Overstuffed: January 2014 Overstuffed

Thursday, January 30, 2014

e.e. cummings Valentine's Day Printable

You guys.

Tomorrow is the last day of January. And while it may not exactly mean an end to the winter doldrums and cold weather and tons of snow, it does mean Valentine's Day is very soon. And Valentine's Day is not only a day to celebrate those we love, it's a day to break up the dreariness of winter. (And I know not everyone agrees that winter is dreary, but to me it is.)(And the whole polar vortex thing has nearly done me in!)

Anyway, I have another printable to share with you.



In college, I sang John Duke's setting of "i carry your heart" by e.e. cummings. And I fell completely head over heels in love with this poem. It's just perfectly stated. Plus, with my strange obsession with parentheses, how could I not love it?

i carry your heart

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

~e.e. cummings

See? Perfect. Plus, Duke's setting to music makes it that much more amazing. YouTube it.

And enjoy the printable if you love it. Because, glitter!


i carry your heart with me Free Printable

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

4 Fantasy Book Series Tween Girls Will Love

So I think you all know that I love to read. However, as my children have gotten older, I have realized that my insatiable desire for books hasn't necessarily been genetically transferred to them. What is up with that?

Then I realized that I was buying them books that I would have liked to read at their age, and those weren't the books that they wanted to read. When I was a tween, I lived in a world of Nancy Drew, Anne Shirley, and the March sisters. And even though I have put both Little Women and Anne of Green Gables into their Summer Reading bins year after year, they don't usually read them. Chloe is the exception, and though they aren't her go-to books yet, I think she'll be a Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery fan a few years down the road. She loved The Secret Garden, anyway, so I have hope.

Then one day Bria picked up a Rick Riordian novel and was hooked. Chloe leans toward the fantasy genre as well, and it seems every other girl in their groups of friends are the same. Fantasy is apparently where it's at! And it's always been my least favorite genre, so I guess I'm the one that's missed out.

I have finally realized that all children love to read, but some of them haven't found the right books yet. So if your child doesn't seem to like reading, keep trying. Eventually they'll fall in love with a book and won't be able to put it down. And that will be the greatest day ever.

Looking for the next great book for your tween? Try one of these four book series!

So, without further ado, here are four awesome fantasy book series that got my tween girls to really love reading. (Also, I'm pretty sure that boys would enjoy at least the first two, and maybe even the others!)




1. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordian. Bria actually picked up The Kane Chronicles first, and enjoyed them, but when she found Percy Jackson she was completely hooked. I believe she calls herself a fangirl, actually. Chloe has also enjoyed this series very much. And though I haven't read them, I took my girls to see the movies as they have come out, and I must admit, it's a pretty cool story.



2. The Kindling by Braden Bell.  The Kindling is the first book in the Middle School Magic Series. I reviewed it on my blog back HERE, and when I finished it, I started reading it to the girls. All three of them really loved it, but Chloe especially was enthralled with this series, and has since read Book 1 three times, and Book 2 twice.  (Book 2 is Penumbras which I reviewed back HERE.) Luminescence is Book 3 which is currently available for preorder and will be released on March 11 of this year (Chloe's birthday--how appropriate!)--look for a book review from me during March.

Update (3/20/2014): Luminescence has now been released. You can find my review HERE.



3. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is another favorite of Chloe's. This was put into her summer reading bin this past summer and she really loved it. She loved it so much, that when her teacher allowed them to order any book they wanted as a Christmas present from him, she ordered its sequel: Princess Academy: Palace of Stone. Too bad there was another copy already wrapped and under the tree from me! She ended up giving the extra copy to one of her best friends, along with an enthusiastic endorsement.


4. The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale. Shannon Hale writes good fantasy, apparently. My girls really love her books. Bria was not sure about this series when I put it into her book bin a few years ago, but she loved it, and we now own all four books. (The above link goes to a boxed set of the first three books, the fourth is Forest Born.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where Can I Turn for Peace?

Sunday Photo. Yes, Sophia does always wear cheetah print, why do you ask? (Someone at church actually gave that fur cape to her and she LOVES it. She even slept in it last night.)

Yesterday was a little insane, which is why I didn't get this up right after dinner as usual. But, insane as it was (the plow left the entire city's worth of plow crud on my driveway, Joel was not in town so I had to shovel said plow crap, I had to bring an investigator to church and couldn't get up the hill, and...much more), it was also one of the most wonderful Sabbaths I have experienced in a long while.

On Friday, Joel texted me from Texas to tell me that a member of the Stake Presidency needed to speak to us together the next day. Of course, this would be slightly tricky since he wasn't actually in town, but we figured it out thanks to modern technology.

