Laundry Room Makeover

As I told you in this post, I’ve been able to discover a whole new sense of order in my life–and part of that is going through my house and making places pretty. Each week, my My Home Routines App has a new section of the house for me to work on. I spend 15 minutes a day cleaning it (using the checklist in my app). And once I get through that list, I get to make it a little more pretty.

Here is a snapshot of the laundry room. And no joke, this is what my laundry room ALWAYS looks like:

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(Pardon the crappy quality of that  photo. But trust me–better quality won’t make that room look any better).

It doubles as a diaper station–which is stupid, because I pretty much always change my kids’ diapers on the floor or wherever I can catch them. Because I am reviewing diapers, I have a bunch in my rotation. I hate having the diaper pail in here because it always feels stinky and stinks up my house. I saw a video that Jen at I Heart Organizing did where she saw that her husband was putting his clothes on the floor in a certain place, and so she put a hamper there instead. It made me re-think our own routine and how we could organize our house around that. Why on EARTH was I going to my son’s room, getting his clothes, going to the laundry room to get a diaper, then going to chase after him? Why not skip a step?

So I moved the diapers to my son’s room, the diaper pail to the garage, and made this a laundry-room only space!

Here are the details…

I first ran around to SEVERAL different stores–trying to find inspiration. But really, I came home and found inspiration from my house. Everything I used came right from my home. I spent NO extra money.

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I found an old frame in our garage and decided I wanted a laundry quote in there. I went to my computer, found this phrase, and so I designed this little graphic to put in the sign.

Laundry Room Design 1I used this cookie jar (from Ikea) we weren’t using and I put detergent in there instead (I plan to change the scoop to the clear plastic one that came with my protein powder….once I finish it up).

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We always have extra socks. I NEVER throw away a mismatched sock. Which is why we have about 100….some I’ve been holding on to for years in hopes that the prodigal sock will come back. It never does..

So I used an old fabric bin that I got at Target (they still sell them in the laundry section and there are even cute ones with patterns). Then I designed this little “Missing Socks” sign and used a clothes pin to attach it:

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I took some of these old glass containers (Ikea) that I ambitiously thought would store sourdough starter (did you know you have to replenish your starter every week? Lame! Ain’t nobody got time for that). I filled them with Dollar Store clothes pins and dryer sheets:

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Now I go through so much work to get the laundry room clean…but you know what always ruins it? That dang dryer lint! We always have to stick it SOMEWHERE because there’s no way I am running to the garbage can every time I change a load of laundry. But garbage cans are so UGLY. Instead, I made up this disguised lint holder. I just used a pot that I had purchased at the Dollar Store a few months ago. I stuck a glass jar in there (this holds up the flower), and I plucked a stray flower from a wreath I had in the house. Boom:

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You know you want to pin that awesomeness. It’s not really much of a disguise. Every guest that has come over I’ve taken them into my room and shown them my secret lint place. Yes, I’m a dork, I know. But it was just so EXCITING!

Now…this is where I need help. The window looks a little…blah, right? What would you do?
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Now I should add, all of this (besides looking at stores and finding NOTHING) took all of one nap time! Quick makeover.

Let’s see it again:

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My husband joked with me and said I’ve told him about how much I love this laundry room every day. I really do!  It’s my new happy place in my home—so I better get cracking on a different place to beautify…because a laundry room as a happy place is just straight up crazy.

I’d love to see some of your laundry room makeovers! Feel free to link to them in comments.

 

Finding Balance and Joy in a Mom’s Hectic Life

I’ve changed. No, I’ve morphed. This woman now smiles. This woman’s house is (relatively) clean. Her checkbook is balanced and updated daily. This woman no longer feels guilty about doing X, because it is taking away from Y, and Z.

I can’t get over the transformation–and I am so excited about it. I feel like I’ve taken baby steps towards understanding myself over the last few years, and I finally feel like I am at a better place of understanding myself (crap, I just jinxed it). Do I have it together? Ba ha ha, good one! No, I never will and I don’t trust anyone who DOES think they have it together.

I’m just am finding myself in a place where I feel a little more grounded, rather than spiraling out of control. Do you get those days? Those days when motherhood and the pull of all things responsibility pull you under? That’s been me. So I am writing this to some of you in case some of the things I have found helpful for me…might be helpful for you.

Finding Balance as a Mom

So I thought it might be nice to share some of the ways I have been able to feel more grounded and centered as a work at home Mom:

1. Get Real With My Time

I tend to say “Yes” before thinking about what that task will require of my time. I got unrealistic with myself, thinking, ‘Oh I can just do that on the computer after the kids go to bed.’ Then 8pm rolls around and I want nothing to do but curl up in bed with a good book and a pound of chocolate. So now I’ve learned–my personal limit is I can only take on enough computer-related tasks for what gets squeezed into nap time and some brief moments when my kids are occupied snacking. If I take on more, I price up a babysitter and see if it’s worth it. I made the mistake of overcommitting this last year and have been TERRIBLY behind, and now I’m gradually getting out of it. This new “get realness” with my time has helped.

2. I Allow Rest

I used to feel SO guilty about resting at nap time. I kind of felt that as I was winding my kids down for naps, I should be winding up–and the moment those kids nod off I should be able to knock off a few things on my to-do list. Now? I let myself nap. Maybe enjoy a book. Maybe a TV show. Chances are, I get 30 or so minutes to soothe me, clear my head, and then I get crackin’ at my work. I work harder and better. And if I sleep right through all of naptime? I don’t kill myself. I pat myself on the back for resting and try to find a way to make room for making up, without beating myself up.

3. I Developed Routines

My husband has been floored by the new sense of order he has felt in our house. I attribute all of this to routines. I still do my morning 3 routine, which I FIRMLY believe keeps our house going. I have the “My Routines” app that lets me set up a daily routine and the evening I spend some time cleaning a “zone” in our house. (see step 5 for more routine info).

4. I Approach Motherhood Like a Professional

I HIGHLY recommend reading Steady Days.

