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.


    Days Nine & Ten - It's about time!

    Over the last couple of days on our beginner baby step challenge we've learned how to 'declutter a few minutes at a time' and that we 'declutter anything in 15 minutes.'

    Fly Lady's approach to decluttering is that we can tackle it a little bit, consistently over the course of time in small increments. On day nine, we added a 5 minute room rescue to our morning routine. We are to spend just five minutes clearing a path in our worst room. The room you'd never want anyone to see. For me, that's my basement. Albeit a finished basement, it's the landing spot for all things in purgatory, or with no home at all. On an average day I'd have gifts for family members not yet sent, arts and craft supplies I didn't have time to put away, papers I need to "file" or just things that I know I want to keep but I'm just not sure where to put them. And since clutter attracts clutter, it becomes an inferno and somehow multiplies day by day. Occasionally it will get to me enough where I'll spend a good portion of a day trying to make it pretty once again. But in reality, I rarely have that time without a one year old on my hip or getting summoned for a snack. Yesterday, I took Fly Lady's advice and spent just five minutes clearing the path. I used my handy dandy kitchen timer, hit start and began my 5 minute room rescue. I made some serious headway in my basement and almost didn't want to stop after the timer went off (actually I didn't stop right away). Within a few weeks my basement will no longer be my 'dirty little secret', but a place I will be proud to show off.

    Today, we took it a step further and learned about the power of 15. Taking just 15 minutes each day, you can declutter anything. On my list: My pantry. My kids' toyroom. My coat closet. My basement (see paragraph above). She walks us through tips on how to properly declutter. She goes into greater detail but here they are in a nutshell:
    1. Decide when and how often to declutter. Do a small amount over time so you don't burn out.
    2. Have boxes and garbage bags handy, labeled with "Give Away", "Throw Away", and "Put Away".
    3. Set your timer for your predetermined amount of time.
    4. Start at the entrance to the room (or go from top to bottom if decluttering a small space).
    5. Ask yourself if it's useful or beautiful. If not, toss it or donate it.
    6. Toss the garbage immediately. Put the donations in your car immediately. When the Put Away box gets filled, put the items back in their home.
    If you clicked on the link above, you'll see I left out a cheesy song about "let me go, please release me" (as if sung from the clutter's point of view) but if you feel so inclined...

    So in 15 minutes today, I tackled my back entry. I've really been wanting to declutter my pantry, but felt like once I got started I wouldn't want to stop (and well, a girl can only accomplish so much during the little one's nap). Doesn't that defy Fly Lady's rule, though? That anything can be decluttered in 15 minutes? I'll have to bite my tongue and tackle the pantry another day and see if it really can be done.

    Today, I didn't follow the rules exactly. I didn't have the three boxes/bags, but rather just one for donations and did the other two mentally. I figured I'd use most of my 15 minutes finding the boxes and knowing my type A personality, I'd end up wasting time making some pretty signs for them on my computer. Since my purse was in the back entry and it really needed to be decluttered, I spent over half the time going through my purse pulling out old receipts and filing them and making a pile of lipstick, jewelry and other personal items that needed to make their way back up to my bedroom. In 15 minutes I had a clean back entry AND a clean purse. Nice. I'll take it.

    As for the other things I'm supposed to be keeping up with on this journey, I'm doing most of them, although to be honest, can't seem to tackle all of them exactly the way I want to everyday. I've been getting dressed, but not to the shoes. Here's the thing...I need a cute, comfy pair of lace up shoes. Wait. Was I just making an excuse to go shopping? I did, however, find a pair of lace up shoes in my attic that look like the old bowling shoes we used to wear in 1996. I wore them one day. Yeah. With a clean house and sane mind, comes looking like a dork. I'll need to work on that one. If anyone finds any cute lace up shoes for everyday wear - please post about it!!

    I am proud to say my sink shines most of the day now. Yay! (Yes, that was the ex-cheerleader coming out in me.)

    By the way...is anyone out there? Please post a comment here on the blog so I can have some company on this journey. I'm starting to miss you all.


    Days Seven & Eight - One Not So Great

    If you're following along with our Fly Lady Beginner Baby Step challenge day by day, you might have noticed I didn't write a posting last night. Day 7 on our 31 day challenge was to pick out your clothes for the next day. Easy enough, right? Welll, around 9:20pm last night, I went upstairs to tackle my challenge when I saw that my bedroom light was already out and my hubby was fast asleep (he's a hunter and it's hunting season, which means he was up at 4:30am). Needless to say, I didn't feel right about turning on the light and rummaging through my closet to find an outfit for today. So I 'mentally' picked out what I was going to wear, hoping Fly Lady would forgive me. I have, however, already picked out my clothes for tomorrow and they're hanging on my closet door. Although it's hard to explain, I have to say there's a nice feeling about having already made that decision. One less for tomorrow. I'm starting to feel like a well planned woman.

    Today's task was to start the beginnings of our control journal. Simply to get a 3 ring binder and put some paper in it. On one sheet we had to write "Morning Routine" at the top, on the other "Before Bed Routine" and fill in the simple routines we've learned so far in her program. She insists to write in pencil (which I hate) and to not let our perfectionism get in the way (I have a real problem with this). I attempted this challenge several years ago and didn't follow her advice. Of course I drafted a long list of things I thought would make my life easier by implementing them into my morning and bedtime routines. I neatly typed them up, printed them out and placed them in clear plastic sleeves before putting them in my binder. The result? Burnout. I became overwhelmed with all these new routines and gave up. Her process is designed to implement routines slowly so you're more likely to keep with them.

    This time, I followed her recommendations. I took loose leaf paper and used pencil.  Here's what she has us doing and here's where I stand so far...

