Friday, November 21, 2014

Day 5 In the Bedrooms - 7 Days to an Organized Home

It took me several days to get through all my closets and drawers. Now that I am done it is time to move on to the next step. Today's focus is on the bedrooms.

Start in the master bedroom. I always leave my own room for last and it is a mistake that I continually repeat. Somehow when my own space is clean I am better able to focus on getting the other bedrooms clean quickly.

This should be simple now that the closets are de-junked and cleaned out and the bed side tables no longer have piles on them. I have a pattern to bedroom cleaning that I will outline here.

1. Grab sheets off of all the beds and start washing before you begin cleaning. Change the loads as needed throughout the day.
2. Open windows to air out the room.
3. Time to dust. Start at the top and work your way down. Don't forget the tops of dressers and tables, light fixtures, around the ceiling corners and around the windows. Don't forget the master bath. Move from bedroom to bedroom to get this done quickly and efficiently. I purchased a long handles duster for my high ceilings.
4. Clothes are next. Dirty clothing to the laundry, clean laundry on the floor needs to be hung up or put into a dresser (my kids are famous for putting their clean laundry on the floor so I started putting everything possible on hangers as it came out of the dryer and they have to hang it seems to help them put it where it needs to go), make sure the closet is still nice and tidy.
5. When cleaning kids rooms this is where I take time to pick up toys. I find a medium basket in the closet is an easy way to quickly gather toys and store them. I try to keep most toys in the basement toy closet and they have only their most special things in the bedrooms. Less is often more.
5. Make master bed with clean sheets.
6. With a damp rag wipe down baseboards, wood work, bed, bedroom door and handles.
7. Master bath -
    -clean off counters putting things where they go in your newly organized drawers,
    -change any lightbulbs that are out,
    -clean mirrors and windows,
    -spray shower and toilet and let them sit a few minutes,
    -scour the tub,
    -finish shower and toilet,
    -wipe down baseboards
8. Vacuum and or sweep master bed and bath

Repeat this process for each bedroom and voila!, you have made tons of progress today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day 4 In the Drawers, On the Tables - 7 Days to an Organized Home

Day 4 is here. Today it's time to go through your drawers. The bathroom drawers should have been done with the bathroom cabinets. We are focusing on junk drawers, kitchen drawers, office drawers, end table drawers, side tables drawers. Open them up and start throwing away everything you don't need. I found old receipts, boxes for electronics I no longer needed, etc. After throwing away everything you don't need take 5 minutes to quickly organize the remaining things and move to the next drawer. When you get to the kitchen be sure to take time to take everything out, vacuum out and wipe down then organize everything.

Another huge job done today!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Day 3 In the Closets - 7 Days to an Organized Home

Today we are going to start in all the closets that aren't clothing closets. Linen closets, toy closets, hallway closets, craft closets, mud room closets/lockers.

1. Gather supplies - garbage bags and donation bags
2. Throw out
3. De-junk/Donate
4. Organize

Grab several big black garbage bags. One for donating and one for throwing away.
This is how I go about starting. I begin with closets at one end of my house (with my craft closet) and move towards the other end of the house. I begin by throwing away anything that is broken, too old to be of use, worn out, etc. Then I gather up as much as I can to donate. Be sure these items are in good repair and that someone might actually need or want. This is the hard step....getting rid of stuff. The good news is I find the more I get rid of the more I use what I have left.

For example, my craft closet was a mess before this challenge. I had so much stuff and sometimes I couldn't find what I needed. After doing the steps above I have one full garbage bag of stuff to give away. I purchased an over the door organizer and was able to make my own wrapping station on the back of the door that fits my needs perfectly. (In my next post I will show you how simple it is) My closet is now clutter free and I can find everything easier. I don't even miss the things I got rid of.

My advice is to just do it. Get rid of what you don't use no matter what it cost. (You can also sell the things you no longer use for a bit of money).

Linen closet tips: Keep an extra set of sheets in the closets of each room instead of in the linen closet. This frees up some room in the linen closet and reduces time spent searching for the correct size sheets. The sheets are easily accessible this way and my kids can't say they don't know where their extra set of sheets are :) At the bottom of my linen closet I have a nice wicker bin that I keep extra blankets in. It looks nice and my kids are less likely to pull them our of the bin than off the shelf.

