Overstuffed Overstuffed

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Laundry Hack That Will Save You Time and Sanity

I'm going to make an admission that I'm not very proud of right now. The laundry situation at our house is usually completely out of control. I actually stay on top of cleaning and drying the laundry, and my laundry room even stays pretty darn clean most of the time. So what's the problem?

Folding the laundry and putting it away.

What usually happens is that either The Maestro or I bring up the newly dried clothes in a basket, and set the basket in our back room with the intention of folding them soon. But we don't get to it, and it's hidden away there in the back room, and soon enough two or three more baskets of clean laundry join the first. After several days of this, The Maestro and I finally get sick of the girls throwing the clean laundry all over the place in search of clean underwear and lug it all up to the TV room where we fold it all while catching up on our favorite show.

It usually takes us at least two episodes to get all of the laundry folded and put away. Every time we go through this exercise I swear that I am not going to do it again—that I'm going to get each load folded and put away immediately.

And then I don't.

Finally get your laundry completely under control with this super simple laundry hack. Not only will it save you lots of time, it will save your sanity as well!

But the thing is I know a trick. It's a super simple, obvious tip as most of the best ones are. It's one of those small habits that is so easy to do but packs a huge punch. But it's also easy NOT to do, just as all small habits are. It's easy not to do because it's easy to just say, "It's not that big of a deal—I'll get to it eventually."

But we all know that eventually never actually arrives, and the baskets of clean laundry start piling up. Pretty soon you have to summit Mount McLaundry just so your kids can wear clean clothes to school and it's all just so overwhelming.

This does not have to happen, and I'm embarrassed that it continues to happen in our household.

The Simple Laundry Hack That Saves Time and Sanity

Ready for it?

Fold the laundry as you take it out of the dryer and put it away immediately.

I told you it was simple.

Here's the thing. Most of us are great at doing the first part of the laundry. We dutifully wash it and move it to the dryer. And many of us actually take it out of the dryer and put it into the basket. But that seems to be where it usually stops.

What if we just finished each load of laundry right away?

Folding it right out of the dryer will take a little more time than throwing it all into a basket, yes. I've timed it before, and in general it takes me about 8-10 minutes to fold one load, depending on the type of wash it was. Towels are super fast, socks not so much.

Putting it away should only take another 5-10 minutes, depending on how many rooms you have to visit for that load.

But that 20 minutes will save so much time in the long run. It will save you the 120 minute folding marathon. It will save you from having to rewash the laundry that your kids threw all over the place while looking for clean underwear and then walked all over. It will save you the worry that someone might walk past your Mount McLaundry while visiting your home.

Most of all, it just feels good.

We've been working on finishing things at our house lately—FINISH is our family theme for this school year. I went to an organizing class taught by Marie Ricks before school started and the most important take away for me was that word.


She taught us that most of us do not finish our tasks. We get about 85% percent finished and then we move on to something else. All of the unfinished things build up and create disorganization and frustration.

Laundry is not finished until it is folded and put away.

Dinner is not finished until the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean.

Showers are not finished until the towels are hung up and dirty clothes are put in the hamper.

You get the point.

The main thing I've learned from this family theme is that we are not very good finishers. It has taken my children two months to figure out what on earth I mean when I tell them they are not finished with their showers when they are in their pjs and brushing out their wet hair. They are still a little perplexed when I ask them to please finish making their lunches when their lunchboxes are full and in the fridge already but the counter is still filled with peanut butter jars and dirty utensils.

This principle works for laundry, but it works for everything else, too.

Do not move on to the next thing until you are finished with the task you are working on now.

And fold your laundry right out of the dryer.

It works.

Small Habit: Fold laundry straight out of the dryer, finish all tasks.
Big Difference: Save lots of time, frustration, and have a cleaner home.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

To Check or Not to Check? The Pros and Cons of Checking Your Child's Grades Online

I get online almost every day and quickly check my girls' grades. In Michigan, we use PowerSchool, and while we are here in Utah on our sabbatical, their grades are on a program called Skyward. I know there are many other similar programs out there, and it is pretty likely that your children's school is using one of them.

I didn't realize until recently that the very act of checking your child's grades on one of these programs is quite controversial! As I was reading several different articles detailing why you shouldn't check your child's grades, I was convinced that the reasons they laid out did have some merit—especially in this generation of helicopter parenting. But I also felt that they were missing the good reasons to check grades, so I wanted to make sure I presented both sides.