He was called into the Branch Presidency, which was reorganized yesterday.  Our Sacrament meeting was spent making the change and listening to a few impromptu testimonies from the outgoing and incoming Branch Presidents and their wives, a couple missionaries who are being transferred this week, and a newer member from China who will be moving back to China soon. Then, the Stake President got up and said he would like me to go up and sing a solo. At first, I thought he was going to have me bear my testimony as well and I really hate doing that. I have a hard time putting my feelings into spoken word, and sometimes even into the written word.  I fear this causes me to keep my testimony too close to my heart and not share it with others as often as I should--at least not at the pulpit. When he asked me to sing instead, I was completely relieved. Singing in front of people is (usually) pretty easy for me, and I would much rather do that than speak!

He requested that I sing Where Can I Turn for Peace.  I'm not really sure why as the meeting didn't have a particular theme, but he certainly couldn't have known that peace is my chosen word for the year.  He couldn't have known that I have a personal struggle with finding peace in my life. He couldn't have known how much I needed to hear the words to that hymn myself.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Year, New Look

I've been wanting to redesign my blog for a long time. So, I took the opportunity in the middle of the night since The Maestro is in Texas and couldn't tell me I had to go to bed.  I won't tell you how late I stayed up, but let's just say it was way past my typical 1:30 am bedtime.

Whoops!

But, isn't it pretty?

It's still a bit of a work in progress, since I am no expert on coding, but it'll do for now.

I did want to point out that I now have a Facebook "fan" page (seems so silly to call it that), and I have been fairly diligent about keeping it updated. I would love it if you would hop over there and "like" me. Unless you don't actually like me, of course. Because if you don't like me, I wouldn't want you to have to subject yourself to even more of me than is absolutely necessary.

You can go to the Facebook page by either clicking HERE, or clicking on the fancy Facebook icon in my header. I am really proud of that header, by the way. Feel free to tell me how awesome it is that I spent all my good sleeping hours on making it.

There are also icons to follow me on various other social media accounts.  I didn't put my Twitter there, because Twitter is just not really my thing. But if you really want to follow my non-existent tweets, you can do so by clicking HERE. My blog posts do automatically update over there, but that might be all that goes on in that area of my internet.

Thank you for indulging this small moment of self-promotion. I promise not to do it often.

So, see you all on Facebook, right?

I'm off to drive in the snow and cold to go to a chili cook-off.  And only because I want to eat the chili. I am not participating in the cook-off and am instead providing gluten-free crackers.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Free Printable Birthday Coupons

I am the Primary President in my little branch, and I was having a hard time coming up with something to do for birthdays this year. One of my best friends is also the Primary President in her ward and she gave me the idea to do these coupons.

The coupons are for a handshake and a special treat from the Branch President. After Primary, they can go knock on his door to redeem them. They will also be getting a picture of the Chicago Temple, which goes with the 2014 theme of Families Can Be Together Forever. Since our Branch President does not typically keep candy in his office, I used the Primary budget to purchase some candy bars he can hand out to the kids—I'm just doing it on a month by month basis so he's not too tempted to eat them all himself during all of those long meetings he's got!

I also made some blank ones that can be used for Primary, your own kids' birthdays, school classrooms, you name it. That's the beauty of blank!

happy birthday coupon | printable coupon for birthday | fun birthday idea | this month is such a special one it's birthday time for you!


I had my first set of birthdays this past Sunday and the two of them really seemed to like the coupons. I made sure to write a personal message to each of them on the back, as well. (Even though they were both children of the Branch President himself, they were quite excited.)


Enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seven Reasons My Life is Awesome Right Now


A couple of weeks ago, I posted about how Sophia taught me to notice how amazingly awesome my life is. (You can read that post HERE.) I have now committed to doing a periodic feature on my blog highlighting seven awesome things in my life right now in an effort to help me remember my word for the year: PEACE.

So, without further ado, here are seven awesome things in my life today:

1.  The mailman brought these. I. Cannot. Wait. May can't come soon enough!

Untitled


2. I saw a winter rainbow today. (Would you call that a snowbow?) A little spot of beauty in the bitter cold and crazy blizzards of late. Look closely...can you see it? (It wasn't easy to photograph with just my phone.)

Untitled


3.  The reason that there was a rainbow was because there was also sun. And sun is awesome, even when it's 35 degrees below zero.

Untitled


4.  I survived driving in the white out yesterday. (Don't worry, I was stopped when I took this.)(Because I couldn't figure out where the road was.)

