A Well Planned Move

You can tell from the time between now and my last post that I've been a little preoccupied lately. (Sorry to my loyal readers!) Since then a lot has changed. My husband's company moved their headquarters to Boston (we currently live outside NYC), we learned we're going to be parents (again!) and we decided to sell our home and move to New England (besides, our current house won't be big enough with another bambino).

Over the last few months I've been in the throws of preparing for a well planned move. People say that the top three most stressful life events are moving, having a baby and starting a new job (heck, we don't mess around, do we?) So I figured I could minimize the stress of moving by planning well for it. In this post, I'll share my ideas for a relatively seamless move, whether it be across the street or across the country.

  • Get a jump start on packing before your house even goes on the market. Most realtors would agree that minimizing personal belongings and streamlining your possessions is a must when selling your home. Think about the items you or your family are not likely to use in the next few months and pack them away. If you don't absolutely need it to use personally (like a waffle iron) or to show your home (staged), pack it away. Don't just shove things in closets! You'll save time on the back-end if you pack them away now. Prospective buyers will be looking in your cabinets and closets (partly because they're nosey and partly because they want to see the depth of your cabinet/closet space) and if there are a minimal amount of items in them, they'll feel that their belongings can fit too.
  •  Use a master inventory list! Don't get stuck after your move, wondering what box your iron was packed away into. Most people mark boxes with the room they belong in and that's it. Yes, that's a good move, but minimize chaos of trying to find which of the 18 boxes labeled "family room" your favorite CD's are in. Create an inventory list. Here's how:
    • Create a master document that has columns for box #, contents, room, and special notes. This can be done electronically in a word or excel document, handwritten on a legal pad, or printed and then filled in by hand (my choice for ease of use). Here's a version I use.
    • Number each box you pack. Start with box #1 and be sure to clearly mark the outside of the box (on all sides) with the box #.
    • Start in the room that you use the least. Keep like items in the same box (such as office supplies or kids' craft supplies). 
    • Jot down the contents of each box as you pack. Don't be afraid to put down detailed items, such as "hand-painted platter from Spain" or "framed pictures from stairwell". You'll be glad you did when you're trying to decide which boxes should take priority when unpacking.
    • Mark which room the box belongs in. Okay, common sense here. If you're type A, like me, you can pre-print a bunch of labels from your home computer with rooms so you can quickly stick them on multiple sides of the box so the movers have no question where it goes.
    • Know where this list is at all times! Every time you go to pack a box, grab your handy inventory list and jot down the contents of the box. Believe me, it will be your lifeline when you move-in to your new home and have no idea where anything is...oh, but wait...you do!  
  •  Don't worry about keeping box numbers consistent for all rooms. Chances are you'll need to leave some things to use in each room before the actual move. So you're likely to go back to a room and finish off the last few boxes of items a few days before your move. Don't get caught up in trying to keep all bedroom boxes numbered 10-20...if you do, you'll just frustrate yourself. The important thing is that you know which boxes things are in when you go to look for them. It doesn't matter what number the box is.
  • Count how many rooms you need to pack and how many weeks you have left before the big move day. I'd like to take credit for this, but my DH thought this one out and it has worked like a dream! We had six weeks before our closing and 12 rooms to pack up. So we agreed to pack up two rooms per week to avoid the last minute rush. I started by choosing the rooms we use least often, like the dining room (when was the last time we used that beautiful china?!) and assigned each week two rooms. I put it on our family calendar so I could always reference which rooms I should be focusing on that week.
  • Create a timeline. Determine everything that needs to be done (and there's a lot) and make a timeline that works best for you. You can find a ton of them on the web, but you're better off creating your own to work with your schedule. Here's one from About.com that will give you a pretty good idea of what to put on your timeline and how far in advance to plan for things.
  •  Create a move binder. This has been my lifeline for the last few months. Think about what information would be handy for you to have all in one place. Use a 3-ring binder (mine zips all the way around which I find securing in some way), and include some clear sleeves and pockets. Mine has an ongoing to-do list in the front and includes sections for:
    • Packing Inventory - the list mentioned above (I just keep adding pages as needed)
    • Moving Company Documents - quotes from moving companies and final contract from selected mover
    • New House Info - MLS sheets from search, house tour notes, specs on selected house, mortgage documentation, web printouts of new washer and dryer I want :-), etc.
    • Utilities - telephone numbers of utility companies and confirmations for shut-off at old house and turn-on at new house
    • Change of Address - a checklist of all accounts that need to be notified of a change of address, with phone numbers and account numbers to make process easy. Don't forget all loans (student, car, etc), cell phone companies, credit cards, investment accounts, car/life insurance policies, magazine subscriptions, etc.
    • Insurance - home owners insurance quotes, insurance policy documentation and contact info
    • Remodeling Plans/Documents - plans and quotes for any work to be done in new house
    • Schools- printed web pages of preschools to consider, notes from conversations and potential tours
    • Doctors- referrals for new doctors in new area, notes on where to send records, checklist of current doctors contact to forward medical records
    • Other - a place for miscellaneous items that don't necessarily fit into the other categories.
So there you have it. A few tips on a well planned move. Ironically, not matter how well planned you feel like you are, things are bound to come up that you don't and can't plan for. According to my timeline, I should have moved nearly two weeks ago. (Sigh.) But while I await our new move date, I'm 90% packed and at least I know where to find just about anything my family may need.