    Morning Routine
    - Get up and get dressed to lace up shoes; fixing your hair and face - having big challenges getting dressed before having to go downstairs. I end up feeding my daughter her bottle and heading back up to shower/get dressed etc. I am however, getting dressed and ready for my day much earlier than I did before this program. But will have an ultimate goal by end of the month to be dressed to the shoes before my kids get up. Anyone else struggling with this one?
    - Looking at your posted reminders in the kitchen and bathroom- the one above my sink is definitely working. A visual reminder to keep my sink shining (ie. empty of dishes and other crap). The one in my bedroom reminding me to get dressed to the shoes isn't helping much. I don't know if that's because it's not in a noticeable enough place or if it's because I do what I have to do (like feed by daughter), regardless of the reminder. I think it's the later.
    - Reading 2 minutes of reminders - I have been logging on to my email and reading Fly Lady's flight plan (I get the daily digests as getting the emails individually would be annoying to me). I don't read all the testimonials, mostly just the flight plan and anything else that grabs my interest. It's helped in that it inspired me to do a complete meal plan for the upcoming week because it reminded me that the habit of the month is menu planning.
    - Recognizing the negative voices and changing them; YOU ARE FLYing NOW! - I didn't really write this in my routine...it's just in hers. ;-). I haven't needed to pull out by dusty pom poms yet.
    - Put out your Hot Spots for 2 minutes - this goes by quickly and works!

    Before Bed Routine
    - Keep your sink shining - doing well on this. yay!
    - Lay out your clothes for tomorrow - check!
    - Put out your Hot Spots - I'm finding that I leave this until right before I head up to bed and have no mental energy for it and sort of half-ass it. I think I need to move it a bit earlier in the night.

    Thanks for sharing in this journey with me. If nothing else, it's motivating me to keep at it. If Fly Lady and her program have changed the lives of thousands, I'm hopeful she can change mine too. If you're missing my regular posts on tips I've found that save time, money and sanity, don't worry! I'll be aiming to post one per week while I'm tackling the baby step program. Gosh, that sounds like I'm in rehab. Good thing we're all friends. 


    Day Six: Hot Spots!

     Today we learned about hot spots on day six of Fly Lady's Baby Step Program.  A hot spot, is an area, if left unattended, will eventually take over, making the house look awful. When you walk into a room, the hot spot is the first thing you see.  We all have them.  It's where you drop things when you come in the house. It's where you temporarily put things that have no home. In my house it's the back counter in our breakfast nook and the back entry area. The back counter is the drop spot for mail, my son's art projects from school, cell phones, sunglasses, hand lotion...you get the idea. It frequently becomes overflowing with papers (mostly junk mail), catalogs and magazines (that I can't bring my self to toss yet) and other "useful" things we need regularly. The back entry is the drop spot for shopping bags, coats, backpacks, dry cleaning...whatever is in our hands that needs to get unloaded. Sometimes things sit there for days on end. Fly Lady is right: clutter attracts clutter. If the hot spot is cluttered with items, then it's not a big deal to drop one more thing there - you barely notice it. But if it's neat and organized you're less likely to "mess it up".

    So today's task was to practice putting out our hot spots for two minutes. I set the timer and went to work on my back counter (and boy today was a good day to work on hot spots!!). Although I didn't finish, I made some major progress in two minutes. And although it went super fast, it became clear that we can make a difference in just two minutes.

    My sink is shining. See you tomorrow!


    Day Five Love Fest

    Today's task on Fly Lady's Baby Step program was to write down what you hear in your head...that nagging voice that speaks negative thoughts in your head, and turn them around and say something nice to negate those nasty words. I feel like I'm in a psychotherapy session - learning to love myself. Perhaps this is really intended for those stuck deep in the depths of chaos and/or depression. But I bit my tongue and jotted down those negative thoughts that pop into my head. And then I attempted to turn them around. Honestly, I felt like I was just making excuses for myself. But I think the main objective was to not allow these negative thoughts to keep you from moving forward and accomplishing what you set out and need to do. By acknowledging them, we can move beyond them and keep them from creeping into our minds moving forward. Awe. Now a big group hug!

    It also has us "reading reminders for two minutes" again. In yesterday's post, I admitted I didn't know what this referred to, but I contacted FlyLady and got a response within a couple hours. Now that's organized! (Considering their following and the volume of emails they must get). Here was the response...

    Dear Janelle,

    Thank you for your email. We suggest that you read our daily Flight Plan. It has everything you need for that day...However, just read..do not do..we only want you to start to become familiar with the email(s). Then delete the rest of the email..Yes, delete..delete... :-)

    If you have not subscribed to our Big Tent email(s)..the daily Flight Plan is located on the home page under the section..Today, We are in Zone... :-)
    Hope this helps!!!

    Flylady Laura


    Day Four Finished

    Today's task for Fly Lady's Baby Step program was quite easy and I was finally able to tackle one day of my 31 day challenge without too much interference. I set my alarm for 6am thinking it'd be my only way to get showered and 'dressed to the shoes' before my kids got up. But silly me, I forget that my daughter has a supernatural sense of bad timing and just so happened to wake in unison with my alarm clock. However, I was able to bring her into the bathroom with me, plop her on the floor with a basket of her tub toys sitting nearby and get a shower in. I spent most of it peering out to make sure she didn't yank her glasses off her face and start chewing on them (her favorite pastime - we're on our fifth pair for the year so far). The challenging part is what comes after the shower. It's not always terribly difficult to fit in a 5 minute shower. It's the tedious blow drying and flat ironing (yes, I need it) and makeup and the whole process that follows a shower that's the time-eater. So today that part didn't happen. I went downstairs fully clothed (to lace up shoes!) but with wet hair and no makeup. I figured I'd get her bottle in and then mosey back upstairs to finish the process once she had something in her tummy. It seemed to work okay - although it wasn't exactly in line with Fly Lady's process. It was one step better than yesterday!

