Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Let's just talk about it."

We have a yelling issue in this household. I never wanted to head down this path, but I have become a yeller. I did not used to be a yeller, though with each passing year the habit gets worse. I hate that I am a yeller. I fully recognize that yelling does nothing to solve problems. In fact, most of the time, it just further escalates issues and creates anxiety in my kids. But, in those super-intense, aggravating moments, that release of force through my voice offers a release of stress that keeps me (against my will) going right back to this action when I get stressed, despite the fact that I feel incredibly guilty the second the words leave my mouth.

I don't want my kids to fear me. I do want them to listen to me. What parent doesn't? Sometimes I feel like the only way I can be heard is to be as loud as possible. The shock factor does successfully get their attention, but the problem is that once I have their attention, I don't usually get the response I am looking for anyway. So every day, I tell myself that tomorrow I am going to do better. Tomorrow I am going to keep my cool. Tomorrow I will not be a yeller. Then 7AM rolls around. The kids start waking up. They start interacting with each other. The house quickly goes from silence to a sea of activity, and the next thing you know, fights break out, no one is listening, breakfast is getting cold, the clock is ticking closer to the time we need to leave, anxiety levels start to go up... The next thing you know, the screaming and yelling begins.

I tell myself, as I put the kids down for naps, that post-nap time is going to be different. They will be more rested. I will have a break for a little bit, so I will be able to keep my cool. And yet, by 4:30PM, we are back to the chaos that is our daily life and my ability to hold it in is gone in an instant. Lord knows that once I get going, it is hard to keep my cool. I constantly think, "If they would just do what I ask, I would not get to this point!" But, I am an adult, and they are children. I realize this is a weak argument. Children are programmed not to listen. It is natural for them to test limits. So, obviously it is unreasonable for me to expect them to actually listen each time I tell them to do something. I know this, but it does not make me feel any better about their defiant actions.

I started noticing changes in my kids recently, probably over the last six months. It seems that everyone is high strung. Anxiety levels are really high. Fights (actual, physical fights) break out between the kids over even the smallest of annoyances. My youngest is especially physically agressive. Any time someone happens that does not go their way, they scream at each other as loudly as they can. They are constantly on-edge and their fights are extreme. I know siblings fight. I have two brothers. I remember. However, at this age, it just seems a bit overboard for my kids to be having these intense outbursts all the time. Something is not right. Why are they responding to each other like this?

The answer is obnoxiously obvious. Any time I am frustrated with them, I yell and scream at them to get their attention and hopefully get them to do what I want. So, is it surprising that when they get frustrated with each other, they immediately turn to each other and start screaming? Charlie is not as great with vocabulary and speech as the others, so his outburts often shift to hitting or kicking when he is unable to put his frustration in words. Watching them this last week, I felt this horrible weight of guilt and shame creep over me. I did this. I created this. They are doing what I do, not what I say (as the saying goes). I tell them to be nice to each other, to be respectful, etc. Then the moment I get upset, I become unglued and lash out. They aren't listening to what I am telling them to do. They are watching what I am doing and mimicking my actions.

Big gulp. Whoa. I created monsters. Something needs to change, immediately. By something, I mean me. I need to change. I cannot yell like this anymore. I am setting such a horrible example for my kids. This is not OK. As I said, I have told myself before that I am going to do better tomorrow and I honestly do try. But I need to be more serious about my efforts now. The kids are only 6, 4 and 3. There is still time to shift their behavior. If it were 10 years from now, the damage would be more permanent. It is hard to change behavioral tendencies when your child is already 16 years old. It almost becomes too late. But it is not too late yet. I need to make a change, and this change needs to happen immediately before more damage is done.

Today I adopted a new motto for our family.

"Let's just talk about it."

I sat down with the kids today and told them about our yelling problem. We talked about how they do not like being yelled at by Mom and Dad. We talked about how Mom and Dad do not like when they yell at each other. We discussed how it makes us feel sad or upset or mad when there is so much yelling going on... They completely agreed that they do not like Mom and Dad yelling, but they did not necessarily have a problem with yelling at each other. Naturally. But I hope using our new motto over time, they will learn to be more respectful of each other.

