Sunday, August 30, 2015

September 2015 Visiting Teaching Printable

The Visiting Teaching message for September is "Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ: Powerful and Full of Glory." When I first read the title I thought that the lesson would be something entirely different than it actually was.

I figured we would be talking only about the power and glory of Christ himself. While the lesson touched on that, it focused more on how we can harness Christ's power and glory in our own lives, and I really needed to read that.

One of the ways we can have Christ's power in our lives is through temple attendance. In the past six years temple attendance has become closer and closer to my heart since we live seven hours away from a temple. Obviously, I don't get to go very often!

Now, whenever we are somewhere near an LDS temple for vacation, that becomes an important part of our itinerary. This year, The Maestro and I attended a session at the St. Paul temple together. He visited his family in Utah and went to a session there, but when I visited my family in Utah last week with Sophia I didn't make it to the temple. I had good reason! I think I got food poisoning at a restaurant the day before I had planned to attend a session, and I spent the night throwing up. I couldn't get up to go, but I still felt so guilty. Now I probably won't make it to the temple twice this year (which is what we usually aim for), and will have to settle for only once.

I need the power from on high that attending the temple gives me. We all do. If you live near a temple, don't let anything stand in your way of getting there often. Just like the people of Nephi, we will be "armed with the power of God in great glory" as we make an effort to attend the temple and to stay close to Him in every way we can.

September 2015 Visiting Teaching Message: The Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ--Powerful and Full of Glory. Free printable download. #overstuffedlife

To download, click here:

September 2015 Visiting Teaching Printable

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Should You Let Your Kid Quit Music Lessons?

A couple of days ago, Sophia had her very last violin lesson. Yes, you read that right. I let her quit music lessons after four years of sticking it out. It wasn't an easy decision for me at all and I feel like a great big failure of a music mom. The Maestro is the one who actually finally convinced me that it was time to stop trying to make violin lessons work for her and move on. And as much as it pains me to admit it, he was right.

When is it okay to quit music lessons? Sometimes kids are going through a phase, and other times it is in their best interest to quit their music lessons. Here's how to tell the difference. #overstuffedlife

Every one of my kids has wanted to quit their music lessons at one time or another. I remember Bria going through a huge period of hating her violin and hating to practice when she was just about Sophia's age. But the thing is, she still practiced. And I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever had to remind her to practice. Because, see, even though her mouth was telling me how much she hated the violin, I would watch her practice and her body would tell me something different. Even if you ask her nearly 15-year-old self right now if she likes playing the violin, she'll probably say no with her mouth. But when you watch her play, you'll know that it just isn't true.

I think most kids go through these phases when they want to quit their music lessons. I certainly did. I actually wrote a persuasive essay in my 8th grade English class to convince my parents that I should be allowed to quit piano lessons. And they let me!

Quitting piano lessons in the 8th grade is one of my biggest regrets in life. Because now I am a serviceable pianist, but I am not really a good pianist. I wish I had persevered, because I use my serviceable piano skills every single day in my job as a vocal instructor. I can play several of the pieces I assign my students, but I butcher just as many as I play well.

My own regrets have informed my parenting when it comes to music lessons. My girls are required to take music lessons, and quitting isn't an option. When you are the children of two professional musicians, this is probably to be expected.

I know how to help kids practice. I have been doing it since Bria was a tiny 3-year-old. I know the gimmicks. I know the reasons why practicing is hard. And I mostly even know how to get them to practice anyway. And then came Sophia.

I tried everything. I tried to make practice more fun. I have paid her to practice—both in M&Ms and real money. I have purchased fun music for her to practice. I have done a hundred other little things to help her learn, to make it easier, to make it enjoyable. Was I the most consistent mom in the universe? Absolutely not. But I tried so hard.

Should you let your child quit their music lessons? It's a hard question, but sometimes the answer is yes. Here are the reasons why. #overstuffedlife

In the end, there were several good reasons to let her quit music lessons (for now):

1. I wanted to kill her during every practice session. And maybe myself, too.

Oh my goodness, the tantrums! You have not seen a tantrum until you have seen my Sophia throw one of hers around. When this child wants to do something, she will do it happily and more quickly than any child around. But when she doesn't want to do it? Watch out. She will dig her heels in, she will weep, she will wail, and she will probably even gnash her teeth and pull her hair out. (Actually, she really does pull her own hair during a tantrum—I'm not even kidding!)

This is a toddler Sophia throwing a tantrum because she wasn't allowed to climb on the piano. A portent of things to come, I suppose.

