Sunday, January 31, 2016

Getting the Girls on Board

Over the past month we've been on a big organization/new routine/get caught up push. I'm organizing all the paper, I'm getting the house and the car back on track, I'm getting into a good routine for myself. I won't say that I'm loving the process, or that I've gone full on KonMari or anything, but I am loving the results. I love walking into the master bedroom and not seeing piles of clutter. I love knowing that our school things are organized.

It's been a good month, and man, does it feel good to say that.

The latest thing is really getting the girls on board with our good routine and clutter-lite life (I'm not so bold as to say we're clutter free). They used to have a decent routine of cleaning up their toys, but then our schedule got crazy, and just when we got a handle on that, life got crazy and Adam and I totally dropped the ball with any reinforcement. 

So...yeah. The girls followed our lead and got very lazy about cleaning up their toys. I can't even really blame them for it. I was slacking, Adam was slacking, and with that kind of example, it's a wonder they didn't go completely feral.

But once the grown ups woke up and got our acts together, we knew there was some retraining that had to take place. There were plenty of new Christmas toys fighting for space with the old toys, and most nights we were turning in with the old toys still all over the rug. We spent a lot of time searching for water bottles that were scattered throughout the house, and had some frustrating moments of realizing that the charge on the iPad was completely depleted because it hadn't found its way back to the charger. Reagan's room was semi-cluttered and messy, but Madison's was starting to look like a full day project. These were clearly responsibilities of the children, but they had to be (re)trained.

Back in the beginning of the year, we needed to start an incentive program to encourage Reagan to behave outside of the house. Reagan is an awesome, smart, spirited and stubborn kid, and, although she professed to love all her outside activities, I wasn't getting the best reports. We heard she was digging her heels in at school when asked to do things that she didn't want to do, and she was opting to sit against the wall for the majority of dance. Not because she didn't like it, but because she could. 

So since Reagan's currency is "blind bags", I filled up a box and told her she could open a surprise every single Friday as long as she:
  • danced during dance class
  • participated in gymnastics and 
  • got a good report from preschool.
That's it. And judging by the fact that she was instantly able to do all these things without a bit of protest told me that this really was a stubborn thing. 

Of course, because Reagan was getting a surprise every Friday, Madison turned green with envy and asked how she could earn surprises. Madison is mostly easygoing and obeys, so I struggled a bit to find behaviors to adjust, but finally we settled on:
  • was responsible for her dance bag, water bottle, tennis gear, etc.
  • didn't complain about schoolwork and
  • remembered to practice her solo.
Madison too was able to adjust instantly and got a surprise every Friday.

So on we trooped, through September, October, November, December, giving a treat every Friday for basically no effort. The behavior chart equivalent of a participation trophy.

Obviously, if we wanted to actually make these Friday boxes worth something, we needed to change something. We kept the boxes, but told the girls that we were starting new responsibility charts. We started easy - the bare minimum they were expected to do every day. Some things were no brainers - hang up your coat, put your dishes in the sink, put your clothes in the hamper. Some were expected, but easy to "forget" - pick up the toys, put the iPad on the charger. And some were new - ten minutes of tidying bedrooms, making their own beds daily, doing daily household chores like sweeping the kitchen floor and wiping down counters. Finally, we look at the overall day and decide if it was a "good day".

If they get more check marks than Xes over the course of the week, they get their reward. That's it. A bad day won't destroy you, and the little things add up. 

Since we started this, we no longer have to hunt down water bottles. We aren't tripping over coats and shoes. Beds are made daily, and ten minutes of room clean up a night has taken potentially overwhelming messes to rooms that are easily maintained. The toys are organized again, so cleaning up daily isn't an issue. 

We talked the girls before we started this about how everyone in our family needed to reboot and get back on board with working together to keep our house a nice place to live. The girls see their parents making their bed daily and cleaning up their rooms, and they understand that they need to do their part. They are starting to feel satisfaction in going to bed with a day full of check marks, and they're being careful not to make any huge messes that will be difficult to clean before bed. Fewer toys out means an easier job later, and they like that.

Now that Madison is really into Legos (which happened after Christmas, naturally), we're talking about taking advantage of something like Pley. I love the idea of getting a new set to build, but sending it back before you get the next, and I think Madison is starting to get on board. Pley really encourages kids to kick the clutter habit before it gets out of control, and that's never a bad idea.