Mud room: I got rid of our cupboard storage and hung lots of hooks for coats. I have 2 bins for shoes. The reality is that my kids aren't going to open their cute cupboard, hang their coat and backpack and put their shoes neatly in pairs in the designated spot. I am actually laughing at this point. I had to make it easier. They now come in, throw their shoes into one of the bins and quickly hang backpacks and coats on the hangers. It looks tidy and they are still able to find their things when needed. Not Pottery Barn, but functional and organized....good enough for me.

Coat closet: Get rid of those coats you have been saving. If no one uses them donate them to a homeless shelter. They will get some great use and by giving them away you create more open space. Let this closet be nothing but a coat closet. Get rid of everything except coats, hats and umbrellas. Maybe rain boots can find a home in the bottom of this closet.

Now it's time for the bedroom closets.

This is one of the hardest steps for me to the closets. What if I need that thing I haven't worn in 2 years one day? What if I lose or gain 10 pounds? I need all these clothes....don't I? The answer is no.

My child might wear that, I should save it for the next one, It is just too cute! These are all thoughts I have had when going about this task. One of my friends will employ the help of a friend so that she can have two sets of eyes and one that has no sentimental attachment to her kids stuff :)

Start by getting rid of anything that is ripped, stained, or unusable. Next grab (as fast as you can) anything your child won't wear, anything that is too small, etc. These things go straight into the donate bag. Don't look into the bag at any is easier this way :) If you are saving clothes for you child to grow into, grab a storage bin, label it with what's inside and when it's filled put it in the storage room for later. Just don't forget you have it (yes I have done this several times). I now only keep the very best of the hand me downs and get rid of the rest. My children's tastes are different and I can save lots of clothes just to have them never worn again.

Shoes. Keep the ones they/you wear and donate the rest. At one point I had hundreds of pairs of shoes. I love shoes. The reality is that I don't need that many and it causes an organization nightmare. I donated several large moving boxes of shoes and haven't missed them a bit.

This step may take a full day or several. Be patient and get it done. You will feel great when you know all those closets are organized.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Day 2 Under the Sinks - 7 Days to an Organized Home

These tasks are meant for you to take on as you can. If you need to go every other day, once a week or 7 days straight it is up to you. We all work differently and have different responsibilities and time commitments to work around. The goal here is not to make anyone feel bad about what they did not accomplish, but to focus on all that we do accomplish.

Now that all our papers and piles of papers are organized into appropriate folders or filing systems it is time to move to our next task.

Under sink cabinets
Start in the bathrooms. Take everything out and wipe the cabinet out. Here is the hard part. Throw away anything you don't need. I found I had extra bottles of conditioner that I didn't love, half used bottles of lotion I don't use, little hotel bottles that I saved from traveling. The truth is that these things can be better used donated to a women's shelter or homeless shelter. If you don't use or love the product it may sit under your sink for years adding to the disorganization and chaos. Be brave and get rid of these things.

Now that you have de-junked the cabinets it is time to organize them. This is the fun part and I feel great because I have what I need under my sink and room to spare, not to mention that it looks orderly.

Things I keep under my bathroom sinks:
Toilet paper
Paper towels
Extra Hand soap
One extra bottle of lotion
Cleaning caddy with cleaning supplies

My cleaning caddy is one of my favorite things. It is so easy to grab and holds all my supplies to clean the bathroom. I have one in an upstairs bathroom and one in the downstairs bathroom. This saves me time and allows me to tidy up and quickly clean between deeper cleanings. I know where my supplies are without searching through the house. It makes it easier for my kids to learn to clean the bathroom as well.

My caddy was purchased at Wal-Mart. I filled it with all my preferred cleaning supplies such as:
Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Scrub Brush
Lysol Bathroom Cleaner
Lysol Natural Cleaner

Take time to empty out the bathroom drawers, wipe them down, put only those things you need and use back in. I like to use a container to hold toothpaste and toothbrushes.

As I opened my kitchen sink cabinet I realized that the empty egg cartons and 2 L pop bottles (all for scouting activities) needed to go. The ones I "had" to keep went down on a shelf in my storage room and all the others went straight into the trash. I have a wire stand that allows me to add a shelf under the sink that helps with organization. I make sure that my dish soap, dish wash detergent and granite cleaners are all readily accessible and easy to grab. The stove top cleaner, jet dry and other less used cleaners sit behind.

My last sink cabinet is in my laundry room. This cabinet contains my cleaning buckets, rags and scrub brushes. Material should have it's own spot. For me it is in my storage room. While you are at it you might as well check off another to do by mating socks and getting rid of any with holes or lost mates.

