6 Tips for Healthy Snacking (or not at all)

healthy snacking

Circadian rhythms are processes in our biology that move our 24-hour body clock around light and darkness. They guide our behaviors, including that time we all have at the end of the day where we are relaxing on the couch or unwinding in our own way. After dinner, depending on how late we stay up, there can hit a certain hour where, like moths to the flame, we find ourselves scouring the pantry shelves for chips, cookies, just anything to eat. What’s worse is when you find yourself in the “salty & sweet trap”: first, a salty snack, then you need a sweet snack, etc. Terrible stuff…just terrible.

There can be any number of reasons we snack at night. It might be the association of sitting in front of the TV and needing something to occupy our hands. Or it may be that we didn’t eat a filling dinner. The point is that it can only help to start being self-aware of the pattern and start snacking healthy.

Eating too close before bed can be bad, sometimes. Weight gain can be a concern, but so can heartburn or even insomnia. On the other hand, a body does legitimately need nutrients to keep blood sugar levels stable.

There are some healthy snacks out there that not only promote good health benefits but can also help usher you more effectively into sleep.  So instead of just providing one side of the coin or the other, here are tips for if you feel you need to curb snacking and/or starting a healthy snacking habit:

Tips for curbing snacking

  1. Brush your teeth after dinner – This sometimes works for me. Usually brushing your teeth is something you do right before you go to bed, but if you brush soon after dinner then you play this nice psychological trick on yourself where you think, “Well, surely I don’t want to dirty my teeth and have to re-brush.”
  2. Drink water with ice – You may have heard of the 8×8 rule: for good health we’re supposed to drink 8 eight ounce glasses a day. Nighttime is a great time to make up lost ground here, but it also provides two benefits that may help in wanting to snack less: drinking water helps you naturally feel more full and, if you put ice in your glass, it gives you something to chew on, making your mouth feel occupied.

*Bonus tip – If you like a good nighttime drink but want something besides water, decaf or herbal tea (or even decaf coffee) are nice to reach for. Instead of creamer and sugar, try honey which promotes melatonin production and can aid sleep. The darker the honey the better to get more nutrients, antioxidants, etc.

  1. Go to bed earlier – If you work toward slowly easing your bed time earlier then you have less potential to cycle around to getting hungry again. It’s an odds game too: if there is less time between dinner and sleep, then there are less opportunities to snack.

healthy snacking

Tips for healthy snacking

  1. Purge the junk food – This means literally going into your pantry/cabinet/etc and throwing away (or bringing to work) the unhealthy snacks. If they’re gone then there is no temptation. In theory, this leaves you with just healthy snacking choices. Amanda is great at ritually doing this and I do thank her for it, though I curse the idea in the short term (not my cake!).
  2. Pre-plan your snack – Consider choosing and pre-portioning the exact snack you’ll have later. This control will help keep you out of the realm of mindless snacking.

*Bonus tip – Choose cherries for melatonin, milk and turkey (not together…bleh) for tryptophan, certain cereals for complex carbs (ex. Kashi), or our family favorite of bananas for potassium and magnesium which can serve as muscle relaxants (again another great tool in guiding you to sleep).

  1. Eat a snack that takes effort – If you choose a snack that makes you work for it then you’ll eat it more slowly and be more likely to feel full and satisfied. Some examples: pistachios (lightly salted and portioned to the serving size), a pomegranate (or any other fruit you have to peel/chop), or cheese on crackers. You can even go hunting for a squirrel in the dark with a bowie knife for a high protein meal that will really put up a chase…just kidding…or am I?

healthy snacking

With all that said, I recommend not going to one extreme or the other. If you try to cut out night snacking outright, you may find yourself likely to fall back into bad choices for snacks. Or if you go full force into healthy snacking, you may find yourself burnt out or craving “unhealthy” things even more. Try a combination of a few of the tips, or even some of your own creative devices. I know someone who bought a Kitchen Safe (aff) for themselves which they lock snacks in after certain time of night and only their spouse knows the combination (I can just envision him with a doctor’s stethoscope listening to crack the safe for a few Oreos). But odds are if you are at least aware that you tend to search for grub when the moon is high then you can be more strategic about it.

3 Tips for Surviving a Baby Sleep Regression

It’s one of those things you never hear about when you’re gearing up to have your baby – a sleep regression.

No one talks about it, because how would that conversation go? “Oh, around 4 months of age your baby will inexplicably stop sleeping at night and maybe even during the day, too. Your bump is adorable! Have a name yet?!”

Really, though, around 4 months of age your baby will inexplicably stop sleeping at night, and maybe even during the day, too. Oh, they’ll also do it again at 6 months, and 9 months, and possibly 12 months if you’re really lucky. Or they may not do it at all. Or it may hit at a different time. Isn’t the unpredictability of early development fun?!

One of the best explanations I’ve read as to why a baby experiences a sleep regression was by Alexis Dubief on her amazing site Precious Little Sleep (formerly Troublesome Tots), where she noted that while we look at it as the baby moving backward in their development, it’s actually the total opposite. Imagine that you’re learning so many new things at once – you’re so excited and also so confused, and maybe even a little scared. How can you be expected to sleep peacefully each night? You can’t, especially when you’ve only been on this planet for four months. Hence, the regressions.

There is so much information on the web about regressions (and I definitely suggest checking out the Precious Little Sleep link above for the whys and hows behind them), but one thing I don’t remember seeing was information on what exactly to do, other than just live through it and wait until it passes.

Waiting until it passes is certainly a good strategy, because the super great news about sleep regressions is they do pass. But I am not very good at waiting. I always felt like I should be doing something whenever a regression hit, and now having survived five regressions between our two kids (and probably at least another one still in waiting for us as P approaches one year), I can say I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to surviving a sleep regression. I thought I would share them, in the hopes that they’ll help some other sleep-deprived moms and dads out there.

sleep regressions

Some of these may seem kind of silly, but trust me they work.

Do not turn on ANY lights. At all.