There are pros and cons to checking your children's grades online regularly. Learn what the cons are and how you can avoid them while helping your children to be successful in school.

The cons certainly haven't stopped me. Like I said before, I check nearly every day. Still, it's good for me to be aware of the cons because it helps me to stay balanced and not fall into the traps that sometimes happen with checking grades.

Cons of checking grades online

It contributes to helicopter and/or over-parenting

In this age of helicopter parenting, something as simple as being able to check your child's grades whenever you want can really contribute to the problem. Helicopter parenting is best defined as a parent who discourages a child's independence by hovering and being overly involved in the child's activities. Helicopter parents are famous for swooping in and removing any discomfort, difficult situation, or obstacle to the child's success. Clearly, it can be tempting for parents with helicopter tendencies to want to do something about bad grades in an inappropriate manner. Things like calling the teacher to demand a better grade or doing the child's homework for him would be classified as helicopter parenting.

Even if you don't resort to extreme things like doing homework for your child, it can definitely contribute to micromanaging their school work.

It takes the responsibility away from the student

In order to raise children who are successful in life, we must also raise them to be independent and responsible for their own work. A parent who goes online to check grades and assignments to often might unwittingly teach their child that they will always do it for them. The child then does not pay attention to what homework is due unless mom or dad tells them to.

It emphasizes performance over learning

The biggest complaint I read from students with parents who checked grades often was that the parent was more concerned with the actual grade than they were with what the child was learning and understanding. Grades should only be a way to gauge learning, and we should not over-emphasize getting straight As to our children.

Pros of checking grades online

It alerts parents to missing assignments

One of the main reasons I check my girls' grades often is so I can see whether or not they have missing assignments. Sometimes they forget to pick up an assignment when they were out sick and it helps me to remind them to grab it so they can get it in. I have one child who simply forgets to turn in her work on a regular basis. Seeing what is missing helps me to help her stay on track. It is always the responsibility of my children to turn in their missing work, and if they still don't do it, they have the consequence of a lowered grade. My role is simply to tell them that I noticed they are missing the assignment.

Occasionally, a missing assignment is noted in PowerSchool that was turned in and somehow the teacher missed it. Checking online helps to catch those mistakes—though I always make my child talk to the teacher about it themselves. It is not my responsibility and my kids know that if they want their grade fixed, they'll have to be brave enough to approach the teacher. (My kids can be really shy, so this is particularly difficult for them—other kids may have no issues with it.)

It helps parents keep their children on track

I think it is interesting that all three of my children are very different in regards to the way they approach their school work. I have one who always has her work done and needs very few reminders to do her homework. I have another one who mostly gets it done herself but is easily distracted and needs reminders to stay on track for long-term assignments or studying for upcoming tests. I have another who forgets to turn things in, dislikes school work, and puts up a pretty big fight when asked to do her homework. Obviously, I need to approach each child differently, and the information I have from PowerSchool helps me to do that more effectively.

If I see a missing assignment from the child who is usually on top of everything, I only have to ask her if she realizes the assignment is missing. She generally already knows and has a plan for fixing it, but every once in a while she honestly forgot and my reminder helps her to get it done quickly. If I see a missing assignment from the one who has all the missing assignments, I have to approach her differently. We need to really hold her hand sometimes to get her to stay on track in school, and while some would say that's over-parenting, to me it is just parenting. I do not do the work for her, I only give her multiple reminders. She is ultimately responsible for her work and sometimes the consequence for refusing to do it is a grade she is not happy about.

It helps parents see when their child is having trouble understanding a subject

Last year Bria was cruising along in geometry and doing really well. Then, all of a sudden, her high quiz and homework grades dropped quite low. After talking to her about it, I learned that she simply did not understand the latest unit. To make things worse, her regular teacher was out on maternity leave and the substitute did not have the skills to help her understand the material.

That may be a more drastic example, but being able to see grades in real time has helped me as a parent to know when I need to help my kids more. Sometimes this has meant hiring a tutor, sometimes it has meant contacting the teacher, sometimes this has meant my child talking to the teacher and asking for extra help, sometimes it has simply meant that I sit with them while doing homework and help them to understand.