This task shouldn't take more than an hour or two if you are focused and have no distractions. Dig in and get it done and feel how much better it is to know your cabinets are cleaned out, de-junked and organized. Happy organizing!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

7 Days to an Organized Home

I love organizing however, it takes a backseat to family vacations, family time, exercise fun, ball games, mom's taxi service and volleyball games. Not to mention all the normal mom things we do like fix meals, laundry, volunteer in school, church service and callings, run things to school when we get that "I forgot"... phone call, the list goes on and on.

I like flylady at, but her method is very slow and methodical. I don't work that way. When I make up my mind to do something I want it done now, not over the course of 3 months. That is me and I know a few others who would agree. Here I present Day 1 of my PRE-flylady 7 day challenge to organizing the home. After I finish with this I feel I can keep up on everything following a plan like

Organizing is like a fresh spring breath after a long winter. It rejuvenates me and makes me feel so much better. Those of you who enjoy organizing know what I mean.

Why organize?
     1. To dejunk: Old clothes, shoes, craft supplies, bikes and papers add up quickly to extra junk without a place if we don't manage it. Always organize with a donation and throw out garbage bag near. My personal rule is if I haven't used it in 18 months it goes.
     2. To find space: As more stuff accumulates we have less and less space in which to put it. Our homes become crammed and cluttered until we organize.
     3. Mental wellness (this one is for me): Just knowing that everything is clean and has a spot helps me sleep at night.
     4. To gain time: This is such an important reason. When everything has a spot and we know where that spot is, we are quickly able to pull out needed items rather than searching for what we need. Camping? Biking? School Project? Birthday? No problem. We pick up precious time this way.


Today start with your filing cabinets, budgets and paper areas of your home. In preparation for today be sure to have a shredder near by and a garbage bag (or 3 in my case). Open up a filing cabinet and go to town. I went through all my receipts, papers, bills, taxes, feel good things I was holding on to, everything paper. Shred sensitive documents that are no longer needed and throw away anything else that is there without a specific purpose.

There are many apps that allow the user to snap a photo of the receipt and store it digitally. What a wonderful thing. No need to hold on to those receipts any longer. Some of these apps are: Receipt Organizer for $0.99, and Foreceipt Daily Expense Tracker for FREE. Many different apps are available. Do a simple search for receipt organizer in your app store.

After throwing everthing I don't need away, I went through my filing cabinet and saw that I had a working folder for budget, taxes, receipts, insurance information, important papers, each child, on-going projects and so on. I have a space near the back door for the kids homework papers and those that need immediate attention. (Photos of that to come later this week) File your papers away in the appropriate files. Done for today.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Paris on a Budget

As we prepared for our trip I asked a friend who had lived in Paris if she had any suggestions of what to see. She sent me a great list of 20 things we could do on a budget. Sometimes when taking kids it can get really expensive really quickly. I appreciated having this helped a ton. Thanks Melanie.

This is a top-20 list for visiting Paris on a budget:

1) Walk around the Sacre Coeur basilica and the fun little shopping streets of Montmartre - free
2) Walk by the Moulin Rouge when it's dark enough to see the lights, but early enough that the scary people aren't out - free
3) Walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg to the street where the Pantheon is - free (although it's perhaps 4 euros to go inside the Pantheon)
4) Eat a gelato at Amorino - around 4 euros
5) Walk around and go inside the Notre Dame - free; climb up the belltower - a few euros (but that's such a cool Parisian thing to do)
6) Eat a crepe - prices range from 7 to 15 euros; to some extent you get what you pay for
7) View the Eiffel Tower from Place de Trocadero, particularly at night - free; then, get a macaron at my favorite macaron place, Carette - 2 euros; add the most amazing hot cocoa to the order - an additional 8 euros (but it's like drinking liquid chocolate)
8) Eat a pain de raisin or pain du chocolate for breakfast - 1,60 euros
9) Go to Le Pain Quotidien for a breakfast of bread and different chocolate and nut and fruit spreads - 7 euros, more if you add cheese, meat, hot cocoa
10) Stand under the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower - free (it's probably worth it to pay to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower once; the view from the Arc is kind of cool over the Champs D'Elysees, but I'd probably save my money for something else)
11) Take a boat tour of the Seine - 11 euros, but only go with a company that gives each person their own headset
12) Go to the Pierre Lachaise Cemetary and look for the graves of famous dead people, or go to any other cemetary just for kicks because they are kind of cool
13) Ride the ferris wheel at the Place du Concorde - either 5 or 10 euros
14) Go to the following museums, in this order: Orangerie, d'Orsay, Louvre, Marmottan, Jacquemart-Andre - you can get a discount double whammy price for both the Orangerie and d'Orsay; if you want to have a couple days of just going to museums, the Paris museum pass gets you into a whole lot of places for one set rate, but you'd have to go from museum to museum to museum to make it worth it
15) Visit the gardens of the Rodin Museum - 1 or 2 euros (the museum itself is also quite nice; I think it's an additional 4 euros, but you should like sculpture because that's all they have there)
16) Hang out in front of the Centre George Pompidou, check out the fountains, and people watch - free
17) Read in the Tuilerie Gardens - free
18) Walk along the Seine and cross all of the bridges, my favorite (Pont Alexandre IV) - free
19) Check out the mini statue of liberty - free
20) Walk along Rue Sainte Honore to see where the super rich people shop (seriously, onesies for babies for over 100 euros) - free

