5 Easy Ideas for a (Somewhat) Organized Family

I am NOT a naturally organized person. Although I know that making To Do lists every day helps keep me on track and to feel more productive, I’m not great at it. I like the way Bill at The Authentic Life put it: highly organized people make lists, while more creative types shun them. Given that I’ve always loved to write, I’d say I’m fairly creative. At least it helps me feel better about my lack of organizational skills. Sure, you can make a list. But I’m creative.

That being said, I have always made an effort to be organized. It’s undeniable that the more efficient you are, the more productive you can be. My husband has gone to work wearing dirty jeans one too many times due to my getting wrapped up in blogging other important tasks. My choices are:

a) buy the man more jeans

b) give up things that I enjoy on a regular basis like playing with my baby boy, writing, reading a good book, or watching Parenthood on Netflix

c) find a way to get everything done around the house AND have time to do the things I enjoy

All decent options, but when in doubt during a multiple choice test, I always go with “c.” Don’t you?

To help me out, here are some of the new organizational tools that I have put into practice.

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1-Finding this household planner from The Confident Mom was the start of our newfound organization. What I love about this particular planner is that she covers it all. From vacuuming and making beds, laundry and cleaning toilets, even the small things like clipping children’s nails are covered in this planner. She plans out your days from January 1st until December 31st, and as far as I can tell, she leaves no household need unattended. The planner is divided into weekly pages, with a section for each day of the week and 3-5 chores per day. There is also a section for Daily Tasks that are the same every week with tasks that should be done every day like laundry (you’re welcome, hubby), dishes, making dinner, exercise, and even pampering yourself (relaxing in a long, hot bath, seeing what your favorite bloggers are up to, etc)! Of course, don’t feel like you need to take on all of these responsibilities yourself, stay-at-home parent or not. While I take on most of the household tasks so that my husband can have more well-deserved time to relax when he comes home from work, he does some of the tasks like taking out the trash and yard work. Our son has the responsibilty of feeding our pets, making his bed, straightening his room, helping with grocery shopping, etc. We have also implemented The Confident Mom’s “15-Minute Evening Pickup” as a family where we set a timer and go around the house putting things back in their place, throwing away trash, putting dishes in the sink, etc. Sometimes it takes only 5-10 minutes, but it makes a big difference on how the next day begins. It’s like waking up each morning to a clean slate rather than yesterday’s mess. I won’t post a close-up photo of the planner, because you should click here to see it for yourself!

2-After printing my new household planner, I wanted to create a special place to keep it, so I bought a binder from the dollar store, added a decorative cover to the front window, and put all the pages of the planner inside. I also put in the front inside pocket a monthly calendar to keep track of our family’s important dates, events, and appointments, as well as a spot for our bills. In the back, I put our address labels and stamps. This way, everything that I need to run our household on a weekly basis is tucked into one place on our desk.

I love this quote from Proverbs 31:17--"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."

I love this quote from Proverbs 31:17–“She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”

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3-While the binder is a great place to store the planner, I didn’t like the idea of having to open up a big old binder every time I needed to check off a daily task. I wanted it accessible to the whole family, so that we can all see what needs to be done. So I hung a clipboard (another dollar store purchase) on the wall, attached a pen, and put up the current week’s page from the planner. It’s in the kitchen where it’s seen often and easy to access. I didn’t particularly like the look of a clipboard hanging all by itself, so I took a 5×7 frame, added some colorful scrapbook paper hung it above the clipboard. I wrote a fun quote on the outside of the frame with a dry-erase marker. I wanted the option to be able to change up the quote from time to time, but I really like this one.

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4-While I was in the organizing mood, I decided to create a space to hang my boys’ artwork. I wanted somewhere other than the fridge to showcase some of the cool stuff that my son does at school or a fun art project that we made at home. I added two 3M hooks to the wall, several feet apart, and I tied one end of a ribbon to each hook. My son and I decorated some clothespins and added them to the ribbon to hold the artwork. I bought letters to spell out A-R-T at Walmart and decorated them using spray adhesive and scrapbook paper. I was very pleased with our little art wall, and now I sort through my son’s schoolwork as soon as he brings it home, swap out a couple of the pieces on the wall, put the ones I want to keep forever into his schoolwork keepsake folder and throw out the rest! Clutter doesn’t stand a chance.

