Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

Amy’s Notebook 05.20.15: M Challenge Technology Syllabus

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

m-challenge

Note: As a wrap-up of each month’s m challenge theme, we will be using the last Notebook of the month as a sort of “Cliffs Notes” edition of the challenge – a place where you can find a list of all the articles we’ve published for the challenge, as well as more inspiration and links from the web around the challenge theme. Our hope is that this will serve as a one stop shopping for the theme that you can refer to as well as catch up on in case you’ve missed anything!

May M Challenge: Focus on Technology

Other Links for Using & Managing Technology:

Efficiency Apps via Buzzfeed

Source: BuzzFeed

 

Great list of apps that will make you more efficient.

20 tech hacks – game-changing secrets for the stuff we use daily.

How to use The Cloud to organize your life.

Do you think you could go paperless?

List of top apps to try this year!

Ways to organize your home with Evernote.

Tips to maximize the power of Gmail.

How to make your Wi-Fi signal stronger.

 

Driven-by-Decor-Hack-an-Office-Organizer-to-Create-a-Super-Convenient-Family-Charging-Station

Source: Driven By Decor

 

DIY a decor-worthy charging station for the whole family.

Or dedicate a mudroom cabinet for family electronics.

Simple ways to declutter your online life.

An app to help kids earn screen time – and helps parents manage it!

10 tips to keep technology from taking over your family’s life.

How to talk to teens about distracted driving from smartphones.

17 apps that can save you money.

Could you detox from your smartphone in 7 days?

5 easy steps to clean up & organize your desktop computer.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Making Face Time a Family Priority

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Declare Face Time

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

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

Do Screen Time Together

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

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

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

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

Use a Screen Time Monitoring System

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

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

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

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

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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Using Technology to Make the Most of Summer

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Boy using laptop outdoor

I’m not sure if you’ll see this as good news or bad news, but friends, summer break is almost here. Yes, it’s true. Those little people who eat so much food and make even bigger messes? They are going to be home for a solid 10 to 12 weeks, and they are going to need something to keep them occupied.

My almost-second-grader is a girl after my own heart these days and totally into books. That means our schedule is filling up with library events, reading programs and make-your-own bookmark craft projects. But eventually she’ll need a break from books (gasp! why?! I KNOW.), and then it’s time to figure out other ways to spend our summer days.

Now, obviously our summer and yours will involve lots of outdoor play, pool time, baseball games and the like. Even if – like me – you’re a little indoorsy, sunshine and swing sets and sandboxes and sweat seem to be required summer ingredients. Even if the siren call of our friends Netflix and Kindle is loud. Right?

So the question becomes: How can we balance our use of technology during summer break?

Great ideas, advice & tips on using technology during the summertime with your family from Mary Carver via MomAdvice.com

I’ve found that we use technology in four ways during family time (or Mama-is-working-so-find-something-quiet-to-do time).

Watching. Obviously this is the most passive of uses for the wonderful world of technology. From episodes of Kitchen Crashers saved on the DVR (my daughter’s latest obsession) to silly, G-rated clips on YouTube, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to watch online. That’s why I work hard to keep track of her screen time (and mine) so we don’t overdo it and turn into Screen Zombies!

TIP: PBS, Disney, Nickelodeon and Sprout have free apps that show full episodes of your kids’ favorite shows.

Playing. Are your kids into Minecraft? If so, you can probably skip this one, because you are covered. My daughter hasn’t discovered Minecraft yet, though, so we have to look hard for appropriate games. Games that don’t require spending money to get to level three. Most the games we’ve found require just about as much brainpower as watching an episode of The Odd Squad on our PBS app, so I count games with her other screen time.

TIP: Don’t forget to adjust your settings so purchases require a password.

Learning. Now, learning games? THOSE I can get behind. (Even for myself, not that it’s a real hardship to “force” myself to play Trivia Crack instead of Candy Swipe…) My daughter knows the way to convince me to allow a little more time with the Kindle is to play an educational game, but she doesn’t mind the compromise anymore than I do. Tons of games that really do teach kids are out there – and many of them are free. One I plan to encourage her to play this summer is from PBS Kids, and it has several ways to teach her how to count money (something she hasn’t mastered just yet).

