Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Works Wednesday: Shoe Storage (feat. Corner of Truth!)

A few months ago my husband and I found this bench at Target, and bought it so we could have somewhere for the kids to put their shoes. We have a front hall closet, but it's super tiny. I was doubtful that it would work out, but it's GREAT! They can sit on the bench to get their shoes on and off, and they don't have to run all over the house looking for shoes when it's time to leave!
 Aaaaaand..... Corner of Truth.... right next to the shoe bench is our computer station. MESSY! We just stash stuff we've printed all over the place, and I also have a tendency to put books there as well, since the couch on the right of the picture is where I sit to read. And why is there a Post-It on the wall? And why am I just now noticing?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Recent Reads

Here's my 5 latest:

Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and LoveTwo Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've read Matt Logelin's blog a few times, and enjoyed his writing. I enjoyed this book because it told so much more back story of his life with Liz. I found myself insanely hoping that her childbirth would end differently - which, obviously, it didn't. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about their love story and more about her, but it's not really a book I'd necessarily recommend to anyone who didn't know his story or enjoy the blog.

View all my reviews Okay for NowOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Usually for me, a 5-star review is one where I honestly think that ANYBODY would enjoy the book - it's that good. I can't say that's the case here, but here are the reasons I had to rate it 5 stars anyway:
1. On page 3, Gary Schmidt was already describing Doug and his life so perfectly, I had to log back onto Goodreads to see if this book was a memoir. That's how well he captured this character.
2. It's not unusual for me to read late into the night, feeling guilty about it and knowing I'll be tired but it'll be worth it, blah blah blah. The difference last night is that I realized with a jolt at 1:30am that I was a separate person apart from this book - I was so completely immersed in Marysville, New York, circa 1968, that I literally forgot that I was even reading.

It did meet my other 5-star requirement of "not being able to stop talking about it." I wanted to discuss this book with everyone I encountered tonight after finishing it.

Gary Schmidt writes amazing characters. They're unique, they're lovable, they're vulnerable. I was so invested in these characters, that I found myself gasping out loud or breaking into ridiculously huge grins - not normal for me. Anyway, loved this book. Great read.

View all my reviews
  The ConfessionThe Confession by John Grisham
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't enjoy this book at all. I used to love John Grisham novels, but this one was just boring to me. I felt like I'd met his characters before in other books, and, without revealing any spoilers, I didn't like the direction of the plot. I actually didn't even finish it, which is very unusual, but I did read most of it.

View all my reviews

  The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's never a good sign when I can't remember what book I'm reading, or if I can put it down for several days without coming back to it. This is a story about a high school girl at a wealthy boarding school, who tries to infiltrate her boyfriend's secret society. But I kept wondering why she was even with her boyfriend, as she never seemed to have any particular attachment to him, and I guess some part of me was hoping for a romantic storyline elsewhere in the book. And, I mean, it had a lot of good observations about gender roles, particularly within high school relationships, but it just didn't feel very relevant to me at this point in my life. I think I really would have enjoyed it when I was in high school though. This book also may have suffered a little bit coming right on the heels of Okay For Now, another coming-of-age, YA novel that was just far-and-away better than this one.

View all my reviews Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a cute, light read - fast-moving, funny, and enjoyable. It chronicles a family living in Seattle, and their adventures with each other, and the uppity families they live around. The only thing I found strange was that the plot sort of made it sound like Bernadette's disappearance was the main event of the book, and it didn't even happen until it was nearly over. When I kept expecting her to disappear "any page now," it sort of made it drag out. But I thought the plot was fresh and funny - I actually laughed out loud several times as I was reading it. Good family dynamics, flawed and lovable at the same time. Not a life-changing novel or anything, but I wholly enjoyed it.

View all my reviews

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Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Speak Kid: When I Was Little...

Whoops!  Forgot to ever post this here on my own blog! I originally posted this as a guest post over on Welcome to the Mouse House.

Here it is:

Normally I blog about the typical day-to-day stuff - organization, recipes, crafts, etc., but today I'm going to touch on an idea I've found helpful in parenting. This post will be the first of a series I'm starting on my blog called "How to Speak Kid," about how to talk to your kids so that they'll (hopefully) listen, do what you ask, and grow up to be pretty cool people while they're at it. I'm not promising magic, but hopefully it'll give you some new tools for your parenting toolbox. As a mother of 3 and a full-time teacher, I'm always on the lookout myself for new ways to manage behavior and understand kids!

