Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

How to Ditch Your Cable Bill

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

A few months ago our family made the radical decision to turn off of our cable television. It might not seem like a radical decision to you, but for a family of self-proclaimed television junkies, it felt bold to call our television provider and tell them that we were ready to turn off our channels.

With so many fantastic options available to families, it is so much easier to say no to the cable bill thanks to online television and innovative ways to indulge in your favorite shows. It might surprise you that this article is not about getting rid of your television and singing Kumbaya because our life is so much better without TV.  No, we still love our television and I wanted to share with you how to get your fix for less and how to slash your cable expenses for good.

I will fully admit that there was a bit of bribery involved to get my family on board with the decision to turn off our cable.  We found an Xbox for less than half price on Craigslist from a family that was looking to downsize their electronics and gave this to ourselves for our family Christmas present. This gaming system was my ticket to get everyone on board with my decision to let our cable bill go.

If you are looking for ideas for how to get around your cable bill, here are a few of our own family’s favorite options to maximize your family’s entertainment budget.

Players

Roku Player (starting at $49.99)

For families that don’t have a gaming system to view television through (like the Xbox, Wii, or Playstation) this little box can be a wonderful option. Your Roku hooks up to your television and allows you to play through subscription-based programs like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Amazon Instant Video on your television. Your Roku player can hook up to your home entertainment system and give your entire family the opportunity to watch something together on the couch rather than sitting at your laptop.

The only downfall with the product is that you really do need to have a high speed internet connection, as are most streaming options. If you have a DSL connection we found that the viewing can be a little bit like watching something on You Tube.

The Roku Player is surprisingly easy to use and simple to integrate into any home entertainment system. The interface is extremely clear and hook up took literally a couple of minutes. For homes with wireless Internet connectivity, the player is Wi-Fi enabled and offers the ultimate in placement flexibility. With the player’s accompanying remote control, members can browse and make selections right on the TV screen and also have the option to pause, rewind or play your favorite shows anytime just like a DVD.

There are no monthly fees attached to the Roku Player, but it enables you to watch your shows and online subscriptions in one place.

This is the player that we use in our own home and we have no complaints with this fabulous option. There are other similar products on the market like the Apple TV and the Boxxee Box, but I love the affordability of the Roku Player and what viewing options are available on it.

Game Consoles ($149-300)

Game consoles can be a wonderful bang for your buck because they offer unlimited entertainment through gaming as well as a platform for you to watch your favorite shows and movies. It is important to make the right investment for your family when choosing whether you want the Wii, the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360 based on your own family’s entertainment needs. It is also important to understand what is included with each game console and what are extra expenses you may have later down the line.

Below is a basic price breakdown on what is included with your gaming system, what the costs of games might be, and the graphics quality for each gaming console (found on Amazon).

(click to expand)

 

Our family loves playing games together and having a gaming system has been a great way for us to spend time together. We have never bought a full price gaming system though and have had great success finding used consoles for half the price of retail price. Not only have we found our consoles for less, but when we have found these units on Craigslist, the sellers are usually getting rid of their games, controllers, and accessories that go along with them and will sell them to us for a fraction of the retail price.

We use both our Wii and our Xbox 360 for streaming Netflix and watching Hulu Plus. Both of them are fantastic for this purpose as well as fun weekend entertainment for us as a family.

 

Channel & Movie Subscription Options

 

Play On ($29.99 annually or $4.99 a month)

Play On is an easy way for you to watch your favorite videos, shows, and movies from websites such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more on your TV using your Wii, Xbox 360, or Playstation 3 over your home internet connection. PlayOn also works on your iPhone or Android phone.

When we turned off our cable, we were missing some of our favorite shows on some of the channels we watched. Play On is almost like having a cable subscription without the outrageous price since they offer many channels that would have to get with a premium cable package. Hulu Plus offers many of the same networks, but not necessarily the same shows that are available on the network.

My children love to watch PBS and Nick. We have found many of their favorite shows that they love through Play On and the cost is an affordable one for less than $30 a year (or a fraction of one month of your cable television).

Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month)

The majority of our TV-watching is now done through Hulu Plus and we absolutely love it. We have beautiful HD television, something we couldn’t afford with our cable bill, and almost all of our favorite shows are available through Hulu Plus.

Hulu Plus lets you watch hit current and back season TV shows and acclaimed movies anytime in HD for $7.99/month with limited advertising. For many popular shows on their service, Hulu Plus offers every episode of the current season, not just a handful of recent episodes.

Hulu Plus can be viewed on multiple devices, including your laptop, the Apple iPad and iPhone, PlayStation® 3, Roku, and TVs and Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung and Vizio.

You can watch shows for free through Hulu and not buy the Hulu Plus membership. The main difference between your free television experience and the paid subscription is how you view it. With Hulu Plus you can take advantage of the multiple viewing devices, but with the free membership, your viewing is limited to your PC.

Netflix ($7.99 a month)

The other streaming membership that gets a workout in our family is our Netflix membership. Although I feel that the quality of the movies and shows available on Netflix has been deteriorating in the past few months, we still get our money’s worth from this membership.

For $7.99 a month, Netflix members in the Americas, United Kingdom and Ireland can instantly watch unlimited movies and TV episodes streamed over the Internet to PCs, Macs and TVs. Among the large and expanding base of devices streaming from Netflix are: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PS3 consoles; an array of Blu-ray disc players, Internet-connected TVs, home theater systems, digital video recorders and Internet video players; Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch; Android and Windows tablets and phones; and Apple TV and Google TV. In all, more than 700 devices that stream from Netflix are available.

Our family relies on this for our weekend family nights. My husband and I use this for our documentary fix while the kid’s enjoy many of their favorite seasons of Disney & Nick Jr. shows through this membership.

We are hopeful that Netflix will have more viewing options available, but what we can’t get through Netflix we supplement with our Redbox rentals and our fantastic library system.

Digital Antenna ($12-50)

When I say the word antenna, do you think of those giant rabbit ears? I did too. You won’t believe how far those rabbit ears have come and how elegant your antenna can now look. This Paper Thin Leaf Indoor HDTV Antenna ($39.19)  is just one example of how streamlined the antenna has become. Your friends will never know that you are one of “those people” watching television on their rabbit ears.

With a good digital antenna it is possible to get dozens of local channels in HD with this small investment. It is worth it to make a good investment in your digital antenna if you are relying upon this for your television because a better quality one is able to pick up a wider range of channels in your area.

We found our digital antenna for less on eBay and we use this for watching things like the Super Bowl and other shows we prefer to watch live. I am always so impressed at the quality of the television we can get through this and I love that we no longer have to pay The Man for our local channels.

Clicker- (FREE)

Finding all of your favorite shows can be hard when you are watching from multiple options. I am in love with clicker because it offers a one-stop directory to see if something you love is available online. I think of it as a TV Guide for streaming television.

This site catalogs all broadcast programming online, along with TV-quality Web originals, from these silos and delivers them in one seamless, organized experience so you can easily discover what’s available to watch (and what isn’t) online, where to watch it, and what’s worth watching.