TIP: Your kids’ school is a great resource for educational websites, especially ones that they’re already familiar with. My daughter begs to play ABC Ya or read with Raz Kids, and we log on through her school’s website or with her teacher’s username and password. So find out about your options before school’s out!

Researching. When I was a kid and had a question about something my parents didn’t know (or wanted me to learn on my own), they always said the same thing: “Look it up.” Back then, that meant going to our shelf of World Book Encyclopedias. Not so much these days! Today if I tell my daughter we need to look up some information (she’s still a little young to do it herself, although she’ll be on her own soon), she knows we’re heading to Google, Wikipedia, Pinterest or another website.

TIP: In addition to looking up facts about whales, recipes for popsicles and the history of LEGOs, you and your kids can also look up community events or reserve books at the library.

Child playing video game with father

A Few More Tips & Ideas:

For older kids, technology is certainly going to be used for keeping in touch with friends. But even the youngest kids can Skype with grandparents or help you send a thank-you email after a play date.

One way to make sure your whole family is getting enough activity is with a device that measures your steps. Set a daily goal for each family member or even launch a friendly competition throughout the summer! Whether you use an app, a Fitbit, or a pedometer from the discount store, the point is to be more mindful of how much you – and your kids – move, and to encourage each other to do a little more.

And, of course, family night doesn’t always have to revolve around a movie or board game (those are the go-to activities at our house). Break out that Wii Fit, LeapTV or XBox Kinect – and break a sweat together!

Last but not least, summer is a great time to start discussions about safety. Remind your kids that not everything on the internet is healthy for them, and help them learn a few family rules about what you share online and what you do not. And as you tug the Gameboy (or whatever is cool these days…I CAN’T KEEP UP!) out of their hands and point them toward the backyard or the baseball field, use that opportunity to make talk about balance (and not turning into that Screen Zombie!) part of your regular conversations.

How do you plan to use technology during summer break?

 

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Free Printable Chore & Tech Time Tickets

Monday, May 11th, 2015

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

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

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

How We Use The Tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reward- $5 weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab your Printable Chore Tickets.

Grab your Printable Tech Tickets.

 

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

 

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

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7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

I told someone the other day that my husband and I aren’t even ships passing in the night right now. We’re more like ships in completely different oceans.

Thankfully, we do live in the same house. My husband isn’t deployed or traveling extensively for work. But he does work incredibly long hours on the night shift, which means our time together – as a couple and as a family – is extremely limited.

Recently we’ve been attending a marriage class at our church, and one of the topics we’ve covered is connection. In our particular group it felt like my husband and I have a unique struggle, but I know that’s not the case in general. I have many friends whose husbands are gone at either unusual or unpredictable times or for extended time (and sometimes both). When one or both spouses are away from home a lot, staying connected can be difficult.

If you or your husband work an odd shift, work more than one job, work in law enforcement or medicine, own or run a business, serve in the military, or any other number of things that keep you busy, connecting with him may take what feels like a superhuman effort. And, of course, if you’re already running on steam because of that exhausting schedule, that make seem impossible!

But it’s not. Staying connected to your husband doesn’t mean you need to plan (and pay for – ugh!) a weekend getaway every month. You don’t need to schedule walks on the beach or candlelit dinners, or fear the consequences. (Although, let’s be honest. If you live near the beach or own candles, those things never hurt!) Staying connected to your husband during super busy, crazy chaotic seasons can happen with a few simple, intentional moves.

First, maybe we should define “staying connected,” though. When I use that phrase, I mean that both spouses maintain a warm feeling about one another, showing each other kindness and attempting to make the other one feel loved on a regular basis. What keeping that loving feeling looks like, tangibly and practically, in YOUR marriage? That’s up to you (and your husband)!

Now, on to the tips!

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Date Nights: I know, I know – big surprise! Date nights = everyone’s solution for improving your marriage! But seriously, you guys. Finding time to spend together, alone, is crucial. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Last week we had our monthly date night scheduled but I couldn’t find a babysitter. So I reserved a movie rental and made sure we had popcorn in the pantry, and we still had time together after putting the girls to bed.

