We Have to Go Back!

Remember when we cancelled cable? It was the first week of April. Exactly 5 months ago.

I had hoped that by canceling cable we’d become overall healthier, happier people. I had visions of sitting around the table playing Dominos as a family. Or solving crossword puzzles together. Mikayla would completely forget about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. And we’d all watch a lot less tv.

Yeah…none of that happened. 

I don’t know how its possible, but we actually watched more tv without cable. Mikayla still cries for Mickey’s “Cwubhouse”. And we don’t even own Dominos or crossword puzzles.

After 5 months, we still really miss cable. Maybe this tells you the quality of people we are. Maybe this paints us as lazy, good-for-nothin’, tv-holics. So be it.

I don’t know if it was missing the first week of football or watching seasons 1 & 2 of Downton Abbey for the 4th time but we finally decided to re-activate our cable.

When I talk to people about getting rid of clutter and clearing out the junk, we usually focus on getting rid of the unnecessary stuff – the clutter. But the flip side is determining what things you will keep – things you NEED, things you USE, things you LOVE.  You need clothing. Your child uses toys and books and puzzles. You love family photos and heirlooms. Things your family needs, uses or loves should be kept – its not necessarily the same items for every family.

Am I saying our family loves cable? Yes. Yes I am. Feel free to judge our shallowness.

At least I’m being honest about it, right? I could’ve just re-activated our cable and let you go right on believing we were spending our time working a 10,000 piece Thomas Kinkade puzzle and playing a 3 month long game of Monopoly.

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Guest Post for Unknown Jim

I am honored and excited to be guest posting today for my friend Jim Woods at Unknown Jim. Jim has a rare gift for encouraging others. He helps others to find their passion and follow their dreams. He also LOVES chocolate chip cookies. I’d love if you would visit his blog and check out my post there today.

Schedule the FUN! – investing time in things that are meaningful and important

If you found me from Jim’s site, thank you so much for stopping by! I write about things I love – books, organizing and adventures of parenting the cutest four year old on the planet...with a little Disney thrown in on occasion.

If you’re looking for more organizing tips, please visit my Organizing Tools section above.

You can read some of my Favorite Posts or check out Mikayla’s Story to get to know me a bit more.

And, I want to hear your story! I’d love to connect with you further. Please share in the comments a bit about who you are, where you’re from and be sure to link to your blog or website!

Disney Love…round 2

I did warn you that I’d probably post about Disney again. So…

Last week the Disney Parks blog posted three absolutely beautiful images from the New Fantasyland area. The area will open in just a few months and includes two new castles – Prince Eric’s castle from The Little Mermaid and Beast’s castle from Beauty & the Beast. I love how different the two castles look, even though they will be located right next to each other.

Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess. Maybe it’s because she reads or has brown hair...whatever the reason, I wanted to share one of the images of Belle and her cottage.

Isn’t it lovely! Be sure to check out the original post to see more.

Who’s your favorite Disney princess? Or prince? Or villain?

Guest Posting for Living Better Stories

I am honored and excited to be guest posting today for Jeremy Statton at Living Better Stories. Jeremy is truly an inspiration. He and his wife recently returned from China where they adopted two absolutely adorable children. Through his writing, Jeremy encourages others to be inspiring and to live better stories. I’d love if you would visit his blog and check out my post there today.

Organizing Tips for Creatives – three easy tips for getting (and staying) organized

If you found me from Jeremy’s site, thank you so much for stopping by! I write about things I love – books, organizing and adventures of parenting the cutest four year old on the planet...with a little Disney thrown in on occasion.

If you’re looking for more organizing tips, please visit my Organizing Tools section above.

You can read some of my Favorite Posts or check out Mikayla’s Story to get to know me a bit more.

And, I want to hear your story! I’d love to connect with you further. Please share in the comments a bit about who you are, where you’re from and be sure to link to your blog or website!

Time for Christmas Shopping (no, seriously)

Wait. Wait. Wait just a minute…it’s only August. School JUST started. Why would you suggest this post is about Christmas shopping? I’m sure it’s not really about Christmas shopping…right…since it’s only August?