Today's Tip: Use stories about your younger self to help kids understand their feelings and handle disappointment

Me, circa 1988 or so...

No, I'm not going to say to start out by saying, "You think you have it bad? I had to walk to school a mile each day in the snow! And it was uphill both ways!" This is different - sometimes I tell my kids stories about myself when I was little as a sneaky parenting technique. One way I use this technique is when I think they're not really thinking through or being honest about how they feel, for whatever reason. It opens their minds to a different way of looking at a situation, without being made to feel like I'm ordering them to think about it that way. I also use it to empathize with them, to help them to know that I understand how they feel, and sometimes that can go a long way in healing a broken heart.
For instance, my 7-year-old daughter recently wanted to go to a sleepover that her Girl Scout Troop was having. I didn't feel comfortable with this, since she's never had a real sleepover before, and doesn't really know her leaders all that well yet.

I picked her up at 10pm, and I could tell she was disappointed. As she was brushing her teeth back at home, she asked why she wasn't able to stay like the other girls. I knew that if I said, "I was worried you'd be scared," she would immediately respond, "I wouldn't be scared!" So instead I said, "Well, I was just thinking about when I was 7. I'm not saying you would feel this way, but when I was 7, I would have been really nervous to spend the night at someone's house that I didn't know very well." She looked down at the ground, silent and thinking. "If I had had an accident in the night, or woke up with a stomach ache, I wouldn't have felt very comfortable going to wake up a grown-up to help me if I didn't know them very well yet. Of course I was fine sleeping over with my cousins, just like you are, but for me it just felt a little bit different when I didn't know the adults very well yet. Anyway, maybe you wouldn't feel that way, but that's what I was thinking about when I said no." "Well," she said softly, "I actually probably would feel that way." And that was the last I heard about the disappointment.

For some reason, this technique seems to give my kids permission to say that they feel the way they really do, or to look at a situation from a different perspective.

I also use this technique a lot to relate to my kids, and help them know that I really relate to their disappointment. For instance, when my oldest is feeling jealous of my youngest, I might say, "You know, when I was little, it was really hard for me when people would always tell my little sister how cute she was, just because she was the baby. Do you ever feel like that?" I feel like I've hit the momma payday when she looks up at me, her eyes lighting up and says, "Yes!" in that voice like, You get it, don't you?

Or, when my kids are feeling bad because their cousins just got a cool toy that they wanted: "When I was little, it was really hard for me when my friends got cool new stuff, even if I knew I'd get to play with it at their house. That can be tough, huh?" 

For some reason, this is so much more effective with my kids than saying, "Oh honey, you're cute too! People just make a big deal over Claire because she's the baby!" Or, "Different kids get different toys. You'll be able to play with that Lego set over at Carter's house any time you want!"

The caveat here is that you're not trying to lead them into feeling something different. I'm not trying to brainwash them into feeling a certain way, I use this when I know how they feel, and I want them to either recognize it, or know that I understand it.

So the next time you're helping your kids to handle disappointment or sadness, think about your own childhood. What experiences can you draw from to show them that you understand how they are feeling, or to help them understand their feelings?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Works Wednesday: Winter Gear Storage (feat. The Corner of Truth!)

So here's a confession for you. While I feel like I have good organizational ideas to share, sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud to have a cleaning/organization blog because, just like most people, my house is often messy and DISorganized! I seriously live in fear that my real-life friends will find out I have a blog like this and just stare at me in disbelief. But I really loved the recent Confessions of Christmas post at House of Hepworths, and had the urge to incorporate something similar. So stay tuned at the end of the post.

But first.... what works. We live in Alaska, which means a constant influx of winter gear. Like, duplicates and triplicates (at least) of everything, for all 5 family members. Because of that, we store winter gear in a few different places. One of them is this bucket by the front door. While I'd love to have it all up and put away, this works for us because it's easy to scoop off the floor and toss in there, and easy to bend down and grab a hat for someone on our way out the door. It works because it's easy. It's very accessible for the kids - they can easily grab stuff and put stuff away.