I told them that from now on, when there is yelling going on, we are to tell the yelling person, "Let's just talk about it." This will be our cue to each other that screaming and yelling is not going to solve the problem. We need to talk to each other, in normal, respectful tones, if we want to communicate with each other. When we use this phrase, it is our reminder to take a deep breath and calmly express ourselves and our feelings to one another. I gave them the green light to use this phrase on Mom and Dad, too. I wanted them to be able to hold us accountable, too. Hopefully hearing it from their little mouths will be enough of a reminder to me (and my husband) that no matter how frustrated we are with them, yelling is not the answer... I hope it will remind us that they are watching our behavior and learning how to deal with their own frustrations by watching us deal with ours. The yelling has to stop, and we have to be the leaders of this new charge. We have to show them how it is done. It is going to be challenging. It is going to be draining. Some times I am sure I will want to rip my hair out. But, I do not want my kids to be filled with anxiety and aggressiveness and anger. It's time for a change, a serious change. One day at a time, I will be working on bettering my stress-management skills so I can show my kids how it is done.

Instead of yelling and screaming and freaking out over my frustrations, the new plan is simple: Let's not yell about it. Let's not scream about it. Let's not hit or kick because of it.

"Let's just talk about it."

That's the plan... Now, ACTION!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Passports!

It's summer break!! WAHOO!! As I sigh a huge sigh of relief and celebrate that we have survived another school year (my first experience with elementary school, too), I also feel this sense of doom creep over me. It's summer. The school year schedules and run-around to extracurriculars is over (or ending soon). So... now what?

By the time May hits, I am totally over all the stress of the school year and scheduling. But at the same time, my kids do very well with scheduled-out days, knowing exactly what is coming next, staying busy all day long. The laid-back summer life is amazing... at first. However, about one week into summer, the dreaded words start to pour out of their little mouths...

"Mom... I'm bored."

Seriously. They're bored. They are so used to go-go-go all day long that having some down time is equivalent to "bored" for them. For me, down time is amazing! I am thrilled! I don't have to go anywhere today? Awesome! To them, it is torture. They enjoy having things to do. And even though I do try to keep them busy in the summer, my attempts at entertainment are always followed by, "We never do ANYTHING fun!" when we have a 5-minute break in our day. Right. We NEVER do anything fun. EVER. We just stare at walls all day, as far as they are concerned. That fun, 3-hour pool visit we just returned from 10 minutes ago becomes a fleeting memory. My kids get childhood Alzheimer's in the summer.

When my friend Deb, mom to triplets (the same age as my oldest), contacted me about this fun, "summer passport" idea, I was thrilled. I was interested in finding some way to 1) keep myself accountable by having a list of activities ready to go and 2) make it memorable for them so they were not so quick to think we never do anything fun. This summer passport plan was exactly what I needed.

So how does it work?

There is no one correct way to do it, so feel free to branch off and make it your own. For me, I ended up purchasing three, small, spiral-bound notecard booklets from the dollar store. There are 50 notecards in each booklet. I drew a dividing line on each page so I can include two activities per page. Using a list of ideas my friend Deb gave to me and some ideas I drafted on my own, I filled out the notebooks with all the things I would like to do with the kids over the summer. Some of the ideas repeat. For example, I think I have about 8 spots for "Go to the pool" (we are there at least 3-4 times a week!), and some of the ideas are just in there once (such as 4th of July fireworks). Each day, we will try to do at least ONE fun activity from our summer passports. It does not have to be some epic adventure. It can be something completely simple, such as "go for a bike ride". Or, it can be something extra special such as "visit the Ribfest festival". The nice part about this activity is that it is completely up to you! You can make it as drawn-out or as simple as you'd like. Once we do an activity, the kids put a sticker (or you can use a stamp) on that entry to show they completed it.

This activity is great for a few reasons. First, on those days when I feel like I have already done EVERYTHING I can think of to entertain the kids, it gives me something to turn to for additional ideas. Second, it is a reminder to the kids of all fun things we did over the summer. Thus, the first time they say, "We NEVER do anything fun!", I can quickly whip out their passports as a reminder of all that we have done thus far! Third, there are stickers involved. My kids, like most kids, are sticker-obsessed. They will do anything if it means they get a sticker. So having the reward of putting a sticker in their book puts a huge smile on their faces.

