Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

How to Consume More Books This Year

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Almost weekly I get a request to share how I am able to consume so many books. Over the years we have visited this conversation often, but over the last year or two my strategies for consuming books has changed a lot thanks to new formats and new ideas about how I can get more books in throughout my day.  Reading is truly one of my biggest passions and I love sharing my love of reading with others.  Even my volunteerism is connected with this passion as I mentor two struggling elementary school readers each week to hopefully help them not only become stronger readers, but ignite a lifelong passion for reading too.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

I have always been a reader and I can point to one person in my life who helped make that happen.

My Dad.

Even as he juggled his swing shift position at work, he promised me a weekly trip to the library that he honored each week and rarely rushed me at the library, leaving me contentedly working my way down the aisles. When the bookmobile made our corner the stop on it’s route, I was able to trade my finished books out even sooner for another stack and still enjoy those weekly visits with my father. I count those visits among some of my favorite memories.

Admittedly, my parent’s biggest hurdle with me was to stop reading when it was bedtime and to stop reading books that were too mature for me. I am sure you can envision a ten year-old girl with a stack of V.C. Andrews books stacked under her mattress each night, a big no-no writer in our Christian household, especially at that age. Thankfully, I still turned out okay despite my reading choices.

When I became a mom, I felt like I didn’t have the time to sit down and read.  I was too busy bouncing colicky babies and trying to cobble some semblance of a clean house to make time for myself and to read.  I say this because maybe you are in a life stage where reading isn’t happening and the best you can do is bounce those babies and try to just keep up a household routine, that is okay! Books will ALWAYS be there for you though when you are ready to come back. 

After my kids got a little older, I remember making a public proclamation that I was going to start reading again and I was going to share about the books here. At the time, this had nothing to do with our site and I only hoped you would hold me accountable. Now the books section and our interview series are two of the most popular sections, thanks to that commitment I made years ago.

Is your goal to consume more books this year? I would love to share a few strategies that I have found work for me and would love to hear from you, my fellow bookworms, how you make time for reading in your life! 

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Start By Making a Commitment

Like I said, the way that I started was by vocalizing my commitment and setting a reading goal. As an overachiever, the urge to set ridiculous goals is always an issue for me. I encourage you start with a modest goal and make your own public commitment. A great place to do that is on GoodReads where you can not only set goals, but you can also connect with fellow readers (like me!) to help inspire your book stacks!  Setting goals helps give you something to work toward, whether that is five books this year or a hundred!

Another option to challenge yourself is to join in on an online challenge. These types of challenges not only motivate you to read, but often push you outside of your usual genres into new literary territory. Here are nine great challenge options to get you started this year!

Carve Out One Hour Minimum At YOUR Optimum Time

Notice that I didn’t tell you to just rise earlier? I am a morning person so I set my alarm at 5AM to tackle an hour of reading before I need to get my kids off to school. That, it turns out, is my optimum reading time.  If you aren’t a morning person though, this probably will not work for you and, no, it’s highly unlikely you can make yourself be a morning person despite what you may have heard. Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, was recently on The Simple Show where she talks about how we can’t all force ourselves to be morning people and you should set realistic goals during hours that are realistic for YOU in order to succeed at your goals. 

For me, the hour of 5AM is complete bliss with hot coffee and quiet reading, which helps set an intention for me to have a balanced and calm day. As a highly sensitive person, I really need this quiet introverted time or I feel out of sorts once the kids get up. For others though, you might find that an hour in the afternoon or a staying up later with a good book is a better fit.

I put my phone on do not disturb and stay off of social media and it is amazing how many pages I can consume in that hour with uninterrupted time. I encourage you to do the same!  Hours can also be broken into ten to fifteen minute sessions throughout the day, particularly for moms with little ones or for moms who are always running their kids. As long as you are carrying a book with you wherever you go, it’s very easy to reach a one hour goal.

Not sure if you can commit to an hour? Try a 10% reading goal each day, particularly if you are reading digitally! 

To read as much as I do though, I have to have a minimum of two to three hours of reading time daily. That means one hour first thing in the morning, one hour before the kids get off the bus, and usually an hour or two at the end of the day or before I head to the gym.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

(current stack)

Find a Format That Works For You

For a long time, the only way I thought that I could consume books was in the printed format. These past two years though a world of reading possibilities opened to me when I finally embraced electronic books and audiobooks.

The beauty in electronic books is that I always have my phone with me so I always have my Kindle app to open and dive into a book. An old-fashioned printed book is always on my bedside table for grabbing and screen-free time. Audiobooks have become my new companion while tackling laundry, cooking, or tidying our house. With a set of earbuds, I can consume a book just about anywhere. 

Experiment with different formats or consider tackling different types throughout the day (more below) to find what works best for you!

Try Reading a Few Books at the Same Time

I often have to be in the right frame of mind to read certain books and many bookworms echo my theory that having a few books going at once can help you through a mindset hurdle on reading. Last week I was reading a memoir, a thriller, and a contemporary fiction novel. In What Should I Read Next guest Seth Haines shared that he reads a different book in the morning, afternoon, and evening of his day. For me, I know when I wake up what I am in the mood for. I usually lean into something heavy in that first peaceful hour and then sprinkle lighter books in later in the day. It was comforting to hear someone echo that philosophy of different books at different times. It helps me to never stop consuming books.