I know it’s only August. I originally posted this last September and thought you might want to get a head start on your Christmas to-do list for this year. Think of this as your friendly organizing reminder.

For most of us one of the biggest projects leading up to Christmas is gift buying. From the gift list to the shopping to the wrapping – giving gifts can consume a large amount of our time and energy. The easiest way to alleviate stress during the holiday season is by getting your Christmas shopping done early.

Here are some tips to make gift shopping simpler and some gift ideas that are stress free both for you and the recipient:

1. Keep a Gift List – If you have your gift list from last year, use that as a starting point. If not, make sure you start early so you can buy gifts well ahead of time as you find things on sale. Re-evaluate last year’s list – do you really need to purchase something for all the same people? Maybe a friend has moved and sending them a card will suffice? Are you going to be spending this Christmas with any family members that you didn’t buy for last year? Keep in mind – it’s wonderful to want to purchase gifts for everyone you know, but you should also be realistic about your Christmas budget – decide ahead of time how much you will allot for gifts. Starting with those closest to you (i.e. – children, siblings, parents, etc.) decide how much you will spend on each person. If you run out of money before you complete your list, you might need to mark some people off or look for gift alternatives that don’t cost money.

2. Shop Year Round – Once your Gift List is updated for the current year, be mindful of gifts you need to purchase. Create a habit of adding items to your Gift List as you discover them – all year long. Make notes of gift ideas as something gets your attention. This will make gift shopping much easier. Also be mindful of sales throughout the year – if you know you want to purchase a specific electronic item for your child and it happens to be on sale in August – go ahead and buy it in August.

3. Shop Online – You don’t want to pay extra for the convenience of shopping at home. That means you need to be mindful of your shipping costs and make sure you factor that amount into your spending budget. If an item costs significantly more online, a trip to the store may be a better option. For everything else – why not shop in your PJs while eating your favorite sugar-coated cereal?

4. Complete Your Shopping Early – I don’t mean “in the morning”. I mean, get every gift purchased early in the year. Ideally, gift shopping will be completely finished before Halloween or, at the latest, with in the first two weeks of November. You may be used to waiting until December to shop but by then you’re just adding to the holiday stress that is already present during the end of the year. Imagine how relaxing your holiday season will be if you aren’t driving all over town and fighting traffic to get your shopping done.

5. Gift Wrap Station – Ideally, you would designate a space in your house just for gift wrapping. Leave your wrapping paper, scissors, tape, etc. all in one place for quick and easy access each time you come home with a new gift. For those of us with children, this isn’t always practical. My “gift wrap station” is actually a rubbermaid tote that holds everything (bags, tissue paper, gift boxes, gift tags, scissors, tape, bows, pen). Once I have several gifts ready to be wrapped I can put my wrapping tote on the kitchen table and get to it. Everything is in one place – I don’t have to search for any supplies – and when I’m finished I can slide it into the closet where curious hands won’t find it.

6. Inexpensive Gift Ideas – baked goods, candy in a decorative basket, flowers (potted for friends with a green thumb), personal services (babysitting, cleaning, a home cooked meal), a basket with cleaning supplies (especially if you’re a couponer and can pull household goods from your stockpile), hand made crafts (especially crafts made by your children for their grandparents), scrapbook, personalized photo calendar, re-gift (be thoughtful with this one – but if there’s an item you have received in the past that isn’t perfect for you and your aunt/sister/cousin would love it, re-gift it)

7. Clutter Free Gift Ideas – restaurant gift card, movie pass, spa gift card, gift card to a favorite clothing store, class/lessons of interest (cooking, dancing, karate, scrapbooking, etc.), plan an experience (My husband and I have always said we would rather do something fun together than try to buy each other gifts – we plan a date night or day trip or attend a concert – we tend to remember these types of gifts much better than traditional gifts and it alleviates the stress of trying to find the perfect present.), take a child to the zoo or sporting event

8. Gifts with Purpose – Consider making a donation to your favorite charity (or their favorite charity) in honor of your gift recipient. There are any number of local charities to choose from regardless of where you live. Additional options: WorldvisionThe Mentoring ProjectBlood:Water MissionInvisible Children. Or consider gifts from companies who follow the one-for-one model – when you buy their product they also give one to someone in need. TOMS is one of my favorite one-for-one companies – for every pair of shoes you purchase they give a pair to a child in need.

