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May 13, 2021

High School Confidential

Istock_000005085148xsmall I thought I was the only mom on the planet who ever feels that motherhood is a lot like high school. Turns out I'm not alone.

My buddy Cynthia over at Sugar Mama says the only difference is that now you can't run to your room after school on particularly bad days. "You have to live in your own mistakes, fears, bad haircuts, every second of every day and learn to love it," she adds.

Humor definitely helps — and Sugar Mama has that in spades. And some days, you receive support from someone out of the blue that means so much. Click on the link above to hear the rest of the story.

May 09, 2021

Cast Away the Clutter!

I love my husband dearly, but I have to admit that we have certain subjects where we don’t see eye to eye. The storage room off the garage, for example. I’ve (almost) stopped nagging him about the fact that it should be condemned and I’ve (almost) resigned myself to just not opening the door.

I want to take an entire Saturday and tackle this monster. Randy takes one look and wants to immediately grab the T.V. remote. But there’s middle ground here — and hope — according to the organizing experts I consulted. Like the old advice about eating an elephant, you just have to do these things one bite at a time.

Start with small, well-defined tasks and don’t get sidetracked, suggests Kim Taylor, owner of The 25th Hour in Manhattan Beach, California. If it's a closet, just organize the closet, not the entire room. If it's catching up on phone calls, make them all at once — and don’t start filing recipes or rearranging furniture half-way through the task. (OK, so Randy and I can start by clearing the old paint cans out of the metal cabinet in the storage room and taking them to the hazardous-waste drop-off station. Baby steps…)

Here are some terrific resources to help us tackle that stack of mail on the dining-room table, that pile of outgrown clothes in our kids’ closets — and even a storage room filled with who-the-heck-knows-what:

°    At flylady.net, professional organizer Marla Cilley knows what it’s like to suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). She’ll take you —  with her own brand of homespun humor — through the process of organizing and cleaning your home. She also has some fun organizing tools, including her book, Sink Reflections (Bantam; $14.95 plus shipping), available on her site.

°    Visit getorganizednow.com for great tips and to subscribe to professional organizer Maria Gracia’s free e-mail newsletter. (I save her newsletters in an e-mail folder for quick reference. Her holiday tips alone will make your life easier.) Gracia’s monthly checklists will help you stay on top of seasonal tasks around the house, such as putting up storm windows, cleaning gutters and getting the family car ready for hot- or cold-weather driving. Her book, Finally Organized, Finally Free For The Home, is available in print ($24.95 + shipping) or in a digital PDF version ($19.95) at the website.

°    The National Association of Professional Organizers can help you locate an organizer in your area. Just enter your ZIP code here.

Check out these other great tips from Gracia, Cilley, Taylor and Jeannie VandeWeg, a professional organizer and owner of All Squared Away Organizing in Sebastopol, California:

°    Stop keeping things “just in case.” Do you really need all those hair clips and those old issues of Newsweek? With the exception of certain seasonal or formal clothing, seasonal sports equipment, etc., if you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it.   

°    Double up. Double-hanging closet rods quickly expand the available space for young children’s smaller clothes — and make them more reachable. Add hanging baskets and boxes for socks, hair accessories, etc. Clear, plastic hanging shoe holders are great for holding accessories.

°    Grab your label maker. Large plastic containers with multiple pull-out drawers are inexpensive and great for storing loads of small toys and doo-dads. For younger kids, attach photos of dolls, Legos, etc. to the drawers to show where items belong.

°    Create a “wall-of-fame” bulletin board for kids’ artwork and stories. Every week, add new artwork and store favorite older pieces in a notebook with sheet protectors. Send the rest to family and friends. Kids can help address the envelopes. A fun added touch: Current offers kid-friendly address labels at great prices: www.currentlabels.com.

°    Designate a “morning-launch-pad” spot. Here’s where everyone places backpacks, keys, cell phones, DVDs to be returned, gym bag, outgoing mail, etc. It can be a large basket by the front door, a bench with a cubbyhole for each family member, etc.

°    Create an emergency station. The utility closet is a great place to store flashlights, candles, matches, batteries and a fire extinguisher. Keep the smaller supplies in a covered box and mount the fire extinguisher on the wall.

°    Too many toys? At the start of each new season, rotate younger children’s toys to keep them fresh and interesting. Donate gently used clothes and toys to a donation center or children’s shelter. Let your child help choose the items and help deliver them.

°    Create “kid-paper central.” Purchase a magnetic, vertical file holder with a section for each child. Attach it to the fridge and remind kids to put all school papers in their file each day. If space permits, different-colored 9-x-12-inch “in” baskets on the kitchen counter work well, too. In the summer, use the files for notices from camp, swim team or other kids’ programs.

°    Make bathroom sharing easier. Assign a favorite color for each child, and use colored baskets to separate combs, brushes, etc. This system works with everything from toothbrushes to towels.