Have a great trip and feel free to add to the list if you know of something or somewhere else to visit in Paris if on a budget.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week One

With one week to go the packing begins. It is fairly easy to pack for oneself when traveling, but packing for a family with children takes some organization. Where to start?

I start by laying out the children's clothing and shoes. I gather everything they are taking and pull out the suitcases (in our case, the carry-ons). At this point I grab a piece of paper and a pen. Each child has a sheet with their name on the top. As I pack something in their carry-on I immediately write it down. This may seem cumbersome, but in the end I don't have to unpack everything if I can't remember who was missing socks or a rain coat. I pack it all, write it down and zip it away. If I remember something that needs to be added to the carry-on I jot it on my list and pick it up when I am out. On our last trip I couldn't remember who forgot to pack their sunglasses. Luckily it was written down and I could simply look at my notes.

When packing to travel, I have learned that less is more. The only exceptions for us are socks and underwear. Then I take double. Being stuck with nowhere to wash clothes is the pits. Having clean underwear and socks somehow makes it doable.

The other thing I do before we leave is put some of our lights on timers and hand out a couple house keys for friends, family and neighbors...for those just in case moments.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 2 Tie Up Loose Ends

What to do with the yard? Are the prescriptions ready to go? Dentist visits out of the way?

There are a million little things that need to be done when going on vacation. Depending on the length of the trip you may need to arrange for someone to care for the yard, water the plants, take care of the dog, make any doctor or dentist visits.

I did not know that in order to take a prescription it needs to have a prescription label with your name on it. I understand why, I had just never thought about it before. I ran into a problem. My son had been given samples of a medication for his skin and a mail in prescription. I did not start soon enough to get the prescription filled so we ended up scrambling at the last minute to see what we could do. I figured we would just take the can do. Just be aware that if you have medications to take, arrange it all a few weeks before hand to be certain everything is good to go.

Here are a few things we do two weeks before leaving:

  1. Stop our mail at the post office
  2. Arrange for someone to mow the lawn
  3. Arrange for someone to take our plants and water them while gone
  4. Call credit card companies and let them know we will be traveling so the cards aren't flagged 
  5. Gather our kids friends addresses so they can send post cards
  6. Be sure you have bed bug spray if staying in hostels, third world countries or low end hotels. I found one on amazon that is all natural so I don't worry about my kids being affected by it
  7. Think about getting motion detectors or timers for lights 
  8. Make yourself a note to turn off the water to the house to prevent any possible floods
  9. Get a little money - cash or euros in Europe for small incidentals
That's all that comes to mind at the moment. 

One important thing that I left off the packing list is Sport Stick, Runner's Glide, etc. It is an anti-shaffing ointment. Invaluable for long walking days, hiking or running. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 3 Getting Excited

Preparing kids for the experience of a lifetime.