    So today's task was to simply write down reminders on sticky notes and put them in places that will remind you to do those things. The old me would have kicked into perfectionist mode, pulled out the laptop and spent 15 minutes picking out my favorite font for my homemade reminder notes (you can stop laughing now). But I didn't do that. I grabbed a good 'ol pack of 3M sticky notes and wrote "Get dressed to the shoes" on one and "Keep your sink shiny" on the other. I did take a pair of scissors and cut a wavy border around them to make them feel a little less sticky note-ish and that seemed to appease me. I put the "get dressed to the shoes" sticky on the door jam next to my door so I see it when I'm walking out. I put the "keep your sink shiny" on the frame around my windows above my sink. Done. Now, let's hope they work.

    It also says to "read two minutes of your reminders" on days 3 and 4. Now, what does that mean? It can't possibly mean the two sticky notes we just made - that would be quite repetitive for two full minutes. Perhaps it's the reminders she sends out via email from her site. I'll have to email them and ask. See ya'll tomorrow.


    Day Three Do-Over

    Today was a do-over day. Day three of Fly Lady's Baby Step program was to "do what we have already done". Repeat steps from days one and two: Get up and get dressed to the shoes and keep your sink shining. So, considering yesterday I wasn't able to accomplish the days task first thing in the morning, I was really looking forward to waking up and hitting the ground running today. Until...I woke up and heard my husband on the phone with the car company that was supposed to pick him up and take him to the airport for this business flight, but didn't.  He's stressed that he's going to miss his flight and the next thing I knew I'm swapping my pj's for a pair of sweatpants and sneakers and I'm in the car with the two kids on our way to the airport. Crap. So much for Day Three's Do-Over! I did end up getting dressed for real after I returned from the airport, while I heard my daughter fussing in her crib attempting a morning nap (unsuccessfully).

    I also had to "keep my sink shining" (as I will have to do every day forward until the 31 days is complete). I just read that it said "keep". Oops. I thought I was supposed to do it right before bed. Oh well. Needless to say it didn't shine all day. A few moments ago I realized I still had a couple of sippy cups in the sink and I was soooo tempted to just leave them there for tomorrow. I'm tired. Who would know? But that commitment to following through and documenting it here prevailed. I muscled through two more sippy cups, rinsed it down and dried it out with a dish towel (much to my dismay). And then I turned around and saw one more cup of milk on the counter and a glass of wine I took one sip from and got too tired to drink (gasp-have you ever?!). What the !@#%#$^! So I repeated that step all over again.

    Okay, so what I've learned so far about my life in this process is that I can't count on a whole lot of consistency. Well, at least for now.


    Day Two Down, But Just Barely

    So today's quest on Fly Lady's baby step program was to "get dressed to the shoes". By this she means first thing, before anything else. This includes "fixing your hair and face" as she puts it, and putting on lace-up shoes. The idea behind it is that you act differently when you've got clothes and shoes on. Being a stay-at-home mom, I've had many a day where I'd still be in my pj's at lunchtime (not that I'm proud of it). Getting dressed first thing gets you ready for your day. You start your day off purposeful. Totally agree Fly Lady. So here's how I fared on today's challenge...

    Last night my 18 month old daughter had us up several times throughout the night (which is unfortunately quite typical) so of course I used every last minute she gave me in the morning to sleep. The problem with that is that it pretty much extinguished my chances of getting "dressed to the shoes" first thing this morning. See, little Chloe is pretty high maintenance for her age. As soon as she's up she's ready for her bottle or the sky will start falling. So down the stairs we go. Day two's challenge already on the back burner. Ugh.

    Lucky for me, my dear husband is an early riser and happened to be up, dressed and working from home today. He agreed to postpone his workday just a bit to help with the kids so I could shower and get dressed. And yes, today, I needed a shower. Now, if you work outside the home, then you probably get the luxury of showering and washing your hair every day. (Settle down, I was saying 'luxury' tongue-in-cheek.:-) Please, you working moms out there - tell me your secret to getting this done with young children that seem to need you every waking moment! But for now, I rely heavily on my favorite dry shampoo and quick body showers (quick enough that my daughter doesn't ingest her cute little glasses on her face before I'm done). Let's just see how today's task works out for tomorrow morning when he's in Denver. Hey, I thought these were baby steps!

    I don't really have lace-up shoes (that aren't sneakers - and I wasn't wearing sweats today) so I put on flat knee boots, thinking it was still within the idea of not being easy to kick them off. I typically wear socks or bare feet in the house so my feet were quite tired and not happy by 5pm. I'm thinking I need to figure out a comfortable alternative.

    According to the baby step program, we're supposed to build on each day, so I "shined my sink" before writing this post. I still think it's silly to wipe a sink dry, but did it anyway. Actually, from 'somewhere out there' I got some energy to clean the rest of my kitchen the same way. I began taking off the drip pans on the stove and spraying them with my favorite cleaning spray. Before I knew it, my whole kitchen "shined". And then I sat down and had a beer so I wouldn't have to clean a wine glass and mess up my shiny new sink.


    Day One Down: A Shiny Sink

    So, if you read my previous post about needing an intervention, then you'd know that today I started a personal challenge of completing Fly Lady's Baby Step program to create habits and routines to make my home and life run more smoothly. This 31 day program takes one baby step at a time and builds on each one, day by day, bit by bit.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those cat ladies with years of Smuckers jars packed to the ceiling, or rooms you might find on Clean Sweep. Actually, my home is quite nice and I take pride in it. I'm just a mama looking to feel a little more in control of her home, life and schedule. According to testimonials, Fly Lady has done it for many...so for the next 31 days, I am her student. Anyone care to join me?

    Today's challenge: Shine Your Sink.

    Sounds easy enough, right? Well, Fly Lady has a very specific process for shining your sink, so according to her plan, here's what I had to do...
    • Take all the dishes out of the sink. This was easy. They were already washed, except for two items, which I quickly washed, dried and put away. 
    •  Run some very hot water into the sink. Fill to the rim. Only do one side at a time. Then, pour a cup of household bleach into the hot water. Let it sit for 1 hour. Now, pull the plug with a pair of tongs. If you don't have tongs, then scoop some of the water out of the sink into the other sink and use your hand to pull the plug (wear gloves and don't get the bleach-water on your clothes). Easy enough. I let the bleach water sit while I bathed my son and put him to bed. I'm usually pretty anal about cleaning my kitchen and keep my sink relatively clean on a regular basis, so I didn't think it would make that much of a difference but I swore it looked brighter afterward.
    • Rinse your sink well. Forgot this part. Oops. 

    • Use some cleanser (Comet, Ajax, or Baking Soda) and scrub your sink. Ensure you rinse ALL of the cleanser from the sink. I started with some Bar Keepers Friend, since I had it on hand and she mentioned it worked for many people. I had some silver "scratches" on my white sink that appeared to be from metal pans scraping it or something. It did seem to help. However, as noted in #3 above, I forgot to rinse it well before adding the Bar Keepers Friend. Maybe this is why I was smelling that weird smell. LOL. I then rinsed well and did the same thing with Soft Scrub (with bleach) since that's what I typically use. So far so good.
    • Take a sharp edge and clean around the rim of the sink, just like you would clean dirt out from under your fingernails. Umm...seems I forgot this one too. I guess I should have printed these steps out and read one by one rather than 'memorizing' what to do. But in my defense, I didn't really have a lot of dirt around the rim. (guess I'll make up that part tomorrow).
    •  Clean around the faucets too. You may need an old toothbrush or dental floss. I grabbed a steak knife and used the sharp edges. This really seemed to help with the built up calcium deposits that don't wash away. The rings around the faucet and handles were slightly tinged, so this step made a HUGE difference.
    • Now, get out your window cleaner, I use Windex, and give it a good shine. I rinsed first (making up for previous set-backs) and then used Windex. Gotta admit...it looked nice. Here's before & after pictures. Okay, not a huge difference, but notable if you saw it in person.

    • If you still don't like the way it looks, then you could try some car wax. What? Car wax? Just know in your heart that you have cleaned it very well now and it doesn't have to be perfect. Thanks Fly Lady, I'm all good.
    • Every time you run water in your sink, take your clean dishtowel and dry it out (I lay out a clean one, every night with my before bedtime routine). How realistic is this, really? I feel like I'm running water in the sink several times an hour. It's one thing to be clean, but to be dry too? Sounds like a big time waster to me, but I'll be a good student for now...perhaps there's more to it than I realize.  
    She goes on to say that the dish drying rack should go under the sink when you're finished with it (implying that dishes should be washed, dried and put away all in the same day...uh, I mean moment) and the drying rack need not be a repository for dishes. Heck, I'm lucky to get them washed with my schedule and two young children. This should be an interesting adventure.


    Taking Baby Steps Toward Sanity

    As you can tell from the lack of posts lately, my time to write has been limited. Or perhaps it's just my energy since I feel like 99.9% of my daily tasks involve taking care of everyone else. Most days I feel lucky to squeeze a shower in edgewise. So, this Well Planned Woman In Progress needs an intervention. And I know the perfect person for the job. FlyLady!

    FlyLady's program for creating routines and combating CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) has been proven to change many people's lives. I've been a fan of FlyLady for nearly 7 years...as well as a FlyBaby on and off for years, implementing some of her strategies for organizing and maintaining a well-run home here and there. But with the craziness that the upcoming holidays brings, I can just tell it's time for more serious action.

    She has a baby step program (for...FlyBabies) that has you doing one baby step at a time over the course of 31 days. It has you building upon the previous days task to create routines in your life (that are proven to help your sanity!) I recently saw the movie Julie & Julia at the theater and thought how perfect that someone would give themselves a challenge and write about it on their blog daily. Now, my challenge is only 31 days, not 365, but nonetheless by committing to it here on my blog to my readers, I am now accountable. It's funny how sometimes we just need someone else to know we're doing something to feel an bigger sense of commitment. And seeing that tomorrow is the first day of November, I figured it's the perfect time to start day one of her baby step program.

    So who wants to join me on this journey for the month of November? Check out her baby step program here and if you feel up for the challenge, post a comment and we'll motivate each other as we become more organized and less overwhelmed.


    Grab & Go Snacks

    I don't know many people with too much time on their hands, which means most of us are busy women. I regularly find myself frantically putting together a snack for the kids before running out the door. I'd open my pantry door and wonder what to grab - many times I'd grab something way too messy for a car ride, or something not as nutritious as I'd like, but it's quick and easy. Or I'd just grab the whole bag of Pirates Booty because I didn't have time to find the lid for the snack trap and I was already running late (a condition of having children I've learned). I don't know about you, but giving a big bag of booty to my three year old son won't have a happy ending (ooh, that didn't sound too good). Seriously, he'd stuff his face with as many as he could before I reached the next light to grab it away and when I did, he's fuss that he wasn't done. On top of it, he'd probably accidentally tip the bag (or I would as I snatched it away) and litter the car floor with delectable cheese puffs.