I do know that many people say that they can only read one book at a time and that is okay, but in order for me to continue moving through books when mindset hurdles are standing in my  own way, I need to have a variety going to continue pressing forward.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Try Reading As a Family

The reason I was such a big reader was the influence of my father and witnessing him reading all the time. The reason that I think I have two great readers in my house is because they see their mom reading all the time and they are modeling what is happening in our home.

On nights we don’t have activities going on or on weekends, you will often find us in a room together all reading our own books. I love reading alongside of my children as much as I love reading to them. I am still reading to my daughter as we work our way through Laura Ingall’s adventures, but I also love the freedom of everyone tackling what they love.  Either way, whether reading on our own or together, I know that I am getting in more books and I get to do it with my kids. 

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

(photo credit: scribd)

Make Reading an Investment

Are you the type of person where making a financial commitment to something is what motivates you to do it? Just like your financial commitment that you make to your gym membership that you just HAVE to get every dollar out of, you can do the same with reading especially if you lack a good or close public library system.

For the money, I find Scribd to be a great value at $8.99 a month that includes unlimited e-books, one audiobook credit per month, and access to sheet music (which is great for this family with a piano player & guitarist on our hands!).  I am a genuine fan, this post is not supported in any way by them. I have also heard great things about Kindle Unlimited, but don’t have any experience with that one- let me know if you have enjoyed that membership or not. Sometimes, particularly in the winter and summer months when I’m not as motivated to head as frequently to the library, I indulge in a membership to keep me moving through books.

For some, a financial commitment can offer great motivation to get every dollar out of a membership. I know that it does for me!

I hope these tips to consume more great books this year are helpful to you! It’s a joy to get to share great books with you each month! xo

What tips and tricks do you use in your life to read more? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments below!

This post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though!

M Challenge Mornings Morphosis: Set An Alarm or Not?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

As part of our M Challenge Focus on Better Mornings, I asked Mandi Ehman of Life Your Way to share how she is tackling her mornings – and I think her answer will surprise you!

Move towards better mornings with an alarm clock - or without

Confession: I am a firm believer in the value of getting up early, getting your day started before your kids wake up, and taking control of your day. So it might surprise you to hear that I no longer set an alarm 99% of the time.

The reason is simple: While I highly value and need those morning hours to myself, I also know that I need enough sleep or I’m grumpy, impatient and unproductive.

I also know that there’s nothing worse than getting woken up in the wrong part of your sleep cycle.

When I set an alarm, I inevitably get woken up right in the middle of my REM cycle, and my alarm has no idea whether the baby was up 17 times, I suffered with insomnia, or my body just happens to need more rest on any given morning. (And changing the alarm in the middle of the night involves turning on my iPhone screen—since we don’t use a regular alarm clock in our room—which inevitably gives me insomnia because of the bright, artificial light!)

Letting myself wake up naturally means I wake up during the best part of my sleep cycle—usually as soon as it starts to get light out these days—and I’m less groggy. Sometimes it means I sleep a couple extra hours in the morning, but I’m willing to trust that my body knows best on those days!

Obviously this approach isn’t for everyone, and if you’re a natural night owl, have early morning commitments or school buses to catch, an alarm is probably a safe bet.

I’m considering an alarm like ZenAwake or Progressive Alarm Clock that wakes you up with gentle, progressively louder sounds so that your body isn’t jarred out of sleep like with a traditional alarm for those fall and winter mornings when the sun isn’t there to help me get up.

These days, getting enough sleep is a high priority for me even when the to-do list is full, and an alarm clock just isn’t smart enough to know when I really need to get up and when I need to sleep, so—for now—I’m skipping it.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you wake up to an alarm?

Maximize Your Morning Hours

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

I was forced into being a morning person thanks to my kids. In my younger days, I would stay up late watching mindless television, and would sleep in until the last possible moment. There is nothing like an early bus schedule to take a girl out of her cushy routines, is there? Although I never desired to be a morning person, it’s incredible how much better I feel and how productive I can be with those extra morning hours. I am actually pretty thankful that early mornings are now a part of my routine and I even try to maintain the schedule as best as I can during the summer months.

Here is what I know…

If I can become a morning person, ANYONE can!

Today I wanted to share a few tricks that have helped me in creating an ideal morning for my family and I’d love to chat with you about your ideas too! 

Utilize Your Evening Hours to Get a Good Start

Getting up earlier can mean that I am a little less productive in the evening since I am usually pretty worn down after a full day! I try to make a couple of things top priority though to help save my sanity in the morning. The first is that I always set my coffeemaker the night before and program it for my morning brew (this is the inexpensive pot that I use now), I always make sure that the dishes are done and that the dishwasher is run, I always try to get all the paperwork signed and in the backpacks, and I always try to lay out my gym clothes the night before so I can hit the gym first thing in the morning!

These small habits in the evening help us start on good footing the next morning.