If you are looking to make the leap from cable to online television, check here and see if any of your favorite shows are available for free streaming to decide if you can make the plunge or not.

For Our Canadian Readers-

 

We had a fabulous comment from one of our readers, Leatitia, on our MomAdvice Facebook Page sharing what streaming options are available in Canada.

“What I use to watch TV for ‘free’ in Canada (50$/month internet bill)

Live TV many channels (including TVA): http://fr.wwitv.com/tv/b2514.htm
HGTV: http://www.hgtv.ca/video/
CTV: http://watch.ctv.ca/
Global: http://www.globaltv.com/video/index.html#video
MTV: http://www.mtv.ca/tvshows/
Radio-Canada shows: http://www.tou.tv/
Radio-Canada live: http://www.radio-canada.ca/audio-video/pop.shtml#urlMedia=http://www.radio-canada.ca/util/endirect/MontrealTV.asx

With those links, I can watch Star Académie, Grey’s Anatomy season 7 in French and season 8 in English, House, Modern Family, Glee, Teen Mom (MTV), Consumed (HGTV), the news, etc, etc….

I’d pay for internet anyway, so I just boost my internet bandwidth to 50G a month and I use about 40G-45G a month. I receive emails when 75% of my bandwidth had been used, as well as 90% and 95% I think. So I’m sure I don’t use more than I’m allowed to!

I don’t miss my cable bill!!”

Thank you so much to Leatitia for sharing her experience with all of us!

After three months of being without our cable, I can honestly admit to you that there are definitely moments that I do miss. I miss my Food Network, I miss HGTV, I miss the convenience of our DVR taping endless shows for me, I miss my Cupcake Wars marathons with my daughter on Sunday afternoons.

There are also things I don’t miss. I don’t miss feeling like I needed to be a slave to my television to make the most of our dollars, I don’t miss paying nearly a hundred dollars a month, I don’t miss paying for something so darn useless.

Life does feel a little bit richer. Now that we don’t have a DVR we have to catch up on we are spending more evenings together playing games, doing puzzles, going on outings together, and just focusing on being with each other a little more.

Instead of watching Cupcake Wars we are baking our own cupcakes. Maybe turning the cable off really is radical. It feels that way.

The money that has been freed gives us the chance to put an allowance towards other things we might want to do. We can put the earnings towards a movie outing, getting a season pass to an activity we love, or we can just enjoy the pleasure in the savings.

We still love our television. We just love it in a different way than before.

 

How do you save on your television watching? How does your family watch television now? What are ways you save on your cable bill?

Disclosure: The links to some of these items are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate what you need quickly and easily. Feel free to order your supplies elsewhere, but we always try to highlight the best deals when we see them.

 

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Transforming Your Mount Everest… One Hour At a Time

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

We have so been enjoying our “new-to-us home” and all of the renovations that we did to make our small spaces more livable. On this side of the basement, it has been all rainbows and sunshine. I have been spending lots of time in my favorite chairs, working hard in my little home office, and sipping coffee while snuggling under quilts in the evening with a big stack of books.

On the other side of the rainbows and sunshine was a space that I would like to call the Mount Everest of Clutter. It was where everything that did not fit into our “new to us home” went to live.  It was that room that would make my heart beat really fast if anyone wanted to see what was on the other side of the office. It was the room that I prayed that nothing would ever malfunction in because I would have been so embarrassed for anyone to see it.It was that room that made my laundry routines difficult, that made me spend money on repeat items we already had… it was that room that made me feel ashamed.

Perhaps you have a room like this? Your Mount Everest could be a craft room gone awry, a junk drawer that seems to multiply, it could be that pile of papers that you swear you will deal with next week, it could be the closet that harbors clothes of years past that will never be worn. If you don’t have a single spot in your home like this, please write a blog or book and I will buy it and read it. For me, I have many places in my life that need a little remodeling…this is just the big one for me.

I decided that I would set a timer and I would try to organize this space for one hour with no interruptions. I would avoid the rainbows and sunshine sides of my home and I would brave the rugged terrain of hideous clutter to show myself what could be done in one hour.  I would spend zero dollars.  I would commit to only what could be accomplished in an hour. I would be brave.

One hour later with zero dollars spent, my space has shaped up quite a bit. It is organized enough that I now can see my floors and I can find items that I need much easier than I could before. With only that hour, I have made my Everest into a small hill. There is still work to do, but it is manageable work that doesn’t seem half as daunting.

What happens when you tackle a Mount Everest? Well, sometimes a ripple effect seems to happen. When you organize a space, you find an unused item that could help organize another hill of clutter in your home.

This little bookcase happened to be in that pile of clutter in our basement. After a good dusting, it found a new home in my son’s room. He had oodles of books that were taking over his desk and drawers. This bookcase matched perfectly with his room and is a useful storage tool for all of his reading materials.

This little nightstand in his room was no longer needed and was moved into a tiny corner in my bathroom for bathroom storage and to make finding the important things that might be needed by our guests (*ahem*)  easily accessible.

In that hour, I feel a little bit of those rainbows and sunshine pulling through in cringe-worthy spaces from before. It is just a start, but it does feel like a good one!

Want to tackle a Mount Everest of Clutter in your home? Here are a few easy tips for tackling your project today:

Set Your Timer- Give yourself a set amount of time to tackle whatever project has been bothering you the most. Remember that you can always do another round later, but see what you can accomplish if you devote just one hour to that project.

Try To Reduce Your Items Not Spend More- It can be tempting to buy tons of shiny new containers and organizing tools to tackle your clutter project. See what frugal organizing solutions you already have and try to use those instead of heading to the big superstore for the latest and greatest in organizers. You might be surprised how little you actually need.

Schedule a Regular Clutter Date- Make one day a week your day for tackling one thing you have been meaning to do, but have never gotten around to it. I try to aim for Wednesday because I usually have very little going on during the midweek, but you can make it whatever day works with your own schedule. Devote that one hour each week to a task that should be done, but just never seems to get checked off the list.

Reward Yourself- After I was done with this project, I sat in the beautiful sunshine, in my favorite chair, with my favorite coffee drink, and read a mindless summer novel. It was the perfect reward for the hour I devoted towards tackling this project. Make sure that you reward your efforts whether it be with a trip to the library, renting a movie just for you, an at-home pedicure or bubble bath, or a favorite drink. After all of that work, you will have earned every minute of that reward.

What corner of your home do you want to transform? Do you have any tips for a problem space that you have resolved? Please share!

How to Get Back in the Groove of Reading

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
Picture Credit: Ryan Grayson

Last month, I was asked by Mandi Ehman of Organizing Your Way to share on a particular issue near to my heart for her 30 Days of Organizing Challenge. After reviewing all of her fantastic categories, I chose the one that has been something that I have been striving to do more of this year…reading more! Mandi is sharing her ideas for how to make reading a priority too today!

The number one complaint when I talk to other moms is that they have no time to read. Even when I was burning the candle at both ends, I still found ways to sneak in a little reading and I know that you can too.