Untitled


5.  Having a husband who is a worthy priesthood holder is awesome.  I have been dreading this semester, and so I asked for a blessing the other day. I gleaned a lot of wisdom from his words, and made a list of what I need to do to survive.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Two Secrets to Better Snow Photos

Do you ever get frustrated with your photos of the snow because the snow never looks white? I sure do. And living up here in the snow capital of the world with cool snow sculptures and lots of winter activities, I was getting really frustrated.

And then I learned two super simple secrets and I've never looked back.



There are plenty of complicated things you can do to get truly stellar snow photos, but for just taking pictures of the kids sledding in the backyard, these two tricks will make a world of difference.

Want to know what they are?

1. Set a custom white balance
and
2. Over expose.

gray snow

This photo was taken on aperture priority setting. Because the camera decides how to expose a photo based on the amount of light it sees, it will underexpose snowy scenes because it reads all that white snow as light. The result is a "perfect" exposure and grey snow. Nobody likes grey snow. Yuck.

And if you let the camera choose the white balance, it will generally be too cool and turn your snow blue. So now you are left with grey-blue snow and frustration.

So, let's see what happens when we over expose the photo by a bit, shall we? You can keep the camera set on aperture priority (which is what I prefer to do when shooting my children) and just set an exposure override--check your manual for directions. I set mine to +2/3, but sometimes I take it all the way to +1 or more, depending on the conditions. It was an unusually sunny day, so +2/3 was perfect.

automatic white balance over exposed

Okay, so now that we are letting more light in, we've fixed the grey problem, as you can see in the sunny areas. But over exposing has now made the white balance (blue balance?) problem even more obvious.

Let's fix that by setting a custom white balance. Check your camera manual for how to do this on your own dSLR, but it will involve taking a photo of the snow and then setting the custom white balance based on that photo.

How to take better pictures in the snow

This is the same area of the yard--same snow, same shadows. And white snow! While Sophia and the dog have a slightly warmer color cast, I'll take that over blue snow any day.

Two secrets to better snow photosTake better photos in the snowGet better snow photos nowSecrets to better snow photos

Now, they aren't perfect. I could have metered off of the sky, or metered off of their faces, and set a better custom white balance than I did by using a grey card. And I'm sure there are a million other tips that I don't even know about, too. But, for some just-for-fun pictures in the backyard, I'm totally happy with these results.

Two easy ways to get better snow photos

Sophia agrees. I think. Actually, she's just thrilled to be outside in the sunshine! And she's silly. (If you want to see my favorite photos from this particular day, click HERE.)

And, because I couldn't resist, here's an up-close photo I took of the snow. I love how you can see the individual snowflakes in the areas of undisturbed snow. I don't have a good macro lens, but isn't it pretty?

IMG_7476 snow glittering in the sun web


Winter Carnival is coming up in a couple weeks, so look for photos of amazing snow statues soon!

Other photography tips:
Four Creative Ways to Photograph Your Christmas Lights
Follow my Photography Tips board on Pinterest

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Beauty Experiment


When TLC Book Tours contacted me to review The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde, I was intrigued by the request that I not write a standard review of the book. I was instead asked to conduct my own beauty experiment and report on my experience.

Still, before I tell you about my personal beauty experiment, I feel you should know a little bit about the book, its author, and my feelings when I read it.

The Beauty Experiment was born when its author, Phoebe Baker Hyde, decided she was tired of trying to live up to an expectation of perfection when it came to her appearance. As a new mom, she was frustrated with keeping up with the latest trends, the women around her, and that inner voice we are all so familiar with that constantly reminded her of all the things that weren't right about herself.

After a disastrous experience at her husband's work party, she decided to just throw it all out.  Her make-up went in the garbage, she resolved to stop buying new clothes, and she even covered up her mirrors for a time. After a year, she became a new woman: one who was okay with herself and the way she looked without any of the enhancements on which we women tend to rely so heavily.

I will admit, this book made me annoyed at times. I love nothing more than to dress up and look beautiful, and I didn't want someone telling me that I shouldn't do it. I especially didn't want someone telling me that because I do wear make-up or enjoy dressing up, that I am somehow not okay with who I am. Because maybe who I am really likes wearing lipstick.

But the more I read, the more I realized that maybe who I am likes wearing lipstick and feels good wearing lipstick because I'm really not okay with how I would look without it. It's kind of a circular argument, though, and I'm not really sure I got anywhere with it in my mind. So, I figured I may as well just take the darn challenge and go without make-up for a couple weeks.

I was only asked to go without my "make-up crutch" which would probably be lipstick and/or mascara, but I mostly just didn't wear make-up for two entire weeks. And the one Sunday that fell in that time, I didn't wear mascara to church, but I couldn't bring myself to go completely au naturel. Not to church.

