Sunday, January 31, 2016

Morning Time Saver for Mom

So here we are almost a full month into 2016 and I am just now getting around to posting this. I started this post over Christmas break because I thought it would be nice to share with some of you busy moms and dads before school started back. 

It didn't work out that way.

It's still a very helpful idea for us though, so I still want to share.

When I left my position in 2014 and began subbing, I found myself in the middle and high schools during lunch. Which I was never there before. Have you been? HOLY Lunch Madness!

It isn't always what's on the tray that is so surprising, but all the hoops and lines and ropes and procedures they have to go through to get it. I used to hear horror stories from Chickadee, but she's a drama queen, so I just assumed it could only be about 1/4 as bad as she was claiming it to be. (Sorry, Chickadee)

The kids only get 30 minutes for lunch. They have to walk to the cafe. Stand in line to get the food. Stand in line to pay for the food. And then find a seat. They now have 15 minutes to scarf down whatever was left by the time they got to the line. Oh, wait, did I say 15 minutes? I meant 12 because they still have to stand in line to throw it away. Stop at the bathroom. And make it back to class on time. 

The boys decided that was all too much! And I agreed! So we started packing. (I started packing). It wasn't so bad at first, but then we found that while I was buying the things they wanted to put in their lunchboxes, the little weasels were eating it before it had a chance to make it to lunch. So inevitably, every Wednesday night, I was running to Walgreens to get drinks or chips or "something sweet". Argh.

I put a stop to that about a month in by putting three baskets in the pantry with their names on them- and after grocery shopping, I putting 5 of everything in each basket. (And yes, I was guilt-packing lunch for Chickadee for her last semester of high school- and actually, I still am in her second semester of college) . This was working out very well for us- we were guaranteed to have everything we needed for lunches for the whole week! Most nights, I could even convince them to pack the unrefrigerated things into their lunch boxes and put them on the counter, so that all I needed to do was add the sandwich and fruit in the morning!

It is still working out great for us- with one little change. The baskets were taking up a little more room than what we have in our pantry. And with them getting jostled around, cookies and chips were getting crushed. And when you are having a crap day in middle school, the last thing you want to happen is to sit down at the lunch table and find that you have chip crumbs and cookie dust.

To alleviate that problem, I added a 3 drawer sterilite container to the bottom of the pantry. One drawer per Little. It works out so much better because nothing can get stuck on top of  and crush the food that is in each drawer. And the drawers are much larger than the baskets were. 

When we go shopping on the weekend (which don't be fooled, I still hate the shopping part),  each one of the not-so-littles will open boxes and add 5 of everything to his/her drawer. If there's anything left in the boxes, those go up on the shelves with the regular snacks. The best part is they ALL know that those drawers are off limits during the week for snacking! They also know that I will NOT go back to the store during the week to buy things that are supposed to be in lunches. (This ensures that they stay out)!

The drawers turned out to be a space saver and a time saver. 

Hopefully this is something that can make your mornings a little easier with your littles!
Have a great week!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Meal Planning Made EASY

Those of you who only know me from following, know that there are a handful of things that I cannot stand! (Those who really know me, know that there are possibly two handfuls). 

Either way- one of them is cooking and the one right behind that is meal planning.  
I cringe when I look at the board and there are only two planned meals left. That means I have to start pestering everyone, trying to hit them up for ideas. Preparing myself for the moaning, bitching, and complaining that comes with telling everyone what the plan is. 

"Ew, only she likes that!"
"Aw, man! Didn't we have that like a week ago?"
"Why don't we ever have what I like?"

To answer those- 

It's a lie. Everyone eats it. 
All of our weeks run together, so yes, you've had this before. 
And finally, because we can't have skittles and Mountain Dew for dinner. 

Every week. Without fail. I plan. I shop. I cook. I reheat. I cook again. 
Every week. When they wake up, they ask "what's for dinner?" When they get off the bus, "what's for dinner?" WHILE we are AT the dinner table, "What's for dinner TOMORROW?" Aghhhhh!!!

It's a never ending cycle!! 

But I think I have found some help. Some beautiful-bathed-in-the lights-of-heaven, angels-singing-on-high-kind-of-help! 

(And you may already know about this. I could be late to the party- probably because I was in the freakin kitchen! But I'm going to tell you about it anyway! 

It's an app called MealBoard. 
It's not free. It actually cost $3.99. I normally don't buy apps without having heard someone gush over them- but I was desperate and the description looked promising. So I splurged. 