Those difficult newborn days filled with cranky babies, nursing, and late nights, I longed to just run away and hibernate with a good book. Instead, I pulled a basket of reading material next to the glider and would squeeze in a chapter while the baby ate or would lock myself in the bathroom and soak in the bathtub for an hour with a book.

There are times were I am able to crank out four to six books a week and other times where I read a book in a month. Both situations are gratifying for me because I am still reading.

These are the best tips that I have for moms who are trying to squeeze in a bit of reading time:

Join a community of readers- Likely, there are communities of readers in your town that could help you get motivated to read again. Check your library’s calendar of activities and see if there is a monthly book club meeting you could join. Bookstores also offer great book discussions and opportunities to chat with local and well-known authors. Check their websites for details on these great options!

If there are no groups in town meeting, start your own book club! The best part about starting your own group is that you can create your own rules. Only love children’s literature? Get a group together to read books from your childhood. Only love chick lit? You could start a chick lit book club and meet at fun spots in town that fit with this lighter genre. Never read the great literary classics growing up? Try something new this year and meet quarterly over Gone With the Wind or the Great Gatsby.

If you aren’t able to meet anyone in person, there are so many great online groups that you can join or you could check on Meet Up to try and find a group locally.

Take advantage of reading windows- Reading for me is carved into that tiny window of time between getting one child off to school and then the other. I find a window when we have time with the television off and the kids are spending their quiet time reading or drawing. Another window is generously given to me by my husband when he completes the kid’s evening routine and I disappear on the couch. These tiny pockets of time are how it works for me now. I look forward to having bigger windows of opportunity in the future, but I crave these little pockets of time for me!

If you are a new mom or a busy mom running your kids off to the next extracurricular activity, I know that there are still windows, they just might be different windows than my own. Time spent waiting in the minivan for the kids to come out of school? Time when the baby is feeding or you are rocking that colicky baby for the hundredth time that day? Time when eating lunch in solitary after the kids eat? Heck, do you go to the bathroom?

In all seriousness, there are windows there, you just have to find the windows that work best for you!

Turn the television and computer off- I know it is hard, but if I keep the television and computer off in the evening, I know that I can spend that time reading instead. Find a quiet space in your home that is television and computer free and designate that as your reading spot. Encourage your other family members to do the same!

My scaled down social networking probably has not boosted traffic to the site or made me the social media maven I sometimes wish I could be, but boy, do I feel a sense of satisfaction when I read a book!

Create your own book basket- Who says book baskets are just for kids? Fill a basket up for yourself and make a regularly scheduled date with yourself to visit the library. Put it on the calendar and savor those moments of peace choosing great books to read.

Do it for your kids- When my kids see me digging into my book basket, they want to dig into theirs too. Think of what an incredible example you are when you are showing them how much fun it is to read. It is through your example that they will learn a love of reading!

Read what you want- We have enough pressures on us as mothers, but to be pressured to always be reading award-winning books doesn’t have to be one of them. If your life is full of stress and chaos, a good chick lit book might be just what the doctor ordered. I like to read one heavy book and one light book and alternate them. When my children were smaller all I wanted to read was something that would make me laugh. No matter what you read… just keep reading!

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Here are a few great books that I have read this last month to get your reading list started! Many of these have been fantastic recommendations by YOU so thank YOU for all of the reading ideas.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


This book came highly rated by so many of my friends and I have to say that this one did not disappoint.

The story is told through the unique perspective of Death, which adds a certain darkness to this book, as he shares the story of taking souls and the increase in unnecessary and cruel deaths during the terrifying reign of Hitler.

While so many books I have read have concentrated on all that the Jewish people had to endure, this book told their story, but also told the story of a poor German girl who is taken in by a foster family enduring poverty and the heartache of the loss of her family members.

Her moments of joy come when her adopted father teaches her how to read and she becomes engrossed in learning and reading the written word. In a time of great poverty and where books were scarce, the little girl becomes a “book thief” stealing books for these sweet moments of treasure during a time of aching heartbreak in her life.

When her adopted parents hide a Jewish young man, by the name of Max, in their basement, they form a fast friendship and this protection of this man becomes of great importance to their family.

The book takes you on so many twists and turns and I found myself weeping for all that this little girl has to go through. The book truly touched me and I believe it is one that will stick with me for many, many years!

As an aside, while the novel started out very slow for me, the second half really picked up and made it all worth the time invested to read the first part of this book. If you have a hard time getting through that first part, keep on reading…it will be so worth it! I promise you!

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah


This book was an unbelievably fun adventure that chronicles the life of two best friends from the time they are children until they are grown women. It goes through each decade, the hair, the pop culture references, and the politics that are happening as they are growing up.

Kate & Tully are as opposite as friends can be, but they are both outsiders in their own ways. Kate is a bookworm and shy while Tully has been uprooted to a new school and feels unloved by her mother. Regardless of their differences, they become fast friends whose lives become quickly entwined.

As they get older, new issues face them. Tully is career-driven and hungry for a job as an anchorwoman. Kate, on the other hand, is more laid back and unsure of her life goals. Kate really just longs to be with someone while Tully ends up with the someone she longs to be with.

In some ways the book was predictable, in others, it reminded me of the chick flicks I love to see with my girlfriends. I laughed out loud and I cried a little bit too. It was just an all-around fantastic read!

I gave this gift to my girlfriends for the holidays because it is just one of those books that you can’t not share!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I am becoming such a huge fan of Lisa See and now am anxious to read Peony in Love after having read this great book. Snow Flower & the Secret Fan takes place in 19th century China and is centered around the lives of two girls who are paired as laotong (or “old same”) at the tender age of seven years old. As is customary in their tradition, Snow Flower & Lily are paired together to be lifelong friends and to see each other through their marriages, children, and through the ending of their lives.

They write back and forth in a secret unique language called nu shu on a fan to communicate to each other without allowing the prying eyes of men to see their true feelings and discussion about what goes on in their household. The messages written on their fan start in their girlhood and begins as an introduction to one another. It later reveals the true secrets of how they feel about their status and about one another, shared between only them.

In the beginning, Lily seems an unworthy match for Snow Flower and does not seem as learned and polished as her old same. Snow Flower appears to be the more polished one coming from a higher upbringing and is happy to share her knowledge on things such as writing, embroidery and sewing. Lily offers advice on cooking, cleaning, and caring for the home. They seem the perfect match.

A secret and misunderstanding sends their worlds into a spiral and the reader is taken on the journey where their friendship is threatened to tear apart. It is a friendship that endures through a war, through many pregnancies and miscarriages, through difficult marriages, but can it survive until the end of their lives? You will have to read this one to find out!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Marry Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I wasn’t sure if I would really like this book as I dove in and realized that this book is entirely made up of a series of letters. In the past, I haven’t enjoyed books like these, but within a few short pages, I felt attached to the characters and loved to see how this story unfolded.