My friend says that she appreciates being able to see her kids' grades online because she catches those problems in understanding before her kids are ready to admit they are struggling. She uses it as an opportunity to sit with them during homework time as moral support and to be there for them to ask questions—and sometimes that's really all they need.

It gives parents the information they need to communicate with teachers

I would rather go into a parent-teacher conference knowing exactly how my child is doing and ready to discuss a plan for them to be more successful than going in with no knowledge at all. Because I check grades and communicate with my children often, I can go in and talk to the teacher and give my perspective on how my child is doing in school, and why they may be struggling.

A few of my friends who are teachers mentioned that they appreciate when the parent is on top of the grades online for this very reason. One of them also said that the kids who keep track at home tend to perform better in school simply because they are more aware.

It gives the opportunity for parents to praise their children

Remember my child who struggles getting things turned in? Well, that same child is really motivated by praise. I am sure to praise her like crazy when I see she has done well on a test or turned in something that was previously missing. This does wonders for her performance on later tests and assignments.

I actually think that praise is a good motivator for all my kids. It makes them feel great to know that you see and appreciate the hard work they are doing.

It teaches the child personal responsibility

Yes. Even though one of the cons is that it can take away the child's responsibility, it can also do the opposite. I mentioned before that when I see problems arise, my only job is to let my kid know I see them and possibly help them work out a solution. They are 100% in charge of fixing those issues. They are accountable for doing their own work, getting help from their teachers, and turning in their assignments. The older they get, the more personal responsibility I require of them regarding their school work.

One friend of mine checks her son's grades every Monday. If he has fallen below the grade benchmark they have set as a family or has any missing assignments, he has until Friday to get those things taken care of however he needs to if he wants certain privileges for the following week. Maybe it's turning something in, retaking a test, or just talking to the teacher. My friend likes that the ball is completely in his court and he has sufficient time to think about whether or not it's worth it to him to earn the privileges by taking personal responsibility.

Another friend bases allowance off of grades, so she checks them weekly for that purpose. While I don't like paying for grades, it definitely works for some families and can be a great way to teach responsibility.

My job as a parent is to help my children be successful

While I do want my kids to be independent and totally responsible for their own success in school, it is ultimately my job to help them learn to do that. As my kids have gotten older, my stance on this has actually changed quite a bit. I have learned that teenagers are incredibly stressed and overextended, and I see no problem with helping them to be successful however I can. While that doesn't mean doing their work for them, it does mean helping them to stay on top of their work. Plus, each child is different and will need different things from you as a parent when it comes to their success in school.

Ideally, kids should check their grades on their own, see the issues themselves, and come up with a plan. Soon enough, they will be out of your home and off to college where they will have to do it. Part of checking up on your kids' work online is helping them to learn these essential skills and then learn to utilize those skills without your help.

My high school and middle school students both have the PowerSchool app on their phones (I haven't figured out Skyward enough to see how to do a phone app, but we're only here for a semester). They have learned to routinely check their grades and we continue to work on how to make plans to remediate things that aren't going so well. This will serve them well when they are in college—as will having practice speaking to their teachers and asking for help.

Clearly, for me, the pros far outweigh the cons—I just have to make sure I am not micromanaging them!

Small Habit: Check your children's grades online.
Big Difference: Help them be more successful in school and teach them personal responsibility,.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Monday, October 24, 2016

Save Christmas Stress and Start Planning Now

This post is sponsored by Minted, my very favorite place to design and print my holiday cards.

It's that time of year—not even Halloween yet and already time to start thinking about Christmas. I know! I know it feels ridiculous, but it isn't. Christmas is typically one of the most stressful times of year because there is so much that must be done, more activities and parties to attend, and, if you have kids, they are also much busier than they are the rest of the year.

But Christmas is not supposed to be stressful! It's supposed to be a time of cheer and happiness, comfort and joy—right? Of course, right! And by simply doing a handful of things right now in October, you will lessen the December insanity by quite a bit!

Make sure to read all the way to the end for a chance to win $250 to use for your holiday cards at Minted!

Don't wait to start preparing for Christmas. Lessen your December stress by doing these 3 things before Halloween.