This is actually a good rule of thumb in general for if/when your baby wakes up at night. Don’t turn on their lamp, their closet light, their ceiling light, a hall light – do not turn on any lights.

Turning on a light will cause their eyes to open wider, to focus, and to wake up even more than they already have from crying. Not to mention, one of your toughest jobs with a newborn is helping them set their internal clock until those circadian rhythms really kick in.

The flashlight on your cell phone is your friend. Turn it on, face the phone down so the light shines on the floor and use it to guide your steps in the room, find the rocking chair, whatever you need, then turn it off and rock/dance/sway in the dark until your baby is asleep again.

The one and only exception to this rule is if there is vomit or a horrible, blown out diaper situation. But even then, try to make do with the flashlight or if that simply won’t cut it, turn on a closet light but keep the door mostly shut so it’s just a small amount of light coming into the bedroom.

Note: if the regression is also happening at naps, you can still apply this rule. Minimize the amount of daylight in the room as much as possible.

No diaper changes. At all.

Again, unless there’s a blow out situation or your baby is soaked through, don’t change the diaper.

This is why overnight diapers exist in our world – they’re designed to hold a lot of liquid, and to draw that liquid away from the skin. If you’re concerned about a rash, though, you can use vaseline or another diaper cream to create a barrier.

Changing a diaper is one more thing that will further wake up your baby, and your number one goal when trying to survive a sleep regression is minimize the amount of time your baby is awake at night. Just say no to changing a diaper at night.

There have been a handful of times where, in an act of desperation because nothing was calming my child down, I did change her diaper to verify nothing was going on that I was maybe missing. Sometimes the diaper can be folded weirdly on their skin, or pinching them. So, if absolutely nothing is working to calm down your baby, you can break the rule. 😉

sleep regression

Find a bedtime routine, and stick with it. Be consistent!

Consistency is your absolute, 100% without a doubt best friend through a regression. If there is one thing I can say about all regressions, it’s this: don’t make any huge changes. A regression is not the time to try a new sleep training method, or rearrange your baby’s room thinking they hate where their bed is (ahem…. I have done this…. it didn’t work).

If you are in a sleep regression right now and don’t have a routine, you’re probably already feeling at a loss so adding in a routine will help create some stability. If you’re in a sleep regression and do have a routine, great! Stick with it. It’s your lifeline through this turbulent time.

A routine does not have to be complicated. I’ll tell you the nighttime routine we have used for both of our kids since they came home from the hospital:

  • Bath (not that they’re dirty, especially as newborns, it’s more just starting to make a habit.), then pajamas
  • Read a book or two, then turn on white noise machine
  • Get some milk while being rocked, with the light on in the room
  • Turn off light
  • Give lovey, lay down in bed
  • Goodnight

That’s it. Figure out a simple routine that will work for your family, then make it happen!

During a regression, you’ll most likely hit a snag right at that lay down in bed part, or shortly after it, but hey that’s okay! Stay consistent on the routine, and when you come out of the sleep regression, you will have a baby that can go right to bed with no problems. I believe in this so deeply, I’m willing to bet on it. I credit our consistency during hard times to the consistency our child gives us back during the easy times. It’s a win, in the long run.

sleep regression

Bonus Tip: Remind yourself, every day, you’re one day closer to the end of the sleep regression.

It’s so important to mentally keep yourself focused on the endgame. Don’t get lost in hopelessness, or fear, or even anxiety (I’ve been to all of those places during my kids’ sleep regressions, and it’s the pits).

There’s an app called The Wonder Weeks that pinpoints specific leaps of development for your child based on their birth date. You’re actually supposed to go by the due date, but with both of my children it was more accurate by their birth date based on the signs I saw with them.

A few of the leaps – aka, wonder weeks – coincide with regressions. This is a paid app, but it’s entirely worth it for the countdown feature. It has a daily countdown, telling you when the leap is over. Every night, watching that number go down by one, knowing we were closer and closer to the end of the regression, was priceless to me. If you need a visual marker, I recommend buying that app.

Plus, you’ll learn what abilities and skills to look for during the sleep regression, which also makes it a little more bearable, too.

And that’s what I’ve got. I hope you found this helpful, and I hope if you’re experiencing a sleep regression right now that your biggest take away from this is that it’s coming to an end, and soon! You’ll make it. And at the other side, your baby may be sitting up (what!!), or crawling (hold up!!), or standing (omg, no!) or… even walking (whoa!)!!

As always, thanks for reading 🙂

Fun and Unique Toddler Learning Games

toddler learning games

Toddlers are easily bored.

If you have one living in your home, you know that fact as deeply as you know your need for coffee as soon as you wake up. You can hear their tiny voices – “I’m bored! Let’s go empty out the pantry!” or “Look at the portrait of myself that I drew on the wall with your lip stuff, mom!”

It’s a slippery slope from boredom to mischief.

I have a toddler of my own (though he will be four soon. When do they stop being toddlers and start being just a kid? I can’t even imagine it! I’m just going to keep living in denial that every year he gets a little bigger…), which means I am always on the hunt for new and interesting toddler learning games we can play that will stave off boredom and keep him occupied for more than ten minutes at a time.

I have a list of three activities I have recently come across that have resulted in hours of entertainment. I know one day he will get bored of them, but for now they’re his top picks every day. Maybe they’ll interest your toddler too? Read on –

Little Red Tool Box Magnetic Mats Word Ladders

toddler learning games magnetic mats

This is a set of two large magnetic boards, thirty laminated activity sheets that contain various word ladders/phonic combinations, and 70 foam letter tiles with a magnet backing.

You line the tiles up on the sheets to build words – very simple! These word ladders range from easy (3-letter words ending in -ap, for example) to a little more complicated (words ending in -ing) and even a few transition pages that contain both three, four, and five letter words.

Because the sheets are laminated, you can write on them with a dry erase marker, too, which is great for practicing lettering.

