Monday, March 31, 2014

Help Your Children Nurture Their Talents: Five Pinterest Boards to Follow

This post is brought to you by Disney's The Pirate Fairy and BlogHer.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate the fact that my children insist upon getting older. As much as I love to celebrate their birthdays, there is always a part of me that is so sad to see the younger version of them go. I get a little wistful when I think of all the cute things my girls used to do and to love, like dress-ups and Tinkerbell.

I was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned to them that there was a new Tinkerbell movie coming out and all three of them (yes, even the teenager) perked up and were quite excited about it. They may not run around in Tinkerbell costumes anymore, and we may have gotten rid of the last of our Tinkerbell dollies, but they are still looking forward to a new movie. We're all a little nostalgic for childhood--and besides, Tinkerbell is pretty awesome.

The thing I love about the Tinkerbell movies most, is that each little fairy has a talent. Something that she is good at and uses to contribute to the rest of Pixie Hollow. Nurturing the talents and abilities of my children is something that is hugely important to me--but at the same time it's not always easy to know how to help them discover the things that they love to do and the things that they are really good at doing.

So, I've put together five Pinterest Boards that I really think help with this huge endeavor.

1. You all know how much I adore reading, and how much I want to encourage my children to read. We do summer reading lists, reading daily is part of their allowance, and I try to read to them out loud as much as possible. That said, I am not totally with it in the children's, middle grade, and YA literature circles, so I don't always have the greatest recommendations. I love the board Books to Read for Kids, curated by Sharon Mason. I have spent several hours on this board while looking for books to purchase for my children's reading lists. It's incredibly thorough, including books for all ages and themes.

Books to Read for Kids Pinterest Board

2. Chloe is obsessed with American Girl Dolls and with making things for them. She's also obsessed with My Froggy Stuff—a YouTuber who shows you how to make endless things for your dolls (and not just American Girl--she's got lots of stuff for Barbies and Monster High Dolls, too). I can find Chloe in my office making fried eggs, chocolate bunnies, or super intricate showers for her dolls almost every night. I love that she does this, even though she makes a giant mess in the process. My Froggy Stuff has a Pinterest Board for all of her doll crafting videos. If your daughter is creative and loves her dolls, she will love this board.

Doll Stuff Pinterest Board

3. Creative Kids, curated by Maybelle Imasa-Stukels, is one of the most beautiful boards on all of Pinterest. She finds wonderful crafts and activities to do with your child, but they are also so aesthetically pleasing to me that I could just look at the board all day. I haven't even actually done many of these crafts--partly because I don't have enough time, and partly because my kids are a little older now--but I'm hoping to do a bunch of them come summer time.

Creative Kids Pinterest Board

4. Spring is here. Or, at least, it should be. I'm hoping it chooses to make an appearance in my neck of the woods before May, but it will be fun to start doing some Springtime crafts and activities with the girls. Deb@Living Montessori Now has curated a really great Kids' Spring Activities board. There's no better way to help your children discover their talents, abilities, and passions than the Montessori method. I am a Montessori child and though my children have not attended Montessori schools, I have tried to use many of the principles in my parenting.

Kids Spring Activities Pinterest Board

5. Finally, since we love Tinkerbell so much, and because she is sponsoring this post, here is a board dedicated to our favorite pixie and her newest movie release. Disney's The Pirate Fairy Board, curated by BlogHer, is loaded with fun crafts and party ideas for your kids. Girls and boys alike will find fun stuff to do here--fairy parties, pirate costumes, pirate food, and much more.

Disney's the Pirate Fairy Pinterest Board

If you love Tinkerbell, and Pirates, and kids' creativity don't miss Disney's all-new Tinkerbell movie The Pirate Fairy. Own it on Blu-Ray™ and Digital HD April 1.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please read my disclosure.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Has Arrived in Da UP!

Today it is a balmy 49 degrees. Literally crazy hot for my brood! They had to go out and sit in the snow to cool off.

I stayed home from church with a sick Sophia today (I think she got glutened plus has a touch of a stomach bug--together it does not make a very nice combo)(poor darling). It was to be my last day as Primary President in my branch. It's a little bittersweet to be released, as it always is. I really loved working with the kids--they are all my little friends, and I will miss teaching them.

And now I am without a calling. I'm sure not for very long, though.

Spiritual Help Wanted! Free Printables

It's conference time again. Oh, how I love General Conference time.

Last night was the General  Women's Meeting and I was spiritually filled. Which is good, because I am currently not at church right now. Instead, I am home with a very sick Sophia.