As the girls get older, the systems we put in place will grow with them. They'll share more responsibilities and the way we use incentives will obviously change too. But right now, baby steps have made a big difference, and I'll take it.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saving in the New Year - Paying Off Your Car

Can you tell that we've had a January of savings? Adam and I have really taken a good look at all those numbers that make my head hurt. It is NOT fun, but it's necessary.

After we settled on where we are now, we started talking about when we're going to make our next big purchase - a new "family" car - and how we'll be planning for that. I've been rambling on and on about wanting a minivan so that we can carpool, fit everything we haul around comfortably, and generally cement my role as suburban mom. Adam makes fun of me, but we've pretty much decided that unless I change my mind, that'll be our next car. Even though I'd love to see it in my driveway tomorrow, the reality is that we won't be doing that for at least another year. We want the girls to be a bit older when we introduce a new car, so that they have a little more pride in taking care of it.

Wishful thinking, I know.

In the past, we've always had a great in when it comes to car buying. Adam's dad was a salesman, so obviously we felt pretty confident buying from him. Now he's retired and we're going in without that family connection, and taking on another debt is something that every family needs to really examine, no matter what your situation is. One of the things we've been doing with our mortgage is using some small strategies with the goal being to pay it off early. With only a little bit of tweaking, we can do that with our next car purchase as well!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Making the Move to the Booster

Every time I look at Madison lately, I feel like she has gotten so much older. She looks older, she speaks older, she acts older. She's reading and she's writing. She's dancing a solo this year. She carries a purse and actually keeps track of it. She can open things by herself. She makes her own breakfast and lunch. She doesn't need as much help. I look at her and think wow, she's getting so OLD.

Then she usually does something like talk in a baby voice or has a crying meltdown or digs her heels in about something incredibly illogical and I remember she is only five.

But at any rate, there's no denying that she's getting older. She's growing up and she's shedding the final pieces of her "little kid" persona. My baby is very definitely not a baby anymore.

So now the big question is...when is she a big kid in the car?

Car seats can be such a touchy subject. People are so passionate and outspoken. I do believe that their hearts are in the right place, but sometimes I just want to cringe when I hear someone ask an honest question and basically get told they are a horrible human being for forward facing a two year old or having a four year old in a booster seat.

We probably moved Madison from her infant seat to a forward facing harness too early. She was just about eighteen months (before you write me off completely, please know that the standard was still a year to "turn them around"). We'd left her in her rear facing infant seat because she fit and was comfortable, but when she was eighteen months, I was also nine months pregnant with a baby who would need that seat to come home from the hospital. She was big enough, she was over a year, and we needed that seat. So we moved her to her "big girl" seat - a 3-in-1 combination seat.

And four years later, she's still in that seat and still harnessed. We've moved the straps up gradually, but that seat has seen her through the toddler and preschool years, harnessed and happy. When Reagan outgrew that infant seat, we got a second, identical seat for her, and the two girls love their "matching car seats". Now Madison is starting to get to the tippy top of the height limit, and we need to make the decision of what to do now.

Height, weight, age, and behavior wise, she's ready to go to a high back booster. As far as I can tell, she's one of only a few kids we know still harnessed. When we do manage to carpool, she sits in a booster seat and does absolutely fine. When we bought a second seat for Adam's car, it was a booster. She does great in it.

Losing the harness just seems like such a big step these days. At the same time, I've done my research, I've gone through all the requirements, and she's ready. Now I just need to bite the bullet and do it.

It's steps like this - little, but monumental at the same time. I feel like I'll blink and she'll be climbing into the back seat, totally unencumbered by a car seat. Then I'll blink again and she'll be sitting up front next to me, chatting about her day. Once more, and she'll be taking the wheel.

What are some other steps that feel small and big, all at the same time?

Monday, January 25, 2016

DIY Window Cleaner

I've been on a huge Pinterest kick lately. Not really sure why, but I've been obsessed with finding new recipes, new school activities, new organizational methods, everything. And now that I can print directly from my phone...yeah. I'm loving Pinterest.