Good luck on your Well Planned Move!


Display Those Holiday Cards: A Quick and Pretty Solution

I love getting holiday cards. I love the greetings, the pictures of friends and their families and seeing how quickly their children grow. But like many, I used to struggle with what to do with all those cards. While there were always good intentions, they ended up in a pile sitting on the dining room table. People put so much effort (and money!) into their holiday cards and deserve better treatment, don't they?

So I created a solution to display my holiday cards without nailing a huge display holder to my 1910 walls (my husband would freak if I put holes into our wall for a display that lasted four weeks).

Here's what you need:
  • 3+ yards of grosgrain ribbon (any color will do, but red was my festive choice)
  • 1+ thumbtack
  • a stapler
Here's how it looked... 

Here's how to do it:
  1. Find a suitable door jamb where cards will not be in the way. I chose one that was wide and wouldn't be brushed by shoulders upon going through the doorway.
  2. Take your ribbon and cut it the height of the door jamb, less a few inches from the floor.
  3. Use the thumbtack to secure the ribbon at the very top.
  4. Take your holiday cards and staple them to the ribbon. Start at the top and work your way down. I like to overlap them just a tad and arrange them so they're angled a bit here a bit there, to create more interest.
  5. You can create as many as you need based on how many cards you receive. Here's another wall I did...

I love this solution because it takes a matter of 5 minutes to create and when a new card comes in the mail, it instantly has a home! If you've spotted your card in my display - give me a shout out and let me know you like that your card didn't end up in the bottom of a pile!


Meal Planning Makes for a Well Planned Week

Even before I had children I'd stop my work day to make that infamous call to my husband to ask what he wanted to do for dinner that night. Of course, it was never an easy answer and it was usually preceded by..."I don't know...umm...", which would then be followed by a trip to the market (which seems to be when everyone else is buying dinner ingredients too). I hated thinking about it. I just wanted it done for me. Now that I have two children, I need to be a little more 'well planned'. Not only do I not only have time to buy ingredients everyday, I couldn't fathom braving the grocery store every day with two kids in tow. It's hard enough to do it once a week (which is why I'm a big fan of Peapod).

I hate that feeling at 4 o'clock when you realize dinner time is coming but you're not quite sure what to do and whether or not a trip to the market is in store (no pun intended;-). With two small children, I really need to be more well planned than that. So I've been dabbling with a few meal planning solutions, both of which I'll share with you since everyone should find a system that works best for them.