So, even though you might not have your Halloween costumes figured out yet, spend a little time before October ends planning the following three things:

Do These 3 Things Now to Prepare Early for Christmas

1. Christmas Gifts

You don't necessarily have to start shopping now, but you should start making lists. Start listening to the things your kids and loved ones are talking about and jot down some ideas for gifts. It's certainly not too early for your kids to start writing their Christmas lists, either (mine start in July I think). Check out this Christmas list printable for helping your kids organize their lists into wants, needs, books, and clothing.

The internet is full of wonderful gift guides to help you find the perfect gift for each person in your life, too. Start looking through them (typing "gift guide" +  the type of person you are shopping for into Pinterest is a good place to start) and at least begin to save good gift ideas. I do recommend beginning to shop this early, too—just remember that the more you get done now, the less you have to do in December when you are worn out and there are crowds everywhere!

2. Christmas Food

Are you hosting Christmas dinner? Start looking through cookbooks or online recipes now and get your menu nailed down. Always give a goodie plate to your neighbors? Start planning exactly which treats you'll be giving this year, whether it's the same as it is every year or something new you're excited to try.

Once you have all of the food planned out, start buying the ingredients little by little during your weekly shopping trips. This way it doesn't kill your Christmas budget and you'll have it all on hand when you are ready to start baking.

3. Christmas Cards

I may have put this as #3 on the list, but I actually feel it's the most important thing to prepare now. If you send Christmas cards out, you need to have your photo taken ASAP, you need to have your addresses ready to go, and you need to design the card—all well before Thanksgiving, preferably.

For more detailed information on getting cards out with no stress, check out my Stress-free Guide to Sending Christmas Cards.

I use Minted for my Christmas cards every year, and that's because they are set up to help me do everything without stress. I mean, they are also amazing cards—they use high quality papers and their designs are always absolutely gorgeous—but their practicality trumps all.

Hands down, the best part of using Minted for your holiday cards is that they offer FREE envelope addressing. Yes, you read that right. Free envelope addressing. All you have to do is upload your address file to their website and choose the design for your envelopes. You can have them match the design of the card you chose, or you can do something entirely different.

You can also have them add your return address for an extra fee. Or you can buy their beautifully designed return address labels.

When it comes to actually designing your card, you can use their "find it fast" option which puts your chosen photo into all the designs. This always helps me to make the best choice because there are no surprises about how your photo fits with the colors and the greeting placements. (See this option in action here: Stress-free Guide to Sending Christmas Cards.)

If you aren't ready to purchase your cards and want to take advantage of a current promotion, you can buy now and personalize with photo and text later! Just be sure you know how many cards you will be sending and know that you do have to choose a design at the time of purchase.

For instance, right now Minted is running a promotion: Until 11/1 use the code JOY2016 at checkout to get 10% off of a $100 order or 15% off $150.

See how convenient everything is? I honestly could kiss them for the addressed envelopes. It has saved me hours and hours of time and a lot of stress.

This year, I don't have my photo taken yet, but I do know that it will be horizontal this year since the last two years have been portrait oriented. I chose my favorite designs from Minted's new holiday collection this year and will be trying to get photos that work with these particular designs—and then I'll choose the best one.

All before Halloween, hopefully!

Don't forget to scroll to the end of the post for your chance to win $250 at Minted!

For your convenience, I've placed affiliate links directly to the card under each design.

See what I mean about the beautiful designs? Which one do you think I should pick? Because right now, I pick all of them, and it was difficult to narrow it down to just these few!

Go check out their cards and get started on your stress-free Christmas now!

One Simple Way to Get More Done

My friend Jane shows up to every book club and girls' movie night with a to-do bag. The bag usually carries either a knitting project or a bunch of laminated teaching aids to be cut out of the laminating sheets. Both are things she can easily do while watching a movie or chatting with friends—and when she has her laminating out, she often passes out extra scissors and employs the rest of us. The ones who are not organized enough to have our own to-do bags!

Jane is a great example of thinking ahead and using her time more wisely. Having a bag full of things you can do while waiting at a doctor's office, watching TV, chatting with friends at book club, or attending your kids' school events is an excellent way to be productive and get things done during time that would otherwise be wasted. Not to say that going to book club or watching your daughter's recital is time wasted—but you can use that time even more effectively by having such a bag.

Want to use your downtime more effectively and get more done during the day? Try this to-do bag idea. It just takes a little organization and planning, but once it's ready to go you'll get more done regularly!