Now, it is not unheard of for me to run to the grocery store with no make-up on, nor is it unheard of for me to not bother with shaving my legs in the winter when nobody is going to see them anyway. (I hate shaving my legs, don't you?) But I will not be caught dead without make-up and nice clothes on at work or at church. Which is why I did this experiment during my Christmas break (hopefully that's not cheating). I still had plenty of places to go during this two weeks, though: my book club discussion, out to eat at a nice restaurant with my husband, a football game party, and a few other places.

And, wouldn't you know it? Just when I was going without make-up I had a major cold sore breakout. Worse than it's been for about 16 years, actually, even though I get them fairly regularly in the winter time. And the worst thing about my cold sores is that they are on my nose and not my mouth. I've had them since I was a little girl, and I always feel like they would somehow be more socially acceptable if they were on my lips like normal people. But no, they are on my nose, and when they are bad like they were this winter they are capable of completely overtaking my nose and I am extremely self-conscious about them. (When I first met The Maestro 16 years ago, I had a similar awful cold sore break out---another story for another day.)

I embraced the fact that having ugly sores on my face would just help make this experiment all the more effective, and off I went to face the world without any make-up. I also didn't bother with contact lenses during the experiment because, to be honest, the only reason I wear them is because I know I look better without glasses. They generally bug me after a few hours and I prefer to wear glasses from a comfort standpoint. But since my motto is always "beauty at the expense of comfort," I endure.

I don't take a lot of selfies, typically, but in the interest of comparison here is what I look like all gussied up (I took this photo this past summer just before giving a singing performance, so I'm extra made-up):
IMG_2470

And here is what I looked like for my two-week experiment:

Untitled

When I look at the second photo, I am very critical of myself. But it is mostly because of the cold sores, because aside from a few wrinkles that are becoming more and more prominent as I approach 40, I think I look okay without make-up. I just feel better when I wear it, is all.  When I look at the first picture, I think I look fat because I've lost quite a bit of weight between then and now.

What I learned in my two weeks without make-up was that I don't really worry too much about what others think of how I look, and that's the honest truth. I do worry about how I feel. And when I'm not wearing make-up, I simply do not feel my best. I feel frumpy and gross. But I don't really care if other people think I look frumpy, I just don't want to feel that way. I may be just feeling a little self-defensive about the book, but I don't think so. I have posted several photos of myself sans make-up on this blog, and it doesn't phase me one bit to do so. (More recent posts containing Lara au naturel can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

The cold sores, on the other hand, do make me self-conscious. And I do worry what people think about those, because who gets them on their nose? (If you do, please contact me so I don't feel all alone in the world--maybe we could start a club.)

Conclusion: if you don't feel good about yourself, get to the root of what is causing it and figure out how to fix it. There are plenty of ways in which I don't feel good about myself, but how I look isn't generally one of them. UNLESS we are talking about my weight. But wearing make-up or not doesn't really fix that one, so my experiment didn't really address that. The author of The Beauty Experiment didn't feel good about herself, and she fixed it by stripping away the paint and finding out who she really is. I admire her for it, and after finishing the book, that is the biggest lesson I took away from it.

We have the power to change.

You are not a tree
Click on the image to download from Flickr. For instructions on downloading from Flickr click HERE.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

When Dad Takes the Sunday Photo

Sometimes, I am really exhausted on Sundays. I don't know if it's the fact that I generally stay up later than I should on the weekends and have to get up early on Sundays for church, or the fact that I push myself too hard all week long and am spent by the weekend, or if it's just the Primary kids that exhaust me. But whatever it is, by Sunday afternoon, I'm ready to sleep for 18 hours.

And today, after the youth luncheon that was held in our home right after church, I unabashedly went to bed and slept for 3 or 4 hours. I woke up when my mom called at around 7:30 pm and talked to her for a long time and then headed to my friend's house to watch Downton Abbey.

And while I was asleep, my wonderful husband took the Sunday Photo:

UntitledUntitledUntitled

I'm not complaining. This is real life, people.  Sophia, with Bria's pajama pants on under her Sunday dress, and her favorite cheetah-printed Santa hat (this child is obsessed with cheetah print, I think I've mentioned before).  Chloe with her Under Armour running tights (which she unfortunately wore as leggings to church) and the top half of her PJs. And Bria, annoyed as heck that she is being made to take this photo. And my kitchen, which is thankfully clean enough that I don't have to feel embarrassed about posting these photos.

But guess what? Something EPIC happened yesterday!

THE SUN CAME OUT TO PLAY!

So, naturally, in the case of an amazing event such as this, I sent the girls outside and I grabbed my camera to take photos of them in the snow and the sunshine. (Bria was at a birthday party.)