When 4 out of every 6 practice sessions result in an epic two-hour tantrum and about 3 minutes of practicing, it's time to re-evaluate. My Lyme diagnosis this year did not help, either. I used to have more fortitude to deal with it all and things would end a little better, but these last few months I have been no match for Sophia's iron will. I simply didn't have the wherewithal to fight with her every day.

2. She would rather stick forks in her eyes than practice, no matter how "fun" I made it for her.

Practicing really did become a form of torture for Sophia. There were glimmers of enjoyment, but they were few and far between. She began to devise any method she could to get out of practicing and became really adept at distracting me from making her practice. She would interrupt practice sessions for every reason under the sun and did her list of after school chores so slowly that there would be no time for practice once she was finished.

3. She learned to play "Happy Birthday" on the trumpet before she learned it on the violin.

The Maestro's instrument is the trumpet. While he doesn't play it often, he does do some professional gigs every once in a while (too bad his rock band broke up). Sophia has always been highly interested in his trumpet whenever he has it out. She begs him to let her play it, and he always lets her. Then she begs him to teach her how to play various songs on it. And she learns them.

This kid can play "Happy Birthday" just great on the trumpet. And yet she still somehow struggles with "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on her violin after four years of playing. It isn't that she isn't musical, it's that the violin is probably not the right instrument for her. She plays violin because she watched her older sister playing the violin and wanted to do it, too. I didn't put her in when she was 3 like I did Bria, either. I waited until she was 5, because we felt she was more ready then.

The Maestro says that "the instrument chooses the musician"—just like the wand chooses the wizard in Harry Potter. Our plan now is to wait out these next two years and see which instrument chooses her for 6th grade band. If she wants to take up the trumpet, we will be thrilled. We will be equally thrilled if she chooses saxophone or flute or tuba or bassoon. She will still be required to play something, though, but we're going to give her a break until middle school.

Most people don't know that Chloe began as a violinist, too. But her teacher and I quickly realized that it wasn't the right instrument for her, and we quit after just a few months. We waited a few years and then put her into piano lessons where she has blossomed as a musician. Now that she is in middle school, she also plays percussion and loves it. Pulling her out of violin was the right decision for her, too, because she found her musical home elsewhere. I just feel guilty I didn't see it more quickly with Sophia.

4. At the rate her progress was going, she would be lucky to finish Suzuki Book One by the time she graduated from high school.

For me, her lack of progress was the clincher in our decision to let her quit. After four years she was still trying to learn Minuet 1, and that was just not an acceptable rate of progress. Plus, she would finally learn a song for a recital, play it surprisingly well, and then manage to forget it completely a few days later. Really. She still has trouble remembering the fingerings for Twinkle, which is the first song these kids ever learn.

Violin just never started to become natural for her at all. Her teacher even bagged Suzuki for a while and put her in a more fun book. She loved that book but still had epic tantrums over practicing. Maybe if we had started her in that book from the beginning things would have been different.

Or maybe not.

5. Her dad is one of the most talented musicians I have ever met and he never picked up an instrument until he was 11 years old.

Seriously. She's only 9 years old! Just because her older sisters were able to stick with their instruments from a much younger age does not mean that she needs to. The Maestro didn't have a music class or a music lesson until he was in 6th grade and the trumpet chose him. He knew it was "his instrument" at first hearing, and the rest is history.

Sophia lives in a very musical home, she's taken up the ukulele recently and has fun with that, she's exposed to all sorts of music on a daily basis. She will be just fine musically. Quitting violin at age 9 will not have some sort of long term detriment to her musical abilities.

Besides, even though we want our children in music lessons, we don't necessarily want them to become professional musicians or even major in music. That's up to them, and we completely understand if they choose to be engineers instead. (Okay, maybe we won't actually understand if they choose engineering over music, but we will be supportive.)

6. She was much happier playing with other people, while practicing by herself was excruciating.

Violin is, by nature, a pretty solitary instrument. While many violinists play in orchestras, of course, the actual learning how to play is usually done alone.

Sophia is, by nature, a pretty social being. She loves being around other people. She arranges playdates for herself on a regular basis and is unhappy when she doesn't have anybody to play with. She even hates having her own room! What child hates having their own room?

This is another reason why I think learning something like the trumpet in an environment like middle school band will be more her speed. She will be surrounded by other kids learning their own instrument every day, and her own individual practice will be less demanding at first.

Sophia's last violin lesson. She was happy, despite struggling to remember how to play her songs. 

The one thing I am grateful for is that Sophia really did love her lessons. Mostly because she loved playing duets with her teacher. And she loved her teacher—a wonderful teacher who was patient and understanding and tried many different ways to help Sophia progress. After every lesson she was totally jazzed about playing her violin and recommitted to practicing. But then practice time would come the next day and we would be back to the tantrums and fighting.