°    Reduce morning bathroom traffic. Stagger wake-up and/or shower times and set up a separate area (with a small vanity table, mirror, etc.) in the bedroom for styling hair and applying make-up.

°    Color-code the family calendar. Choose a calendar with big squares and place it in a busy family area, like the kitchen. Attach different-colored pens (one color for each family member) with string or dental floss. Each person can see their activities at a glance — and the family carpool organizer can see what each day’s schedule holds.

°    Save the date. Stash birthday-party invitations, tickets for the school play and other date-related items in a tickler file by date or in a wall calendar containing a pocket for each month.

°    Switch to online bill paying. Many banks now offer this service at no extra charge. You’ll save time, postage and headaches. And at tax time, you can print out a record of all deductible expenses. (We’ve been doing this for two years now, and I’ll never go back!)

°    Purge old files. Sorting through just 10 files per day makes this task manageable. Shred and recycle unneeded items. And don’t forget computer files. Just 15 minutes spent purging old computer files frees up valuable hard-drive space.

°    Invite the “house fairy” into your home. This most-welcome guest leaves little thank-you notes for kids for a job well done and leaves behind everything from stickers or small treats (for younger kids) to notes telling older kids they’ve earned a movie rental or a music download. (Spouses like to be visited by the house fairy, too...)

°    Create family rewards. After spending the afternoon cleaning the garage, organizing closets or collecting toys for donation, your team deserves a reward. Take everyone for ice cream or rent a movie and snuggle on the couch. Don’t forget the popcorn!

May 06, 2021

How Many Balls Are You Juggling?

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., author of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!, tells a wonderful story, over on his website, Crazy Busy Life, that every parent can appreciate:

"I once interviewed a professional juggler. He told me the greatest number of balls he could juggle was six. The greatest anyone had ever juggled, as far as he knew, was eleven... I asked him if he was working to get to seven balls. He told me he was not because in order to get to seven he would have to give up several hours a day for at least six months, and he didn't have time to spare to do that. 'I'm very good,' he told me. 'I put on a great show with six. No one has ever come up to me and told me they wish I had done seven. I can work many variations with six and make people's jaws drop. Six is enough. I don't need more.'

Hallowell then asks us to consider: "Are you juggling more balls than you NEED to juggle? What do you give up if you are?"

That's a tough one. I love my family. I love my job. I love volunteering at my church and my son's school. What tends to get lost in the shuffle are things like exercise, getting my hair trimmed, shaving my legs — you know, basic physical maintenance. Not good!

So this week I plan to visit the dentist, shave those hairy legs, and get on the treadmill (an actual treadmill, not the treadmill that is sometimes my life!) for some cardio work. (Maybe I'll work out during American Idol tonight. And if Jason Castro wins this thing in a few weeks, it will only be because every 11-year-old girl in America voted for him because of his eyes! My pick? David Cook.)

May 01, 2021

So What's YOUR Most Embarrassing Moment?

We parents have all had our foot-in-mouth-disease moments, right? But who's willing to share them with the world?

Cynthia Jenkins (AKA Sugar Mama), that's who. Over at sugarmamablog.com, Jenkins has a hoot of a post today about a particular phone call that didn't go quite as planned. Check it out. And if you're feeling brave, share your own embarrassing moments with us in Comments. (Hey, you can be anonymous! Go for it.)

April 26, 2021

Four Top Tips for a Stronger Marriage

I just love Leo Babauta over at zenhabits.net. I never fail to learn something from his posts, and the discussions over there, in the comments section, are intelligent and thoughtful. Just hanging out there now and then makes me feel better about the world. (And there’s a reason zenhabits.net is one of the most-visited blogs in the world!) Leo has good stuff to say.

In his recent post, “The Seven Deadly Sins in a Relationship,” Leo says "While I can’t claim to be the world’s foremost expert on relationships, I do know that my wife and I have a very strong marriage, and have never been more in love.”

He’s failed at marriage before, he says, “but that’s helped me become better at it. I’ve learned the deadly sins of relationships, and how to recognize them and avoid them.”

A reader, newly married, asked Leo to share his tips on how to make a marriage work. “I wish I had a magic formula, but here’s a simple list of tips,” he says:

    * spend time alone together
    * appreciate each other
    * be intimate often
    * talk and share and give

Sounds good to me. And it’s so simple. But it’s so easy to forget these things, or to get too busy to do them. I think as parents, it's understandable that we focus much of our time and energy on our kids. And that's a good thing. But that relationship between Mom and Dad needs to be the foundation that everything else is built on in the family.

I know from experience that it's easy to get busy and assume that the foundation will just be there when you need it. But without doing what it takes to keep it strong, the walls can start to crumble. So tonight Randy and I are planning a date in the den with a good movie on DVD, a glass of wine and some popcorn — and maybe a little snuggling. (Proof that "dates" can be cheap but fun!)