So far, I've only ever managed to throw a thing or two into my purse as an afterthought, but I want to be more like Jane. I have a list of things that would be great candidates for a to-do bag, and plan to get one put together ASAP.

What to put in a to-do bag

A book to read
Paperwork that needs filling out
Thank you cards
Your planner
Knitting/crochet projects
Make a to-do list
Craft projects that are portable
A pile of papers that need to be sorted
Meal planning
A magazine (tear out pages you want to keep and recycle the rest)
Coupons to be clipped
Clothes that need small mending, such as buttons being sewn back on
A stack of mail to sort and deal with
Bills to be paid
Receipts to be sorted and organized
A sketchbook
Gratitude journal
Jewelry making project (or, in my case, jewelry to be untangled)
Gifts to wrap

And, because it's most commonly in Jane's bag:

Laminating to be cut out

The biggest key is to turn your phone to silent so you aren't distracted by notifications. I know from personal experience that it's much easier to just play on your phone mindlessly while waiting in the doctor's office than it is to do something worthwhile.

But I am sure happier when I choose the more worthwhile project.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How to Make Scripture Study a Priority

The Maestro reads his scriptures over breakfast every morning. I always smile as I notice his scriptures lying open on the dining room table after he leaves for work. He is a great example to me of what it means to make scripture study a priority and an established habit.

I, on the other hand, study my scriptures randomly—I have no established habit. As a result, I do not study my scriptures every day and I do not reap the same benefits that my husband does.

Like any habit, scripture study must be made a priority if you want it to take hold. I recognize I have put many other things ahead of scripture study and that is one of the big reasons that it has not been an established habit since having children (guess what I often put ahead of scriptures?). Another reason is that I have refused to do my scripture study in the morning, but by the evening I am too tired to really get much out of it.

If you've ever felt you're too busy to read your scriptures, these ideas will help. Putting scripture study first is a powerful habit, but you have to figure out how to make scripture study a priority!

I know for a fact that studying the scriptures daily makes powerful changes in my life. I have experienced this many times when I did have a better habit in place. I want to have that same power in my life now, so scripture reading must become a priority.

How to Make Personal Scripture Study a Priority

1. Do it early

This is a perfect example of the Eat That Frog principle—scripture reading is difficult enough to do that it must be done early in the day. Now that I am working on getting up earlier in the morning and planning my day, I will add scripture study to that quiet time. It does not have to be done for hours and hours—just a few minutes a day is enough to make a big difference in your life.

On my mission, I did it in the morning. It is actually possible, and I need to remember that!

2. Do it in front of your children

When my girls were younger, I fell out of the habit of scripture study because they were always underfoot and I felt like I needed quiet time to get the most out of my study. Well, guess what? Quiet time never came! And when it did, I used it to sleep.

What if I had chosen instead to read my scriptures while the kids were playing near me? Not only would I have gotten it done, it would have been a powerful example to my children. Even though they are teenagers now, they are still underfoot often enough—it's never too late to start!

3. Keep a scripture journal

This is my favorite way to study the scriptures, and it motivates me to do it. I just keep a small notebook where I write down my thoughts, impressions, and questions as I study. It helps keep my mind in the scriptures instead of letting it wander while I read. When I'm not keeping a journal and adding that extra aspect into my study, I can easily read an entire page without paying attention to what I just read.

4. Don't read electronically 

I know that reading the scriptures on your phone is better than not reading them at all, but I also know that it is much easier to get distracted while reading on your phone. Try to do at least some study out of your actual book so that notifications and the sheer temptation of Facebook don't sidetrack you.

5. Listen to your scriptures

Just like finding time to read any book, sometimes audible books are the way to go. Put your scriptures on while driving or doing chores and at least you will have listened to the word of God that day—even if you weren't able to pull out your journal or highlight passages.

I know that making scripture study a priority will bring some wonderful insights into your life. I have often found answers to prayer while studying the scriptures, and if I hadn't taken the time to study that day, I would never have received those answers and insights. I also know it's hard as a busy mom to find the time. I'm living proof. But tomorrow morning I will at least read a few verses by myself and not rely only on our family scripture reading to get me through the day.

Small Habit: Study the scriptures daily.
Big Difference: Insights and inspiration, be closer to the spirit, answers to prayer.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why You Should Do Hard Things

This morning we went on a hike. This is a hike that is fairly difficult, but one I have done many times before. I used to go nearly every weekend while I was in college, and I have gone with my kids a couple times in the last few years. Today, though? I literally thought I was going to die on that hike.

