Thursday, June 30, 2016

July 2016 Visiting Teaching Printable

The visiting teaching message for July 2016 is titled Our Potential for Parenthood. Like some of the previous lessons on marriage emphasize, parenthood may not happen in this life for some people, despite their faithfulness to gospel teachings.

If that is the case for any of your sisters this month, you may want to go back to my printable from January that features the quote "we each belong to and are needed in the family of God" by Sister Stephens. You can find that printable here: January 2016 Visiting Teaching Handout

Because more sisters will have children and grandchildren than not, I decided to go with Dallin H. Oaks' quote, which I love.

July 2016 visiting teaching printable handout

My children truly are my greatest treasures! I forget that sometimes, I admit, but when it comes right down to it, they are my biggest blessings and a giant source of joy in my life.

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July 2016 visiting teaching message printable download

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Best Way to Save at the Grocery Store (No Coupons Involved!)

The Maestro and I have recently decided our grocery bill is completely out of control. We have so much going on that worrying about the grocery budget has taken a backseat, but then we realized that we had been spending around 150% of our allotted grocery budget for several months. No bueno! Something had to be done.

We were not couponing or shopping the ads. We were just shopping. When you just mindlessly put things in the cart, even if you have a list, it is easy to rack up a huge bill at the check out. Even easier since we are a gluten-free household and gluten-free convenience foods can be super spendy.

We decided to repent of our grocery mindlessness and sat down to have a meeting about our grocery list. Everyone always says you should plan your meals around the grocery ads, so that is what we set out to do. We gathered up the ads and sat down to make our grocery list together, determined to cut our spending in half if we possibly could.

But as we started looking through the ads, we realized that we had absolutely no idea what a good price was for anything! There were a handful of things that we purchase often that we thought we might know the regular price for, but mostly we were clueless.

"Is $2.79 a pound better than what we can get at WalMart?"

"I have no idea!"

"What about $1.05 for a can of the spaghetti sauce we always buy?"

"I think it's around that price at WalMart, but I'm not sure..."

That's basically how our conversation went the entire 45 minutes we perused the ads and made our list. No wonder we had been overspending so much of our grocery budget—we were completely and utterly lost!

How to save the most money at the grocery store.

In the end, we wrote down all the products from the ads that we thought were good prices and that we had planned into our menu and started at WalMart. We figured that we would write down the prices of everything we buy regularly at WalMart (best every day value, usually) and if that price was cheaper, we'd buy it there. Otherwise, we'd buy it at the other stores for the ad price.

Surprisingly, not everything in the ads was lower than the WalMart price. Even things that seemed to us like a really great deal were often cheaper at WalMart. Still, many things were a much better deal at the other grocery stores so we were able to save quite a bit by using the ads.

Since then, we have kept a careful log of how much we normally pay for things so we are able to actually recognize a good deal for what it is. After four weeks of painstakingly combing through the ads and building our menus as cheaply as possible, I'm happy to say that we've cut our grocery budget down considerably.

What we learned:

We learned that if you aren't keeping a grocery price log, you need to. I've heard of people doing it, but now I understand why! It's really difficult to memorize the prices of everything you buy on a regular basis, but if you have it written down you will know what is a good price and what isn't.

You will also know when prices rise permanently—which they unfortunately do—and be able to adjust your expectations accordingly. And I've found that I'm much more in tune to prices now by doing this. Instead of just grabbing a can off of the shelf, I make sure I'm getting the best deal I can, and I'm often surprised that the can I chose is not the one with the best price!

In May, we spent a horrifying $1,192.92 on groceries for our (gluten-free) family of 5. We budgeted $800.00 towards groceries that month, so we spent almost 150% of our budget.

I'd hang my head in shame, but I am no longer ashamed because wait until you hear what we've spent for June!


You guys, that is less than half of what we spent in May. And we did it without using any coupons (I hate coupon clipping, and most of what you can get with coupons does not fit within our gluten-free lifestyle anyway). We simply became aware of regular prices and created our meals around what was on sale.

Edited: While we generally just go to the other two stores if they have better deals, you can also rely on the Walmart Savings Catcher app to catch those prices for you. I use the app on top of going to the other stores, because it catches ads from stores that are too far for me to bother with. I am not a fan of doing the ad matching in Walmart because they can be pretty picky about how much things match, they won't do meat, and their produce is not very good anyway!

We have also been following my friend Hilary's advice to only buy what we need. You can read her blog post here: How to Save Money on Groceries—The Dummy Edition

Those two strategies together have saved us hundreds of dollars this month, and will continue to do so. Think of how much money we'll save in a year!