The passport thing is super awesome. But, taking it a step further, Deb had the idea to add in journaling as well. #WINNING Her girls and my daughter are all entering first grade next year. Journaling is a great way to keep their minds fresh and their fine motor skills exercised. What a great way to practice reflection while also working on storytelling with writing, spelling, etc. Perfect. I bought three composition books for my kids for their journaling. Each night, as a winding-down activity, we write in their journals. My first grader can write on her own, and she usually draws a little picture to go with her entry as well. My boys are too young to write, so I write a quick summary of what we did that day and they get to choose what they would like to draw to represent the day. It's a fun, family-oriented way to settle down at the end of the night. Another added bonus is that my husband (who works late hours and travels for work) can read through their journals and relive their summer experience even though he cannot always be present for all the activities. Win, win, win, win, win.

The preparation process took the longest. Buying the materials. Adding the activities to the passport. Introducing the concept and helping them through the first couple journal entries while they get the hang of it. But, as with all family routines, once they have a week or two with the system, it will just become a normal part of our day. I am sure there will be some overwhelming days where we will forget to add a sticker or skip out on journaling. That is OK, too. I did not decide to do this so I can stress myself out over keeping up with it in an obsessive way. It's just a fun way to keep summer interesting and fun and filled with new ideas and activities.

If you are interested in making a summer passport, here are some ideas I included in ours:

- Storytime at the library
- Visit the pool
- Go for a bike ride
- Go fishing
- Go on a camping trip
- Backyard camping
- Feed the ducks at the Riverwalk
- Go for ice cream
- Have a playdate with a friend
- Donate something to someone in need
- Attend swim lessons
- Attend Vacation Bible School
- Take the dog for a walk
- Go on a nature walk
- Visit a family member's house (Nana, Papa, Grandma, etc)
- Visit a specific park (made a separate page for 5-7 local parks)
- Go to downtown Chicago
- Go for a boat ride
- Visit the beach
- Attend a birthday party
- Make a card and mail it to someone
- Play lava rocks
- Rent a movie and eat popcorn while watching it
- Join the Summer Reading Program
- Go to Cosley Zoo
- Visit the Brookfield Zoo
- Go to the Morton Arboretum
- Go to a bouncy house place
- Visit the DuPage Children's Museum
- Go to open skate at the ice arena
- Go to Ribfest
- See the fireworks
- Go to a parade
- Attend a luau party
- Go mini golfing
- Make s'mores in the fire pit
- Hike in the forest preserve
- Visit a pool other than our usual pool
- Make goody bags for a friend and surprise them with it
- Go to church
- Visit the Shedd Aquarium
- Build a blanket fort
- Bake cookies and eat them
- Have a picnic at the park
- Eat dinner at the pool
- Wash the van with Mom
- Shop at a garage sale
- Water balloon toss
- Pick berries
- Phillips Park
- Night swim at the pool
- Picnic in the backyard
- Make a lemonade stand
- Visit a Farmer's Market

The list can go on and on... If you are like me, reading this list will probably shoot off at least 5-10 other ideas that are applicable to your area or your family, too. I hope this list helps create a starting point for your brainstorming. You can add other basic ideas, too, such as coloring, play-dough play time, painting, building a tower with blocks, etc. It can truly be as simple as you'd like!

So, happy summer, moms! I know we have all been looking forward to this, even though in a week we will likely be counting down the days until they return to school. I hope this idea ends up being something that can help keep your kiddos entertained throughout the summer. Good luck and Godspeed. ;)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My message to New Years Resolution-ers...

My message to New Years Resolution-ers or those just getting started on a weight loss plan...

Now that it's January 1st and the New Years resolution of weight loss is firing up in people all across the country, I cannot help but reminisce about the beginning of my journey a couple of years ago. Other than when I was a child, weight loss has pretty much ALWAYS been on my list of resolutions, always. But, for the first time ever, it's not on my list this year. Over the past two years, I actually stayed true to my resolution and achieved the loss I was looking for. YOU CAN, TOO! :)

I bet it sounds like I am about to sell you something... Fear not. I have nothing to sell you. I bring no gimmicks to the table. I am equipped only with some tips and some words of advice, based on my personal experiences. Everyone's journey will be different, but if I could go back and talk to 2-years-ago me, this is what I would say...