Set a Million Alarms

I have a hard time staying on track with the multiple schedules going on during our mornings. Maybe that is just me?  I set an alarm on my phone to make sure each kid is up and then I set an alarm 5-10 minutes before we have to head out the door to have them get their shoes on and grab their gear. Although it doesn’t apply to my morning routines, I set alarms to remind myself when I need to head out the door to the gym, when the buses are returning, and even an alarm to remind me that I can take a break for the day from work and read for an hour.

My poor cat is so annoyed by my alarm system that she cries every single time one goes off.

I won’t lie.

I sometimes want to cry too. I love the reminder though to keep things on track so we don’t miss our morning buses or oversleep!

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Turn Off the Distractors

I know everyone struggles with getting distracted and the quickest way for my morning to get off track is to turn on my phone or computer. I decided to add the Facebook Kills News Feed extension to help me not cheat and peek at Facebook during the day when I need to be productive.

I also make deals with myself about when I am allowed to peek at my phone. Each day the deal is something that I need to accomplish from household chores to an article for a client to finishing a book. Once I fulfill that daily contract with myself, I can cruise the FB newsfeed and catch up on all I am missing out on.

Email also has been of my biggest distractors so now I check it once in the morning, once midday, and once before the kids get home from school. I noticed that each time my phone made a ding, I ran to it like my cat when I shake the treat bag at her. It lead to lots of interruptions, a half-present mom, and a lot of anxiety when I wasn’t dealing with whatever I had opened. If I can’t sit down at my desk and deal with it with a proper response, I just don’t open it! Not only has it made my mornings smoother, but it has made my entire life run more smoothly.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Make the Morning Household Chores Bearable

I am big on maximizing my time and I know that you are too. I have discovered that podcasts and audiobooks make wonderful companions in the morning while I am getting things done around the house. Three of my favorite podcasts right now for making the most of my mornings are the The Lively Show, Magic Lessons, & Elise Gets Crafty. Thanks to the Overcast app that I downloaded, I also am listening to them at a quicker speed which helps me consume a little bit more while I am tackling that laundry and tidying the house. Not only am I proud that I am being productive in my home, but I’m learning so much about living with intention in the process.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Make Room For You

I may be one of the rare ones in the world because I rarely feel guilty about making time for myself. I know when I can fill my cup up, I have more to give to everyone else. I am not sure if that is because I have such a supportive spouse who has always encouraged that or if I just have always been thinking about myself. Oh, who are we kidding? It’s probably both! My ideal morning involves a good Bible study on She Reads Truth, a cup of HOT coffee, a little journaling (right now I am doing this journal with my husband) and then I head to the gym where I do classes I really love and that make me happy.

Our mornings aren’t always perfect, but starting with good intentions, smart planning, and a little self-care reward help me start my day on the right foot!

Do you have any tips or tricks for a great morning routine? I’d love to hear them as we explore this topic this month in our m challenge series!

*this post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love!

 

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Tips for Successful Menu Planning

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

One of the most stressful parts about my job as a mom is creating menu plans to feed my family and accomplishing the weekly grocery shopping. Today I want to share with you some of my own tips for successful menu planning, but first I want to work on some honesty with you about my attitude towards food preparation in my house.

Is it okay to say that I have a terrible attitude about this?

I hope it is because something happened this summer that has helped transform my mindset a bit.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

This summer I wanted to create some great learning experiences for my kids and to teach them how lucky we are for all that we have. One of those experiences has been volunteering at our church’s food pantry where over 400 local families are served each month. I had not expected the enthusiasm that these two brought to the job, but these kids were so happy to do this that they begged to return the next week to help again.

I am not sure what it is like for you and your children, but I feel like we live in this protected bubble that I am constantly trying to push them out of… but not TOO far.  I’m pushing on those walls because there is such a big world out there full of people who need us and it’s important to see and address those needs when we can.  I thought it would be great for them to serve others and to understand how lucky we are.

As we pulled in the first day to volunteer there was a gathering of people waiting for the doors to open. At the time we had pulled in, there was TWO MORE HOURS until the food pantry doors were open to the public. When I asked about this, I was told that they arrive that early to be able to be the first to select the food. The food given would last a family of 4 a few days, an incredible offering when one needs  it, but it made me very ashamed about my attitudes towards feeding my family.

I can plan meals for my family and buy whatever we need for the week in one trip without any worries.

I complain when the grocery line is too long, but others wait for hours just in the hopes that they will have fresh produce.

I whine about how annoying it is to have to haul so many bags from my car and put them away.

Guess who had the transformation?

I know we can’t always go into that zen place of happiness when planning our meals, but I’m working on my attitude and I want to do what I can to simplify this process for our family. It’s a bit of a privilege to go into the store with a plan and come out with what we need, isn’t it?

Meal planning is necessary to stay on budget. In fact, as I have said in my book, I feel that this is one of the biggest places I feel families should analyze when living on a budget. This is a flexible area in our spending, but it takes a good plan to stay on budget.

Here are a few of my tips for successful menu plans:

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family every night. The reality is that many nights I am running kids to activities and I am not home (or too tired) to execute all those good intentions. What happens when you have a lot of intentions and not a lot of time?

Spoiled food and wasted money.