    I've figured out a solution for my madness. By creating a bunch of pre-packaged snacks, they're ready to go when we are. And, my son can go grab his own snack (with permission) because they're accessible.
    They're also portion-controlled and are a snack of choice rather than some cookies that were the closest to the pantry door.

    Here's what I did...
    I bought a pack of the snack sized zip lock bags and made a list of healthy (or mostly healthy) snacks for my kids. Pretzels, Pirates Booty, graham cracker sticks, trail mix, dried fruit, veggie chips, etc. Then I grabbed a 1/4 cup measuring cup and began measuring one portion of each for each bag. I sealed them up and put them in a wire bin just inside my pantry so my kids could access them (a drawer would have been ideal, but they are limited in my kitchen). You could also pre-package bags of grapes, little carrots or cut up veggies and keep them in your crisper ready to go. It's nice because it give the kids choice, and you know how they love to feel in charge!

    Now when I'm running out of the house I grab a couple of pre-made snacks and I'm out the door. The snack sized bags are great because they appear full (vs. filling a sandwich baggie 1/4 full) and if they do get dumped, it's not the whole bag on my car floor. I also keep a few extras in my car console for when I'm running later than expected and the kids are complaining of being hungry (or my tummy tells me that I am). I try to keep a couple small water bottles or juice boxes in there too. When push comes to shove, they don't care if they're chilled or not. And now that the cold weather is coming...that won't be an issue.

    Just one more baby step to becoming a well planned woman...


    So there are people out there reading...

    As a novice blogger, you sometimes wonder if there's anyone out there in the abyss reading your posts. It's so much easier and motivating to keep writing if you know there are people out there that enjoy reading your posts and that your thoughts somehow have a positive impact in their life (or at least put a smile on their face). I received the message below from a reader that I knew from my college days. Not only did I not realize she was reading my blog - it was just boost I needed to keep posting.
    Hello Janelle! I am so happy to have you as a friend on Facebook, not only because I am nosy about what everyone is doing in life.. but because I LOVE reading your well planned women posts. But the journalist in me wants to know, do you do this just for kicks or for a job? You're so good at it I'm sure you can find a website/magazine that will pay for your editorials.. Anyways, it may sound crazy but I look forward to seeing your new notes. I may be an "older" woman with just one kid that's older your than your 2, but I always feel like I learn something new and at least it helps preserve my sanity! It's good to know that I'm not the only one who has a coupon for the Children's Place but left it at home and stand at the register wondering if I should buy those pj's or wait when I go back to the mall, then my thoughts shift to.. can i really drag my whining 6 year old back to the mall again in the next week? Anyways, I thought you'd like the feedback. Thanks for the advice.  - Kelly from Florida

    Kelly, thanks for brightening my day. And no, I don't get paid for what I do (for now) - although someday it would be nice to add to my shoe fund by writing about things that interest me. For now, I'm on to concept my next post.


    Making Time for Things that Matter Most

    I've been struggling lately with the overwhelming guilt that comes along with being a good stay-at-home mom and the pressure (self-induced, of course) of keeping a perfect home. While one might assume the guilt is usually with working moms, let me assure you we have it too. I'm constantly finding myself telling my son that I'll play transformers or monster trucks with him after I get the dishes done, or after mommy gets dinner prepped. But the reality is, I've ALWAYS got something to do around the house.

    Embarrassingly enough, I remember asking my best friend what she did all day when she was a new stay-at-home mom and I was still childless and in the workforce.(gasp! Sorry Kim!) First, I can't believe I was actually ignorant enough at one point to say that, and second, now I know how stay-at-home moms are pulled in so many directions. But occassionally I need to remind myself that my "job" is my children. To love them and challenge them and teach them the oh so many things that they need to know in order to be respectful, well-rounded and loving adults. It's quite easy to get caught up in the day to day "chores" of life that need tending to and push off just a few moments longer that request to play with them, while the pile of clean, yet unfolded laundry stares you in the face.

    So, in my attempt to battle this guilt and take one more step in becoming a well planned woman, I've made mommy play dates on my calendar. Not with other kids, not with other mommies. Just me and my kids. I'm setting aside time every day to do things I know my kids love to do with me. I asked my three (almost four) year old son (my daughter can't yet talk now, but she'll have her turn too) what his favorite things to do with mommy were. We came up with a list of something to do every day that will put a smile on both of our faces. His because he's got my 100% attention and we're doing something he loves and mine because I feel good about focusing on him and making him happy while doing it. This picture is my son having a blast painting about a month ago. Now I'll get to see this big painty-face grin every week.  The iPhone (and addicting instant access to email) is away. The computer is away. The To Do list is away. Magazines or anything else that distracts me is away. Game on.

    Here's what we came up with...
    • Monday: Playdough Playdate
    • Tuesday: Pretend Play Playdate (usually Transformers)
    • Wednesday: Painting Playdate
    • Thursday: Glue crafts & Cutting Playdate
    • Friday: Puzzles Playdate
    Each day our schedule forces us to do these at different times, but typically it's in the afternoon while my daughter naps. Soon enough, she'll be joining us; but for now she'd just eat the playdough, paints, paper, puzzle pieces, etc. While she can't do what her big brother does, I have also been trying to consciously spend more one-on-one time with her to teach her all those things I had unlimited time to teach my son at her age as an only child.

    I'm sure many of you working women can relate to this too - you have your own struggles, some of which are very similar to many of us SAHM's. I'd love to hear from some of you working moms to let us know what you struggle with and any tips you've discovered that help you along. We can all learn from each other. If you can relate to any of this, give these mommy play dates a try or post a message so we know we're not alone on this journey.


    Is that still tasty?