During her last lesson Sophia even expressed regret at wanting to quit, but not enough to want to right all of the reasons why we decided to quit. Still, I think when it is all said and done that she will look back at violin fondly, simply because she did love going to lessons.

If only I could afford for her to have a lesson every day!

Sophia is quitting violin lessons, but she isn't quitting music. We will still find ways to keep her in music until she is in middle school, and then she will still be required to play in band. Music is too important to our family to let her quit entirely, but this has been a wonderful learning experience for me as a mother.

Sometimes it is okay to quit. And sometimes it is actually the very best thing for your child.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What To Do When Decluttering Really Hurts

Last night I went through all of my scrapbooking supplies in an effort to clean up my office before school starts. My two big goals yesterday were to clean out my closet (easy), and declutter all the scrapbooking stuff I have amassed over the years. I haven't scrapbooked in about five years, so it should have been pretty easy to get rid of it all, right?


It was excruciating. And I really couldn't figure out why.

Sometimes decluttering really hurts, but it still needs to be done. How I finally let go of my scrapbooking supplies when I had let go of the hobby years before. #overstuffedlife

I used to be an avid scrapbooker. I tried to do at least one page a day, I had a budget for scrapbooking supplies, and I was constantly thinking up cute ideas for layouts. I posted daily on a scrapbooking message board and was even published several times in the big scrapbooking magazines like Creating Keepsakes, Simple Scrapbooks, and Memory Makers. I loved it.

Scrapbooking layout: Jumprope

It was the perfect creative outlet for me at that point in my life.

I was a SAHM to two little girls, I wasn't teaching very many voice lessons (maybe 2 or 3 a week), and my husband was gone all the time working on his doctoral degree. I scrapbooked alone and with friends and pretty quickly amassed 20+ large albums full of pages about my marriage, my children, our vacations, and our life.

Scrapbooking Layout: Separation Anxiety

But that life has a funny way of moving on, and things fall in and out of it all the time. Sometimes it surprises me that I have completely given up scrapbooking, but other things began to fill up my life and it was slowly edged out. When The Maestro graduated with his doctorate, we moved to another state and I was asked to teach voice lessons at the university there. Sophia was a newborn, and my other kids were getting older and busier. I still scrapped as much as I possibly could, but it began to be less and less.

Scrapbooking Layout: I Love You A Lot!

And then we moved here six years ago. (SIX!?!) Many of my friends met together on a weekly basis to scrapbook together, and I joined them for the first year or so of living here. But those were pretty much the last scrapbooking layouts I ever did, because my job teaching at the university here became bigger and bigger until I average 18-20 students each semester. And my girls are busier now than ever, which means that I am busier now than ever.

Which brings me back to last night in my office where I was surrounded by all of my scrapbooking supplies. Boxes and baskets and bins full of cute little stickers and embellishments and patterned paper. I couldn't bear to go through it all, and I really couldn't bear to get rid of any of it.

I was falling into the trap of Why Clutter Happens, which I've written about before. I was being overly sentimental about a hobby that I had truly loved but simply don't have time for anymore. I was lamenting the fact that I had invested a lot of money into scrapbooking and giving away hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of supplies made me a little sick. Most of all, though, I was thinking about how many photographs are left un-scrapped, and how much I would like to get them in albums, and that when I finally get around to doing it I will need all of my stuff to be available.

Decluttering can be such a joyous and freeing experience, especially when you really got all the use you could out of an item. "These shoes brought me joy, I wore them often, but now it's time to let them go because they are worn out." That's the kind of decluttering I like to do.

But sometimes decluttering hurts a little bit. For me, it hurts to know I spent money on something that I didn't end up using or needing. I guess it just forces me to face my mistakes, and I don't really like that. I also don't really like the feeling of wasting money.

This scrapbooking thing was different though. It hurt a LOT. It hurt in a different way because I was giving up something that I really and truly loved. Scrapbooking honestly did "spark joy" in my life (to quote the popular decluttering book of the day). I sort of felt like I was giving away my child or something.

So what do you do in this situation?

Well, what I did was whine about it on Facebook. Lucky for me, a very wise friend commented. She told me to weigh my priorities. Because in order for me to find time to scrapbook again, I would have to give something else up.

Would I give up date night with The Maestro. No.
Would I give up family time? Nope.
Would I give up my job? No.
Would I give up blogging? No way.
Would I give up sleep? Maybe, but not the best idea in the world, and it would also mean giving up my health. So, no.

