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March 3, 2011

Housekeeping: By room or by task?

I was lucky enough to interview Heloise – the household hint icon – for a magazine article I’m writing, and she told me something interesting. When she does her spring cleaning, she likes to do it by task vs. by room.

Instead of spring cleaning the kitchen or the family room, she cleans all of the switch plates in the house. Or she wipes down all of the mirrors or all of the door frames.

I would say her principle works off of momentum; if you have the tools and mindset to tackle a job, tackle all of the rooms that need that job done. Switching tasks takes extra time and you run the risk of becoming sidetracked.

In my regular household cleaning, I like to clean by task. A reporter recently asked me about my cleaning routine. Here it is:

Every Day
First thing in the morning:
Unload dishwasher
One load of laundry
Make bed
Before bed:
Wipe down kitchen counters
Load/turn on dishwasher
Pack lunches
Set coffee pot

Monday: Clean bathrooms
Tuesday: Vacuum
Wednesday: Clean kitchen
Thursday: Dust
Friday: Vacuum and mop
Saturday: Saturday project (could be dust baseboards, clean a closet, dust ceiling fans, etc.)
Sunday: Strip and wash linens

February 17, 2011

Do You Need a Reset Button?

I don’t know if it’s the anticipation of spring or the downtime after the holidays, but this time of year feels slower than normal for me. I was recently reminded that life is short and that time is best spent on and with those who matter. So I’ve taken advantage of the lull by hitting the “reset button.” Here are a few things you can do, too:

1. Decide to be present in the moment. Listen to your partner, child and friend when they speak to you. Don’t check out and start making a grocery list.

2. Unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t add measurable value to your life. I hit the unsubscribe button on the way-too-many emails that clog up my in box.

3. Take time to nurture yourself. Put good food into your body and move each day. You can’t take care of others if you neglect yourself.

4. Unplug and look within. We have so many messages bombarding us every day. Reconnect with your thoughts and your intentions, and move forward with those messages filling your head.

5. And spend time on purpose. It’s way too easy to let busyness fill your time with things that don’t matter and don’t move you forward. Do less and enjoy more.

November 11, 2010

Travel with Kids

Here’s a dare for all of the parents planning on traveling with kids this holiday season: Leave the DVD player at home!

The immense success of in-vehicle DVD players can be chalked up to four little words: Are we there yet?

What mother doesn’t cringe at the thought of a long road trip with young children? While popping in a movie may be an easy solution to travel-time boredom, it doesn’t have to be the sole entertainment for the trip. Read more…

October 11, 2010

Rethinking My Chores

Last week I wrote a blog post called “A Chore By Any Other Name Does Smell Sweeter.”

I received such nice feedback on the post! Thanks! Well, they say turn about is fair play. I started to think about the chores I do, especially the ones I’m not so fond of. Like meal planning. Oh, how I dread meal planning. I wondered if there was another way I could look at this chore to find joy in it. OK, maybe not joy. But could I find something about meal planning that would make me look at it differently?

I came up with a couple of ways to make the process better. First, I started asking my 10 year old to help with the meal planning. The first time I asked him to help, he named his five favorite restaurants. Once he realized we weren’t dining out, he dove into the task and started suggesting meals. And he’s regularly on the lookout for new recipes (which cracks me up!) Two nights a week, my teenager helps me with the cooking. Not only does he make my job easier, but we’ve started connecting in a way we hadn’t before. While he’s chopping celery and carrots for our salad, he’ll discuss his day. I had heard that boys often talk more while they’re engaged in an activity. It’s definitely proven true with us.

Instead of thinking of this task as “meal planning,” I’ve renamed it in my head “celebrating our family through food.” Which task causes you the most stress? Can you look at it in a new and interesting way? Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” Can you channel the end result and rename it in your head?

October 7, 2010

A Chore By Any Other Name Does Sound Sweeter

I discovered a trick that has helped eliminate all of the reminding (aka nagging) I have been doing: I name chores something that sounds sweeter!

I know, I know. This sounds a little ridiculous, but it works. Here’s what happened:

My boys have several chores they do during the week, most of which involve cleaning their rooms. Two chores, however, they seem to forget: bringing in the trash cans on trash day and filling the dogs’ water dishes. I end up reminding them, which causes stress. So one night at dinner I started this conversation:

Me: “So, what did you do today to contribute to the family?”