Eat a Meal Together: Since we’re already talking about busy seasons, it’s obvious that eating dinner together each evening may be difficult or even impossible. But if you can’t eat dinner together, can you eat breakfast at the same time? Meet for lunch? Feed the kids at the normal time and eat with your husband later? Skype while you eat your meals in completely different time zones? However you arrange it, something about sharing a meal creates a closeness that can’t be duplicated with other food-free interactions.

Send Him a Message: I send my husband a text message each night before going to bed. It’s the end of my day but the middle of his work day, and I just want to make sure he knows I’m thinking of him. We’ve also started using Voxer, a voice message (and text message) app on our phones that allow us to leave messages for each other when we’re thinking about it – without waking each other up (a problem since our schedules are opposite). Maybe those things would work for you, or perhaps you need nightly phone calls or morning Skype dates. The point is to keep communicating so you can stay on the same page, even if you’re not in the same room.

Watch a Show Together: One of the perks to having a husband who works nights is that I don’t have to share the remote or negotiate the shows we watch. However, it also means that we’ve picked a handful of shows that we record and watch together on the weekend. And when “our” shows aren’t on, we watch something together on Netflix.

Others might say that watching TV together isn’t spending quality time together. But for us, it is. It’s something we only do together and it’s something we have in common. And though you might not think deep conversations could come from watching the latest episode of Castle or catching up on all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, you would be wrong.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

Share a Hobby: If TV isn’t your thing, maybe you could read a book together and discuss it when you finally have time together. Or plant a garden together or refinish furniture together or train for a 5K together. (Or train for a 5K separately and then run the race together.) As long as you’re doing something together that you both enjoy, you’re connecting!

Write Him a Letter: My husband doesn’t know it, but on the rare occasion he leaves a note for me (“Don’t forget toilet paper at the store,” “Please wake me up at 4:30,” “Here’s that check to deposit.”), I keep them. There’s something special about seeing his handwriting and his words written just for me – even if they are about mundane, everyday things. It reminds me of the days when we dated and exchanged notes and letters, the days when the most serious thing we had to discuss was our feelings for each other.

Today I’m more likely to send that nightly text or scribble a sentence or two in a birthday card than write him a love letter. But I do think about it sometimes. I wonder if I could convince him to share a journal where we left each other notes. I wonder if I could make time to actually write him a letter. On paper. With a pen. I can’t say I have experience with this tip, but after all my wondering, I’m certain that doing this – even every once in a while – would amp up my connection with my husband.

Think Happy Thoughts: Even before my husband worked nights, he worked evenings. And before that, he worked two jobs. So we’ve had lots of practice fighting the drift of missed connection. For many years I spent that time alone, annoyed and resentful. That strategy is NOT the way to stay connected with your husband, in case you were wondering.

I’ll be completely honest: I still struggle with resentment sometimes. A schedule like ours is super annoying and can be super frustrating, too. But when I maintain a good attitude, focusing on the good parts of our life, remembering all the many reasons I love him, and expressing gratitude instead of grumbling, it’s a whole lot easier to connect with my husband when he finally gets home.

How do you stay connected to your husband during busy seasons?

Photos by Richard Min, bigbirdz, and Natalie Lucier.

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Saving Money & Sanity with Kids’ Clothes

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Right now my daughter’s bedroom floor is covered in clothes. Some clean, some dirty, none folded. Supposedly the piles are organized by type (pants, shirts, etc.), but it’s hard to know for sure. Probably because, at this point, I’m averting my eyes rather than staring directly at the chaos.

Sometimes, the combination of kids and clothes drives me crazy!

When it comes to laundry, we’re still figuring it out at my house. Overflowing hampers, piles of clean-but-wrinkled shirts, dozens of sad unmatched socks – we’ve got it all. So I’m all out of advice for dealing with the care and cleaning of your clothes. But more than seven years into this business of clothing kids, I have learned a few things that just might help you save money and possibly your sanity.

Saving Money & Sanity with Kids' Clothes

1. Learn to love hand-me-downs. Or garage sales or thrift stores or consignment shops. Whatever it takes to get your hands on a large amount of clothes for a little amount of money – DO IT. I’ve been incredibly blessed with a cousin whose daughter is a few years older than Annalyn. They’ve generously shared clothes since my kiddo was born, saving me so much money and time and shopping sanity. When we’re finished with the clothes, we turn around and hand down the good ones to another cousin whose daughter is just a year younger than mine.

