August 23, 2015

How to resolve (Kids + School + Chores + Activities = Mayhem)

It's that time again! The time of year that all kids dread and parents rejoice - back-to-school season. Is this really an occasion to celebrate? We say we're ready for them to go back (because we're stressed and our kids are craving structure, are bored at home, or whatever), when in reality the structure and scheduling of all the new activities and responsibilities leaves us just as drained as kids who are whining for the 400 millionth time about being bored.

(Personally, taking all my kids to Wal-Mart (yes, it has to be Wal-Mart because even though we live in a town of 30,000 people we are not cool enough to have a Target *insert sob here*) at 10:00AM on a Tuesday, which apparently was the date and time that everyone else in town decided to school shopping, resulted in enough stress to last me well into October).

During the previous school year, we implemented a few small changes to make life a little easier. The following is a guest post from my better (and much more technical) half:

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(please note that this post assumes your kids have their own devices or access to a computer)

Last school year, I noticed that each day Virginia would stress about all the things the kids needed to do after school:
  • Clean out lunch boxes
  • Do homework
  • Practice piano
  • Get ready for gymnastics
  • the list goes on.... and on....
It seemed like she had to continuously remind them to do this, do that. So, I came up with a way to reduce some of the stress on Virginia. Each of our kids have a device of some sort, whether it be an iPod, Android tablet, or even access to a computer. I used a tool called IFTTT (If this, then that). 


IFTTT is a free tool that you can sign up for which will watch for things to happen in many of your environments, or simply perform an action on a schedule. What I did is create an IFTTT account to add specific chores to a list on my kids devices on specific days. For example;

  • Monday-Friday
    • Remind kids to empty their lunch boxes from their backpack and put them away
    • Put away any items on the steps that are yours (Virginia often places the kids items that need to be dealt with on the steps)
    • Complete homework
    • Have mom & dad sign off on school papers
  • Monday, Wednesday, & Friday
    • Kid 1: Practice piano
    • Kids 2 & 3: Practice gymnastics
  • Tuesday
    • Kid 1: Gather items for soccer practice
  • Thursday
    • Kids 2 & 3: Get ready for gymnastics
  • Any day
    • If we receive an email from the teacher about kids homework, add item to the specific kids list so they are reminded
This is a small sampling, but you get the idea. Which 'list' application did you use for the kids, you ask?  I selected Trello for it's cross device usability & it's integration capabilities with IFTTT. Trello gives you the ability to create boards with lists. I created a board for each kid, with two lists in each board; ToDo & Done. When they finished a chore, they could simply drag it from the ToDo column to the Done column.


I've included seven steps below to get you up and running, quickly.


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Step 1: Create a Trello Account
If you don't already have a Trello account, go to www.Trello.com an create an account for you, the parent.

Step 2: Create a board for each kid
Click the + sign in the top left corner and select Create Board

For the title, enter the name of your child.


Click Create

Step 3: Add the two lists to each board
On the left hand side of the screen in Trello, locate your newly created board and click on it.  Once selected, you will see your board with the option to create lists.


 Create the ToDo list by entering 'ToDo' in the 'Add a list...' field and click Save.


Create the Done list the same way.


Once you've done this for each kid, you are done with the Trello portion of the setup.

Step 4: Create an IFTTT Account
If you don't already have an IFTTT account, go to www.ifttt.com an create an account.

Step 5: Create a recipes to place an items onto a list
This is where you can use your imagination to add items to your kids ToDo lists.  I'll walk you through one of the examples above:  Place an item on a board at a certain time of day, Monday through Friday

    • Select My Recipes at the top of the screen, then select Create a Recipe
    • You'll be presented with a large If this then that.  Click on this.


    • After selecting this, you'll be presented with all kinds of inputs that can trigger an event to create an item in the list.  Search for date.
    • Select the Date & Time object.
    • Next, select the Every day of the week at button
    • Complete the form, selecting the time of day and days of week to trigger, then click Create
    • Next, select that 
    • Search for Trello and select the Trello object

    • Click on the Create a card button
    • Fill out the form, selecting the board and entering the name of the list where you'd like the new task to be placed
    • Click Create Recipe
    • Once created, the trigger is activated and will execute at the selected time.