E had the beginnings of an interest in reading and spelling, but these boards have really exploded that. All day long, I think I spell 400 words or phrases to him, and when we get the board out, he sometimes can spell words back to me on his own using the tiles (this is true if it’s a word we have repeatedly spelled).

What’s more, you don’t have to use the magnet boards with the sheets. Sometimes, we just play with the tiles on the board itself and build our own words – right now, for example, E is inexplicably obsessed with the words “jiggy,” “wiggy,” and “jigglish.” I don’t know how or why, I just go with the flow.

Ryan’s Room All About Today Board

toddler learning games today board

When I noticed E was really interested in the days of the week, the weather, dates things happen (his birthday, mostly), I wanted to create a “today” station in our home somewhere we could make note of the day of the week, the month, the weather, etc. I wasn’t really sure where I would set something like that up, though.

One night, I was browsing Zulily when I couldn’t sleep (always a recipe for mindless spending…), and I stumbled upon this Today Board and it was absolutely perfect with the added bonus of requiring me to do zero work except buy the thing.

Since it arrived at our house, it’s been a daily (haha) fixture. It gets conversation going about the weather outside, how time works (have you ever tried to explain the concept of minutes in an hour, or the passage of time, to an almost four year old? You should try it, if you want to walk away questioning the merits of time and dimensions, haha), the months of the year and how they correspond to the seasons, the days of the week – it covers all of the basic bits of information we take in every day about our days.

What I’ve immediately noticed from this board is E’s awareness of dates and days passing, whereas previously he had no concept and no real reason to have any concept of time’s passing.

Now if we could only get past the fact that any time it’s windy outside, it’s automatically “Windsday” aka Wednesday…

The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game

toddler learning games

This little game is so much fun.

Not only is the title hilarious, but the game is super cute, too. I really could go on and on about its merits, but I’ll limit myself to a few points:

  • It teaches taking turns, following simple directions and listening to directions, managing disappointment (if you lose a turn, or lose all your acorns), and showing good sportsmanship (if you lose, or if you win).
  • It teaches color recognition, and color matching.
  • It teaches counting, and you can even go further by using it as a visual representation for addition and subtraction.
  • It’s a lot of fun using the “squirrel squeezer” to chase your toddler around when you’re done playing the game, I mean what?

This was a Christmas present for E, and it has not lost its popularity since then. We play this game at least once a week, if not sometimes more frequently if we have family or friends over. Just a fair warning – there are tiny pieces so if you have a baby around, keep his or her hands away from the acorns.

I hope these suggestions inspire you to find fun and unique toddler learning games to bring into your own home. If you have a toddler learning game to share, please share it! I love hearing about new activities to do with our kids. Thanks for reading 🙂

How to Setup an Energizing Family Playlist

I was putting together a playlist for myself for some choice tracks that had caught my ear this year when a thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to compile this with someone? I looked over at Amanda, who was busy typing out a blog post on the other side of the couch. We have had pretty much the same core music tastes since we started dating. In fact, my pick up line to her was a Facebook message where I expressed delight in the fact that she listed Anberlin as a band she liked. So, who better to do this with than her?

Then I took the thought further. A playlist can not only be a general soundtrack to your year but if curated in a certain way, it can be an empowering tool. So I decided to pose this to her: “Let’s make a shared motivational playlist!”

family playlist

Setting up a family playlist you can both contribute to is easy, but first you need some rules:

  • Rule 1. Either person can contribute any new song that he or she finds empowering. This can be something on the radio, researched on iTunes, or heard in the background of a TV show. The point is that it needs to be something that gets you moving in a good way.
  • Rule 2. Preferably the songs are relatively fresh and new, so no “Eye of the Tiger” or some other power ballad from the 80s (we hear enough of that one on our 3-year old’s playlist. Journey, Kansas, ZZ Top… if it’s from the 70s or 80s, our kid loves it). I liked the idea of new songs growing on us like the new habits we are working on developing.
  • Rule 3. The songs must have positive lyrics, so no whining, complaining, or depressingly introspective tracks. Those songs have a place for listening and relating to but not in this particular playlist.
  • Rule 4. Either of us can veto another person’s song on the list, with the other’s permission, and with good reason. Before doing this, the song has to be listened to a few times, all the way through. Let’s face it, even if it has a good message, the melody or some aspect of the lyrics might be a little annoying. The idea here is to amass a group of songs that the both of us enjoy.

And that’s about it. I hope this will be an evolving playlist and at the end of the year we could even edit it down to our favorites and share it here on the blog.

Want to play along? Here are some ways to setup your own Shared Playlist:

If you’d like to do this with your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, or even just a friend, here are positives and negatives for the various music streaming services through which you could setup your family playlist together:

YouTube

Positives – It’s free and easy to draw from a variety of music videos, lyric videos, or fan made videos of the songs for your list. You’d be hard-pressed not to find just about any song there.

Negatives – Unless you have YouTube Red (which is currently $9.99 a month) where you can watch and “enjoy videos without ads–and in the background or offline on mobile devices,” then you’ll be limited to those restrictions. With YouTube Red you also  get YouTube Music which is similar to Amazon Prime Music or Apple Music in that it apparently provides a catalog of albums and artists for you to explore. I primarily like to enjoy music off of my phone like many others do these days so this may be something to consider depending on the depth of the library of YouTube Music.

Apple Music

Positives – Apple claims that “for less than the price of most albums, you get access to the full Apple Music library, expert recommendations, our take on the best new music, and on‑demand radio stations.” It’s $9.99 a month but the catalog would seem to be more comprehensive than YouTube Music’s. So if you are just wanting a service like this for the tunes and have no care about video content, this would be the better option. There’s even a $14.99 a month “Family Membership” option which provides up to six people access to the service on their respective devices. It has the usual features of these memberships like downloading for offline listening.

Negatives – Like YouTube Red it’s an additional cost per month, though with how much music is a part of our household and the fact that we are heavy Apple users, I could see our family moving to the “Family Membership” one day when both of the kids start developing their individual tastes.