It has completely changed my approach to motherhood. Now I approach it like a professional. If something doesn’t go well in a day, I evaluate what happened and learn from it. For example, at one point in the day my kids would constantly get at each other. I found it wore on me and threw off our whole day. Now I have mandatory “Privacy Time” at that time. The kids each go into their rooms and get a special toy to play with. The nice thing about this is then I too get a little mid-morning “me” time, which I often use to balance the checkbook, set up my to do list for the day, and get the email box empty. I have found that my kids are much more calm by having some time to themselves. But now, whenever something is going wrong with me or my kids, I think, “OK, how can I make this better” rather than listening to the voice that wants to tell me I did something WRONG.

5. Delegate My Time (Loosely)

This is similar to routines. I just have every aspect of my life put LOOSELY into a place. Here is an example of how my day is LOOSELY planned:

7am-9am Breakfast and chores

9am-10am Getting kids and self dressed and privacy time

10am-12pm Adventure (library, $1 movies, park, grocery shopping, bookstore, etc)

12pm Lunch and Getting Ready for Nap

12:30-3:30 Kids nap, I spend time resting, 1 hour on dissertation, 1 hour on website design job, remaining time (until they wake) on to-do list

3:30-4:30 Kids snack while I finish up to do list work

4:30-5:30 Fun time with kids. Coloring, learning activities, paying outside together, etc

5:30-6:00 Prepare dinner

6:00-6:30 Eat Dinner

6:30-7:30 Free time, baths, getting ready for bed

7:30-8:00 Kids down to bed

8:00-9:00 Pick up house and finish up any to do list work

9:00-10:00 Read

10:00 Sleep

This is loose. It just helps me know that everything has a place. But obviously most days violate this in some way, but I just tweak it a bit.

6. I’m Trying to Find ME Again

I lost myself. Somewhere between being a mother, a wife, and an academic, I lost the old, dorky me. So now I spend some time re-creating who I am. I’ve been doing this by creating my list of loves: the things that make me blissfully happy–and, I try to experience those things regularly. Some things include:

* Watching my daughter pretend to talk like an adult

* Getting kisses from my son

* Going on dates with my husband

* Eating grape nuts with summer-ripe nectarines and some sugar on top

* Listening to “One More Day” from Les Miserables

* Watching Pitch Perfect over and over and over again

* The very last bite of a Skinny Cow chocolate fudge ice cream cone (<–trust me, it’s an amazing surprise)

* Watching Alias or Grey’s Anatomy

* Singing songs in the car at the top of my lungs

* Going to SuperHero Movies

* Pretend to host my own cooking demonstration while I am cooking…even if no one is around

* Reading Fantasy Fiction Books

I just try to embrace those things and soak them up and enjoy them as a part of me. As I’ve re-discovered myself, I’ve felt far more at peace with who I am.

7. I spend the morning in some kind of prayer, meditation, reading, etc.

When my kids start stirring, I grab my iPad and generally spend some time reading some scriptures. Here’s a good reading. I spend some time praying, meditating, maybe doing a little in bed yoga. The revelations that come to me in this time usually prep me for some struggle in the day. I also like to look at my Instagram feed, since the people whom I have in that feed inspire me and encourage me to hit the ground running.

So those are ways I have been able to ground myself a little more. I am much more calm and–dare I say–happy. Now, I am FULLY aware that now that I have admitted all of this out loud, it will go to all heck in a handbasket, but I figured I might as well share a bit of what is working. Let me reiterate: I am not perfect and am nowhere near close. I am just finding a new sense of peace that I am thrilled to share.

How have you found ways to get balance and joy in your life? Please share!

My Journey Out of Debt: Baby Step – Make a Plan For Inconsistent Income and “Extra” Money

After paying for 20+ years of college education between my husband and I, as well as having a mad case of the “must-have-it-now” syndrome, we are working hard to aggressively pay off our debt. In this series, I show you little tid-bits that have been working along the way. You can follow the entire series by clicking HERE

Getting out of debt on an inconsistent income

I feel like I’ve neglected updating you on our journey out of debt. One reason is because I am afraid that by talking about how things are going well, I’ll jinx things…but also because it is so TERRIBLY tough to talk about this!  So, in this moment of wild abandon…I don’t care. I am owning up to my mistakes, and I am all the more proud of myself for overcoming them.

In this post, I want to share my own advice for getting out of debt when you have an inconsistent income. I have accumulated a few tips that have allowed me to aggressively pay off debt while still feeling that I have a secure amount of money in savings for the months when I am not working (since I am a teacher, I get paid only 9 months out of the year).

Make an Annual Budget

I talk about this HERE. I actually don’t really revisit it as much as I’d like, simply because my budget isn’t fluctuating too much. But it did give me a sense of how much money I need each month. And help me get a sense of the “unexpected” expenses that come up.

Find Out the Difference between Low Payment Months and What You Need

There are months when are our expenses exceed more than what my husband makes. And with me not working over the summer, there’s no way to make up that extra money. So we determine the difference between our average monthly expenses and how much we will make in those months. We use that number to determine how much we always want in Savings to help us get by in those months (I also add at least $1,000 to that number to account for any extra purchases). When we want to make a big purchase….we are trying to immediately think: well, do we have our “Summer Cushion” saved up  yet? Note: This is different from our long-term savings. That money is an amount that automatically gets taken out of our account each month and we never think about it again…unless (gosh forbid) an emergency comes up.