    For all of you who share my fear of what happens to food that's been eaten past its prime, I came across a very cool website I had to share. Ever wonder how long that package of shredded cheddar cheese stays safely edible in the fridge once its been opened? Did you know that the bottle of opened capers you have in the depths of your refrigerator is still good for up to a year? These are just a couple of helpful tips you can find at www.stilltasty.com; your ultimate shelf life guide.

    I'm so paranoid about eating food beyond it's shelf life that I use a sharpie to mark it with the date I open it. Seriously. I keep one in the drawer next to my fridge. How many times do we wonder how long that pasta sauce has been sitting in the back of the fridge and we open it to see if there's any mold growing on it? Well, dear, if you checked www.stilltasty.com you'll realize that if you opened it more than 10 days ago, you can toss it, or chance tossing your cookies.

    StillTasty.com also has some cool topics of discussion they appropriately call "shelf talk". You'll learn things like how to decipher the difference between sell by, use by and best before dates and if you must eat the chicken the same day you defrosted it or if you can save it for another night if your dinner plans change. The answer in case you're wondering - it depends on how you defrosted it. :-)

    And for me, well, I'm off to toss all those dried spices I've had since my wedding; since they're only fresh for up to three years and I'm about to celebrate my seventh anniversary. Ciao!


    One step closer to making meal planning easier.

    A few years back I read an article in Real Simple magazine about taking all your favorite recipes and creating a recipe binder so everything would be in one place. It was the ultimate 'aha' moment for me. I loved it and immediately started my recipe binder project. Over the years, I've added many recipes so the binder was quite large and unwieldy. I also got lazy and didn't put them in the clear sleeves and just stuck them in the front, which made it difficult to find what I was looking for. It just wasn't serving the purpose any longer. I needed an intervention.

    I recently finished transferring all the recipes into smaller, more manageable binders that sorts the recipes based on main ingredient (chicken, beef, seafood, pasta, etc.) and I feel so much more organized. Here's how I did it...

    What I bought...
    • Four cheapie 1 1/2" binders from Staples ($.79/ea)
    • A box of 100 clear sleeves (3-hole punched) ($12)
    • A four-pack of dividers (5-tab), one set for each binder ($5)
    What I had...
    • Shipping labels
    I started by brainstorming the types of food my families eat the most and left more room for more recipes in those binders. We eat a lot of chicken, so I knew I'd need a good amount of space for those recipes. I logically made groupings of what I thought I'd use together, where it made sense to do so. I made the following tabs into four binders...

    1. Breakfast, Appetizers, Desserts, Breads
    2. Salads, Soups, Lunches, Kid-Friendly, Snacks
    3. Chicken, Seafood, Pasta
    4. Beef, Pork, Quick Favorites, Vegetables, Side Dishes
    There was a method to my madness in putting certain recipes in the same binder, but you need to do what works for you and your family. For example, I put vegetables and side dishes in the same binders as quick favorites so I wouldn't need to pull out two binders as frequently (although they are slim).

    I used existing printing labels to print labels for each binder (as you can tell from the pictures - a bit of cut & pasting). It was important I could see what categories where in which binder from the spine. You could also use binders with customizable spines, but I didn't want the spend $5 a piece on them when I could make pretty versions of them at home.

    Then I began transferring all my recipes from my overflowing, unorganized recipe binder into the corresponding section. It took me about an hour. If you don't have existing recipes printed out already, then just start from scratch. If you come across recipes in a magazine, tear it out (or print out from my personal fave - the online collection at www.allrecipes.com) and plop it in the clear sleeve in the proper section in your binder. After a short while, you'll have an organized collection of go-to recipes for under $25 when you're wondering...What's for dinner?

    Be sure to pull a recipe from your collection if you try it out and it doesn't make your repeat list. This will keep your collection manageable moving forward.


    Attn: Mommies! A Fabulous New Behavior Chart for Kids

    As the mom of a three year old, I'm constantly challenged with how to make sure I raise a child that has good behavior on a regular basis and understands that rewards are earned, not expected. I've done sticker charts in the past with decent success, however, I always provided stickers every time he said please or thank you or went potty on his own (they learn very early how to manipulate the system). I found that we'd be traveling to Target for the newest Transformer far too often.

    I'd like to think that at some point I'll be able to transition from rewarding my child for good behavior to just expecting it without reward (well, maybe just a hug or a pat on the back), but for now I was trilled to find this new online kids chart that encourages good behavior with a fabulous graphic interface, customizable chores or behaviors and a "moolah piggy bank" account where they can take a debit from points earned and put them toward a reward that you customize (thus teaching the concept of money). It allows you to provide a "moolah point" for each item each day (not 12 in one day for saying please 12 times!) and keeps track of it throughout the week. This encourages that behavior throughout the day in order to get the point. I think this concept is pretty cool and while teaching a child responsibility is a long process, this is a good start.

    One might say it's tough to use an online chart with a young child, and we'll see, but I have a feeling it will be a treat to my son at the end of the day for the two of us to jump on Mommy's laptop, pull up his chart and give him kudos for all his hard work throughout the day. If not, the chart is always printable.

    Check out the beta site at http://www.goalforit.com/landing/chore-charts.html. They also have a section for setting, tracking and motivating for regular adult goals, which I plan on checking out and writing about if post-worthy. But for now I had to get the word out about this great kids chart. Oh, and the best part...it's FREE!

    Let me know what you think and if you have any success with it (or any other similar chart/program) by posting a comment!


    Stay Focused with a Daily Plan

    Most people that would be reading my blog would likely be those that also write lists and strive to be more organized in their daily life, so I'm hopeful this post will have some major impact on the sanity-level you currently possess. I'm a list-maker by nature (as I've mentioned in previous posts) but nothing is worse than having a million sticky notes of things you need to do, trying to remember who you need to call, which errands you need to run and what time that doctor's appointment is. I use a family calendar, but it lacks the space for everything I need on a daily basis.