I already knew that scrapbooking wasn't a big enough priority in my life for me to keep all the stuff, but this exercise solidified that for me. I texted another friend who is very crafty to see if she wanted everything I was getting rid of. I guess since it feels like I'm giving up a child that I also want to be sure it goes to a good home!

Once you know what your priorities are, it's easier to get rid of those things that don't make the cut.

I then followed the general advice for decluttering: Keep, Trash, and Donate.

When decluttering, use the simple system of Keep, Donate, and Trash. #overstuffedlife

I still have a few more things to go through, but so far I have filled two bags for my friend. I have also filled a garbage bag full—mostly of paper scraps that I was saving to use for another project. And I've filled a bin of things that I'm not quite ready to give up. I still use my scrapbooking supplies here and there for other projects the kids and I do, and when (okay, IF) I get back to scrapping on a regular basis, I will still have some supplies.

But it will be a reasonable amount. No more than I can fit in this one bin, which will go to the basement for now so it isn't cluttering up my office. That bin will represent only about 1/4 of what I currently have, so I think that I can consider that reasonable.

It hurt, but in the end I feel so much more free! I'm really excited to finally be able to utilize my office space for the things that are taking priority in my life right now and not give it all up for something that I only "used to do."

If decluttering one or two parts of your life is hurting you the way getting rid of my scrapbook stuff hurt me, then try asking yourself the same question—"Would you give another part of your life up in order to keep and use this stuff?"—and see what happens when you answer and see that giving it up is in your best interest.

If there are too many parts of your life that hurt to declutter, then you might need extra help. Check out The Organized Home course by Hilary from Pulling Curls. It is created especially for people who struggle with knowing where to start organizing and decluttering, and for people who have a tough time giving things up.

This is the perfect course for you if:

  • You always need hours of notice before having guests because you’re embarrassed about the state of your home.
  • You’re always worried you misplaced an important document or won’t be able to find things when you need them.
  • You’ve ever wondered why can’t YOU enjoy peaceful time on the couch or enjoying your family instead of always stressing out about the state of your home?

If you need someone to TEACH you how to address clutter and get organized, Hilary is your girl, and you can get 10% off the course here with the code Overstuffed10.

What is taking space in your life that might hurt to declutter? Would you give up something else so you can keep it in your life?

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Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Deal With Big School Transitions

Last year, I had two major school transitions to deal with at my house. I had one daughter starting high school and another one starting middle school. Kids don't really realize that these big milestones are just as hard for mom and dad as they are for them—maybe even harder!

The big school transitions can be just as difficult for the parents as they are for the kids. Here are some ways to make starting Kindergarten, middle school, and high school easier for everyone! #overstuffedlife

Watching your kids grow up is hard. As much as I adore celebrating birthdays with my children, a little part of me hates it. I hate seeing them grow older because I desperately miss their past selves. Sometimes, when I am watching family videos from several years ago my heart just aches to hold my babies again, or to see my adorable toddlers again, or even just to have them be six years old again! Man, this mommy business is difficult!

When my eldest daughter went to her first day of Kindergarten, I was a mess. How on earth was I going to hand my little 4-year-old (yes--FOUR--she didn't turn five until October) to someone else for the day? I stayed as strong as I could while getting her situated in her new classroom, but as soon as I got in the car, I bawled all the way home.

This year, that same daughter will be starting her second year of HIGH SCHOOL. I don't even know what my life has come to because I am definitely not old enough to be the mother of a high school sophomore!

These kinds of big school transitions are especially difficult for parents because they are just as new for us as they are for our children. And let's not forget that these transitions are not usually easy for the kids, either, which gives mom and dad even more anxiety about the whole thing.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Growing up is unfortunately necessary, and we can't keep our children little forever. We need to help them through these transitions as best we can without creating extra difficulty because it is hard for us. Here are a few things that have helped me:

Talk to Parents Who Have Already Been Through It

Part of the problem is that everything is so unknown, as I mentioned before. Last year, my middle daughter, Chloe, began middle school. I was not nearly as angsty about that transition as I was about my eldest starting high school. Why? Because I knew what to expect. Bria did not die from attending middle school, and so I was fairly confident that Chloe would not die, either. Plus, I was familiar with the teachers, the rules, and the homework, so I knew what she would be dealing with.

If this is the first time you are navigating the educational transition as a parent, find other parents who have done it before. (Preferably parents whose children are attending the same schools yours are.) Ask them as many questions as you can think of. Seriously, dump all your worries on them—they'll be happy to answer because they know what it's like. It's nice to know what you and your child will be facing well ahead of time.

What are the teachers like? What is the homework policy? How does the busing system work? What are the extracurricular activities like? Etc. Ask everything you can think of that might worry either you or your child.