I have talked to everyone in the house about it! They are sick of hearing it. I don't care, I'm the oldest- they have to listen to what I say. Boom. 

There's just so much goodness in here!! 

I started writing what we had for dinner on our calendar back in mid September. Just so we could try and stay out of the "dinner rut".  I am so glad that I did!
Because you can go backward on this app and add what you cooked on any day. 
You can even choose breakfast, lunch dinner- side, appetizer, dessert. 

My main concern is dinner- the main dish and sides. I just click the calendar, select when I want to start adding in recipes. And then click the + next to the day to start adding.  

Everything I add in is saved! And then I can go back and add "categories", like tags. So when I am thinking of what to make later on I can just search for an ingredient (like chicken, beef, sausage...) 

AND LOOK! It tells me the last time I cooked it!! So no one can say "we had that last week!" (Except for the Italian Sausage Sandwich because we totally had that last week). 

Since I have so many meals in there, I can scroll through them and click and choose if I want to add it to this week's plan. Super simple. But wait....

Y'all, there's more. Now that I have 6 weeks of meals in here, I can go to anyone of these weeks and then choose "Save Meal Plan as Template" and it will place that WHOLE week for the coming one!! That's the whole week planned! All I have to do is make a list for the items I need -  I don't have to ask anyone for anything!! (Can you hear the hallelujahs)? 

I'll probably wait for a month or so before I start copying whole weeks- but you can bet I will!!! 

I can even export it to an iCal that we share !

(I just had to set my phone down for a second and catch my breath.) 

You can also import recipes! 

You'll have to get in there and play around - it took me a day to get 6 weeks of previous meals from the wall calendar into the app and get them categorized so they are easy to access. 
A day well spent I am sure!!
I seriously doubt I will use the shopping feature. And I can't see me running an inventory of my pantry. But this meal planning super hero app designer has just made this gal one happy squirrel!!

And then my brain started spinning - what if I had a friend or two who was using the app? We could email back and forth a few weeks so that we can add something new to the mix! {another hallelujah !!}

If you end up giving it a try and love it - let me know! Maybe we can share a couple of weeks with each other- unless you have skittles and Mountain Dew for dinner, cause I already kinda vetoed that one! :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Shared 15 Just Got Easier

Days come and go and I often say to myself, "Self, this is a great idea! You should share it!" And then I either get too busy, too lazy, or forget all together.

This great idea to change our Shared 15 happened almost three months ago- maybe longer - and I wanted to share it. I did on Periscope. (thank goodness those disappear in 24 hours!! I shudder to think that it would last forever).

Rather than just copy and paste an old post about The Shared 15 and tack on the change/update, I'm going to explain it a little more clearly. This post is about the actual 15 and how to set it up- not the QR REWARDS- (that is linked here)

However I will paste this in- just in case it's the first time you've ever heard me talk about The Shared 15:
(FROM JAN 4, 2015) 
Now, What is the "Shared 15"? That is something we started a couple of years ago- and it WORKED. For a long time. And then life got crazy and shifts changed and it stopped being enforced.
So it is BACK!
IMMEDIATELY following dinner (before the dishes are done) everyone has to devote a SOLID 15 minutes to a SHARED LIVING SPACE. The living room, bathroom, dining room, hall, stairs. Anywhere that we all SHARE. This keeps everything so tidy and makes it really nice when the kitchen is finished and we can all relax. To make it a little easier to remember and to be fair (so no one gets stuck with the toilet all the time, there is a rotation ). Everyone gives 15 minutes a day- and  there are 5 of us- so that's 75 minutes of work EVERYDAY. That's - hold on let me get my calculator- 525 mins a week - which is the same as almost 9 hours of cleaning a week!!! AMAZING!

Doesn't that sound good?
Now, for setting up the chart of jobs and how you will assign them.   What type of job you add is obviously going to depend on the age of the children involved. Mine ranged from 10-17 when we started this. Because of the way it rotates, you have to keep in mind that the job the 17 year old did, will also have to be done by the 10 year old in a couple of days. So you'll have to find a happy medium. 
Jobs/ tasks that make it tidier around here are things like :
Clearing out personal things from shared living space(We call that Stuff Patrol)
Wiping down the toilets 
Wiping down the vanity/ taking out the bathroom trash
Sweeping the deck
Cleaning the dog area 

You get the idea- things that are out in the open where we all spend time together.  

I made a simple table with days of the week for columns and a row for how many jobs a day will get done. . 

After we figured out what needed to be done daily and what could be done just  once or twice a week, I filled in our chart. I also wrote a small description about expectations for each job.