    I used to live by my day-planner (back in 1996) but have made several evolutions since then. It too never seemed to have space for everything I needed to remember. Last night, I created a Daily Plan Document to keep be from being too scatter-brained.

    Here's what I came up with:

    On one side...
    • I've got the hours of the day from 6am until 10pm and a space to jot appointments or reminders. I'll put in things such as babysitters arrival time, time to leave the house for swim lessons or the typical doctors appointments or Gymboree Classes. I've also listed reminders of when to do things. If I don't make those meatballs before my one year old wakes up from her nap, well, I can forget the meal plan for that night! If you're a woman working outside the home, by all means you can list important meetings, workouts, grocery shopping, etc.
    On the other...
    • I listed meals for the day. What's worse than wondering at 5pm what's for dinner and everything is frozen?!. You may snicker at this now, but knowing in advance what you're feeding yourself or your family will save you time, money and your sanity. (More on this passionate topic soon!)
    • To Do List. These are things you can do without having to leave your home (or office). Create birthday party guest list, return pending emails, balance checkbook, upload pictures, etc. You may choose to incorporate housework that needs to get done for the day. In my case, if it's written down, I'm much more likely to do it.
    • People (or Businesses) to Call. There is always someone to call in a given day, usually a half-dozen or so, whether it be returning mom's phone call, calling a medical center to get clarity on a bill or the salon to schedule that much-needed appointment. Having all the phone numbers listed right there is helpful too - to prevent the "oh, I don't have the number handy, I'll just call later" excuse.
    • Errands to run. These are To Do items outside the home. Shopping for a birthday gift, grocery shopping, dropping off clothing donations to Good Will, etc.
    • Websites to visit. I added this section last minute after thinking that nearly everyday I say to myself, "I'll need to look that up online tonight." Weather it be checking the yoga schedule online or finding new Halloween costume ideas for the little guys - there's usually somewhere on the world wide web you need to go (i.e. "Check out Well Planned Woman Blog today ;-)
    Here's my 1st attempt at getting closer to becoming a Well Planned Woman. It's nothing fancy, but does the trick.

    By keeping it stored in my computer, I'm able to change the date on the file and easily transfer any items that didn't get done (there are always some, right?) to the next day's Daily Plan. I can also use it as reference if I ever wonder when I made that call to Verizon or how long those meatballs have been sitting in the fridge. (We've all wondered that, haven't we?). Of course, you could also print out a week or two's worth of blank pages at once and fill them in the old fashioned way.

    By doing a brain-dump every evening before bed, I can remind myself of daily commitments and appointments, things that need to get done and what's on the menu for dinner the following night. I simply print it out and I reference it throughout the day. Today, I folded it up and brought it with me to Whole Foods to make sure I got everything on my list. By the end of the day today, it was pretty tattered (I like to cross things off my list - it makes me feel good), but I can always reference the electronic copy if I feel so compelled. Thanks to my handy Daily Plan... today, I felt totally spot-on and am looking forward to tomorrow already.

    If you'd like a copy of my Daily Plan template (created in Excel), click here. If you'd like to share this with your readers on your blog, please link to this posting. Thanks!


    15 Minutes is All It Takes

    When I look at the mound of laundry that needs to be folded or the sink full of dinner dishes, I try to remind myself that it never takes as long as I think it will in my head. See, I think we convince ourselves that those things we don't WANT to do, take too long and we don't have time at the moment to do them. So we tell ourselves we'll do it later, when we have more time. That's when things start to build up and chaos takes over.

    One of my favorite websites, FlyLady.com, reminds us that if we limit ourselves to 15 minute increments, we don't get overwhelmed by the work. Many times, whatever needs to get done takes less than 15 minutes to do (such as folding a basket of laundry or rinsing the dishes and tossing them in the dishwasher or even analyzing that data your boss has been asking for). Set a timer and go...for 15 minutes. That's it. You'll see that most things you've been procrastinating on take less than that. If you've let things go for some time, take 15 minute baby steps to getting back on track...you'll be 15 minutes closer to having it finished. If the timer goes off and you're compelled to do another 15, great, but remember the idea is to make some progress...and to teach yourself that most things don't take as long as we think they will in our head.

    See, and I'm done with this post in 9 and have 6 more minutes to clean off my desk!


    From "To-Do" to "Got-Done"

    In a society of constant multi-tasking, it's no wonder we're always thinking of new things to add to our To-Do List. (Case in point...I'm writing this as I sit in the bathroom watching my son play in the bathtub). Perhaps I am one of those people who thinks they've always got to be productive and feels a slight tinge of guilt when relaxing and enjoying a sinful tabloid. But, hey, those are my issues to deal with. (Note to self: add therapist session to To-Do List :-)

    To Do Lists keep me on track. They help me remember what needs to get done in short order or over the course of a week or month. I for one, keep one in my head (which isn't the most reliable) and at least two written ones (one for today's tasks and one for more long-term items). But these To Do Lists somehow never seem to end. They've got this cumulative affect...one thing reminds you of the next and rarely do you ever "finish" everything on your list. How do we ever feel productive and satisfied with our efforts if we're constantly beating ourselves up over things we still need to do? Talk about feelings of inadequacy.

    Perhaps it's the nature of us overachieving Americans, but why do we focus so much on what needs to get done, instead of applauding our efforts for all that we have done? Of course To Do Lists will always keep us in line, but at the end of every day take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back for things you did get done. Humor me, and actually write them down. You'll be surprised how much you actually did do. If you're so inclined, start a daily success journal to document your accomplishments, especially if you're working on a special project that you need that extra motivation to keep things moving.

