Overstuffed: January 2015 Overstuffed

Thursday, January 29, 2015

4 Easy Ways to Get Back on Track Financially

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Payoff, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #payoffmindset #whatsyourpayoff http://my-disclosur.es/OBsstV

Do you have more debt than you know what to do with? Check out these four simple strategies for paying it all off and finally getting back on track.


Last year at this time, we were totally on track to pay off a bunch of debt and were getting so much closer to being debt-free.

And then, life happened. I was the lead in an opera, and The Maestro just so happened to be the music director. This meant that we were both stretched much farther than usual when rehearsals started in February. It's truly a miracle that our children managed to stay alive since both of us were gone so much at rehearsals. It's nice to have a responsible teenager around to help with things like cooking and getting the girls showered and ready to bed, but she's not quite ready for taking on things like the budget.

Basically, I was stretched so thin from February through April that I completely ignored my budgeting software. We ate out a lot more out of necessity. While we managed to pay our bills on time, things were a little tighter than we had been used to, simply because we were no longer budgeting and paying careful attention to how we spent our money.

And as soon as the opera was over, The Maestro and I went on an amazing vacation and spent a lot of money. We had technically budgeted and saved for this vacation, but our temporary hiatus on budgeting had really screwed us up and we ended up adding more to our debt load.

To make matters worse, I just haven't had the wherewithal to get back on track. Which means we've wasted an entire year of good money management and our debt has NOT been paid down nearly as much as it could have been.

It's easy to feel like you are drowning in debt. It certainly doesn't take much. But I'm finished with it. I'm ready to get back on track with finances, no matter how hard it's going to be to look at.

1. Rework the Budget


This is the first thing on everyone's list, I know. But there is a good reason for it! Budgeting doesn't have to be difficult, but you do have to keep up on it. And if you want to get out of debt, a large part of your budget has to be paying off those credit cards. If you have fallen off of the budgeting wagon--or if you've never had a budget at all!--take an hour or two and get it set up.

I have often rebelled against a budget because I don't like feeling restricted. However, that attitude has gotten me into a lot of trouble moneywise! I now look at a budget as being something that gives me MORE freedom--not less. Spending outside of our means turns us into prisoners of debt, and I do not want that at all.

I'd much rather budget! And I'm hoping to budget myself into complete freedom from debt as soon as possible!

(Want to know a little more about our budget? Click here: Our Budget Categories.)

2. Try a Spending Freeze


I know, I know. You're saying, "I thought these were supposed to be EASY tips!" But believe it or not, a spending freeze is easier than it sounds. The Maestro and I have only done them a few times, but they have been incredibly helpful in getting us back on track when we need it.

What's a spending freeze? It means not buying anything beyond the necessities (groceries are okay, eating out is not) for a set amount of time. We usually choose a 30 day period to do it, but even a week on a spending freeze will make a difference. Even though groceries are okay, we also try to clean out our pantry during this time so we can cut that bill as much as possible, too.

3. Touch Base for Five Minutes Every Day


This tip really is easy! Devote just 5 minutes each day to tracking your spending, organizing receipts, and communicating with your spouse (if this is a joint effort) about your financial goals. The entire reason we fell off of the wagon was because we let a busy life get in the way. We totally neglected this easiest of steps.

Don't let this happen to you! Stay on top of things! It only takes a few minutes every day, and maybe a little longer once a month to adjust and work on the next month's budget.

4. Try Payoff.com


I hadn't heard of this website before, but after checking it out, I'm totally hooked! Payoff is a company that is committed to helping people pay off their debt.

They do offer consolidation loans--and I went through the application process thinking that would be a huge help not to have to pay on four different cards all the time. The application process is incredibly simple, and requires a soft credit check but does not affect your credit at all.


We were not approved due to a debt-to-income ratio that is too high. This is because of The Maestro's student loans (you don't get to have Dr. in front of your name for nothing--even if you're going to be a poor college professor!), and I knew that despite both of our excellent credit scores, we would probably be denied.