This book is set both in London and in Guernsey Island and is a series of letters from Juliet, a budding author looking for a new story, and the people of Guernsey Island as she learns about their Literary & Potato Peel Society that is set up as a way to survive the occupation of the Germans set up on a whim to explain why a group of them were out past curfew.

Juliet is a hysterically funny and witty character and comes to know The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society when one of the members happens upon a book of hers and inquires if she has anymore books to share with his book group.

Juliet asks for more details about this group and the members in it and through the letters comes to know more and more about them. After much correspondence, she decides to visit the Guernsey Island and begins a personal relationship with each of them and corresponds to her friends and literary agent about her special time there.

While the book was definitely predictable in parts, I still found the story endearing and felt as though I knew each of the characters so well. I would love to see a continuation of their story and how their friendships evolve through the years. It is a sweet and satisfying read that I thoroughly enjoyed!

After You by Julie Buxbaum

I am not much of a chick lit reader, but “After You,” was a fantastic read for those who embrace the chick lit and those who do not.

Ellie’s best friend, Lucy, is brutally murdered in front of her daughter and Ellie comes to stay with her daughter to help comfort her during this time of loss. Ellie arrives in Notting Hill to find her husband who is drinking and working to comfort himself while Sophie has decided to stop speaking after witnessing the death of her mother.

Ellie remembers that when she was small and lost someone she loved l that the book, “The Secret Garden,” was read to help bring her the comfort she needed. She begins reading the book with Sophie and as they dive deeper into the book, they both began to heal with each flip of the chapter.

As they read the book, Ellie begins working through her own grief losing her baby Oliver in her the ninth month of her pregnancy, the decline and fall of a marriage that she thought could withstand it all, and the reality that she didn’t know her best friend as well as she thought she did as a secret life begins to unwind.

I could not put this one down and now I am dying to read, “The Opposite of Love” because I enjoyed this book so much!

Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain



After reading the fantastic, “The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes,” I was anxious to dive into another Diane Chamberlain novel to see if it would be half as thrilling as her first book that I read. I was not disappointed with “Before the Storm,” which sucked me in and was quickly read within two days.

Before The Storm is a complex family drama that is told from each family member’s point of view. Laurel is the mother of two children, but her focus is solely centered upon her son Andy who is her fifteen year old disabled son. When a fire to a church starts at a youth lock-in that Andy is attending, Andy for the first time becomes a hero saving all of the children in the church and an object of the town’s affection instead of being cruelly ridiculed by his classmates.

As the investigation as to what started the fire goes underway though, Andy becomes the focus as the arsonist instead of the town hero. Laurel is focused on proving his innocence and as she focuses all of her efforts, she loses sight that she has two children and not one.

Her daughter Maggie harbors deep secrets, but goes unnoticed because of all of the effort that is put into her brother and his special needs… and now his defense.

The book goes back and forth from the past to the present tense, setting the reader up to discover why Andy is disabled, the family secrets that shadow their life, and the complex relationships between each of the characters.

The only disappointment was the build-up to the grand finale, which was finished in a short epilogue and chapter. For over four hundred pages of build-up, I had hoped for a more in-depth ending. It reminded me of Jodi Picoult’s swift endings that take the reader by surprise, but leave you wishing more.

Thankfully, “Secrets She Left Behind” should fill that void as the character development continues in this sequel!

Secrets She Left Behind by Diane Chamberlain

This is a spoiler alert- don’t read this review until after you have read the first book! As a warning, this book is a sequel to “Before the Storm,” and I would definitely skip reading the reviews if you haven’t read the first novel yet.

We rejoin the Lockwood family in this sequel following Maggie’s prison sentence for the arson that she committed to a community church. She rejoins society only to be welcomed with great anger from the families of those that were lost or injured and finds it is more difficult to return to society than she could ever imagine. Even simple things like volunteering her time to charity becomes difficult because no one wants to be associated with her. She deals with the guilt for the wrong she has done and is faced with learning to try and love herself again. She is happily surprised when she meets a new girl in town who befriends her and seems to look past her faults. Will this friendship help Maggie love herself again?

In the meantime, Keith, Sara’s son, discovers that his mother has disappeared without a trace. He is now left alone with the burns from the fire, the emotional and physical pain that he now has to endure alone, and his anger towards Maggie for what she has done. Abandoned by his mother, he is forced to get help from the Lockwood family to help him survive the day-to-day expenses. Luckily, he meets a girl who makes him feel somewhat whole again and can look past his scars to the person he is.

The plot thickens as Sara’s past is told through her eyes, Keith and Maggie finally see each other after her time in jail, Maggie tries to find a way to forgive herself, Keith deals with the abandonment of his mom, and a surprising twist occurs at the end that will take the reader by surprise.

I found this to be a really satisfying read especially since I was so disappointed with the abrupt ending of the first book. I was able to read this in just a few nights and would love for the story of the Lockwoods to continue!

While some sequels can be read without reading the first book, this is one that you really need to read the first book to really get all of the family drama. It is a twisted family tree and reading the first book will provide reference to just how tangled those branches are!

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon

If this had been my first introduction to Jennifer McMahon’s writing, I would have totally loved this book. Having just read Dismantled though (which I would consider one of the best thrillers I have read this year), I think I was a little disappointed with this one.

School Nurse, Kate Cypher, has returned to her home in rural Vermont to care for her mom who has Alzheimer’s. The night she arrives, a young girl in town is murdered in a horrific murder that eerily is the same as a murder that took place during Kate’s childhood to one of her friends.

The book flashes forward and through the past of these two murders, one to a social outcast named Del who is nicknamed the “potato girl” and is mistreated by her friends and family. The other murder that has taken place to another young girl in a similar way. The mystery of these two murders ends up colliding together as Kate begins to pull the pieces of these two murders together.

It is definitely a ghost story, a mystery, and a coming-of-age story that is pulled all together. Much like McMahon’s other books, it is a twisted story that pulls together with a nice twist at the end.

If you haven’t read McMahon before, I would recommend this one, but I definitely enjoyed Dismantled a little bit more than this one!

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Photo Credit: Sarah Furnell


What if you don’t have a great library system? Well, there are some great reading alternatives out there! Here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor’s offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won’t get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what’s due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it — before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

Paperback Swap & Bookmooch- Just two of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you receive to get more books.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it’s current market value is, and award you 20% of it’s value up front for your use. You get the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!



What was in your book basket this past month? Any book recommendations you would like to share?

Me Time: Making Your Reading Time a Priority

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009


I have been really trying to devote more time to reading in the evening instead of watching television. I have the tendency to become a television junkie when the new fall season starts, but this year, I seem more interested in reading. We have a fantastic library system and I am definitely cashing in and spending some time under my favorite cozy quilt to get some reading done.

Setting up a book basket in our front room just for me has been a great way to incorporate reading back into my life. I visit the library for a little me time every other week and stock up on great reads. With borrowing from the library, there is no guilt if I decide that I don’t like a book… I just return it for the next unfortunate soul.

Many times I hear from people that they don’t have time to read. I have found that I can usually carve a little time out for just about anything in my life, but I have to make it a priority in order to make the time for it.

