Saturday, September 13, 2014

Turning Over A New "Leaf" 2014

For those of you who have read my September posts in the past, you will know that for my family September is a time of "turning over a new leaf."  Get it? Leaf? Like as in Autumn leaves? Wink. Wink. :) With the start of a new school and fiscal year and with the end of the busy summer months that beckon a return to structure and organization, September is just the perfect time for a fresh beginning. A time to re-focus, re-energize, and re-organize.  So think of some ways this month that you can turn over a new leaf in your life. To get you thinking, check out my previous post Turning Over a New Leaf for some suggestions. 

This year, for me it has been all about simplification. With two kids in tow now,  I am learning that as a mother - simplifying is the way to go! I'm all about seeing what other mothers do to make things work, so I thought I'd share some of the things that personally make my life easier:

An Effective Cleaning Plan

 Cleaning. Where do I begin. Let's just say that I tend to have some pretty OCD tendencies when it comes to cleaning. My husband can attest to the fact that there is nothing that can put me in a bad mood faster than clutter or mess. I'm one of those people that feels like her house is messy as soon as the vacuum lines disappear from the carpet. Borderline crazy person, right? But all you moms out there know that having a clean house when you have little kids is MUCH easier said than done. I mean, no matter how many times I Windex the glass backdoor, there will always be smudgy little peanut butter hand prints on it. I can pick up toys all the live long day and somehow never keep up with the rate at which my son can destroy a room. So, for me, being able to keep my house cleaned is a challenge... and a compromise.   A compromise because I've come to realize that my house can't be as perfectly cleaned as I want it to be all. the. time. But it CAN be clean. I want you to remember that. It IS possible. It CAN happen.  

For those of you who struggle seeing the point of a clean home, who are not naturally inclined to have a clean house, or who simply need a little motivation, I thought of explaining the value that I believe exists in having a clean and orderly home. But... this wonderful blogger ALREADY explained it perfectly. The reasons she lists for keeping a clean home are EXACTLY the reasons I believe in having a tidy environment.  To see her explanation click HERE

The only thing I would add to her list is: A clean house invites the spirit of our Heavenly Father into our home. When my house is clean, it is more conducive to having a spirit of peace and reverence. Clutter and mess are chaos and chaos is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit. Call me crazy but I REALLY believe that this is true. That is NOT to say that our houses should always be perfectly cleaned and organized- that is an IMPOSSIBLE standard to live by- but for me, it does give me a greater incentive to AIM to keep my house clean.  Our floors will be sticky from time to time, couch pillows will litter the floor, toys will be strewn around, dirty dishes will fill the sink, laundry will be piled to the moon... BUT my GOAL can be to always return my home, and our lives, back to order as often as possible. 

So...these are two methods that I use to keep my house tidy and clean. The first method is what I did all last year. It made cleaning a little more fun interesting. The second method though, I just started this September and am LOVING it! For some reason it just seems to work with my crazy, busy schedule! I hope for all you mamas out there that are also struggling with being able to keep your own houses clean that one of these methods might help!  

1.  Popsicle Stick Cleaning Game

About a year ago I came up with this way to clean my house, and like I said, it made things just a little more interesting.  First, I wrote each room or section of my house down on a popsicle stick (i.e. kitchen, master bedroom, laundry room, etc.) Then I stuck all the sticks in a little jar. When it was time to clean my house, whether I had 15 minutes or a few hours, I would draw one stick out and see which room it said. That was the room I had to clean. Once it was done, if I had more time, I would draw another stick. If I had to divert my attention elsewhere for a while, I would just pick back up where I left off once I got the chance. My goal was to make it through all the sticks by the end of the day so that we could go to bed on a clean house. Oh how I love going to bed on a clean house.  :)

I also liked this method because instead of looking at the whole house as one big impossible cleaning mountain, it broke it up into manageable bits and pieces. It was just one room at a time. And because I randomly drew out which room to clean, the order always changed which made things a little bit more...exciting?