1) Welcome to this incredible journey!!! It's going to be just that... a journey. If you are thinking in your head that you'll be a bikini model by summer, let's tone it down a notch. If you truly want to succeed and want to not only lose weight but also gain health, you have to be in it for the long haul. Are you in it for the long haul? Or are you looking for a "quick fix"? Because I have to tell you, if you aren't going to accept that this is going to involve LONG TERM (even LIFELONG) changes, then honestly the chances of you succeeding are going to drop dramatically. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Trust me. I've tried all the fads, the diet pills, the weight loss diet programs, etc. This is going to be a lifestyle change and it's going to take time. Are you with me?? Can we dedicate ourselves to a NEW LIFESTYLE? Good. Let's do it. :)

2) This is NOT going to be easy. I am sure you're think, "I know this already." And you might... But what you have to understand is that the beginning, though hard, is not the hardest part. Sure, it is hard to get going on a new journey, especially one that involves SO MUCH CHANGE. But, this is not the hardest part. In fact, if this is your first day, it is easiest in the beginning! It's new. You're motivated. You've got a fresh start. The hard part comes later. It comes when you lose your motivation. It comes when you see a gain instead of a loss. It comes when no matter what you try, you totally plateau. It comes when you hit a stressful time in your life and turn to food for comfort. THAT is when things get difficult. THAT is when you're going to need to pull yourself up and push yourself through. Be prepared for those days. As hard as you think today might be, it's going to get a lot worse and a lot more frustrating before it is going to get better. Expect a rollercoaster. Some times you're going to feel like a Biggest Loser contestant with pounds falling off left and right. Other times you're going to feel like giving up, like the world's biggest failure. This is NORMAL. What you have to decide is whether or not you are going to let yourself fail or whether you will PUSH YOURSELF even when you don't think you have anything left to give. Start deciding now... which road will you choose. If you already envision yourself likely failing down the line, your chances of reaching your goal are pretty limited. If you already don't 100% believe in yourself, you've got your work cut out for you. Believe in yourself. You can do this.

3) As they say, excuses are like a**holes, everyone's got one. I get it. Maybe you work. Maybe you've got a few kids. Maybe you can't afford a gym membership. Maybe you're tired. Maybe you've got medical issues. Maybe your spouse isn't supportive. All of these things are just excuses -- things you that are mentally bringing you down, convincing yourself that it's not possible to fix the problem. These things don't matter, really. There is always a way. It's about prioritizing. It's about being resourceful. It's about making the best of what you have. If you really want something, you'll find a way. You don't need to be rich to live a healthy, active lifestyle. We're all busy. I once saw a sign posted at a running store that said, "Someone busier than you is running right now." That really struck me. It's true. I loved to always tell myself that I wasn't losing weight because I "don't have time" to work out or I "don't have time" to cook healthy meals. Total excuses. I did have time. I do have time. I just didn't want to make the time. Because I wasn't ready for the lifestyle change just yet. But, there's always a way. Remember that. The sooner you stop making excuses, the sooner you will see success.

4) You are your own cheerleader. YOU have to be motivated from WITHIN YOURSELF to do this. If you are looking for motivation from your spouse, your best friend, a family member, etc., you aren't doing yourself any favors. It's not about them. Not at all. Sure, it's a bonus when they motivate you or when they support you on your journey. But, let's be real. Just because YOU decide you want to get healthy and lose weight, that doesn't mean everyone else is going to change their lives for you. They aren't going to stop eating unhealthy foods around you. They aren't going to be pushing you to go to the gym when you don't want to go. They shouldn't have to either. It's not their responsibility. It's YOURS. You have to be the one to get your bum off the couch and get busy. YOU have to be the one to make healthy choices, even when you don't want to, even when you're surrounded by temptation from every side. It's all about you. So, dig deep inside yourself... write down all the reasons you want to do this for YOU. Are you wanting to wear a certain bathing suit someday? Maybe a special dress? Are you wanting to fit in some old clothes you used to wear? Is there an activity you want to be able to do that you can't do right now? Are you looking to feel a certain way about your body? Write these motivators down. Save them. You'll need them on the days you forget why you're doing this... those days when you just want to give up.