Amazon Prime Music

Positives-  A lot of people don’t realize that if they already using Amazon Prime (one of the most widely used online ordering services) that they also get Amazon Prime Music for FREE. I recommend you download the app immediately for your mobile device and get exploring. It’s got a huge and ever updating catalog of albums. You’d be surprised at what is in here. Not to mention, you can download entire albums and playlists for offline listening (which is great so you don’t eat up data while listening in the car).

Negatives – You have to have Amazon Prime to utilize Amazon Prime Music. Amazon Prime is an annual fee of $99 so that shakes out to being $8.25 a month. Still, this is cheaper than YouTube Red and you get to take advantage of the awesomeness of Amazon Prime’s 2-day free shipping where available on purchases.

Since Amanda and I already had Amazon Prime, that was our no-brainer choice to use to compile our family playlist. If you decide to undertake this, I hope you find it a fun project that helps provide the background tunes that motivate you on your journey. Good luck!

A5 Planner – My Color Crush

websters pages color crush a5 planner

It is no secret that I love planning, planners, paper – the whole deal. I’m always trying out new planners, scoping Etsy for stickers and washi, keeping my eyes out for fun stuff and things I’d like to try.

Several months ago, I stumbled into this whole subculture of planning called “decorative planning” and I finally felt like I found the perfect mixture for me – a way to combine creative memory-keeping (or journaling) with a planner? Sign me up.

Back in high school, I carried a personal size Franklin Covey planner. It had been years since I had used a binder. I wasn’t really finding “planner peace,” as they say, with the spiral-bound systems I had tried, so when I saw a chance on this site called Blitsy (which, by the way, if you’re into craft supplies, you have to check out that site) to buy a Webster’s Pages Color Crush A5 planner, I jumped on it and bought a white one.

Webster’s Pages has recently released their 2016 line, and I found some of it at my local Joann Fabrics. When I saw the grey and white striped A5 planner, I knew I had to have it. So now I have two. The struggle is real, people (this is not counting my Kikki.K A5…shhh…..).

a5 planner color crush stack

It was love at first sight. What can I say, other than I’m a planner nerd.

I thought I would share more about how I organize my A5 planner, and my thoughts on the Color Crush line of planners. I haven’t tried their A2 size (personal size), so these thoughts only refer to the A5.

I ordered the A5 planner kit, which meant I got a set of dividers, 18 month weekly + monthly planner inserts, and a few other miscellaneous inserts (meal planner, list sheets, note pages, and so on). The dividers and inserts were very colorful – as you can probably guess based on the name “color crush” – and while they were really pretty, they weren’t really my style. The grey and white striped one came with all of the same inserts that the white one did.

Through my experimenting with various planners, I’ve learned that I prefer inserts to be black and white, or grey and white – as neutral as possible – because I like to add color myself. The one exception to this is the Happy Planner, which I’ll save for another post at another time. The quick rundown, though, is that it’s a vertical weekly layout similar to Erin Condren, and each month has a color scheme. I use my Happy Planner for work and blog planning.

But, back to the A5.

a5 planner pockets

What I love about the Color Crush, apart from the price point which is very affordable in the world of binder planners, the quality. Nice, tight rings that easily open and close. The sewn edges are finished looking, with no frayed thread. The material, despite being faux leather, feels nice and, on my grey & white one, even has a pebbled look. Plenty of pockets to stuff things in (see above!), plus a bonus flap and slot at the back for an A5 notebook and/or notepad. I could go on.

How I’ve setup my A5 Planner

I have five sections and they are:

  • Calendar
  • Routines
  • Work
  • Projects
  • Lists

I really enjoy making my own dividers for my planner, and the ones you see in the images are ones I’ve made. I use papers from The Planner Society Kits, from scrapbook sets I find at craft stores, from paper pads, etc. The options are endless. You just need paper, and a laminator to make your own dividers – that’s it.

This set of dividers is made from a Me and My Big Ideas paper pad, with the tabs from a Planner Society kit.

a5 planner

Let’s break down the sections, so you can see just how versatile an A5 planner can be.

Calendar

In this section, I’ve got – you guessed it – my calendar! I keep a few different calendars. I’ve tried out quite a few inserts to see what style I seem to work best with, and I was surprised to learn that I prefer a grid (or quadrant) layout.

a5 planner weekly layout

a5 planner weekly layout

Those are a few of my “planner spreads,” as they’re called – because it’s the week spread out – decorated with stickers and washi. If you’re not used to this style of planning, it may seem really busy. However, I really enjoy this because it’s like a creative outlet, and believe it or not, is a little therapeutic too. Every Sunday, I sit down and decorate my week, then fill in everything I need to do. I always post these on Instagram, so if you like looking at planner spreads, you can follow my planning account – plansandcoffee.

Also in this section is a month-at-a-glance spread. I originally purchased these inserts thinking I would use them as an editorial calendar for the blog, but it didn’t pan out that way. I actually don’t really use them at all, though I love this way of looking at a month.

I think eventually I will use them to plan out our bill schedule.

a5 planner monthly list

In addition to the weekly view, I’ve got daily inserts, too. I absolutely love these inserts, and the sections on them.

I don’t always decorate my daily pages. I usually will only decorate them if I’m sitting down the night before to fill out what I need to do the following day, and I’ve got a few extra minutes to put some stickers or washi tape on there.

I can’t always fit in my tasks and to-do’s on the weekly spread, so this is why I also use a daily insert. I don’t use it every day, but I would say I use it most days and it’s very helpful to order my thoughts. A lot of the time, I plot things out on the weekly spread without really paying too much attention to the specific day a task may be assigned to; I approach it more like “these are the things I need done this week.” So, I can get a little more specific on the daily insert by picking and choosing what I will tackle that day.

I also use it to make note of Penny’s naps, work deadlines, any groceries I need to grab, and our meals for that day.

a5 planner daily page

Routines

This section has checklists for my routines throughout the week. The main two inserts I have in this section are a “my routine” one, and another for tracking weekly cleaning. Both of these inserts have areas for daily tasks (and you can check off each day for each item), and weekly tasks.

a5 planner

These are printable inserts, so you can print as many as you need for yourself. I thought about laminating them with set tasks to do each day and week, so I can make them reusable, but I like setting the pages up each week because sometimes what I want to do changes from week to week.