But that is okay, because Payoff.com has a ton of helpful tools that I will be using often as we work harder than ever to get the debt paid off. Let me show you some of my favorite things I found while poking around the website for a while.


You get handpicked topics based on what Payoff sees in your credit report. Each link takes you to an article with so many great strategies for getting your finances in order.

They also have a "Getting to Know Yourself" section that contains quizzes and things you can take to help you understand your past actions and change your financial future.

I took a quiz to help me understand my financial personality and apparently I am "The Vault." (It sounds like a superhero name, don't you think?)

All of these things are indeed pretty true of me. I'm not a big impulsive buyer, though I do succumb sometimes. I am all about the good deal, and did you see what it says about keeping a budget. Yes, I loathe budgeting, but I have learned that it's necessary, no matter how on top of the bank account I am.

Another section I really liked was one that helps you understand what a credit card purchase really means.

You can play with the sliders to see just how much a purchase might affect your bottom line. Honestly, I have no interest in taking a year and a half to pay off an anniversary dinner. But I don't know that I would have thought of it that way without looking at these charts. Yikes!

These are just a few of the helpful tools Payoff offers. They really are dedicated to helping people like me to get rid of debt, and I appreciate that. (Check them out on Facebook, too, for more helpful tips.)

I'm looking forward to starting fresh this year and being more committed than ever to our budget. If we stick to these steps, I know we will be in a much better place this time next year. And so can you.

Go team!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Just Another Sunday


Today's Sunday photo is courtesy Bria. Sophia is pretty sick this weekend--she's been running about a 102 fever--so she and I didn't go to church today. I still haven't recharged my camera battery from last week, so Bria took a selfie when the older girls came back home from church that features Sophia sleeping in the background.

Apparently, she took several photos, but when I got my phone back this was the only one on it. I asked her why and she said, "Because I look really good in that one." Yes. Yes she does. She is also a teenager.

This week has not been very eventful.

Even though Hawaii was incredibly helpful for my well-being, I am feeling myself losing my personality. Because I lose my personality every January.

I spent the majority of my time teaching voice lessons, grading assignments, and chauffering children around town.

The most exciting part of my week was going to my pre-op appointment for my shoulder. And it wasn't exciting in a good way, it was exciting in a scary way. I've known the surgery is coming up, and I know I desperately need it if I would like to do normal things like get dressed and hug people and get things out of my cupboards without crying in pain. But after seeing the sling I will wear (the things is a beast!) and hearing the doctor give me the rundown on my recovery, I'm terrified.

I'm scared because I don't know how I'm actually going to live my life without a lot of help. And, at least for the first few weeks, I won't be able to do ANYTHING without a lot of help.

I'm trying to get a few projects done this coming week, because I may never get to them before summer if I don't.

But today I'm cuddling with my sickie.


Poor baby. At least Puccini is taking good care of her, too. (And Netflix.)

And because I haven't done many snow pictures this year--here is my obligatory feel-sorry-for-me-because-I-am-buried-under-snow photo of the month. It's Sophia walking down the hill after getting off the bus.


This is a mild winter. So other than the loss of personality, it's all good. You don't have to feel too sorry for me.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Changing My Life Now.

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias and its Advertiser. All thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone and should not be construed as medical advice. #24HourEsterC #CollectiveBias


How will you change your life this New Year? Free Printable Download


I love the new year. It is such a wonderful time to reflect on the last year and recognize your blessings, your improvements, and yes, even your shortcomings. I love that every January, the whole world is thinking about self-improvement.

Each year, I (like many of you) choose one word to help guide my own self-improvement throughout the year. Last year, I chose the word PEACE. I chose it because I tend to have a lot of anxiety over things that really don’t matter all that much in the long run. It was a really good word for me this past year. While I can’t say that I was always peaceful and calm, the word was a great touchstone for me and helped to bring me back to center when I did get anxious and overwhelmed.