The whole meeting was so good that I don't even know what my favorite part was, but I absolutely loved Sister Linda K. Burton's talk. I loved the idea of the Spiritual Help Wanted signs.

So, I made some. Click HERE to download.

Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 1 Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 9
Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 7 Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 8
Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 6 Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 5
Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 3 Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 4
Spirtual Help Wanted Sign 2

Phewsh! That's a lot of spiritual help, people. We'd better get applying!

Click HERE to download.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Life Gets Overwhelming

I knew this semester wasn't going to be easy. I knew it was going to be insane. I knew I was going to have to be strong and stick it out. I knew I would struggle. Because I knew all of this, I asked my husband to give me a Priesthood Blessing at the beginning of the semester for guidance.

In his blessing, he mentioned six things, and I've kept them close to my heart--along with my 2014 One Word (PEACE)--and they've become a touchstone of sorts when things have gotten really hard.

When Life Gets Overwhelming

I just "finished" one of the more difficult weeks of the semester, and I'm so exhausted I just want to cry. On Tuesday night, I didn't have rehearsal and I was so looking forward to just catching up on the dishes that night. Instead my teenager dropped a regional science fair in my lap and sent me running around to help her get set up for that. After the two hours it took to get her all squared away, I ended up sitting in the parking lot of McDonald's for about 45 minutes just so I could have some alone time. (And a Shamrock Shake, because that's the only real reason to bother going to McDonald's.) Consequently, the dishes didn't get done, and I felt defeated.

The next day--yesterday--was a 14 hour marathon which included 6 hours at work, Girl Scouts, Bria's orchestra concert, and opera rehearsal. I was home for a whopping 3 minutes during that time in which I got to use the bathroom, say hello to my dog, and grab a snack before dashing right back out.

Today was somewhat better, but I was so tired during rehearsal that I lacked any sort of energy, made all sorts of stupid mistakes that I don't usually make, and may or may not have fallen asleep during the director's notes at the end.

It's been a hard week. One of the hardest. And while I have been trying really hard to notice little blessings and happinesses throughout my days, I just felt super downtrodden this week. It's time to think more thoroughly about these six little words that were given to me in the blessing I received. Time to understand how they will really help me get through the next 34 days.


I suppose this one is really obvious, and is the principle that should guide my decisions in the other five areas, as well. I think I haven't been very wise in my food choices lately. I don't know why, but it is really difficult for me to eat right when I have a lot on my plate (heh). I feel like making wise food choices can be a full time job for me, and when I am otherwise occupied, I live on junk. Shamrock Shakes, anyone?


When you have so many things to choose from, there is simply no way to do them all. I often make a list of the things I need to do and then feel so completely overwhelmed that I'm almost paralyzed. I've been trying to be better about choosing my priorities wisely. Family is first. I have to go to work and fulfill other similar commitments. My health is important. Most of the things on my list--like the dishes--just have to wait. Let's just say I'll have a long list of stuff to keep me busy once the semester is over. And, no, I won't leave the dishes quite that long!

Other priorities? Prayer, scripture study, marriage. So many things are more important than the dishes--which do eventually get done.


Together with Wisdom and Priorities, it reminds me a bit of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I guess just being able to wisely discern what is important in my life. Sometimes that means figuring out if I should get to work on my long list, or if I should just sit and talk to one of my daughters. Sometimes it means knowing that I need to take a nap before I attempt to do anything else. Sometimes it means not giving in to the temptation to go buy a Shamrock Shake.


This semester is just a small part of my life. Yes, I bit off more than I could chew, but I am so blessed. As I was teaching today, I kept thinking about how lucky I am to have a job I love. I mean, it really doesn't get much better than getting paid to make music all day, does it? My job does bring me joy. My children bring me GREAT joy. My husband is amazing and is so understanding and helpful. And hello? I'm singing the lead in a Menotti opera. I adore Menotti, I adore opera, and I adore performing. I'm having a wonderful time. Yes, I have a lot going on, but I really do have an incredible life.

Also, the winter will end. Part of my gloominess of late is just the snow. And the more snow. And the cold. But winter always ends. Before I know it, I will have to actually shave my legs and I won't have to wear boots everywhere I go.


I think this is one of the most difficult things for me. I am so very hard on myself. You didn't do the dishes? What a terrible homemaker. You didn't know about Bria's Science Fair? Terrible mother! You ate another Shamrock Shake? What is wrong with you? You're going to gain 100 pounds!