Communicate With Your Child

Chances are that you aren't the only one with anxiety. Kids aren't sure what to expect during these transitions, either. Spend a good portion of the summer just talking with them and finding out what their concerns are. And then do your best to resolve those concerns.

Bria's biggest worry was whether she could memorize her locker combination and if she'd be able to even open her locker when she first went to middle school. Our solution was that we would go in a couple days before school started and practice until she felt completely comfortable (in our district you are allowed to do that).

When my youngest daughter was just starting Kindergarten, she was very worried about taking the bus home by herself after lunch since Kindergarten was half-day and she wouldn't have her older sister with her. I called the school to find out the protocol and we discussed it every day for several weeks before school started. When the bus dropped her off that first day, she was a very triumphant 5-year-old because she had been prepared. (She was also a very adorable 5-year-old!)

IMG_1049 Sophia bus_ web

I have found that by working to alleviate my children's concerns, that my own are resolved in the process. Part of my worry is that my kid won't be able to unlock her locker or get home on the bus, so when I help her work through it, my own worries dissipate. It's kind of amazing.

Rely on Family Traditions—or Create New Ones!

Finally, I have found that when I work hard to make the beginning of the school year memorable for my kids, I don't have to think about all my worries as much. We have a few diehard traditions at our house for the beginning of the school year and they get the whole family excited about what could otherwise be a really anxious time.

Our favorite Back-to-School tradition is having our Back-to-School Feast the night before school starts. We introduce a family theme for the school year, have an amazing meal, and then do a fashion show where the girls model what they will wear on the first day.

The year Bria, my eldest, went into middle school I wanted to focus on that big transition with our family theme. So it was "I Can Do Hard Things." I loved the way she internalized it, as did my other two children. It helped me a lot that year, too. We can do hard things—and watching our kids grow up is hard, remember?

We can do hard thingsHard things

Two years ago, my youngest had recently had a diagnosis of Celiac so we focused our theme more on healthy eating:

IMG_6837 BTS Feast 2013 web

And last year, I wanted to focus on making the big school transitions easier by creating good habits and getting rid of the bad ones. Our theme included important things for academic success like going to bed early and not being idle.

If you don't already have Back-to-School traditions, it's never too late to start! Ice-cream for breakfast, special school supply/clothes shopping dates, fancy dinners--anything wonderful you can think of to help you and your child look forward to school starting.

Even though Bria is a lot older than she was when we first started our Back-to-School feasts, she still wants to wear the silly homemade crown I make for them. She loves it. It's something to cling to.

And it's something for me to cling to as well.

I'll just have to think of something really amazing for her next educational transition: College. Thankfully, I have three more years (wait, only three?) to digest that information.

Here's to an amazing school year for the kids AND the parents!

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The One and Only Ivan Book Club Ideas

This post is part of an ongoing Summer Reading for Kids series. Click HERE to find ideas for reading activities, reading lists, and reading incentives...and keep checking back for more!

Book club ideas for The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Fun activities, refreshment ideas, craft projects, and discussion questions. #overstuffedlife

For the last few summers, my girls have enjoyed hosting book clubs with their friends. This summer, only Sophia (age 9) managed to have one, and it was so much fun! She and I read The One and Only Ivan together earlier this summer, and we both loved it so much she decided to have it be her book for book club before we were even finished with it.

I have my children play a major role in the planning and executing of all parts of the book clubs, so Sophia and I sat down together and talked through ideas. We went online to look at Pinterest for crafts and activities involving gorillas or elephants and she made all of the final plans. I only helped her to do the computer stuff and was the financial backer.


Normally, we try to have invitations ready to pass out on the last day of school, but I did not have it together this year. Instead, we passed them out in early July and set the book club date for early August, giving the girls invited about a month to read the book.

Invitation idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan

I printed up some invitations on the computer, using the fonts that Sophia picked. I printed them onto colored card stock and Sophia decorated them with glitter glue (sorry, I still don't actually have it together enough to have a photo of a decorated invitation!).


Sophia loved the pig and spider cupcakes we made for her Charlotte's Web book club last year so much, that she really wanted to try her hand at gorilla cupcakes. We couldn't find any good ones online, but we found some monkey ones that we were able to alter a little bit.

They turned out a little funny, but were still super cute! We joked that we couldn't decide if they were cows or gorillas, but the only thing that mattered was that they tasted good! We used gluten-free oreo cookies for his face, black frosting for his nostrils and ears, and edible eyeballs for his eyes. Sophia and Chloe had so much fun decorating the cupcakes together!

Refreshment idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Gorilla cupcakes and yogurt covered raisins.