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5-Finally, I know that it’s just about time to send out Christmas cards, and I am perpetually that person that has asked you twenty-four times for your address. You would think by now I would have a place to keep them all, but I don’t. I’m sure most of you already have some sort of organized address book, whether it’s in your phone, or a traditional address book, or your computer. But just in case you don’t, I bought an index card notebook from the dollar store which was already conveniently divided into three sections. I made one section for Businesses, one for Family, and one for Friends. After I ask around ONE more time for everyone’s addresses, I will finally have all of those addresses in one place!

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Having some simple household organization tools in place has created a lot of peace for me. I thought I might feel more pressure to “get things done,” but it’s just the opposite. Knowing that there is a well-organized plan eliminates the constant stress of “I should do this today. Oh, but this other thing really needs to get done too. And when will I be able to do this…” Knowing that everything is going to get covered in small, manageable steps gives me more time to BE instead always feeling like there is something I should DO. And most importantly, my husband has clean jeans. Ta-Da!

How do you keep your home organized?


We Need a Vacation…

We need a vacation. However, it’s not the destination that I have in mind, it’s the traveling. It’s the conversations that take place when we’re confined as a family within the small space of a car, with nothing on the agenda for the day but to drive. A long, open road leads to long, open conversations.

Traveling conversations are different from everyday conversations. My husband and I talk every day. But ninety percent of our everyday conversations are about the things that happen on a daily basis. We talk about his job. We talk about the things I’ve done around the house and the things still to be done. We talk about our children and their behaviors, attitudes, well-being, and the funny things that they’ve done or said. We talk about the future by means of doctor’s appointments, events at school, or where we need to be on the weekends. Of course these kinds of conversations need to take place. If there is one thing that my husband and I have been working on in the past couple of years, it’s communication. This kind of daily communication is vital to our happy marriage and a well-functioning family.

When we travel, we leave our daily life at home, and the everyday conversation is no longer needed. The conversations become as long as the roads we travel and just as fresh as the new views from the car windows. While growing up, some of my favorite conversations with my family took place on a long trip to anywhere in the car. I heard stories of who my parents were before they were parents. I heard about my mom and her relationship with her parents and siblings–how she was a daddy’s girl, and she fought with her oldest sister who often acted like she was her mom. I heard how my grandma had the patience of a saint, and that my mom sees a lot of her personality in me. I asked many questions about my mom’s other sister who developed schizophrenia after she had three children and how it affected the rest of the family. I heard about my dad and how he was a mama’s boy and would cling to the doorframe when it was time to go to school. I found out that he played football in a small town high school and has always been a quiet guy. I learned that he met my mom on a double-date (where they were each on a date with someone else), but that they ended up together.

Before I was a mom, I lived these kinds of stories too. I want to have time to tell my husband and children all about them. That I loved a warm afternoon sitting beneath a tree with a good book. That my baby dolls and stuffed animals were some of my favorite friends and my first practice at being a mom. That my sister and I had a “secret recipe” that consisted of brown sugar, butter, and peanut butter rolled into a ball and eaten raw when our dad was a diabetic and much of our pantry was sugar-free. How my dad scared me once when he went into a low-blood sugar reaction and was talking nonsense. I want to tell them about the rush of adrenaline that kicked in when I waited with my feet in the blocks for the gun to go off at the start of a track meet, and how good it felt the few times that I was able to get my chest across the finish line first. That my husband and I spent seven years growing up just a few streets from each other, and yet we met for the first time when he walked into a bowling alley when we were twenty years old.

With the busyness of our everyday lives, there is very little time to tell them all of these stories about the girl I was before I became a mom and a wife. I want to hear my husband’s and children’s stories too. We need a vacation.

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Family Game Night: “Minute to Win It” Theme

Here is another fun idea for a family game night. Like the last post about game nights, I didn’t come up with this idea. But it was so much fun for the adults and kids alike that I had to share it!

Last week, my son’s elementary school had a PTO meeting which was followed by a “Minute to Win It” themed parent involvement night. The kids and parents divided themselves into teams and used a map of the building to visit various rooms that had different challenges set up for the kids. Some of the ideas were from the game show, and some of them were tweaked to be a little more kid-friendly. Some of the challenges were easier than others for the young children, but all were fun and there was a TON of laughter. These kinds of challenges can easily be setup using household items for a fun family game night at home! Each activity is done with a one-minute timer. You have one minute to win it! Here were some of our favorites:

Game #1–Set up glue bottles (or other similar sized items around the house) like bowling pins on a coffee table. Put a soft ball or a ziplock bag filled with beans into the bottom of a panty hose. Tie around child’s waist. Be sure that the area is clear of any breakables, and stand back as the child spins and spins until their “tail” knocks down all of the items or until the timer runs out!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills. Depth perception.