A few of my favorites--please notice how they all highlight the sunshine. I am definitely a solar-powered sort of person.

IMG_7428 Chloe Snow web
I am in love with this photo of Chloe. She was mad at me for taking it because she thought she'd look silly with snow in her hair. She's gorgeous, end of story.

IMG_7415 winter sunflare web
Here comes the sun....and I say, it's all right.

IMG_7456 Sophia Snow web
Sunny Sophia. I think it's quite rare to find this child without some sort of cheetah item on her person.

IMG_7474 January house web
View of the back of our house. Did I mention we have another polar vortex headed our way? Also, it's time to shovel the roof. The joys of living in a winter wonderland.
Sunshine. Sledding. Joy.  Who could ask for more?

Happy Sunday! (Whatever's left of it...)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Free Paris Valentine's Day Printable


Right now on Facebook there are a couple of quizzes that have gone viral (at least amongst my Facebook people). It's reminding me a bit of my first Facebook days where people took quizzes on an hourly basis. The popular ones today are the Which Star Wars Character are You? quiz (I'm Queen Amidala)(The Maestro came up as Princess Leia)(I think he's really more of a Chewbacca sort of guy, though), and the Which City Should You Actually Live In? quiz.

I got Paris. And I'm totally cool with that, though I probably will never actually live there.

The January doldrums are hitting me really hard right now, so I thought I'd make a little Valentine's Day Printable to cheer myself up. What better inspiration than the city I should actually live in--the City of Love?

Enjoy!
Paris Valentine's Day Free Printable

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Five Tips to Help Your Children Practice

In our household, music takes a high priority. Not only does it make our living for us, it is what makes life worthwhile (in our humble musician opinions). Because we have deemed music to be so important, our three children each play an instrument. The instrument is negotiable, but whether or not they play one isn't.

While it would be fun to see all of the girls follow in our footsteps and go on to study music in college, there are so many more reasons than that for studying music as young people. The self-discipline and confidence gained, the friendships made, the development of talent, and the expansion of one's universe are so important that I (almost) wouldn't care if my children didn't pick up their instruments again once they leave home.

But they are home right now, and they are playing instruments, and it is my job to see that they practice.

(And most of the time, I don't like this job one bit.)

Bria, now 13, has been playing the violin since she was 3 years old. Which means I have ten years of being a "music practice mom" under my belt, though I am by no means an expert. I have learned a few really helpful tips and tricks in these years, but I don't always remember to utilize them myself, and practice sessions all too often end in frustration and tears. This post is as much a reminder to me as I hope it is helpful to you.

5 great ways you can help your child get the most out of practicing their musical instruments.

1.  Know what time of day works best for your child.

In general, people seem to have their children practice sometime in the afternoon after school. Which is fine if your child does well at that time--but not all children do.

When Bria was a lot younger, that is when she practiced and it almost always ended in a meltdown. After school is simply not a good time for her; she is exhausted and  needs to sit and rest at this time of day. She is, however, very cheerful in the mornings and always has been (how is she my child?), so I decided to move her practice to before school and what a difference it made. She willingly gets herself up every single morning at 6:00 am and practices scales and concertos before getting ready for the day and she does it happily. And even on the days where she gets up a little late, she gets much more done than she used to when she was practicing after school.

Chloe, on the other hand, would die if I made her practice before school. She is my night owl, and would actually prefer to do her piano practicing around midnight. Of course, I can't let her do that on school nights, but I actually don't mind if she chooses to do that on weekends or during the summer. On school nights, she tends to practice right before bed, and that works really well for her.

Sophia is currently practicing after school, but it really isn't the right time for her. I'm considering getting her up and ready at 6:30 or so, and then having her do her practice at 7:00 when Bria is finished. I personally am not thrilled about this idea because she is not to the point where she can practice on her own and that means I'll have to get out of bed and help her. But, she is more of a morning person like Bria and we've been having a lot of meltdowns in the afternoon when it comes to practicing. Or chores. Or anything, really. After school is clearly not a good time for Sophia.

If your child is having a lot of tantrums and tears during practice, the easiest fix might just be to find a different time to practice.

2.  Practice at the same time every day.

It took me many years to see the value in this. Since Bria started at such a young age, we were mostly unencumbered by schedules, so we practiced whenever we wanted to. I continued to approach practice in this manner as she got older and began to attend school and have more extracurricular activities, and I soon realized that if I didn't make it a priority, violin practice got pushed out of the schedule all too often.

Finally, we decided when she would practice and that became a commitment. We weren't (aren't) perfect at always doing it, but it is much more likely to happen when it is on the schedule.