She also chose to serve yogurt covered raisins, since that is Ivan's very favorite food. We also wanted to make some chocolate no bake cookies ("gorilla poop") but we were out of gluten-free oats and I did not have a chance to get some in time for the party. Still, we thought it would be so much fun since Ivan does talk about his "me-balls" in the book quite a bit. (You'll just have to read it!)

Crafts and Activities

Sophia was all about the activities and crafts!

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Making gorilla masks.

First, the girls colored and cut out gorilla masks. They glued them on a popsicle stick, and I had a bunch of very creative gorillas in my house for a while there!

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Making gorilla masks.

After the masks were finished, we moved on to making Stella the Elephant hair bows. All of these girls were 8 and 9 years old, so I was fine with having them use the glue gun under my supervision.

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Making Stella the elephant bows

I went through each step of making the elephant bows with them and they took turns with the glue gun doing each step themselves. They ended up with some super adorable hair bows that they made all by themselves! They were all very proud of their work!

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Making Stella the elephant bows

I do not have step-by-step instructions, I just looked at a bow Sophia found on Pinterest and copied it. It was actually very easy to do. We glued the finished bows onto hair clips, and each girl wore her Stella the Elephant bow home proudly.

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Making Stella the elephant bows

Our final activity was to fingerpaint a zoo, just like Ivan did. I had paintbrushes available for any girl who didn't want to use her fingers. They had a lot of fun together deciding who would paint which animals and the final product was awesome!

Activity idea for a book club to discuss The One and Only Ivan: Finger painting a zoo

Discussion Questions

The back of our copy of The One and Only Ivan had some great discussion questions in it. I used them as a guide for the questions because these girls were still a little young for the really in depth questions that were asked. Sophia didn't want to lead the discussion herself, so I did it.

Some of the guests are always more willing to talk about the book than others, so just go with the flow. I always try to make sure I ask questions like "Who was your favorite character?" and "What was your favorite part of the book?" because they are not intimidating. It's always fun to see the great things the kids learn from reading whichever book we are discussing.

If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend that you do! So many great lessons to be learned and conversations to be had! And lots of opportunity for a really fun book club, too!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Most Important Tip for Using Your Planner Successfully

My new planner for the academic year of 2015-2016 recently arrived and I am in love with it! There's nothing like having a new, blank planner to get me thinking about how I'm going to be so much more organized this school year than I have ever been before!

As I've been setting it up, I realized that there is one thing that makes using a planner successful. Just having a planner does not mean you will magically get to all your appointments or know what is going on in your life, no matter how cute and functional it is. Even looking at your planner often isn't going to help you much if you haven't written anything down in it.

There is one thing you have to do if you want to successfully use a planner. #overstuffedlife

I know, you're all rolling your eyes at me right now. Of course you have to write things down in your planner. But do you do it way in advance, or at least as soon as you know about an event? Because I haven't always done that, and it's gotten me into lots of double-booking sorts of trouble over the course of my life.

My big tip isn't so much writing it down as much as it is writing it down immediately. Sometimes that is easy. For instance, when you call to make a doctor's appointment you most likely have your planner open in front of you, so you do write it down right then and there.

But what about when you get the school calendar for the year? What about those pesky recurring events that are the same every single week? Those are the ones most easily forgotten. Those are the ones that tend to get me in trouble with double-booking, because who can remember when the school arts night is when the last time you saw it in writing was six months ago? Certainly not me.

That is what my planner is for.

But I have to tell it about all of these events, first.

Since school hasn't started yet, I don't actually have a ton of stuff to write in my planner for this year yet. I don't know any of the school events, I have no idea when my children's music lessons and other extra-curricular activities will be, and I don't know what my own teaching schedule will be like, either.

Make your planning sessions faster and more thorough with stamps

As that information begins to trickle in, I will have many dates with my planner to make sure everything is recorded. And I will be doing it with my new favorite planner stampers. The company who makes my favorite Mom on the Go planners has several accessories to make planning easier. They have cute stickers, which I have used in the past, but they take a little too much time for me to use them consistently. I know lots of other people really love them, so if you know yourself to be a sticker person, you should definitely check them out. I'm really liking these stampers, though, because they make it easy to get recurring events written in your planner super fast.

There are two different stampers available. One is the LDS Stamper and the other is the Mom Stamper. (You'll find both the stampers and the stickers under the accessories tab on the Mormon Mom Planner website.) I have both stampers and found the words on both of them to be quite versatile.

(See how I use the stamper and other fun planner products here: 6 Practical Ways to Decorate Your Planner.)

Planner Stampers make your planning more effective, and a lot quicker!