This is not okay. I would never think anyone else was a terrible person for not doing the dishes. I have a lot more mercy for others than I do for myself. I actually sat down the other day and calculated how many hours I am working, rehearsing, driving, sleeping, etc. I didn't really have many hours leftover to get much else done--and most of those hours were going to be at midnight anyway. Only SuperWoman could do all the things I want to do each day. And, alas, I have no superpowers.

Go easy on yourself--especially when life is overwhelming you.


Some people actually don't need this advice. But I do. I'm exhausted right now, and instead of sleeping, I am typing. I am a night owl to the core and I have been in the terrible habit of staying up well past 2:00 am and then having to get up at 6:00.

I'm pleased to say that I started to do much better with my sleeping this semester. Until Daylight Savings time rolled around, that is. I was getting to bed around 11 or 12 each night, but now that's been pushed back. But I'm working on it. And I'm not letting myself feel guilty if I need to lie down and take a power nap after work some afternoons. How can I possibly expect to be the mother that my children need when I am completely drained? I can't. Sleeping is necessary!

Sleep! Mercy! Priorities! Discernment! Wisdom! Perspective!

This next week is the beginning of Tech rehearsals for the opera, and the week after that we open. I need to not be overwhelmed. I need to enjoy the wonderful gifts I have been given. Life is wonderful--hard, yes, but truly wonderful.

(And now I will really go to bed.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Um, Elsa? The Cold Actually Does Bother Some of Us.

Today it was -4 degrees when I woke up. Are you wondering if you read that correctly? Yep, you are. I said NEGATIVE. I'm pretty sure that Queen Elsa has taken her ice castle to live across the canal on our ski hill. And the cold is bothering me!!!

I spent all of yesterday morning sitting in front of a grocery store with Chloe selling Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout cookie booths seem like they should be a spring sort of endeavor, wouldn't you agree? And, since it is technically spring, I suppose it is a spring sort of endeavor. But, not with Elsa around blasting us with ice and cold and snow. We were indoors, but right in front of the automatic doors from outside and by the time our shift was up, neither of us could feel our fingers or toes. And we were wearing gloves and boots the entire time! We sold a lot of cookies, though, so our frostbite wasn't for naught.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Beauty Box 5 Review: March 2014

In December, I got to review a Beauty Box 5 subscription, and I am now an official member of the Beauty Box Five Review team. Which means I now get to review their box each month, so keep your eye out for them--beauty subscriptions are always full of new and exciting goodness.

The theme for this month's Beauty Box was "Out with the old, in with the new!" with a major emphasis on skin care.

I received four of the five products featured this month:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Luminescence Book Review and a $25 Giveaway

Luminescence by Braden Bell is the third and final installment to his Middle School Magic Series. (I have reviewed The Kindling and Penumbras, the first two books in the series, HERE and HERE.)

In my last review I said that I was so excited to read the final installment of this series that I would even be willing to dress up as Dr. Timberi and stand outside a bookstore at midnight if it meant I could get it faster. So I was super excited to finally have this book in my hands, and I was not disappointed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's the Last Day of My Spring Break and it Still Isn't Spring

But I must admit, as difficult as the switch to Daylight Savings Time is, I really like it. I love the way the shift of light actually makes it FEEL like spring, even when there are still four feet of snow on the ground.

Sorry for the crappy Sunday photo. I took my mom to the airport at 5:00 this morning and I am so tired. I knew that as soon as we were home from church I was falling into bed so I could be functional for opera rehearsal tonight. (That does seem to happen on many Sundays, whether or not I was up at the crack of dawn--I need to figure out how to bottle energy that isn't caffeinated.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Maestro's Famous Mint Brownies (Gluten-free!)

Our favorite brownies are the ones you can buy on BYU campus—the yummy BYU mint brownies. Over the years, The Maestro has done his best to dissect and perfect a recipe that comes pretty darn close to the ones you can buy at the CougarEat, and I think they might be even better!

Sophia loves them, but she hasn't had them for over a year now because of her gluten issues, and I haven't had them for over two years because of mine. Lately, The Maestro has been more willing to try his favorites gluten-free because he's realized the results are usually pretty great. So I convinced him to make some this past weekend so all of us gluten-frees could satisfy our mint brownie cravings.

He obliged, and they were SO AMAZING. He even said that he thought they were better than ever, and that he might make them gluten-free from now on. Even better, he agreed to share his top secret recipe with all of my readers. Count yourselves LUCKY, just in time for St. Patrick's Day--they're even just green enough so you won't get pinched.

The following recipe is gluten-free, but if you don't need or want to make them gluten-free, just substitute bread flour for the GF flour and omit the xanthan gum.  Enjoy!