Have a Plan for Unexpected Income

We tend to get some unexpected income around here. The inconsistent stuff we can’t rely on. Since my husband gets commission IF his team meets their goals, we don’t “count on” that, but we still like to plan where we will put it. I get income from Padded Tush Stats, but it tends to be relatively inconsistent. Therefore, I don’t like to plan on this money for our annual budget. Instead, it goes straight to the credit card. I can’t even begin to tell you the good, warm, and cozy feelings I get every month when I can put all of my income from PTS over towards that dang credit card that stresses me out (this is in addition to the monthly payments I already make towards that card and the other cards). It just gives me that same feeling that I got when I earned “extra credit” in school. For my husband’s commission, we are a little more relaxed with that. My husband works DANG HARD at his job. 11 hour days are common around here. Because of that, I want him to FEEL the benefits of his commission, so while we plan some extra money to go towards things like our Summer Cushion, extra purchases we want, or credit cards, our plan is to use that money towards a family vacation. I think that’s a great way to celebrate his hard work. And, since I am paying at least our monthly goal on our cards, plus putting every other penny that is unexpected income towards them, I can enjoy that vacation guilt-free. Like I’ve said before–I personally feel that what works for us is not depriving ourselves while getting out of debt, but finding ways TO LIVE, but within boundaries.

We aren’t perfect, this is just the process that we are doing right now that seems to be working. Progress is slow, and I am facing some HUGE personal battles of NOT buying everything that I think I need. I was really proud of us this weekend when we decided against a patio furniture set that I had been eyeing for weeks because I felt we “needed” it. It finally went on a huge sale (only $250!). We were tempted. I visited the store TWICE. We sat in the comfy chairs…for a LOOONG time. I called my Mom to have her talk me down from the purchase. But, all in all, WE did it. We drove away from the store (reluctantly) and the farther away we got, the more we realized that financial security was MORE important to us than eating dinner in comfy chairs on our patio.

One thing I AM learning….you really need to make enough money to make these changes.  You don’t need a ton, you just need enough (enough=making more than what you spend) and sometimes, all the coupon-clipping in the world just isn’t enough. When I read all the blogs and all the books a while ago, I felt helpless. How on earth are these people putting “extra” money towards credit cards…at that time, any “extra” money that I had was going to pay energy bills, food, etc? So if you are in that position, I highly recommend looking into other income opportunities, and, most importantly, tithing. I can’t even beging to describe how that has saved us. Then, once things settle down for you (and I genuinely hope they do), you can re-visit this post and start working your way out of debt. I’m right there with you!

Are You Afraid of the Dark? Family Home Evening Lesson

Every week our family has a Family Home Evening night. It is something asked of us by our Church, and we find that it is a great way to strengthen our family. We generally have a treat and a lesson. For links to other Family Home Evening Lesson Plans, please go here.

This week I wanted to do something fancy. While we catered to my daughter’s girly side, I wanted to cater to my son’s love of all things building and cars….but I was forcing a connection. As I tried to think of all kinds of lessons, I just kept feeling one thing: keep it simple, go back to basics. I was amazed by how I was prompted to get simple…and the lesson soon took a turn to meet the specific needs of my family.

Family Home Evening

I have all these ideas for upcoming lessons, but they are all complicated concepts. So all week, when I prayed about the lesson, I kept thinking about the SIMPLE concepts. I kept pushing the idea aside, because I wanted to do something fun and fancy. But the concept kept coming back to me over and over again: Heavenly Father.  While I went into the lesson thinking it was a simple talk on who He was, little did I know how I would be guided to discuss concepts unique to the needs of my kids.

But first off, dinner!

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I used this recipe for Monterey Chicken from All Things Simple. It was pretty good. I’m not going to write our recipe because husband said he wouldn’t request it again, but wouldn’t NOT eat it if I made it.

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I used this recipe from Good Life Eats as a basis for my potatoes, but used russets instead of Yukons (because that’s what I had on hand), lemon zest instead of lemon, basil instead of parsley, and monterey jack cheese instead of parmesan. Oh and I microwaved the potatoes first instead of boiling. So really it is a totally different dish! But it was AMAZING. I also added butter :)

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Smashed Potato Recipe

3 Russet Potatoes

1/2 cup cheese

4 basil leaves

2 scallions

1/2 stick butter

Combine everything but the potatoes

Preheat oven to 475

Microwave potatoes for the potato setting :)  

Pull them out, smash with fork

Cover with the mixture

Bake until brown and awesome

Pardon the sideways picture (below). I can’t for the life of me get it to flip without taking a crudload more time! So anyway, I showed the kids this picture and asked them who these people were (their answer: I dunno// the correct answer: Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father). Hmmm, guess that means we really needed this lesson! So we talked about who Heavenly Father is and why he is important.

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We talked about what he wanted us to do, to which K replied, “Heavenly Father wants me to go potty on the toilet.” To which J replied, “Yeah, Heffly Fadder wan me go….pooootty.” But we talked about other things he wants.

We talked about how he loves us and wants us to talk with him. I talked about how when I was in Bodega Bay and they missed me and wanted to talk on the phone with me–that is how Heavenly Father feels about us. He wants us to pray to him so he can hear from us because he misses us. We also talked about how he wants to help us.

And then it hit me.

K has been scared this week in her room, and I felt an immediate comfort that this lesson was going to help her.

I talked about how Heavenly Father wants to help us. He wants to comfort us and make us feel better. So when we are scared, we can talk to him.

I have told her to pray all the time when she is scared, and have spent several different occasions praying in her room with her, but I felt like she got it this time. I think by helping her understand that Heavenly Father is a real person, it helped her.

But I am also grateful for my husband who chimed in and reminded them that when they pray, they may not hear an audible answer back, but that the person would feel a comfort.

She got it. I know that doesn’t mean I won’t have my girl in bed with me 60% of my nights because she is scared, but at least tonight when I put the lights out in her room she told me she was going to pray to Heavenly Father (she also said that He will help fix the wall that the mosquito ripped through????).

J also got a lot from it, as he would talk about “Heffly Fadder” a few times.

Anyway, back to family night. We took a family walk to get some Fro-Yo. So fun!

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Then came back and relaxed in the backyard…

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While they were running around, Pops turned on the sprinklers and surprised them…they loved it:

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Once they were soaking wet from sprinklers, we bundled them up in towels and had them lay in front of our fireplace to warm up (it’s a faux fireplace that is essentially a TV screen of a fire and a space heater). Then they had PJs, snuggles, stories, prayers, and night-night.
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What I learned tonight? Family night doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Think about what you want to do, pray about it. and even if the answer to that prayer seems too simple, it might be exactly what your family needs.