5) You need to PACE YOURSELF. If you think you're going to start a diet today and start working out 5 times a week, too, while also giving up soda and dessert, you're crazy. That is just too much change at once. If you overload yourself like that, you are just setting yourself up for failure. Do you need to start eating healthy? Yes. Do you need to start working out? Yes. Should you try to drop bad habits that affect your health? Yes. Do you need to do all this RIGHT NOW? No. Please don't. You'll make yourself crazy. Trust me. I've tried it. Take it slowly. Make a list of all the things you'd like to change, and be specific. Then ease yourself into it one thing at a time. Maybe you eat out a lot right now -- lots of fast food. A good way to start is to say you're going to cut back to eating out just twice a week instead of 5 times. This might involve more meal planning and thinking ahead... so start working that into your routine. Slowly cut back from there. This is just one example. But give yourself 3-4 weeks with your first big change before tackling the next. Ease into it. As for workouts... the same rule applies. Ease into it. Don't think you need to get out and run a 5K today when you haven't worked out in a couple years or more (or ever!). Don't exhaust yourself. In fact, fat burning zones (for your heart rate) are the LOWER zones. If your heart is racing so fast you feel like it is going to bust out of your chest, that is a sign you are working yourself too hard. You are in too high of a zone, which means you are going to be burning SUGARS/CARBS and NOT STORED FAT. Slow it down. Try some interval training (example would be: walk 2 minutes, power walk 1 min, run 1 min and repeat the process for 30 mins or longer if you can). My point is, don't over work yourself. This is going to be a long journey, so why rush into the change so fast?

6) Strength-training is your friend. You will not "bulk up". You will not look like a body builder. I promise. I had trainers tell me this, and I was VERY reluctant. I just wanted to tone up. I didn't want to "get big". Only the "big guys" at the gym do weights, right? Wrong. You NEED strength training as much as you need cardio. You don't have to be at a gym loaded with weights to do strength training either. You can do resistance training using your own body weight. Push-ups are just one example. Google strength workouts for women and you'll find a ton of options out there. Definitely do strength though. You won't necessarily see the muscle right away. It might take a long time... but it'll be there, waiting for you, once you burn off the fat that is covering it. Then you'll be REALLY glad you did it. It's not just for bodybuilders. Besides, when you're building muscle tone, you're BURNING FAT.

7) Journal your food, even if just for a while. and other sites like it make journaling SO easy and you can even do it on your phone. You need to start really looking at WHAT you are eating and HOW MUCH you are eating. It's crucial. Do you need to use these websites for the rest of your life? No. They are helpful for LEARNING and they are a great support during the weight loss process. But after a while, you get to know about what level of calories certain foods have, etc. Eventually you will not need these anymore. But you likely did not get to where you are by eating healthy foods in appropriate portions. Chances are you are unaware of just how bad the foods you are eating are... or how much you are eating. Dust off those measuring cups and spoons. You need to start MEASURING out your foods. If you have the means for getting a food scale, GET ONE. READ LABELS. Look up restaurant menus (for chain restaurants) BEFORE going so you know what you're getting yourself into. KNOW what you are eating and where it is coming from. And I can hear some of you thinking, "I don't eat that bad... I don't need to do this." Trust me. I thought the same until I started seeing how often I was going WAY overboard OR way UNDER. Eating healthy DOES NOT MEAN EATING LESS. If you are doing some 1200 calorie per day diet, you are liking NOT EATING enough. You need to determine your BMR to see how many calories you should be eating based on your height, weight, age, and normal activity level. You'd be surprised at how many calories you need to be eating to lose weight. It may even be more than you thought. Check into it. If you are feeling fatigued and irritable while on some "diet", it's probably becase you aren't eating enough or getting enough nutrients. When you undercut your calories, you risk SLOWING your metabolism (your body's defense system for preventing you from starving away).

8) Do not fall into the trap of beating yourself up. You're going to mess up. Accept it now. You might have a bad meal. You might have a bad day. You might have a bad WEEK. Heck, you might even have a bad MONTH. But there is ALWAYS the option of turning things around. Always. Berating yourself. Calling yourself fat. Telling yourself you're ugly and always will be. These things will not help you. This is only going to slow you down. DO NOT TELL YOURSELF ANYTHING YOU WOULDN'T SAY TO SOMEONE ELSE! Respect yourself. Would you call your best friend a fat ass and tell her that she can't do this? No. So why treat yourself that way? Tell yourself, "I had a bad (day, week, month, etc), and I CAN turn this around. I am in control of my choices and I can fix this." Believe it when you say it, too. ;) That helps.