Those clothes didn’t quite make it back for a fourth round, so my youngest daughter hasn’t received as many hand-me-downs. Still, we try to pay it forward by boxing up her too-small clothes for a friend whose daughter is a few months younger than Adrienne.

2. Find a quality brand you love. I happen to love Carter’s. I have friends who swear by other brands, but Carter’s is my favorite. The clothes are always super cute, fairly priced (especially at the outlet store!) and well-made. They hold up to the abuse of a little person (and my belief that everything should be wash and go). And I can find them in several different stores. Whether I’m shopping at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target or JCPenney, I can find cute Carter’s clothes for my kiddos.

3. Buy in season. I know. The frugal folks will tell you to buy clothes on sale at the end of each season. But I’m telling you: your kids will grow in weird, unexpected ways. And storing all those clothes is a pain. (And if you forget you have them until that next season is two-thirds the way through? Well, you’ll wish you’d walked right on by that clearance rack!)

4. Give your kiddo choices. As they get older, your independent and creative kids will develop opinions about their attire. Oh yes, they will. And that brown floral peasant blouse that you just love (and may have bought a version of every single fall since she was born)? Yeah, your darling daughter’s not gonna go for it. So, my advice is to give her choices. “Would you like to wear this outfit today or tomorrow?” “Would you like to wear the pink dress or the pink shirt and gray pants?”

I imagine this is an issue for boys, too, but as a Girl Mom, I don’t know. Boy Moms – what say you?

5. Let them dress themselves. If you dare. And possibly retaining veto power. I definitely have veto power at our house, but some of the other moms at our preschool let their kids wear whatever they pick out. I suppose this one depends on your tolerance level. Big surprise – mine is pretty low.

6. Extend the use of your favorite items. Sundresses are my favorite piece of clothing ever. Obviously they’re perfect for summer, but stick a t-shirt and tights under a dress – and voila! You’ve got a spring/fall outfit. You can also add leggings under dresses that are too short. As a matter of fact, I just bought an adorable toddler dress today for Annalyn to wear over her denim shorts this summer!

Boys aren’t left in the cold with this tip, although capris and peasant blouses don’t really translate here. But layering t-shirts over or under long-sleeved shirts can stretch out their wardrobe a bit, too.

7. Embrace the pink. Or the green. Or the polka dots. Or the Mickey shirt or the Dora socks or the monkey hat. Our kids are showing us their unique personalities and passions when they beg to wear the same outfit or color or headband  or ball cap every day. It won’t last forever. And all those people at the grocery store or gas station, staring at your pretty little princess or camouflaged superhero? They know your child picked it out. And they think it’s cute, too.

How do you save money (and sanity!) with your kids’ wardrobes?

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What I Wish We’d Known About Money Before Getting Married

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Marriage and Money

I don’t remember getting a lot of advice before I was married. This may be the result of a faulty memory; after all, we’re talking about 16 years ago. Or it may be because most of my friends and family stuck to the party line: “Don’t get married. You’re too young.”

Those helpful folks were half right. We were certainly too young to get married, but we sure did it anyway. I’m glad – but I do wish we’d gone into the rest of our lives, forever and ever amen, with a little more wisdom. Okay, a LOT more wisdom – and especially in the area of finances.

Over the past decade and a half, my husband and I have made so many mistakes with our money. (SO MANY.) Today we’re feeling optimistic, though I’ll admit we’re still paying off some of our more recent and long-lasting mistakes. So while I’m certainly no expert on family finances, I do have a list of things I wish we’d known about money before getting married. We’ve figured them out along the way, the hard way. My hope is that if I share them with you, you won’t have to!

Practice living with one salary. This is actually the one piece of advice I remember hearing in the days before my wedding, but as a young, stubborn, modern girl, I ignored it. Because I wasn’t going to “just” be a stay-at-home mom! I was going to work! I couldn’t wait to work! And I would always want to work!

Right. You can see where this is going, can’t you? As it turns out, living within one salary is good preparation for times of unemployment or underemployment (we’ve had both, huzzah!) – even if both spouses continue working. And, what you don’t know at the ripe age of 20 is that you might change your mind on how much you want to work later in life.