This year, I wanted to choose a word that would help me to continue to rid myself of unnecessary anxiety and worry. I will continue to remember to be at peace, but I also need to address the actual cause of my anxieties.

The word I have chosen for 2015 is NOW. I get anxious because I cannot control the future. I get anxious because I procrastinate things too often. I get anxious because I am worrying about all 500 things on my to-do list for the day instead of just concentrating on what I can do right now. I get anxious because sometimes I simply can’t do everything I am supposed to do because of health issues.

While I have been able to be more peaceful about all of the undone things this last year, I hope to now focus on what I can do right now to alleviate any of my worries.

I made a printable to remind me of how my 2015 word will apply in various areas in my life.



If you would like to download one for yourself, you may do so here: New Year, New Me Printable

Mostly, I want to focus on not procrastinating the important things in each area of my life. “Do it now” is going to be mantra this year.

I spend too much time worrying about how much time something is going to take me, or how much money it is going to cost, or whatever. Instead, I need to just get going and do it now!

“Begin, the rest is easy.” There is so much truth to that quote, and I need to remember it.

So if I want to eat better, I am not going to stew over how much time it takes to make a salad (oh how I hate chopping vegetables!) compared to how much time it takes to throw something in a microwave.

If my youngest daughter can make a salad, so can I! And I can do it now.




If I want to exercise, instead of wasting time thinking about it, I need to just get outside and walk right now. I’m always so happy when I do.



When I have (what feels like) two million items on my to-do list, I will not let that overwhelm me. Instead, I will go through the list and systematically do the things I can do right now and have peace about the rest.

I will take better care of myself by supporting my immune system—so I can actually do all the things on that long to-do list! Ester-C 24-Hour Immune Support can help me do that in 2015.



I found it amongst all of the other vitamins and supplements in Wal-Mart, and I’m excited to see how using it regularly will help to support my immune system.



To find out more about the benefits of immune support with Ester-C, you can check out their website, find them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

Since a good portion of my procrastination is directly related to how I feel physically, I am looking forward to taking better care of myself this year with this wonderful product.

The NOW principle will apply very well across all areas of my life, and help me nip the anxiety in the bud.

How are you going to be a better YOU this year?

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison: A Book Review

A book review of The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison.
Linda Wallheim is the wife of an LDS (Mormon) Bishop who finds herself in the midst of a seeming mystery. Her neighbor has gone missing, and Linda is sure that she has been murdered by her husband. She begins to dig into the circumstances further, and is brought into more than one mystery concerning members in her LDS congregation.
I truly enjoyed this book, and read it in one great big reading marathon one Sunday afternoon and into the night. Linda Wallheim is refreshing as far as LDS characters go. She does not have all the answers, and in fact struggles a little bit with her faith. But she is still trying to do the right things amidst her struggles. While I couldn't relate to her particular faith struggles, I did relate to the fact that we all struggle with our faith--whether or not we are willing to admit that. (I just wrote a post detailing some of my own thoughts on that issue here: What I Do Know.)
I also liked how the book shows just how much we DON'T know about those around us. Whether they are our neighbors, the people with whom we attend church, or our family members. Everyone has secrets, and while most of our secrets do not involve a dead spouse buried in the backyard (hopefully!), they are things that we prefer are not public. Our secrets also affect our behavior, our faith, and our relationships with others.
While the mysteries may seem over the top for Draper, Utah, they were intriguing and moved the story along well. Still, because the first mystery is clearly based on the Josh and Susan Powell case (though with a vastly different outcome), these things are not unheard of for the area.
I did have a few issues with the way the LDS church doctrine was represented. Some of them surprised me, as the author is LDS, but I also recognized them as a way to introduce larger, more important doctrines to the story. Still, I feel that since this is a book marketed to a national audience that those things should have been checked out and corrected. (I did read from an ARC, so it is possible they are fixed in the final copy.)
The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison would be an excellent book club read--it is sure to bring lots of lively discussion, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Back to Real Life

When I went to get my camera for today's Sunday Photo, the battery died. So iPhone again. The girls all went to a hockey game at the University last night, so Sophia wanted to keep her little face tattoo on for church. Should I have let her? Probably not. 