For instance, the Mom Stamper has the word "practice" on it. While I have kids that participate in sports and I will use the stamper to note their sports practices, we are all musicians in this family, and practicing our instruments is a big deal. I'm even going to use it to set aside time for myself to practice, because my own practicing is always going out the window because I don't write it in my schedule.

The LDS Stamper has the word "lesson" on it, which is great for when you have to teach a church lesson. But since my livelihood is teaching voice lessons, it will be excellent for noting when and who I teach, as well as when my children have their own music lessons. Hooray for not having to write the same words over and over and over again during planning sessions! It is so much quicker to just stamp them!

Mom on the Go Planner

Like I said earlier, I am in the early stages of setting up my planner for the year right now, so I've been using the stampers to put down the things I already know, and to make a bit of a household schedule for myself as well.

How to use stampers to make your planning more efficient.

I know that I will most likely be working all day Tuesday-Thursday, so I put my household chores on the days that I am home. I already know that every Monday night is Family Night, so I had fun stamping that all through the book. Same for Friday night Date Night with The Maestro. Now it is scheduled and I will be less tempted to schedule something else on top of it.

How to use stampers to make your planning more efficient.

I don't know if I can say the same about my Laundry and Cleaning schedules, but I will be more likely to do it if it is written in my planner. That I do know.

My challenge to you? If you haven't entered all of the appointments and activities you already know about into your planner, do it now. I promise it will make your life so much easier! I can't wait to get the school calendar in September and sit down with my stampers and pens and get my life scheduled!

Don't forget to head over to the Mormon Mom Planner website (which sells planners for every woman, not just Mormon ones). I have used both the Mormon Mom Planner and the Mom on the Go Planner and loved them both, but prefer the Mom on the Go. They also sell a Simple Planner for those who don't have children at home and don't need all the "mom" stuff in their planners.

Read my review of the 2015 Mom on the Go Planner here: Why Everyone Should Use a Paper Planner. You'll see why it's my favorite.

If you love planners as much as I do, you'll really love my Pinterest Board dedicated to Planners!

What's your best tip for using your planner successfully?

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Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Vacation in Hawaii on a Budget

Our 2014 Christmas gift to the girls this year was a trip to Hawaii. Lately we have been trying to give experience gifts instead of stuff gifts, and so we didn't give them very much else. Even though we had most of the Christmas budget to devote to the trip, travel to Hawaii isn't exactly cheap. Still, vacationing in Hawaii on a budget can be done, and we were able to cut our costs in several different ways.

(This is also a sneaky way for me to post many of my vacation sit tight, learn how we did Hawaii on the cheap, and enjoy lots and lots of pictures of paradise!)

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1. Travel with Airline Miles

We paid for much of our trip with airline miles. We have a couple airline credit cards that we try to use for everything when we are planning a vacation. The Maestro travels a bit for work here and there, but not a ton, so most of our mile earning comes from the credit cards.

Because we had miles from a couple different airlines, we traveled to San Francisco on Southwest, from San Francisco to Hawaii and back again on Hawaiian Air, and from San Francisco back home on United. It's a little crazy to do it this way, but it saved us a ton of money.

Using the airline credit cards to earn miles is NOT a good deal or good for your budget unless you can commit to paying it off in full every month. We try to put everything we would normally buy on the credit card and then pay it off right away. Groceries, household supplies, entertainment, etc. Doing it this way really helps you rack up those miles.

Again, if you don't have the discipline to pay it off immediately, it will be cheaper for you in the long run to just buy the plane tickets up front. Trust me on this.

2. Skip the hotel and rent a condo

My parents actually own a timeshare condo on Maui already, so this part was much easier for us. They came with us on our trip (along with my brother and his kids), and we all stayed in their condo together.

The hotel prices in Hawaii are pretty steep and are almost always the most expensive part of the trip. Many hotels charge "resort fees" on top of the regular fee and those fees can surprise you to the tune of $1000 or so upon checkout. While I am sure there are some good hotel deals to be found, renting a condo or buying up someone's timeshare week is generally the cheapest route to go.

Check sites like to find people wanting to sell their timeshare weeks. My parents keep their timeshare because they do vacation in Hawaii regularly, but they don't use it every year and sell it instead. I just looked at the website and found several condos in Maui available for as little as $100 a night.

Renting a condo means you'll have access to a kitchen, a washer/dryer, a pool, a grill, beach towels, beach chairs, coolers, and more. Most of these things would either not be available or fall under the "resort fee" at a hotel.

3. Make your own food

Renting a condo and having a kitchen is a very, very good thing for your budget! Now you can make your own food instead of being forced to eat out for every meal.