Take advantage of reading windows- Reading for me is carved into that tiny window of time between getting one child off to school and then the other. I find a window when we have time with the television off and the kids are spending their quiet time reading or drawing. Another window is generously given to me by my husband when he completes the kid’s evening routine and I disappear on the couch. These tiny pockets of time are how it works for me now. I look forward to having bigger windows of opportunity in the future, but I crave these little pockets of time for me!

Join or start a book club- My book club has been the biggest motivator to read at least one book each month. Being in a group can challenge you to read books that you would have never read before. I look forward to my book club each month and I love the books that I have totally loved that would have never made my reading list.

Turn the television and computer off- I know it is hard, but if I keep the television and computer off in the evening, I know that I can spend that time reading instead. Find a quiet space in your home that is television and computer free and designate that as your reading spot. Encourage your other family members to do the same!

My scaled down social networking probably has not boosted traffic to the site or made me the social media maven I sometimes wish I could be, but boy, do I feel a sense of satisfaction when I read a book!

Create your own book basket- Who says book baskets are just for kids? Fill a basket up for yourself and make a regularly scheduled date with yourself to visit the library. Put it on the calendar and savor those moments of peace choosing great books to read.

Do it for your kids- When my kids see me digging into my book basket, they want to dig into theirs too. Think of what an incredible example you are when you are showing them how much fun it is to read. It is through your example that they will learn a love of reading!

Read what you want- We have enough pressures on us as mothers, but to be pressured to always be reading award-winning books doesn’t have to be one of them. If your life is full of stress and chaos, a good chick lit book might be just what the doctor ordered. I like to read one heavy book and one light book and alternate them. When my children were smaller all I wanted to read was something that would make me laugh. No matter what you read… just keep reading!

What if you don’t have a great library system? Well, there are some great reading alternatives out there! Here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor’s offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won’t get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what’s due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it — before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

Frugal Reader, Paperback Swap, & Bookmooch- Just three of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it’s current market value is, and award you 20% of it’s value up front for your use. You g
et the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- For those that have moved towards the electronic books, Amazon has books available to download for free through February 28th. Be sure to snag these books and save!

I challenge you to bring reading back into your life- even if it is the teeniest pane of a window and even if the literature is lighthearted and non-award-worthy!

These are a few of the books that I have been working on these last two months…

The Penny Pinchers Club by Sarah Strohmeyer

I absolutely adored this book. If you are a Sophie Kinsella fan, you will really love this book and the hilarity that ensues.

Kat is an assistant to an interior designer barely making any money at all. She doesn’t seem to notice that she is spending more money than she has until she is faced with the stunned resolution that her marriage is falling apart.

On the advice of her lawyer, Kat is advised to begin saving a minimum of $500 a week to build a nest egg for herself so that she can handle the financial blow of the divorce and beginning to live on her own.

She joins the local Penny Pinchers Club and vows to stop shopping and start saving to reach her financial goals. She learns important lessons in bulk shopping, saving on her electric bill, and how much sweet rewards are savored when only enjoyed occasionally.

The life lessons build up to a great finish where Kat makes a discovery about herself and who she can be through her penny pinching efforts.
The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher

This was a really great chick lit book about a woman who offers to be a pretend wife to her old college flame. Elliott’s mother is passing away and she is worried that her son will not be taken care of when she dies.

In a drunken pact, Gwen and her husband Peter, decide she can be his pretend wife for one weekend for his mother.

Of course, the old feelings resurface and Gwen has to choose between her predictably normal marriage and falling in love with her whole heart.

There is a great little twist at the end and it is a fast read that I devoured in two days!
The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

It has been a long time since a book kept me up all night, but I could not put this book down. Just as a warning, the book does have rough language and abuse in it. If you can’t handle that sort of thing, just skip over this one!

“The Last Bridge,” jumps back and forth from the past and the present, sharing the difficult life of the main character Cat. Cat suffers through terrible emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father and escapes by sketching a comic book version of herself escaping “The Hand” of abuse.

She begins a relationship with a boy named Addison who loves her unconditionally. Although Addison cannot protect her from the abuse of her father, he makes her feel beautiful and loved. There love is a secret one as her father’s abusive reign will not allow anyone else to love his daughter.

She escapes town, leaving with a huge secret, and returns as a grown women after learning of her mother’s suicide. She is faced with all of the people from her past and her life is falling apart from alcoholism and the year’s of brutal abuse she has endured. She is now faced with discovering a cryptic goodbye note from her mother, the demons of her childhood, and all of the people who could not help her out of that abuse.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot because what makes this book so great is the many twists and turns that I did not expect. If you are a Jodi Picoult fan, I think you will appreciate the unexpected twists and the descriptive use of language that Coyne uses. Her knack for storytelling will immediately suck you in.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride, but I had to know how it would all turn out. An excellent read and I can’t wait to read more from this author!

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

I have never read a book by Diane Chamberlain, but if this is any indication of her writing style, I am permanently hooked on this author.

This book focuses on a sixteen year old girl who has lost her mother and seems to be very alone in the world. She works as a waitress and waits on the table of a handsome young man who sweeps her off of her feet. Despite their age difference, he seems to be very taken with her and she is head over heels in love with him.

He makes a confession that he is on a mission to release his sister from jail for a wrongfully accused crime. He asks her to partner with him and his brother to free their sister from jail. All she will have to do is to sit with the senator’s wife, whom they plan to kidnap, as bait to get the local senator to agree to release their sister.

The crime goes completely wrong and forever alters the path of CeeCee Wilkes. She is forced to change her identity and lives with a horrible secret of what has happened during that fateful night that she assisted with the kidnapping.

This one had me on the edge of my seat and I could not put it down until I knew what had happened. It is one of the best books that I have read in a long time and I would highly recommend it!

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Two families awaken to find their daughters missing in a small Iowa town. The girls are inseparable best friends, both vanishing into the early morning light without a trace.

The two girls become fast friends as Calli suffers from mutism that is brought on by a traumatic event from her childhood. While Calli is unable to talk she finds her voice at school through her best friend Petra.

When the girls go missing, both family’s lives are intertwined as they search for their daughters and a case of the whodunit leaves you guessing throughout the book.

Do you make time to read? What are some books you have read lately that you could recommend?

Mommy Time Management: Making My Plans Work

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

We did a really great series on self-care awhile back (you can scroll through my Mommy Time Management category for all of the discussions and related talks on implementing self-care in your life) and I just wanted to check in with each of you and see how your self-care is going. I know that I have found it is easy to care myself during the summer, but when our new school year starts, I suddenly seem to lose myself again. I am wondering if you are feeling the same way?

My self-care has really come from trial and error and discovering what type of person I am. Here is what I am discovering.

1. I am not a morning person. I have tried being a morning person and I just can’t do it. My workout attempts to wake up early left me feeling horrible the rest of the day and getting a jump on the day usually means I am tapping into the time when I feel less creative. Therefore, I am not pushing being a morning person and am instead concentrating on utilizing the times when I feel best…which is the evening. I will no longer apologize for not being a morning person and will understand that maybe I will come to a stage in my life where mornings work better for me, but for now I am content on being groggy in the morning and enjoying the first bit of laziness while I can.