One insert I still need for this section is something to track my Powersheet tending list with. I’d love a similar layout, with daily and weekly tasks. I’m sure this insert exists somewhere. Also, I could just track it on the actual tending list in my Powersheets, but I’d like something to stick in my planner because my planner is way more portable than my Powersheets.

Work

I have two inserts in this section – one for tracking stats, and another for brainstorming writing and blog post/article ideas.

The stat tracker insert is really cool. I can track posts, site information, and social media information over a week’s time. I usually will input the previous week’s info or a benchmark, and then compare at the end of the week. This is great for accountability to yourself, and to see how well you’re really doing.

a5 planner

I also use this to track my pitch goals. I have a certain number of pitches I like to send out each week, and this is great to keep up with that, and to note when I’ve heard back about a submitted pitch.

The brainstorming page I use to quickly outline the main points and central idea of a post or article I plan on writing. It has social media icons across the top, which are helpful to track when promoting work. The clock section I use two different ways – to make note of when I will schedule a blog post, or if it’s for a freelance project, to track how much time I think the article will take me to write. The quotes section I use to make note of any images I need for the post, or any experts I need to talk to in the case of an article.

a5 planner

I use the four labels at the bottom for category tag information, main points I need to keep in mind – really just anything that I want to remember in regards to the post or article, as I’m writing.

You may be wondering where I plot out tasks, writing schedules, track social media, and so on. I mentioned earlier in this post that I use a Happy Planner for blog/writing tasks. It may sound completely ridiculous to have two planners, but believe it or not, it’s really helpful to me to have a whole different calendar for just work-related stuff. My personal calendar was becoming so cluttered that when I would sit down to look at it, I just felt overwhelmed at everything I had to do that I wouldn’t get anything done. Now that I’ve separated out work tasks to their own planner, I am way more productive.

Projects

We have so many ideas for house projects that I needed a planner section to track them all. This section is mainly house information, but I also put work projects in here sometimes (as I’m typing this, it would probably make more sense to move those sheets over to the work tab, huh), and DIY project ideas, too.

a5 planner

a5 planner

Above are the two different types of project inserts I use.

What I love about the top insert is that it’s very open ended. I like it for brainstorming projects, or for laying out work projects. The bottom one is more structured, and is great when I have the details together and need it organized step-by-step, with all of my materials listed.

Lists

My list section is really just my miscellaneous place. I have note pages here, book ideas (ones I want to write and read), movies to see, random To Dos that pop into my head, things to transfer to my memory planner (another post, for another time), etc. I don’t really journal anymore, so this section is kind of like a catchall. It can get really cluttered in there, so I try to clean it out weekly.

a5 planner

Supplies I Use

A5 Color Crush Planner Kit – White Planner Kit. I can’t find the grey and white stripe one online, so check your local Joann Fabrics store.

Paper for dividers – The Planner Society (this is a monthly subscription kit, and subscription is only open for two weeks every month, so subscribe to get an email notification if you’re interested), Me & My Big Ideas paper pads (I specifically used the watercolor one for my dividers), or any paper pad you find at your local craft store.

Happy Planner – Me & My Big Ideas just released 10 new designs. I use the watercolor one.

Weekly Quadrant Layout – by Jee’s Papeterie. These are dated, printed, cut, and punched for you. She has great quality paper.

Month on Two Pages, List Format – by Dream Plan Repeat. These are also dated, printed, cut, and punched for you and the paper is amazing.

Day on One Page – by Dream Plan Repeat. Also dated, printed, cut, and punched.

Weekly Cleaning – by Strawberry Scraps. This is printable. I recommend taking printable inserts on a zip drive to a place like Kinkos or Staples and having them print the inserts for you. Make sure to get a heavier paper (not quite cardstock, but thicker than copy paper), and have them printed double sided. Some place will also cut down the prints for you, and maybe even punch them. If not, a paper cutter or punch will be a must-have.

Daily Routine – by Strawberry Scraps. Also printable.

Weekly Stat Tracker – by Dream Plan Repeat. These are printed, cut, and punched.

Blog Maker / Brainstorming Insert – by Rogue Crusade. These are printable.

Project Planner – by Easy Life Planners. A printable.

Project Planning – by Lady V Designs. That link is for a printed version, but she also has a printable.

Note Pages – by Strawberry Scraps. These are printable. I cover up the “notes” header if I want to make it a list page, but there are plenty of list/to do printables and printed inserts on Etsy if you do a quick search.

a5 planner

That just about does it. I’ll do another post on other types of supplies I use when planning, like stickers, washi tape, pens, stamps, etc. That’s when planning gets really fun!

Thanks so much for reading 🙂

3 Ways to Organize Paperwork

Why is it so hard to organize paperwork? And by “paperwork,” I mean anything from bills, to statements, to tax documents, to receipts – you get the idea.

I’ve tried so many systems of organization to get my paper stacks under control. Filing cabinets, file boxes, pocket folders… and while all of them had their merits, I didn’t stick with any one system beyond the first month or two of trying it out. Why? They required too much time and work to keep up with.

Sounds silly, but it’s true. Sorting through papers is not an enjoyable task, and it’s not something I want to spend hours on each week. I had to come up with a more simple system for myself, and after using what I came up with consistently for the past six years, I think I can safely say I’ve found something that works.

organize paperwork

The title of this post is “three ways to organize paperwork” but the main no fuss, easy-to-use, quick, and simple system really just boils down to one tool –

A 13-pocket accordion folio.

That’s it.

organize paperwork

Every January, I head out to Staples and find their most affordable 13-pocket accordion folio and bring it home to hold all my paperwork for that year.

The first 12 pockets are assigned a month – one for each month in the year. As we go through each month, paying bills, receiving statements, etc… I simply drop the paper into the appropriate monthly pocket.