The only reason I would ever recommend NOT going to Hawaii?

You'll eventually have to come back.

As amazing as it is to sit on the beach and read, or snorkel in an amazing world of tropical fish, or gather sea shells with your children, that's not real life. And I think it's a good thing. It's nice to have a week or two of wonderful vacation, but it's also nice to have work and school and the mundane parts of life. Even though sitting on the beach is nicer.

I had intended to get up early every day while on vacation and do work. I am teaching a new group voice course at the University (the course is not new, just new to me teaching it), and I needed to get quizzes and tests written, lectures figured out, syllabus written, and the Canvas dealt with. Plus, I had to schedule all of my private students, which is my most hated job of every semester, though it always manages to work out somehow.

Let's take a vote. If you think I got up early every day, raise your hand.

Believe it or not, this night owl DID get up early, if only because of the five-hour time difference. 6:30 am in Hawaii is 11:30 am in Michigan, so it wasn't too difficult. But I did not do any work.

I walked on the beach every morning. And by the end of the week, I wasn't getting up at 6:30 anymore anyway. I was getting up at 8:00 instead.

I don't regret it, but I have been basically glued to my computer this week writing all those tests and quizzes and getting Canvas up and I am still not finished. And I have slowly been readjusting back to Michigan time--man it's hard, though!

I really want to get all my photos from Hawaii edited and posted, but until I get into a good rhythm with work and the girls' schedules, that will have to wait.

But here's one off of my phone. Me, Chloe, Bria, and my nephew on our way back from a snorkel trip to Molokini. I am fairly sure that I neglected to actually get a photo of my whole family together. Not with my big camera, and not with my phone.


Oh well. We went to Hawaii! Photographic proof or not. (There are a bunch of vacation photos on my Instagram if you're curious, since it may take me two years to ever post any on my blog.)

Hopefully I get myself used to real life this week.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

January 2015 Visiting Teaching Printable

Vacation has thrown me completely off schedule, so this printable is pretty late in coming. But better late, than never, I say!

For 2015, the visiting teaching messages will continue to study the life and mission of Christ, but this year we will be looking specifically at His attributes. I am really happy about this, because I loved studying the divine mission of Jesus Christ last year. This year will be even better, because we can strive to develop these attributes in ourselves. (Of course, we could strive to do that last year, but no matter how hard I try, I'm never going to be the Son of God or the Savior of the World!)

I am going to keep doing the 5x7 printables to be used in an inexpensive picture frame. However, since I know that each month we will be studying a different attribute, I am going to make each printable part of a larger set, so that by the end of the year it will be a set of 12 Christlike Attributes cards.

For January, the lesson is "The Attributes of Jesus Christ: Obedient Son."



To download this printable please click here: January 2015 Visiting Teaching Printable.

You may have noticed that I am not offering a Spanish version this time. I have decided to simplify my life a bit and not do them in Spanish any longer. I have background in several languages, but Spanish is absolutely not one of them! If you are looking for a good Spanish printable, check out my lovely friend Annie's work here: Spanish VT Printable January 2015

Happy New Year, and Happy Visiting Teaching!

7 Must Have Organizing Tools

Want to get organized? Here are seven tools that everyone needs for organization.
I'm always looking for new organization tools. Honestly, though, I tend to keep coming back to the same ones over and over again. Which obviously means that they are the best organization tools in the world.