Amid all the preparations it is easy to get consumed with itineraries, shopping, or organizing and it becomes easy to forget that kids become more excited when prepared for the trip. To do this, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Involve them in the decision making. Give them several options of things to see or do and ask them what they prefer to do. This allows them to be part of the planning and in so doing they become excited to visit the places they chose.
  2. Read books that take place in the location you are traveling to. This enhances their understanding of historical events and gets them thinking, questioning and looking forward to the visit. The best website I have found is this travelforkids site. I love it because within each country and city are lists of activities to do and things to see. At the bottom of the page are book suggestions that take place in a specific area or in a different era. This is extremely useful and reduces the time needed to find appropriate books.
  3. Watch movies related to the area. For example, if visiting Germany there are so many options. The Book Thief, The Diary of Anne Frank, Monuments Men or Disney's Night Crossing. Austria? The Sound of Music. I even love Ocean's Eleven if visiting Italy:)
  4. Buy a large wall map and mark all the places to be visited with push pins. This gives kids the visual of where they are now and where they will be going. This was a hit at our house.
  5. Print our phrases from each country and let them practice.
  6. Look up information on the climate, social habits, lifestyle, history of each place and read it together or have them read about one portion and share what they learned with the family.
  7. Eat food from the area you will be traveling to. 
Activities like these can enhance the child's experience. I was in college the first time I went abroad. We went to Switzerland with Dr. Barton to study french. We travelled for 3 weeks before arriving in Switzerland. We stopped in Rome and Italy to see some of the world's famous art work. Before leaving I was required to read The Agony and The Ecstasy. This is one of the best things I did in preparation to go. It opened my eyes to the work that went into the creation of these pieces of art and I was in awe. I thank Dr. Barton to this day for giving me some required reading.

Traveling with Kids - Week 4 Credit Cards

Four weeks before leaving is a great time to take a look at which credit cards are available and the terms of current cards.

Why is this important? 
Many credit cards impose an international fee per transaction. This will eat your money faster than anything else. Be aware of:

  • If the card has international fees
  • What is the charge for cash advances (getting money out of the ATM)
  • Is there a yearly fee associated with the card
  • Are there any bonuses (airline miles for signing up and spending $2K-$3K in the first 3 months)
  • What is the dollar to sky mile ratio
  • APR 
We found that the Barclay MC and the Bank of America chip and pin visa worked the best for our needs. We wanted a card with no international transaction fees, one that earned us sky miles and one with a reasonable yearly fee. 

Both cards offered 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. One card waived the yearly fee the first year and neither card has international transaction fees. We decided to go with the Bank of America card specifically because it has a chip and pin associated with it. The card itself has a chip embedded into it. Some places in Europe do not accept a card unless it has these specific features so we thought we would be safe and get it. With airfare alone we were able to earn the bonus points no problem. 

The Barclay MC has a 2 point per dollar spent towards sky miles/travel. They also give you 10% back in miles when you book your travel points through them. This is the best deal we could find. The Bank of America visa gives 1.5 points per dollar and no interest the first 12 months. Still a good option.

Be aware that each time you need to withdraw money a cash advance fee is incurred. It is better to put everything on the card and pay it off when you get home. Take some cash or euros for those small out of the way places that may not take a credit card, they still exist.

Check into this early enough to apply and receive the card without having to pay rush fees. Depending on credit scores, the Barclay card states it can take up to 4 weeks to hear back if not immediately approved. 

My philosophy is to get a card that works for you by earning money, points, or travel rewards.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 5 Organization

About 5 weeks before we leave (if not sooner) we purchase a small 3-ring binder. This binder will stay with us throughout our trip.

It's purpose? To help us keep track of all things related to our trip.

I have never before used a binder and I found it to be extremely helpful in keeping us organized. We just kept it in our backpack and pulled it out whenever there was a question or we needed the paperwork. One example is in Berlin. In order to go visit the Freitstag building you must be pre-approved and show the email to them at the entrance. No email no entry. Or the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Tour in London requires pre-purchase of tickets. Using a binder dramatically reduces the stress level when traveling with kids as well as giving parents a peace of mind that everything is there ready to go.

It is helpful to have the following information handy and organized so no one is scrambling during the trip to remember where to go, the hotel name or what day and time we need to be somewhere.

What do I put in the travel binder?

  • Hotel, hostel, resort reservations - in case of mix-ups we have the confirmation with us.
  • Paperwork to pick up transportation cards in other countries - In London the kids get discounted or free travel if we purchase Oyster cards for them at least one month before our travel dates. This is done on-line and then we choose where in London to pick them up when we arrive and what date we will pick them up. Trying to remember all the details without the binder would be difficult because we are trying to remember so many other things at the same time. there are museum passes and city cards that work the same way. 
  • Venue reservations - Because many are pre-purchased it is important to know when we need to be there. We would hate to miss our play in Prague because we weren't organized.
  • Itinerary - Convenient to have an idea of what we would love to see and what else is available to us in the area. 
  • Emergency phone numbers / Insurance information - Friends in the area, family members back home, etc.
  • Hotel addresses and phone numbers - To call a day before to double check the reservation or if we are going to be checking in later than we are suppose to.
  • Receipts - It is so nice to keep track of how much money is being spent. I found that as I researched into how much it would cost our family to do a trip to Europe I found only 1-2 people who actually knew. I find this info helpful in the future to know how much we need to save to go.
  • Budget - Knowing how much we have allocated in each country or for each day alleviates excessive over spending.
After deciding what you are going to keep in your binder, you can start putting everything in it as you go. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 6 Shopping

Six weeks before we leave I find myself starting to gather the clothes and other items from my packing list. By starting early I can shop the internet for the best buys and look at local discount stores as well. By taking time to look I have saved lots of money and walked away with fantastic deals on great outdoor clothing and shoes.