I shop for 5 meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers and reality.

Kind of the same thing- ha!

Take a serious look at your calendar and analyze what will be happening for the week so that you can create a menu plan that will serve your family well. Slow cooker dishes are arranged on busy days where I don’t have time for food preparation, Sunday suppers are leisurely meals with all the fixings doubled so we can enjoy the dish another night, and grocery days are often prep days for chopping and dicing for quick wraps & salads for nights I don’t have the time to cook.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

slow cooker carnitas

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines and that also comes to the food that we share around the table. In our house, we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and I try to implement one new recipe a week to keep things fresh. A rotation schedule creates a clear routine for a busy week and makes grocery shopping easier since you know what you typically need each week. 

Routines are my jam!

I try to make one dish that can easily be doubled or tripled since we have been working on weekly entertaining or to share with someone who might be having a hard week. This can also be a great time to feed the freezer for another week.

Gather Inspiration for Your Meals

It would be hard not to be inspired now that we have tools like Pinterest at our disposal. I think more than anything it is not to feel OVERWHELMED with all of the meal choices or choosing dishes that are far too ambitious for your time constraints. My best bet for busy weeknights are 30-minute recipes or 5-ingredient or less ideas and that is typically what I search for when hunting down new dishes to add to my menu. 

I subscribe to my favorite food blogs through Feedly and utilize their bookmarking tool to save the recipes I want to come back to. I also utilize a private Pinterest board just for my family to test out different recipes in our kitchen. Cookbooks are like old reliable friends that I know I can always count on for a recipe or two. Foodgawker is where I also favorite dishes that I want to try in our menus (you can see our own dishes that made the cut over here!)

 

 

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Use Your Smartphone to Make Smart Lists

What did I ever do without my smartphone? This little device has made creating and maintaining my grocery lists each week so much easier. I am a BIG fan of the Grocery iQ app (FREE!)  for creating my grocery list because you can reuse the same master list that you use over and over again (especially if you have a routine rotation of meals) and this app automatically organizes and finds any coupons that you might want to use for your purchases. 

With Grocery iQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Switching to an electronic list was much easier than I expected. It also keeps me off my phone while shopping so I can really concentrate which is half of the battle for me when it comes to menu planning.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Journal the Family Favorites & Put Them In Your Plans

In our family, every person has a favorite dish or a favorite memory of a meal we have shared together. To make your week easier, creating a family journal or scrapbook where you have all your family favorites for weekly inspiration and rotate a family member’s favorite each week.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

We made a food journal and printed out our favorite recipes and why the kids loved these dishes. This can be a fun craft project to do together AND it is something you can pass on to them when they leave the nest (but that won’t be for a LONG time so I’m not worried). If you want to try making your own cookbook, you can see this tutorial we created for it!

One thing I don’t think very often about is that many of our favorite recipes are online. If the sites ever go down (which has been known to happen), we may no longer have access to our favorite dishes. I want a place where we can keep all these food memories so a family journal is a fun activity that you can enjoy for years to come.

Pick What’s Important & Make it Happen

I have many friends that deal chase for their menu plans, but I have never been much of a deal chaser.  As the extracurricular schedule grows and my work becomes more demanding, I have to make choices about what I realistically can and cannot do. It’s okay to not chase deals.

I do my menu planning first thing in the morning (eat the frog!!) and I go to grocery stores where deal chasing doesn’t need to happen. ALDI has (and always will be) my first destination for our family groceries and thanks to the Savings Catcher app, a scan of my receipt at the end of my shopping at Walmart means I can look forward to pocketing any savings if any store goes lower in prices without chasing deals anymore.

You may find shopping at night is better for you or you may get a thrill from a deal well chased. Pick what’s important to you and make it happen for your family, but do what fits best with your own lifestyle for menu planning success.

Do you have any strategies you can share for menu planning? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Note: In honor of our M Challenge focus on Technology, I’m reposting this because I still can’t live without my iPhone, and these apps are still some of my top favs! Please chime in with any you use now, too!

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi App

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. With Grocery IQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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Making Face Time a Family Priority

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Tips to Manage Kids Tech Time by Making Fact Time a Priority

When my children were small, it seemed that all they wanted to do was play with me, draw with me, and read with me. As they get older, it seems that all they want to do is play on the computer, play on the DS, and play on the Wii… and not with me?

What a change in priorities it has been to be so low on the activities totem pole!

I say this tongue in cheek, of course, because I am just as guilty as my kids of making screen time more of a priority than it should be. I could spend hours on my phone checking all of my social networks and being disconnected from the three people that love me most in my life.

One evening I looked around and saw each of us in our respective corners with our screens and I knew that something had to change. I want my children to have their downtime after school, but I also want us spending time together as a family.  I wanted to share with you our solutions for making family time a priority again.

Declare Face Time

When my kids get home from school it is time for snacks and homework. After that, they are free to do screen time alone until 5PM. At 5PM, I declare it, “FACE TIME!” Face time is not FaceTime on the iPhone, instead it means that we will have time together as a family until bedtime.  It means having a family meal together with great family conversation, reading books together, playing a board game, or spending an evening playing outside together.