2.  Daily Cleaning List

This is the second method. I love it. Instead of going room by room, I go by category. I made a master list of all the things I like to to do to clean (or at least spot-clean) EVERY day. I put them in a slightly random, slightly logical order.  You can see what I mean below: 

When I have time to clean, I just start going down the list. I keep it in a page protector on my fridge so I can write on it with a wet-erase marker and then wipe it clean when I'm done. I love this method because it's even easier to break things up. Instead of trying to clean my whole house at once, whenever I have a free minute, I just try to get two or three things on the list done. Again, the goal is to finish all of them by the end of the day.  By doing this EVERY day though, my house has been staying cleaner than ever so it's only taking me about 30-45 minutes to go through the whole list!!

Bonus: if my husband wants to help, it's so easy to point him towards the fridge and just say pick a couple things you want to do! He'll select a few off the list and then check them off so I know they're done. Once my kids are old enough to start helping too, it will be so easy to have them each pick one or two things to do, and as a family we can all get the house cleaned in no-time!

Note: As far as deep cleaning goes, I deep clean one room a week. This takes care of all the nitty gritty things like dusting light fixtures and shutters, de-junking, washing bedding, mopping, etc. But its been very quick and painless to deep clean, since I've been doing this new cleaning method, because the majority of my house stays pretty darn clean. 

Easy-Peasy Laundry Tip

Okay, so even though I am a kind of freak when it comes to cleaning, I somehow cannot handle laundry. It is my arch nemesis. My kryptonite. My achilles heal of cleaning. I think it has something to do with my ridiculous need to cross things off a list and laundry is one of those things that you can never cross off a list- it ALWAYS needs to be done!!


I can handle the putting it in the washer part. I can even come to grips with the putting it in the dryer part. But somewhere between the folding it and getting it put away part I totally come un-done. One of my biggest problems though was how overcomplicated I was making the "putting it away part." That's because in my totally OCD fashion, I have always HUNG all my clothes and in a COLOR-CODED fashion. I mean, YIKES!  Even my family's clothes I would hang up according to color in their closets. Partly because I think hung clothes stay nicer (Don't even get me started on my pet-peeve about wrinkly clothes) and partly because I just love the way that color-coded clothes all hung up in a pretty little row look. It just sings to every OCD cell in my body.   

This was until one day when my mom was visiting me. My mom raised 8 kids WHILE having a very organized and clean household so she's kinda like an expert on the matter. Anyway, she was helping me do my laundry one day and when she got to the, you know, the "putting it away part" she took one look at my color-coded 'pride and joy' and gave me a look like: 
"Girlfriend, you serious?! Ain't nobody got time for that!" 

So, she totally made over my closets with handy little bins. She even let me use my label maker to label the bins ;) but now once my clothes are folded all I have to do is throw them into their bin! It is SO easy!!   

Some of you may already have figured this out, but for those of you who are seriously struggling with the hanging up clothes thing- don't. Just don't. Toss those babies in bins and get on with it! I now ONLY hang up things that have a tendency to get really wrinkly if folded. 

Toy Organization

So, speaking of bins. The other thing seriously helped my life out was to organize all my son's toys into "bins," "boxes," whatever you want to call them.
This is a beautiful thing for 4 reasons:
1) He can't just dump out all the toys he wants, whenever he wants. There are a few big toys in a basket on his floor that he can get to whenever he wants, but otherwise, I am in control of the mess because he has to ask me to get a box of toys down.  So, in short, our house stays cleaner. 

 2) The rule is, he can only get a new box of toys down when the one he was playing with is cleaned up and put away. This means he is not only a skilled champ at picking up after himself now, but there are serious limits to the amount of mess he can make since he can only play with one box at a time.  

3) He plays better. Simple as that. Instead of wading through toys that are strewn all over his floor, trying to decide what to play with but being overstimulated by the selection and mess, the toys actually hold their appeal more and stay exciting to him because he doesn't have access to them all the time.  

4) Toys stay nicer and don't get lost. Our puzzles and toys have all their pieces, they stay looking newer and nicer, and all the pieces are together in one place when he wants to play with them. There is no dumping out all of his toys trying to find that one missing lego because all of his legos are together in one place! 

And now, for the most important thing of all...the ONE thing that makes my life so much easier, that helps me be a better mom, wife and human being, that helps me be happier, and gives me strength to make it through each and every day is...

 DAILY Scripture Study

This seems obvious. And as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we know it's supposed to be a part of our everyday life. However, when I took a religion class at BYU our professor told us that after the Church conducted a world-wide survey they found that less than 3% of people engage in meaningful daily scripture study. THREE PERCENT!!

Before I became a mom, scripture study came pretty easily. It just wasn't that hard as a young single or newly married individual to carve at least 30 minutes out of my day to spend in the scriptures. Then I became a sleep-deprived new mother and having 30 consecutive, un-interrupted minutes was harder than I ever could have imagined. Nap-time always raised the panic question of: "Quick! What do I do?! Shower? Pay bills? Exercise? Sleep?!" It seemed all too easy to push scriptures to the bottom of the list. I mean, I NEEDED to shower right? So scripture study became a "frazzled, distracted, squeeze it in whenever I got the chance, hurry up before the baby cries, balance the bible in one hand and a nursing baby in the other" kind of thing.

BUT... one thing I managed to never lose sight of is that scripture study is NOT an option. It's not a choice. Not if you want to stay close to God and have His strength and help and guidance in your daily life.  Scripture study is what I call a "non-negotiable" - meaning, no matter how crazy busy or hectic your life is, you MUST do it. Just like eating, breathing, drinking water, it's not something you can negotiate out of your schedule or put off for another day.  

A year ago I came up with a plan for my scripture study that has made it SO much easier. I thought I'd just share it with you in case any of you mamas, or anyone for that matter, are looking for a way to try to make daily scripture study more do-able.

TIP 1:   The first suggestion I have is... do your scripture study in the SAME PLACE at the SAME TIME everyday. It is so much easier to develop a habit if you know exactly when and where you will do it every day.  After looking long and hard at my life, I realized that for me, scripture study was easiest if I did it every night before I go to bed, sitting in my bed. This means I don't have the distraction of kids who by this time are tucked away sleeping AND no matter what my day looks like (whether we're out late with friends, on vacation, etc.) I can always count on the fact that when I go to bed- I will sit there between the sheets and study the Word of God for at least 30 minutes. 

TIP 2:  Know what you're going to study. It can be hard to motivate yourself if you don't have a set plan of what exactly you're going to do, when you do it.  If you are just newly getting into to the groove of daily study, don't feel bad!! Start small. Decide to read one chapter a night. Or even just 3 verses. Anything to get you reading.  For those of you who are undertaking a more serious study of the scriptures, again, know exactly what you are going to study.

For me, I always felt torn between all of the things I wanted to study (i.e. General Conference Talks, Bible, Book of Mormon, Teachings of the Living Prophets, etc.) so I decided to assign different things to different days of the week. This means that I am sure to get to all of the things I want to cover and it keeps things more interesting because I'm not always studying the same thing every day of the week.

This is my set plan I follow. I LOVE it! I seriously can't recommend something like this enough!

* My study of the Old Testament follows the weekly lesson for Gospel Doctrine which is Mormon lingo for what we study each week in Sunday School at church. I am using Kerry Muhlstein's commentary book with my study. I love it!

*Thursday- Friday I study the chapter of Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith that we are going to be covering that week in Relief Society. 

 By doing this, it helps me to be so much more engaged in my Sabbath meetings since I've already read and studied what we are going to be discussing. 

Last but not least, I would just leave you with something my dad used to always say. It helps me on those busy or tired evenings when I might not feel like doing my studies. He said:

"Whenever you don't feel like reading your scriptures, 
read them until you do." :) 

As  I have made scripture study a part of my daily routine I have truly felt a power and strength enter my life. Things seem more manageable, I am able to get more done, I feel happier, I can handle situations better,  and most importantly I feel the guidance and love of my Heavenly Father. I know that He lives, and I know that dedicating ourselves to a serious study of His Word will bring us closer to Him and will open the door for innumerable blessings to enter our lives. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

The Value of Units

This summer was AMAZING!  Looking back, my kids and I did so many fun things and learned so much! I am so thankful for our summer units and how they have helped me to make our summers enriching, educational and so memorable!  These could have been long summer days stuck inside with the crazy Arizona heat, a husband in dental school full-time and a new baby to boot. But these units enlivened our summer and gave us some creative and fun things to look forward to each day.

As I talk to people about my family's units (themed educational activities), I sometimes have moms tell me: "I'd love to do something like that but . . .
"I'm too busy!" 
"I don't have the time or creativity!"
"It seems like too much work!" 

I know that as moms we are all different, and what works for one may not work for another, but I thought I would just share with you some of the reasons why I do units and the value that I see in them. And show you that doing activities like these actually do not take much time, creativity or work at all! 

#1.   Language Development   

My good friend Nicole started doing themed summer units with her little boy this last summer. As a speech pathologist, she told me that she noticed what a great exercise in language development units are - that they are a fantastic way to expose kids to new words and concepts and to grow their vocabulary. I have noticed this to be VERY true with my son. I am amazed at how his vocabulary and understanding of words and concepts grows with each unit we do! My son has a large vocabulary and great pronunciation for a two year old and I truly believe it's all thanks to these units. 

#2. No More Boredom Blues for Kids (and Mom)!     

Kids' brains need to be challenged and stimulated. They are like little sponges. They WANT to learn and discover. When kids are bored they start to express that boredom through negative behavior.  My mom always says that when a child is acting out (whining, crying, getting upset, acting defiant, misbehaving, etc.) they are one of 3 things: hungry, tired, or bored.  I find this to be all too true with my two year old.  On days when I have fun and constructive learning activities for us to do he behaves SO much better! He takes better naps, he minds better, he throws less tantrums, he's much more workable, etc. 

Additionally, having something fun and creative to do means we're not stuck at home doing the same old things, playing with the same old toys. My kids are happier. I'm happier. If any of you are like me, and had/are having a hard time adjusting to being a stay at home mom, take my word for it! Doing units with your kids will not only help your kids it will help YOU by giving you an outlet for your creativity, and a way to learn and discover things right along with your kids. Not to mention it breaks up the day and makes long days at home seem much more bearable. 

#3. Units =  More Time for Mom 

It's the strangest thing, but the more time I give to planning fun and constructive activities for my son, the more time I seem to have for myself! That's because the hour or so that I spend each day engaged in an activity with my son - giving him undivided, phone and internet-free attention, playing and learning and using our minds and imagination together, the more likely he is to play by himself later and, like I said above, behave better - which means I can get more done.  Our units spark his creativity and give him ideas of things to play and imagine, and because he's gotten a heavy dose of attention he's not as needy.  For example, when we were doing our Under the Sea Unit, we spent part of the morning reading books about the ocean and making a fun aquarium craft together. When we were done he ran to his bedroom and dug out a shark toy he hadn't played with in almost a year and spent the next couple of hours in vivid, imaginative play! As a result, I had some precious time to myself to be productive. I realized how true it is that the more time you give to your kids, the more time they'll give to you!

#4. Units Expand Your Kids' Minds and Horizons

I've said it before, but statistics show that children lose up to 20% of their knowledge over the summer months. That's because so many children spend their break sitting on the couch playing video games or watching TV. Even if they are getting out and doing fun things, their minds are not being challenged.  Units help children to keep their brains active and engaged which in turn helps them be better prepared for the coming school year.  Perhaps more importantly though, units can help children to be more cultured, well-versed, and even creative. It helps them to notice the world around them and in turn, understand and appreciate the world around them. For example, growing up my mom's units introduced us to Japanese sushi and calligraphy, Irish folklore, English history, Chinese culture, and so much more. We did art projects, learned to cook, memorized famous poems, tried new foods, read hundreds of books, and learned big, new words.
 This summer when we were doing our Lift Up Thine Eyes unit - all about the sky - we were driving in the car to take my husband to school. It's the same route we take every single morning and (thanks to living in Arizona) our mornings are usually blue-skied with white puffy clouds. My son had never taken note of the sky before though. This time, however, as we were driving my son all of the sudden exclaimed from the back seat "Mommy!!!! Mommy!!!! Clouds!!!!"    It was like a whole new world had opened up to him.

#5. It's So Easy!   
  While doing units and activities with your kids may seem time consuming or too much hassle, surprisingly it takes no more than 30 minutes to plan and prepare a unit. I'm not kidding, folks! With the internet there is such a wealth of information, ideas, step-by-step instructions, etc. out there that all you need is about 10 minutes to google or Pinterest an idea and make a quick list of the activities you want to do. Then, all you'll need to do is add a few extra items to your weekly grocery list (like craft supplies or special food items) and maybe make a trip to the library. I even reserve the books I want online and pick them up at our library's drive-thru window. It's that simple!  And because there are so many ideas out there, you don't need to worry about being creative enough to come up with your own. You may surprise yourself once you get started, but if not, just copy ideas like the ones on my blog or the million other ones out there!

When planning your unit, try to cover a range of different activities. I usually try to plan an activity for each one of the following categories:

(A fun treat or recipe that goes along with your theme. Try to involve your kids in the process.)

(or math, letters, counting, colors, sorting, new words, or other age-appropriate learning activities. is a great free resource for this!)

Arts and Crafts 
(Get creative and get colorful. Most importantly, get hands on.)

(Books to be read to by mom and books to read by oneself if they are old enough. Find books on your child's reading level that have to do with your theme.)

Field Trip
(A visit somewhere fun that has to do with your theme)

(Learn and sing new songs, listen to music, etc.)

(If it applies, learn a little geography. For example, if you're doing a knights and princess unit learn where England is on a map. If you're doing a rainforest activity, learn where the earth's major rainforests are.)

Remember, Pinterest is a fantastic resource for almost all of the above!

And on that note. . . while Pinterest has a way of making us try to out-do everyone else and ourselves, just remember that the point of these units are to enrich the minds and lives of your children and help you spend quality time with them, NOT to look like Mom-of-the-Year. Your activities, treats, and crafts do not need to be pin-worthy, they just need to be simple and fun! I always say, "The minute it becomes work, its not working!"  So keep your ideas easy, simple, and fun and if you botch a recipe or mess up a craft, just remember how funny Pinterest fails can be :) (Like the time I tried to make white, sparkling snow play-dough but mixed up the recipe so our "snow" was an icky brown color.) If nothing else, your family and you will get a good laugh!

Last but not least, I leave you with one of my favorite quotes of all time. It pretty much sums up the whole point of units, and motherhood, and how I feel about both...

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and
excitement.  It is our own misfortune that for most of us that
clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and
awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over
the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each
child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it
would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the
boredom and disenchantment of later years...

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the
companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering
with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Rachel Carson

It is my hope that each of you can be that companion to your children... with or without units. :)


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grin N' Bear It

This last month we were able to spend a fabulous week up in Grand Teton National Park and Island Park (just outside of Yellowstone) with my brother and his family! It was so fun! We have boys just about the same age and they are such good buddies! Since we were camping a few of the nights and spending time in the beautiful outdoors, my sister-in-law Caitlin and I decided to plan some fun nature/forest animal activities for them to do while we were up there. 

So I thought I'd share some of these cute ideas that you can do to spice up your camping trip or use for a Forest or Nature-themed Unit. 

Paper Binoculars

These little guys LOVED their paper binoculars and played with them for hours! They were perfect for "spotting wildlife" on a little hike we took. Get instructions on how to make these HERE at! 

Haha, they are such goofballs!

I spy...

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Caitlin put together the cutest little scavenger hunt. She taped a key of things they were supposed to look for onto a paper bag and then the boys could put some of the things they found in the bag.  Her list included things like a pinecone, a leaf, a flower, a rock, a twig, etc. And also some things like animals tracks, a deer, a spider web and so on. 

Click  Here  or Here for some suggestions (and printable versions) of a nature scavenger hunt. 

These boys crack me up!

They were pretty excited about all the things they found. 

Painted Rocks

The boys had fun painting some rocks. You could also paint walking sticks, pinecones or something like that!

Forest Learning Activities

I used to print out some cute forest-themed activities for them to do too to practice counting, sorting, etc. 

 Bear Toast 

This makes an awesome breakfast, lunch or even snack! Just spread a piece of toast with peanut butter to make a face, then use banana slices for a snout and ears and raisins or blueberries for eyes and a nose. 

 Bear Masks

We made bear masks for the boys to wear after reading some of our favorites books about bears (see below).  

Grizzly Discovery Center

For a fun outing we visited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone to get an up close and personal look at some real life grizzly bears and wolves! 

We got to pet some real bear fur :)

Dad of the Year right here!

Bear Books

We read some fun books about bears too. 

Some other fun camping books:

So often we go places but we don't stop to really SEE and LOOK! I think the best part about doing these activities was how it got our boys thinking about and noticing their surroundings.