I’d love to hear what you did for family night!

An Un-Photoshopped Family Home Evening…

Every week our family has a Family Home Evening night. It is something asked of us by our Church, and we find that it is a great way to strengthen our family. We generally have a treat and a lesson. For links to other Family Home Evening Lesson Plans, please go here.

Last week I got quite a few comments and emails from people saying how amazing the Rapunzel Family Home Evening was and how I was a rock star at FHE (not my words there). In the spirit of keeping it real, I wanted to show that a situation like that is rare. There are those FHEs where the stars align…and then there are others.

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All week my husband and I kept brainstorming FHE ideas. I wanted to do something to appeal to Jack’s love of building so we were thinking of doing the “Wise Man Built…” story, but it just didn’t feel right. It felt too complex. We kept thinking of things and had nothing. Then tonight rolled around. I was in the room taking a 5 minute break away from the kids once hubby got home, and hubbs came in and gave me a hug. I said, “So….whatcha got planned for family night?” (we trade off every other week, so it was his turn).

His response?

“Oh crap.”

So he threw together something fast. He was mysterious. He asked me to grab basil:

[Note, if you are a former boyfriend....please don't look at the next picture. I swear I am a hot mama and this double chin is only an optical illusion....um, and I don't look like a man]

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The kids were asked to grab Bear and Dolly (their prized possessions).

I was trying to figure out where pops was going, because my basil is not really my prized possession. I’d instead go for iPad, carton of Haag n’ Daas, my makeup, my phone, my chunk of hair that I cut off to donate and never had the heart to depart with (<—there ya go peeps, THERE’S my crazy, right out in the open), MY KIDS. Hmmm, what is pops up to?

He explained how we all lived somewhere before we came to earth. And we all had to come to earth and we needed families to be in to help us grow.

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Enter the basil. He asked what plants needed to grow. Kristi replied: “Flowers” (note to self: teach her gardening this week). He then showed her the dirt and talked about how plants need dirt and water. Just like plants need things to grow, we need each other to grow. While he is saying this…THIS is happening:

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Running in circles screaming:photo_7

Wrestling:photo_8

Pops asked them, “Who is in our family?” J replied, “Heffly Fadur” [Heavenly Father] and “Sheeshuh Cwiiisss” [Jesus Christ]. I think this dude is used to just responding with those two names any time we have a religious conversation! Pops reminded them that WE are family. And just like their bear and dolly need them, so we need each other.

So the “lesson” continued, with…

Impromptu snuggling:photo_9

Hitting:

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Timeout for hitting:photo_12

Apologies for hitting:


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More running. When Hubby asked them how they thought Heavenly Father wanted them to act right now, K did this face…
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Dad is not happy… (don’t worry, despite me hiding my chuckles, I was trying to help by disciplining and rewarding the brief moments of good behavior…but I also had to capture this chaos because it was hilarious).photo_15

Rolling on the floor:

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We sang “I have a family here on earth.” We sang it five times and tried to get them to memorize the line:

“Families can be together forever”

I can’t show you the video I took of this, because it is rated PG-13, but let’s just say K sang “Families can be together because Heavenly Father likes them and…and…[lifting up shirt] I can see my boobies!!!!!”

2 seconds of the 1 hour looked like this….so here is the photoshopped version of our FHE (you know, the one and only picture that would normally make most people’s Instagram cut to edit out all the other craziness and make family night look serene):photo_16

Despite the kids being crazy, the lesson really had an impact on me. My husband emphasized how there are things we can do to help us stay together forever as a family, and holding these weekly family nights is one of those things. That really struck me. I am so grateful for these times that we can share together, no matter how crazy they are. Our lives are not perfect AT ALL. We’ve had a big bumpy stretch lately and we are working SO hard to get through it and end up closer than ever. Despite our many imperfections, I’m giving us mad props tonight for at least trying!

Although the last thing our kids probably needed was sugar….we decided to make cookies with them:
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It then ended with us watching an Elmo movie while eating cookies.

So there ya go, our not-so-picture-perfect FHE, but to me, it was every bit perfect because we at least TRIED and we were together (oh that was SO sappy!).

I want to hear, what do your family nights look like?

An Efficient Way to Use Pinterest to Meal Plan

You all know my theory that if you are going to spend hours on Pinterest (like I do!), you better be DOING some of the things you are pinning! I love how pushing myself to “Become My Pinterest Self” has made me a better person. One of the ways it has improved my life is by making me a better cook. I love trying out new recipes. But sadly, my “Cooking” board has HUNDREDS of recipes on it and it is so tough to leaf through the entire board every time I want to find a recipe while I am cooking.

That is why I came up with this far more efficient way to use Pinterest to meal plan. And I promise, this takes less than fifteen minutes….or else I wouldn’t do it!How to meal plan efficiently using pinterest

First off, I create a “Secret” Pinterest board titled “This Week.” (You can create a “Secret” board by scrolling to the bottom of your Pinterest Boards page and select “Create a Secret Board”)

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Then I go through my “Cooking” board and re-pin everything that I want for the week, onto the “This Week” board (I make it secret so I don’t drive followers crazy re-pinning the same amazing chicken broccoli every week!).

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(You’ll see I don’t have all food on there, I also post some learning activities that I plan to do with my kids for the week) 

I also add to the board by photographing pictures of recipes I find in books and magazines and putting it in there (another reason why the board is secret, since the photograph would violate copyright issues and I want to respect the authors of the recipes). (<–I don’t do this too often, I prefer using Evernote for this…maybe that’s another tutorial!).

When the week is over I go back through the page and delete the pins on my secret board (I normally do this while meal planning for the next week). BUT, before I delete the pin (and remember, it is still saved on my “Cooking” board), I re-pin it to my “Pins I’ve Actually Done” page with a small review of how it worked for me. This is a great way for me to remember how we liked it, make notes on how to modify it, or warn me to never make it again. Just now as I was going through my “Pins I’ve Actually Done” board I found recipes I tried (and gave rave reviews to!) and totally forgot about (I wrote about this in this post too).