Step 6: Install Trello on your child's device
All you have left to do now is to install the mobile Trello app on your child's device and login with your username and email.  When they get home from school, they can go to their board and take a look at the things that they need to do.

Step 7: Dream up other recipes
Like I mentioned earlier, you can set up all kinds of triggers to create items in your lists.  I even set up Siri so Virginia could say a command and it would trigger an event to add what she said to the list.  Go, be creative!

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If you've been looking for a better way to take care of those repetitive tasks, I hope this has helped.  If you create other recipes that you like, please comment and let me know about it!

January 22, 2015

Stitch Fix #4: Why haven't you tried this yet!?

Admitting how much I've been enjoying the Stitch Fix online styling service is kind of like coming out of the closet for me. I drive a minivan. I have four kids. I work at a church. I'm cheap.
There's absolutely nothing about me that screams style.

I think that might be why I enjoy it so much. It makes me feel fancy. (Apparently, I'm easily amused)

Fix #4 was my favorite one yet. I'll tell you why in a minute.

People keep telling me, "I'd love to try it, but I'd never spend that much on clothes."
I get it. Each piece individually is more than I'd usually spend too, unless it was something that I was ready to die on a hill for and never live without.

But here's the deal. The experience is just fun. There's a $20 initial investment for the styling service (which goes toward your purchase if you buy something). It's worth the $20 price tag just to have the fun of enjoying items picked out just for you, and delivered to your doorstep for you to try on and mix & match in the privacy of your own home. So if you try it and love it, and share it with even one friend, Stitch Fix gives you credit.

I managed to rack up a decent amount of credit, and everything I've kept in my previous fixes has been FREE. FREE ya'll! If I divide the initial investment by the number of item's I've kept, I'm at about $9 each. That's my kind of pricing!

And, Stitch Fix is getting pretty good at styling me, so that definitely adds to the fun-factor.
Here's how to make it work well for you: Last month, I ran across this blog from a Stitch Fix pro about how to get the best Fix possible. Using my Pinterest boards, I got very specific about things I liked and didn't like and the way I left feedback. This fix was a ton of fun, and scored me one of my absolute favorite pieces so far.

So seriously....what are you waiting for!? If you're ready to try it, check out the linked blog above and update your Pinterest boards. Then, request a fix (and use my link if you're so inclined :) ) --- https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3372263

On to my last fix!

Fortunately, I didn't have to take my own photos this time. We've lived in our new place for 5 months, and somehow Jon didn't think to convert the corner of the unfinished basement into a photo studio until a couple weeks ago. As terribly uncomfortable as it is for me to pose for him to "practice," it's worse to try to shoot photos of myself with my phone. These are at least a little better than my awkwardly shot selfies.


The first item was the Leah Paisley Print Scarf  by Octavia.
This was it. This is the PERFECT scarf for me. I adore paisley. I adore all those colors. I'm always, always freezing, so I adore scarves. I knew before I even put this on, it was a keeper.

Plus, I have like 100 other things I can wear it with.


The price on this was $28. (But used credit to purchase). I've already worn it like ten times, so I'm pretty sure this one was worth the investment.

The second piece was Jake Slim Bootcut Jean by Just Black
All I have to say about this is, don't request a Fix right after Christmas.


These were great jeans, but the fact that I couldn't get them buttoned posed a problem. I don't hold back during Christmas, and it showed in the weeks following! They'd probably work fine now, but I just couldn't justify purchasing them if I wasn't sure they'd fit in the near future.

The Noriega Boat Neck Knit Top by Tart was super comfy. It was made of a really smooth and slinky fabric that laid really nicely.


While I liked this shirt, it didn't "wow" me and it was just a tad short in the front. I can tell Stitch Fix is trying to send me longer cut items, but I'm well aware of how difficult it is to find ones that work so I can't blame them too much when they're just half an inch too short.