Boys (in unison): “Huh?”

Me: “How did you contribute to the family today?”

10-year-old: “What does ‘contribute to the family’ mean?”

Me: “Good question. I’ll answer that by telling you what I did today to contribute to the family: I prepared your breakfasts, packed your lunches, brought you to school, went to the grocery store, returned our library books, checked out a movie for family movie night, did a load of laundry, paid the bills, picked you up from school and prepared dinner. All of those things helped the entire family, not just me. What did you do?”

My husband: “I went to work to earn a paycheck to pay the bills, I walked the dogs, I helped mom make dinner and I will be coaching your hockey team tonight.”

Me: “So, boys, what did you do to contribute to the family?”

Boys: shrugged shoulders.

End of conversation.

The next night, I asked the same question. The results were pretty close to being the same but I could tell that they realized that this question was going to be a part of dinner conversation. The third night, both boys sat down at the table with a different attitude. And this time, they got the conversation started.

10-year-old: “So, what did you do to contribute to the family?”

14-year-old: “I gave the dogs water, I turned off the bathroom light that was left on, I brought in the newspaper and I brought the laundry basket to the laundry room.”

10-year-old: “Wow, that’s great. I gave the dogs food, set the dinner table, let the dogs out and helped mom make dinner.”

Since we added this question, I have not had to remind my boys to bring in the trash cans or give the dogs water. And they’re finding ways to be helpful without being told. Calling a chore a contribution has put the task in context for them. How sweet is that!

October 4, 2010

A Routine is a Mom’s BFF

So, she’s not exactly a life-of-the-party type, but a routine is actually a mom’s best friend.

According to the Merrian-Webster Dictionary, a routine is a “regular course of procedure; a habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure.”

You might think of a routine as a schedule, but according to a report by Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, the two have different meanings:

“Schedules represent the big picture – the main activities to be completed daily. Routines represent the steps done to complete the schedule.”

The Vanderbilt report states that routines are important because they influence a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development; they help children feel secure; they help children understand expectations; they help reduce behavior problems; and they can result in higher rates of child engagement. While the report was designed for college students studying early learning, these principles apply to a home setting, as well.

The more routines you can put into place, the more your home will resemble a well-oiled machine. Here are some ideas of where to start: mornings, naps, meals, homework, chores, hygiene and bedtime. Creating a routine is simple. Make a list of what needs to be done, delegate responsibilities and implement. Sticking to a routine is where it gets difficult. It might take a little time to hit your stride, but once you do, your home can run on autopilot.

September 30, 2010

Do You Have House Rules

I attended curriculum night at my son’s school and I was looking around the room. One of the things that I found most interesting was the posted list of Class Rules. Each of the children had signed his or her name at the bottom, which meant that they understood the rules.

I started to think establishing some house rules – and writing them down – might be helpful.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Wake up time
  • TV, video and computer time
  • Chores
  • Rules about friends
  • Rules about kindness
  • Nap or rest time
  • Snacking
  • Bedtime

Make rules, post them and make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, we have a rule that homework must be completed as soon as you come home. No TV before chores. And lights are to be turned off when you leave a room.

What kind of rules do you have?

September 27, 2010

The Sixperiment: Less Is More

Did you hear about Six Items or Less movement? It’s where you choose only six pieces of clothing to wear for a month. It’s taken off like wildfire and women from California to Dubai are participating.

The popularity of this movement made me think about what other items could be reduced to six? And it especially made me think about toys! Could your child get along for an entire month with just six toys?

I decided to try it. I asked my boys which toys they would keep. The older they are, the less “toys” they play with. So this really wasn’t difficult for my 15-year-old. His “toys” consist of his phone, his iPod and his golf clubs (although my husband would argue that golf clubs are not toys). And he plays an occasional video game.

My 10-year-old found it a little more difficult. Would an entire bin of Tech Decks count as one toy? No. Is the Wii the toy or is it the game … or do they each count individually? Hmmm, let’s count games. These negotiations went on for a while until we came up with this list: two Tech Decks, one Tech Deck ramp, two Wii games and the new cool rocket thing he picked up while on vacation.