Look out!

Game #2–Fill one empty soda bottle about 3/4 full of marbles, and then tape another empty soda bottle on top of the marble-filled soda bottle, so that the openings are taped together tightly. (Tip: Use duct tape!) Grab hold of the bottle with one hand (two for small children) and you have one minute to shake all of the marbles from the full bottle into the empty bottle. It’s harder than it seems, but my six-year-old was able to complete this one!

What’s at work here: Gross-motor skills.

Shake, shake, shake!

Game #3–Set up a stack of solo cups, with twenty cups of one color, and one cup in a different color. Start with the different color cup on the bottom. When the timer starts, you have one minute to move the cups, one at a time from the top of the stack to the bottom, until the different color cup is at the top. The hard part: You must switch hands each time you move a cup. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand. It’s tricky to remember that part!

What’s at work here: Hand-eye coordination. Memory skills. Balancing objects.

Game #4–Line up four forks, spaced slightly apart, and taped to the floor (needs a flat floor surface, or can be done on a tabletop). Tape another line a couple feet away for child to sit behind. Roll quarters to see how many you can “catch” in the forks within one minute. This is really difficult to do, and my son wasn’t able to get any in the forks, but he did come very close! I think next time he will nail it! Once they get the hang of rolling the quarters in the right way, it gets easier.

What’s at work here: Fine motor skills. Depth perception. Hand-eye coordination.

So close!

Game #5–Place a ball on top of empty toilet paper rolls. Blindfold child. Give child directions to the ball, “Forward! Left! More to the left! A little to the right! Right there, bend down and get it!” It was a little frustrating at times to not be able to see where he was going, and he kicked the ball away from him when he was so close a few times! But he did great!

What’s at work here: Listening skills. Spacial vocabulary. (forward, backward, left, right, etc. )Following directions.

There are so many good skills being practiced with all of these games, and it’s all in good family-friendly fun! Be sure to check out NBC’s Minute to Win It site for a complete list of these games and many more, or think up some of your own! Have fun!


Homemade Birthday Card

It’s an equal combination of being cheap and being able to add our family’s personal touch that I prefer to make our own cards rather than buying them. Here is a quick and easy tutorial for a homemade birthday card that I made for my mother-in-law last week for her big 60th birthday:

The “You’ve Touched Our Lives” homemade birthday card:

What you’ll need:

-a blank card

-ink pad or paint

-scrapbook paper/cardstock

-marker

How to make it:

-First, use the ink pad or paint to put fingerprints throughout the front and inside of the card, one fingerprint for each year of the card recipient’s age. If you’re making this for a parent or grandparent, having the children in the recipient’s life do this part is a sweet little touch. In our case, each of our two children did thirty fingerprints to make a total of 60 for my mother-in-law.

-Then use the scrapbook paper or cardstock to decorate the rest of the card. You could choose to do this step first and the fingerprints second, whichever seems easier for you.

-Finally, add the message to the card–the age on the front and the following on the inside:

This card was touched (#) times.

One touch for each year that your life has touched all who have known and loved you.

It took us about fifteen minutes to make this card (including setup and cleanup), which is less time than it would have taken to drive to the store, pick out a card, and drive back home. And the personal “touch” of a homemade card always goes over really well!

Do you usually make your own cards or buy them? If you have a link to a homemade card tutorial on your blog, feel free to leave a comment with a link to it!


What a Six-Month-Old Baby Can Do…

As I talked on the phone to a good friend this morning, we compared and contrasted our children. Her daughter is a few weeks younger than our baby boy, and they have a lot in common. They also have a lot of differences. My friend and I determined that there are probably two main reasons for the differences in a baby’s development, and how two babies of the same age can be on two different wavelengths as far as their interests and capabilities. I think it’s good to introduce your baby to a variety of skills to practice as well as lots of different things for their senses to explore, but it’s also important to keep in mind that like everyone else, babies have a personality too, and it’s important to be respectful of and nurture their own interests.