Check out my favorite place to shop online. Go to and sign up for the email. You will receive lots of additional discount offers off the already lower prices. If you click through this link HERE it will activate a $10 coupon for your first purchase :) I am able to buy $60-70 pants for around $20 on a regular basis. When I find something I think we need I place it in my cart and wait for the discount email each day. It usually will drop lower in price than the normal sale price and that's when I snatch it up. My kids travel pants, rain gear, shoes, and luggage all came from this site. They have a great return policy as well.

I have been able to find things such as travel money pouches, eye masks, travel pillows at stores such as TJMaxx for a lower price than I can find anywhere else.

Traveling with Kids - Week 7 Packing List

This is the week where I start putting together my packing list. It has been our experience that if children have the correct gear and clothing the enjoyment factor increases substantially. I learned long ago that whether it was in a baby back pack, hiking in the rain, or winter camping, gear is essential for a happy child. We made the mistake of not having good gear once...the tears, the misery, the complaining was enough to never venture back out if we would have let it stop us. Most of the time you get what you pay for. $10 ski gloves are bound to leave fingers red and freezing cold. That isn't all it does. It leaves a bad taste in the child's mouth for the sport or activity associated with that gear. We are trying to increase our children's love for the outdoors not the opposite.

Now, back to our packing list. Some things to consider:
1. Temperature, climate and time of year.
2. Types of activities.
3. Length of trip.
4. Laundry opportunities.
5. Walking, hiking, needed footwear.

My number one rule for what we take is this:
  Can we layer what we have to accommodate temperature and weather variations? 
An example of a packing list for Europe -
Fleece Jacket
Rain Jacket
Wool socks
2 Pair Shoes
4 Pair Pants (quick dry or travel type pants)
6-7 Shirts (including church shirt, performance shirts, a collared shirt, t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt)
2 Pair Shorts
Underwear for a week
Wool Socks for a week
Skirt (girls)
Essential Oils
Backpacking Quick Dry Towel
Swim Suit (if needed)
Flip Flops for shower
Reusable Lunch Bags for snacks
Reusable Grocery Sacks
Medicine (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Stomach Acid Aid, Eye Drops, Neosporin, Allergy Meds, etc.)

Europe doesn't offer plastic bags for groceries or ziplock bags for snacks so we take our own reusable bags to make it easy to buy food and take it with us for the day.

This list would change for a tropical vacation or a summer versus winter vacation.

Taking as little as possible helps tremendously when traveling as a family. Trust me when I say that it is not easy trying to get around your destination with too many bags. The fewer the better.

Traveling with Kids - Week 8 Itinerary

Eight weeks before a trip is a great time to head to the internet and plan the itinerary. I enjoy using Top rated attractions and reviews of these experiences are available to read. This is extremely helpful when visiting a new area or wondering if a particular attraction is suitable for children. Trip advisor often times has a link to the attraction website making it easy to see pricing and availability.

Why do this so early? I found that many attractions were less expensive if purchased beforehand. Other attractions, such as the Lion King in London, sell out quickly. If tickets aren't purchased early...out of luck. And still there were several venues that did not sell tickets at the door.

Some key things to keep in mind while planning an itinerary is that traveling and sightseeing with children is different than with a group of adults. Here are some tips that help us.

1. Keep in mind that this trip is for the children. Don't plan anything the first day. This gives children time to adjust and get settled especially for oversees adventures.

2. Flexibility is an absolute must. When children get tired or overwhelmed, take time to find somewhere for them to be kids and relax. For example, playing at the park, people watch while sitting at a street cafe, simply wandering around getting to know the surroundings, etc. Some of our funnest times are the result of doing just this. If you can't get all 10 museums in, that's ok. Some of the funnest memories may end up being the time they climb trees with kids in the park in Germany.

3. Have several options available on the itinerary. I highlight the one thing I really want to do each day. After that I list a couple other options. I have learned that things don't always go as planned. Sometimes the kids don't want to do something we had planned or they are too tired. This way we have other options to look at. Other days the kids do great and want to see more than I thought they would be able to handle. Either way, we are prepared.