As much as I love polka dots, the Farley Swiss Dot Ruffle Front Blouse by Skies are Blue just wasn't my style. I hate ruffles. I failed to mention that in my profile. That will be corrected. NO.MORE.RUFFLES.


I was skeptical about this last item, because it looked like a plain, dull, black shirt. But I always try everything on, and it turned out this Queensland Dolman Jersey Top by Market & Spruce was a winner! I think it was made of the same super-comfy fabric as the boat neck top, but the length was good this time. Plus, hubby loved it, and it goes with my favorite crazy-pants - I always need more opportunities to wear my crazy-pants ;)
The price on this one was $48, which again is more than I'd ever pay normally, but when paying with credit, was totally worth it. And it will be a great basic piece that will go well with several other things I own.

I made some changes to my Pinterest board and left specific notes for my stylist after this fix, and another one is already on it's way, so we'll see how they did!

Ready to try it?

January 5, 2015

Hellloooo Whole30!

I always find it interesting how suddenly in January everyone wants to be healthy. I get it - new year, new goals and stuff, but why such a big push for health once a year? We'd all probably be in a lot better shape if we kept that mindset more than 1/12th of the year. My gym is suddenly packed at the beginning of January, yet somehow by February, it's dwindled back down to the good 'ol regulars.

Sometimes we have to admit the hard truth - health is a year-round deal. No short-term program is going to produce long-lasting results. 

We work pretty hard around here to make sure our family has a healthy overall lifestyle, and we've definitely made significant changes in the last few years, following a modified version of the paleo diet most of the time. But there's room in the margin for eating out, eating with friends, holidays, etc. You see, I come from a cooking family, and there are some amazing cooks in it. I'm convinced my grandmother makes the best pie in the state. My mom rocks out the homemade caramels and pecan bars and my aunt is the soup and appetizer queen.

When we all get together for Christmas, there ain't no way I'm missing out on that!

So as much as I believe it's important to make healthy choices ALL YEAR, the weeks following Christmas do demand a little bit of a "restart." For me, this is also a time to test my body - what it can handle and can't, how it reacts to certain foods, what happens with massive nutrient consumption. I love experimenting on myself and I've learned SO much through that process. I've tested the limits with grain-free diets, eating only whole foods, avoiding sugar, and juice fasting.

This year, we decided the Whole30 would be a great compliment to our paleo-ish diet and the best way to reset ourselves after the holiday season. Whole30 focuses on what I believe is the key to health -  real, nutrient dense food.

No pills.

No supplements.

No expensive plans.


You don't need those. Real nutrition comes from real food. Nearly every aspect of your health is affected by your diet, both positively and negatively. Whole30 "is a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system." (Learn more here)

Americans are always looking for a quick fix. A pill, a prescription, the easy way out. What we (and the medical professionals) need is to take control of our diet and figure out how the foods we eat affect us.

For 30 days, we will not:
• Consume any sugar or sweetener of any kind
• Consume alcohol in any form
• Eat grains
• Eat legumes
• Consume dairy products
• Consume carageenan, MSG or sulfites
• Recreate any paleo baked goods, treats, or junk food with "approved ingredients"



We will eat clean meats, wild-caught seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit and good, high quality fats.


People often wonder what we will eat and think it will be difficult. Honestly, it's not difficult at all, it just requires some planning. There's a million resources online, and a great many recipes that help make this really quite easy.

We're actually already on day 4. This was last night's supper...


Garlic and herb spaghetti squash with dried roma tomatoes.
It.was.AWESOME.


Ever had spaghetti squash? You should try it. Delish.


Tonight was Asian ground beef lettuce cups...


Yep...we're suffering.

It's only been four days and we're already feeling better. Personally, I'm expecting to shed those extra holiday pounds, see my skin clear up (it was mad at me for all the sugar I ate over Christmas!), start sleeping better again and see a reduction in fatigue. I'm also hoping to break my somewhat addictive cycle of emotional/boredom eating. Jon is really experimenting with the 100% grain-free/sugar-free and is seeing how a full 30 days will affect his body.