So the second half of my "What Works Wednesdays" post is going to be a picture of something that isn't working for me, very near in proximity to the first picture. It's going to be called The Corner of Truth. Dun dun dun! I'm always entertained when I try to take pictures for this blog and strategically try to crop out messiness, since cleaning and organization is a focus of my posts. But my purpose in posting The Corner of Truth is twofold. One, I really would love to get some ideas from others about things that are not working for me. And two, I think honesty on a blog is refreshing. So, for the first Corner of Truth feature, here is the bookcase, seen on the far right side of the picture above.
NOT working. We have a few fabric bins - one holds computer paper, one holds stuff for the Wii, and one I think has more winter gear. It doesn't normally look THIS bad - I had a bunch of Christmas stuff on it, and when we put away the Christmas stuff, I just kind of threw the stuff back in that goes there. Pretty, right? With backpacks and my husband's hockey gear all around! So this is what I was trying to keep out of my lovely first picture! Ha ha. Should I just get rid of the bookcase? I'm kind of tempted to. Having it right by the front door makes it kind of a natural dumping ground for stuff. I'm challenging myself to get it put back together by next week's post, and see if I like it any better.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How-Tuesday: How to Cut Bangs

I respect hair stylists as the artists that they are, and in no way can I claim to be able to replicate salon hair. That being said, I'm big into bangs these days, and there's no way I'm paying for my daughters and I to go get our bangs cut every few weeks. So here's how I cut bangs:

First, comb the bangs out so that you know about how much you'd like to take off. I like bangs to just brush the eyebrows, so I needed to take off about an inch here, maybe an inch and a half. Second, wonder to yourself how you let your kid's bangs get so long.

 Then, take all the hair and twirl it up. Reassure miserable child that this method is WAY better than trying to cut with the scissors right up against her face, hair falling into her mouth.
Cut off the amount you previously committed to memory. One inch, remember? Seems unnecessary to add that you'd rather cut off too little than too much, but I'll say it anyway. You can always go back for another few snips.
 Allegedly, according to the internet, cutting bangs this way will make them a little longer on the sides and shorter in the middle. Seems to work okay for me. I like bangs to look a little piecey, and not a stick-straight line across the head, a la Zooey Deschanel.

If you like something more exact, I start at the right and imagine that the line of the eyebrow extends to the hairline. I cut along that angle until I meet the eyebrow, then follow across the eyebrow line, going down at the left the same way - following the angle of the eyebrow. I usually do a combo of both, and take the length off with the twirl method, then even it up a little with the "Follow the Eyebrow" method.
This is always great if you have a 2-year-old to perfect this skill on, since they barely know they have a head, much less bangs that are supposed to look decent. And if they're totally screwed up, people will assume they did it to themselves.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Guest Posting

Hi all! Today I posted the first in the "How to Speak Kid" series as a guest post over on Welcome to the Mouse House! Go check it out, and then stay and look around! I have loved Haley's blog for a long time. She has two darling kids, and the sewing projects she makes are to-die-for. As I followed her on last season's Project Run and Play, I developed some serious sewing envy! Awesome home decor stuff too!

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

"How to Speak Kid"

 Photo by AlaMODE Photography in San Diego

These are my little guys. They're the ones I spend my time enjoying, loving, crying over, and hiding from. Parenting can be tough - it's a lot of pressure to raise a happy, well-adjusted child, and stay sane while doing it. One thing that makes parenting 3000 times easier is good communication. I feel lucky that I've had lots of practice talking to kids, and now it's something that comes really easily to me, and I'd love to share some tips and tricks. 

Tomorrow I'm starting a series of posts called, "How to Speak Kid," and they'll revolve around communication with your kids. How to speak to your kids so that they'll (hopefully) listen, do what you're asking, and grow up to be pretty cool little people.

I don't claim to be a parenting expert, but I did want to give you a little bit of background so that you know where I'm coming from. The emphasis of my Bachelor's degree was Child Development, and after college, I taught preschool for several years. I taught full-time, which meant that I had 4 different classes every year - each with 20-25 kids. So throughout the week, I would interact with roughly 100 kids ages 3-5. And I did this for about 3 years, meaning I dealt with about 300 preschool-aged kids, day in and day out. Yes, they'd go home to their parents after 3 hours, but I still had to figure out what made them tick, so that I could get them to sit and listen to stories, pick up toys, and play nicely with the other kids on the playground. After my preschool teaching days, I went back to school and got my credentials in Elementary Ed. and Special Ed., and began my teaching career as an elementary Resource teacher. I'm now in my fifth year of working with kids with mild to moderate disabilities, from learning disabilities to emotional disturbances. And in the middle of that career, I took a break to have 3 kids in the space of 4 years, and enjoy about 5 years as a stay-at-home mom. I'm now back at work, and constantly participating in Professional Growth opportunities that help me to understand and better relate to kids.