After I got our chart filled out I had to figure out how to decide who did what on which night. At first I was writing their initials and the number of the job on EVERY block in the calendar- that was pretty time consuming- worth it- but time consuming nonetheless.  I got tired of writing it in at the beginning of the month- it was a pain and I would confuse myself sometimes!

So I started playing around with this spinner/slide idea. I thought if they could see the number on the spinner, all they had to do was find the number and the day of the week on the chart and match them up! Easy peasy! 

Here's how I made mine:
You want to make 2 circles on card stock, one a little larger than the other, so that you can make a "spinner".  I used two nesting bowls from the kitchen and a brad that was  in the bottom of the junk drawer. #luckyfind

You will want to divide your smaller circle into as many parts as you have people participating. Two people= draw a line down the middle. Three people= divide into thirds (which is NOT easy).  I had so many failed attempts at this, that at one point I thought it would just be easier to add another kid! NOT!

Now that your circle is divided, write your numbers in. 

After you have it colored, put the larger circle underneath to guide you so that you can write the names of the those participating in The Shared 15. 
We have three names, so I just wrote them towards the middle of each section of color (on the larger circle).  Then attach them to each other with the brad.
This spinner stays above the calendar and job chart on the garage door.

Setting up the calendar:
 I used these three colors to alternate coloring the dates on the calendar. So basically these colors show up every three days. See how fast I can do this part:

I decided to put her name on top since she is the oldest . Her name is also the marker for what the day is on the calendar. So really, whatever color the day is on the calendar is her job that day. For instance, the 8th this month is green - so I turn the spinner to green under her name.

 That means she has job #3.

 The 8th is a Tuesday this month. 

So she takes a glance at the chart and looks for job #3 on  a Tuesday- she has to wipe down the shower. 

The boys will look to see which number falls by their name - which 1 and 2 is always the same for them. For our family, #3 is the only job that changes daily- so you only have to look at the chart if you have job #3. (You could choose to have every numbered job be the same everyday, but somethings didn't need to be done everyday.) And really it goes in order, if you have #1 today, you will have #2 the next- and so on.....

To recap- and this is the beauty of it-
All I have to do is spin to make her color and the color on the calender match. Really, that's it.

 After dinner on the 8th, their toilet will be cleaned, their shower will be wiped down, their bathroom will be swept, from the hall to the kitchen will be swept, and all things things that don't belong in our shared living space will go to it's respective rooms. Then they will head to their rooms to do any straightening they need done until the 15 is over. And I don't have to say anything except "Okay, let's knock out our 15".

When the 15 is done, we head into the kitchen to get it cleaned up (which usually I am almost done by the time they finish, so it goes pretty quick.) And then whatever else it is that we do for the evening, we get to do in a tidy shared living space! And that dreaded weekend cleaning isn't so bad because we keep it up throughout the week. And if a neighbor pops over, we don't have to pray that they don't have potty while they are over! LOL  It truly is a lifesaver,

If I didn't sound like such a dork, I would make quick video- but seriously- it's super easy- list, color, spin, clean, repeat. 

I know for a fact that one of the things we lack the most is time. In fact, I am willing to bet that while you were reading this you thought of 6 other things that you needed to be doing! (I know I did while I was writing it). I just really love how The Shared 15 makes everyone responsible for something everyday. We all live here- it all belongs to us, so let's take care of it!
I really hope this is something  that some of you can use and if you do- I would love to hear about it! And if you have any questions about it- feel free to comment or email!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Are Those Yours?

Those who know me, know that there are a couple of things that I just don't like to do.  It is very unfortunate that these two things come together every weekend. Shopping and cooking.  
I missed out on those genes. I do not have them. 
Don't get me wrong, I like "stuff" and I LOVE "food". But I loathe having to go out for the "stuff" or the food. I would have been a terrible cave woman. No hunting. No foraging. I would just have my raw meat delivered. 

But every week I ask for input, I make a menu, which turns into a list, and then that turns into a map that I take to the store. Not because I am super mom (but thank you). Not because I am a super chef. (They'll vouch for that). It's because I need to have a plan. I have to know what we are having because these henchmen we call children wake up asking "What's for dinner tonight?" Every morning. Without fail. 
There is no "winging it". No plan used to easily lend itself to "I'll run through a drive through. " And while we may not be the healthiest squirrels on the planet, we do steer away from fast food as much as we can. 

I even keep a notebook so that i can reference what we have had in past weeks. This serves two purposes. It keeps us from having the same thing too close together while also giving us ideas from meals we've already had. 