For additional Holiday Organization tips, visit the Organizing Tools section for tips on making Christmas less stressfulreducing holiday waste and surviving day after Christmas shopping trips.

What’s something you do to make the Christmas season less stressful?

I Love Teenagers

I love teenagers. I realize that’s not something everyone can claim. But, for me, it’s very true. As a college freshman I took my first position as a Volunteer Youth Leader. And for about seven years the youth group was my home.

Teenagers are a fascinating bunch. They experience drama and issues and emotions that are completely unfathomable by the majority of all other people everywhere. They are unbelievably passionate. They can do amazing and impossible things because they haven’t lived long enough to believe the lie that they can’t. 

When I was pregnant with Mikayla I was very, very sick the entire time. It was like morning sickness except it lasted all day, every day, for 9 months. Seriously. Even medicated, I was severely ill through the entire pregnancy. I had to step down from my role as a youth leader because I physically couldn’t be there – unless I carried a vomit bucket with me and let’s be honest, nobody wants to see that.

Once she was born, life got really crazy and for the last five years I’ve been out of the youth group scene. This year I felt like it was time to jump back in. Part of me is a little terrified because I feel somewhat disconnected. Part of me wonders if I’ll maintain any amount of the little sanity I have left. But mostly I’m so excited to be part of an amazing group of leaders working with fabulous teenagers.

We met for the first time this week and our youth pastor shared a short video that presents the Gospel. I thought it was unique and more or less amazing and wanted to share it here with you.

After the video, tell me what you most love (or fear) about teenagers.

Reading Review: I Need a Bunker, Again

The Maze Runner series by James Dashner

Why do I read books about the end of the world? I know it’s going to make me paranoid. I know I’m going to want to dig up our back yard and plant a bunker. I know I’m going to want to hoard canned tuna and water so that when “the big one” happens we won’t die. But I love them!

In this series, the end of the world as we know it was caused by solar flares which scorched the earth’s surface killing much of the population and making much of the land unlivable. It also caused the release of a deadly virus that slowly eats away at your brain until you turn into a zombie-like crazy person who wants to eat other people.

A handful of teenagers may hold the key to developing a cure for the deadly virus known as the Flare. But to succeed they must endure countless horrific challenges and tests. However, they are not willing subjects in this search for a cure but they are forced to participate by their captors. They face monsters and liquid metal that melts your head off and blistering sun and Flare-infected crazy people and the deaths of friends – all for the good of the many. What value are the lives of the few if they can save the human race as a whole.

This is a three book series. The first two books, in my opinion, were fantastic. The third book was a bit less “keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat”. But it was still a great book and I like the way it completed the series. I would love to see an epilogue in the future about how life on earth turned out after the end of this series, but I think James Dashner is just going to leave that up to our own imaginations.

Incidentally, a prequel to the Maze Runner series, The Kill Order, was released yesterday. I don’t think it’s necessary to understanding the original series, but I’m looking forward to reading it all the same.

Question: Do you read books that make you paranoid? What are you reading this summer?

Saying No

I want to give you permission to do something crazy. Something you might not let yourself do. Something that might be scary and risky.

I give you permission to say “no”.

Go ahead. Try it. Say it out loud, “N.O. No.”

Why do we have such a hard time with this teeny, tiny word? You’re asked to volunteer for an event. Your friend asks you to babysit at the last minute. Your child wants something. A family member asks for a favor. And the automatic response is “YES”. Whether we are really able or willing isn’t even considered before that YES escapes our lips.

If we aren’t careful, all those yeses add up to an overwhelming schedule. And the first thing to give to make room for all our new responsibility is usually the thing we need most of all. Time for ourselves – to rest and recharge. And then, time with our family is sacrificed as demands on our time increase.