I thought Face Time was a genius idea, but the first night my husband looked at me and said, “So we are ALL supposed to not be on the computer?” Yes, admittedly, I had to flip my phone upside down because each time the screen popped up; I was dying to know what was happening in the world. The two people that had the hardest time were the two of us and the kids took the change in routine surprisingly well.

Do Screen Time Together

If we use screen time during our Face Time it must be all done together.  Some evenings we spend an evening Wii bowling together and other evenings it is a night of wild dancing on our Just Dance game. I will admit that I often request a rousing round of Band Hero so I can sing with my very own Partridge Family.

We recently added a new screen time feature to our family that we are all absolutely loving. For about seven years now, I have made homemade pizza every Friday night for our evening meal and we have watched a family movie. In the last few months we have changed our pizza night to a, “Docu-Pizza,” night that we have all come to look forward to together. The evening consists of 1 pizza, 1 documentary, and 1 great family conversation afterwards. We have exposed the kids to lots of different cultures and watched documentaries about everything from the art of origami to puppetry to a senior citizen dance crew. It has led to amazing discussions and allowed us to use our screen time in a way that benefits our whole family.

If you are looking for some fun documentaries to add to your family viewing, be sure to follow my Reality Bites Pinterest Board for some fun movie suggestions to incorporate into your very own Docu-Pizza Night.

Screen time done together connects us and the kids are learning to include us in the gaming fun instead of doing the games on their own.

Use a Screen Time Monitoring System

I find it is much easier to monitor screen time hours during the school year since the kids are in school during the day. In the summer months is when screen time can really get out of control.  I wanted a way to monitor their screen time so we decided to create a printable ticket that could be used for just this occasion.

These tech tickets have made us all more aware of how much screen time we are using and have been a great way for us to monitor the amount they are getting. Each child gets one chore ticket and two tech tickets for the week in our house. The chore ticket must be punched before they can start with their first hour of screen time.

Tech tickets grant the child one hour of computer or video game time. We do not count television time as tech time in our house. Kids can watch 2 shows daily on Netflix. We no longer have cable television so that has really helped us do a better job of not zoning out on the television. A timer is set and once it dings, the card is punched for that hour.  It is as simple as that!

We made an agreement that if the child wants to save computer/video game time that they can save and transfer the hours to another day. They can not, however, cash in on an advance on their ticket.

Go Paperless With An Affordable Internet Monitoring System

My husband did hours and hours of research on an internet monitoring system because we have worried about the types of media our children are viewing,  but we couldn’t find anything that fit our family’s needs. These blockers for our kids created blockers for me all day trying to do my job and I didn’t know how to reset the blockers my husband enabled. Potential monitoring systems would not work with our router so this is the crappy “block you from everything,”  solution that we had come up with for now.

That is…. until we discovered Circle. It is an internet monitoring system that not only blocks potentially harmful content, but it also tracks your child’s hours, sets their devices to bedtime at your chosen bedtime hour, and it allows you to pause the internet to spend time with your family.

I received a beta unit and would love to walk you through it. Even though I am a blogger, I can admit that I am not very tech savvy.  Watch the video to see how easy it was to set up for our family!

Here are 4 Awesome things you can EASILY do with Circle:

1. Set appropriate filters for EACH DEVICE. Use the pre-designed ones or customize your own.

iOS Screen 4

2. Track where your family is spending their time online.iOS Screen 3

3. Give your devices a BED TIME!iOS Screen 2

4. PAUSE the internet! Yes. you. can.iOS Screen 1

We are so excited to finally have control again in our house and can’t recommend it enough!

My husband and I keep shaking our heads as we see the kids getting back to the root of playing together again. Without the screen distractions, they are playing more outside, playing more together, reading, and creating more. It makes my heart happy to see them getting back to this again and embracing imaginative play.

This is what being a child is about and this is what being a family is about. I am glad we are rediscovering these simple pleasures again.

How do you make Face Time a family priority in your house?

 

*This post contains an affiliate link, but I only promote things I believe will add value to your life.

 

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Free Printable Chore & Tech Time Tickets

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Tech-Chore Tickets Free Printable Note: Originally published in 2012, these tickets have continued to be a wonderful way to monitor both screen time and chores with our kids in a sort of “hands-off” way (meaning, it’s not up to me to keep reminding!). With our focus on technology m challenge, it seemed perfect to share again for those of you who are looking for a better way to manage screen time and make sure chores actually get done.

My husband created this great printable for summertime chores and monitoring computer time with the kids that I’m excited to share with you- free printable chore and tech time tickets. The tech hours punch-tickets in particular have helped both us and the kids know how much time they’re spending on technology. They can be printed and used with a simple hole punch to signify if the child has used their tech time or has completed their chores.

I really wanted to spend quality time with my kids this summer and I find that screen-time really distracts them from our time together. These tech tickets have made us all more aware of how much screen time we are using and have been a great way for us to monitor the amount they are getting. And they work hand-in-hand since the tech time can’t be redeemed until the chores are completed, so it’s a win-win.

How We Use The Tickets

– Each child gets one chore ticket and two tech tickets for the week in our house.