The Maestro's Famous Mint Brownies


1 cup butter (2 sticks, melted)
1/2 cup cocoa
2 Tbsp honey
4 eggs (at room temperature)
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup Mama's Almond Blend All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (We have been loving the results we get with this flour lately--it's our latest go-to GF all purpose and works wonderfully for baked goods like these brownies.)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
dash of salt


5 Tbsp butter (softened)
pinch of salt
3-4 tbsp milk (adjust for consistency)
1 Tbsp corn syrup
2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tsp pure mint extract
2-3 drop green food coloring


2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
6 Tbsp butter (softened)
1 Tbsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp milk (adjust for consistency)


Brownie: Melt butter in large pot on stove and mix in cocoa.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Add honey, eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.  Mix well.  Pour batter into greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 21-22 minutes (do not burn!)  Cool in freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Mint icing: Soften butter.  Add salt, corn syrup, confectioner's sugar, and milk.  Beat until consistency of toothpaste.  Mix in mint extract and food coloring (let the kids help here, it's their favorite part!)  Spread mint icing over cooled brownies.  Cool in freezer until icing is stiffened.

Chocolate icing: Soften butter.  Add confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and milk.  Beat until consistency of toothpaste.  Spread chocolate icing over stiffened mint icing layer.

The only problem with making these gluten-free is that I could eat them without fear of getting sick. Except, I may have eaten too many and made myself sick anyway. But, it was totally worth it!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Seven Reasons My Life is Awesome Right Now

A while 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.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sink Me, I'm Finished with Winter

But it isn't finished with me.

I'm also really exhausted. This last week was a doozy, culminating in a bathroom disaster of epic proportions that won't be entirely resolved until Tuesday. And it was all Winter's fault (read: frozen sewer pipe).

We still have about 50 inches of snow on the ground, but the good news is that the streets have been wet the last couple of days and that means we're going to have less snow on the ground. It also means it's warmer and above freezing right now. But, just barely.

I just got back from an OPERAtion Imagination rehearsal--that is what I'll be working on while I'm on Spring Break this week at the university. No teaching lessons or actual opera rehearsals, but lots of rehearsals and performances for OPERAtion Imagination. This is one of my favorite jobs, though--bringing opera scenes into local elementary schools and an opera workshop with a few kids on the weekend. The world needs more opera lovers, and we're working on creating them!

I missed my window for a good Sunday photo. That stinker Bria is in her comfies before I even get out of the car from church! It's okay though, because now I'm in my comfies and I'm off to make my girls watch The Scarlet Pimpernel with me. Only my favorite movie of all time, and since The Maestro has been indoctrinating them with Men in Black this weekend, and since they also enjoyed Pride & Prejudice, it's time.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Ten Reasons Your Child Isn't Practicing--And What You Can Do About It

Are you shelling out the big bucks for music lessons only to have your child not practice? We sacrifice so much so that our children can have good quality music instruction, and it really frustrates me when they refuse to practice.  But it turns out that there are several very legitimate reasons why a child will shy away from practicing. Figuring out why practice isn't happening is half the battle!

Here are some common reasons for a child not to practice--and ideas for you as a parent to turn things around:

1. They don't know what to practice.

Keeping track of everything a music teacher says in a lesson can be overwhelming for a child. Many music teachers will write things down in a notebook, but just as many do not. If your child is struggling with knowing what to practice at home, there are several ways you can help.
  • Buy a notebook and ask the teacher to write down what your child is to practice each week
  • Sit in on lessons and take notes
  • Sit with your child during practice and help remind him what his teacher would like him to do.

2. They don't know when to practice.

Making a set time in your schedule for practicing is essential for practicing success. Otherwise, you are just competing with a bunch of other stuff for time and practicing always loses. At least, that's been my experience.  Bria practices at 6:15 in the morning. Chloe practices after dinner. And Sophia knows that her practice time is right after she has her snack and finishes her homework after school.

Not only is there much less to compete with, your children will stop fighting you about practice time when it's just a part of the schedule. I don't even have to ask my kids most days (unless her name is Sophia, but she's getting's a process!).

3. They don't know how to practice.

Practicing correctly is a learned skill. It is not just playing a song over and over, mistakes and all, which is what I have found my children will do if I don't help them understand a better way. Practicing in such a manner will only solidify mistakes and make them even more difficult to overcome.

Instead, teach your child to take the song apart and practice a measure or two at a time--especially the more difficult passages. If your child plays the piano, insist that they practice one hand at a time before putting both hands together. If they are struggling with a particular technique (bow hold, embouchure, breathing, etc.), work with the teacher to find ideas to isolate those things during practice.

The other day Chloe was really having a hard time with a piece she's been working on. I made her slow it down and play a couple sections perfectly ten times in a row. If she made a mistake on one of her repetitions, she had to start over. Just getting it right once isn't enough to "perfect" the right way. If you've played it wrong more times than you've played it correctly, you're more likely to play it wrong the next time you do it. Practice does make perfect, but sometimes you're perfecting mistakes.

Don't practice until you get it right--practice until you cannot get it wrong.

4. They don't know where to practice.

Maybe for children studying piano this isn't so much of an issue, unless you have many pianos in your home. But for the students who have more portable instruments, it can pose a problem. It may be difficult for them to practice in one of the more public areas of the home because there is too much going on to distract them from other family members. This is another reason Bria enjoys practicing so early in the morning--nobody can bother her with all their noise and coming in and out of the room.

The simple solution is to help them find a place where they can concentrate. Sometimes my girls want to practice at the same time, so Bria might go upstairs while Chloe is on the piano. Sophia likes to practice wherever I happen to be whether that's the kitchen, my office, or my bedroom.

5. They don't know why to practice.

It seems obvious to us why practice is important, but there are children who live under my roof who don't understand. Have a sit-down with your little musician and find out what they think about the reasons they should practice. And then discuss with them the reasons why you think they should practice.

The best reasons to practice are the ones that come from within. Practicing just because it makes you happy as a parent or to earn privileges or allowance aren't always the best motivators, though they certainly can be. (I finally stooped so low as to include practice as part of allowance just recently--and it's working.) Help your child find his or her own very personal reasons to practice and they will be a lot more likely to do it.

6. They are frustrated.

My girls get very frustrated when they are learning a new piece. I can let them practice on their own when they are polishing, but when they are just beginning a piece I have to hold their hands so they don't lose their minds with despair over how HARD it all is. Maybe my kids are just dramatic, but when they are left alone to work on a newly assigned piece they simply won't. It's too much for them.

Bria, at age 13, has been at a point where she doesn't get so frustrated for a while, but I still deal with regular tears and tantrums with Chloe and Sophia. Usually just one day of sitting next to them and really walking them through things is enough. If you aren't musical enough to help out in this way, that's okay too. Remind your child that every piece is hard before you learn it and help them work through it in small chunks. Chances are that they have the tools to do it themselves anyway, but looking at the whole thing is too overwhelming. Just being there as a calming influence is often enough for them to forget the frustration and start figuring it out.

7. They aren't having fun.

Depending on the kid, this can be huge. My Chloe has to have fun in everything she does. It's her primary motivator. My other two are a little different, but they certainly don't mind making practice more fun. After all, a "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," right? Mary Poppins really knew what she was talking about.

I've written about this a little bit HERE, but I am constantly making up little games on the fly to help make the practice sessions more fun. And a little fun music goes a long way, too. Find out what music your child is loving lately and see if there's an arrangement available at their current level. My kids love this.

If your child is having trouble learning to read music, don't just drill flashcards. Flashcards are tedious and boring and absolutely no fun at all. Turn it into a game! Tape a music staff on your rug with masking tape and then throw a beanbag at it. Your child must then tell you which note the beanbag is on. Or make a memory game which requires them to match the note on the staff with the letter-name.

The main thing here is to be creative! As soon as your child realizes how much fun they're having while practicing, they won't want to quit!

8. They aren't motivated.

Like I said above, I just recently started paying my children to practice. It's made a difference in their attitudes and the amount of time that they put into it. Money is a definite motivator.

When Bria was first learning violin as a 3-year-old, M&Ms were her motivation. I would put a handful of them on the piano and she would get to eat one every time she repeated a Twinkle Variation. Depending on how many were in the handful, we would get a lot of repetitions in and she didn't care at all! She was just excited to get to eat a piece of candy!

Other motivations can include recital preparation, or planning on playing for a relative visiting from out of town. Sometimes my girls even do little recitals for their grandparents over FaceTime. They love getting the praise from their favorite people in the world, and they will play for them anytime.

We have also been pretty big bribers where public performance is concerned. My kids know that they usually get some sort of reward for playing in a big recital. Bria recently played an entire concerto in a solo recital and earned herself a cute hat. Chloe is playing in an adjudicated piano festival next weekend and wants a tiny little Macbook for her American Girl doll. Sometimes all they want is a milkshake after their performance and life is good.

Still, intrinsic motivation is the best. If you can figure out what that is for your child, you are home free.

9. They are too tired.

This might be one of the most important things to making practice successful. If your child is exhausted during their practice time, nothing is going to be accomplished! Find a time where their energy is naturally more up. For Bria, this is at 6:00 in the morning. For Chloe it's at midnight. And I'm not kidding, I let her practice at midnight on weekends and during the summer. As a fellow night owl, it doesn't bother me at all. But during school she usually is fine to do it after dinner. Sophia is still a work in progress. She is usually a mess after school until she eats something, so we do it after her snack and homework and that's working for us right now.

10. You are not involved enough as a parent.

If #9 is one of the most important things to successful practice, this is THE most important thing to successful practice. Too many parents leave their children to flounder through the practicing. Don't do it. Be there for your child.

Sometimes I just sit and fold laundry while they are practicing so I can help them. I can easily hear mistakes and help them correct while I am just sitting on the couch folding. You'll often hear The Maestro yelling from the kitchen to "do it again with the metronome" or "you're out of tune--use a low 2!" But, again, just because you don't happen to be musical doesn't mean you can't be involved in your children's practicing.

One of my favorite books is Helping Parents Practice by Edmund Sprunger. It's full of great ideas for musical and non-musical parents alike. Just be there for your child. After all, their music lessons are a huge investment of your money--you should be willing to invest a little bit of your time as well.

Good luck!

You might also be interested in:
Five Tips to Help Your Children Practice
Our Newest System for Chores and Allowance
Scales Before Screens

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Frozen Beauty and the Beast

This is the winner of this year's fraternity month-long statue building contest. I absolutely loved the intricate ice details they were able to do this year! That is about the only thing this polar vortex nonsense has been good for!

Here are pictures--I'm pretty sure you'll be able to figure everything out for yourselves, so not much commentary. I did include one of The Maestro to give you a sense of scale. Again, it was so freaking cold that I rushed through the photo taking and I didn't bother to cross the street in order to get the whole thing in the frame.


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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

iParent TV Subscription Giveaway

I am really excited about hosting this giveaway today. In light of The Maestro's and my attempts to help our children moderate their screen time and learn to choose other activities in replacement, this couldn't have come at a better time.

Frankly, the statistics scare me. And it scares me how much access my children have to these things even though we don't have cable and they have huge restrictions on their internet time. With little tiny iPod devices, they have the world at their fingers, and that is truly difficult to monitor.

I don't want to take it all away from them--this is the way things are today. We have technology and we have a heck of a lot of it. My kids are fascinated by the "olden days" in which I grew up--where telephones had cords and TVs only had a few channels. Even worse, one had to go to the actual library and look through a card catalog to work on a school report!

That last figure--the one that says 80% of parents have no idea how to monitor their kids' online activities--is the one that scares me the most. Unfortunately, as much as I really care to know what's out there and what my children are viewing, I am finding it's harder and harder to keep up.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Steps to Financial Peace: Our Budget Categories

Sticking to a budget can be difficult, because some things come up so rarely that you forget to budget for them, or you don't realize how much your are actually spending on what you think should be a non-category. Budgeting can also be difficult because it's too easy to use a credit or debit card without accounting for how much money you spend. Thanks to my sponsors the Walmart MoneyCard® Reloadable Prepaid Visa Card and the Visa® Clear Prepaid program, today I'm re-sharing the budgeting categories we use at our house, as well as one easy trick to help you stay within your budget.

This is our personalized list of budgeting categories, and it is by no means an exhaustive list--everyone has different needs and different expenditures. The secret to a successful budget is making sure you have budgeted your entire life--you've got to know exactly which categories apply to YOUR life!
The secret to a successful budget is making sure you haven't missed a single category. Here is a list of budgeting categories to help you make sure you really are budgeting your entire life! #overstuffedlife

The categories and sub-categories that we use in our budget are as follows:


  • Tithing- We pay 10% of our income to tithing. We have found that we are blessed in countless ways by doing so (you can read about many of those blessings HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
  • Fast Offering- Once a month we fast for 24 hours and give the money we would have spent on food to the church. This particular money is used solely to help those in need with things like groceries and other household bills.