I'm probably the least DIY type person around. I am NOT a crafty mom who upcycles everything. I've tried to repurpose old baby things and give them fresh new uses Just no. Sell that stuff to consignment and buy what you need. But with my new Pinterest kick I've found something that I do love. DIY cleaners.

I'm not anti-chemical at all, but I love that I can control the scent and power of the cleaner, and I really love that most of these formulas are much more effective than what I can buy!

Yesterday I was fed up with my car being coated with salt and grime from the winter roads, so I took it through the car wash (therefore ensuring that another winter storm will hit us within days). When I use the car wash, I go all out and get the "full service". Full service at my particular car wash includes vacuuming, a quick wipe down of the dashboard, and window cleaning.

The guys kept up their friendly banter as they vacuumed and sprayed and wiped, and then I drove into the actual wash to get the exterior done. A shiny car, inside and out. Love it.

But when I pulled out, directly into the setting sun, I was blinded by a cloudy, streaky windshield. Honestly, I think it was cleaner before I washed it. I don't know if it was a grimy rag or an ineffective spray, but it was not what I was expecting. Boo.

DIY window cleaner came to my rescue this time. It was incredibly easy to make, it smells great, and I don't feel like I'm looking through a fun house mirror when I stare into the winter sun.

Still not crafty, still not crunchy, still love store bought perfection. But I suppose that some DIY is for me after all.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Top Eight Reasons to Use a Paper Planner

So recently, I've written about journals, and thank you notes. And pens. And to-do lists written on actual paper. And pretty paper and stamps and all those antiquated tools that produce actual paper with actual writing on them. In 2016 I may as well just admit that I'm a dinosaur.
I mean, I love my technology as much as the next girl. I've got my Kindle (actually, I have a new Kindle that is still in the "to do" pile awaiting set up, but that's a topic for another day). I use my phone as a camera and a shopping mall and everything in between. I just fell in love with Peapod and when I do actually wander the aisles at the grocery store, I use their amazing scan-as-you-go device so I can even streamline my self check out. I'm happy to simplify when technology lets me do it.

But in other areas of life, I'm on the other side. I'm happy to read books on my Kindle, but I like my magazines to be paper. I have a few bills online, but I insist on writing checks for most expenses. I love my phone and social media, but I make zero use of the calendar.

I'm not kidding. Zero. I was emailing Adam some dates recently, and he told me to "just send him a calendar invite" and I had to admit that I've never used my Google calendar and wasn't exactly sure how to do that. When he tried to explain it, I basically said that I wasn't going to do that.

I heart paper planners. BIG paper planners. Yes. I'm a weirdo. Ever since I got my first Erin Condren planner two years ago, I was in love and decided to never use anything else, even though my friends make fun of me when I pull my giant planner out of my giant mom purse.

Here are the Top Eight Reasons, from the logical to the frivilous, for using a giant paper planner in 2016.

8. They're pretty.

Seriously. Have you looked? Really looked? They are so freaking cute. I've always gotten my name personalized on my life planner, but this year I went all out and the entire cover is personalized for me. I made a list of my "favorite things" and those words are the background for my cover, scrolling across the planner in rainbow colors, reminding me of what I love. Just looking at my planner makes me happy.

The organizing part of me LOVES this picture. SO PRETTY AND USEFUL.

And don't even get me started on the accessories. Stickers. Pens. Washi tape. Matching writing pads. If I had unlimited disposable income or a gift card to Erin Condren, I could go crazy. 

7. The pockets.

My purse is a black hole. Appointment cards, preschool fliers, receipts for stuff that I'll probably return. Random papers that the girls leave their activities with.

The advantage of my giant planner? Pockets. If I write something down that relied on a flier, I tuck the flier in the pocket and star the event. Once it's passed, I find the paper and recycle. But the actual paper is there when I need it. I'm not trying to find an attachment on an email. Digital shmigital.

6. They're flexible.

When I first started using these big planners, each day was divided into morning/afternoon/evening. A column for to-do and a column for notes. A good basic idea, but not how I used my planner. I had calendar stuff mixed in with what we were eating. So I started using stickers and personalizing what I needed in that planner.

But now....

The days are still divided into three, but they aren't labeled. You figure out what you need. Generally speaking, mine go Calendar/Household (meal plan/daily chores)/To-Do (writing and other). I don't use the monthly calendar, but all the regular activities and the sporadic ones, along with Adam's travel are in that top third. The middle is where I keep track of our week, and the bottom is where I do all those other things.