– The chore ticket must be punched before they can start with their first hour of screen time.

– Punch the ticket itself at the end of the day, BUT morning chores have to be completed to redeem the first hour of time, then evening chores are completed and the second hour can be used.

As an example, this is what our list of chore activities to be completed looked like when my children were 10 and 6(alter as needed for your kids and needs):

6 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, sweep (with a quick vac) under the table after each meal, meal helper every other night, (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with laundry sorting.

10 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, wipe down both bathrooms, meal helper every other night (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with loading and unloading of laundry.

Reward- $5 weekly

Tech tickets grant the child one hour of computer or video game time. We do not count television time as tech time in our house. Kids can watch 2 shows daily on Netflix. We no longer have cable television so that has really helped us do a better job of not zoning out on the television.

A timer is set and once it dings, the card is punched for that hour.  It is as simple as that!

We made an agreement that if the child wants to save computer/video game time that they can save and transfer the hours to another day. They can not, however, cash in on an advance on their ticket.

I will not lie, the first day was ROUGH. Two hours does go by quickly for everyone. That said, after the initial two days, we have really been enjoying our time together. We keep busy with fun outings and tackling our summer bucket list together. I find that breaking the day up with an outing seems to make the day go by faster and takes the focus off of the lack of screen time.

Today my son said, “Wow, that hour was really long!”  It was funny how he was whining about the hour being too short the first day. I think we were all losing track of how much time we were spending on our respective screens.

Everyone parents differently. This parenting strategy works for us and I hope it will help someone else out there too!

I didn’t want to waste anytime getting these printables out to you though because they are quickly becoming a valuable part of our summer time together and I think they could be valuable to you too!

Grab your Printable Chore Tickets.

Grab your Printable Tech Tickets.

 

Notes on the printable- There are three tickets per sheet. These are color tickets, but you can switch your printer settings to black-and-white or draft mode to save on ink.

 

How do you monitor screen time in your house? What does a typical chore list look like for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Guest Post: How to Incorporate Healthy Living Back in Your Life

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Note: This is a repost of Ashley’s post from January of 2014 that I thought we needed to see again as we journey through our m challenge of focusing on our health because not only is Ashley inspiring, she gives some wonderful, concrete tips to make healthy living a real part of our daily lives!

I am Ashley Johns, a Personal Trainer, Writer, Creator of Fierce Forward and Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets.  Ever since losing over forty pounds and taking back my life, my mission is to empower others to move forward, fiercely and healthfully, towards the life they want.

I met Amy at a local blogger’s get-together where I learned how retro-chic and creative she is!  We chatted about me guest posting on Momadvice and decided something very valuable I could share with you are my tips on how to make you and your family’s health a priority.

Maybe you’re wondering, “Does this chick have kids?”   Let me answer that.  I am a fierce chick and I do not yet have children, but I sure do know how to manage healthy living and make it work for anyone!

Oh, and I am a master empathizer.

Last September, I married my love, Marcus, and with kids in our foresight, I have made it a priority to position myself in a healthy, balanced lifestyle before all the madness begins, or so that’s what my friends are bracing me for!

Although I’m not yet a mother, I can tell you that I have the utmost respect for all mothers out there and am so grateful to have my mother as my best friend, along side my husband.  Having a full time job, cooking, working out, grocery shopping, friend time, date night, bubble baths, doing your hair on a good day, prepping your healthy food, drinking your gallon of water each day;  I mean, how would all this be doable with a little person(s) in your life?

Well, I know that one day I will figure it out and take it from Amy that it can be done.  After all, I believe nothing is impossible and if you want something bad enough, you find a way and make it work!  Because us women do hard things.

Here are my tips on how to incorporate healthy living back in your life!  

Stock your car.

Stock your car with water bottles and bring healthy, kid friendly snacks with you when you are on the go.  My favorite snacks to pack that are fast and easy are nuts, protein bars, Larabars, cheese sticks and my amazingly delicious baked oatmeal.  This way you leave your house prepared and you won’t be inclined to get fast food in a pinch.

Know your fast food alternatives & set a healthy precedent for your children.

It is so easy to be on the road, feel hungry and pull through McDonalds in 2 minutes; boom, the kids are happy.  Don’t fall prey to this behavior because you and your children deserve more.  There are so many healthy fast food alternatives available to you, such as Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal or Greek yogurt, Panera Bread’s Secret Low Calorie Menu, Subway with mostly fresh ingredients and so many more.  Be mindful of where you take yourself and your kids when you’re out by browsing the online food menus available at most restaurants.  You and your family deserve to eat healthfully and it is possible when you set the intention to do so.

Pack your gym bag the night before.

After a long day’s work, it is easy to put off going to the gym, but if you have your gym bag packed and with you in the front seat, coupled with a quick snack from your snack pack, you will be much more likely to hit the gym.  If you have your kids with you, there are plenty of gyms that have child care.  I look forward to my future “me time” at the gym when I have kids.  Use it as your time to decompress, breathe and regroup so that your children get to vibe off of your calm nature as you go on with your day together.

Breathe.