9) Don't OBSESS over the scale. Please don't. I know they say "it's just a number" and this is so true... but I also know how important that number can feel while you're trying to lose. It does matter to you when you're losing weight. I mean, that's the whole point, right? Getting the number to go down? Yes, that is part of it (along with getting HEALTHY, which should be up there, too!). But you cannot obsess. Don't weigh yourself daily. It'll drive you CRAZY. I would recommend weekly, if you must. But no more than that. Also, your weight WILL fluctuate throughout the month. Just because a number goes up, doesn't mean it is a gain. Heck, I lost all my weight already and I STILL fluctuate 3-4 lbs throughout the month. It's totally normal. It's when you're consistently going up that you need to worry. Also, water weight and water retention and hydration levels can play heavily into the number you see on the scale. Remember that. If you're dehydrated for one weigh in and then you feel like you gained 2 lbs overnight, that is not the case. You may be 2lbs heavier, but you don't gain 2lbs of FAT overnight. It's water weight. This is why you shouldn't obsess over 1-2 lbs on the scale. You're going to bounce around a lot. Please, please keep this in mind. Also keep in mind that INCHES matter. You could stay the same weight and drop a pant siz.e This is totally possible. As you start to lose, your body is going to shape-shift. So, doing measurements of your body is another way to follow your progress so you can see changes even when the scale isn't moving.

10) Find activities YOU love. Not everyone is a runner. Not everyone likes Zumba. Not everyone is cut out for P90X. Find out what works for YOU! But in the process, please keep in mind that sometimes it takes TIME for you to develop a love for something. With exercise and physical activity, it is not always "love at first sight". Keep an open mind. If you didn't like something the first time, give it another few tries before giving up on it. Keep trying new things all the time. You might be surprised at what ends up being YOUR love. :)

11) Keep living your life. Losing weight does not have to mean giving up all the things "bad for you" foods you love so much. You can still have a piece of cake. You can still drink a glass of wine. You have to live your life. Deprivation will only strengthen your desire for these things and you will likely end up binging on the foods you're depriving yourself of. Instead, work on proper portions and if you're going to splurge, bank some extra gym time to off-set those extra calories. Living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight doesn't have to mean a life free of all things you once loved. It's all about balance and moderation!

I realize this is crazy long. Sorry about that. These are just thoughts I had as I was at the gym, thinking back on my experiences and what I've learned along the way. I wish you all the VERY BEST! I don't want to say good luck, because luck doesn't really have much to do with it. It's not luck. I wish you a heart full of motivation. I wish you a mind full of focus. I wish you all the stamina in the world. You CAN do this. :)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's the little things...

This Pinterest website has me totally ready to renovate my entire house. Every time I pop on there to see what is new, I find another 10-15 things I would love to do to our house. But, the reality is that we cannot afford to change everything about our house right now. I am a stay-at-home mom, so we are living on one income with three small children (two are in preschool, one is in dance, two are in ice-skating, all three are in gymnastics, we go to a pricey gym, etc). We can afford our lifestyle, but it does not leave a lot leftover for the house, especially for unnecessary decorative changes. But, it's fun to dream about all the things I would like to do in the future. Thus, I created my "Dream Home" board on Pinterest... for all those unrealistic things I love about other homes that I'd love to do someday (in the far, far future).

I also have my "For the Home" board where I put my more realistic ideas. Usually these are smaller projects, organizational items, or paint color ideas, etc. I decided I would start with organization and fixing some of the eye sores in our house that have been here from the start. We may not be able to renovate our master bathroom right now, for example, but that doesn't mean I cannot take steps to make it look nicer in the meantime, despite the pink tile! This works out well for me, too, because it allows me to do spring cleaning while also decorating and rearranging.

One of those recent projects was our pantry (I'll get back to the master bath later). Now, before you go looking at the pictures, expecting to see a Pinterest-worthy pantry with all kinds of cool glass containers. Stop. You will not find that! :) I am not sure I am up for that just yet with my kids being so small. I am imagining a lot of broken glass in the next few years. Once they are a little bit older and capable of being careful with what they are doing, I will start doing cool stuff like that. But for now, we'll stick with plastics and boxes.

My beef with the pantry was the walls. When we moved in, we painted our house from top to bottom. Ceilings. Walls. Baseboards. Doors. Everything. We did all the closets except the main closet in the foyer and the pantry. By the time we got to those two, we were tired and just wanted to get everything moved in. So, we threw all the food in the pantry and moved on. Four years later, the pantry still looked like a train wreck.