Save now. And if you don’t need two salaries to pay your bills, you can save a whole lot of money when times are good. As it turns out, you should also try to save a little when times are hard, too.

Plan to give it away. (And then, you know, give it away.) Though I grew up going to church, I wasn’t necessarily taught to tithe (give ten percent). Though my parents and my in-laws are giving in their own ways, neither my husband nor I were taught how to align our giving goals with our financial priorities. The importance of this is different in each family, but we’ve grown in our desire to give more over the years – and wish we’d made choices early on that allowed us to give more now.

All the years we’ve spent paying ridiculous interest on credit card debts or car loans add up to a lot of years we’ve missed out on the gift of giving. We look forward to the day we pay off our last debt and can help others more.

Just because you are approved, doesn’t mean you should. Speaking of credit cards…

Actually, I’d say this goes for every kind of loan: credit cards, vehicles, homes. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a car payment or a mortgage! What I’m saying is to really consider the reality of what a bank will give you compared to what you can truly pay back.

That starter house might be your home for 20 years. The one time we made a good choice (without making a whole lot of bad ones first) was when we shopped for our first home. Now, we made a whole lot of first-time home-buyer choices. Don’t even get me started on the wisdom of buying a house without a basement in a place very near the inspiration for The Wizard of Oz! But when the bank pre-approved us for a large amount, we said no thanks. We bought a house for much less than we were approved for, which is good because we’ve had many months (years? yeah…years.) of barely scraping by when even that smaller payment seemed impossible.

It’s also good because we’ve lived in our first home – our STARTER home – for almost 12 years now. Thank you, real estate market crash! And that leads me to…

Something always comes up. House repairs on that starter home you can’t sell? Check. I’m not talking about a tear in the screen door either. I’m talking about replacing an entire sewer line from your [only] toilet, under the house, through the front yard, to the street. And if such a thing happens and you’ve slacked off on your savings plan or don’t have any wiggle room in your budget because you’re using every penny of every salary, then you’re in big trouble.

Not all home repairs cost thousands of dollars, obviously. But something – daycare tuition increase, basketball shoes, speeding ticket – always comes up.

And ignoring it does not make it go away. I mean, maybe you wouldn’t try this strategy. But just in case you would, let me tell you it does not work. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Those are the big things my husband and I have learned, the hard way.

What money lesson have you learned that you’d like to pass on to someone starting out?

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

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Oh, and I am a master empathizer.

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

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

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

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

Stock your car.

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

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

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

Pack your gym bag the night before.

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

Breathe.

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

Be kind to you.

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

Be intentional.

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

Fierce Forward Bracelet

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

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

DIY Chalkboard Project

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

Fierce Forward Bracelet Ashley from Fierce Forward

To Find Out More About Ashley:

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

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

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The First Aid Essentials Every Mom Needs (Free Printables) & a $100 Walmart Gift Card Giveaway

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

This post is sponsored on behalf of BHG at Walmart.

A fresh new year is a great time to  not only declutter our homes of unnecessary items, but it is also a great time to stock up on life’s daily essentials. Emergency preparation has been something that has been on my mind these days and with the focus of our site being on health/wellness for the m challenge, I thought this would be a great time to address my poorly stocked First Aid Kit, a unique way to package it for the home, and I would love to give you the chance to win a gift card of $100 to create one yourself out of products from BHG at Walmart.  What do I know about First Aid essentials and preparedness. It turns out, not much.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit: ER Doctor Jamie Shoemaker

I am not an expert on emergencies and emergency situations, but lucky for me, I actually happen to know an ER doctor in town who has seen his fair share of emergencies at his hospital. Dr. Jamie Shoemaker is an ER Doctor for Elkhart General Hospital and GRACIOUSLY offered his expert opinion on what every mom should have in her First Aid Kit to be prepared for emergency situations.

It should come as no surprise that I barely had the bandages and cream category covered.

Ahem.

On his list of First Aid essentials, he suggested different size bandages, Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, Hydrocortisone creme, Triple antibiotic ointment, hydrogen peroxide, nasal bulbsuction, syringes for oral med admin, tweezers, tape, gauze of varying sizes, Ace wraps, aloe, nail clippers, antiseptic wipes, instant cold compresses, scissors, pairs of non latex gloves, thermometer, splint, safety pins, calamine lotion, flashlight, blanket, tooth preservation
kit, contact lenses saline and case and a first aid manual.

