Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

The Best Resources For Frugal Readers (And How to Make Reading a Priority Again)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

One of the things that I get asked the most is how I am able to read so many books each month and still manage everything else in my life. If one of your goals this year is to read more, I want to share with you how reading has transformed my life and how it can transform your life too!

The truth is, we all have the same hours in the day and we all choose what we want to fill them with.  Some days I fill it with managing the house and doing everything that needs to be done for my family, but there are days that I let it all go and sit in my favorite chair with my favorite book for an hour instead.

Here are some simple strategies I have used to carve in more time for my fictional reading life:

I Stopped Watching Television- When we dropped our television package, it was the greatest gift in time management I have ever given myself. Our television watching has now whittled down to about four shows a week that we really care about and the rest of the time our television is turned off. It has been so freeing to not feel like I have to dedicate time to the television to justify the bills that we were receiving.

Although watching news has never really been a priority to me, to not be detached completely from the world, I listen to NPR on the way into the gym each morning or while I am tidying up from breakfast. I know what I need to know about world news and local news and then I turn it off and focus on the books I am reading.

I Always Have a Book In My Hand- You will very rarely see me without a book in my hand and I find ways to make the most of every single little pocket of time I have to read my books. Whether I am coloring my hair, cooking, waiting for the kids to get off the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office, or standing in line at the grocery store, you will find me trying to devour a page or two of a book. With devices like the Kindle for your smart phones and tablets, electronic readers, audio books, and the endless supply of great free reading material  from the library, I am constantly trying to find a new way to sneak more pages in my day.

I Make a Goal For Myself- Every year I use GoodReads to create a reading challenge for myself. For me, vague goals of, “I’d like to read more,” usually yield mediocre results. With a number in mind, I know that I have something to work towards and to accomplish. Sometimes I reach my goals, this year, I did not. It doesn’t bother me if I don’t reach my lofty goals because the true point of the goal for me is just to read, read, and read some more.

You can connect with me on GoodReads and see what I am working on right now!

I Want to Be a Role Model For My Kids- I want my kids to model the good things that I do in my life and being a reader is one thing that I am proud of and that I want for them. I don’t want my kids remembering that I sat in front of the television and watched Toddlers & Tiaras every night or that their mom was never without her celebrity gossip magazines. I want them to remember that their mom was always reading, always learning, and also that she wasn’t afraid to tackle hard books and hard topics.

The results for me have been having two kids that are ferocious readers themselves. They beg to go to the library and they are just like me,  often walking into walls and doors because they have their nose in books. If we are going somewhere, they grab their books to take with them when we run errands and one of our biggest struggles is when we have to shut off the lights and our books at night. I love seeing them model me in this way.

I Read What I Want To Read- 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!

I Want to Be a Well-Rounded Person- I didn’t take a lot of advanced classes in high school like my husband so I was only exposed to excerpts of classic books, rather than reading them. As a woman in her thirties, I am reading these books for the first time in my adult life and I am proud that I am no longer intimidated by classical literature. I won’t let the hurdles of my youth stop me from being a well-rounded person and that is why you will often find me making a goal to read the classics.

I Want to Be a Great Writer- Great writers are great readers. Other writers constantly inspire me to be better at what I am writing. I found it a hard juggle to work on my own book and still squeeze in time to read. My pockets of time had dwindled, but I still tried to make it a priority because reading is that important to me.

Reading has changed my life and has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without the words of great writers. Books provide an escape, they challenge how I view the rights and wrongs in life, they take me to countries I may never visit, they make me weep, they make me laugh, and they made me dream that I could transform someone else with my own words. 

Great Reading Resources To Get You Started:

 

GoodReads or Shelfari- Goodreads is my ultimate resource for keeping me motivated to read daily. I use it for my yearly reading goals, to keep track of books that I want to read in the future, and to rate and review books that I have finished reading. The best feature is the barcode scanner that you an use to scan books to quickly pull them into your to-be-read or reading virtual piles.

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.

What Should I Read Next?- One of the big hurdles with reading is finding the perfect reading material. What Should I Read Next? allows you to put in the name of your favorite author or favorite book and then gives you a reading list of similar reading material that it thinks you would like based on your preference.

Paperback Swap or 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 recive to get more books.

Amazon’s Free Kindle Downloads- Amazon offers oodles of books for free for your Kindle or you can download the free Kindle app for your phone or tablet to read your books on. Explore this free list when you are in need of a new book to read!

 

Be sure to visit our Great Reads section to get you started on selecting great books to tackle!

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

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

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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Preparing for the Holidays

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Photo Credit: Nancy Lary Studios

Preparing for the holidays can be a stressful time for families Planning ahead and breaking the preparation down into manageable steps is key to holiday survival.

This year I will be hosting our family’s Thanksgiving, launching a book, celebrating my daughter’s birthday, celebrating Christmas with two sides of the family, and trying to ring in the New Year. Am I scared? You bet!  Just the very thought of all this could make me break into a sweat and cause me to want to throw the covers back over my head until this is all over. I am already working on my timeline to still have a wonderful holiday and accomplish all I need to and I wanted to share it with you.


This week I am sharing my timeline for preparing for the holiday season over on the Kenmore blog! I am offering an easy timeline to help you get things done and actually enjoy your holidays this year!

Head on over to check out my ideas for accomplishing that holiday to-do list! I hope you’ll join me over there!

Making Face Time a Family Priority

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

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.

 

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?

 


 

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Free Printable Chore & Tech Time Tickets

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Today I wanted to share with you a printable that my husband created for our summertime chores and monitoring our computer time with the kids. These tech and chore tickets 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.

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.

My children are 10 (almost) and 6. This is our current list of chore activities that must be completed. I don’t punch the ticket itself until 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.

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!

Next week I will share more about something we call, “Face Time,” in our house that requires our kids to be screen-free and to make our family time a priority.

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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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!

************************
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)