Oh yeah, and there's NO CHEATING. Or you start back at day one. One bite of preservative-laden, gluten filled pizza crust and you're back at square one! That part is a little tricky, because we do have a few food-filled events to attend this month, but doing it together helps keep us accountable and we'll plan ahead for those events.

We've seen amazing changes when we carefully and purposefully change our diet based on what we've learned about ourselves from the foods we consume, and I'm excited to see what the Whole30 reset challenge will bring. I would challenge you, before you go spending your Christmas bonus on some magical program, take some time and make an effort to focus on cutting out foods that could possibly be causing problems, and adding more nutrient dense foods and high quality fats.

And if you're up for it, feel free to hop on the Whole30 wagon with us!




January 3, 2015

The new house: First FOUR projects!

It's been slightly over four months since we moved into our new house. There is no doubt that we are enjoying the extra space for our family, especially during these winter months when making kids burn energy outside becomes difficult. One of the greatest things about this place is that there was absolutely NOTHING that required work. Everything we wanted to do basically consisted of just cosmetic changes that we thought would help the space feel more like "ours."

So rather than give a tour of a house that we didn't think reflected our tastes at all, we decided to show bits and pieces of it as we get our "before and after" projects finished.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think that everyone is sitting around waiting to see the inside of our house, and we are no rush to complete our projects. We are funding them with money make from things we sell at local consignment stores and rummage sale sites, so it's slow-going. But I do have a dear sister who moved overseas about a week before we moved into this home, so for her and anyone else who is interested, here's what we've accomplished so far!


Project #1: Front door

BEFORE

There was absolutely nothing wrong with this front door, we just didn't care of the green color. It was a little reminiscent of the late 90's/early 2000's color palette and I thought something that matched the neutral tones in the rest of the exterior would be better, and would make decorating the outside for the various seasons and holidays a little easier.

AFTER

We went with Sherwin Williams "Black Fox" which is a yummy warm neutral brown with gray undertones. It's one of my new favorite colors and we will be using it in a few places inside too. The gray skies and snow definitely don't do the exterior of our home any favors, but hopefully you can get the idea.


Project #2: Kitchen island


BEFORE

The island project kind of came out of nowhere. I was considering painting the island a coordinating color when we painted the kitchen, so was poking around on pinterest for ideas.

Always a good idea, right?

I started running across photos of islands that had been "built out" in board and batten style. Our kids were staying with their grandparents so that I could paint our office (project #3!). Jokingly, I said to Jon, "maybe you could work on this (showing a pinterest photo) while I paint the office." He thought it looked like a great project that wouldn't cost much and headed straight off to Lowes!

He also thought it was a fun opportunity for a little time-lapse photography. ;)


We used mostly 1x6 pieces of MDF cut with custom angles to fit around the sheet rocked island, added a few trim pieces around the base, and painted it with my new favorite "Black Fox" color.

AFTER
We love the more substantial look of this island and I think the dark color adds some interest. The kitchen and dining space will eventually get a new wall color and new window treatments as well, but those are low on the priority list at the moment.


Project #3: Office 

This "before" picture is really before anything. Everything from our old office was thrown in just enough so that we could get to the computer and that was it! It was a typical "just moved in" disaster, but it's the only photo we had.

BEFORE
Shortly before we moved we had completely re-done our office in our other house. Not only did we absolutely love it, it arguably sold our house. Every.single.person we showed our home to raved about the office. I was praying we could get the furniture to fit in this office the same way, but cutting down one of the Ikea Expedit shelves, but after many google searches, it appeared that wasn't an option.

OFFICE IN PREVIOUS HOME

Instead we decided to use some of our existing furniture and purchase a few new Ikea pieces to make a second workspace.

AFTER

We added one Ikea Besta base cabinet to the Besta drawer unit we already had and added legs to both. I purchased a large pine board at Lowes and stained it with Minwax Dark Walnut stain to create the second workspace. Then we added three shorter Ikea Besta units above the work space to create some storage. This room has nine-foot ceilings, so there was lots of space to fill.