Head on over to zenhabits.net to read the rest of Leo's post. You'll be glad you did. And thanks, Leo!

P.S. Corey over at The Simple Marriage Project also has a fun post on "How to Create a Passionate Marriage in the Shower." Check it out. Thanks, Corey!

March 27, 2022

All Hail The Anti-Princess Reading List!

For little girls, Cinderella and Snow White may be the ultimate storybook characters. And these princesses certainly have their place in a child's world — up to a point.

For parents who want their daughters to grow up looking for a bit more from life than a prince to rescue them, there's the "Anti-Princess Reading List" (click on it under "browse by category") over at a wonderful website I just discovered: mommytrackd.com.

Just looking at the titles brought me back to some of the heroines I loved as a girl: Nancy Drew, Pippi Longstocking, Harriet the Spy. These gals solve crimes, wear what they please (and it rarely includes taffeta), and have marvelous adventures.

I'm not suggesting an all-or-nothing approach here. After all, who says a kid can't wear her Princess Jasmine costume while reading a story about a girl taking first place at the school science fair?

March 19, 2022

Kids' Solo Travel Made Easier

How did parents ever survive without the Internet? Just think how often we take it for granted these days.

Need a recipe for homemade clay? Google it. Want to know the symptoms of fifth disease? It's all there. Need the lyrics to a Led Zeppelin song to win a bet with your teenager? The Web is your not-so-secret weapon.

So of course I knew right where to go when Randy and I decided that our son, Matt, would be taking his first solo flight (as an "unaccompanied minor," to use the airlines' terminology).

After talking with the airline and scoping everything out, I relied on Google to dig up some additional tips. The best ones I found were at www.travelwithyourkids.com, including:

°   If possible, select early-morning flights. These are delayed less often and, if there is a problem, the airline still has the whole day to sort things out and still deliver your child.

°    Make sure the person picking up your child at the other end has proper photo ID. If the airline is doing its job, they won’t release your child to a person without ID no matter how loudly your kid shouts “Grandma! Grandma!”

Will I still worry a little until Matt's safely back home? Sure. But Delta Airlines couldn't have been more helpful in answering my basic questions. And Google and travelwithyourkids.com helped me answer those questions I didn't even know I had. Gotta love the Web.

March 15, 2022

Laugh it Up at MommaSaid.net

Hey mom! Need a break? Grab that non-fat latte and head over to MommaSaid.net, the creation of Jen Singer, a terrific mom, a very funny writer and a chick with fab hair.

MommaSaid.net was created in 2003 as a virtual community for full- and part-time stay-at-home mothers around the world, says Singer. One of my favorite spots on the site is the Back Fence, where moms share stories like this one, which Singer has generously allowed me to re-print here:

Pretty as a Picture

Thanks to Rebecca Norton of Norfolk, Massachusetts, for this story:

"I was on my way out the door to my cousin's bridal shower. I really don't like bridal showers, but I found great joy in putting on some 'real clothes' with no stains and 'real shoes' that were not good for chasing children.                                                    

"When my four-year-old daughter saw me, she said, 'Mommy, can I take your picture? Because we don't get to see you pretty!'"


                                                      

February 27, 2022

Are You Crazy Busy?

It happened again the other day. I was at the grocery store and ran into a mom I know from my son's school. "How are you?" I asked. "Just crazy busy!" she said, before launching into a laundry list of all the things she had on her plate that day.

All parents, it seems — and especially moms —  have a similar mental list. Grocery shopping, work, laundry, dentist appointments, carpool, baseball practice, piano lessons... It's enough to make us pooped before lunch.

That's why, when I heard about it, I had to pick up a copy of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA. An expert on attention deficit disorder, he discusses how all of us — whether we have ADD or not —  can deal with "the rush, the gush, the worry, and the blather (which also includes clutter)."

I'm finding the book to be fascinating and really helpful. Hallowell lives in the real world and doesn't think we should toss the BlackBerry out with the bath water. But he does help us determine what really counts in life — and shows us how to focus on that.

Hallowell also has started a blog to discuss ADD and other issues, including those raised in this book. Check it out here.

Are you feeling crazy busy these days? What ways have you found to slow down and focus on the important things in your life? I'd love to hear your tips.

February 13, 2022

A Clear-Eyed Look at Parenting Through Divorce

Fellow writer and mom Lynne Meredith Schreiber just invited me to check out her new website, which is terrific.

But it wasn't until I clicked on her blog, "Nourish Cafe," that I really saw what a fearless and wonderful writer she is. Schreiber's writing cuts close to the bone and it was painful to read at times, as she described her life as a soon-to-be single mom to three young children.

But as strong as the emotion and pain were in her blog post, there was so much love, hope and clear-eyed strength there, as well. I'm looking forward to following her journey.

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