    While I didn't cross off everything on my To Do List today, I learned that I actually accomplished more "tasks" than I even had on my list; things that get overlooked everyday. Now that's what I call productive!


    Missed Savings

    If you're a shopper (and most of us women are), then you light up just like I do when a coupon for one of my favorite stores arrives in the mail (or email). You know, the 30% off Friends & Family sale at Gap, or the Bloomingdales Insider Coupons for an additional 25% off anything in the store or the infamous 20% Bed, Bath & Beyond Coupons... With the recent nose-dive in the economy, we can all use a little money back in our pockets so coupons are a good thing, right?

    About 6 months ago I found myself at a children's shop buying a gift for my friends' new baby. I was excited to have finally gotten there and to check that item off my To Do List, but then it hit me...I had a major coupon I could use...but I didn't have it on me...and I couldn't guess where it would be at home. So I ended up buying the items anyway (knowing it might be a while before I could get back!) and missed that opportunity for savings.

    The challenge for me (or for others I presume) is keeping track of those coupons and remembering when they start and when they expire. That together. with coordinating a trip to the store with my two young kids and I'm lucky they ever get used. But I've figured out a plan. It has started to work for me; perhaps it will work for you too.

    1. Keep all retail coupons in one location. I use my Jane Marvel zip pouches for these too, mentioned in a previous posting on packing, since they're cute, flat, water-resistant (remember I have two toddlers) and they zip closed. However, you could keep them in something as simple as a quart zip lock bag. When a coupon arrives in the mail (or email) that I think I may want to take advantage of I pop it into my zip pouch. This way, I always know where to find them. Challenge 1: Can't find the coupon when you need it... solved.
    2. Keep your bag of coupons on you at all times. I toss mine in my handbag so it comes in the house with me (and I can put new coupons in as they arrive) and leaves the house with me when I head out. You never know when you'll be popping in a favorite store and you'd hate to have to make a decision between not buying what you want (or need) while you're there and have it in your hand or buying it at full price, knowing you have a coupon sitting somewhere at home (gasp!). Challenge 2: Don't have your coupons on you when you need them... solved.
    3. Make note of the expiration date on your personal calendar. I have a family calendar in my kitchen, but prefer to put the date in my iPhone calendar so a reminder pops up a couple days in advance and says "Gap 30% coupon ends Sunday!" For some, seeing it visually written down on a paper calendar is better, however, I like my handy iPhone reminders. Besides, if my husband saw all these store coupons written on our family calendar (that I may or may not use) he'd think I was shopping way too much. Challenge 3: Missed the window to shop before coupon expired...solved.
    For those of you who still have the freedom to shop on a whim without chasing down a toddler, God Bless You. But for many of us moms, we'd rather walk on hot coals than brave the mall for more than 15 minutes with our beloved offspring. So for the last challenge, I'd suggest either getting Daddy (or Grandma) to take over for a few hours one weekend or suck it up and hire a sitter for a few hours and assume the savings from all your coupon shopping will be just a little bit less (but remember you'll gain your sanity!). Either way, you'll have all your favorite coupons on hand and you'll be one step closer to becoming a Well Planned Woman.


    Touch It Only Once

    Back in my days working in corporate America, I worked with a woman that taught me a valuable lesson. I was responsible for executing marketing materials and she managed the product itself, so I needed her feedback on what my team produced. On many occasions she'd send me feedback within minutes of sending the original email and attachments, when her deadline wasn't for several days or more. Finally I asked her..."How do you do it? You're so on top of everything, getting me feedback before I even need it and yet I have emails from last week I'm trying to follow up on."

    Her answer became a mantra I try to live by. "I touch something only once." That very day I printed out my new mantra and taped to to my computer (I know, what a geek) to remind me not to "do it later" but to be done with it and "touch it only once." I would wait to check my email until I had the time to take action and respond. It's amazing how in control I felt. It was a mental state that created this energy to just get things done.

    When you read something (or open something in the mail, for that matter) and decide to set it aside and deal with it later, many times it gets forgotten about and other matters take priority. So, while I'm no longer in corporate America, that mantra still helps me stay in control at home. We all know how mail can take over your counter, desk etc. I'm one of the worst offenders when I'm rushed. Now, I try not to even GET the mail out of the mailbox until I have the time to sit down, go through it and act on everything that needs action (including dumping it in the circular file). Just another small step toward becoming a Well Planned Woman.

    Note: Any great tips to share that save your sanity? Please visit my blog at www.wellplannedwoman.blogspot.com and post your comments so we can all learn from each other!


    What Color Was That Again?

    I recently had a friend ask me the name of the color I used in my son's room. I painted it nearly 2 years ago and I couldn't recall it off the top of my head. What was that color again?

    When my husband and I purchased and moved into our first home, we were fortunate enough to have a courteous seller who documented every color on every wall, trim and fixture throughout the house. Every time we needed to freshen the paint, we'd find that handy-dandy paper with all the colors and finishes so we were sure to make an exact match.

    It taught me early on to start writing down colors I choose throughout my home; if not for our convenience, then to pay it forward for the next owner of our lovely home. Shortly after we painted the exterior, several people rang our bell to stop and ask the color we chose and I was able to recite it without hesitation (it's not uncommon to go 'color-shopping' in our neck of the woods).

    Now, every time we paint a room I'm sure to jot it down in the "house colors" file on my computer. Lucky for my friend, I've taken some more steps toward becoming Well Planned Woman and I can tell her the color she's looking for is Shaker Beige, #HC-45 by Benjamin Moore.



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