2. I am not a gym person. I tried the gym with my kids and it did not work. My daughter is at a stage in her life where she is shy and scared when I am away from her. I don’t know how long this stage will last, but dragging one whining kid and one crying kid to the gym so I could work out left me feeling stressed and guilty. We decided to, instead, put our tax refund check towards a good treadmill that we could use while caring for our children at home. My husband is now able to run and train for his races in the winter seasons and I am able to squeeze in a workout when it is convenient for me. I am working out more often and I feel better than I did before.

3. My self-care needs to be convenient for it to work. A treadmill in the basement…not convenient. A treadmill that is near my workspace so it is ready and waiting for me. Yup, that works. Call me lazy, but self-care will only work for me if it is convenient. This means that I have to make those things available to me and group items in such a way that I will actually use them. My foot soak goodies are all together waiting for the night when I can soak my feet. My library books sit in a basket in my living room where I can grab one and read them. My craft supplies are ready for me to spend an evening working on what makes me most happy. Keeping stocked on my self-care items helps me to actually care for myself when I need it most.

4. I need to put myself on a self-care schedule. I have made a commitment to myself to do one nice thing for myself for one hour a day. It is not an hour where I am watching my favorite show while I fold the laundry, pick up the kid’s toys, and sign papers. No, the only multitasking that will be occurring is if I am watching my television show while soaking my feet. As a mom, I get in the habit of making it about everyone else, even during the time that I should be caring for myself. One hour of total and carefree time devoted to myself is just what I need. The world will still spin, our house will still function, and I will be feeling better about myself in the process.

How do you care for yourself? Do you find it more difficult as the school year and activities begin? How do you make this a priority… or do you?

(Photo Source: David Joyce)

Follow-Up on Self-Care Discussion

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Our discussion on self-care was prompted by a lack of care for myself that I needed to admit to and work on. We had such a great discussion and I heard from a lot of you (through email and through your comments) that you were making it a priority to care for yourselves. For those of you that missed our discussion, I encourage you to read our entire discussion and to start taking some steps towards caring for yourself.

I wanted to share with you the improvements that I have made towards these goals:

1. I am managing my time much better. Now that Blogger has finally added the feature where you can publish into the future (doesn’t that sound cool the way I worded that?), I am actually able to do the majority of my work on the weekend and I just schedule my entries to publish during the week. I have started devoting my time on Sunday afternoon towards getting my posts ready to go from Monday through Thursday so I can concentrate on family time throughout my week. The computer is ruling my life a lot less and I have less on my shoulders in the mornings to worry about.

2. I am working out regularly. I almost hate to admit it, for fear that I will get off track, but my working out is going really well. I am still going to the gym and am indulging in that in the evenings on occasion, instead of my trips to Goodwill. I am also running in my neighborhood (to help save on gas) and we are planning to invest in a treadmill so that my husband, who is a runner, can also enjoy working out in the winter and training for his runs in the spring & summer. Whether I will continue at the gym, I am unsure, especially if we invest in a treadmill for our home.

I never thought I would be the type of person that would work out regularly, but I really am proud that I am. Some of the positive side effects that happened because I am exercising regularly are that I have more energy during the day, my mood is much better after I have had those nice endorphins releasing into my system, and my troubles with insomnia are almost gone. I am sleeping so hard that we now have a new problem on occasion…snoring! In all seriousness though, I am feeling so much better about myself for adding this to my life.

3. I am making time for hobbies now. My new knitting hobby has been the best form of self-care yet because it has calmed me down a lot in the evening hours. I have found that I am more creative than I give myself credit for and I am trying to focus this creativity into benefiting my children too. We are spending more time crafting and enjoying time together now that I don’t feel so busy all of the time. Our evenings are spent in our backyard indulging in conversation and fun summertime activities.

4. I am also continuing to reduce the clutter in our house and am trying to be more purposeful about the things we bring into our lives. One commitment that I made to myself (which has been extremely hard) is to not go to garage sales this summer. I know, HARD! I haven’t brought as much in and I am finding that I can be more inventive with what we already own. Best of all, I have a little less to clean and a little more room to entertain in. When things come in, things go out- sounds simple enough, but I am still learning.

5. I am trying to do more for others by donating my time and talents to some great causes. The more that I am doing for others, the more I feel better about myself. It isn’t anything extravagant that I am doing, but they are little things that have made me feel better about how I can help other people. I am still working on this so I am looking for opportunities to give back to others in our community.

Basically, I am feeling a lot more balanced than I was before. I am trying to talk less about how busy I am and more about how fulfilled I feel from the great things I have added to my life. I am saying no to more and missing out on some things, but I am concentrating on building our family unit up and strengthening the important ties that need strengthening.

How is your self-care going? What are you doing lately that you feel really proud of?

I Am Busy, But Why?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I cracked open this book and was prepared to learn how to manage my time better. In my head, I had envisioned all of the ways that I could manage my day in a more effective way. For example, I could get up by four in the morning, like other bloggers I read, and start my day off with a brisk bit of exercise, breakfast, and some really hard work before my children get up. Then I could reserve their naps for time to catch up on the house, laundry, and bills. Then I could spend the afternoon cooking and catering to everyone’s needs. And then I could collapse into utter oblivion…because I don’t know how people get up at four in the morning. Or five in the morning. Heck, six sounds too early to me. We can see the beginnings of why I don’t manage my time well. I am a late riser and I require oodles of sleep. Sleep has trumped a lot of things in my life and I just can’t picture me being a real go-getter in the morning.

As I begin to read though, one of the first things the book said was that it “was not a book on time-management, it was a book on not being busy.” Did you feel a chill in the air like I did? What? Not be BUSY? But this is my life. No, I want a book that is going to teach me that busyness is good and perfectly acceptable, but that I just need to manage my busyness more effectively.

That is when I realized how deeply rooted my problem had become. The author says, “I valued achievement more highly than joy, which led to speeding toward the finish line of every project, goal, or task without regard for the gift the journey. I had bought into the belief that taking on more work, projects, or activities validated my worth, abilities, and potential. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being industrious, but beware when busyness becomes a self-esteem substitute.”

Yes, I am admitting that feeling busy makes me feel important and I get a high from it. It feels good to be validated by others and to offer my opinions and insights. I think that this really started when I became an at-home mom and it felt good to hear that other grown-ups respected what I had to say and that I had a valuable opinion. Being pooped on and peed on certainly wasn’t making me feel good, but if I had a full calendar…well, I was popular! If my schedule was jam-packed, this proved that I had friends, and lots of them!

But could I possibly build any meaningful friendships if I am only able to pencil my friends in once a month? Did anyone ever get all of me if all I was thinking about was the next engagement or the next thing I had to do? I am realizing how bad this really is.

The author suggests making a new declaration that you can work towards while working through her book.