The time you choose should be a time that is usually free of other commitments. Obviously Bria gets her practice in pretty much 100% of the time because we never have anything going on at 6:00 am. Chloe and Sophia have a slightly harder time because things do tend to come up during the afternoon and evening, but we do our best to reschedule our practicing if necessary.

3.  Practice with your child.

You don't have to play an instrument yourself to practice with your child. Just being there to help out and support your budding musician is vital to their growth--especially early on in the process. If you don't play an instrument, sitting in on lessons and taking notes is helpful. Even if you can't play or demonstrate for your child, you can help remind them of things the teacher said in lessons. Do some learning right along with your child--learn to read music if you don't know how, for example. Your child will love that you are learning the same things they are, and they will delight in helping you learn. Which, as we all know, only helps them to learn more quickly.

If you do play an instrument, play with your child--even if it isn't the same instrument. Sophia loves it when I play the piano accompaniments to her violin songs and it helps her to learn them more quickly. I have a friend who plays the clarinet along with her violinist daughter.

With Chloe, sometimes I will play the top hand while she focuses only on the bottom hand, or vice versa. Since I play the piano I can show her how something is supposed to go if she is having trouble with it. I can't do that with the violin, but I have learned enough about the fingerings to very slowly model something if Sophia is having trouble. Bria is way too advanced for my help with actual technique or note reading, but I can help her with things like musical terms she is unfamiliar with or musicality.

After a few years, you will not need to help as much, and your child will become much more independent with practice. Bria almost never needs our help anymore, but it took a lot of sitting on my knees and helping her put her fingers down to get her to this place.

4. Focus on "times" not "time."

One of my biggest mistakes as a parent was insisting that my children practice for a set amount of time each day. This often resulted in a lot of shoddy playing and wasting time. Chloe would play everything in the world but the things her teacher had assigned, Bria would find every reason in the world to stop playing and fiddle with things, and Sophia would spend most of the time having a fit.

Now, I tell them they have to do each piece a certain number of times. For some reason, this seems easier to them, even if it might take longer in the end. Bria and Sophia just changed their violin teacher last week, and I like how their new teacher writes on the practice log how many times per day to play each piece. She has obviously figured out this trick, too.

Now, when they are just beginning to learn a piece, you don't really want to encourage your child to play it through five times when they can't do it correctly. In those cases, focus on playing a particular measure or line a certain amount of times until they feel confident that they can play that section without mistakes, and then move on to the next section and do the same thing.

5. Make practice fun.

Even though practice is on my girls' chore lists, and their allowance is tied to those very lists, I don't want practice to seem like a chore. And I definitely DO make it seem like a chore for them most of the time. But sometimes I actually remember to make it fun (like this experience with Sophia HERE) and when I do, I am always amazed by the results.

There are a million little games you can play, and little ones will find them very motivating. We sometimes roll a die to see how many times they have to play a certain song. I used to give Bria one M&M for every repetition of a twinkle rhythm, and that was pretty darn fun and motivating for her. I have made card games that dictate what we will play, and often make up silly games on the fly as we are practicing.

This website sells many resources to help make practicing fun, and I love the book Helping Parents Practice by Edmund Sprunger for ideas on making practice fun (plus a ton of great information on the whole psychology of practicing with your child). The greatest thing about making practice a game, is that your child is having so much fun that they forget they are learning something.

Another way to make practicing more fun, is to let your child choose some music to play in addition to what is assigned by their teacher. Chloe is obsessed with the band One Direction, and so I bought her a piano arrangement of her favorite song. I made sure to get it at the proper level, but she had that thing learned so fast I couldn't believe it. Sometimes just having fun music to play is all it takes to get them to want to practice.



What are your best tips for getting your child to practice? I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Organizing the Linen Closet

Due to unforeseen circumstances, also known as snow days (which really shouldn't be so unforeseen where I live), I didn't get to complete as many quick organization projects as I wanted to before I went back to work in earnest today. I figure that since they go so quickly, I will try to do the rest of them on the weekends. We'll see, though. A Saturday where I have the luxury to do something beyond normal cleaning and carting around is a rare luxury indeed!

But, here is the last project I completed before I started work again. The linen closet.

My linen closet is located in the downstairs bathroom, which functions as both the master bath and the main bath in my 100-year-old home. I actually organized it about 8 months ago, but as organized things do, it slowly became messy again.

Here is what it looked like last week:

Linen closet BEFORE

It's not truly terrible. Unless you look really closely at the two middle shelves. Then you can see that it actually is quite messy.

Organize the linen closet

And then there's that awful contact paper from probably the 60s or so I'm guessing? I found what was obviously 40s or 50s designs under it, so yeah. Gross.