Once upon a time, I was able to do two or three switchbacks before having to stop and rest. Today? I couldn't even do a full switchback without stopping. The last time I did this hike was three years ago, and the difference was really obvious to me. In that three years, I have been diagnosed with Lyme disease, gone through many treatments and continue to go through those treatments, and have gained more pounds than I care to think about because of those treatments and/or the Lyme itself.

The result of those unwelcome changes in my body? A hike with my family that felt more like a near death experience. I wanted to quit at least 45 times during the 1.1 mile hike up the mountain (the 1.1 mile hike back down wasn't nearly as bad).

But I didn't quit, even though I really, really wanted to.

I stopped to catch my breath a LOT, but I kept moving onward and upward after every rest, and I eventually made it to the top. My face was red, my feet hurt, and my legs felt like jelly—but I was thrilled. I had overcome my physical limitations. I made it to the top, and it felt good (in a slightly awful way).

It got me thinking about habits, and this Small Habits, Big Difference Series that I've been working on this month. Sometimes developing good habits is really hard. I'm not kidding around when I say that habits such as exercising daily, getting up early, or keeping on top of my budget often feel the same as facing an insurmountable mountain. But just the same as hiking the mountain, small steps forward will eventually get you to the top. And even though the process is really, really hard—once you're at the top you will feel great because you overcame.

Then I got to thinking how doing hard things should actually be one of those small daily habits. We should choose to do something—anything—that is hard for us every single day. It doesn't have to be climbing an entire mountain, though. It can be as simple as making a difficult phone call, doing that thing that never seems to get crossed off of your to-do list, or making your bed.

We should be doing hard things regularly—every day if possible. Doing hard things is important for personal growth and happiness.

I always feel so darn good after doing something difficult! That's one good reason to do hard things on a daily basis—but there are even more reasons to force yourself to face mountains.

You Can Do Hard Things—And Why You Should!

1. You will become stronger

Just like hiking a mountain every day would result in more physical strength, doing something difficult each day will help you become a stronger person. Mentally, spiritually, physically—all parts of you will be strengthened as you choose to do hard things. I love the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not because the nature of the thing has changed, but that our ability to do so is increased."

I want to be strong, but it takes work!

2. You will be more productive

One of the books I've been reading this year—Eat That Frog!—talks about the idea that you should always do the most difficult and unpleasant task of the day first. I'm the type of person who saves those hard things until last. And because I save them until last, they very rarely actually get done.

A person who is willing to do the hard things first will automatically be more productive than the one who waits until the last minute. Not only does he get it out of the way first, he has more time to do the easier tasks and can end his day on something pleasant instead of something unpleasant.

3. You will be happier

As I said before, you feel really good when you accomplish something difficult. Sometimes it's a sense of relief, but it is often a lasting sense of joy and satisfaction that you really cannot come by easily. That's why doing hard things is so essential!

So today, look at the things you know you should do and choose one hard thing and commit to doing it. Do it first—now—and don't procrastinate it until later. As Thomas S. Monson recently said, "May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong."

Small Habit: Do hard things every day.
Big Difference: Be stronger, happier, and more productive.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Connect With Your Family at Dinnertime

The older and busier my kids get, the more difficult sitting down to family dinner has become. I have read all the research about the importance of having dinner together as a family, and I want to make sure that my children are reaping all of those wonderful benefits, but man, when one kid needs to be at piano lessons, another one has dance right afterward, and the third has a late rehearsal, eating dinner together can feel nearly impossible.

(Want to read all the research about the importance of family dinner? Check out this article, which has tons of links to the actual studies here: The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Kids? Eat Dinner With Them.)

We are now at the point where there are a couple days a week where family dinner just doesn't happen. The important thing is that we are doing our best to make it happen. Even if one child is missing, we still have our family dinner with the other two—we rarely have a night where we simply can't have dinner together at all, though it has been known to happen.

One of the main reasons why having family dinner is essential is because it is often the only time the family is together during the day and can really connect with each other. That connection is the very thing that contributes to all of the benefits kids get from family dinner: better grades, fewer behavioral problems, less stress, and a better relationship with parents.