I've known some amazing kids. And I've known some really, REALLY challenging ones. Not every trick works for every kid, and not all the tips I share will feel natural to you. But hopefully throughout the series, you'll read something that will work for you, or that you can keep in the back of your mind for a future situation. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and have conversations with my readers about what works for YOU. So check back tomorrow - I'll link to the post from here tomorrow (I'll be guest blogging), and post it here later this week!

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy to be Here + Free Printable!

Katie has been asking me to contribute to her site for a little while now and I'm so happy to be here!  Just a little about me: my name is Brianne, I'm a mom of 2 very cute kiddos living in Southern California.  I'm Katie's sister-in-law and friend, a graphic designer and small business owner.  My life can be very busy sometimes, but I've found that nothing helps to keep me motivated than reporting back to friends about projects I've (finally) finished or furniture that's been rearranged for the better.

I hope to share lots of tips and tricks that are working in our lives to make things simpler and cleaner (and livelier too!).

I thought what better way to win you over today than to offer up a free printable.  Since Valentine's day is around the corner I put together this cute print, and we hope you all enjoy it!

To download, click the link below the picture.  (For personal use only, of course).

I recommend printing at Costco, just make sure you click "do not autocorrect" before completing your order.  Happy printing and Happy Valentine's decorating!

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Tips on Getting Fit & Healthy: Getting Started

I've spent the last 2.5 years trying to lose weight. Well, the past 20 years, honestly. But 2.5 years ago, I decided to get serious about making changes. So I thought this month, while we're all thinking about our health, I'd share with you some of the tips that have helped me lose 35 pounds so far. I'm not a nutritionist, personal trainer, or an expert of any sort, but I always love hearing from other people what works for them, so I thought I'd return the favor and talk about some of the things that have worked for me! Throughout the rest of the month, I'll share some Healthy Changes that I've made that have helped me on my personal journey.

Here are some pictures from summer 2010, and a recent one I had my husband take just for this post! I still have changes I would like to make, but I'm proud of what I've done so far. When I moved to Alaska in 2010, I was no longer fitting into my size 12 pants, and now I can easily fit into an 8, sometimes even a 6.

I'm in the purple shirt, obviously


Along the way, I have tried lots of things - Family Fitness Challenges, Weight Watchers, My Fitness Pal, and just "trying to be better." Here are some of the things that worked for me. In this post I'll focus on 5 things that I had to change in the beginning - to mentally get to where I needed to me, and to be able to transition from a fairly unhealthy diet to incorporate more water, fruits, and veggies.

1. No More Excuses
I had a few excuses about why I was overweight. First, I told myself, it was really unreasonable to expect a mother of 3 kids to get to the 90-110 lbs. listed as a healthy body weight for my height. Second, pretty much every woman in my family has a fairly curvy figure, and carries some extra weight around the stomach. So... can't fight genetics, right? Third, I'm a working mom! Working moms don't have time to exercise and eat healthy! Totally unreasonable!

When I sat down and got really honest with myself, those were all just excuses. While 90-110 lbs. probably isn't all that reasonable for me, that doesn't mean that I should just add an extra 50 lbs. to that without a second thought. Will I ever weigh 100 lbs.? Probably not. But just because I'm not going to hit that target doesn't mean any other weight is equally okay. First obstacle - just an excuse. And is every woman in my family overweight? Well, no. Actually, the more I thought about, the more I realized that I was actually one of the heaviest ones. There were lots and lots of women in my family who weren't heavy. Some who were quite thin, actually. Second obstacle - just an excuse. And as for my time constraints? Mmmmmm.... I managed to waste several hours per night on the internet without feeling pressed for time. So... it's not that I didn't have the time, I just didn't want to spend it on exercising.

Other moms in my height range manage to be fit and healthy. Other moms in my family manage to be fit and healthy. And other moms that work manage to be fit and healthy. And if other moms can do it, why can't I?

That was the beginning. No more excuses, I decided. I was popping out of my size 12 pants, and not really in a financial situation to buy new ones. This was it - the moment of change. And with any successful weight loss, you have to have that moment. Confront your "reasons" for not losing weight. Are they legitimate, or are they excuses? Honestly? For many, there are legitimate health issues causing weight gain. But for most of us? That's not the case. I had to be brutally honest with myself, and make some hard decisions as a result.