This is the beginning of next week. By Sunday it'll be a bit more cluttered.

Basically? If you're tracking workouts? You can. Errands? Sure. School projects? Go for it. You aren't trying to fit into an app. It's paper. It can work for you. 

5. They don't rely on a battery, a wifi signal, or a data plan.

Right? Even if my battery dies or I get that scary text message that 75% of my data for the month has been used (before the month is 75% over), my planner is going to function just fine. And as much as I prefer my fancy pens, in a pinch, any writing utensil will do. Dinosaur for the organizing win.

4. They're the ultimate All in One.

My meal plan. My to do list. My calendar. My bill due dates. My paperwork. My everything. Everything fits in my giant planner.

This is how I plan out when to write. Does it always work? Nope, but at least I can SEE it.

3. They don't ask annoying questions. 

Here is what happens when I try to use an electronic organizing system. Open app. Select date. Select time. Select type. Type details on tiny keyboard that doesn't both me when I'm texting, but bothers me plenty when I'm dealing with a calendar. Then the app starts asking me questions.

"Do you want a reminder?"

"Do you want an email?"

"Do you want push notifications?"

"What kind of alarm?"


Then someone asks me a question. Let's say they're wondering if we can do something after school, or what kind of tights we need for the jazz costume.

Hold on, I think that'll work. Let me pull up my calendar. Then my task list. Then my to do for Wednesday. Subsection shopping. Wait, here's the picture I took of that flier with exactly what we need. Oh, hold on. App stopped. Force stop. Reboot. Enter password.


2. The act of writing helps me remember.

When I was in college, I was an aural learner. If I was in class and actually listening, chances are I'd remember about 75-80% of the material. I have a crazy memory for that sort of thing. But when you're talking about a semester's worth of material appearing on a final exam, I did need to do some form of studying. And there was no way I was going to re-listen to an entire semester's worth of classes, so a recorder was out.

What worked for me was both note taking and note copying. When I was an undergrad, a good amount of classes were the sort that allowed you to bring in one page of notes. That meant that I had to re-read and re-write my notes onto one page. By the time I did that the words were cemented into my brain. I barely glanced at that sheet again. The act of writing is a powerful tool for my memory.

Therefore, when I write out my week in my planner, it's like my study session. Now I remember what we're having for dinner, what days are crazy and who needs to be where wearing what. When I don't write it down is when it flits right out of my brain. And typing, for whatever reason, isn't the same. Plus, you know, when I've dealt with all the app nonsense my brain has totally tuned out.

1. They're a perfect conversation starter. 

If I meet another planner person, we start talking about what kind of planner we have and what kind of planner we used to use and the pens and all of this stuff I already rambled on about. And if I meet someone who looks at me like I'm a crazy dinosaur, we start, well, talking about all this stuff I already rambled on about. Maybe they're like my husband, and they have a digital organizer that works for them and they can't imagine living without. Or maybe, they're a planner convert just waiting to happen.

Surprisingly, this post was not sponsored by Erin Condren. If you buy via my link I get a referral bonus, but that's the same deal anyone in the world gets. I just really love these planners. You know, in case that wasn't clear.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tips to Improve Your Gas Mileage

Getting organized.

Saving money.

Developing routines.

Maximizing efficiency.

For someone who doesn't "do" resolutions, I've spent the past few weeks in a bit of an overhaul. I've cleaned out junk piles, I've developed new and better routines, I've streamlined my planner, I've gotten rid of clutter and I've organized what's left.

Maybe the trick is NOT to do a resolution, since I'm certain that if I had, it would be broken by now.


When it comes to saving money, there are things that are easy to fix, and things that are more difficult. Some savings are immediate, but some take time. Adam and I took a little while to figure out some of the less obvious ways that might not show an immediate impact, but will make a big difference overall. Turning lights off, lowering the temp by a few degrees, that sort of thing. We also decided to take a good look at our gas mileage to see what we could do to save a few pennies there.

Sure, gas prices have gone down, but saving on gas is still something we focus on. I love using reward points from the grocery store and I'm particular about finding the best places to fill up, but we also investigated some tips that will help us fill up less frequently.

Little things that make a big difference!
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