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MY RANT: It drives me crazy that there is no recipe accountability on Pinterest. Someone could post total GARBAGE and say it is the most amazing thing ever (sadly I totally fell for a pin that was called “best chicken ever”….I think it could pass as dog food). So I feel like my small contribution to the world is to write mini reviews on how a recipe worked.

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Then I just delete the pin! DON’T delete it from the Pins You’ve done board. Make sure you go to the “This Week” board and select that pin. I select “Edit” at the top of the pin and it takes me to this page where I select “Delete Pin”. After doing this, that means I still have the recipe pinned on my “Pin’s I’ve Actually Done” board, as well as my “Cooking” board, but NOT on the secret “This Week” board.

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This entire process takes me less than 15 minutes to menu plan. It’s easy, I can do it anywhere.

Plus I am not fiddling through my Pinterest Boards looking for this week’s recipes as the kids are climbing up my legs while I am making dinner. Instead, I can pull up the recipe in seconds.

I’d love to hear how you use Pinterest to meal plan! Also, are there any recipes you found on there that you highly recommend?

If You Give a Mom a Cookie…She’ll Probably Get a Lot Done

Do you know the book “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie”? Let me break it down for you. The kid gives a mouse a cookie, the mouse eats the cookie and wants milk. Then once he drinks the milk, it occurs to him that he needs to do something else. Each thing reminds him he needs to do one more thing. So the story involves cutting his hair, cleaning, taking a nap, etc. Well anyway, that is the story of my life. I get one project, then see another, then see another–pretty soon, I am surrounded by a mess of projects.

Let’s take today, for instance. We come home from Costco and my husband and I agree he will tend to our yard and get the kids down while I handle putting away the groceries and clean the kitchen.

He returns from his tasks to see this:

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I am pulling out my new lightbox and showing him everything fancy….all while dishes are still dirty and groceries aren’t put away.

His reply is, “Are you sure this is a good time for this? What about the cold groceries that we need to put away?”

To which I reply, “Yes, but before I put the milk in the fridge, I want to clean the shelves of the fridge because they are sticky. But we are out of our disinfectant wipes that we forgot to get more of at Costco, so I think I should make my own. And of course if I am going to make our own, I’m going to blog about it, so I need to set up the light box….”

I think I saw him roll his eyes with the eyes I have in the back of my head, but I continued to work.

How to make homemade kitchen wipes

So let me break these wipes down for you. It took 10 minutes TOPS. You might be thinking, “What’s the point of disinfectant wipes? Just use a towel and cleaning spray? Or use paper towels?” I thought the EXACT same thing. I saw people using Clorox disinfectant wipes and thought they were batt —- crazy (<–pardon my LANGUAGE!). It seemed wasteful and expensive. Come on lazy people, just grab a flippin’ bottle of cleaner and a towel and clean! But one of my favorite bloggers, Shawna from Styleberry Blog swore be her disinfectant wipes. Now she is someone who (1) helps the environment and her pocketbook by using cloth diapers (2) limits chemicals as much as possible, and (3) embodies the exact opposite of the word “lazy”. So when I heard that SHE was addicted to these wipes, I knew it must be good.

One day my husband bought a pack despite my years of protests. And so I obliged and tried them out. HOLY SMOKES these are amazing. Sprayers: you know how when you can’t get something off a counter you then just spray and let it sit for a little bit? Well these wipes are like having the towel sit with the spray on it…they get that crud right off! But man I didn’t want to keep forking over the money to buy more of these…despite being addicted. Plus I’d find it pretty hypocritical that while I was showing people how easy it is to use cloth diapers and not be wasteful, here I was filling my trash bin with 4-5 wipes every time I cleaned my kitchen.

So I had to find a way to get the benefits of these wipes, without spending a lot of money having to re-buy them over and over again.

I figured it out. And here’s my tutorial:

So I cut up some old flats that I had hanging around. A good housewife would sew up the edges so they don’t unravel, but “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” I think that flour sack towels would work better for this (those are those thin, white towels that you can get for cheap cheap at Walmart. I only had ones that my Grandma embroidered for me and there’s no way I’m cutting those…so flats it is).

So I cut them into small squares. You know, like it could fold in half and fit in the wipe container.

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Then I filled an old wipes container with about 1/2 inch of water (yes, even some Cloth Diaper Bloggers like myself have a few of these hanging around. Actually, this is an old one from YEARS ago before we used cloth diapers.) I then added about 3 tablespoons of Method All Purpose Cleaner (I loooove the lavender one).


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I added the cut squares back into the container and got them wet. I let them sit there for a bit, just to make sure the middle ones got wet.cookies7

I then wrung them out a bit so they weren’t sopping wet (if you put too many in here, they could get mildewy over a few days. Vinegar could help with this process, but I plan to just replace this every few days, it’s so dang easy to do).

Cloth wipes are made like this too, for those who cloth diaper. Some people even fold the wipes a certain way so that you can pull them out of the special little opening on the top of the wipes container….my theory? “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” So I skipped that step.

(Ok, so only 10 minutes passed and so I quickly wiped down my refrigerator shelves and put away the cold groceries…I promise!)

I put the container of wipes under the sink and next to it I hung a wet bag to store the used wipes (for those who don’t know what a wet bag is…it’s something cloth diaperers use to store dirty diapers so it traps in moisture and stink. You just throw the bag into the laundry machine when you clean the diapers).

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But when I went to put the stuff under the sink….I saw that I needed to clean under my sink because it was ugly. So I rearranged things…
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Because I wanted to prove to my husband that I was NOT slacking off on putting away groceries, I put them away and got the kitchen sparkling. But there was one problem, one of my plants was dying. So I decided to take some shears and trim off the dead leaves. Poor guy looks pathetic now!

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So anyway, the kitchen looked great, except our spice racks were just sitting there on the counter, waiting to be installed. I went to my husband, batted my eyelashes, and played damsel in distress, asking him to drill the spice racks into the wall, but he wanted to nap with my daughter (a tradition they do EVERY weekend).