All because we know what a good price is now, thanks to our little price notebook.

Knowing the price points is just the beginning of saving money at the grocery store. If you are really interested in learning all the tips and tricks to becoming a grocery savings master, check out Grocery University—an e-course by Crystal Paine over at Money Saving Mom.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

How Using a Timer Will Help You Be More Productive

My name is Lara and I struggle to stay on task.

I'm really good at starting things, but I fully admit that finishing them often seems difficult. I get distracted, I get overwhelmed, I have no motivation. Whatever it is, many things never get finished and some of them don't ever make it off of the to-do list.

But I have a secret productivity weapon. I'm using it right now, in fact, to keep me focused as I write. Want to know what it is?

A timer.

It seems like a totally simpleton solution, and perhaps it is, but it has made a huge difference to me and my productivity levels. (When I actually remember to use it, that is!)

Using a timer is the best way to be productive. Not only will it help you be productive, but if you use it right, it will also help your entire household productivity increase.

What kind of timer should you use?

Any kind of timer is fine, but I really try to stay away from the one on my phone. Why? Because I tend to get distracted by my phone and just the simple act of shutting off the timer when it goes off means I might check email or Facebook and lose several minutes that could have been more productive. You can use the timer on your oven or microwave, or you could purchase a timer like mine.

My favorite timer is the Datexx Miracle Cube Timer. I like it because it's super easy to use—each cube has four time increment options—you just have to put it down with the number you want to use face up and it automatically starts timing you. I have the purple cube, which has 5, 10, 20, and 30 minute increments. There are four other colors available that each have slightly different time increments, or you can buy the set.

I do think I'll buy the white cube soon, because it has a 60 minute increment, which would be nice to have.

Timers can increase your productivity and efficiency.
You can get a timer just like mine here: Datexx Purple Cube Timer

5 ways a timer helps you be more productive

1. A timer helps you stay focused on the task at hand

I don't claim to understand the psychology behind it, but I do know that when I am up against the timer, I work harder and don't allow myself to get distracted. This is especially good for super boring tasks or the things you've been putting off for a while. Something about knowing you only have to do it for 20 minutes helps you stay focused.

Using a timer sets up a specific expectation—for this 20 minutes you are only going to work on one thing. It forces you to be accountable for those 20 minutes and keep your focus steady.

Timing my children when they are working on certain things (especially when we are under a time crunch—like getting out the door for school every morning), helps them to stay focused, too. If I tell them they only have 5 minutes to get dressed, they do it in 5 minutes so they can beat the timer. If I don't time them, they will inevitably dilly-dally and the task will take much longer. And then they'll miss the bus!

We used to use the timer for tooth-brushing, but found an even better solution. Check it out here: Stop Nagging Your Kids to Brush Their Teeth!

2. A timer helps you to understand your time limitations

I am the queen of writing 200 things on my to-do list each day—and then thinking it's actually possible to do all of them! By using a timer often, I have a better sense of how long certain tasks take me. I've learned that most household chores go a lot faster than I think they will, so I know to only give cleaning my room 5 minutes each day—10 if it's particularly messy.

However, a lot of other tasks take much more time than I think they will. For instance, I've learned that I am a pretty slow writer. I think that I can knock out a blog post in less than an hour, but it almost always takes me longer than that. And that's fine because now I know not to place unrealistic expectations on myself, and my to-do list is a bit shorter these days.

3. A timer makes you work faster

I think it's pretty amazing how tasks tend to fit exactly into the time allotted for them, don't you? Maybe it's just because I'm a bona fide procrastinator and am extremely talented at getting things done exactly at the deadline, but I kind of think the phenomenon is universal. If I say a task is going to take 30 minutes, it probably will. But what if I only give 20 minutes to that same task? Chances are, I'll finish it ten minutes faster because I know I have less time.

use a timer to help you be more productive
You can get a timer just like mine here: Datexx Purple Cube Timer

While realizing your limitations (see #2), a timer will still help you up your game and get things done a lot more quickly. Try it—it's pretty amazing!

4. A timer limits your productivity breaks

My friend just told me about a documentary she watched called The Illusion of Time. I haven't watched it yet, but apparently Einstein discovered that every person experiences time differently, but that usually the more you move the slower your personal time goes. And the less you move, the faster time goes.

This proves what I've always known—when I'm working hard, time seems to go more slowly. But when I'm sitting on my butt, taking a "productivity break" and browsing the internet? Time speeds right by.

A timer helps me with this. When I'm finished with a task and want to give myself a break, I always make sure to set the timer for 10-20 minutes. Otherwise, I will get lost in the internet for far too long and waste all my productivity away!