A lot of people underestimate the power of breathing. When you’re going from place to place, dropping one child off at day care and entertaining another child in the car while on your way to get groceries and feeling the stress on your shoulders, take three deep breaths, exhaling slowly to release the stress, anger and frustration you’re feeling in the moment; then smile.  My motto is, ‘Just breathe through it.’

Be kind to you.

This is a hard one for us women!  Put a spot for you on your to-do list or make a date with yourself.  As women, we spend so much time and energy on others, it’s also important to make time for yourself.  Make sure you’re at the top of your to-do list!  Don’t for a second, forget that you are just as important as everyone else that gets your love and energy.  You deserve that love and energy and need it.   Be kind to yourself, allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes, laugh it all off, smile, make time for you and know that whatever you need, you have it now.  You are enough and you are perfect.

Be intentional.

I have heard children are like sponges.  I truly look forward to the time I can be a source of influence and inspiration to my children.  I wholeheartedly believe in the power of intention and that what you think becomes your reality.  By allotting more time to focus on your intentions as a family, you are creating a more solid foundation in which you are grounded in.  When you know where you are going, it is easier to get there.  I created Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets to empower myself and others to live with intention each day.  Having a visual reminder of your Purpose, Commitment, Courage & Strength, you begin to embody these intentions the more you focus on them.  I even make them child sized upon request!

Fierce Forward Bracelet

You are so lucky to have a family, a foundation, to build upon and work towards something bigger, together!  Be intentional as an individual-remember that girl in the picture- and as a whole and you surely will have a healthy family and a healthy you.

My final tip I will leave you with is to find a picture of yourself that radiates who you are.  This can be a picture from childhood, a picture of you caught off guard five years ago or a more recent picture.  Take your time in choosing and make sure this picture speaks to you and truly nails the definition of you.  Put it up on your DIY Chalkboard (that link will take you right to my tutorial!) or your bathroom mirror, look at that picture every day and remember to take care of her.

DIY Chalkboard Project

Thank you so much for reading my words and thank you amy for the opportunity to reach your Community of Fierce Mothers, whom I look up to!

Fierce Forward Bracelet Ashley from Fierce Forward

To Find Out More About Ashley:

Fierce Forward Intention Bracelets
Website:  Fierce Forward
Find Ashley on Facebook
Find Ashley on Pinterest, on Twitter or on Instagram! 

How do you make healthy living and “me time” a priority for yourself? Feel free to leave your ideas in our comments below!

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Back to School Organization Ideas

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

 

*This post is sponsored by the Post-it Brand. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It is such an honor to be working with the Post-it Brand for the back-to-school season.  I am so thrilled that you loved our DIY Homework Stations we created for our family and today I wanted to continue along that theme and share with you some additional ways that we keep our kids organized for back-to-school.

Since we live in a small home, organization is truly necessary to keep our small spaces functional.  I also am someone who prefers to not have a lot of visual clutter and appreciates smart hidden storage for our homework area rather than bulky caddies that can take up a lot of space since we don’t have a lot of storage space in our home. With that in mind, here are some of our ideas for organizing for back-to-school in a small space.

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

Designate a Small Area for Homework Organization- I recently created a bar cart for our shed bonus room and this cart has become the hub of this room for our back-to-school organization this year.  I purchased a chalkboard for tracking our to-do list, a small globe, and then stackable hollowed books for school supplies storage. This little area is efficient and has just what we need to stay organized.

A hub can be created in a corner of your own home, tucked away in a closet, or even just a designated drawer of supplies. The key isn’t how much space you have to organize, but just that the space is functional and that you always have on-hand what your child needs to complete their assignments.

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

Put Them in Charge- I can admit that I am a bit of a helicopter mom and it is hard for me to let my kids be in charge of their own tasks. This year I am really going to work on helping them to be more independent and make them be in charge of their own to-do lists and schedules.

Imagine if they went to college and wondered where their mother was to keep them on task.

This could get a little embarrassing.

I purchased this chalkboard and each child can jot down their own to-do list on Post-it Study Super Sticky Notes to attach to the chalkboard to remind themselves of the important tasks they need to accomplish for the week. I am loving the new Post-it Study Collection because it offers a fantastic new line of Notes, Notebook Kits, Flags, Tabs, and Page Markers that stick securely to papers, notebooks, folders, and more, yet remove cleanly. The products all work together to help your family stay organized on-the-go.  In this case with our Study Super Sticky Notes, once the task is accomplished, they can remove it from the board. As new tasks and assignments are added, they can create their own reminder list to attach to the chalkboard.  Each child gets their own color of Post-it Study Super Sticky Notes so that they know exactly whose task is whose, eliminating the need for two boards and creating a visual area for them of necessary items to accomplish.

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

Make Those School Supplies Part of Your Décor-  Pinterest has many ideas for creating storage caddies of homework supplies for your children which is great, but we don’t really have somewhere we can store it when those items are not being used. I happened upon these hollowed out books for storage at our craft store and realized that this was the perfect spot for camouflaging our homework helpers and adding visual interest to a room.

Inside the smallest book I stored crayons and glue sticks, the middle storage is for pencils and pens, and the largest book holds our Post-it Study collection homework helpers like Study Super Sticky Notes, Study Grid Notes, and Study Message Flags. This also houses our extra Post-it Super Sticky Notes for our chalkboard to-do list.