Here are seven of the things I love most for organization in my home (all links are Amazon affiliate links):

1. Label Maker




Because, of course a label maker is my number one must have tool for organizing! I particularly love the Dymo Plug-n-Play Label Maker. I like that it's small and easy to store, but I LOVE that I can just plug it into my computer and have access to all the fonts I have installed. It really appeals to my aesthetic sense not to have to be limited to just one font. You can also purchase three different widths of label tape in various colors, though I tend to stick to the 1/2' width in white or clear.


2. Over-the-Door Shoe Organizers

I love the clear pocket shoe organizers for their versatility. I don't think I've ever used one for storing actual shoes, but I've stored many other things in them! When my girls were little, I put one on the bathroom door and kept all of their hair paraphernalia in them: ribbons, rubberbands, bows, headbands, flower clips, barrettes, brushes, and detangler sprays. It made it so much easier to do the hair of three little girls every day. I've used one in my closet to store accessories like scarves and necklaces. And I currently use one to store all of the American Girl Doll clothes in our house (see more on that here: Toy organization).


3. Clear Plastic Shoe Boxes



Plastic shoe boxes are just the perfect size for so many things, and they stack really nicely if you have all the same brand. And even if you don't, they still tend to be pretty uniform in size. I use them for organizing craft supplies, art supplies, bathroom items, and in my pantry. All well-labeled, of course!


4. Empty Spice Jars


These empty spice jars are another thing that can be really versatile. I definitely use them to store spices (and if you don't want to bother with a label maker, you can also buy a sheet of pre-made spice labels). I like having my spice cupboard totally uniform, so these jars are perfect. They are also perfect for storing tiny office supplies like paperclips, thumb tacks, and rubber bands. I am sure you can think of lots of other great ways to use them to help organize your own house!


5. Magazine Holders

Magazine holders are excellent for storing any type of paper goods. I store all of my cardstock and patterned paper in them, as well as sheet music, phone books, old notebooks and journals, and yes, even magazines.


6. Grocery Bag Dispenser


Up until a couple months ago, I just kept all of my plastic grocery bags in a clear shoebox. As much as I love the clear shoeboxes, it simply wasn't working for me in this situation. I went online and found this grocery bag dispenser and was shocked that it was only $10.00! I stuck it inside my basement door and the bag mess has been fixed for good.


7. Hardcover Journal

My most important organizing tool is my to-do list. I keep it in a hardcover journal and I can't live without it. None of my organization projects would ever get done if I didn't keep this journal. For more information on exactly how I use it, you can click here: Declutter Your Mind.



What are your can't-do-without organizing tools?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What I Do Know


A couple days before Christmas, I was awoken by my phone ringing. Yeah, it was 9:30 in the morning and I was still sound asleep, but it was Christmas break and I was really tired. I don't know about you, but I use my vacations for sleeping as much as possible.

Anyway, I saw it was the hospital calling, so I answered the phone even though I wasn't exactly awake. I thought that maybe one of my appointments might be rescheduled or that they might have more information for me regarding my upcoming surgery. Instead, it was the financial office calling about the payment I had made for my MRI earlier this month.

A couple different scenarios immediately ran through my head. I'd paid for the whole thing upfront so I could get a 20% discount. We have a high deductible insurance plan and hadn't met the deductible yet, and so the whole thing was out of pocket. Hooray. (Do you have any idea how expensive a freaking MRI is?) But we had just enough left in our HSA account for the year to pay for it with the discount.

My first thought was that I'd miscalculated and that there actually wasn't enough in the HSA to cover it and that I would need to cough up more money to cover the procedure. My second thought was that THEY'D miscalculated, and that I had underpaid and would need to cough up more money to cover the procedure.

Imagine my relief when I heard, "The insurance paid more than we estimated they would, so you'll be receiving a refund in the mail in the next few days. Also, we applied some of the overage to a bill you have that just came up, so when you receive that bill in the mail don't pay it because it's been covered."