For example, my baby is six months old today, and one of his favorite activities is scooting around on his little belly. Backwards and in circles mostly. With a little bit of rolling back and forth. He can get where he wants to go, just not in a direct forward-crawling sort of way yet. He has mastered the ability to get his top half completely off the ground, and to get up on his knees… Just not both simultaneously. But for now, his way of being mobile is working for him, so until he decides that’s not doing it for him anymore, we’re okay with the scooting/rolling method of self-transportation.

He started on the mat, and scooted until he couldn’t scoot anymore! Backwards, that is. 😉

“Well, now I’m stuck.”

With his newfound mobility, he’s also started a few brotherly quarrels…

“Mom! He’s bugging me!”

His fine-motor skills also seems to be developing quite well, along with this hand-eye coordination. He can now easily grasp at whatever object is within his reach, and he can hold onto and manuver objects pretty well in his hands. He doesn’t take a pacifier often, but when he does, he likes to pull it out and put it back in himself. He’s got to be teething, because he also chomps on everything. Hard! And yet no teeth in sight.

 

 

 

He loves books and is great at turning the pages in a board book all by himself. Although not always in order…

He also has a pretty good self-awareness. He is aware of his hands, and he loves to grab his toes (and eat them… babies are so flexible!). He loves to look at himself in the mirror, and he gives himself (and other people he loves) big, open-mouth, slobbery kisses that are just to die for.

He is also now responding to his own name, and he has a good start on his receptive language skills, in that if we ask him, “Where is Mama?” or “Dada” or “Bubby” or “the dog” or “the kitty,” he will turn and find whoever you are asking about. We are starting to add more things to his language knowledge like book, ball, toes, etc.

Speaking of language skills, he has always been quite a little chatterbox, mostly in coos and vowel sounds. And lots of high-pitched squealing. But guess what his first “word” was………. MA-MA! YES!! He’s also started working on “Buh” probably the beginning sound of Bubby, which is how we refer to his older brother. Poor Dada… 😉

It seems like he’s doing something new, making a new sound, or a new face every day. They really mean it when they say that they grow up fast. And the way that they grow up, has much to do with their personality, and the opportunities that they are given.

Happy 6 months of age, baby boy!


Braver Than I

When I’m alone, or with my immediate family, or with very close (and equally silly) friends, I can be myself. But I am reserved and downright shy when out of my comfort zone. I like to blend in amongst a crowd of strangers. And it seems as if my son has inherited this shyness from me. Even with people that he knows, he sometimes struggles with answering the simplest of questions.

When my son won a recent art contest, we received admittance to a black tie gala benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. At first, I was ecstatic. As I rattled off all of the details to my husband, it felt like we were Cinderella and family.

The elation lasted until reality set in. My husband didn’t own a black suit. I didn’t own a formal gown. My children had only “church clothes” at best: khakis and polo shirts. When checking the website for confirmation of appropriate attire, I noticed that the gala was attended by the city’s “most prominent professional and social leaders.” My throat constricted. Our living room got hotter. I wasn’t sure we could do this.

The next day, I got a message on Facebook from a friend. She asked about the gala and asked if we would definitely be attending. Nervously, I confirmed that we would be there, and she didn’t hesitate to purchase tickets for her family to attend. They were familiar with black tie events. They had the attire. They knew how the evening would proceed. They had the financial resources. They would be at our table, at our sides, giving us the support we would need.

So I dug through our closets. I had shoes from our wedding. My husband had pants, a dress shirt, and a tie. My oldest son had black dress shoes. My youngest son had a tie. I borrowed a dress and jewelry from my mother-in-law. And thanks to a good sale at Kohl’s, we were able to purchase what we lacked. I knew we weren’t going to be on the best-dressed list, but I hoped that we would blend in enough to satisfy my comfort zone.

When we arrived to the event, there were men in tuxedos and snappy black suits. There were women in flowing, sparkling gowns. And yet, I didn’t feel out of place. Our boys got a lot of attention. Men and women alike were giving my oldest son high-fives and making comments on how handsome he looked. Our baby boy got lots of “awws” in his Mickey Mouse hand-me-down tie. I started to feel at ease. Like we were supposed to be there, and like we were catching a glimpse at how the other half lives at the same time.

As we sat at the table for dinner, our children joked and laughed. My friend asked our son if he had prepared a speech for when he goes on stage to talk about his artwork. And suddenly, all of my panicking returned. I had been so worried about our appearances and blending in, that I had failed to help my son, the only one of us who was truly going to be on display.