Monthly Bills

Bills that are paid once monthly--usually scheduled via my bank's bill pay or automatically taken out of the account. I do pay for music lessons with good old-fashioned checks.
  • Mortgage
  • Phone- We do not have a landline. Instead we have two smartphones and one dumb phone. The dumb phone is used for when the girls are home alone, or if one of them is out somewhere and will need to contact us. They are all under the same plan
  • Internet
  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Natural Gas- I don't even want to talk about how high this bill has been the last few months, thanks to the Polar Vortex. Ugh.
  • Braces- This is currently at zero, since we have paid off Bria's braces, but Chloe is set to get braces in the next few months, so this category will be going strong soon enough.
  • Violin Lessons
  • Piano Lessons
  • Gym- Uhhh...this category is still hanging out there, but I cancelled my membership a while ago due to a foot injury that took several months to heal. I have never restarted, but I have good intentions!
  • Streaming Video Subscription- You might notice that cable is not a monthly bill for us. We have gone without it for over ten years now and instead pay for streaming video services. Otherwise, we watch shows we want to see for free on the network's websites.
  • Basement- Last summer we had some major work done on our basement because of flooding in the spring due to the insane amount of snow we had last winter. Since this winter has already surpassed last winter in snowfall totals, I am glad we did it even though that means we have a monthly payment for a while.

Everyday Expenses

Things that we might buy at stores or online that do not have a fixed monthly bill. These vary wildly from month to month, but we do our best to budget for what we think is coming up.
  • Groceries- This category is for food only.
  • Fuel
  • Restaurants
  • Medical
  • Clothing- The amount is small and often gets rolled over into the next month. I have stopped going crazy buying clothes, and I have a mother who really loves shopping for my girls. I generally use it for things they really need, most often shoes. I also use this for clothing for The Maestro and me. Like when I just can't pass up a great deal on a super cute shirt for myself and when The Maestro needs new khakis.
  • Household Goods- This includes things like paper towels, new pots and pans, laundry detergent, etc.
  • Girls- Girl Scout fees, volleyball shorts, new music for lessons, books, and anything else they happen to need.
  • Joel Spending Money- It isn't a lot, but we both get the same amount to spend each month. The Maestro tends to use his for things like treats, Subway sandwiches, and the occasional iTunes download.
  • Lara Spending Money- I tend to use mine for my beauty subscriptions, lots and lots of books, and the occasional chocolate treat.
  • Puccini- Yes, my dog gets her own budget category. It includes grooming, dog food, dog treats, dog toys, and more dog sweaters than I ever thought I'd buy. Thanks Polar Vortex.
  • Bank fees- Our bank charges a small monthly fee. And we sometimes have a fee here and there for other things, but usually this is only the monthly two dollars.
  • Haircuts- It seems that somebody needs a haircut every month around here, but this is a budget category I might steal from when we are about to go over on groceries. I tend to get too busy to bother getting my hair cut anyway, and mine are the most expensive.
  • Entertainment- This includes both movies in the theatre and DVD rentals. It also includes plays and concerts, but one of the perks of The Maestro's job is that we get complimentary tickets to nearly every show that comes through town, so it is seldom used for that.
  • Allowance- We budget the girls' full allowance each month, but since they sometimes don't earn it all any leftover amount will roll over to the next month. (You can read more about our Allowance System HERE.)
  • Birthdays/Other Gifts- If it is a birthday month for our own family members, I add more to this category for that month. Otherwise, I put a smaller amount in the pot which is then used for any birthday parties the girls are invited to or things like baby showers or gifts I feel like giving randomly.

Rainy Day Funds

This category is used for bills that are paid once or twice a year, and to save up for things that happen more infrequently, such as Christmas.
  • Emergency Fund- We try to keep this fund at $1,000 and fund it when it has been used for something that comes up. When we are completely out of debt we will fund it at a higher amount.
  • Car Repairs- This is used for any repairs that come up, as well as things like oil changes and changing the tires from normal tires to snow tires each season (much needed around here).
  • Home Maintenance- This is used when something in the house breaks-like the time I tossed a shoe into the shoe basket a little too forcefully and ended up breaking the porch window. We also use it for planned home improvements and all that goes with them. Things like paint, flooring, and plants for landscaping.
  • Car Insurance- Car Insurance is paid twice a year. We have just divided the amount up into monthly increments and put that money aside so it is there when the bill comes due.
  • Life Insurance- This is actually a monthly payment for us, but it was automatically in this category and I haven't moved it. But many life insurances are an annual or bi-annual payment.
  • Michigan State Taxes- I have to send in quarterly estimated tax payments to the state for the freelance singing and blogging work I do, so I set aside a portion of that each month.
  • Federal Taxes- See State Taxes.
  • Vehicle Registration- We know the basic amount due each year, so we budget 1/12th of that each month. When we get the actual bill each August, we make any necessary adjustments in the August budget.
  • Christmas- While I try to set aside the same amount each month, I admit that this is a category that gets stolen from often to cover other expenses. Especially at the very beginning of the year when I know it will be easily made up in later months.
  • Professional Dues- I am a member of a national teaching association and pay annual dues. Like the other yearly bills, I put aside 1/12th of the total each month so I can renew my membership in January. This would include The Maestro's professional dues as well, but at this time the university covers those for him.