Declaration of My Personal Lifestyle
1. I only engage in activities that reflect what really matters to me.
2. I take all of my vacation time every year.
3. I make a heart-to-heart connection every day with someone I care about.
4. I honor my body’s need for rest.
5. I have fun at least once a week.
6. I eat at regular intervals and at a slow pace.
7. I find enjoyable ways to exercise at least three times per week.
8. I do not allow technology to consume my time, but use it to maximize my time.
9. I say no to activities that do not pass my “personal priority test.”
10. I listen to my inner voice when making decisions.

Just looking at this list, I can tell you exactly what is going to be a problem for me. #1,6,7,8,9, & 10. I don’t eat like I should, I don’t exercise regularly, I can’t say no, my computer is a major time sucker, and I rethink my inner voice all of the time to please others.

What things on this list would be hard for you? Where do you struggle when it comes to busyness? Here’s a tough one…does busyness boost your self-esteem? (You can sign in anonymously as always!)

“How Did I Get So Busy?” (A Busy Bee Quiz)

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

I can’t begin to tell you how much I have appreciated your feedback on what I should do with this blog and website. I think going away last week, returning to an overwhelming amount to do, and the feeling that I can’t possibly keep up was eating away at me. I always feel I should be a positive example to people, but sometimes I need to show the more human side of myself. I have read all of your comments and emails and they mean so much. Maybe I just needed to hear that it was going to be fine if I didn’t have something fresh and new every single day. I worry about the loss in traffic and readers, when I should worry more about the priorities in my own life.

Here is to a new direction and a new outlook on time management. As encouraged by you, I am going to try and explore better time management and share with you my journey in this. I am struggling with my day and I know other people must struggle with this too. There is just so much to do and we only have so many hours in the day. Where do we start? How do we manage our days better so that we can get things done without the feelings of being tapped out?

I found a book at the library called, “How Did I Get So Busy?” by Valorie Burton. This book is a 28-day plan to “free your time, reclaim your schedule, and reconnect with what matters most.” Ironically, the book caught my eye when I was looking for something else, and I just knew I needed to grab it. I plan to read this and share about reclaiming some of my time and encourage you to pick up the book too! Check and see if you can get it at your local library.

The very first section has a test to see how busy you are. Give yourself 1 point for each statement that you identify with:

Too Busy Test

I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up at work.
I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up with personal responsibilities.
My life feels out of balance.
My breathing right now is shallow.
I am regularly late to appointments and scheduled activities.
There’s rarely a break in my schedule.
My shoulders are not relaxed right now.
I eat lunch at my desk at least once per week.
I sometimes work straight through lunch.
I have not had a vacation longer than seven days in the last year.
A seven day vacation? I have never had one of those.
I have not gotten together with friends for fun and conversation in over a month.
Keeping up with household chores is a struggle because of time constraints.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my spouse or significant other.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my child.
I don’t take time to exercise.
I resent the things I do for family or friends because I have little or no time for myself.
The fuel light in my car has come on at some point in the last two months because I have not had time to fill it up.
My mail is piled up because I haven’t had time to open or sort it.
I have missed paying a bill on time in the last three months because I was too busy to notice the due date had passed.
I sometimes run out of socks, jeans, or other laundry items because I haven’t had time to do the laundry.
I don’t have time to write thank-you notes.
My to-do list rarely gets completely checked off for the day.
I work late more than once per week.
At least once per week, I skip meals because I am too busy.

How Busy Are You?

1-5 Points- Busy
Your schedule is challenging at times, but you are managing to get by. A few small changes will make a big difference towards helping you to take complete control of your time.

6-10 Points- Too Busy
Either life is becoming increasingly too busy for you, or you’ve been managing to get by but are starting to lose control. By taking action over these next 28 days, you can finally take charge of your schedule and decrease the stress that has been building.

11-16 Points- Too Busy & Frustrated
Life has been hectic for awhile and if you don’t slow down soon and become more intentional about where and how you focus your time, you will soon burn out. It is essential that you begin to take steps now so you can get your life back.

17-25 Points- Out of Control
From the author, “I understand. I’ve been there. And it’s possible for you to transform how you live so that your schedule is aligned with what’s most important to you. It may require some big changes, but remember that change is about making choices.”

I am looking forward to diving in on the first chapter of this. Time management is a tough issue for me and not one I have ever mastered. I have little sleep and exist a lot on my coffee addiction. I don’t exercise, I don’t take that great of care for myself, I sometimes feel as though I am “coasting” when it comes to managing the house and housework. I basically do as little as I have to do right now to keep up with this side business and that isn’t what my intentions were in the beginning. It is comforting to know that I am not alone and here I am, exposing myself to you (in a totally G-Rated kind of way!)

My score was a 17 on this quiz. I am wondering if I am alone? Where are you at on this quiz?

Achieving Balance When Working From Home

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Achieving Balance When Working From Home I knew that I always wanted to work from home because it would be the ideal situation for our family. I would be able to be home with my children and do all of the things that I could ever want with them, and I would also maintain a booming business in the process. I wanted the best of both worlds and never really thought about what it would take to achieve the balance of home and family life when both were so intertwined.

Working from home is an incredible blessing and is something that many people desire. Receiving a paycheck while being home with your children is ideal for many families, but how do you squeeze in time to work and also make time for your children, particularly with small children underfoot?

Here are some tips for achieving that balance in your life:

Make a Schedule and Stick to It

Just because you are not clocking into a workplace, does not mean that you don’t have the opportunity to create regular hours. Life does get in the way of this, but trying to set aside a specific block of time to work is ideal for you and for your children.  Set a timer for yourself and begin working during this time. When the timer beeps, it is time for you to turn away from the work you are doing and focus on the children. The children will be just as excited as you to hear the timer beep and will be more respectful of the time you need to get your work done.

Take advantage of any down times that you can. Do your children have a nap? Use their nap time to work. Do they have quiet time each day? Use this time to accomplish some tasks off of your list. Down times can also include time when dad can help with the children or when the children are tucked away in bed.

Sit down and write out an ideal schedule for your life and print it out and hang it somewhere visible for the whole family. Explain that these are your hours and that you need these hours to work so that you can continue being home with them. It will take some time for the family to adapt, but they will adapt. You will have a greater sense of accomplishment for the day and you will have more time for your family in the process.

Create a Kid-Friendly Office

Making your office child-friendly is very important, particularly when your children are small. It is important to incorporate them into your work environment and have fun things for them to do in your workspace.

In our office, for example, we have tons of art supplies and a small table and chairs for the children to sit at. While mommy is hard at work, the children can be “working” on their own projects. Other ways that I have included them in my workspace are a set of shelves for their own books, a special selection of toys, games, and a chair for them to sit on and talk to me. They are small additions to the office, but provide a welcoming place for them to visit with me while I work.

Conducting Business

It is hard to conduct business with children. The best way that I have found to do this is through email. I try to do the majority of my communications through email because there are no distracting noises on our end and I can do my replies at my leisure.