“We’ll just wing it,” I said, nodding confidently at my son, despite all of the “you’re a terrible mother!” alarms going off in my head.

My friend offered my son her expertise. “You need to get up there and say, ‘I made this artwork to help my brother who has CF. It’s worth MILLIONS. I need you to open your pocketbooks, and DIG AS DEEP AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.”

We all laughed. It was a great speech, and I was kicking myself for not thinking of something so clever to help him.

When the MC called my son to the stage, he jumped out of his seat and marched straight to the stage. He was on a mission. I could see a twinge of nervousness in his face, but there was enough determination there that I knew he was going to do it. He was going to stand in front of all of those well-dressed people and speak. I stood next to the stage with my husband, holding our baby boy in my arms. My son climbed up the step stool at the podium. From the front, one could see only his little blue eyes and forehead. The MC asked him to step down and stand next to his artwork instead. He asked my son to tell everyone a little bit about his artwork. My son was quiet. Although I could see him collecting his thoughts, none of them were making their way out.

“Dig deep!” my friend whispered loudly from the audience.

My son looked at her. Then he looked over at us. And then quietly but clearly he said, “My brother painted the green grass, and then I drew the flowers and painted them. And that’s all I remember.” Everyone chuckled at his cuteness. It was the perfect speech. Not rehearsed, not embellished. A simple response that was all his own.

The auctioneer started the bidding, and he was quickly on a roll. My son watched as the hands went up around the room. $500. $550. $600. $700. $800. $900.

“I should keep you up here all night!” the auctioneer said to my son.

My son replied, “I don’t know if I could stay up here all night. I might get tired.”

More chuckles from the crowd. $1,000. $1,100. $1,200. Going once. Going twice. My son’s artwork was sold to a gentleman in the front for $1,200.

Now that everything is back to normal in our cozy little home, there are no more anxieties. I left all of those at the gala, and I returned home with more pride in my son than I’ve ever felt, more thankfulness in the generosity of people like our friends, and an internal acknowledgement that my six-year-old son was braver that night than I have ever been.

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Feel Good Friday: I’m Proud of You

There is something very powerful, very moving in those four words: “I’m proud of you.” It means so much to hear those words come from someone whom you look up to, admire, love, and respect. And sometimes, you don’t have to hear those exact words, but simply a message that implies as much. Like the e-mail that I saved from my mom, after she read my blog for the first time:

LOVE your blog.  Oh my goodness you are such a good writer.  It is amazing.

You couldn’t have slapped the smile off of my face when I read this. My mom is proud of me.

I will admit that I can be a bit of a people-pleaser. But besides my husband, no one’s opinion means more to me than the opinion of my parents. They shaped me into who I am today. They did everything they could to ensure that I would become a kind, responsible, talented human being, and it feels so nice to hear that I didn’t let them down. That they were successful. That I am successful.

And yet, we shouldn’t live our lives to please others, and we shouldn’t make decisions based on what others might think. We should live our lives the way we see best, to use our God-given talents, to help others, to be the kind of person that we want to be. It’s just the cherry on top of the sundae when it happens to meet the approval of others. It’s that last bit of sweetness that we can savor at the end. It feels good.

I love telling my son that I’m proud of him, but I don’t say those words to him very often. I don’t tell him that I’m proud of him when he beats a new level at a Wii game. Or when he gets a star on a paper at school. Or when he makes a new friend. Or feeds the dog without being reminded. Or throws a football farther than he’s ever thrown. Or reads a whole chapter in a book by himself. I’m proud of all of those little things, absolutely, but I don’t want him to think that I’m only proud of his achievements. I want him to learn that I’m proud of who he is. Perhaps that’s why when he read this birthday card last week, he broke down into tears. (And so did I.)

After he read the birthday card out loud, he embraced me a big, long hug, crying quietly into my shoulder. It brought tears to my eyes immediately.

“What’s with the tears?” I asked him gently.

He squeezed me tighter.

“Are they happy tears or sad tears?”

He sniffled, burying his eyes into the dip of my collarbone.

I leaned back far enough to look into his eyes, and I asked, “Does it feel good to know that Mommy and Daddy are proud of you?”

He nodded and replied with a very quiet, “Yes.” And we hugged each other again.

I tell my son that I love him everyday. I tell my son “good job!” or “that’s great!” or “good thinking!” or “I like that idea!” all the time.

But there just seems to be something so powerful in the words, “I’m proud of you.”