Research has shown that sitting down to family dinner at least 5 times a week has amazing benefits. Make sure you're using dinner time to really connect with your family and reap the benefits of eating family dinner together.

The thing is, that connection doesn't just happen because you are all eating at the same table. It happens because parents make a concerted effort to connect with their children during family mealtimes. I have found that three things contribute the most to that connection at our house.

How to Connect With Your Kids During Family Dinner

Have a set time

If there is no expectation of eating together, it is much less likely to happen. I admit that this is something that we sometimes struggle with, but when we do set a dinner time that is non-negotiable, we are much more likely to actually sit down to eat at that time. Of course, having dinner at a set time does require some planning so that there is a meal ready to go at that time! Make sure your morning planning sessions—or even your evening preparations—include dinner plans.

No electronics

I cannot stress enough how important this is. If electronics of any type are allowed at the dinner table, connection simply will not happen. This includes phones, iPods, Kindles, and even the television. Dinner should be a time where the family can communicate with one another and if someone is glued to a screen it just doesn't work.

If you need a little extra help banning technology from your dinner table, try the Circle with Disney. It has worked wonders in our household!

Related: Circle with Disney: How It Works, How We Use It, and Why It's Worth It


Our family tradition is to go around the table each night and tell our highlight of the day. It is by no means the only communication that happens at the dinner table, but it serves to spark conversation. My kids really love it—especially my youngest daughter.

You don't have to do highlights if that doesn't work for your family. Instead you could try one of these conversation starters (best for young children) or do a different tradition such as sharing your biggest failure of the day, telling something kind you did for another person, or explaining something new you learned that day. The possibilities are endless!

I love having family dinner each night. It really is often the only time I have to be with my entire family and see them connect with each other, and that makes me happy as a mother.

Small Habit: Eat together as a family every day.
Big Difference: Family connections, better grades for kids, fewer behavioral problems, and less stress.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Thursday, October 20, 2016

4 Ways Busy Moms Can Find More Time to Read

I love to read so much, but as a busy mom I often can't fit it in. I feel like my days are spent doing chores, running kids around town, helping them with homework, and taking care of church and civic responsibilities. Where am I supposed to find time to read? We are told that reading is important to keep our minds healthy and to develop empathy, etc.

I've done the obvious things: joined book groups, have books ready to read, even let all the chores go so that I could just sit in bed and read all day. But I can't count the times I haven't read the book of the month for book club, simply because I couldn't make time to read and didn't feel it was okay to slack off on housework.

Busy moms have a difficult time getting reading in—try these 4 easy ways to find more time to read.

But I'm back to reading at least one book a month, because I've found time in my day that works for reading.

How Busy Moms Can Find More Time to Read

1. Listen to books

Listening to books while driving your kids around in the afternoons or doing chores is the best way to find extra time to read. I was very stubborn about doing audio books for a long time. To me that wasn't reading. But a few years ago, I went to the library and checked out the audio CDs for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I listened to it while doing the dishes or folding laundry. I realized that listening to books is a perfectly wonderful way to read, and I've been doing it more and more ever since.

I often just check out CDs from the library, but Audible is a great way to get digital files so you can listen on your phone or iPod.

2. Read while waiting

I love having my Kindle in my purse because I find that I am waiting a lot during the day. Whether at a doctor's office or in the car while waiting to pick up my children, I spend at least an hour each day just waiting. I could use that time to play on my phone, or I could use it to read.

If you don't have a Kindle, you can also just put the free Kindle app onto your phone and read that way. It's not my favorite, but I have the app on my phone just in case I need it!

3. Turn off notifications

This is a big one for me. When I don't have notifications turned on in my phone, I am less likely to waste time on Facebook or other apps. I can't believe how much time I sometimes waste just reading stupid stuff on my phone, when I could have been enriching my mind reading. Turn off notifications and don't let them distract you from what's important—reading or otherwise!

4. Read before bed

Again, I could choose to play on my phone, or I could choose to read before I go to sleep. I try to keep a nice pile of books on the nightstand so that I encourage myself to get some reading done. Even if I only read for 15 minutes before going to sleep, I can usually read one book a month that way.

But if you add in all of the above, you can easily read one book a week. And for me, that is so worth it!

Small Habit: Read daily.
Big Difference: Expand your mind, increase empathy, stave off Alzheimer's.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference