan their schedules (i.e., church calendars, volunteer schedules, school lunch menus, etc.) Make over a store-bought agenda or simple notebook by typing and printing out similar resources and information and pasting these sheets over the pages you don’t use. Many calendar apps also feature similar add-ons, such as reminder functions and the ability to sync appointments with the contacts in your phone. One last word of advice: Electronic users should not underestimate the usefulness of subscribing to other electronic calendars to co-ordinate anything from birthday parties to play dates with other family members and parents.
  4. Even though the ways to customize your agenda or planner may seem endless, it’s best not to go overboard. Any system that is overloaded with information is often too complicated to use, and you’ll spend half the time organizing the information you have instead of deciding what needs to be done with it. Paring your planner down to only the things you need hones your focus and clears your vision so you can actually get things accomplished. (And hopefully in a timely fashion!)
  5. It may seem simple, but if you don’t use it, your planner is not going to be useful to you. Keeping your planner up-to-date and referring to it often are key components in formulating a strategy for tackling your workload. If you have trouble doing these things, it means you probably haven’t chosen a system that works for you and your lifestyle (see 1-4).

KBwB-BFlower-50Are you excited to get your schedule on track for the new year as much as I am? Tell me some of the favorite ways you’ve organized your planner down below, or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. I may include your tips in an upcoming post!

For more inspiration on getting things more organized and productive, click here and here.