Nov 012015
Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

As I hope to explain soon, it has been an eventful last few weeks around here. As is our tradition, it was time to make the Halloween costumes. This year it was pretty much a miracle that they got done. Despite having my flu shot earlier this month, I came down with full blown flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. In moments of wakefulness, I got done what I could and in the end it all pulled together but it was looking pretty uncertain there for a while.

This year’s costumes:

The children started putting in their costume requests around July. My eldest daughter, who always likes to be something pretty, said she wanted to be a peacock. “That could be cool,” I thought. Then a few days later she said she changed her mind and wanted to be a phoenix. A phoenix! The use of this word made my homeschool heart beat proudly. She is a new Harry Potter fan and this may have been part of the inspiration.

I had just finished a massive cleanout of the kids closets and knew that the old cherry costume from our Mario brothers costumes was ready to be cut up and reused. So we did. It was starting to look a bit like a baseball mascot. My daughter informed me that we needed feathers. I came up with a streamer like feather design using scraps of orange, yellow and red fabric. The feathers really made the look and made the costume so much fun to wear as well.

The finished Phoenix!

The finished Phoenix!

We tried to set up the costumes in pairs, so for the baby, we decided he would be Harry Potter to go with the phoenix. Fortunately for me, the site MyFroggyStuff just happened to post a Harry Potter costume tutorial for a Barbie doll. I used the ideas to make the cape, scaling them up for an infant. All the other pieces we found in the closet. And the glasses are the baby glasses my daughter had to wear. (We just used them for the picture and then took them off.)

Baby Harry Potter

Baby Harry Potter

This was a nice costume pairing as this sister would truly do anything for her little brother, even being his protective phoenix.


When it came to the next pair of costumes, my daughter informed me that she wanted to be an “snow pea” from the Plants Versus Zombies video game. She has a tendency to pick humorous botanical-themed costumes. If you haven’t seen it, Plants Versus Zombies is really quite clever. The characters are very imaginative and they all have different powers. You have to choose your plant defense line carefully, kind of like a game of chess.

I knew I would need to do something special for the large head. For some reason, papier mache was my first thought. I built a frame from strips from a Little Caesar’s pizza box and then got to the mache part with magazine strips and a final coat of paper towels (a tip I saw online). I told my husband, “You know you live in suburban Washington when your papier mache frame is made of Little Caesar’s pizza boxes and The Economist magazine.

This costume was the one that didn’t look quite right until the very very end. I wasn’t sure I really liked my mask at all …. until I painted the eyes on, and that made all the difference! The snow pea was a hit everywhere we went.


Once my daughter indicated she would be a snow pea, her brother indicated he was going to be a gargantuar, one of the biggest, scariest zombies. The gargantuar looks a bit like Frankenstein. He carries a “bonker” sort of weapon and usually has a small imp riding on his back. This was a big challenge. I made him a papier mache Frankenstein hat, painting it for a red headed Frankenstein. We transformed one of our stuffed animals into the imp and made a “bonker” from one of his plastic golf club toys.

When it was all done, my son informed me that he didn’t want to wear his costume! We came to a compromise that he had to wear it for some pictures and that he could just wear parts of it for trick or treating. My son’s photo shoot was hilarious. He has internalized every motion of the gargantuar including how slowly it moves, when it bonks and then it walks forward. It was a perfect imitation!

The gargantuar!

The gargantuar!

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

It was so fitting that these two chose to be enemies of each other. Their relationship can sometimes be tense and here it was playing out in the Halloween costumes!

As for me, I ran completely out of time for my costume. I wanted to do a good job as “Phryne Fisher” of the Miss Fisher mystery stories. Sadly, I ran out of time and just got the wig done. My neighbors always find it amusing when I dress up too and they all said I was pretty unrecognizable! If I had more time, I would have done a better job accessorizing and styling but illness was limiting my energy.

My sad Miss Fisher.  May have to try this again some year.

My sad Miss Fisher. May have to try this again some year.

All of our Halloween costumes were scrounged from things we already had on hand. I didn’t buy anything. So the costumes effectively cost us nothing!

