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Totally Together

Back to School with Staples — $60 backpack giveaway!

August 20, 2013 by · 154 Comments 

staples back to school backpack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This contest is now over. Thank you for all who entered!! The winner has been notified via email. Have a great school year!! –steph

Thank you to Staples for providing a backpack for me to review  (and for my daughter to keep), and for providing another backpack for a reader give away. Your generosity is appreciated.

It’s back-to-school frenzy season. I have a bit more time with my kids before they head back — our district isn’t beginning until after Labor Day this year. In fact we JUST got the supply list this past week and I was startled when I checked around that the local stores were already picked clean and were gearing up for Halloween!!

wowsers.

I don’t host very many reviews or giveaways on this site, and opt to keep them on the review page, but wanted to make sure that you don’t miss out on this cool offer.

I’ve got a seventh grader this year.

A VERY PICKY SEVENTH GRADER. (said with love, lots and lots and lots of love. I was picky in seventh grade, too.)

Her chosen backpack last year didn’t hold up to being jammed into a locker and kicked around after school during soccer practice. The bottom seam ripped and I ended up securing it with duct tape in April.

super classy.

The backpack that Staples sent over? It’s wonderful. It’s terribly durable (it’s made by SwissGear, the founders of the Swiss Army Knife) and meets the seventh-grader-it needs-to-look-cool-but-not-too-cool-like-I’m-trying-to-look-cool-test.

I like that there’s a padded pocket in it for future laptop use, and I like that since we don’t have a laptop for her, she can stuff an extra binder into that slot. The straps are nicely padded and don’t dig into her shoulders even when it’s weighed down.

back of backpack

There are a few “secret” compartments, which is quite helpful since she just got braces and needs to carry around dental supplies.

I think you’ll really dig this backpack — it looks like it will hold up for a very long time; I’m impressed.

inside backpack

  Staples has got pretty much anything you might possibly need for back-to-school supplies, and

would like to offer a backpack for the student in your home. One lucky winner will receive a brand new backpack of their choosing — up to a $60 value.

You can choose the one I chose, the SwissGear, or any others from this list, up to $60.

To enter this contest, simply leave a comment below with a valid email address in the email line. I’ll randomly choose a winner in a week — so this contest will end on Tuesday, August 27th at 5pm pacific time.

I’d also like to throw in a copy of my Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life book for the lucky winner since it follows the school calendar. This is it! This is the year you’re going to get organized! :-)

good luck to all!

this will be the best school year, ever. I promise!

 

Working From Home With Small Children in the House

September 24, 2012 by · 9 Comments 

I’ve been working from home, for myself, for the past 4 years.

When I first began working from home, I had a contract for Bay Area Parent magazine and BlogHerads. This meant I had set hours and a set list of tasks I needed to accomplish on a daily basis in order to get paid.

Now I work solely for myself — I run the websites and I write books. I LOVE what I do, but because I don’t really have a “boss” I find that I spend more time procrastinating and fiddling around online or pacing the house thinking about work than I actually do working.

This hasn’t been too much of a problem for me; I’ve never missed a deadline, and so far (knock wood) I feel happy with the ebb and flow of our days, even if there isn’t an actual set schedule.

Sometimes feel like a kindergartener doing an adult’s job.

And when I’m asked by readers how I go about organizing my work day, I sometimes don’t have a very clear answer.

and that’s not good.

So I’ve decided to pay attention to what I do when I’m on a deadline — because as we all know, deadlines are really the only way to get things done. Here are the tips and tricks I use when I need to ACTUALLY GET THINGS DONE.

(but on the days I don’t need to actually get things done? I procrastinate. It’s human nature, and I’ve found it’s best to just not fight it, but instead embrace it, and move on to the next day. We can’t always be on task 24/7.

This is real life, not a how-to book or magazine article.

YOU HAVE TO HAVE A SCHEDULE.

NO, REALLY. YOU DO.

1) Print out a 5am to 9pm daily schedule

2) Fill it out —- fill out every slot, if you can. Write in waking the kids up, making breakfast, lunches, getting them out the door, etc. If you have little ones at home with you, schedule in outdoor play time and wear them out so you can then (hopefully) count on nap time so you can get some work done

3) Schedule business calls during nap time.  If this isn’t possible, schedule them during times where you know the littles will be happy and can be occupied with a movie/favorite TV show. Try to let unscheduled calls go to voice mail — your clients will quickly learn that you need them scheduled.