As much as I wanted to have our piano in the living room, the openness and lack of available wall space left it without a proper home. The office seemed like the next best place, and the bonus is we can close the door so we aren't interrupted when helping the kids with lessons.



There are three big challenges for me when it comes to decorating this house:

1. Carpet. Our other home had beautiful wood floors that went with everything. Thankfully, the carpet in this home is high quality and pretty neutral.

2. Traditional style. I was used to, and loved, the mid-century modern style of our other house. It was very us. The much more traditional style of this home dictates the decor to a certain degree, so we're trying to find ways to incorporate both styles without making things look out of place.

3. The big one - Wood trim. Have you every noticed that 99.9 percent of Pinterest/Houzz/Magazine photos of what's considered "beautiful" homes have WHITE trimwork? Our previous home did, and it seriously goes with every single paint color. Wood trim? Not so much.

There's a pretty high percentage of us that live in certain areas of the Great Plains/Midwest that are dealing with wood trim, and some very beautiful houses that use it. Enough that I think it's a bit of a shame that there aren't more photos of homes that showcase wood trim well to give the rest of us some ideas.


The color we chose for the walls was Sherwin Williams "Naval" (6244). It was a Pottery Barn pick for Fall, coordinated with the neutrals we plan to use in other areas, and I loved the richness of it. I kept my chartreuse accessories from our other home for the pops of color. I'm hoping to recover two chairs with the fabric swatch from West Elm.

We are certainly not claiming to have done it well but I do think the color we chose was an improvement. The previous color didn't do the wood trim any favors, and I think Naval does a better job of contrasting and highlighting the wood.



Project #4: Bedroom/closet wall

The previous owner custom-built this home, and had added built-in nooks for their televisions. Unfortunately, the home was built just before flat-screen TV's became the norm. There are two such "nooks" in the house.

The first is above the fireplace in the living room...


That nook requires some serious decorating creativity. I managed to make it work for Halloween, but it was a challenge! And I don't think I can be that creative every time.

I'm throwing this picture in for my Dad, who absolutely HATES that I decorate with skulls for Halloween ;)

We had planned to remodel the fireplace area by switching out the stone, building out the mantle and removing the "nook" over Christmas break. But we decided we weren't 100% sure how we wanted to do it, and decided that the cost of adding new stone made it too expensive to tackle during the holiday season.

Instead, we decided to remove the one in our bedroom. It jutted into the closet, taking up valuable closet space.




I love how my husband is not afraid to tackle house projects! He does pretty good construction work for a software architect!


 We let the kids help with demo...




It was a fairly painless project, except for the fact that part of what needed to be removed was attached to the wall with a pocket door on it, meaning it was attached from the inside. We definitely didn't want to damage the pocket door, so some special tools were required to remove the screws and wood from that area. 

After that, it was pretty much just patching a giant hole!



This room will be painted as well, but we weren't ready for that project yet so just patched the wall with the paint the previous owners left us.


We actually kept the wiring for a TV, because it really is a great place for one. 


And that's it for now! Four projects in four months. It's definitely starting to feel more like our home now. Project number five is a big one, which is why we've waited to do it. But when it's finished, it will go a LONG way toward making the house feel like us

Project #5: Main living area paint


The reason we've waited is because I'm scared to death of this project. Our main living area extends from our front door all the way through the foyer and living room to the back of the house, up the staircase and all throughout the family room and living area on our second level and down the staircase to the basement. It all flows together and therefore needs to be one color. My typical bold, dark color choices would not be good for this space, so I'm venturing into new territory and doing a lighter neutral, hoping to accent it with the bold colors I love. 

Because of the vastness of the space, the rounded corners, carpeted stairs and high ceilings, we need to hire someone to do part of the work. With any luck, this will be done in January! I'm leaning toward Sherwin Williams Anew Gray. 


So if any of my neutral-paint-expert-friends have any reason why this color should not grace my walls, speak now or forever hold your peace!