I’m happy to report that we completed 30 days without too much whining. The hardest part was when friends came over on a Friday night and the Wii games were limited. When it was over, my boys were happy to get their things back, but I’ve noticed that a lot of the items that were off limits are still in the closet. And I also noticed that less toys created less fights. Which means that less is definitely more.

How about you? Could you go a month with six items of clothing? Could your kids go a month with six toys? I’d love to hear what you think!!

August 31, 2010

Packing the Perfect Lunch

Ahhh, lunchtime in school. It’s where kids first learn the fine art of negotiation. To ensure your kids eat what you packed (and not the mom down the street), here are some tips for packing the perfect lunch:

First, check your school’s guidelines. Some schools have a strict no-junk-food policy. Others have adopted a nut-free environment. Make sure your child stays on the right side of the cafeteria law.

For stress-free morning routines, pack lunches the night before. Be sure to ask for some input from your child. When children have a say in what goes into their lunch box and help pack it, they’re more likely to eat it.

Find out how long your child has to eat lunch. Many schools allow only 15 or 20 minutes. Make sure the foods you pack are easily opened and easy to eat.

Include foods from at least three of the five food groups. This not only is healthier, but it provides variety. For example, pack a slice of cheese, grilled chicken strips and grapes. Or send a hard-boiled egg, mini whole wheat bagel and carrots.

Small foods are easier to handle, and they can be more fun to eat. Cut sandwiches into four pieces, or use cookie cutters to make creative shapes. Kids love baby carrots and a sliced apple is more likely to be eaten than a whole one.

Skip the white bread. Instead, use crackers, mini bagels, small pita pockets or tortillas to create a unique sandwich.

Prepackaged lunches may be popular with kids, but they’re expensive and often not very nutritious. Create your own using nitrate-free lunch meats, real (not processed) cheese and whole wheat crackers. For even more kid appeal, use cookie cutters to make fun shapes.

Kids love “action” foods. Consider packing fruits or vegetables with yummy dips. Or thread pieces of fruit or cheese on a craft stick (safer than a toothpick), creating a mini kabob.

Remember food safety and keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use a frozen gel pack or freeze a juice box or water bottle (be sure to ask your child if it had thawed by lunch time) to keep sandwiches and pudding from spoiling. When using an insulated thermos, rinse it with hot water before adding your food to keep it warm longer.

Bag the brown bag and choose an insulated lunchbox instead. Even better, let you child choose his or her lunchbox. Make sure the lunchbox you choose is large enough to hold sturdy plastic containers for fruit or crackers. They’re not only earth-friendly, but they ensure food won’t get squished.

And take a minute to connect with your kids. Include a small lunch note, smiley face on the napkin or another special token sure to make your child smile.

August 27, 2010

Five Questions to Ask Your Child’s New Preschool Teacher

The start of a new preschool year can be overwhelming. Sure, there are new clothes, new backpacks and new lunch boxes. But one of the most exciting changes is a new teacher.

Parents can start the year off on the right foot by asking these five questions:

How can we support at home what you’re doing in the classroom?

This sets the tone and tells the teacher that you know we’re in this together. The best education for your child comes from a partnership between parent and teacher.  Teachers appreciate parents who do their part, and parents appreciate teachers who consider them part of the learning team.

What are your goals for your students for this school year?

Some teachers have academic goals for students. Some want to show students how to build a community inside the classroom. And other teachers simply want to give children a taste of structured school setting. By asking this question, you will get some insight into what the year will be like.

What is the best way to contact you?

An increasingly important question, today parents can reach a teacher through notes, phone calls, e-mails or in person. Your child’s teacher will probably have a preferred method. Some check e-mail several times a day, and some log on only once a week. Some teachers prefer phone calls after school, and some will allow you to call them at home in the evening. Finding out the preferred method of contact will keep the communication lines open and flowing.

What would you like to know about my child that would help you as his or her teacher?

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. The more a teacher knows a child, the better they will be at addressing the child’s needs. Share with the teacher personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, as well as study habits. It’s also good to share family situations that may affect their school performance, such as a divorce or a family member with an illness.

What is your discipline policy?

Preschools will have a discipline policy in place. It’s important to fully know and understand how the system works. How is negative behavior handled? Is positive behavior recognized? Be sure to discuss the policy with your child so he or she knows what’s expected from them. And make sure the policy is enforced. The behavior of students in your child’s class will have an impact on how your child views school.