I realized that our tradition of making our own Halloween costumes has a lot to do with a deep part of my parenting philosophy for my children. Specifically, there are two key messages I am trying to get across to my children:

We want you to dream unique dreams for yourself.

Once you have a dream, your dad and I will do whatever it takes to help you make that dream come true.

Even though my girls know who Elsa is and other popular characters, those aren’t the first ideas they think of. They don’t ask for a prepackaged costume from the store. They seem to enjoy being part of the creative process of making our own. I am so proud of them for this. It makes me feel like I am doing at least one part of my job right.

Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Sep 202015


In my focus on proportion this year, I am looking to identify the areas of my life that have an outsized impact on the final result. The areas where you get the “biggest bang for the buck” so to speak for your time and effort.

When it comes to fashion, this year has shown me that shoes are one of these proportional differences. If you wear the right shoe, you can be forgiven almost any other fashion flaw.

The shoes above are one such example of the “right shoes.” I say this not to pat myself on the back for having good fashion sense but because every time I wear these shoes, someone stops me tell me how great they are!

I didn’t start wearing them on purpose. My flat summer sandals gave out under the strain of this summer’s activities and completely fell apart. I ransacked my closet for a replacement pair and only came up with the cute high heeled sandals.

“Oh yeah….I forgot about these.”

They were an impulse buy on clearance at Target a few years ago. I have worn them a few times but once you stop wearing heels all the time, it is hard to go back to wearing them while toting children and their gear. I actually looked around for something else more practical but finding nothing, put them on and ran off to the pool with my kids for swimming lessons.

The reaction was immediate.

“Why are you dressed all fancy?” a fellow mom inquired.

I explained that except for the shoes, I was dressed exactly the same as I had been all summer long.

“Well, you’re making all the rest of us look bad,” she humorously responded.

Later, shopping in Walmart with all of my children a woman called from behind,

“I just ran all the way from the parking lot,” she panted.

I paused and wondered if I had dropped something and she was going to return it.

“I just wanted to say . . . ‘You go, mama!’ Look at you, all fashionable. You should be glamorous with all those children!”

After thanking her profusely for making my day, I realized the only thing she was referring to was the shoes! (Unless you think navy shorts and an Old Navy tee would get me on the cover of Vogue.)

After checking out, a retired woman commented,

“You are awfully brave to wear those shoes with all those children!”

I could go on and on. These shoes really are magical. If they were still available, I would buy 10 pairs so I would never run out.

The great thing about shoes is that you don’t have to be any particular size and shape to wear fun shoes. Good shoes look great on all figures. The internet has opened up a world of affordable and fashionable shoes in many comfort levels.

The lesson for me is: resolve to wear good shoes!

What aspect of your appearance seems to make the biggest difference for you? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: ,
Sep 092015
Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

One of the biggest complaints I read about organizing blogs is that all they seem to do is ask you to buy more stuff. It is true that sometimes strategic purchases will give you a huge boost in your organizing efforts but organizing also takes place when you purchase nothing at all! In this post, I wanted to highlight a recent project I completed for my kids that cost me absolutely nothing.

In our home office, we dedicate a portion of the space for use by our children. Just like adults, kids today need a desk, chair and computer to do their work. Our office is mostly comprised of IKEA furniture and it has served us well for many years. But the kids section in particular has become quite hammered. Their desk has scuffs and paint stains. Their chairs also are covered in paint and the seats are torn in spots.

The well-worn office chairs.

The well-worn office chairs.

I walked into the office one day and decided I had just had it with those chairs and desk. They needed upgrades….now! I wondered if I could just staple some new material over the chair seats. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the chair covers were really just drawstring cases.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

This was even better for me. I didn’t need to learn to use a staple gun. I could just fall back to my old reliable sewing machine!

Stripping the chair.

Stripping the chair.

Dissecting the chair back.  You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Dissecting the chair back. You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

I happened to have some heavy duty canvas fabric in my stash. The only problem was that it was white! I am a bit nervous using white for these cushions but my husband advises that we can always bleach them when they get dirty.

To make the new cushions, I laid down the old cushions on the fabric. I measured how far it was from the edge of the cushion to the end of the drawstring casing and drew a line that far out on the fabric. I then added another inch for seam allowance (but wish I had added an inch and a half).