Don’t worry- we have a printable for all of this for you to take when you head to the store.

He also noted that aspirin should be avoided in children due to Reye’s syndrome so he did not include it on this list for moms.

Thank you, Dr. Shoemaker, for helping us get prepared for emergencies in this new year.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

I headed to Walmart with his list and wanted to stock up on every item, but also knew that I had to find a pretty way to package it. Thankfully, the BHG product line at Walmart offer a variety of cute totes, baskets, and other organizer essentials. Since I have nowhere to tuck my First Aid kit, it will rest on top of our little bathroom storage unit, on display for our guests. I wanted something attractive for storage so I settled on this handy Better Homes & Gardens Chesapeake Magazine Basket for under $13 that housed all of these fabulous First Aid essentials with ease and kept them tucked away without anyone knowing what is in there. How perfect is that?

Emergency preparedness is such an essential part of running a household and I know that this is something I should work on in our home. Whether it is being prepared with a bandage and some cream for the neverending injuries in our home or making sure our home is stocked with candles and flashlights for our neverending power outages or even more seriously, the need for disaster preparedness with canned foods and water…

Let’s face it, this stuff tends to fall on the shoulders of many mothers.

I know it falls on mine.

I can admit that I have done a pretty lousy job at stuff like that, but this year I want to do better and I want to encourage you to do better too. This month, the m challenge isn’t just about focusing on our own needs, but also on the needs of those we love. I hope this little push can help you this year to address key needs in your own household.

How to Stock a First Aid Kit

(just a screenshot- click below for the printable please!)

I have prepared for you a FREE printable list of First Aid Essentials that you can take to the store of all the recommendations Dr. Shoemaker offers for us.  There is no need to stress about being prepared this year- we have you covered!

Enter below to win one $100 Walmart Gift Card from BHG at Walmart to stock your First Aid Kit for the new year. One lucky winner will receive this gift card to stock up on all the essentials. This giveaway ends on January 21st! Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Live-Better-Network-Badge

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation from BHG at Walmart for my time and participation in the BHG Live Better Network. Although we have material connection to BHG, any publicly stated opinions of BHG and their products remain my own.

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Planning for Your Marriage to Succeed in 2015

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Making 2015 Plans for Your Marriage

I’m a big fan of lists. Making lists, setting goals, creating intricate plans for success – all of these things send me to my happy place. But even the biggest list-loving nerd can admit that some lists are more fun than others.

Grocery lists aren’t nearly as fun as my list of books I’ve read. And that spreadsheet of bills to pay each month can’t hold a candle to my plan for an upcoming birthday party or the Pinterest board of craft projects and science experiments my seven-year-old picked out for her spring break.

That’s why I think New Year’s lists, goals and plans are so beloved. After the chaos of the holidays and the stress of DOING ALL THE THINGS ON MY LIST during the last quarter of the year, it’s refreshing to literally start a new page. Looking at the blank expanse of the first page in a new planner, calendar or journal can offer our hearts and minds peace that we crave after hectic holidays and the race to the final days of the year.

And so we sharpen our pencils, format our spreadsheets, crack open those notebooks, or line up our colored pens – and we dream. We dream and we plan and we hope for the very best in every area of our lives. And in that moment, the one right before the ink hits the paper (or screen, depending on your method, of course!), it’s all possible, isn’t it?

I see a beauty in this time of year, but also a balm. Often we can find ourselves limping toward the finish line of another year – grumpy, discouraged, disappointed and longing for that fresh start. What a relief to turn the page and begin again!

Nowhere is this more true than in my family, with the people I love most. Unless you count the state of my dining room floor, which is the sticky victim of a toddler who delights in throwing food. I’d love to begin again there, too! But if I focus on the things I can change (because no amount of firm redirection is phasing said food-throwing baby girl…), I find my marriage at the top of my list for 2015.

The past two months in my house have involved celebrations and joyful moments, for sure. But they’ve also included tension, misunderstandings and short tempers.