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

Back to School Organization Ideas from MomAdvice.com.

Cut Down the Distractions- The reason I love our bonus room for our homework area is that this area is screen-free and there is absolutely nothing in this room to distract them. I can be in the room with them to help them work through problems in a distraction-free environment.  The DIY Homework Stations we created for this room help each child to stay in their own zone and keep focused on their own list of tasks. Once everything has been completed, the kids can exit the space and head off to their technology-filled lives.

I really hope you enjoyed this fun series on back-to-school organization that I created with the Post-it Brand. Thanks to this job, I feel more confident than ever that we will have a successful and truly organized school year! To purchase some fun Post-it Brand items of your own, you will find that they are available at office superstores and mass merchandise retailers nationwide!

 

This post is sponsored by the Post-it Brand. I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and effort in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

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Easy DIY Homework Stations

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

*This post is sponsored by the Post-it Brand. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I’m so excited to be working with Post-it Brand for back-to-school and today I want to showcase a fun way to create a DIY Homework Station that is perfect for small spaces utilizing some of my favorite Post-it Products.

Since finishing our shed into a bonus room for the family, this has been a great screen-free place for our kids to hang out. I wanted to create a homework area that would be away from home distractions and help to keep us focused on our work. These DIY Homework Stations remind me of the quiet areas that were set up in our school area for tackling test-taking and reading. Since we only have one table in this room, it is necessary for us to work at the same table, but we needed some type of divider to help keep each child focused in this space.

Post-it Products have been a longtime family favorite for helping to create reminders in agendas, to flag assignments, and for communication back-and-forth to our teachers.  Have you seen the new Post-it Study collection that has hit store shelves? They are offering a new line of Notes, Notebook Kits, Flags, and Tabs that all work together to help you stay organized on-the-go and find the important things you need to remember quickly! I wanted to utilize some of my new Post-it Product discoveries from their Post-it Study collection to help organize a small space work area that would really keep their focus and keep them organized.

On a personal note, the transition from elementary school to middle school was a tough one for all of us. Never before have I needed more organizational helpers then now and I am hoping that if I provide the right tools for my kids from the start that I can help them succeed at being organized this year.

With that in mind, I have created these DIY Homework Stations and wanted to share this project with you to inspire you to create a couple of your own for this coming school year.

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

Supplies Needed:

1- tri-fold foam display board (this will make two homework stations for you)

Razor Blade

General All-Purpose Spray Adhesive

Measuring Tape

Post-it Study Pocket

Post-it Study Super Sticky Notes

Post-it Study Notebook Kit

Post-it Study Message Flags

Post-it Study Notebook Tabs & Arrow Flags

Post-it Study Flags

Post-it Study Grid Notes

Binder Clips

Scrapbook Paper in coordinating colors (8 sheets total per homework station- I chose four of each coordinating paper)

Hot glue & glue gun

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

1. Begin by measuring and marking the halfway point of your tri-fold display board. The display board is 48″ total, so you will want to cut it so that each side is 24″ long.

2. Cut the display board with a razor blade, making sure to cut carefully through all of the layers. If the edge is not clean, we can camouflage it with a fold-over on your scrapbook paper to finish it (demonstrated in a picture below).

3. Select eight sheets of scrapbook paper and set them up for where you would like to display them. Set them aside and, beginning with one side, line the bottom sheets up and, holding them in place with your hands, flip them up to add a little spray adhesive to the underside. Do this all along the bottom of your display board. One thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure that the paper is not in the fold of the display board so that it can open and shut easily.

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

4.  For the top, I am  folding the edge of the paper over a bit on the top four sheets, making sure the edges are folded roughly the same side.  Now do the same process again on the top and allow the folded edge of the paper to hang over to the other side of the display. Secure the folded edge on the back with a little hot glue and to create a smooth finish on top. If your paper does not have a lip on it like this, don’t worry, you can still fold it over.

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

5. Using your Post-it Study Super Sticky Notes, jot down the days of the week and line them along the top of your homework station. This can be a place where your child can write down their daily reminders and tasks that need to be accomplished each day.

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

I also attached a Post-it Study Pocket and filled it with Post-it Study Flags, Post-it Study Notebook Tabs & Arrow Flags to have on-hand when items need to be noted and flagged in our homework and agendas. These were attached to my older child’s homework station since we have so much to remember. If you have a child in middle school, I know you understand how hard that is!

6. For younger kids, I love the Post-it Study Grid Notes for jotting down notes. The space on these is generous and perfect for younger children who are still working on writing. I also attached the Post-it Study Notebook Kit for jotting down notes and flagging items in work. To anchor it, I folded it away with a binder clip to be opened when she needed an item.

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

Easy DIY Homework Stations from MomAdvice.com

I hope this post inspires you to create a few homework stations of your own. It goes to show that you don’t need a lot of space to create the perfect focused work space! Post-it Products are available at office superstores and mass merchandise retailers nationwide to help you make an organized DIY Homework Station of your own!

This post is sponsored by the Post-it Brand. I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and effort in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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