Working when kids are always around:

4) When on calls with kids awake, have a full-on snack prepared, sippy cups filled; etc. I usually do microwave popcorn and apple slices, and a juice-box. My kids don’t get juice boxes very often, so they are a treat. I start the TV show right before getting on the call, or press “play” right as I’m dialing the phone

5) Take phone calls out of sight from the kids — in a closed bedroom, or the backyard or the garage. Usually with kids over the age of 2.5 or so, they are safe watching TV and if mom is out of sight, she’s out of mind (of course use your best judgment, etc. etc.; you know your kids best).

6) Always inform whomever you’re on the phone with that you are working from home today with small children and you’ll need to keep the call under 20 minutes (or whatever).

Sometimes a Mom’s Gotta Do What a Mom’s Gotta Do.

7) If you have to write a report or have quiet “thinking time,” I suggest working when you can be fully off-duty as a parent. If you have childcare help, or the kids are at school, use that time. If not, I suggest using the early morning or late night hours, depending on your own personal biological clock.

for me, I’m much more focused early in the morning. When I’ve got a deadline for a writing assignment, I set an alarm and get up at 4 or 4:30 am. It’s just me and the coffee pot, and I can crank out a good amount of work before Adam’s alarm goes off at 6am. When I wrote for Bay Area Parent, I regularly worked what I called “the split-shift.” I went to bed at 8pm with the kids, then set an alarm and worked from 12-4am; then went back to bed until 7am when the kids got up. It may not be a long-term solution, but it definitely works if you’re in a pinch.

and let’s face it. You’re working from home. You’re in a much better position than many, many working people, and there’s no need to complain. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Life is good.

8 ) There is no End to the work day. I don’t care how many work-from-home books there are that tout putting away the computer or the phone or the book at 6pm to fully “unplug” and be present with your family. It just doesn’t exist when you work from home and are also in charge of the family. There will always be more to do — and there’s no need to make yourself feel guilty for checking email while you walk through the living room, or stop to answer a call if it rings during Jeopardy. You are home. You are lucky. Don’t make arbitrary rules for yourself that you have no intention of keeping.

That said, don’t be obnoxious.

Don’t be the person on her iPhone during the Saturday morning soccer games or text during church. Don’t put the phone next to your dinner plate, or use it in a restaurant. If the kids are talking to you, close the laptop and pay attention. Yes, you’re “always on” but you’re not a neurosurgeon. Get over yourself.

Accept Help Graciously

9) Enlist help. One of the cool things about working from home is that I can pop in a load of laundry in between tasks, and go outside and weed during a conference call. I love that I have this flexibility, but there are times when I just can’t do anything more than put out fires online, or over the phone. I expect my kids to do their chores, and I expect that my husband help out, too. We follow the Daily 7 as a family, we have regular Family Meetings, and the kids each have a chore chart. If this isn’t an option for you, then hire help.

Don’t try to do every last thing yourself. Not only is it not healthy for you, you’re not being a good role model for your kids.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I have this opportunity to provide an income for our family while being the full-time caregiver to our children. It’s not something I planned — but I couldn’t be happier.

A Review of Kiwi Crate Art Projects for Kids

March 14, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

 


Spring Break and Summer Vacation are sneaking up on me. We’ve got Spring Break the week leading into Easter, and then have another day off to recover from the holiday. That’s 6 days of me being home with all three kids that I’ve got to figure out how to fill so I’m not subjected to days upon days of Netflixed episodes of The Wizards of Waverly Place or (#someonepleasehelpme) Caillou.
[side bar: did you know there was an I Hate Caillou page on Café Mom? Hysterical.]

Anyhow, when BlogHer asked if I’d test out the subscription-based Kiwi Crate art box, I said #yespleaseandthankyou right away.
[another side bar: I had this as a work-from-home business idea back in 2003. I was going to call them Preschool Packets and make up worksheets and art projects and sell them online, and on Ebay. I think I have a domain name or two that I'm still paying for...]