2. Take Before Pictures
This is hard. No one loves to see unflattering pictures of themselves, and we tend to stay out of the way if pictures are being taken when we know we are overweight. But when you really get serious, take some before pictures. While I passionately hated the pictures I posted above, I am so glad I have them now, because it shows me how far I have come. I still take pictures every so often, just so I can see how my body is changing. Take them Biggest-Loser style, in a sports bra and shorts, and it will be so encouraging to see your waistline get smaller, your love handles disappear, and the chins vanish. If you don't have these pictures, it's easy to think, "Nothing's changing. I'm still fat. I look exactly like I did before." Because change is slow. But when I feel like that, I look at these pictures and recognize that it's not true - I do not look like this anymore, even though some days it feels like I do.

3. Train Your Body to Love Water
Notice I didn't just say "drink water." If you don't drink a lot of water regularly, it can be HARD to start. The two most common excuses I hear (and gave myself) are, "I don't like the way it tastes," and, "I would pee constantly if I drank that much water." I'm here with some good news. The more your body gets used to water, the more you will crave it, and even begin to love it. When I started drinking water, I couldn't even drink more than a few ounces without some sort of flavoring packet added to it. It tasted so nasty to me. But the more I drank, the more I wanted it. Now, two years after I started, I can honestly say that I LOVE water. I crave it. I notice when I don't drink enough of it, because gives me more energy than soda ever did. And, each time I re-commit myself to drinking water, my body goes through an adjustment period of 3-5 days where I am peeing constantly, but eventually my body adjusts. So, if you can't just down a bunch of water, take baby steps. Experiment with adding lime, lemon, orange, or cucumber slices. Buy the Crystal Lite flavor packets. Do what you need to do to START.

4. Allow yourself some fats with your fruits and veggies
I haven't been able to develop the same love for fresh fruits and veggies that I have for water, unfortunately. But I came to realize that if I added some fats to my diet with my fruits and veggies, I was a lot more likely to eat them. Ten baby carrots? Torture. Baby carrots dipped in ranch? Bring it on! Same thing with apples - every day I would pack an apple, but it would never look appealing enough to eat. Finally I brought a container of peanut butter to work, and measured out a half tablespoon at a time, and spread that over my apple as I ate it, I actually looked forward to the snack. With salads, I realized I will not eat just a plain garden salad. But I can eat cups and cups of lettuce and spinach when it's tossed with toasted, sliced almonds, Craisins, and some balsamic dressing.

The key here obviously is moderation. Going through a third cup of ranch dressing or peanut butter is going to negate the effect you're going for. But if you can add in some sort of condiment for 50-100 calories, and it makes you more likely to consume and enjoy produce, I consider that a net positive!

So those are some of the tips that I used in the beginning. I'll post later with other Healthy Changes I made, both mentally and physically. Let's wish each other willpower for our fitness goals in 2013!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Works Wednesday: Bathroom Organizers

Just wanted to introduce a quick feature called "What's Working Wednesdays," where I briefly show pics of some organization things that are working for me right now. I'd also like to include things that are NOT working, and hopefully get some ideas from readers!

So, to start, I've been having huge issues with my girls' hair stuff. I love the various cute bow holders and things that I see on Pinterest, but I always end up just going back to tossing stuff in a basket. Don't hold your breath, but soon I'm going to write an entire post on how my organizational strategy essentially consists of finding ways just to dump things in a basket.

But anyway, that wasn't working for me. Their stuff was getting all mixed up, and I was always rummaging around, semi-swearing under my breath, trying to find a hair tie while I tightly grasped a ponytail and someone cried. So recently I found these awesome containers at Target, and thought they might be good for our hair stuff. I have elastic headbands in one, hair ties in another, brushes and combs in one, and soft hair ties in the fourth small compartment. Bows and clips go in the bigger, middle section. Hugely giant flower clip was just clipped to the side, ha ha. So far it's working great!

I just don't know what to do with the headbands, though. Right now I have them just hung on a towel rod, but I'm not really enjoying that a lot. Has anyone done the oatmeal can idea on Pinterest? Any other good ways to organize headbands?
I also bought another one for my makeup and hair stuff. Please try not to be jealous of my copious amounts of expensive makeup. It's hard, I know, what with the Burt's Bees lip gloss and classic Cover Girl mascara. I put my bobby pins and barrettes on the left, but it was too hard to see them against the dark bottom, so I just laid down some fabric squares first.

And you can see it better in this picture, but the sides of these compartments are flexible, so you could push any or all of them back up against the sides of the bin, leaving you with several configuration options.

 Looks pretty, right?

If you're interested in buying these, they were in a pretty random spot in my Target, back by where they usually keep the holiday candy, seasonal stuff, and bulk items. Like, exactly where you'd find red and green peanut butter M&Ms clearanced out from Christmas. Not that I was looking.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How-Tuesday: How to Rotate Pictures in Blogger

Having random pictures upload sideways (ahem)...
...has been driving me crazy for as long as I can remember. Finally earlier this week when I was trying to post the above picture, I did something crazy. I googled it. And sure enough, someone brilliant out there in the internet universe has solved the problem.

Please click over to Lines Across for an EXCELLENT tutorial on how to rotate those pesky pictures in Blogger. Oh, and Blogger? This has been a problem for years and YEARS! Perhaps at some point you would consider fixing it? Thankyouverymuch.

But in the meantime, check out Rachel's tutorial. Since apparently she's smarter than Blogger.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Isn't it the best?

Don't you just love it....

...when someone in your family....

...knows the perfect thing to get you for Christmas?

Don't worry, I'm not so out of the loop that I didn't realize that Christmas is over. I just found this note in the bottom of my daughter's church bag and it was too cute not to share.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Family Job Jars

A few nights ago on Facebook, I gave you guys a sneak peek of something I've been really excited about! My 4-Week Cleaning Schedule is getting a lot of hits lately, leading me to believe I'm not the only one making New Years' Resolutions about having a cleaner house!

This year I decided I really needed to get my kids more involved with cleaning the house. When I think of having my kids help with chores, I think of torture. Seriously. Buuuuuuut.... I've been thinking ahead to when my kids are a little older, and how I imagine they would react when, after 10 years of being exempt from doing chores, they were suddenly expected to do them. I didn't anticipate that going well. So that led me to....

I decided that each Saturday, we would spend an hour on the house. My husband and I could work for a half hour, and the kids could work for 15 minutes, leaving 15 spare minutes for my 3-year-old singing on the potty, someone throwing a tantrum, me accidentally getting sidetracked by an US Weekly, etc. Hopefully that's not just my house. During that time, we would pull sticks from the jar, complete those jobs, and repeat, repeat, repeat for the allotted time frame. Once the sticks are pulled, they go back in the other direction. The next week we pull the jars out again, start with the sticks that are still not done, and go from there.

I was originally going to have us work in one room at a time, but then I remembered that my house is microscopically tiny and we'd be falling all over each other if we tried that. I decided to separate mine into Upstairs and Downstairs and rotate the buckets each week.

So I sat down and made a list of all the chores in the house that needed to be done, separating them by "kid" jobs and "adult" jobs. My kids are 3, 5, and 7, by the way, and the jobs I picked for them will originally need lots of instruction, but hopefully later will be able to be done independently. Much later, in the case of the 3-year-old.You are welcome to download and use my Family Job List as a starting point.

Then I bought some wooden craft sticks and painted them in happy, fun colors that I love.
After fiddling with my camera and mysteriously disabling its focusing ability, I wrote each job on a stick with Sharpie, making sure to keep most of my writing on one end of the stick so it wouldn't be visible when we were choosing sticks. I then filed the extra specks of paint and paper off the edges of the sticks with a nail file.
 And then I put each group into a cute pail from Target's $1 section. I put them with the job side down so that you can't see the job when you're reaching for a stick. They go back in job-side-up when the job is done (which is how you're mostly seeing them in this photo). It would be good to paint one end of the sticks a contrasting color so it's easier to tell the difference. I may do that in the future, but my episode of The Biggest Loser ended and I had nothing else to watch, so I got bored of painting.
And that's it! Today was our first day starting our Job Jars, and they were a huge hit with the kids. My kids are still little enough that it's really fun for them to help. As I was tucking my kids into bed last night, my 5-year-old told me that the job jars were his favorite time of our day, and my 7-year-old told me, "Mom, thanks for letting us pick out of the job jars today. It's your best invention EVER! Well, except for kisses." So I think it'll be a keeper for our family! And it sure was nice to come home to a clean house after our Saturday errands.
I will say, in closing, that the downside of this system is that you don't get every single chore done every week. It's just not a big deal to me, but if it's a big deal to you, you could do all the sticks each week instead of working for a given time period. Or check out my 4-Week Cleaning Schedule, Daily Cleaning Routine, or Pink's Daily Cleaning Checklist for more comprehensive daily/weekly cleaning plans.