As soon as we landed and picked up our rental car, we headed to both Walmart and Costco to do our grocery shopping for the week. We had already carefully planned our menus beforehand (my parents, my brother, and our family each took turns making dinner) and we each purchased what we needed for the week. We did make another trip for extras a bit later in the week, but what we bought initially mostly lasted us just fine.

We prepared our own breakfasts every morning.

We took bagged lunches to the beach with us every day. Since there was a cooler available in our unit, this was easy to do.

And we made dinner in the condo every day but one. We chose one day to eat out at a nice restaurant, but even that wasn't really necessary. We also could have eaten at one of the many local food places that give you a plate of rice and pork and chicken for a pretty low price.

We chose to splurge a bit at Kimo's in Lahaina after a long day at the beach. It was good food, even though Bria wasn't very fond of her ahi tuna—I don't think she realized exactly what that meant!

4. Bring food with you

Part of keeping the food budget down for us involved bringing our own food. Gluten-free options already cost more on the mainland, and I knew I didn't want to pay Hawaii prices for the gluten-free stuff I would need for our family. We filled half of Sophia's suitcase and part of my suitcase with things like gluten-free granola bars, pancake mixes, and even laundry detergent (Tide pods are super easy to travel with) and disposable goods like lunchbags and ziploc baggies.

5. Spend most of your time at the beach

We've already done a Hawaii trip that involved a ton of touristy activities. We went to an aquarium, took a glass-bottomed boat tour, did a snorkel trip, attended an expensive luau, and more. It was lots of fun, but we learned that mostly we just wanted to hang out at the beach and have fun with the kids.

I'm pretty sure the kids were cool with it, too!

We rented a couple boogie boards and some snorkel gear from Snorkel Bob's and had a wonderful time heading to the beach for several hours each day.

Sophia especially had a blast on those boogie boards. She was a natural!

The kids also spent a lot of time playing in the sand. My favorite was the giant sea turtle they worked on for several hours one day. So many people walking by commented on how cool it was.

The kids and their sand turtle--Sophia and her cousin Estee are behind them playing in the water.
We stayed until the sun went down almost every day. There's nothing quite like sitting on the beach in Hawaii and watching the sun go down as the kids play in the water. So peaceful. So beautiful.

6. Find the deals 

We decided to spend money on one big activity. We were able to find a great deal on a whale watch/snorkel trip combo and it was definitely worth every penny. Usually you will see coupon deals advertised everywhere. Just do your homework and compare prices, and you'll be able to find the best deals on the activities you do choose to do.

One place to find great vacation deals is Get Away Today. They offer travel packages to many destinations, but you can also choose "activities only" and it will come up with some good offers for Hawaii or wherever else you plan to go.

Bonus: I know this post is all about Hawaii, but if you are hoping to plan a Southern California vacation, book through Get Away Today and add the promocode "STUFFED10" to get an extra $10.00 off. They are the best place to book if you are planning on Disney, believe me!

As I mentioned above, the one big activity we decided on for this Hawaiian trip was a whale watch and snorkel combo boat excursion. We took a small boat out to Molokini island, and on the way out we were able to see a TON of whales. It was a once in a lifetime, absolutely amazing experience!

Then, once we were at Molokini, the boat anchored, and we jumped off to snorkel for an hour. Sophia was scared to death at first, even though she'd been snorkeling at the beach for a few days already. Seeing the very open ocean was too scary for her. But she finally got in and held my hand as we snorkeled and saw the amazing tropical fish under the surface.

Molokini Crater

It was a blast for me to watch my kids experience the snorkeling. Chloe would scream through her snorkel every time she saw something cool, which was about every five seconds. It made me so happy.

In my opinion, a snorkel trip is the thing to splurge on if you do anything. Whale watching, too, if it's in season.

On the trip back from Molokini, we saw still more whales, and they fed us lunch.

7. Limit your souvenir shopping

We did our souvenir shopping mostly at the ABC stores and at the flea markets. The girls brought their own money for souvenirs and I hardly bought anything. I did buy some muumuus for the girls (you can see them in these photos) and a baby gift for a friend.

The girls mostly bought jewelry and a few other fun little things. We are trying to go for the experiences instead of the stuff, but a few souvenirs are good to remember the trip by, too.

8. Enjoy your time, because it eventually has to end

This may not be a budgeting tip, but it's the most important tip I have for any vacation. Savor the minutes you have away from real life in a wonderful place like Hawaii. Take lots of photos—they are the best souvenirs—and enjoy the time with your family. Don't stress too much about money or your vacation schedule, either. Hawaii is where you're supposed to Hang Loose and just go with the flow.

I hope you love your trip as much as we loved ours!

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.