Often times I take one of the NSLs (Not So Littles) with me to man the cart while I dart in and out of the slow people.  They also hold the list, pick up heavy stuff, load bags into the cart, and then into the van. They come in pretty handy. 

Every once in awhile The Mr. goes with me. He also holds the list, picks up the heavy stuff, loads the bags into the cart, and then into the van. He also drives. And sometimes takes me for a coffee- so he's a pretty good choice for the trip. 

Today we got a late start. We try to get in and out early, but today was a little slower. He even helped me find two new recipes. So we got all the ingredients compiled into a list and got ready to go. Since it's rainy and crappy outside, I decided to go with the comfy jeans and hoodie combo. It's a classic. It was also easily accessible because it was in a basket of unfolded laundry. 
The hoodie also makes it easy to keep up with my pen for the list and the coupons.  

My game plan is to always do any HBA first, then I go towards the back and start on the food. Meat is always next to last and bread is always dead last. I have a fear of bacteria growing in my meat while I push the cart around looking for other stuff and then we die later. And I hate it when my bread gets smushed because they will act like they're dying if their bread is an odd shape. Other than that, I navigate through  aisles based on slow families and people I am trying to avoid because I don't want to talk to them. 

I have my standard items that are ALWAYS on the list- lunch meat, cheese, waters, coffee. Then there are those items that are specific to a certain recipe- cilantro, pesto, certain shredded cheeses. 
Today we decided to check out some healthy snack alternatives since the NSLs are going to be home more. I thought it would be good to look at some granola or fruit bars. That way they get a little sweet- but not full on candy sweet. 
I don't think I've ever read the nutrition info on a granola or fruit bar, so I had The Mr.  grab a box so we could compare. 
We are standing there in the granola/ cereal aisle comparing calories, sugars, and portions. I had to put everything in my classic hoodie pocket so my hands would be free to hold more than one box. He leans over to grab a box from towards the bottom shelf and says "Hey, what's that?"
I look down at my feet to see what he's talking about. 
My eyes focus. It appears to be a mint colored cloth. 
"Are those underwear?", he asks. 
Yes. Yes, they were underwear. 
"Are those yours?"
"Did they fall out of your hoodie?"

I stuttered. I stammered. And then threw out a quick "No! I don't have any mint undies!"
We stand there for a minute while he asks again and again if I'm sure. Like I'm going to pick them up and check!?! Like I write my name in them!?! 
He throws the boxes of granola bars that we both have in our hands into the cart and says, "Well let's move away from here- who knows what's been going on!" So we moved on down to the end of the aisle to pick out cereal. 

Ya'll know what I'm getting ready to say, don't you? 

He was right! They were either caught inside my hoodie and fell out when I weighed it down with all the stuff. Or they were in the pant leg of my comfy jeans and just shimmied their way out while we were walking.  
Either way- the ONE pair of mint un"mint"tionables that I own got swept away by a stranger at the grocery store today! A woman KNOWS her underwear!!
I couldn't tell him they were mine. I just couldn't. Ya'll will laugh WITH me- he would never let this go!! NEVER! Thank goodness one of the NSLs wasn't with me - I could only imagine the scene!!!
Can you imagine being the next person who ponders over which granola bar to buy? The next conversation to be had in front of the fruit bars? "Hon, what's that? Are they yours? Are you sure?"
In a tiny (very minuscule) way I feel bad for not being honest with him - but it's not something I won't get over pretty soon. 
We made it through the rest of trip without me losing any other under garments. But, Lord, I was nervous! I kept looking behind me just to be sure I wasn't leaving a trail!

As tense as it was, at least it was more exciting than normal. Usually the most exciting thing is the price difference after she takes off the coupons!! 

So what's our take away today, folks? 
Make a list. Plan ahead. Take a shopping buddy. And fold your clothes!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Squirrels and Mr. Brightside

Happy Weekends, Friends! We made it through Chickadee’s graduation. (My goodness, what a proud moment.) I have been to countless graduations and always tear up and feel emotional for the other families. There has not been a prouder mommy moment for me.
She is ready to work hard this summer and start her classes in the fall. The rest of us are just ready for it to be summer vacation.

We are done. School is over. We know that it is officially summer because we have our summer pool passes (Thank you Grandma Susan!). I picked those up on Friday so that we would have them for the weekend. Our public pools always open the Saturday after the last day of school- so today was the day.
I was soooooo ready, too!