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Deal Alert!

Tonight I was at Barnes & Noble, and they had some Christmas clearance for 50% off. I got these three books (and there were tons of others) for $4 each, and there were others for $3 each. Not bad for nice hardcover books. The one on the left is like the 10 Little Ladybugs book but with gingerbread men, the one in the middle is a cute pop-up book, and the one on the right is an anthology with some Christmas classics such as A Christmas Carol, The Night Before Christmas, and The Nutcracker, with beautiful and kid-friendly illustrations.

I also got this Good Housekeeping cookie book for $4, mostly because I have fond memories of thumbing through a cookie cookbook of my mom's and drooling over all the pictures!

Good Housekeeping The Great Christmas Cookie Swap Cookbook: 60 Large-Batch Recipes to Bake and Share
Our cashier said that these will eventually go down to 75% off and then $1 each, but I'm not over to Barnes & Noble that often, so I just went ahead and bought them.

If anyone does the Christmas tradition of unwrapping and/or reading a Christmas book every night, this would be a great way to add to your collection!

Though, I may be the only one with some straggler Christmas stuff still needing to be put away, making it easy to toss some books for next year into the pile....

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What's for Dinner? January 2013

Here's what we've got on tap for January. We don't really use recipes, but if there's something in particular you're interested in, let me know and I'll make it a future blog post.

Monday (Kids' Choice): spaghetti, crepes, pizza, hot dogs
Tuesday (Soup): chili, jambalaya, baked potato soup, posole, chicken lentil soup
Wednesday (International): Cajun hash, curry chicken, sweet and sour chicken, gyros
Thursday (Family Favorites): BBQ pulled pork, sloppy joes, hamburgers, meatball sandwiches, tortellini
Friday (Breakfast for Dinner/Babysitting Swap): hardboiled eggs/toast/applesauce, German pancakes

 Read about how we menu plan by the month.

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What's for Dinner? December

A little while ago, I posted about how we menu plan by the month. Basically we choose a "theme" for each night of the week and then fill out four of each thing. I thought I would start posting our monthly menus. Unfortunately, I don't have recipes, but if it gives you some new and different ideas, is always a good place to look for recipes.

December was kind of a strange month for us, with the holidays and all, but I thought I'd post what we planned anyway, even though we only ended up with three weeks' worth.

Monday (Kids' Choice): pulled pork sandwiches, pizza rolls, pretzel dogs
Tuesday (Soup): black bean soup, pumpkin soup, tomato soup
Wednesday (International): chicken stir-fry with fried rice, chicken picatta, enchilasagna
Thursday (Family Favorites): chicken sandwiches, jambalaya, pork chops
Friday (Breakfast for Dinner/Babysitting Swap): pancakes and scrambled eggs

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Recent Reads

Here's what I've been reading to start off 2013. I don't really enjoy recapping the plot of the books I read, so you'll just have to click through to Goodreads to read about the plot, and here you get to find out all my ever-so-interesting feelings about what I'm reading!

*FlowertownFlowertown by S.G. Redling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought this would be a typical YA dystopian book, which I enjoy if I'm in the mood for it, but it was a little on the graphic side for me with the language. I don't mind swearing in a book, but this seemed gratuitous, like she was trying really hard to establish a "bad girl" protagonist. The storyline was okay, and I wanted to finish it to find out how it ended, but I just wasn't super emotionally invested in the characters.

View all my reviews

*When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an easy, quick Young Adult read - got through it in about two hours. I loved the characters and the plot, and never could have put it down. Enjoyed the realistic writing about middle school-aged kids, their problems and outlook on life, particularly the main character Miranda, as she tries to figure out her friends, family, and crush - while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of some secret notes someone has been leaving for her.

View all my reviews

*A Grown-Up Kind of PrettyA Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the three female characters in this book, and their relationships with each other. I'm such a sucker for books that involve a changing point-of-view, and the relationships between mothers and daughters. I thought the youngest of the three, Mosey, was written as a very true-to-life teenager, and I loved her exchanges with her mother and her grandmother. One of the characters narrating the story has had a stroke, and I found her chapters so interesting, to see how the author had her describe events and her life, even as she's had this "brain event." I was actually enjoying the book so much I toyed with giving it 5 stars, even though I feel stupid doing that for "chick lit" books, but then some of the events at the end got a little ridiculous, in my opinion. But a solid 4-stars. Not a life-changer, but I enjoyed every minute of reading it while snuggled up on the couch.