I save the 13th pocket for our completed tax papers for that year. Before we’ve filed our taxes, though, that 13th pocket holds all of the paperwork we will need when we file. I also will sometimes put other documents there, though, that I may want to reference each month.

You really can’t beat the simplicity of this system.

But what about other paperwork that shouldn’t be put away at the year’s end?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When I implemented my system, I realized there were certain documents I wanted out at all times or there were things that we got too many of throughout the year that would have made the folio fill up way too quickly. These included things like insurance policies and cards, medical bills, veterinarian bills, car repair statements, and so on.

This is where the two remaining ways to organize paperwork come in. They are –

A desktop file box and a three-ring binder.

In our file box, I’ve made files for the following things (but your list may be different, depending on your family’s needs):

  • Medical bills
  • Car “stuff” – receipts for repairs, insurance policies, etc
  • Pets – each pet has their own file, and it contains their vet bills and other information
  • Kids – each child has their own file, and right now they’re mostly empty but will eventually contain school-related items, like statements for tuition, test scores, etc.
  • Furniture/Jewelry/Etc – this file is for receipts that I keep of major purchases we have made, like a couch, or a television, or a ring. It also has our personal articles insurance policy statement.

binders

The binder – which I call my “house binder” – contains the following things:

  • Mortgage statements
  • Home insurance policy
  • Home repair receipts
  • And a few other random things like, quotes for work on the house that we may be considering that year, paint chips with a note as to what room the paint went in, and closing papers from the purchase.

At least once a year, I go through the files and the binder and shred any outdated documents, or papers I know we don’t need anymore. Sometimes, I will file papers into the folio – in their appropriate monthly pocket – if I know I want to keep them, but I don’t really need them out anymore.

Why use a system like this?

My favorite thing about organizing paperwork this way is I always know where everything is. I know that every month’s pocket in my folio has bill stubs, statements, miscellaneous receipts, and so on. I know where all of our medical bills and statements are. I have quick access to all of our insurance policies.

I point all of this out only to say that the main reason it’s so invaluable to have this information is for when it’s time to file taxes. Filing our taxes has never been easier, because all of the tax documents are in the same place, corralled together, and any other information that may be needed (such as medical statements) is also quickly available. No more running around the house, sifting through piles of papers, hoping I find everything we need by the deadline.

I love this system so much that the year after I started using it, I went back and organized the previous four years of paperwork we had together as a married couple using this method. Glutton for punishment? Maybe. But when we bought our home, it sure was helpful having everything put together like that.

Hopefully this gives you some inspiration or an idea as to how you’d like to organize your own paperwork. If you have a tried and true system, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading 🙂

Finding the Best Morning Routine

I’ve been chasing mornings for years.

I can’t ever seem to catch them, though. I always say that I am a morning person trapped inside a night person’s body. I just love the idea of a quiet morning, where you collect yourself and prepare for the day.

Two years ago, I really started trying to wake earlier. It seemed, though, the harder I tried, the later I ended up staying up at night, so the more difficult it became to wake up before my kids. Most nights, I don’t fall asleep before 1am, which means any hope of waking earlier than 7:30 is a pipe dream.

This year, though? This year will be different. If you read my 2016 goals post, you know I’m trying to take back control of my day.

I’m searching for the best morning routine (for me).

best morning routine

Over the years, I have collected a few ebooks, email series, handouts – you name it, I’ve probably found it online somewhere and tried it out. I’ve come to realize, though, that it doesn’t really matter whose method you choose (or even if you invent your own). The best morning routine starts at night.

And the night? Now that is something I can handle.

Here’s how I am going to give my night’s some meaning, in order to find the best morning routine –

Get a real alarm clock.

My phone is my number one biggest distraction at nighttime. And you always read about how you need to limit the blue light from screens an hour or more before bed. Well, I bring mine right to bed with me. I end up playing a game, or mindlessly scrolling social media, and before I know it, it’s been an hour or more – just eating up time I could have been sleeping.

I need a real alarm clock, so I don’t have a reason to bring my phone to bed. I also have a habit of subconsciously switching off all my phone alarms (plural, yes, because I try to set three or more, 30 minutes apart, thinking that will force me out of bed. It has yet to work.) at some point in the night, so I’m hoping maybe having a real alarm clock will mean I can’t turn the alarms off as easily.

Make the bedroom more sleep-inducing at night.

No more piling laundry that needs to be folded on our dresser. Stop leaving cups on the nightstand, to the point that it becomes some kind of weird cup graveyard. No more stacks of things to sort or put away in other places (kid toys, books, random socks…). The bedroom isn’t a dumping ground.

More than that though, I’m specifically thinking about pillows and blankets. I don’t know how frequently you’re supposed to get yourself new pillows, but I’m guessing it’s shorter than eight or more years. I can’t even remember when I bought my pillow I’m currently using, but I can tell you I think it’s the reason I wake up most mornings with a stiff neck.

We have a king size bed, and only one sheet set that I picked up at Kohls (on sale) right before we moved in to this house, two years ago. It’s a fine sheet set, but we need at least one more to make laundry not such a hassle (and to make up for the fact that I always forget to put our sheets in the dryer so that means staying up an extra hour while we wait for it all to dry…).

Give myself a ritual.

I’m thinking a two-part ritual.

The first part will involve setting myself up for success in the morning by getting out everything I will need. My perfect morning is a mixture of bible study, writing, and coffee. I will set up a basket with all of my supplies (minus the coffee…because that would just be a mess) and place it somewhere in the bedroom that’s visible, but doesn’t contribute to clutter.

I can’t do much in the way of nighttime prep for coffee. We do a pour over method, so I can’t set it up the night before, but I can get my mug out.