After I hung up the phone, I laid back down and pondered this blessing. I used to do an assessment of the blessings of paying tithing that I saw every year right here on the blog. But then my blogging fell off for a couple years, and I didn't do them anymore. I have an incredibly strong testimony of tithing. No matter how much that tithing check hurts, the Lord always provides a way when we are being faithful to that commandment. I've seen it time and time again.

So while I was thinking about how the insurance had paid more than expected on the MRI (especially since I didn't expect them to pay any of it at all), of course my thoughts turned to tithing and how blessed we have been by faithfully paying it.

But then my thoughts turned to other parts of the Gospel. Parts that I am not so sure of, especially in the climate of today. Social media allows me to watch in real time as the faith of my friends and even some of my family falters. I read posts on Facebook that are full of doubt in the Gospel and in the Church. Posts that sometimes give me pause and make me wonder myself about the truthfulness of it all.

Just because I was raised in the Church, served a mission, married in the temple, and continue to be active does not mean I am 100% without doubt. I have many questions. And sometimes the answers to those questions inspire more questions instead of laying to rest the original doubt.

But I choose not to journey down the path of doubt. Because I also have faith. Besides tithing, there are many things about the Gospel and the Church that I DO know. But what it comes down to is this: I know my Heavenly Father loves me. Just like Nephi, I don't know the meaning of all things, but I know that God loves his children.

"And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." 1 Nephi 11:17

Nephi was a prophet of God. If he didn't know the meaning of all things, I certainly shouldn't expect to! And I definitely know that my Heavenly Father loves me. I've seen countless evidence of that throughout my entire life. I know He is aware of me, I know He cares about the seemingly insignificant parts of my life, and I know He loves me. And I know He feels the same about every person on this earth, each of them one of His children.

Sometimes it feels like all the world around me is screaming the doubts and the questions. Sometimes the doubt feels so much louder than the quiet whispers of what I know. Sometimes it is tempting to follow those screams down a pathway of doubt. Sometimes I even take a few steps down that pathway before remembering, course-correcting, and turning around.

All it takes is a little glimmer of faith. Something that I do know. I hold onto it—cling to it as if my life depends on it, and stay on the path of faith. And when something happens in my life that proves God's love for me or strengthens my testimony of a Gospel principle, I put that in my pocket, and go just a bit further down the path of faith.

So, yeah.  I don't know everything, and I have many questions about the Gospel. But I also know some things very well and have many answers. And that's what I'm holding onto.

PS This post has been in my drafts for a couple weeks, and today I saw an article linked on Facebook about a man who left the Church for a while but then came back. He lists 18 lessons he learned from his experiences.  I am linking the article here because #16 is exactly what I feel: "Don't let what you don't know keep you from following what you do know."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Travel Days

We began our Sunday by taking a hotel shuttle to the San Francisco Airport.

When you live in the middle of nowhere, travel to ANYWHERE isn't easy. But travel to Hawaii is particularly long and hard when you live where we live.

I'm feeling jealous of my brother right about now, who had a whole 12 hours more on the island than we did, and has been home in Seattle for a good 12 hours already while we have only just situated ourselves in yet another hotel and I feel like I've been traveling on planes, shuttles, trains, and every other type of transportation known to man for my entire life. I've been traveling so long that I can't even remember how to use punctuation properly.

But, Hawaii was worth all the travel (and we still have a six hour drive back home tomorrow!).

We said good-bye to Hawaii yesterday around noon. It's the worst part of any vacation, packing up and leaving.


Especially when you know you're going back to winter time after a glorious week of summer.


One last good-bye to the island! And then a long flight to San Francisco.


We landed in Oakland and took the BART to the San Francisco Airport, where we caught the hotel shuttle to our hotel for the night.


This is me and Bria and Sophia being exhausted and hungry while riding BART. Funny story: Once we arrived at our hotel, we wanted to eat, so we headed down to the bar to see what kind of food was there. The very next load of people on the elevator got stuck for about an hour while we ate. We watched the firemen come and work on getting them out. It was crazy, and I'm so glad we weren't the ones stuck!