View all my reviews
  *Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmmm.... not sure how to even rate or review this book. I didn't like the beginning, and I didn't like the end, but there must have been something to it, since I blew through all 470 pages of it in one night - holding my breath, waiting to see how it ended. The portrayal of high school life was so accurate that it almost made me dislike the book - I felt only vaguely interested, like I was hanging out in a cafeteria watching the action. The middle of the book did get more interesting, and of course I had to hang in there until the end. But even though I devoured it, I can't say that I'd recommend it to anyone. Maybe a teenager? I'm reading all these other glowing reviews and just feel like I'm missing something....

View all my reviews The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to ThinThe Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to Thin by Greg Critser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. While there's no way I'm willing to go as extreme as the rules he recommends (No potatoes - ever! No fast food - ever!), he had some great points about diet and nutrition, and cited some interesting studies. There was also a large recipe section in the back of the book, and the recipes look fairly simple, tasty, and nutritious! Will definitely be incorporating some of his rules into my diet as guidelines, but I'm just not willing to eat as "clean" as he recommends (though I don't doubt my body would be a lot more fit if I did!).

View all my reviews

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Making the Most of Small Spaces: Kids' Rooms

Most of my organizational posts on this blog have to do with fitting into a small space, for a good reason. Though this is our fourth home in our marriage, all of them have ranged between 1100-1200 square feet. That was an excellent size for newlyweds, but fitting into a home that size with babies, toddlers, and big kids has required some creative thinking.

Since I'm a teacher, I get two weeks off around Christmas, and I love to spend at least part of that time purging and organizing. I find if I do it once around Christmas, and once at the start of summer, things stay pretty under control. So the past few days I've been working in my kids' rooms with them, getting rid of some things, organizing others, making room for new toys, etc.

Since their rooms are clean (for this short moment!), I thought I'd take some pictures of some of the ways we maximize space. For the record, I have 3 kids, ages 7, 5, and 3. The two younger ones share a room.

First, we use Command Hooks on the inside of the kids' closet doors for them to hang hats, sweatshirts, and jackets. This way they can quickly run upstairs and grab a jacket when we're heading out the door, and I don't have to come up with them to get something down - so tricky.

 Second, we use every available square inch of their closet space. On the right, in the banker's box, is my son's art bin. We need to get another one to go on top of that for my youngest, who is starting to collect the bottomless pit of precious pictures and paperwork. The kids have that space to fill with whatever they want, and when it gets full, they have to purge.

On the left, the top blue tote is for clothes that are outgrown. Keeping a tote for outgrown clothes close by makes it so that whenever I notice something isn't fitting, I can just toss it in there, without waiting to do a big clothing round-up.

On the bottom left, in the clear tote, is our book bin. Each of the kids has a small bin of books they choose from to read at night, and when they need a change, we pull out the big bin of books and they can switch some out.
 Also in my kids' closet is this bookcase, where we keep toys. The bottom bin for each kid is their books, and the top two shelves are their toy bins. Any toys above and beyond that amount are kept in storage, and we let the kids rotate them periodically.
Another thing I try to do is to maximize every bit of under-the-bed storage space. From left to right: my son's pajamas, my daughter's pajamas, Legos, Kinex, and dress-ups. I especially love the shallow storage for the Legos, because it prevents my son from needing to dump out a big toy box to find what he wants. The tote is long and shallow, which makes it easy for him to look for the pieces he needs.
I got these cute little bins at Target last night in the Dollar Spot, and I'm heading back tomorrow to get about a dozen more. They're about 8 inches square, so they hold a decent amount. I let each of the kids have one for a "junk box" for little odds & ends and special things that don't have another place. When the box gets full, we'll go through it. The kids are loving labeling everything with my new label maker I got for Christmas!
So that's what we've been doing to make some space in our tiny space!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Gretchen Rubin talks New Year's Resolutions

One of my Facebook friends posted this great article called "5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your New Year's Resolutions," by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. I feel like it's hard to do a fresh take on making great resolutions, but I love her approach.

Here's her first question:
"1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might mean more of something good —more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad—less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right—more time spent volunteering, a move. Or maybe you need to get an atmosphere of growth in your life by learning something new, helping someone, or fixing something that isn’t working properly." (credit: Gretchen Rubin)

The rest of her questions are great too - but click over to the article and read them in Gretchen's own words. I thought I had my New Year's Resolutions all figured out, but her questions got me thinking....

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