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Ha, after I just wrote that part I went in to check on them and YUP, weekend nappers:

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Well, guess I’m not gonna get the spice racks drilled in. Awe heck no! I’m a woman, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use tools. Let’s DO this! 
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So I installed the spice racks and stepped back in awe:

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So despite the MESS of my kitchen, an hour later, the kitchen looked great, and I accomplished so much:

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So here is what I have to say in defense of the mouse. Yes, you gave him a cookie, and yes, he then asked to do a bunch more stuff. But nevertheless, that little bugger cleaned up and got a whole lot done…

Rapunzel Family Home Evening: Princesses and Princes of our Father in Heaven

Every week our family has a Family Home Evening night. It is something asked of us by our Church, and we find that it is a great way to strengthen our family. We generally have a treat and a lesson. You’ll see instructions at the bottom on how to morph it for your own spirituality. For links to other Family Home Evening Lesson Plans, please go here.

Rapunzel Family Home Evening

Lately I’ve been really uninspired with what to do for our Family Home Evenings. I look at different manuals and I just  don’t feel like anything is really working for my family. Nothing seems to click with my kids and I feel like the lessons are just a fight to get their attention. So I was thrilled to come across this great post at Blue Skies Ahead with a Tangled-theme Family Home Evening. I liked the concept, and so I took that idea and added some concepts that I thought would work best with my kids.

First off, I prepped those cute tummies with a meal of grilled chicken, salad, steamed artichokes, cauliflower garlic bread and cauliflower pizza. Yup, I finally tried what I thought people were CRAZY for raving about. I made a cauliflower pizza crust. To be honest, the pizza wasn’t good, but the garlic “bread” was GREAT. If you knew how picky my husband was, you’d know how impressive it was that he liked the “bread.”

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All of the recipes out there look about the same, here is one I started with, but modified.

  • I put half a head of cauliflower in the food processor and pulsed until it was in small pieces (technically my daughter did this, she was my helper!).
  • I then cooked in the microwave (no water added) for 5 minutes.
  • After that, I added 1 egg, 1 cup of shredded Irish cheddar cheese (I just didn’t have parmesan and mozzarella on hand, otherwise I’d rather use that), a dash of seasonings like parsley, oregano, chili flakes, etc, 3 cloves of garlic minced, and some salt and pepper.
  • I mixed it up and laid it flat like a pizza on a oil-sprayed baking sheet.
  • I popped it in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes (until lightly brown), then added some toppings and let it cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Once out of the oven, I topped with fresh basil (notice the glue in the picture from making my Rapunzel project at the same time?)

K enjoyed her favorite food: artichokes!

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So on to the lesson….

I shared the story of how Rapunzel was born a princess, but was then told all her life by Mother Gothel that she wasn’t a princess (this was what I borrowed from Blue Skies Ahead). I talked about how the world may try to have us forget that we are princesses and princes. I shared some amazing quotes from Dieter Uchtdorf from his amazing talk, “Your Happily Ever After”:

Quotes from Modern-Day Prophets 

“You are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Father, prepared to come to the earth at this particular time for a sacred and glorious purpose.”

Heavenly Father offers to you the greatest gift of all—eternal life—and the opportunity and infinite blessing of your own “happily ever after.”

But such a blessing does not come without a price. It is not given simply because you desire it. It comes only through understanding who you are and what you must become in order to be worthy of such a gift.

“Happily ever after” is not something found only in fairy tales. You can have it! It is available for you! But you must follow your Heavenly Father’s map.

Be strong and of good courage. You are truly royal spirit daughters of Almighty God. You are princesses, destined to become queens. Your own wondrous story has already begun. Your “once upon a time” is now.

Whenever he said “princesses” I added in “princes” for the boys in the family. I talked about how we are princesses/princes and if we chose to do good things, we will earn eternal life and will turn from princes and princesses into kings and queens.

Values of a Princess/Prince

I showed them how just like Rapunzel looked up at the sun painting on the ceiling in her room, so I wanted them to look at the sun that I made for them and remember their royal inheritance. I just made it out of some scrapbooking paper I had laying around.

Before FHE, I had written some good and bad qualities on pieces of paper. During FHE, I held up pieces of paper and asked, “Does Heavenly Father want you to do ____”? Examples included whine, be nice, help others, push someone, love others, etc. They got TOTALLY into this and did a great job saying “yes” and “no” when appropriate. I felt so happy seeing their strong sense of right and wrong. As they said something was right, my husband glued it to the sun. He then added some he thought were appropriate, like “obeying” and “being honest.”

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They wanted to SHOW us what it was like to be gentle, so they voluntarily gave hugs:

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When we finished, we taped it to their ceiling so that they, like Rapunzel, can look up at their ceiling and get a reminder that THEY ARE princes and princesses. Now we have a constant reminder in their room of who they are and who they want to continue to strive to be.

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Decorating Crowns

I had also made them crowns out of construction paper and had some princess stickers lying around, so they decorated their crowns with stickers.

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Beautiful Princess (she wanted pink and purple princess stickers all around the crown)

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And in perfect princess fashion, she turned around, posed, and said “Look at my bum”:

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J thought he was cooler wearing it over his face…

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We then bundled them up in the Rapunzel blanket in the stroller and took a walk to our local Fro-Yo place for some treats!

I feel like I’ve made a shift in our Family Home Evenings. Instead of making them listen to a lesson prepared by someone who’s never met them, I decided to design a lesson based on THEIR interests. I can’t even beging to describe the impact this made on them. They listen, they got excited, they participated!

Adapting to your belief system: this one was a tough adaptation for me to think of for you all, since we are teaching something relatively unique to our church. I’d love to hear YOUR suggestions on how this could be adapted to your belief system!