But first a few reasons why it's so important...(Note: this is a long post, but well worth the read if you struggle with the infamous question..."what should we have for dinner tonight?")
  • Meal planning saves you time. Yes, you'll end up spending time up front putting it together, but you won't have to worry about it all week (or month if you're that ambitious) nor will you waste countless hours on various trips to the market figuring it out as you go.
  • Meal planning saves you money. How many times you do use one small portion of a fresh bunch of basil or cilantro and then the rest goes bad before you use it again? When you menu plan, you can select meals with some similar ingredients to get the best bang for your buck and you can plan to use your leftovers more wisely. You can also use your weekly supermarket flyer to plan your meals, buying on-sale meats and vegetables. Most stores make them available online now, so you can take a quick glance before you plan for the week.
  • Meal planning means healthier eating. When you know what's for dinner and plan for it, you're less likely to give-in to ordering out or eating cereal for dinner (although my husband would eat cereal for three square meals a day if he could!) When you plan for well-rounded meals your family is more likely to consume fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some simple tips on how to make the most of your menu planning...

  • Look at your calendar and determine what nights you'll need to have dinner ready for (some nights you'll be out, some you'll get home late and will eat leftovers, etc.). Identify how many meals in the week you'll need to plan for.
  • Pick a day that you'll habitually do your meal planning for the week. If you're a bargain shopper, sit down with your weekly sales flyers (if you get them - or look it up online) and your recipe binders (or cookbooks) and pull out meals that use on sale ingredients and fit your schedule for that week. 
  • Pick recipes with similar ingredients. You'll get more bang for your buck when you do.When you settle on a meal with ingredients in small amounts (like coconut milk or cilantro), try to find another recipe later that week that will use the remainder so as not to waste it.
  • Scan your pantry and refrigerator for items that are on their last leg (or near expiration) and should be used soon. Plan a meal around the polenta you bought on a whim and have been meaning to chef up.
  • Don't forget to think about lunch (and snacks, especially if you have young kids). We tend to forget to think about lunch in the overall plan and end up spending extra money and time figuring out lunch on the fly.
  • Create a shopping list based on the ingredients of all your meals. The meal planner I'm going to share with you below has spaces for ingredients, but I also like the Real Simple version available at Target. If you're overly ambitious, draft your own based on the aisles of the store you frequent.
  • Consider doubling recipes and freezing them for two weeks from now. Homemade mac & cheese and lasagna are great for this. It will lighten your load quite bit by just taking it out of the freezer the day before and popping it in the oven. I try to use a frozen meal once a week. It makes a big difference.
  • Make a list of meals you know your kids will like and eat (for lunch or dinner) and refer to it when planning your menu for the week. Even knowing what's on the menu for my kid's lunch is one less thing I need to think about.
  • If the idea is to reduce trips to the market, consider drafting a list of items you always want on hand and check that list before you head to the store.
  • Post your meal plan to your family calendar, the fridge or another visible location. It creates accountability to use those fresh ingredients in the refrigerator before they spoil. It also helps me remember why I bought that ginger root.
  • Be flexible. Life always throws us a curve ball now and again, so don't fret if you can't make that night's meal. Just remember to make it within a day or two before the ingredients aren't as fresh.
  • Save your meal plans and reuse them down the road. This is when the electronic versions are handy!
  • Don't make it harder than it is. Use at least two tried and true recipes each week to reduce preparation time.
  • Start slowly. If you've never planned your meals before, start slowly. Don't rush out of the gates trying to plan out your entire month - you'll likely fall victim to quick burnout, thinking it's too much work. Start with the next three or four days, a week at most.
I personally, plan my menu for one week at a time. A dear friend of mine, Kimberly (author of The Sweet Spot blog), created an awesome monthly meal planner that I tried but never really got a handle on as you need to dedicate one block of time to do it, but then you're done for the month (how great is that?!) I may get there over time, but for now I'm sticking with the weekly meal plan until I can reuse previous weeklies and just plug them into the monthly plan - then bam...I'm done! Kimberly gave me permission to post her monthly version too, so you can try what will work best for you.

My weekly meal planning document has a space for kids and parents. Let's just state for the record, I am not one of those parents that typically cooks something different that we're eating. However, I've found that there are occasions when I do. This is usually when my husband and I are out or when I find a recipe that I really want to try but know that my kids won't eat it for whatever reason, so I plan something that they will eat. These rows dedicated to the kids is also helpful for lunch and snacks, when they have a simpler version of what I might have.

Below is a sample of one of my family's weekly meal plans. If you'd like the blank template, click here.