If emailing is not possible, suggest times during a child’s quiet time or during their naps so that you can have a time with the least amount of disturbance. Suggest a window of time to the person and make sure to specify your time zone.  I have had many an unfortunate conversation at the wrong time because I did not make this specification.

Just realize that it is Murphy’s Law that whatever time you pick, your child will choose an entirely different schedule for that day. I try to go with the flow and if there is a lot of noise on my end, I think it indicates to the other person that I am exactly what I say I am- a mom who is busy doing both roles at home. There will be the occasional person who is irritated, but more often than not, they say, “You really do operate your business out of your home!” If the noise begins to cause too much confusion, request a different time to chat and chalk it up to just another day of working from home!

Get Help When You Can

If you are having trouble with your workload, it might be a good idea to hire someone to help you.  There is no shame in asking for help and many times friends and family will feel proud that they can help you in achieving your goals.

Try and take advantage of the summer days and hire a mommy’s helper to take care of your children while you work in your office. Teenagers have more availability in the summer, but you will also have to work around their family vacation schedules and summer camps.

If you can’t afford to hire any help, check in with other people who have work-at-home businesses and see if you can trade babysitting with them. They are probably in the same exact predicament and would welcome the opportunity to trade with you.

Your significant other is also a great person to have help you during the evening and weekend hours. Explain to him the difficulties that you are having with time management and sit down together to tackle a plan of attack. Your spouse knows you better than anyone else and will know where your weaknesses are  versus your strengths.

Utilize Time-Saving Strategies

When you run a home business, you may still be responsible for the laundry, the dinner, and keeping up with the house. It is important to try and take advantage of ways to save time so that you can get these things done and still have time with your children and your business.

Slow cookers can be an invaluable way to save time when preparing a meal. Make sure to chop everything and throw it in the crock before going to bed and all you will have to do in the morning is turn your slow cooker on.

Laundry is better tackled one load at a time so each morning, hunt through your hampers and see if you have enough for a load. If you let the laundry pile up, you will feel overwhelmed and it will require more of your time.

Keeping up with the house is easier if you just take short bursts of time and try and tackle one room at a time. Set a timer and devote fifteen minutes to each room, concentrating on the rooms that will be most seen, especially if you are having a sitter come. It is easier to shut to door to your bedroom than it is to the family or living room that the children play in. Pick the rooms that need the attention the most and worry about the rest later!

What is the best time-saving strategy of all? Involve your family in helping you with the house. Give the children daily chores and make sure that they follow through on them. While teaching your children to do things around the house can be tedious in the beginning, the rewards will be worth it! Have your spouse and children help you so that less of that work falls on your shoulder. Remind them that the help that they offer you will give you all more opportunities to spend time together as a family.

However you decide to balance your work and family life, remember the original purpose for working at home…it was so that you could spend time with your family. If you find your business begins to take priority over your family time, it is time to reevaluate your life and your goals.

Organize Your Week – Daily Tasks

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Introduction

I am a big fan of the Flylady website because I think they give such great tips on keeping up with your home. I wish that I could say that I follow them all and have a house that is in fantastic condition all of the time, but unfortunately I have not been that diligent about it. I do take basic principles from the site and try to apply them in my home, but I have worked out a system of cleaning that works for me. Maybe my system will not work for you, or maybe you can take ideas from it and make it your own.

I divide my system by days of the week, but I do have those chores that come up daily that need to be accomplished. If I can get these simple chores done and not even accomplish the day of the week chores, I am pretty pleased with myself. These are the things that I must get done in order for me to feel a sense of accomplishment for the day. You can really tell that I have a toddler because my list seems to get shorter and shorter as my son becomes more active. Here is my to-do list each day:

Amy’s Daily Routine List

1. Make the Bed

As soon as I get out of it and not a second later. If I wait any length of time on this chore, I can guarantee that it will not get done.

2. Do the Dishes & Wipe Down the Kitchen

This includes loading and unloading the dishwasher for the day. I try to unload the clean dishes by the end of the day because this helps me stay ahead of the game for the next day. I also do the dishes as I go when I am cooking and preparing our meals. By doing this, I end up with less dishes at the end of our meals. I wipe down the counters, stove, and appliances before I got to bed. I always have a clean sink at the end of the night as well as a clean dishtowel and washcloth to work with for the next morning.

3. Wipe Down the Bathroom

Now my routine may seem a little ridiculous, but it works for me. I wipe down the bathroom when I am getting ready to take my shower. While I have the water warming up and I am getting ready to hit the tub, I work on wiping down the bathroom instead of wasting that time. Each minute to me is invaluable and this is the perfect time for me to get this done. I wipe down the bathroom with a bathroom cleaner, pour the toilet bowl cleaner in the toilet, and empty the trash while waiting for the water to fill up. After my bath/shower, I then scrub the toilet, clean the tub out (this I only do once a week), and then dispose of the trash as well as the dirty towels. To save time on this chore I keep bags underneath my trash bag in use, that way I always have another bag ready to go when I empty the trash. I also keep household cleaners in each of my bathrooms and in the kitchen. I find that if I have a shelf of cleaners in the room with me, I am more inclined to use them more frequently and I have less of a chance of putting it off. I know this makes me sound like the laziest person in the world, but if those cleaners are not in the same room, then you can forget about me cleaning it. I have a basket of cleaners in almost every room of our house so that I can get my chores done.

4. Do the Bills

I do the bills as they come in because I don’t like to have them pile up on me and to have to do them all at once. As soon as I get the bill I put it together and get it ready to go minus the stamp. In the stamp spot, I write the date for when the bill is due. I put all of my bills in order with the bill that is due first on top. I also separate these bills into two piles with a post-it note. The reason for this is that my husband gets paid every two weeks. Since we are always written down to the last dime I save those bills until he gets paid and send out the first batch with his first check of the month and the second batch with the second check of the month. I have found that this system saves me from a lot of late fees and has enabled me to be on top of these bills. Some people save even more time and money by paying their bills either online or having them automatically withdrawn from their accounts. Personally, timing is everything for me and because we have to be so careful with our money, I don’t want to chance it with automatic withdrawals considering there are times that there just isn’t money in our account to cover the bills.

5. Make Dinner

This is one that I do almost every day with the exception of a meal out once in awhile. I try to do all the prep work in the morning so that I can save my time later in the day. I lay out any meat that needs defrosting, cut up any vegetables that are going in my dishes, and lay out the dishes I will need to prepare the dinner. By doing all of the prep work ahead of time, I find it much easier to accomplish a nice meal within a timely fashion. I have found that the crock-pot is a busy mom’s best friend as well. If I use this, I put everything in it the night before and stick the crock in the fridge. I then take it out in the morning and have it ready to go in plenty of time for the dinner hour.

So now that you know my everyday routine we can begin discussing how to break the other tasks down into more manageable chunks. Once again, you can make your daily tasks fit your daily life. Maybe you have obligations in the evening or during the day that would not allow you to accomplish what I get done. In this case, you feel free to change my schedule around to fit your needs.