How We LIVE While Getting Out of Debt

Over the last years, we’ve struggled to avoid/get out of debt while paying for 20+ years of college education among my husband and I. During this time, I’ve read many books. My favorite are those written by millionaires telling you to give up everything and get out of debt. I’m sorry peeps, but that’s like telling a woman she can’t have chocolate ever again in order for her to lose weight. That just guaranteed that I’d throw my hands up in the air, conclude I’ll never lose weight, and drive to the nearest grocery store and grab a tub of my beloved Haag n’ Daas Rocky Road ice cream.

There are people who do give up it all. I truly admire Anna from And Then We Saved, who went on a strict spending fast to get out of debt. I believe Dave Ramsey did the same thing–he tells his loyal followers to give up their cars (like he did) and drive a car that’s a piece of crud. So yes, this method works.

But that doesn’t work for me.

My Journey Out of Debt

I feel like there’s this message out there that the only way to get out of debt is to not LIVE at all. Don’t go anywhere. Oh wait, if you do, you and your husband can have a “romantic” date  grabbing samples of food at Costco and eating a picnic at the park (<—-why does everyone suggest Costco as a fun date? For reals?).

Normally I try this all or nothing approach. And that’s why I think I have failed. Every dollar I spent, even if it was on a gallon of milk, made me sick to my stomach. I felt behind before the month event started. And so half way through the month, I would give up.

But this time around, we have established principles that are realistic for us. We are consistently paying off our debts and not “yo-yo dieting” with our money.

So if you are paying off debts, take a breath. You don’t need to date at Costco. Here are some things we have done to help us feel like we are LIVING while getting out of debt. It may not be the perfect method, but it has worked for us (just this last month we paid off one big debt!).

We Decided on a Percentage that Goes to Debt

I learned this from one of my favorite bloggers, Kath at KathEats.com. She and her husband set up a goal (a percentage) for what they want to put into savings each month. If they went crazy spending money one month and it falls below their goal percentage, then they spend less the next month to make up that difference. I like to start with a clean slate each month (i.e Diet starts Monday), so I don’t do the rollover, but I do stay disciplined in what goes to savings, debt, etc. And I pay that immediately at the start of the month. That means we aren’t feeling guilty about every little purchase because you decided together how to spend that money. BUT, we do have the freedom to pay extra. So, for example, my husband makes commission in his recent job. So we decide what percentage goes where with that extra money. We decided that this month, half of the money will go towards credit, the other half towards savings.

We Set Up an Annual Budget

My husband and I did this and it was an amazing experience for us. Our income is very inconsistent, so we kind of live each month with the fear of what comes around the corner. First of all, we wrote an estimate of our income month-by-month for the entire year. We under-estimated in case something happened, like taking unpaid sick leave. Then we tallied up any possible expenses. So instead, we sat down and we planned EVERYTHING. I mean, EVERYTHING. From DMV renewals to replacing light bulbs. Then we added extra “cushion” money on top of that just in case something happens. We compared that list with the list of income and went “Oh crap” and moved things around. You can update this monthly and see where you went off. If you are off, try and find a way to make up the money, or “steal” from your cushion you estimated. Instead of updating monthly, I just check in with this whenever we need to do a major spending change (like enrolling kids in preschool). Otherwise I just use Mint.com for my monthly budget.

Taking on Long-Term Purchases

When we need to make a big decision that seriously impacts our budget, we go back and revise our annual budget. We did this when we decided to move. Many people have questioned me (mostly just well-meaning family) on why I moved to a house rather than stay in my cramped apartment. It took a lot of prayer for me to get to that point and a lot of consultation with our long-term spreadsheet. While the bump in cost between the two places was not significant for what we were getting (in my opinion), at the end of the day, I needed to see if it was doable. Not only did we see if it was doable with our current income, we tried to see how doable it was if I lost my source of income. We were VERY careful with this–we were a few dollars off and even though we had included cushion money, we didn’t want to rely on that. So we worked to find a way to make that difference.

We Planned a Savings Cushion

I’m sorry, this is different form the other cushion, I just couldn’t figure out a different word. When we looked at our finances, we found that there was a gap in our income over the summer, so we found out how much that “gap” would be and that is our cushion. When we pull from that cushion of money, we immediately replenish it before buying anything big. If you don’t have enough yet for a savings cushion, then just follow the same rule as you did with your debt rule: dedicate a certain percentage of your money, even if it is just 1-5%.


We Took Risks

So that last suggestion was fine and dandy, but what if I don’t have enough? It ticked me off when I read financial advice that worked under the assumption that people actually had money to dedicate to savings. I know that doesn’t work for everyone. Fourteen months ago, my husband was perfectly happy in a job he had. The problem was, when we looked at our finances, we just couldn’t pay our bills. We tried cutting down costs, like eliminating cable and downsizing our car, but we still couldn’t make it. So my husband had to take a risk. Grant it, this took a lot of prayer, he didn’t just jump into something. But he had a job opportunity in a field very different from his field in banking. He took the job and has been promoted twice in the last year–now his income is double what he had 14 months ago. I am not saying that to brag, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t come across like that. I am just saying it to show that taking risks could sometimes help. Either way, if you add up your annual income and expenses and it doesn’t add up, SOMETHING needs to change. When my husband made this decision, his heels were dragging BIG time. Why leave a job you are happy with? But I will tell you, he LOVES his new job. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but I am just sharing our experiences.

We Developed Small Habits

One thing that has made crawling out of debt BETTER this time around is that we developed small habits:

* We eat at home…PART of the time. We used to eat out 2 of the 3 meals a day (<—no joke). Now I have dinner cooking before my husband gets home. On days where I can foresee the temptation for eating out (like when I teach late), I have something in the slow cooker to decrease temptation. We save “eating out” for when we go out on the weekends with my in laws. And yup, we go out to eat at least 2-3 times over the weekend and budget for it (and lately we’ve used good coupons too).

* We sleep on it. We went to a marital workshop by Persogenics and found that we were both Expressive. One side effect of these awesome, party animal personalities is that we get a good buzz from spending (literally, our hearts race and we are SO amicable towards each other). The problem is we spend, spend, spend. The leader said to sleep on it….and, well TMI alert (family reading this close your eyes!) : have RELATIONS. Physical touch helps channel that excitement…elsewhere.