There were a few things to take care of during the first part of the day, but I knew that I would make it there eventually today- with at least one of the NSLs.
The pool doesn’t close until 6pm; I knew we had some time.

Once Littlest NSL made the choice that he was going with me- it was just a matter of getting out the door.

And this is where it starts.

I had to hide out in the bathroom for a while, let’s just say that my legs were “less than ready” to be at the pool. After that madness was over, we had to make sure that everyone’s suits from last year fit.(No one has been shopping yet).  He was lucky. His went right on! Mine on the other hand, has apparently been secretly replaced with a size smaller than I wore last year. I will have to check all CCTV footage to see who broke into my home and did that- I will get back to you with the results as soon as I know.
I found my cover up- whew- so that was a little relief.

Once we were confident that no one was going to break any laws for indecency (barely), we had to get the bag ready.
We had everything but sunscreen. No problem. We can stop at the store on the way there. Let’s just get in the van and get in the sun!!

I decided that rather than having to hide my purse in the van and risk having my lipstick melt in the process that I would just grab my wallet and toss it in the pool bag. Gotta make sure that I have my ID with me, right?

We stop at a little store on the way there, grab some 50SPF and we are on our way to glorious sun and water fun!

We make it there. Yeah! I am soooooo ready.  {At this point there are 2 hours left until the pool closes. But that’s okay- we are going to get in the sun and we are going to get wet!!!}
We pull in and there aren’t very many cars- yeah! More room for us!

As we are walking towards the entrance (he is in front of me with the chair and bag), I look down at my keys and realize that I never attached the little passes with the bar codes on them that the sweet little lady at Parks and Rec gave us. There is a card for each person. So that means that I should have 5 on my keys.

I have zero.


They are in my purse. The purse that I decided to leave at home. So I call him over and tell him to come back over to the van for a second. I explained to him what I had done. (Or had not done, depending on how you look at it).  So we are going to have to pay cash. No biggie- except I hardly ever have cash- because I use my card for everything!

Lucky for us- it is after 3pm- so it is only $3 a person. 3 x2 =6  Wanna guess how much I have in my wallet? Yep. NOT 6. I had $5.

No biggie. Hop in the van- lets run to this little gas station and use their ATM.  We back out and hear a weird sound. Then we see a kind gentleman walk towards the van- that’s when we realize that neither of us put the chair in. It was just leaned up against the van while I checked the cash sitch.

Ok, now all the people and furniture are in the van and we are pulling away from the pool. {Wrong direction} But never fear, we will be relaxing in the cool of the pool in just a few.
We head down to the gas station. I hop out- in my gorg cover up and flops- and walk over to the ATM that is going to charge me 50-11 dollars in fees because it is not my bank. It says to insert card and remove quickly. I followed directions. It gave me a BIG RED X and said my card could not be read. I tried again and again and again.

UGH! SO I get BACK in the van and explain to him that we are going to have to go farther away from the pool and use a different ATM. We head towards our bank, ride through the drive through ATM and BINGO BANGO DUNZO- we get some cash!

Relieved that we now have about an hour to enjoy the pool, we start on our way back over.

We pull up, unload, and pay our way in. At this point there are only about 11 people left at the pool. I think there were more lifeguards than there were swimmers!

Feeling very safe, I disrobe- careful not to make eye contact with anyone who is there as I do it- because then I would feel the need to apologize to them for exposing them to such trauma.

We spray each other down with the SPF 50 and make our way to the water. Oh wait, did I say “water”? What I meant to say was “glacier run-off”. Yes. I am pretty confident that our local pool has a direct line to arctic aqua. Pretty sure the water I was in had just recently flowed past a little polar bear booty.

At this point there are now 6 people at the pool and we are 2 of them. He throws on his goggles and is like a fish back and forth, off the diving board, in and out of the water and begging me to do the same. However, I am in the 3 ft. on the baby side of the floaty blue rope and bobbers because I can’t walk in any farther for fear of organ failure.

We look over at the clock by the snack bar and notice that the pool closes in 10 minutes.  {Insert “ugh” face here}.
We get out, dry off, pack up, and head back to the van. (Where we were just a few short minutes ago.)
And we head to the hacienda.

Somehow in all this madness, my wonderful, loving, compassionate, caring, understanding, patient, fun, and sweet as can be son says, “We can always come back tomorrow.”

Yes, Mr. Brightside. We will go back tomorrow.

( I have already attached the cards to the keys, I have the sunscreen in the bag. And I have made sure that NOTHING will come between us and that pool tomorrow!)

Hope you are enjoying the start of your break or are getting pretty close!
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