I started off by cleaning the pantry out. I threw out old foods, tried to come up with a new way to organize the food on shelves so that it made more sense, etc. This was a good start, but those walls were an eye sore. They were so beat up. Scratches and marks were everywhere. I decided it was time to paint. What a pain in the butt that was! I uninstalled all the shelving and emptied the pantry. I decided to use color in the pantry this time. Clearly, when the walls are white, they show every ding and scratch made by all the food containers and cans. I wanted to disguise all that with some darker paint. Since we have some red accent walls in our kitchen, I decided I'd go with that.

It only took two coats of paint, surprisingly, but the pantry looks incredible now. Once we do get all the cool storage containers, I'll be very happy. But in the meantime, this makes me happy. That little pop of color when the door opens looks really nice! It was a lot of work to paint such a small area (and Ryan had to reinstall all the shelving). But, I think it was totally worth it. (See below for pictures.)

When it comes to fixing things around the house, it's the little things... Here is one of those "little things" projects of mine. The master bathroom changes are still to come. I have a few things left to finish.

BEFORE: The pantry had cream walls that were extremely beat-up. It looked like this when we moved in, but we never got around to fixing it (until now).

AFTER: Using the same red color as our kitchen accent walls, I painted the pantry walls (and ceiling) in the deep red color. Since the pantry is not on one of the kitchen walls that is red, it really pops against the cream walls outside the pantry.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Mommy loves your artwork, dear. But I need to be able to open the fridge."

Two posts in one day. I'm on a roll. ;)

My kids love to get creative. Add in the fact that two of them are in preschool, and it seems like we are constantly flooded with art projects and crafts and such. There is paper everywhere. Seriously. It is actually part of the preschool experience that I hate. I really don't need every little scribble sent home. ;) But, that is a whole other blog...

My refrigerator is not that big. We have other important notes on it. There are tons of magnets (I need to scale that down or at least come up with a more Pinterest version of magnets!), plus our kids have a few of those Leap Frog Fridge Friends magnet toys. There are 3 sets of magnets for those toys up there too. I really do not have room for all their projects and crafts on the refrigerator, too. When their artwork is added, usually I struggle to open the fridge without everything falling down. Not to mention, it ends up looking like a total cluster. I hate that.

At the same time, I am a mom. I have three kids... three kids who are proud of their projects and want it displayed for all to see. I get that and I can be on board with that plan... just not on my refrigerator! I have seen some stores selling these shadow-box-style frames where you can open the front part of the frame and switch out the artwork. While those are nice, they are expensive. On top of that, it seems that a lot of the artwork that does come home is not the kind of thing that would fit into some framed space. Look at Henry's Hickory Dickory Dock project (see pictures) as an example. I needed something that would allow us to display projects, no matter their size or shape.

My solution was to use a piece of wood plaque (from Michael's) and two clothes pins, plus a little scrapbooking paper and some remnant fabric I had around the house. I started by painting the wood plaques white (since all our doors and woodwork are white here). Then I traced each child's hand onto some brown scrapbook paper and cut it out. I measured out two pieces of scrapbook paper to put on top of the wood plaque to make it look framed. The under piece is a dark maroom (tan for Henry's) and the top on all three is a cream color paper. Then I cut out a heart and the first letter of their name using the remnant fabric and used a scrapbooking glue pen to apply it. I used a gold pen to write their phrases ("Lucy's Artistry", "Henry's Handiwork" and "Charlie's Creations") onto the cream paper. I glued all the paper and fabric parts with the glue pen and then used hot glue to apply the completed paper piece to the wood.

The most complicated part was the hanging piece. I decided to use the remnants to create the hangers for the plaques. I don't have a sewing machine right now, so it was a no-sew project. I just ironed out three long, thin strips of fabric. Then I folded the ends in on the top and bottom (horizontally) and ironed it so that the frayed ends would be folded in. Then I ironed it into that position. I folded the whole thing in half again to fully tuck those frayed edges inside the strips and ironed again. I just used hot glue to keep it seamed shut. Just a thin strip of hot glue in between the fabric worked like a charm. I created "bows" using the remnants, too. I literally just cut 3 rectangles and then cinched them in the middle and tied it with string. I attached it to the middle of the fabric to make it look a little prettier. I purposely did not treat the edges. I wanted it to fray a little to give it more of an unfinished look.