* We Coupon, even if it’s little time. Don’t sell your soul to couponing, OK? We save tons of money by couponing with just 30 minutes a week. Remember my post where I explain this?

* We sell before we buy. When we want to buy something, we decide what we want to sell in order to get that money. Our golden rule: it MUST get sold first. We used to always say we WOULD sell something, but never did.

* We track our money: I use Mint.com and I have a rule that I check in with it every night. I also write down all expenses at the beginning of the month. We also use a cash envelope system so that we see where the cash is going and when it is gone.

* We give ourselves spending money, but not all at once. I used to give myself a lump sum at the start of the month, and I’d spend it ASAP. But if I did it weekly I’d forget to pull out the cash. Now I give myself two installments: one at the beginning of the month, one in the middle. The key is, GIVE yourself something you can spend and find the best system that works for YOU.

 

I’m not saying we are perfect, but I will say that finally something has started working for us. I don’t feel guilty about LIVING. And yes, I consider eating out a big part of “living.” It’s my hobby. I love to go to restaurants, so it was just unrealistic to totally cut it out. Since we made these changes, I have noticed a tremendous difference in our lives. We have less debt (and are paying it off aggressively), we have a savings cushion, and, most importantly, we are happier.

I’d love to hear some of your “get out of debt” tips!

How Checking Email Once a Day Can Increase Productivity

First off, I have to share the great news: I passed my Qualifying Exams in my doctorate program!!!! That took about 9 months of intense preparation, including over 200 pages of writing and studying. I am so glad it is over! Now I just have to write a dissertation (“just” –HA!).z

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This last year, Padded Tush Stats grew far more than I expected. Pairing that with the insane Quals prep I had, everything in my life snowballed and I am still trying to catch up. Despite having Carolyn as an awesome helper with that website, I’ve still struggled. So I have been trying to do baby steps that make a difference in my productivity. BOY, I’ve found one, and I’d almost argue that it is a Baby LEAP.

So a while back I was at a Professors for the Future meeting (it’s kind of a rad group of a dozen grad students who were chosen because of their promise as rockin’ future professors–and I am honored to have somehow tricked them into picking me). We were talking about how stressed out academics are and how difficult it is to balance work and life. As you know, I’m pretty passionate about this topic so I think I chewed big holes in my tongue as I kept my mouth shut and tried not to go crazy and sound like the sleep-deprived-we-are-not-progressing-as-a-feminist-movement-in-academia freak that I am (off topic–I got so many emails after my last post of people worried about my personal well being–have no fear, I am doing fine and won’t go crazy [yet], but I am so GRATEFUL for your support).

But one thing we talked about in this meeting was “compartmentalizing” parts of your life. One person talked about how she ONLY checks email once a day. I balked. WHAT?! In this era, you have to apologize if you missed a call and returned it *gasp* an hour later. So people expect email to work the exact way, right? I posed this question to my group….

Suddenly the room seem divided into those who DO check once a day, and those who check all day. Would you believe the most productive people in the room check only once a day? No joke, I keep a tally of these people and admire them and YUP, it must be working, because that’s what they do.

I have been trying this and I can’t BELIEVE how much more productive that I am. I am getting a lot more done and I go to bed less stressed and with an empty email box. It’s also nice because people in my life (like Carolyn, who diligently emails me about two dozen emails a day because she is so on it) now get responses from me on a consistent basis. I’ll confess, I was procrastinating on tough or long emails and it would sometimes take days to get to them (<—Carolyn noticed that and now only puts in bold what I REALLY need to read….now that’s sad I pushed her to that). But alas, no more of that. I’m ON IT, people (crap, announcer’s jinx). But really, I have noticed that I am better at communicating with people and I actually get stuff done.

So let me give you my tips:

1) First off, give the world a heads up that they may not hear a response for 24-48 hours. This is establishing an expectation and it may take a while. I literally had an email from a student saying he was having a “panic attack” because he hadn’t heard from me in 8 hours—had he started his assignment earlier, this wouldn’t be a problem. Lesson learned–he won’t do it again because I established an expectation. One colleague of mine has it as her signature in an email. You could have it be set as a vacation message, but that’s pretty obnoxious. If you are a teacher, make it clear on the syllabus that you answer emails once a day. My signature looks something like this:

I respond to emails within 24-48 hours. If this is an urgent issue, please feel free to call me at 555-555-1236.

By having my email-checking at night, I have missed some fires that could have been put out during business hours. In a perfect world, my email checking would be first thing in the morning, but at that time, I am changing diapers, filing sippy cups, trying not to pass out from sleep deprivation, etc. I didn’t want to do the email checking in the middle of the day, since my schedule is very consistent. One thing in my life IS consistent: putting the kids to bed (thank GOODNESS for that). Sometimes I look on my phone during the day just to see if there are “fires” and, if so, I do tend to them (<—this happens very rarely. It has to be a BIG fire).

2) Set aside a time at night where you can check the emails and respond to them. What’s crazy is by compartmentalizing this, it only takes an hour for me. I clean the house while my husband reads to the kids. Once the kids are tucked in and the house is clean, I go to my office and check my email.

3) If it is part of a bigger task, I let the person know that I am taking action on it, I archive it (in gmail), and then I promptly put it on my To-Do list and give it a deadline. Right now I am digging Wunderlist for this (Carolyn and I both joke that while some women are obsessed with shoes and purses, I’m obsessed with productivity apps. To see ones I’ve reviewed, you can go here).

Since I started checking my email once a day, I am so much more calm and way more productive. Here is my lovely sight tonight before going to bed:

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So WHEW, that is one baby step completed. Other ways I’ve been more productive are by doing small intervals to ensure each area of my life gets attention and doing a brief morning routine to combat lazy days. Now I am on to the next step: tackling my to-do list. I used to do this 6-item a day format, but it has gotten more difficult.

Do any of you have suggestions for tackling a to-do list? I’m great at MAKING them, but would love advice for tackling those lists!