The second part of the ritual will be skin care related. The morning of my 32nd birthday, I noticed something. A wrinkle. I have my fair share of fine lines, which doesn’t bother me because they mean you’re living your life, but a wrinkle? No. I’m not even halfway through my years yet. It’s time to get serious about moisturizers (which is maybe one of the silliest things I’ve written, but it’s true). So, I will incorporate some kind of skin care routine (I think this deserves its own post, since it’s something I really need to research) to my nighttime ritual to help me relax at night.

And that’s it. Three simple steps that will put me on my way to the best morning routine – no phone, a relaxing atmosphere, and some winding down rituals. Seems easy enough. Now the question is, will it work? Well, I’ll have to get back with you on that. In the meantime, wish me luck and thanks for reading 🙂

Ugly flower bed turned container rock garden

flower bed to container garden

Our first home together was adorable. It was a little ranch, on the outskirts of an urban area, and it was the perfect first home. Gorgeous hardwoods, little touches of character, cozy rooms.

The only downside? It had awful landscaping (see below!). And the flower beds would grow nothing, except lilies and weeds. I don’t like lilies, and I really don’t like weeds, and one summer I had had enough and decided it was time to do something.

Alex and I talked it over and due to the fact that any previous attempts at growing anything had miserably failed (especially on the left flower bed, for some reason), we decided to give a container garden a go. It was either that or haul out all the dirt and begin again.

Pricing it out, it seemed like laying down rock and potting some containers was our best bet, so we headed to Home Depot and gathered up supplies

flower bed filled with weeds

First, we cleared out all the weeds and uprooted the few perennials that were desperately clinging on (some I gave away, and some we transplanted to the backyard flowerbed).

Once everything was nice and empty, we spread out the roll of weed barrier. We used one roll of Easy Gardener 4′ x 50′ weed barrier and it was enough for both flower beds. We tucked it under some of the pavers that close the flower bed in just to ensure it stayed nice and snug.

With the beds covered, we laid down an even layer of pond rocks. We chose Vigoro Pond Pebbles. We ended up needing roughly 15 bags to get everything evenly covered on both sides, and to hide all of the weed barrier.

flower bed turned rock garden

flower bed turned rock garden

Such a drastic improvement, right?!

With the rocks in place, it was time to plan out the containers. We already had a couple plant stands, trellises, and pots, so we only needed a couple more + flowers. We did this project back in 2013, and looking back I don’t think today I would choose the same flowers or arrangement, but even so it really was such a better look for the front than what we had previously going on!

flower bed turned rock garden

flower bed turned rock garden

close up flowers

This whole update cost us about $230, which was pretty cost effective. Our biggest expense was the rocks, but we didn’t mind that since rocks never die or disappear, so we would only have that expense for one season. Not to mention, you can’t really put a price tag on upping your curb appeal.

If you have a flower bed that just won’t grow, I can’t recommend enough reclaiming that space into a rock or container garden. All you need is weed barrier, rocks, containers, and plants. It’s so easy! Additionally, you can actually plant things like succulents or other hardy perennials in a rock garden. You simply cut slices into the weed barrier to allow your plants to grow through. We didn’t go this route because we knew our soil was lacking nutrients, but if you’re going for something even more low maintenance, that would be a great choice.

Good luck, and thanks for reading 🙂

Spray Paint: The Easiest DIY Ever

I wish I would have invented spray paint.

It’s so genius! I’ve always been a fan of it. It’s an easy fix for pretty much any thing that you’d like to tweak the look of. It’s very cost effective, too, especially if you’re using it on furniture – one or two cans of spray paint is significantly less than buying a whole new piece of furniture!

This isn’t really a DIY per se, since I think we can all operate a can of spray paint. This is more of a look into what you can do with spray paint and a few spruces to some old or broken pieces of furniture, to maybe help inspire you and get your creative juices flowing.

quick easy spray paint projects

Old Nightstands Made New

When we moved into our current home, we went from having three bedrooms to four and the size of those bedrooms increased a lot. We had never really had a master bedroom before, because all of the other places we had lived, the bedroom had all been about the same size. So, part of our furnishings budget included a king bed and mattress but no other furniture. We checked out Macy’s when they were having a furniture sale, and grabbed up the bedf from the Edgewater collection. The bed was on sale for a ridiculously low price ($349!!!!). We also ended up getting our mattress there, too (it was also on sale!) so we really saved a ton but not enough to justify getting anything else from the Edgewater collection, unfortunately.

No matter, though. We had two perfectly good nightstands from our old master bedroom setup. The only problem? They were white. This is the best photo I have of them –

master bedroom

I have no idea why the lamps are not centered on those nightstands in this photo, but it’s driving me crazy! Anyway, you get the idea – the nightstands were a creamy white and that was not going to work with our new bed.

I went to Home Depot and checked out my spray paint options and, luckily, I found a color that is a perfect match to the stain on the bed. It’s called Satin Dark Walnut and it’s by Rustoleum (that link is for a 6 pack of cans. Guess you can’t buy individual cans online!). I ended up only needing 2 cans, so it was under $5.00 to re-color the nightstands.

spray painting furniture

First, though, I removed all the knobs and took the drawers out. I thoroughly cleaned the drawers and body to make sure there was not a single speck of dust or stray hair. I used a Melaleuca cleaner called Tough & Tender, but any cleaner will do. I would recommend not using paper towels to wipe down surfaces, though, just to avoid leaving lint behind.

spray painting furniture

Once everything was dry and ready to go, I got to spray painting! Everyone knows how to spray paint – there is really nothing to it. The secret is slow, steady swipes to make sure you have an even coat, especially on vertical surfaces.

This paint covered extremely well. I was really impressed and it only needed one real coat. I went back and touched up a few crevices I had missed on my first pass through and that was it. To go from a creamy white to a dark walnut in only one coat was really nice!

I let all of the pieces cure over night in the garage before re-assembling and bringing it all upstairs.

spray painting furniture

You can see that I didn’t spray paint the insides. Partly out of laziness, but also because I am planning on covering the insides in fabric. I was kind of sloppy since I thought I would be covering so there are drips on the insides of the drawers, as well as areas with light coverage.