Next step...sewing.  (You must sew the drawstring in as you go.  It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Next step…sewing. (You must sew the drawstring in as you go. It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Pulling the drawstring tight and fitting it back on the chair takes a little muscle power. The heavy upholstery fabrics don’t like to be gathered. I also found it was necessary to salvage the cord IKEA had used for their drawstring as I didn’t have anything that heavy duty.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding.  I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding. I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Stretching the cover back on the chair back.  Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

Stretching the cover back on the chair back. Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

My fabric would not pull as tight as the original IKEA fabric but it pulled tight enough. If you wanted to be a perfectionist about this, you would buy fabric with a little stretch in it (but then it wouldn’t be a “use what you have” project!).

I needed my husband’s strength to pop the plastic back of the chair back on and screw back in the screw but all the rest I could do myself.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Next, it was on to the desk.

The desktop before.  Functional but battered.

The desktop before. Functional but battered.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere.  We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter's tape.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere. We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter’s tape.

Next step...painting!  Kids love to help paint.  We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement.  Two coats.

Next step…painting! Kids love to help paint. We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement. Two coats.

I learned a trick from a Home Depot employee years ago. I wanted to stain wood a color that wasn’t available in the rainbow of stain colors. “You could always paint it,” he said. I explained that paint would likely wear off my project due to heavy use. “Why don’t you paint it and then coat it with Polycrylic for protection?” Well, I tried this and it works beautifully! This is a great technique because you can use any color in the rainbow of paint colors. If you want more of a wood stain look then dilute your latex paint with water to make more of a wash.

Next step.  Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

Next step. Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

The last step....score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape.  You don't want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The last step….score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape. You don’t want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The "new" desktop.

The “new” desktop.

Before and after comparison.

Before and after comparison.

Overall, this project saved us about $100 over buying a new desk and chairs. It also put to good use some of my excess crafting materials and was environmentally friendly. The only thing that got tossed into the landfill was the old, dirty seat covers.

Putting it all together!

Putting it all together!

My children seem to appreciate the new desk and more comfortable chairs. They are also proud of the work they put into it as well.

If you want a similar boost for your office, start with a simple cleanup! File away all of your papers to get a clean desk surface. This alone makes the biggest difference. Then, take a look at your desktop, would a coat of paint and some Polycrylic revitalize the surface? Reupholstering chairs is a bit more complicated but if you know how to sew (or if your chairs can be staple-gunned) give it a try!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Sep 052015

After our hike on the dry rocks, I opened the van door and buckled my son into his car seat, I noticed some blue specks on the car mat. Detritus in the minivan is not that unusual so I didn’t think much about it.

I walked around to the other side of the car to buckle in my other son and then I saw it.


My passenger side window was gone. Tiny shards of glass made a raggedy edge around the frame and a pile of glass was on the pavement. My windshield had a huge spiderweb-like crack right above the steering wheel. It looked so angry.


In that moment, I was mostly confused.

How did this happen?

Why did this happen?

I didn’t feel afraid, just more annoyed that it was going to take a lot of work to get out of this mess.

My first call was to 911.

“Was anything taken from the car?” the brusque dispatcher inquired. As I was talking to the dispatcher, an African American woman in the parking lot came up to ask me what happened.

“Ma’am, was anything taken from the car?!?” the dispatcher became more insistent.

I said I couldn’t exactly tell because I was unable to reach in through the glass to check certain areas.

“All right, I’ll send an officer then.”

Car vandalism must be so common in Richmond that the police don’t even respond unless something has been stolen from your vehicle.

I chatted with the woman in the parking lot briefly and then called my husband working at home.

“There is an emergency! We need your help!” were my first words to him.

Once he confirmed that we were all unharmed he sprang into calm action and said he was on his way to get us but that it would be at least an hour with traffic.

The woman in the parking lot began chatting with me again. She said that she used to live just down the street and was visiting from Chicago. She was there with her two children and two of her friend’s children. She asked if someone was coming to help me and I told her my husband would be there in an hour.

“This is not what Richmond is all about.,” she sighed. “I am going to wait with you. In case you need it, here is my phone number. If I still lived here, I would take you to my house to wait.”

I thanked her for the offer, told her it wasn’t necessary and that we would be OK waiting alone.

“Nope. I’m still going to wait with you.” she insisted.

When it comes to survival advantages, some people are strong, some are clever, and some are beautiful or charming. My survival advantage seems to be that I am completely nonthreatening! I don’t seem to scare or intimidate anyone. People want to trust me . . . and it appears help me! I am not sure that I would volunteer to allow any stranger into my home, yet here was this woman offering this to me!

At this point, I got back on the phone to start the first of many phone calls with insurance and towing. My vandal left my car not only damaged but undriveable due to the smash right in the middle of the driver’s viewpoint.

Half an hour passed. She and the children were still there with me waiting.

The police arrived. An African American officer got out of the car. At first, you could tell he was surveying the scene quickly not sure what was going on. In 3 seconds, he took it all in. Glass damage . . minivan . . .white woman . . . preschooler and baby, mom and other kids. You could then see him noticeably relax as though he was saying to himself, “Got it. No immediate danger. Just be the face of safety and reassurance and take a report.”

I asked the officer if I had made a mistake by visiting a “bad” part of town. He said the area wasn’t known to be dangerous. I asked if this looked like bored kids or something more sinister.

“Well, it could be bored kids. We’ve had a couple of these types of incidents in the last few weeks. But it’s also that times are hard. Sometimes your parking change is enough to feed someone who is hungry.”

I thought the officer had quite a humane perspective on crime. He helped me inspect the car and we learned that the parking change (probably the most stealable item in the car) was still there. The glove box had been opened but it wasn’t clear that anything at all had been taken. There was a piece of plastic on the floor beneath the steering wheel that might indicate the vandal was trying to steal the car but nothing to point to for a motive for this theft.

*Later, we figured out that I had a tote bag of library books in the front seat that was taken. It was zippered closed so you couldn’t see what was inside. A toiletries bag containing a toothbrush and feminine supplies was stolen from the glove compartment. Not an impressive haul.*

He took a report, wrote down his contact information (he had taken so many calls that day that he was out of business cards) offered to call a towing service and left.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” he said.

It began to rain lightly. I again told my friend and her kids that they didn’t need to keep waiting. It could be a while.

“We’re fine,” she said. “We will keep waiting with you.”

My son began to fuss a bit. Her teenage son pulled out his basketball and began to bounce it back and forth with him. The gesture was so touching.

The minutes ticked on. My husband was getting a rental car that took forever to process. He called to arrange delayed pickup for the girls at art camp.

I was constantly on and off the phone with different car repair and insurance companies.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” the African American glass repair insurance agent said.

Time ticked slowly on. I still had to wait for a tow truck and my husband. My new friend from the parking lot got on her phone as well.

“I have to leave,” she said. “But don’t worry…..someone else is coming to wait with you. She’s an older woman and she’s bringing snacks and water. She will wait with you until your husband gets here.”

I told her this was too much, that it really wasn’t necessary.

“No,” she insisted. “We are not going to leave you here alone.”

About 15 minutes later a white woman who appeared to be a young grandmother arrived. She hugged my new friend and introduced herself as a friend of a friend. She then hugged me and was especially kind to my two boys.

“I have snacks and water in my car. You can come wait there.”

It began to rain harder. The tow truck arrived. She held my baby and entertained my son with music from a Christian radio station while the tow truck driver helped me unbuckle car seats.


She let us load the car seats into her car. She let me charge my nearly dead cell phone with her car charger. We talked about her grandchildren and how she got the call to help.

“I’m not sure what I’m asking you to do,” the woman who called her had said.

She just knew that she needed to bring food and water. She was going to meet a total stranger in a parking lot and wait.

About two and a half hours after my initial phone call, my husband arrived with the girls. We thanked the woman and loaded up into the rental car.

This whole experience was simply extraordinary to me. One person decided that crime was not OK. While she couldn’t fix what had happened, she was bound and determined to make sure that I didn’t stereotype Richmond as a crime city. She bravely trusted a stranger and did what she could to help. She called in reinforcements who did the same. To this day, I don’t know if I could do what these women did.

We have lived in Virginia for 12 years now and have always felt somewhere in between locals and transplants. This experience was almost like a big welcoming hug from the state saying, “You’re officially one of us now.”

I kept thinking of the Charleston 9 during this experience for some reason. The brave example of those families forgiving even in the face of tremendous personal loss was inspiring. I was so overwhelmed by the undeserved kindness that had been shown to me.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

What a powerful phrase. It was very comforting to hear this from people. It was as though people were saying, “You didn’t deserve this.” “It wasn’t your fault.” “We want things to get better for you from here.”

After being the recipient of so much kindness, I can’t help but feel an obligation to pay it forward. But how?

Recently, Virginia has been in the news for a horrible shooting of two young news reporters as well as the indictment of a white police officer in the tragic shooting of an unarmed teenager. Yet, there is no violence in the streets and no noticeable increase in racial tensions.

My experience has taught me to be very careful about using race to define any situation. While I cannot fix either of these situations, I feel a strong obligation to do something to make things better.

For now, I pledge to donate to these victim’s charitable causes and to express remorse. I promise to promote stories of harmony among people (like this one) whenever I encounter them to help put into perspective all the stories of hostility and discord that the news media is sure to promote. I also want to support any effort to get help to mentally ill people with violent tendencies and to improve police training for arresting and subduing suspects.

Any effort any of us can make to promote seeing the best in people could make a huge difference.

The defining moment of my summer was not about violence or crime or some sad story about insurance deductibles and monetary loss. Instead it was an inspiring story about gaining awareness of the personal power we all have to fix seemingly impossible and complex situations.

Did you have a defining moment this summer or this year? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Sep 022015
Follow me!

Follow me!

There is a wonderful art camp my children attend each summer in Richmond, Virginia. Many mothers think I am insane for traveling so far for art camp but when we arrive, we are with our tribe. My children love the art camp and the art camp counselors are always thrilled to see my kids. So, when it came time to sign up for camps this summer, we made sure to put our names on the list early. I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work out adding our new baby to the mix so we committed to only one week.

It has been an incredibly rainy summer here in Virginia. The first day of camp was no exception. It poured as we drove down I-95 in the morning.

Heavy rainstorms have been commonplace this summer.

Heavy rainstorms have been commonplace this summer.

We dropped the girls off for camp with their new backpacks.


The boys and I headed off in search of an adventure to occupy us for the day. I had a loose list of activities in mind for the week. For today, I thought we would try Belle Island. I set off driving in roughly the right direction, when I saw a green tourist sign BELLE ISLAND with an arrow. I made the appropriate turn and found myself in an unfamiliar parking lot.

There were not many cars present. Just a few hikers and one family driving a run-down pickup truck. The boys were asleep so we hung out in the car for a little bit. I read and dozed a bit until they woke up.

My preschooler was ready to run! We set off on the trail.

This was a different entrance to the James River Park system than we were used to but it looked awfully familiar for some reason. We crossed a railroad bridge and wound down a set of steps. Below us beautiful views of rocks and the river beckoned.

More signs of the recent rains.  The water level in the river was quite high.

More signs of the recent rains. The water level in the river was quite high.

The gorgeous view as we descended the steps.

The gorgeous view as we descended the steps.

At the bottom of the staircase, we decided to go for the “dry rocks” section. This is an area of large rocks separated by small rivulets of water. The deepest water was about one foot. My son thought this looked like a huge climbing playground and it was! It was a bigger challenge for mom to get across as I had the baby strapped to me in a sling.

There is no set trail for the dry rocks. You can go in any direction. We tended to look for the easiest path.

Exploring the dry rocks.

Exploring the dry rocks.

Spotting a heron in the distance, we took off an an Alice in Wonderland like experience, following the heron.

Spotting a heron in the distance, we took off an an Alice in Wonderland like experience, following the heron.


Every once in a while, it was time to stop, find a stick and poke it into a puddle.

Every once in a while, it was time to stop, find a stick and poke it into a puddle.

Over this way!