4. Involve the kids in the planning. Give them 2-3 options and ask them what they would prefer to do. This helps build excitement and allows them to feel some responsibility. Willingness to attend the attractions and have fun increases and it almost always eliminates any negative feelings about wanting to go. My kids excitement doubles when they help with the itinerary.

Planning now helps reduce stress later. Flexibility helps maintain sanity. Not over scheduling keeps everyone smiling!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Traveling with Kids - 9 Weeks Beating Boredom

At week 9 I took the time to think about how long we would be in planes, buses or trains. Then I thought about if I have enough patience for all those hours in a small space with nothing for the boys to do. 

My realization? 

Definitely not enough patience. What to do about it? That was my question.
We all know our children and their personalities, likes and dislikes so this portion will need to be individualized for each family. This is what I did to help save my sanity:)

1. My children love to read, watch movies and play an occasional video game or two. I opted to purchase Kindles for them to take with us. There are all sorts of different Kindles from e-readers to mini computers.  I watched for sales and was able to get a pretty good deal. The issues here are that all content must be downloaded before leaving (movies, books, apps, games). I downloaded different movies on each Kindle so that it tripled the movies we had access to. The same thing with the books for the older kids. I was concerned that they would use their devices instead of participating with the family, but since they aren't big "gamers" I won't worry about that. This will help on the flight and bus when there isn't anything to do.

2. I want my children to remember our travels and to document it however they want. With this in mind, I went in search of the perfect travel journal. When I couldn't find anything to fit the bill I created travel smash journals for each child to keep in their backpacks. They are set up to follow our itinerary with the names of the countries, towns, and attractions we will visit. There is plenty of space for them to write, draw, tape postcards and memorabilia inside, and glue photos in. I also included several pockets in which they could place anything in. The pages are different colors and sizes and so it looks fun and it is all theirs to do with what they please. Some pages ask questions like "What is the funniest thing you saw today" or "What kind of food did you eat?" I include other things to make it enjoyable and something they could pull out and fill in on the bus. Here are the finished products:

3. I want my kids to have some immediate photos to include in these journals. My husband and I bought a polaroid camera from amazon for another project and we are bringing it along. They are about $69 to buy and film runs about $1 per picture. The photos are business card size. We will have our nicer camera with us so we don't expect these photos to be stunning, just fun. We will be carefully choosing which photos to take because of how expensive the film is.

4. I put together useful phrases in 4 languages and laminated them. This way, they can take them along and start memorizing and learning a little before we get to that country. This keeps them busy, learning and they will have an opportunity to try out each language.
Bored you say? Go and study those phrases we will be there shortly. :)

5. A must have is a travel pillow and lightweight blanket so that they can sleep as much as possible. I also bring my lavender essential oil to rub on their feet helping them sleep better. I hope this will be the most used of all my ideas because they will be rested for any adventure we may have.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Traveling with Children - Week 10 Passports and Shots

When asked where to take children when planning a European vacation, one well-known traveller said on his blog, straight to grandma's on the way to the airport. While I chuckled at this, knowing all too well why he said it, I wouldn't think about it for a second.

Time certainly flies. As my children continue to grow up I am realizing how little time I have left with them before they head out to make a life of their own. I want to give them memories, experiences and family adventures they will remember for a life-time. I want to take them with us whenever possible. My husband and I will have lots of time together in the future. For now, I want to focus on our family as we travel.

Recently several things have fallen into place for us to be able to start traveling with our children. Up to this point, the furthest from home we have been with them is Disneyland and the beach. Leaving home for a far off destination for several weeks takes more planning and thinking ahead than I am accustomed to.

I began wondering what I could do now to prepare us to have a fabulous trip. This series of posts will be a countdown in weeks to lift-off and it will include all I did to prepare my family for the adventure of a lifetime.

Let's start with 10 weeks prior to lift-off.

Passports are one of the first things you need to get taken care of if you are planning international travel. For a family it can end up being quite expensive to get them all at once and you may need to do this over a period of time. So plan accordingly. It took my family about 6 weeks to receive our passports.

You can get a passport at a US Post Office. Not all post offices offer this service so be sure to visit 
 Where to get a passport and find a local office set up for passports.

What do you need to get a passport? Here is the USPS passport site.
     2 forms of ID
     payment in the form of check or cash
     passport photos 2 in. x 2 in.

Every person must fill out an application. I found it was less hassle to get on line HERE and print the application out beforehand. It saved time during the process.