This morning, we flew out of San Francisco airport (yes, we worked some crazy stuff with airplanes to get the best deals). We flew all the way to Newark, where we had a 4 hour layover, which was just not long enough to take the girls into NYC for a bit. Then we finally flew to Milwaukee, where I am blogging away in a hotel room now.

We were exhausted. Nobody stayed awake on those flights:




That pink monkey blanket sure got around, didn't it?

But despite the 18 hours of travel in the past two days (and six more tomorrow!), it was totally worth it. I soaked up enough sunshine to last me until summer, I think.

Back to life, back to job, back to winter....who can live in Hawaii?


Well, I think I could.

Happy Sunday!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Snow Day Survival Kit

I may not have much (any?) good shopping where I live and there may not be many super great restaurants, but one thing we have plenty of is SNOW! I know I've probably mentioned it a couple million times, but I'm going to mention it again: I live in the 3rd snowiest city in the United States.

This winter isn't looking so bad, only 87 inches so far (last year at this time we'd already gotten 140 or so!). Still, we already had one snow day, and I'm pretty sure that there will be a few more, so I decided to make a few snow day survival kits for our friends.

(Sshhh. Don't tell my girls, but I may or may not have one hidden away for them when the next snow day comes.)

Make a snow day survival kit for your kids this winter--you never know when a snow day will hit. Be ready!

They were super simple to make, and best of all, not very expensive.

I bought the cute blue tubs from Dollar Tree, obviously for a dollar apiece. I then filled up the tubs with batting and a few fun goodies.

Fill a dollar store bucket with everything you need to survive a snow day, and have it on hand for your own kids, or give it as a gift! Easy and affordable.


We put in our favorite hot chocolate: Stephens Candycane Cocoa. Because, what's a snow day without a good cup (or three) of hot chocolate?

And hot cocoa requires marshmallows. I found a can of mini marshmallows that was just perfect: Kraft Mallow Bits (Incidentally, Kraft puts them in the same kind of container as they do their Parmesan cheese, and Bria was wondering why I included Parmesan cheese in a snow day survival kit.)

I put in a pair of fuzzy socks for each kid. I found some at WalMart that were blue and fuzzy with snowflakes on them. Perfect!

Finally, I included a movie. Sophia and I dug around the $5 movie bins and found a few good ones:
Mr. Popper's Penguins, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet Two (many of these are actually even cheaper on Amazon, which are my affiliate links).

I topped it off with a super cute little wooden decoration that I found at WalMart for under a dollar (okay, so my mom found them at WalMart for under a dollar, but they are super cute!).

Even if you don't plan on having a lot of snow days, these are fun to put together and give away! You can pretend to have a snow day!

Happy Snow Days this winter! (Or not.)

How to make a snow day survival kit. Easy and affordable!




Monday, January 05, 2015

It's Still Sunday in Hawaii

School is canceled tomorrow due to extremely cold temperatures and a blizzard. This is exactly how we began 2014, as well. In fact, the first TWO days back from Christmas vacation were canceled last year.

No matter, though. I don't have to deal with the blizzard and subzero temperatures this week.


Because we are in Hawaii!

We decided to give our kids the gift of a tropical vacation this Christmas instead of a lot more stuff they don't need that just causes extra clutter. They each got a book to read, a music book, and a blanket from us and then we left on vacation on New Years Eve.

We are loving soaking up our Vitamin D and are hoping it will get us through the rest of the long, hard winter. From the sound of it, they are really going to need their new blankets when we get home!

Happy Sunday!
(Wish you were here.)

Friday, January 02, 2015

Tips for Packing Up and Storing Holiday Decorations

I love Christmas a lot. And I also love decorating my house for Christmas (wanna see? Family room, living room/mantel, dining room). Maybe a little too much, actually, but it's only once a year so I don't feel too bad about it.