Get the linen closet organized

Keeping such an atrocity around as long as I have is pretty indefensible, I know. But still, in my defense, I scrubbed and sanitized it to death when we moved in, always intending to change it immediately. But, as things go, it fell from priority and then I got used to it and stopped noticing it was there at all.

But last week I finally changed it. I bought this pretty contact paper and got to it.

Since the closet had been organized within the year, I didn't have a ton of throwing away to do, but I still found the rogue empty lotion or shampoo bottle in there. Mostly, I just took everything out and put it into categories. I decided I needed more bins than I already had, so I swiped a couple from my basement, where they weren't doing much.

But before I started the actual organizing, I had to tear off the old paper and put on the new.

An organized linen closet

Isn't that so much better? It's like a breath of fresh air.

I also changed the jar that holds all the shampoo and lotion samples from hotels. I always think I should keep that stuff, so I've thrown it into a jar. It has finally started to come in handy since Bria began middle school and has swimming units in P.E. She will grab a few shampoo/conditioner bottles to use in the showers afterwards. It's nice to see that supply dwindling down!

Organized linen closet

Each member of the family has one of those shower caddies, which I just picked up from the dollar store. They are each a different color so we know whose is whose. Bria and Chloe shower upstairs, so their caddies are in that bathroom. Sophia still needs a lot of help with her showering, so she usually does it downstairs, so her caddy lives next to mine and Joel's. Each caddy has shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and a pouf. My razor is in mine, as well.

Linen close tAFTER

This is the finished product (I didn't take a before or after picture of the floor, but there are two baskets there: one for towels and one for extra toilet paper).

One other new thing I did this time was to get rid of the too-small basket that was holding my sheets on the top shelf. Instead, I put each sheet set into one of the matching pillowcases. Things fit a lot better, though I'm terrible at folding fitted sheets, so mine don't look nearly as pretty as other examples I've seen! But it is a really good way to store the sets, much easier to deal with than a basket, I think.

There are six bins total now, where before there were four. Plus a basket for hand towels, and one for things that are used often but still need to be corralled.

The bin categories I used are:

Make-up (I have a lot, thanks to beauty subscriptions and a general obsession with lipstick).
Dental (mouthwash, floss, extra toothbrushes, unopened toothpaste).
Lotion .
Soap & Shower Gel (I always stock up when I am near a Bath & Body Works, since I don't have one in town).
Sunscreen and Bug Spray (this is on the highest shelf right now, and will become more accessible when we are going outside more often in the summer).
Miscellaneous (because every linen closet needs a misc. bin).

Total time:
2.5 hours, but only because of the whole contact paper changeover. That alone took an hour and a half!

Cost:
$8.99 for the contact paper. I already had all of the bins, but those particular bins were only $4.97 each at WalMart.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

And Then I Took a Nap

I had absolutely terrible insomnia last night, and I was pretty cranky all through church today.


So, I snapped this photo and went immediately to bed.

And now, I'm off to watch Downton Abbey, after which I will commence freaking out about the busy week that lies ahead.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

On the Path to More Peaceful Parenting

One mom's journey to parent a strong-willed and highly sensitive child by yelling less, listening more, and parenting more peacefully. #overstuffedlife

If you know my Sophia at all, you know she is at once fiercely independent and incredibly sensitive. She is both firecracker and sweetheart.  She is a whirlwind of activity, constantly busy with projects for someone she loves. She's a truly amazing kid.

And her room is a mess. Always.

I could clean it spotless every morning, and it would look like a natural disaster had taken place in there about ten minutes after she got home from school. So, feeling a bit like Sisyphus, I gave up trying to help and left her to her own devices for several weeks in December.

December is fairly insane for The Maestro and me until finals week is over, so I just ignored the ever-growing mess as I pushed through the end of the semester. But as soon as I could turn my full attention to the state of the household, Sophia's room was first on the menu.

Because this is what it looked like:
What a mess!

It pains me to post this, but I did leave her all on her own for several weeks, and it was just too much for her little self to handle, no matter how independent she is.

I waved the white flag of surrender and agreed to help her get it clean again. We went in together, and I gave her an assignment (pick up all the clothes and put them into a clean pile and a dirty pile) while I tackled the closet floor. Within a few minutes, Sophia had forgotten her task altogether and was involved in making something out of the craft supplies that were strewn all about. I reminded her that I was only helping and that I did not intend to do all the work myself and to please get back to what she was supposed to be doing. She did so happily, but quickly got derailed again and began to read a book.

When I looked up from the detritus on the floor of her closet and saw that she was again ignoring what I had asked her to do, I lost it. I completely flipped my lid and I yelled. Loudly.