This will tell you what it will cost to get your passports.

Many European countries do not require additional shots for travel to and from, but if you are traveling to Africa or other third world countries chances are you will need to visit your local health department to get the recommended shots. Some countries, for instance, will not let you in if you haven't had your yellow fever shot and have proof of that shot. In fact, they will turn you away at the border and your trip will be very short-lived. 

How to know what shots I will need? Simply visit the CDC website to find out which shots you may need. 

Get a head start on these two things long before your intended travel dates. And remember that our children are only young once. Let's enjoy them and spend time with them having adventures and making memories. 

Empowerment Experience Month Three

Value of Hard Work

I overheard a groups of my son's friends talking about how in today's society they don't need to work very hard, but instead they need to think hard.

I thought this was a funny statement. As I thought about it, I realized how instantaneous everything is for them. I remember growing up and wanting to play with a friend. I had to call them on a land line and sometimes I actually got a busy signal and had to wait for someone to get off the phone. If I wanted to know information I had to take time to look it up in the encyclopedia or take a trip to the library to see what I could find and no, it was not on the computer...I had to search through library cards. Today all these things are at the touch of a finger. While it is fantastic living in the information generation, I want my boys to learn to work and enjoy the benefits of work.
Teaching kids that life is not all fun and games is a great
life lesson!
We wanted to give our boys an experience with work that differs from the daily household chores and expectations. This can sometimes be challenging when they are too young to hold a formal job. We did find that there are opportunities for them to work when we started to ask around. Few friends their age (7, 12, and 13) work. I thought this might be a sticky point for them. When they found out that they actually get paid to work it became much less of an issue (I didn't have to hear..."Mom, so-and-so doesn't have to work" to which my response is always, "I am not so-and-so's mother").

Back to job opportunities. We found summertime or fall held the best opportunity to find them each a job. We helped "employ" our 7 year old, well,.... because he is 7. The other two were able to pick up jobs at the local community recreation department as referees. My friend's children work at a scout camp while another friend's children get up early and do yard work for neighbors.

It was wonderful to see our kids have some responsibility and get the reward for the work they put in. They both loved being able to have their own spending money they had earned and we took the opportunity to talk with them about saving money, paying tithing (whenever we learn to be obedient to Heavenly Father we are always blessed significantly) and being responsible about what they choose to do with their money.

The reward for this experience was simply the paycheck they received. Nothing else was needed.

In today's society where youth feel entitled it becomes even more important for us to help our children know the reality that they will not get all they want. To teach that hard work is a character building trait that leads to financial security and a privilege we have will benefit them as well as our communities.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Empowerment Experience Month Two

Manners Month

After having such great success with the money jar and chores we moved onto manners. Why? Because we have a house full of boys. Need I say more? At some point the boys need to learn how to communicate well, speak politely, and eat in a non-vulturistic manner:)

I had such hopes going into this challenge. Our rules were fairly simple.
1. Look adults in the eye when spoken to and answer with a complete sentence.
2. Speak kindly to one another.
3. Table manners were enforced for the month. (For us that includes using forks and knives to cut food into bite sizes, feet on the floor, napkin on the lap, considerate conversation, not eating until the host/hostess sits down - boy this is tough for them, and clearing dishes when done).

The first rule was just a matter of remembering not to say uh-huh, nah, yep, etc. They did a great job in this area and learned how to speak more respectfully more often.

The second rule...speaking kindly to one another was a bit trickier. There is something about older and younger brothers and how they interact with each other. The teasing seems to be a mandatory part of everyday living and with teasing, comes the backlash of teasing. One way I tried to counter this was when they decided to be mean to each other I had them grab their scriptures and find a story about someone being mean. They need to read and tell me the result of that behavior. We then relate it to life and what that means to him. This tactic helped some, but I have to be consistent for it to work well. Needless to say, this is still a work in progress.

The last rule, table manners. I thought this would be so easy, but I was proven wrong. This is an area that I know can continue to be improved on. Simple with your utensils. Why my boys think it is so cool to eat with their hands and fingers and not cut anything is beyond me:) The noise level at dinner sometimes drives us a bit crazy. We talk about appropriate tones at dinner, not interrupting others as they speak, using napkins and such.

The prize for this challenge was to go and eat at a fancy restaurant. We failed this challenge as a family and did not get this prize. Food is a huge motivator for our boys...especially good food like sushi, steaks, etc. We are continuing to work on these things and will re-visit this challenge when we are ready to succeed.