Over this way!

We found our heron again....scaring it out of some rushes where it was fishing.

We found our heron again….scaring it out of some rushes where it was fishing.

Herons are some of my favorite birds.  It was a treat to see one at such close distance.

Herons are some of my favorite birds. It was a treat to see one at such close distance.


Stopping for a selfie.

Stopping for a selfie.


We wandered back toward the bridge to the parking lot. I gave my son a choice. We could either go find some swings to play on at the nearby park or walk down the trail in the other direction. To my great surprise, he chose the trail . . . with enthusiasm!

The paved trail in the other direction.

The paved trail in the other direction.

At the end of the trail, there was an old power plant building which seemed to be in disuse.  There were several people sunbathing, fishing and a gaggle of Canada geese.

At the end of the trail, there was an old power plant building which seemed to be in disuse. There were several people sunbathing, fishing and a gaggle of Canada geese.


We turned and walked back toward the car. Generally, we were all alone on the trail so I was spooked when someone silently came up behind us and needed to pass. I screamed and then laughed in embarrassment.


Little did I know the biggest surprise was yet to come!


Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Sep 012015
Memory appropriate description!

Memory full…an appropriate description!

When I look back at summer 2015, this is the picture that describes it best. That moment at the swimming pool when I was incapable of capturing even one more shot of my adorable baby smiling, my children progressing in their swimming lessons. It has been a full, fun summer . . . . and I am in absolute shock that it is almost over!

Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were headed out to swimming lessons in the rain?


And what about those July nights hanging out watching fireworks while eating barbecue.


Has art camp really come and gone?


I can just see my children lecturing me.

Mom, that was a long time ago!

Many birthdays ago.


Several teeth ago.


Pounds and inches ago.


Adventures ago.


Daring adventures ago.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

Mothers always want to slow things down, to savor the time. Children are always eager to see what happens next.

And so it goes in our house.

It is time for change again.

The school year (and homeschool year) is ready to start again.


The first leaves are changing.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

I’m not ready yet!

I don’t think I will ever be ready to let this summer go.

More organization posts to come but first I have a story to tell you.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 192015
Our multitasking swim bag. Ready to homeschool while we are waiting for each child's lessons to finish.

Our multitasking swim bag. Ready to homeschool while we are waiting for each child’s lessons to finish.

Most of us find that summer goes by far too quickly. We get to the end of summer and wonder where our “break” went. We slide into fall grumbling about how we don’t get enough time off or we didn’t do what we wanted to.

This summer I wanted to try being a bit more deliberate with my summer planning. I wanted to keep the children motivated and learning and work on some of the skills that we don’t always have time to work on during the school year. Summer gets quite busy, however, so I began writing out a formal list of routine tasks I wanted to try to get done each day. This actually took quite a bit of time.

Recently, my children also started asking for an allowance. While there are a million allowance strategies, my husband and I felt most comfortable setting the expectation that allowance is earned. Our children earn the paltry wage of $1 a week (50 cents for the youngest) but that small amount is motivating to them and the Dollar Store offers many goodies of interest.

So, we married the two ideas: To Do lists and allowance. Each child has a list of tasks to do each day including simple things like “get dressed” and “brush teeth” as well as homeschool and chores.

We began this experiment June 1 with our three eldest children as the participants.

One child thought this was a dreadful idea and wanted to make sure there would be plenty of downtime to pursue individual projects. She wants to get through the checklist of tasks each day as quickly as possible.

Another child has eyes full of dollar signs and eagerly looks at the checklist trying to figure out how to earn the most money.

The youngest child does not understand the concept of the checklist nor of money and therefore does not worry about it.

How are things going so far?

We have a few successes. We are managing to get some school in every weekday, which is great because standardized testing is coming soon for us. We are also coping well with the change to our routine for weekday swimming lessons.

But there is still a lot of room for improvement.

We have yet to have a single day where any of us have checked off all of the To Do list items.

We are behind on paying allowance.

We are still struggling with the To Do list recordkeeping.

The first lesson the children seem to have learned about To Do lists is that it is OK to let tasks drop off the list each day. While this is true for the real world, and a good lesson, it is a problem for us because many of our tasks are “every single day” activities like brushing teeth that shouldn’t be postponed.