Anyway, during the 24 hour period of having the nightstands cure, I hit up Home Depot again in search of some updated looking hardware for the drawers. We had installed a ceiling fan with a brushed nickel finish so I wanted something in a similar finish, that was sort of angular.

I ended up finding these –

spray painting furniture

Unfortunately, I can’t find these on Home Depot’s website, but they were about the same price as this knob. I needed 6 of them, so my total came to about $27.00 before tax. The whole project to upgrade these nightstands was about $35.00, give or take some cents. Definitely can’t be that!

And I’m pretty happy with the final result –

spray painting furniture

This is just an iPhone photo. I’m saving the better photos of this room for a later post, because I have another furniture project I did for a dresser since we didn’t have the budget to get the one in the Edgewater set.

A mirror turned chalkboard

My second spray paint project was turning a broken mirror into a chalkboard for our kitchen hallway/garage entry area. I really wanted a mirror for this area and I had the perfect one, but unfortunately it didn’t fare well in storage and ended up cracking.

The mirror originally hung in Ezra’s room –

The mirror is an antique on my mom’s side of the family so the last thing I wanted to do was throw it away. I decided to attempt to repair the crack and transform it into a chalk board.

First, I put superglue in the crack and clamped both ends for 48 hours to make sure the crack was good and closed up –

Then I thoroughly wiped down the surface and, when it was dry, I started spray painting. I picked up a bottle of Rustoleum Chalkboard Spray Paint at – you guessed it – Home Depot. This project cost me just $3.98 (including tax)!

chalkboard spray paint

The mirror turned out better than I could have hoped and, best of all, I didn’t have to throw it away! Now I have a really cool chalkboard in the hallway. It’s been fun to draw different things on it, like for Ezra’s birthday when I drew a train on it –

train chalk art

You can still see where the crack is, but that’s okay. All I care about is that it’s usable and not in the trash!

Easy peasy, huh?! This is why I love spray paint. For just a few dollars, you can completely transform something old into something new (well, new to you anyway). A few other ideas of things you can quickly and easily spray paint –

  • Picture frames – don’t buy  new ones if you have perfectly good frames but you wish they were a different color. Or, if you’re working on a gallery wall, go to a discount store (like Goodwill) and buy a lot of cheap frames, then spray paint them all the same color.
  • Fabric – Yep, bet you didn’t know you could spray paint fabric. This is a great way to turn an indoor fabric into an outdoor one. Or to give outdoor fabric a protective layer. Use clear spray paint (or color if you want to change the color of the fabric).
  • Baskets – Spray them all the same color for a unified look, or choose a few complementary colors to make things interesting.
  • Hinges, knobs, outlet/switch plates, vent covers, ceiling fans, faucets, etc – Pretty much any removable hardware or fixture in your home can be spray painted, which will save you a lot of money versus buying all new, especially since you can find spray paint in metallic finished like brushed nickel, oil rubbed bronze, chrome, etc.

Really, the list can go on and on. The sky is the limit – just make sure to check the can of paint you choose to ensure it will adhere to the surface you’ll be painting. Thanks for reading, and happy spray painting 🙂

 

How to Use a Moodboard in Home Design

Have you ever had an idea for how you would like a space to come together, but when you walk into that space, you immediately shut down and feel unable to bring that vision to life?

how and why to use a moodboard

I ran into this issue quite a bit when I would work on the design of the first home my husband and I bought together. I would begin a project with so much enthusiasm, but about midway through, my enthusiasm would be replaced by an overwhelming feeling of, well, overwhelm. I would have to step away and, usually, the project would either not be completed or, it would be completed in a way that didn’t leave me entirely happy. When I look back at that house now, in pictures or just from my memory, I feel as though it generally turned out how I wanted but there are still spots where something isn’t quite right (a piece of furniture whose scale is off, for example) and I know I could have planned a bit better.

When we bought our second home, it took me a long time before I began to tackle any of the rooms because I felt like I just wasn’t sure how or where to begin.

Until one night, I was so tired of our boring, beige box of a playroom that I thought I would try my hand at a moodboard.

moodboard for playroom

I made this moodboard for our playroom space. I was so annoyed with that room – it’s huge, and awkward, and I knew it could be utilized better, but I just wasn’t sure how. Plus, I was in major nesting mode (thanks, pregnancy!). It took me about two hours to put the thing together but, once it was done, I had such a fire to complete that room and bring my moodboard to life. And you know what? I did just that, over the next few days, and now when I go upstairs I feel like that room has a pulled together look. And it’s exactly the look I wanted.

I used Olioboard.com to make my moodboard. It’s a free tool, and is so easy to use. Upload your images to the site, and place them on the blank board – that’s it! You can embed links from where the images were found, so you’ll remember where you found that awesome bookshelf or that amazing painting.

The room went from a blank, boring, pointless, under-used box –

To a vibrant, fun, well-loved playroom that we use everyday –

organized playroom

organized playroom

teepee in playroom

organized trains in playroom

organized art supplies playroom

There are still a few things I want to do to the room (blinds in the windows, a television for the TV stand, some more wall art, and some paint on the walls), I can’t deny the fact that the space is now useful. Instead of waiting, and waiting, and waiting to be inspired by something and then hoping that inspiration would lead to an overall look, the moodboard helped me organize my thoughts and it gave me the motivation I needed to finally put the room together.

It may seem like a lot of work to assemble a moodboard, but the payoff is worth it. Taking the time to put together a moodboard helps you –

  • Organize your vision for the room, which eliminates the overwhelming feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing
  • Break down your project into phases, if necessary (create multiple moodboards for each phase)
  • Pre-shop anything you might need, such as furniture, organizational bins, wall art, etc. which gives you an idea on cost and availability
  • Stay on track when it’s time to go shopping; don’t deviate from the general vision you’ve created on your board
  • Nail down your personal aesthetic when it comes to interior design, which will help immensely as you work on other rooms in your house

Do you have any tips on moodboard making that I haven’t covered? Feel free to share them in the comments!