My idea was complete amateur hour compared to the Kiwi Crates. This is a very well designed and executed product. I initially thought the art boxes were kind of pricey at $19.95 each, but once I saw what they entailed, I changed my mind.

The “crate” is a thick cardboard box–the kind a really expensive pair of shoes comes in-and the kind that my kids COVET for all of their collections (more often than not the “collection” is gum wrappers, or Popsicle sticks, or soda can tabs. #Icantevenexplainhowmuchthisannoysme) and the art supplies are wrapped in tissue paper.

The presentation worked on my kids–they were instantly excited and could hardly wait to dig in.

Our box contained three art projects: a stained glass mosaic, a color-your-own spinning top, and a canvas art bag that was colored by wetting tissue paper squares with a water dropper. Totally cool. The box also contained two bluntish Fiskars kid scissors, markers, and 3-D glasses.

We invited our neighbors over, and pulled out some construction paper and stickers to keep the babies busy. I had 2 seven-year-olds, a ten-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 2-year-old all sharing the supplies from this box (along with the aforementioned stickers and paper for the little guys).

The kids worked straight for about an hour, and really enjoyed themselves. The markers were small and were a bit dried out; so I replaced them with our own Crayola washables.

All the kids occupied themselves long enough for my friend Jen and me to make and enjoy two cups of coffee. And gossip conversation.

That is so worth $19.95.

Also, we have enough leftover for a few more collage projects, and the kids are enjoying the canvas art bags (good quality; the baby put in a bunch of pointy rocks and dragged it around outside) and the Fiskars scissors will last a life time.

If I wanted to buy everything at Michael’s and put this together myself I’d spend more than the $20 and would have to prep everything–not something I’m honestly going to do.

I really like this as a gift idea. I’m going to see if I can get the grandparents on board and get an annual subscription for the kids for Christmas this year. I think the kids will get a kick out of opening a new box with a new activity/project each month and the anticipation of awaiting a new arrival. They really like mail as it is.

In the mean time, I’m going to sign up to get us through the summer months. We’re laying low again-I hate paying for lots of activities, and I really like having the kids home with me, even if they argue and bicker more than I’d like them to. (socialization! in action!)

And the projects are cool. My tweenager (#notmymostfavoriteterm) was all into the art supplies, and I can definitely see her and her friends working on these types of art activities together out in the yard.

Before they head off to middle school next year.

Which isn’t okay with me.

I wonder if Kiwi Crate has some sort of time machine project where I can have the kids on “pause” for a while?

Write On / Wipe Off Chore Charts

January 8, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

It’s 2012. I’ve spent the last four years of my life on the internet, and I love how I continue to learn new things. I developed a slight addiction to Pinterest over the holiday break (what? it was only supposed to last a week and I stretched it into a month? shhh. don’t tell anyone.) and learned that you can make ANYTHING into a white board with a cheap dollar store picture frame and a dry erase marker.

I think I’m in love.

The above frames were made in about 37 minutes. It took me a while to figure out the actual dimensions of the frame– 8 x 10 means that if you’re using a power point presentation you should size your project for 6.6 x 9.

You’re Welcome!

Another Thing to Note:  the glass at the dollar store breaks really, really easily. I broke the glass on each of these frames, and ended up going out into the shed to find old pictures to steal the glass (one might of been from Adam and his college friends. oops.). I’d maybe find cheapish frames at Kohl’s or Target that match instead.

My kids don’t seem to care that I’ve written a housekeeping journal/planner, or have developed a clever acronym for decluttering. They also don’t care that I get thank you notes every day in my email box which continues to perplex my #butIhelpotherpeoplewhydoesntmyownfamilylisten crazy brain.

it’s okay. I’ve come to terms with it.

Anyhow, I wrapped these chore charts up and handed them to my 7 and 10-year-old daughters (their names are on the charts, but I’ve covered them with tape because I’ve promised Adam I won’t exploit the kids on the internet) as New Year’s presents.

My 10 year old rolled her eyes, but my 7-year-old was uber excited and got to work checking things off her list immediately. If you’re looking for a guideline for age-appropriate chores, this list is a good one. Our picture frame chore charts have now been in action for exactly one week, and so far so good.

How was your New Year’s? Any big ideas for 2012? Did you make a vision board?

it’ll be a good year. I promise.

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