So far, my biggest problem is getting the children to use their time effectively. When they dawdle on their tasks (most of which I have to supervise or assist with), it means I am losing time that I could use on my tasks. However, we don’t want to be too strict about the To Do lists either and make this a miserable experience for all involved. It has become a To Do list bootcamp of sorts for all of us.

If this sounds like a whole lot of stress during a time that should be stress-free, it kind of is, but it is also giving a framework for our summer. If we can set ourselves up with a productive routine, we are going to have a head start taking on fall homeschooling and other activities.

So, our children’s organization experiments continue. For the moment, we are mostly focused on trying anew each day to see what we can get accomplished. This restart mentality is one of the most helpful in any organizing situation.

Do you hold your children to a daily list of chores or other “To Do” tasks? Do you have any lessons to share? Please comment below.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 162015


Summer is one of those natural “restart” points of the year. The weather is warmer and particularly for those of us with children, the change from school schedule to summer schedule is a chance to rethink our life goals and priorities.

As I sat down thinking about my goals for the summer, I felt overwhelmed. I began creating calendars and checklists but realized that with a major life change (the addition of another child), I needed to upgrade my time management system. In my current system, I put things in my calendar, write project-based tasks down in multiple places and keep a lot of stuff in my head.

So, I am turning to the experts for help.

Recently, I attended Stever Robbins’ excellent webinar

Stever has a great approach to time management, realizing that it is not just about logistics and planning but also your goals, personality and general approach to life. You can listen to the webinar yourself for free at the above link.

In the webinar, Stever emphasizes 3 necessary behavior changes to be an effective user of To Do lists.

1. Create a capture system and carry it with you. You have to have one and only one spot where you “capture” your to do items as they arise. For Stever, this is a hard copy moleskine notebook. It could be an Evernote tab, an Excel spreadsheet a phone app of various kinds or a sheet of paper. Whatever you use, you should have it with you at nearly all times. So, when you think “Oh yeah, I really should get around to doing X,” you write down X in your capture system.

2. Create and maintain a Master To Do List. You should have one and only one master to do list where you organize and prioritize the projects you have captured. Again, this can be paper or electronic but probably electronic is going to work best for most people since this document will be updated continuously.

3. Use your Master List. When you want to know what to do next, you need to get in the habit of referring to your list rather than checking email or addressing whatever “emergency” has just arisen.

I am just in the baby steps of this system. I am still “capturing” tasks in my head and in random places. I am trying to put them all in Evernote. Evernote is currently also serving as my “Master” list but also my Google calendar where I schedule in specific tasks. Over time, I will experiment with different To Do list formats to see what works best.

My broad goals for the summer include:

  • weight loss – losing most or all of my pregnancy weight
  • managing the renovation of the exterior of our home
  • homeschool – finishing testing and this year’s curriculum as well as planning for next year

Any one of these could be a “To Do” for an entire summer. Naturally, I am trying to do all three!

As with all organizing tasks, this one is likely to take a while to adjust to my lifestyle but I am committed to improving my time management skills.

Do you have a capture system and master to do list? What challenges do you face with to do lists? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 062015
It's watermelon season!

It’s watermelon season!

On a hot, humid summer day, there is nothing more refreshing than a slice of ice cold watermelon!

The organizational problem with watermelon, however, is that it is so large and takes up a lot of space in the fridge. If you are a watermelon fan, it’s time to make some space. Clear out a spot in your fridge and designate it your “watermelon spot.” Ideally, place it at about eye level so that every time you open the fridge for a snack, it is the first thing you see.


In addition to being delicious, watermelon is a great source of the antioxidant lycopene that can serve as an internal sunscreen in addition to its other health-giving properties!

Another way to solve your watermelon space problems--mini watermelons!

Another way to solve your watermelon space problems–mini watermelons!

My children loved these "cute" sized watermelons.

My children loved these “cute” sized watermelons.

We are aiming to eat watermelon every day during the summer as part of our healthy eating goals.

Have a watermelon tip or favorite watermelon recipe? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jun 042015
With spring came the arrival of my son!

