In two weeks, I go back to school.

It’s been 20 years since I last wandered around a college campus.  Now, at 45, I’ve made the impulsive, illogical decision to pursue an MFA in Ceramics, at Eastern Michigan University (45 miles North of here.).

My feelings about this whole plan are a roller coaster of excitement and regret, guilt and determination, self doubt and ambition.  So I am ignoring the whole emotional thing, for now, and focusing on the logistics.  Details of schedule, budget, meal plans and lesson plans help me maintain the illusion that I have some control over my life. I have come up with several tricks for keeping things organized, and right now, I’m using them all.

In the evening, when the kids are in bed, I sit with graph paper charting out days and hours and half hours, scout meetings and saxophone lessons, sports and robotics, lunches and seminars, drop offs and pick ups.  A page of graph paper, lengthwise, gives me just enough space for five people’s schedules, seven days a week.  I color in the blocks for dad at work, mom at school, and kids at grandma’s the day those blocks overlap.  They don’t really need to be colored in, but it makes me feel calm to fill in the hours with colored pencils, serene blues and cool greens.

I have had a chore chart for my kids that I have used for many years.  (It’s on my website,  ).  It’s the disorganized, short-attention-span mom’s solution to sanity, and keeps me from having to remember to remind kids of a dozen chores each, in addition to where-the-hell-did-I-leave-my-car-keys and which-pile-of-papers-is-hiding-my-overdue-bills.  I don’t have to walk around nagging.  “Did you brush your teeth?  Go brush your teeth.  Did you feed your rabbit? Whose turn to empty the dishwasher?  Now did you feed your rabbit?  Go back and brush your teeth!”

Last night, I made a chore chart for myself.  Little round metal-edged paper key tags organize my daily and weekly chores, and are flipped over, when done, to expose the shiny star-stickers I have so lamented in my “celebrate-intrinsic-rewards” approach to homeschooling.  But I like my gold “daily” stars.  They mean I have walked a mile on the treadmill, sorted one box of random stuff in basement, closet or attic, looked over the kids’ homeschooling for the day, gathered a bag of outgrown stuff to donate, and pulled yet another dinner plan out of my hat.  I need a daily reminder to go down to the laundry mines and move that final batch of wash into the dryer before bedtime… my standing joke is that our thorough method of washing clothes includes a “ferment cycle”.

Other tags show up once a week.  On mondays I start a batch of yogurt, start alfalfa or broccoli seeds sprouting in a jar, feed two sourdough cultures, and write up the week’s dinner “specials”, restaurant style, in colored chalk on the kitchen cupboard door I have painted with blackboard paint.

One day is for planning menus and shopping, one day for banking and recycling, and the little tags on my chart will mean I don’t have to waste mental bandwidth trying to remember which is which.

Another gadget that makes my life worthwhile, besides graph paper and metal edged key tags, is the cheap Christmas tree light timer that plugs into an outlet and will turn on lights (or lamps, or whatever) at a pre-set time.

I plug my crock pot into one, set on low, and set the timer to turn it on at six in the morning. Then I give one of the kids a chore tag that says “set up oatmeal”.  I have little plastic storage boxes into which I have premeasured steel cut oats.  They dump one into the crock pot, then add whatever their little hearts desire: cinnamon and dried apples and raisins, nuts and dates, fruit juice, a can of peaches or pineapple, brown sugar or maple syrup. They each have their own “secret recipes”.  I have asked that yogurt, milk or cottage cheese not be stirred in until morning, though. Dried fruit soaks all night and raisins plump up delightfully.

We wake up to a wonderful smell, and breakfast is ready.  The only down side is cleaning the crock pot. Jeff brought me home thoseplastic bag liners, but I am sufficiently paranoid after reading about microwaved plastic and carcinogens that I have been hesitant to use them.

Today, I lined up my next happy invention: the bread machine boxes.  Maybe two years ago, when I first got my bread machine, I got “The Breadman’s Healthy Bread Book” and wrote my favorite recipes on ziploc bags.  Now they are written in Sharpie on the lids of those disposable/reusable plastic containers.  I wrote all the dry ingredients on the left side of the lid, the wet ones on the right, and then line up the boxes and the kids help me measure out flour, sesame seeds, gluten, whey, salt and so on, in all the boxes at once.  We snap on the lids, and there’s a week’s worth of daily fresh bread. When the kids have a “bread machine” tag on the chore chart, they just dump in a box, add wet ingredients, and push the button.

The only flaw in that plan was stickiness. Molasses, oil, honey, lecithin and malt syrups have a way of leaving little stickies all over the kitchen, fingers, and the chins of my little spoon-lickers. So today, I measured the oily/sticky stuff into little labeled jam jars, one to match each box. All that’s required now is water and yeast. And a monday tag for mom, reminding me to refill the bread boxes.

I don’t know how moms do it when they are not home during the day. I have a new respect for anyone who manages to feed kids healthy, fresh, frugal meals with a busy schedule. I’ve been making and freezing big batches of Cinci chili, pot pies, white bean and kale soup and other family favorites, like I did before my babies were born.  It always made me feel prepared, and created the illusion that life was ordered and under control, at a time when major changes were coming.

Only this time I know exactly when labor will begin. The first day of school for me is Monday, September 11th.