The last step was to do the clothes pins. I just spray-painted them white and then glued them onto the sides of the plaques so the artwork can be easily hung and removed and replaced. They have space to feature two projects each. I think that is plenty. Then I hung them on the wall in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator.

We now have a "Wall of Fame" in our kitchen where their artwork is displayed. When friends or family come over to visit, the kids will be able to share their projects with others... and I will be able to open my refrigerator without a pile of papers falling off of it!

"Honey, do you know where you put the Target receipt from...?"

My husband is in an accountant. Budgets and bookkeeping are sort of his thing. He's great at it, too. I absolutely hate dealing with the financial stuff, so I feel very thankful that he has a knack for it and a willingness to do it for our family. Thank God! But, being married to a CPA means that all purchases and receipts need to be accounted for at all times. Not just for big purchases, but even the small, seemingly insignificant ones. What does this mean for our household? Receipts. Everywhere.

I thought maybe creating a folder or envelope for them would help. Then we can just place them in an envelope when we have a moment. Although the envelope is in the storage hutch in our dining room, it just never seems to happen that way. They end up on the counter, on the fridge, in pockets, on the floor, in random drawers, in the car, etc. Everywhere but the envelope tucked away in the storage hutch. This clearly was not working.

I decided to find a better way. My husband is great at getting his keys hung on the key rack in our house (which is located at the top of our basement stairway, hung on the wall). I thought, what better place to put receipts than near that key rack. As he drops off his keys, he can place the receipts there, too. I didn't want a large envelope this time either. It gets overstuffed and then he has to sort through it all. I figured it would be best to kill two birds with one stone. Let's not just create a place for receipts, let's create a SORTED organizational plan, too.

We had this old bulletin board that we used to have in the hallway there, but we never really used it. Random junk would accumulate there until we finally removed it and threw it out. It served no real purpose, so I made a purpose for it. I started by painting it white (all the molding and doors in our house are white). Then I cut a piece of fabric from some remnants I have in the basement. I laid the ironed fabric onto the bulletin board and stapled it all along the edges and in several calculated places in the center of the board to keep the fabric in place. I used some ribbon along the edges (hot glued it) to make the edges clean and straight, since the fabric was not perfectly cut. I then took 12 clothes pins and painted them white with spray paint. Once they dried, I labeled them with 12 different categories (such as Grocery, Children, Household, Car, Gifts, etc). I used hot glue to firmly glue the clothes pins onto the board in two rows.

I am really pleased with the outcome! Now the true test is to see whether or not it gets used! But, here are some pictures of the final product:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Create Your Own Photo Collage

I am in love with photo collages. I used to buy the photo collage frames all the time, years ago. But, I have found that it is so much easier (and cheaper) to just purchase a regular-sized frame and then just create a photo collage on an editing program. By doing it this way, you have full control over how many pictures you include, where they are placed, how they are sized, etc. I thought for sure it would cost an arm and a leg to print out these larger pictures, but to my surprise, it is very economical. I use for my printing, and their large-size printing is good quality for a great price. When I do the 16x20 collages (for family members), it costs me around $18 for the print. I have a huge 20x30 frame in my hallway at our house, and it costs only $23 to replace the collage (which I have only replaced once so far).

I typically use Adobe Photoshop Elements (mine is the 7.0 version, but there are better versions available now). There are a variety of backgrounds and options to choose from. I do not like how they require you to pay extra to use all of the backgrounds and such, though. A handful are free and then there are a ton that you can't get unless you pay for a membership, which involves a yearly fee. When you are spending $75 (maybe more now) on the program, you shouldn't have to pay an extra fee just to use it, you know? That's my only beef with PSE. I've still been able to do quite a bit with it, though. I really like the program.

Sometimes I will just do all photographs. Other times I try to incorporate text, whether it be birthdates, a meaningful quote (that I usually find via a Google search), or other words and phrases that are fitting for the theme. These are excellent to give as a gift, especially for grandparents. I purchase one for my mother and one for my mother-in-law, in the frame. Now I just make updated collages that I give typically on birthdays or Mothers Day or even for Christmas. They just switch it out in their frame, and they are all set with a variety of update pictures!

Here are some samples of collages I made. These were all made from scratch, not from templates.