Savings Goals

This is where we set aside money each month for specific goals. Once a goal has been attained, I hide that category. We only have one category here currently (see below), but past categories have included a washer & dryer fund, a spring break getaway to Chicago, and the Epic Vacation of 2012.
  • New York Trip- This is our current savings goal. The Maestro and I are heading to Manhattan in May to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! We have already paid for much of this trip by using this budget category. Our plane tickets, opera tickets, and symphony tickets are already paid for. We are still needing to buy tickets to a play, pay for our hotel (currently reserved, of course, but unpaid for), and have spending money for the actual trip.


This evil category needs no explanation and I wish it didn't exist. But, it does, and I am loving watching the number go down, down, down!
  • Student Loan- Sometimes it seems like we will be paying off The Maestro's doctoral degree forever. We are on the Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR), so our payment changes once a year based on the previous year's income. This has saved us in years where we were still just getting on our feet or during The Summer of No Paycheck. It's considerably more this year than it was last year, thanks to my going back to work almost full-time.
  • Credit Cards- Each individual card (we have four we're paying off) has its own category. We do the snowball method of paying down debt, so three of those cards are getting a payment slightly above minimum and the fourth is getting a very large payment.
  • Store Credit Cards- This is sort of a cheat on my part. I budget an amount each month to go to this category. I only use store credit cards when it gets me a better deal on something to use it. I really should just put that thing (usually clothing) in the category it belongs in, but I don't. This seems easier for me.

So there you have it. Our budget categories. Of course, budgeting is never one-size-fits-all, but hopefully it will help you as you design your own family budget.

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Using a prepaid credit card is one way that you can stay within your allotted budget. Take groceries, for example. The amount we spend on them can vary wildly from month to month because of price changes or special events, even though my budget doesn’t change. By using a Walmart MoneyCard® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card, part of the Visa Clear Prepaid program, I can put the month’s budget onto the card at the first of the month, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Knowing that there is really a finite amount of money always helps me to make better choices all month long instead of resorting to living on beans and rice the last week of each month because I didn’t plan ahead.

Because the Walmart MoneyCard® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card does not allow overdrafts, you won’t incur overdraft fees or, more importantly, you’re less likely to spend more money than you had budgeted.

A prepaid Visa card is an excellent way to keep your grocery or household budget working for you instead of against you! Now, start designing that budget and start feeling the financial freedom that only a budget can give you.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the Visa Clear Prepaid program and the Walmart MoneyCard® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card.

Other posts about my quest for peace in 2014:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I Love the Way They Love Each Other

IMG_1535 Sunday PHoto web

I decided to drag up my backdrop stand to do today's Sunday photo because it's so beautiful and sunny outside today. I had plenty of lovely light coming in through my windows, even though it's so cold today that school would most definitely have been canceled as it was on Thursday.

My children bicker all day long, annoy each other to death, freak out if one of them looks at the other wrong, and so much more. But, when it comes right down to it, they love each other to death. They are the best of friends.

And even though they drove me absolutely nuts while I was trying to take just one freaking photo for today--fighting over who got to hold Puccini, acting all crazy, refusing to smile, making weird faces--it was really fun to see through it all what great friends they are.

Someday, they'll be inseparable. They just don't know it yet.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

March 2014 Visiting Teaching Printable

The March Visiting Teaching Message is The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Light of the World.

"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."  -John 8:12

My favorite quote in the lesson was also the longest, but I really wanted it to be the one I highlighted on my printable this month. (I have given each of my sisters a 5x7 frame so that they can change the photo in it each month to remind them of the VT message.)

Since the quote by President Eyring talks about reflecting the light of Christ in our own lives, I thought of a photo I took on an Alaskan cruise about 5 years ago. (You should really click on that link and see the original photo--I had to desaturate it a bit for this so the words would show up better.) It was the most breathtaking sunset I have ever seen in my entire life. The light of the sun reflecting on the water was like actual gold. I dug it up to use for this printable since the imagery of the sun reflecting on the water reminded me of reflecting the light of Christ.


To download: 
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