You'll see I've listed space for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and two snacks over the course of each day. I also have a column for "Happenings". This is just a mental reminder of what might be going on that day that might affect a meal (such as a dinner party or PTA Meeting). And lastly, I have a column for groceries associated with that meal that are needed. I find this extra handy when I want to get an ingredient with a short shelf life (like fish) the day I'm using it. The electronic version in Excel is nice (for Type A's like me) because I can add little notes about where the recipes is (what cookbook or binder) so I don't go on a wild goose chase looking for it.

Kimberly's monthly meal planner allows you to bang it all out at once and not deal with it for another month. It has tabs for each month so you can just keep building on it, or reuse menu's as you go. You'll also see that I attempted to add a grocery list tab in October (when I tried this method) so I could keep everything in one place. If you choose to do the monthly planning, I would definitely recommend using this or something similar (edit it to fit your needs). Half of the work involved in planning menus is building the shopping list, so if you have all four weeks of lists done at once and all you need to do is print them out and go to the market...how nice is that?! The version available here is for 2009, which is almost over, but if you'd like the 2010 version without updating it yourself, post a message and I'll email it to you when it becomes available.

Happy meal planning!


    Lessons Learned from Completing the Fly Lady Challenge

    For the last 31 days, I've put my best foot forward with Fly Lady's Beginner Babystep Challenge. It's designed to help you create healthy habits; habits that help you get your day rolling and help you accomplish what you need to accomplish. I'll be the first to admit I didn't ace this challenge. Now that it is over, I can't say that each and every day's task is now a habit - they take several weeks of consistently doing them to become habits. But I can say that some small but meaningful tasks have become habits and even if they're not habits, I'm much more conscious of them.

    Here are the top 31 things that I learned over the last 31 days and some insights I've gleaned from this journey.

    1. I can go to bed at night with a spotless sink. All it takes is the mindset to do it. This is now a habit for me and my clean shiny sink welcomes me every morning. It sets a good tone for the day.
    2. Since my kids require me to address their needs before my own in the morning, I'm typically not able to get "dressed to the shoes" before one needs a bottle or the other is screaming for breakfast. 
    3. I don't think Fly Lady  had young children when she created these rules.
    4. I do, however get dressed immediately after attending to those needs (whereas before I'd have lounged a bit longer with coffee in hand). I'm okay with this compromise for now.
    5. I have a hang-up about wearing the proper shoes with my outfit, so the same pair of lace up shoes (or sneakers) every day will not work for me.
    6. I did attempt my friends solution - wearing plastic zip lock bags over my shoes (we have a shoe-free home) and it just felt a little too weird (although Krista, you wear them very well darling).
    7. I also found an old pair of sneakers, washed them and deemed them my "house shoes" but quickly got frustrated when I needed to take off the house shoes, just to put another pair on to take the dog out quickly (which then I'd have to take off when I came back in and replace with the house shoes). 
    8. I clearly need a new method with the shoe thing (and welcome suggestions). I do agree that wearing shoes first thing in the morning makes a huge difference in the way you approach your day. It's more laid back with bare feet or slippers. I've definitely noticed the difference and accomplish more on those days I follow the rule.
    9. I am able to make my bed every morning. This sounds ridiculous as I write this, but I was never brought up to make this a priority, so it wasn't second nature for me. It literally takes less than two minutes and it makes a big impact on how you feel when you enter your bedroom. This is also a habit for me now and I love it!
    10. I love my timer
    11. I use it for my 5 minute room rescues - which are the best way to speed clean an area that is just screaming - clean me! Sometimes, 5 minutes is all that I have and I feel accomplished in those five minutes.
    12. I use it for my 15 minutes of decluttering. While I haven't stayed super-consistent with it every single day, I do it more often than not and it helps to not feel overwhelmed with whatever challenge is facing you.
    13. When I set the timer and it goes off, sometimes I'm already in the groove and if I have the time (meaning no screaming kids or dashes to preschool pick-up) then I keep going for another round. 
    14. I use it with my kids. We play the "switch game" when my son and his friend are battling over the same toy. We set it for 3 minutes and then they have to hand it over. We set it again and the switch game continues. They get tired of it after one round and the argument is settled.
    15. While I don't do the full-blown "swish and swipe" every morning, I am now very conscious of taking that extra 15 seconds to put the hair dryer back in the drawer, toothbrushes away, etc. so I can wipe down the sink and freshen the mirror with a quick spray of Windex.
    16. I created a 'control journal' with a morning, afternoon and before bed routine.
    17. I'm not very good at reading it regularly for it to be truly effective. Perhaps I'll work on this.
    18. My morning routine is rather habitual now, except depending on the day's schedule, it turns into an afternoon routine by the time I finish everything. At least I put forth the effort and I'm okay with that.
    19. My afternoon routine doesn't really exist. Every day is too different with regard to our schedules. Besides, my morning routine runs into the afternoon anyway. LOL
    20. My before bed routine is a crap-shoot. I always have my sink shiny, but the other stuff I sometimes wait too long to do it and then I'm wiped and just want to go to bed.
    21. I need to start my before bed routine BEFORE I sit down and relax for the night.
    22. Sometimes, once those kids are in bed a tired mamma just needs to sit her fanny on the couch and relax with a glass of wine and the 'before bed routine' just has to wait.
    23. I failed MISERABLY at the task "pick a bed time and stick to it". When I say miserably, I mean I didn't go to bed by my designated bed time ONCE. 
    24. Sure, I'd love more sleep, but once the kids are down and I've got some time to myself to catch up online or watch some DVR'd shows - that time is SO precious. It's the only sanity-saving time I have and I don't want to give up that love affair.
    25. If I'm ever going to get up, showered and dressed to the shoes before my kids get up I'm going to HAVE TO learn to go to bed earlier (usually around 11:30/12am - that's late when your kids are up 6-6:30am!)
    26. I have more hot spots than I care to admit.
    27. Two minutes is not enough time to extinguish them daily.
    28. I get sidetracked by the computer and need to make a conscious effort to shut it down or agree not to log on until I've completed what I need to do.
    29. While I've mastered a few of them, I fail at several of Fly Lady's 11 commandments
    30. I'll continue to work on them. Progress happens over time, not over night.
    31. I am thankful for this journey and know that while I haven't perfected everything in her program, Fly Lady has helped me become that much more of a Well Planned Woman. I encourage you to attempt her challenge if you'd like a better handle on your day!