Like many of you, we have a busy schedule that leaves little time for long walks on the beach or meaningful talks over gourmet meals. But as 2014 came to a close, we made a point to spend some extra time together. I’m not saying we stopped choosing one more episode of our favorite show over gazing into each others’ eyes completely. But even a few minutes can make a difference. And this year, we’ve really enjoyed dreaming together and making a few plans for 2015.

We’ve done our best to set challenging but attainable goals for the year, and we’ve talked a bit about what worked last year and what didn’t. (And let’s be honest – picking Friday Night Lights as our show to watch after the kids go to bed on Saturday nights WAS a winner!)

If your marriage is on your 2015 list of things to improve, focus on, or otherwise nurture, here are a few ideas.

Goal Planning for Marriage

Plan those date nights: I don’t know how many times I’ve spent an evening clicking and pinning all those clever ideas for date night jars. Or date nights in a jar. Or a jar of date nights in a jar. Clearly, there are tons of ideas out there! (And for some reason, they all involve jars…) But for my husband and me, we don’t need an elaborate system or an adorable tool. We simply need to make a plan.

For us, that means deciding how often we can make a date night happen and then clarifying our expectations for what those evenings look like. It also means making a list (yay!) of new places to try and ideas for Plan B (when the kids are sick or the babysitter cancels or we just don’t have the money for a night out).

Set some goals: I’m not sure where your marriage needs to grow or change. Sometimes I’m not even sure where my own relationship needs the most help! And, actually, I’m not positive that my husband and I would answer that question the same if asked right now. For me, setting a goal or two for my marriage is a double win, because simply aligning our hearts on the most important things has huge value to us. Meeting that goal throughout the year is just icing on the cake. (Unless you’re one of those couples who sets goals like, “run a marathon together.” Then it’s hummus for your carrots or something…)

Take a test: Second only to my love of lists is my love of personality tests. My husband does not share this affinity, so I’m not sure this one will ever make it to our yearly planning session – but a girl can hope, right? Until recently, my favorite personality test has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (any other ENJFs out there??), but several of my friends have talked a lot about the Enneagram system this past year – and I’m intrigued. Perhaps I should sneak, “take personality or love language test,” onto my list of date night ideas…

Choose one word or a life verse: I know lots of people who have life verses from the Bible that they focus on as an overarching theme for their lives, as well as lots of people who choose one word to focus on each year. I also have friends who have family mission statements or vision statements for their businesses. Personally, I’ve chosen one word for the past few years and I have life verses for my children. But I’ve never chosen or created any of these for my marriage.

What difference could a word, a quote, a verse or a statement make in our relationships? I think it could be huge – giving us a touchstone, a reminder for what matters most and for what we value about each other, so perhaps this year will be the one we finish feeling closer and stronger than ever.

Make a vacation wish list: A couple years ago, my friend Amanda wrote about the list she and her husband had made – 100 places they wanted to take their kids. The places ranged from the Eiffel Tower to her grandmother’s house to a nursing home to summer camp, and I have not been able to shake this idea since! So this year, when Mark and I talked about our vacation plans for the summer, I mentioned to him that we only have 12 more summers with Annalyn (before she goes to college). That means, we likely only have 12 more big vacations with her – so we’d better plan carefully!

Next thing you know, Mark is looking at his watch while I click on link after link after link promising to tell me the Top Best Most Awesome Family Vacation Ideas Ever in the History of Family Vacations. Of course, that’s what happens when you start this list right before bed. We tabled the discussion for now, but later this week, we have a date to start it up again. I can’t wait!

Set a budget: Money is not always a fun topic, but making realistic plans for paying off debt, saving up for big purchases, or making work/life changes can be exciting. I won’t tell you that our budget conversation was stress-free, but it was good to put everything – our bills, our bank statements, our hopes, our fears – on the table and use it to form a 2015 game plan.

It may not be possible to do all of these things, but doing even one means you’re making your marriage a priority – and might just keep it at the top of your Important Things list all year. I’d even say that this time of year has the potential to be more romantic – and certainly more meaningful – than any Valentine’s Day date coming up next month. So, let’s not wait! Let’s plan for success in our most important relationship right now.

How are you planning for your marriage to succeed in 2015?

{Photo sources: Juanedc and Sergio Vassio Photography}

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