I am an opera singer, trained to project over an orchestra in a large hall, so when I say that I yelled loudly, I mean that I yelled LOUDLY.

And, as you might imagine, my fiercely independent and incredibly sensitive child began to cry.

Now, I can make all sorts of excuses for why I yelled: I don't function well in a messy home, I was under a lot of stress, I was exhausted, I hadn't been making very good food choices, I wasn't feeling heard. All of which were true, but not one of them was more important than the well-being of my daughter.

As I was yelling at her, I looked down at the mess I was working on in the closet and a piece of paper she had written on caught my eye. It said, "I HATE MOM!" I picked it up and turned it over to see a picture she had drawn of me blowing up. Not yelling blowing up but actually being blown up by a bomb. Because she hated me so much.

Now, I am no stranger to being momentarily hated by my children, and it usually doesn't bother me. But the timing here stopped me in my tracks as I realized what I was doing. But before I could even think through anything, a distraught Sophia flew at me, snatching the paper out of my hands and ripping it to shreds.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" she cried, while digging around for all the other hate notes she had written about me that were still scattered around the closet floor. Every time she found one, she tore it into a million tiny pieces and continued to repeat how sorry she was.

I finally stopped her and pulled her into a hug and apologized for my own poor behavior. She sobbed into my shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, Mom! Sometimes I just get so mad!"

Frankly, she managed her emotions far better than I did in this case. It's much healthier to go write how you feel than it is to scream at someone about it. I have much to learn from my children.

But what I can learn from my children is not actually the point of this post. The point of this post is that I need to stop it with the yelling at my children. The Maestro will read this and be horrified because I have perhaps painted myself as a woman who can't control herself at all and yells at her children all day long. And maybe I have painted myself that way because sometimes that's exactly how I feel. I know that I am usually a pretty nice mom, and that I don't actually yell at my children that much, but when I do I feel so terribly guilty that I do feel like I'm some sort of a lunatic who can't control herself at all.

Every time I yell there are triggers, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the situation at hand or the child I am yelling at. I yell because I am exhausted, or stressed, or expecting perfection that is unattainable. I yell because I have low blood sugar or PMS. I yell because I feel that nobody hears me and that the only solution is to talk louder. I yell because I am not at peace with myself.

After Sophia and I hugged it out, I promised her that I would do better and we resumed cleaning up her room--she with renewed focus, and I with renewed calm. While we were cleaning, I came upon another note and I furtively stuck it into my pocket so I can remember how my children feel when I am not being kind to them.
UntitledUntitled

Once upon a time a few years ago, I had a particularly bad yelling episode. In that moment, as I was screaming at all three of my girls about getting the playroom clean (yes, for me it's always about the clean house--I can honestly say that I rarely yell at my children about anything else), I had something like an out-of-body experience. It was like slow motion and I was suddenly hyper aware of my children's faces and my own stark raving lunacy. And suddenly I burst into tears, crumpled to the floor, and immediately apologized to my beautiful daughters for my horrible behavior.

My children are so forgiving. They accepted my apology without question and frankly forgave me. They showered me with love and told me what a wonderful mother I am, and we all had a great little therapy session together.

That day I resolved to quit the yelling, and you know what? I didn't yell for nearly a year. Our home has never been so peaceful. But, bit by bit I let my guard down and I let the stress and exhaustion take over, and I would yell every once in a while. And then I yelled more often. And then Sophia had the messiest room in the history of ever and I yelled again.

I wish I could say that was the last time I yelled. I'm doing better, though, and I haven't yelled again until today. And today I caught myself and I nipped it in the bud after three words, even though Sophia was already crying about how mean I was. I like it when our home is peaceful. I like it when my children speak to each other kindly, I like it when I feel peace in my heart. And so I will continue on this path to more peaceful parenting.

Yelling may not be your weakness as a parent, but for me it is. I think that Sophia gets that firecracker part of her nature from me. She certainly doesn't get it from her father, who rarely raises his voice unless he is calling us to dinner. It's something I will always have to work on, but it's important and I'm willing to do the work necessary to have that peace I so desire.

P.S.  It took two days, but Sophia and I did finish cleaning that crazy room of hers.
Untitled

I wish I could say it has stayed clean, but this is Sophia's room, and perhaps I need to be at peace with the fact that it will rarely never be as clean as I prefer it to be. Tonight, it is booby trapped with "lasers" (pink stretchy jewelry making twine) so nobody can get to her closet. That is what she spent time doing today after school instead of practicing her violin.

And I love her for it.

More on my struggle with peaceful parenting:
A Safe Haven
Overcoming Weakness Through Opposition
A Little at a Time