    Let's Not Cry Over Spilled Milk

    Okay, so you've probably been wondering if I decided to abandon my quest to complete Fly Lady's 31 day beginner baby step challenge. While it's been a full week since my last report and you might have felt like I abandoned you, I have not given up. Day 13 hit and my momentum came to a halt. Perhaps we can chalk it up to the unlucky number 13 or the fact that it was Friday the 13th, but in reality, I was just feeling overwhelmed and Kelly's Missions were the catalyst that propelled me from the wagon. On day 13 we were asked to read and try one of Kelly's Missions. In essence, they're tasks that you'd otherwise save for a bigger "spring cleaning", but it's her approach to tackling these things in small doses throughout the year, so you never have to do "spring cleaning". Great in concept, right? She creates zones and spends one week in a particular zone. Last week (when my assignment was to complete one of her missions) was the kitchen.

    I looked over the various missions for that week and decided I didn't really 'have the time' to remove everything from my counters and clean every square inch, nor did I feel like emptying out the fridge and scrubbing it down, so I opted for sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. I made a mental decision to do it and then...got "lazy". Well, I like to say "tired", but I made a conscious decision to bag it. Well, you know how it snowballs. You miss one task and then you feel like it's holding you back, so I get off track with the days that follow Kelly's Mission. Now, if you're following along on the FlyLady.net site, then you'd probably notice that some of the tasks this week were simple, like reading an essay, testimonial or Fly Lady's eleven commandments. Something you could knock out in two minutes. I managed to get those done, but day 13 still lingered over me...until day 17, when the decision to complete it was made for me.

    I made the brilliant choice to follow the suggestion of a parenting magazine to give my nearly 4 year old a glass of milk at dinner time. This was an effort to make him feel like a big boy and to suggest to him that "I trust you to be careful." Needless to say, I spent the next hour on my knees cleaning up shards of glass and wiping down milk laden furniture and walls. I have a breakfast nook that's a separate room, but closely attached to my kitchen that this happened in. Since I had to pull out the vacuum and mop to clean up my son's mess, I continued on into the kitchen and finally accomplished one of Kelly's Missions. Check.

    Ironically, that days task was to pick a bedtime and stick to it. I could have gone to bed at a reasonable hour but I had two more lessons to complete for the next night's bible study (my fault, again, for falling behind). I'm just not the kind of person to show up without having done what's expected of me in exchange for some shut eye, it was nearly 11:30 when I went to bed. While it's written on my 'bed time routine', I have yet to complete that task. Another reason for my lack of postings this week. I could just hear Fly Lady whispering..."Go to bed! Your body needs rest!" I just need a few more hours in the day and we'll be all set. I'm starting to think that while Fly Lady has some awesome ideas and tips on maintaining your home, I doubt she did it with two young children. Or am I just making excuses?...I'll revisit that question at the end of the month.

    I have been able to complete most of the morning and bedtime routines, but not always immediately every morning. Sometimes it's nearly lunch by the time I get to my 15 minutes of decluttering or my 5 minute room rescue. But I'm okay with that since I'm still making the effort and getting it done. I successfully added making my bed upon waking up to my morning routine as requested on day 15. When I am running late and think I don't have time, I say to myself that it literally takes less than a minutee  to do, and then do it. So far so good on that one.

    So, to end on a good note, while Kelly's Missions derailed me for a few days, I'm happy to be back on track. Only ten more days to go. Tomorrow we tackle laundry. Oh heaven help me. If you've been attempting this baby step challenge at home and you're at any point in the journey, let us know about your progress and/or setbacks. For me, while it may not be a perfect journey, I'll be that much more on my way to becoming a well planned woman because of it.


    Days Eleven & Twelve: Easy Breezy

    The last two days of tasks on the beginner baby step challenge were quick and easy: add an inspirational page to your control journal and delete all emails from Fly Lady.

    We were asked to spend 15 minutes and write down quotes or phrases that inspire us and add that page to our control journal. She gave us some of her favorites and I added one of my own. No, I didn't have a few memorized. I did a search online for quotes and grabbed those that spoke to me.

    Fly Lady's Faves:
    • You can do anything in 15 minutes
    • Housework incorrectly done still blesses your family
    • You can't organize clutter, you can only get rid of it
    I added:
    • The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own home. (Harold B. Lee)
    • If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your house that you know not to be useful or beautiful. (William Morris)
    I really liked the first one because it reminds me of those days that I become disenchanted with being a stay-at-home mom. Those days that my daughter is extra needy and I just need a moment to myself. Or those days that I can't play one more game of Transformers. This work, while unglamorous, is the most important work I will ever do. Teaching them manners and values. Making a home for my family that is a welcome retreat from the world around us is just as important. And that, my friends, is one of the main goals of Becoming a Well Planned Woman.

    Day 12's task was to simply delete all emails received from Fly Lady (you would need to have signed up for them on her site to get them.) They will all come around again. Delete. Done. I wish I could do that with all the other emails in my inbox. I think I'll add that to one of my 15 minute decluttering tasks. Declutter my inbox. I'm embarrassed to even say how many I have living in there.


    Streamline Your Closet

    It's almost Thanksgiving and that means that we're not to far away from putting our Fall wardobe away and pulling out the chunky sweaters for winter. It's the perfect time to start streamlining our closet so when that time comes to put Fall clothes away, you're only putting items away that you'll want to wear next Fall.  
    As a general rule of thumb, we wear a very small percentage of the clothes we have in our closets. Some people put the figure as low as 20%. Take 15 minutes to go through your closet and ask yourself, "When did I last wear this?" If you haven't worn them in the last 12 months, then it's likely not something you'll wear in the next 12. (Caveat: if you've been prego and didn't fit into most of your wardrobe for a while, you get a 'by'.)

    If you're not ready for this exercise, take all your hangers and turn them around so the open end is facing you (yes, awkward to remove). Once you wear it, put it back the regular way. This way you know if you've worn it and within 6-12 months, if you haven't turned that hanger back around, chances are you can bless someone else with that piece of clothing who'd get more use out of it than you.



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