Should you always say no when a favor is asked of you? Of course not. There’s a fine line between having a healthy “no” and being selfish. If you are able to help, you should. Just so your helpfulness doesn’t come at the expense of your own health or that of your own family.

Opportunities to help should be considered honestly to determine 1) if you have the time and 2) if you are truly qualified for the task.

If the answer to both of those questions is “yes” then you can say “yes” to the opportunity and enjoy the feelings of helpfulness and accomplishment. However, if you don’t have time or don’t feel qualified, you shouldn’t automatically say “yes” out of obligation or guilt. Otherwise you’ll be enjoying the feelings of frustration and stress and perhaps even bitterness.

If you automatically say yes whenever an opportunity presents itself, you are a slave to your yes. You aren’t choosing to help, you are defaulting to your yes. And those feelings of frustration and bitterness negate any intent of being a loving servant. Practice saying NO so that when you do say yes, you can truly mean it. Your healthy NO gives power to your YES, whenever you choose to use it.

Do you have a hard time saying “no” or does that seem to come naturally for you?

Minimize Online Distractions

Ok, guys, it’s about to get honest…

I’m easily distracted by shiny things. No, no, wait. That’s true, but not what I really want to confess. The truth is, I am easily distracted by online things.

Facebook, Twitter, favorite blogs, Twitter again (you know, in case anything new is posted), the Disney blog, checking blog stats, Twitter…again. Whether on my phone or on the computer, I find myself drawn to distractions.

Chances are I’m not alone in this. I know in my circle of friends its kind of a running joke that we all have ADD – always checking the iPhones or “multitasking” as we like to call it. And, I know that my writer friends probably struggle as I do to balance working on the computer with playing on the computer. Creative people tend to have several different strands of thought going at all times, dealing with distraction is just part of life.

Recognizing my own limitations, I don’t try to completely remove online distractions. Instead I try to minimize them and use them to my advantage. Utilizing a distraction as a reward for work completed allows me to indulge in a bit of social media while ensuring that my work gets done too.

One idea to minimize online distractions would be to use a timer. Set it for 30 minutes or an hour then work diligently until the timer goes off. At the ding, take a 10 minute break to browse social media or check your favorite blog.

Another option – what I do – is to set a specific goal such as “I will complete one blog post before reading the Disney World blog.” Or whatever grown-up, sophisticated blog you read.

If you find you have a hard time sticking to your goals or to the timer, ask a trusted friend to keep you accountable for the time you spend online.

Do you struggle with online distractions? What have you done to minimize this?

Reading Review: Feel the Burn…of Conviction

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

In 7, Jen Hatmaker shares her personal experiment of eliminating excess in seven different areas of life. She and her family, set aside one month for each category and greatly reduced the excess in each area. For food month, they ate only seven things all month. That’s it…seven foods…for a month. And chocolate was not one of the foods. Yikes!

For clothing month they wore only seven pieces of clothing for the entire month. Sometimes I wear seven articles of clothing in two days. I take for granted my plethora of free t-shirts that I rotate through from day to day.

In more somber months, the Hatmakers focused on where they spent their money and where they spent their time and on the abundance of possessions they own in comparison to the great needs of those around them. We are commanded to care for those less fortunate than us – the widows, the orphans, the poor. Commanded. It’s not just a nice idea.

I was challenged to look at my own excess. Sure we tithe and sponsor a couple kids but there is still so much that we do for ourselves and our own comfort rather than seeking to meet the needs of those around us. I want to waste less and be more responsible for the world around me. I want to stop consuming. I want Mikayla to grow up outside the consumer mind set.

I don’t really know where to begin. Other than to take baby steps. Recycle. Plant a garden. Buy clothing second-hand or from fair trade organizations. Weigh purchases to determine if it’s truly a need or if that money could be better used to help someone else. Intentionally look for needs of those around me rather than remaining blind and deaf to their cries for help.

This was a fantastic book. I loved Jen’s humor and honesty throughout the whole process. And, while I don’t plan to fight excess as drastically as she did (no chocolate? hello) I’m truly challenged to take a look at the excess in my life.

What are you reading right now?