Until it's time to take it all down, that is.

Taking down Christmas is nowhere near as fun as putting it up, but it has to be done! Here are some great tips for keeping it organized so you can store it away for next year.

New Year's Day is generally my date to get Christmas taken down, though I don't always get to it by January 1st. But as long as I do it before school starts up again, I'm happy. We won't talk about the one year when I was pregnant and bedridden with Sophia and the Christmas decorations stayed up until March when my mom finally visited from out of state and packed it up for me.




This year, I had to get it down by December 30 because we were leaving on vacation. And, as usual, I was completely overwhelmed.

Overwhelming though it is, I do have a few tips for getting it all done in a streamlined and organized manner.

The first thing I do is gather every single decoration from all over the house and put them all in the same place. I use my dining room table because it is (almost) big enough to hold it all. I do not include the actual Christmas trees or Christmas tree decorations, as I save those until last.


Next, I make sure I have Sharpies, tape, and blank notecards (I actually just cut up some cardstock). Also, I prefer packing tape, but I apparently used it all for wrapping gifts because I was out of Scotch tape. So now I'm using Scotch tape when I'd prefer packing tape. Oh well, tape is tape, right?

Of course, right.


Next, I drag up all of the bins from the basement. Or make my husband do it for me. Usually a combination of the two. Once I have them up, I open all of them and start putting back any of my regular home decor that I took down to make room for Christmas. I make sure to store it all in the Christmas bins while it is on hiatus.


Once I have everything put back (unless a Christmas tree is in the way), I start packing all the stuff I've gathered on the dining room table.

I try to keep like items together as much as possible. Candles all go in the same bin, for instance.


But mostly, I just try to pack things in as effectively as possible, while still making sure fragile things are well protected.

As I pack up each bin, I keep a running list of what I put into that bin on a notecard.


Since I get rid of a few things and buy new ones each year, most of my bins have to be reorganized every year. But not always. Sometimes last year's list still works perfectly.


I have so few decorations for Valentine's Day that I just keep it in with Christmas. I guess I don't love Valentine's Day quite as much, but this method of organizing the decor sure helps me find the three decorations I do have when February rolls around.


But most bins are usually different each year. Also, this purple bin was the first bin I bought to store Christmas in when we were very first married. Once upon a time ALL of our Christmas decor fit into this one bin! You'll see how absurd that is in a minute...


As I get bins fully packed, I start making a pile o' Christmas bins. We haven't even gotten started, though--all four trees are still up, and I still haven't packed everything on the table yet!


Okay, now we're finished. I didn't take any photos of undecorating and packing away the trees, but I went through the same process. Though I do have boxes inside the bins that are also labeled things like "living room tree flowers" and "dining room tree ornaments" and so forth.


All ready to be dragged down to the basement!

That is 8 bins full of decorations, a wreath holder, four tree boxes, and a garbage bag to hold the last couple wreaths. Phewsh!



I have a storage room in my unfinished basement where all the holiday decor lives. The tree boxes fit nicely on the shelves, and it's easy to stack the bins against the walls.



The only other major decorations I have are for fall...I am not quite as organized with those, but I do use the same basic methods.


Though I need to find a big garbage bag for the signs, and make my children stop getting into the costume box! (Do yours do that?)

Even though taking down the holiday is nowhere near as fun as putting it up, this method helps it go a little more smoothly for me. But where it REALLY helps is next year, when I'm putting it all back up again.

Since I put up the family room tree before Thanksgiving this year, it was super easy to find exactly what I needed without having to dig through 5 or 6 bins to find it all. And since I generally take three days or so to get Christmas all put up, I could do it more systematically instead of opening a bin and being completely surprised by its contents.

That is the benefit of organization!

Now to find a few more ways to organize my life in the New Year!

PS I keep the Christmas cards up through the end of January. I love looking at them, and many trickle in during the few weeks after Christmas, so it's only fair.