With spring came the arrival of my son!

“When are we ever going to see that baby?” a friend recently inquired. Yes, my new baby is here! We added a wonderful, healthy son to our family.

Even with three other children, it is hard to remember how tiny newborn babies are. Our whole lives were reevaluated in “proportion” to our new little one.

Smiling in his sleep.

Smiling in his sleep.



Fitting in to our new routine.  Here, at soccer practice.

Fitting in to our new routine. Here, at soccer practice.

All went well with the delivery and our recovery has been an enjoyable time with family and friends. Easter, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day passed in a blink. It has been a challenge to settle into a new rhythm as a family of 6. When you add a new baby to the family, everyone has to grow up a bit. The big sisters become ever more responsible and the “itty bitty” who was skiing with me just months ago is now the “big brother.”

The little brother becomes the big brother.

The little brother becomes the big brother.

It has truly been an enjoyable spring. Virginia is at its best in spring. While home recovering with my baby, my garden put on the most magnificent show of blooms. Even the iris which have never bloomed, bloomed this year. During this pregnancy, I developed a severe case of “rose colored glasses syndrome” where I found myself even appreciating how wonderful DC traffic was over the Christmas season. My affliction continues–although in milder form.




Fern tendrils ready to open.

Fern tendrils ready to open.

Cherry blossoms in DC.

Cherry blossoms in DC.


The leaves return.

The leaves return.

A new entry in my blooms from a plant I put in last year.

A new entry in my blooms from a plant I put in last year.



The "miracle" irises.

The “miracle” irises.

Lanterns on the battlefield for Memorial Day.

Lanterns on the battlefield for Memorial Day.

Yet life with an infant is never all roses. Despite my bliss, it is a struggle to get going in the mornings. Usually, as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I am already behind. There is mess to clean up from the night before, sheets to wash (again!) and outfits to change. Getting dressed is more challenging as I am currently at that in-between size where maternity clothes are too big but my regular clothes are too small. My laundry and dirty dishes seem to have quadrupled. My eldest son spontaneously decided to potty train just weeks after the baby came, which is wonderful, but added to my duties came sprinting to the potty at a moment’s notice and daily carpet cleaning.

On top of everything else, the Tooth Fairy has been to visit 3 times!

On top of everything else, the Tooth Fairy has been to visit 3 times!

We are also winding up our homeschooling efforts and preparing for standardized tests. For the past 8 weeks, we have essentially been conducting a math camp, completing 291 pages of second grade math and 307 pages of fourth grade math to finish up our Singapore Math curriculum.

During a math intensive day, I got the email from goop about “Postnatal Depletion

“On average, a mom’s brain shrinks 5% in the prenatal period . . . Part of the brain shrinkage mentioned above, Dr. Serrallach explains, is reprogramming: “It supports the creation of ‘baby radar,’ where mothers become intuitively aware of their child’s needs, if they are cold or hungry, or if they cry at night.” This hyper-vigilance becomes dangerous for the mother when she, in turn, is not supported.”

–“Postnatal Depletion,” goop

The very next thing I read was:


I laughed at the irony.

I laughed again at my obstetrical follow-up appointment when I read the depression screening questionnaire. When it asked questions about whether I have difficulty sleeping, I knew that if I answered “Yes,” it would look like depression but if I answered “No” I would be certifiable (as who does sleep well with a newborn baby?).

I took solace in quotes like this one from blogger Eileen Ogintz in The New York Times:

“You have to be prepared that it’s not one Instagram moment after another. We have incredibly high expectations and . . . it’s not perfect. It’s a messy experience and aggravating.”

–Eileen Ogintz, “’Taking the Kids,’ for Nearly 20 Years,” The New York Times, April 28, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

Mother’s Day 2015

During my break from blogging, I have been enduring many life lessons on organizational challenges. I have been reading wise words from other organizational gurus and thinking about ideas for future blog posts.

I hope that spring has treated you well and am glad to be back with you on this organizational journey!

P.S. For anyone bothered by the math question, here are the solutions we came up with.

The tessellation that took us forever to solve.

The tessellation that took us forever to solve.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
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