5. A timer helps eliminate overwhelm

For me, this is the number one reason I use a timer. I get overwhelmed incredibly easily (perhaps that's one of the reasons I procrastinate so much), and the timer helps me get out of my head and into the task at hand.

When I look at the kitchen after a long day, I get so overwhelmed with the task at hand that I want to forget it and go crawl in bed and read. I always regret it when I give in to that overwhelm, so instead I set the timer for 30 minutes and resolve that whatever is finished when the timer goes off is enough. I can do anything for 30 minutes, right?

Usually I'm pretty surprised that I can finish in the time allotted, but even if I don't, I still accomplished a lot because I used a timer.

Using a timer is perfect for all those tasks that don't really have an obvious end to them, thus causing even more overwhelm and anxiety. Things like working through your email inbox, decluttering, or working through your long to-do list are prime candidates for setting a timer. You finish what you can in your allotted time and you leave the rest for the next time. It really works.

And sometimes when the timer goes off and I'm not finished, I don't even stop. I've gotten into the zone and am not so overwhelmed anymore, so I can finish the job easily. Why stop when you've got momentum!

Using a timer has meant that I finish more things, and that feels really good. I love how it feels to be productive—it's a heck of a lot better than the anxiety that comes with unfinished tasks!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Easy Book Club Snack Ideas: Pride & Prejudice

Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dare Foods TM and Tyson Foods, Inc. The opinions and text are all mine. #DareToBeInspired

Whenever I host book club at my house, I love trying to come up with refreshments that match the book. Sometimes that's easy because there is a particular food mentioned in the book or the book is set in a foreign country. But even if coming up with the idea is easy, I usually need the actual food preparation to be super easy, because I don't love cooking!

Nothing is easier than a cheese and meat tray with crackers, right? The trick is to make it somehow go with the book. I actually really love this idea I came up with because it would work for ANY book—not just Pride and Prejudice!

Book club refreshment idea for Pride & Prejudice. Clever! #overstuffedlife

I ran to Walmart and picked up some Breton® Gluten Free Herb and Garlic Crackers and a package of GALLO SALAME. (There is actually a great IBOTTA OFFER right now for the Breton® Crackers: BUY 2, GET $1.00 OFF.)

Since we are a gluten-free household, I like to make my book club refreshments gluten-free, just to be safe. I love the Breton® crackers because they are really tasty, and everyone really likes them—even the people who don't think gluten-free tastes very good! The herb and garlic flavor is my favorite and doesn't even need cheese or salami on top because it's so good all by its lonesome.

Gluten Free Breton crackers for cheese tray

Once I had my salami and crackers in my cart, I headed over to the fancy cheeses and started reading the flavor descriptions. I had a ton of fun pairing the different cheeses with different characters in Pride and Prejudice. For instance, I found a Gouda that was described as "sweet and mild." Perfect for Jane Bennet! I found cheeses that worked for all the characters I wanted to feature, and then I noticed that the packaging of the Gallo Salame says "authentic old world charm" and I thought that would be fitting for Pemberley—Mr. Darcy's home.

Cheese and meat tray with personality for book club

I made some cardstock labels for the cheese and salami so my guests would know what type of cheese it was, which character it represented, and why. I attached the labels to some pretty paper straws, which actually work very well for sticking into cheese (and salami)!

I arranged the cheese and meat onto my cheese board, stuck the labels in (I cut the straws to different sizes so that it was easy to see each label well), put the crackers on a plate, and voila! A beautifully easy snack to go with the book.

Here are the descriptions and characters I used:

Match cheese with Pride and Prejudice characters for book club

Elizabeth Bennet—white cheddar—"sharp-witted and mature"
Mr. Darcy—brie—"tough exterior, soft interior"
Jane Bennet—Gouda—"sweet and mild"
Mr. Collins—Swiss—"holier than thou"
Lydia Bennet—chili pepper cheddar—"full of spice"
Pemberley—Gallo salame—"authentic old world charm"

Cheese, salami, and crackers are really one of the easiest and best book club snacks out there. If you're willing to spend some time reading flavor descriptions, this idea will work on every single book you ever read for book club!

Breton GF crrackers plus Gallo Salame and cheese is an easy and yummy book club snack.

If you want to use my printable for the Pride and Prejudice characters, you can download it by leaving your email in the form below. If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

For great entertaining solutions, look for Breton® Gluten Free Crackers at your local Walmart. *Not all products available in all stores.

Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dare Foods TM and Tyson Foods, Inc. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

7 Middle Grade Books That Teach Kids Empathy

I've been thinking a lot about how to teach kids to be more empathetic and kind lately. After writing a very emotional post about my daughter's experience with bullying, I have found myself wanting to teach my own girls to be more kind to others, despite their differences.

Since I think reading books is one of the most fabulous ways to learn anything, I started researching books that have storylines that help awaken empathy in the readers. I first thought of the book Wonder by RJ Palacio, which is a huge favorite at our house, but I was able to find several more to put in the pile.

Books for middle grade readers that will teach kindness and empathy.

Books That Teach Children About Empathy

Wonder by RJ Palacio

This book is about Auggie, a boy who suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome. This syndrome causes major deformation in his face and after being home schooled for some time, he begins to attend public school. As the story unfolds, he is subjected to both cruelty and kindness by the other kids at school. It's a wonderful read for anyone, but kids will definitely learn empathy for those who look different than they do, and they will also learn that these kids can be really cool and that looks aren't important at all.  Buy it here.

Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by RJ Palacio

This is a set of three stories—three different perceptions of Auggie—told by three different characters. We see him from the point of view of the bully, his oldest friend, and the new friend he makes at school.  Buy it here.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

This book very literally teaches children how to have empathy. Caitlin has Asperger's Syndrome and experiences a great tragedy in her family. Her father becomes very withdrawn and depressed, and Caitlin has to learn how to have empathy for him. Through the development of empathy, she and her father are able to heal together.  Buy it here.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Melody has cerebral palsy and must use a wheelchair. Though she has a brilliant mind, the disabilities she suffers make it impossible for her to communicate. She is finally given a computer to help her communicate and those around her—teachers, students, and even her parents—learn who she really is. It's another really wonderful story about not judging a person by the package they come in and learning to see their soul.  Buy it here.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow is a genius who finds comfort in counting by 7s. She suffers a devastating loss when her parents are killed in an accident and has to learn to navigate the world without them. She is misunderstood by most people, but she ends up with a very happy ending.  Buy it here.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Catherine is a middle-schooler who desperately wants to be accepted by the cool girl that just moved in next door. She also has an autistic little brother and a good friend named Jason who is confined to a wheelchair and has trouble communicating without his word cards. Her summer is filled with many opportunities to learn what kindness is and what it isn't as she navigates her relationships.  Buy it here.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Mr. Terupt is the new 5th grade teacher and in his class are the new girl, the bully, the shy kid, the class clown, and several others. He teaches them kindness, empathy, and the desire to improve. Later in the year, a tragic accident lands Mr. Terupt in the hospital and the class is forced to come together and really see beyond their differences and quirks.  Buy it here.

I know there are several more wonderful books out there, but these are seven that I really liked a lot. Do you have any other great suggestions? I'd love to hear them!

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Sunday, June 05, 2016

Our 2016 Summer Reading Lists

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!

We only have three more days of school left, and I'm just getting to choosing the summer reading for my kids this year. I've been thinking about it for a month, and I compiled a really nice list—and then my laptop bit the dust and things were crazy and I had to recompile the lists because I could only remember a handful of the books I had chosen!

So I'm a little late—but I'm finally done!

My girls are now a lot older than they were when I started this tradition. Bria will be a junior in high school this year, and I started doing the summer reading bins when she was going into 6th grade. And this summer my youngest, who was going into Kindergarten when we started, will be heading into 5th grade already!

Because they are so much older, I thought I might not do so much with the reading bins and choosing new books for them. After all, Bria and Chloe are already very avid readers—I have done my work. But, tradition rules the roost around here and I have heard them talking about how excited they are to get their book bins for the summer, so here we are.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Our Summer Reading Lists

Sophia's Summer Reading (age 9, going into 5th grade):

Sophia isn't quite an avid reader yet. She's my one child who can't sit still for long, so she has been my most reluctant reader. She is a huge fan of the Dork Diaries series, and usually chooses those books for reading time. Her reading list this summer is vastly different than the reading list Chloe had for the same age, but different kids need different reading material. That's just how it goes!

This year, I chose some books I think she will enjoy reading, and a couple I know will be harder for her to sit with and read herself. The great thing about Sophia, is that she does love being read to out loud. She listens very well to the story, even though she is standing on her head or doing cartwheels while I read. I plan to read Harry Potter to her first (I will be reading to her from the gorgeous illustrated edition, though), and then I will probably read Holes. I know she'll love listening to both, and perhaps she'll even pick up the books to read on her own!

Summer reading suggestions for a child going into 5th grade. #overstuffedlife

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Falling Up! by Shel Silverstein
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (illustrated edition) by JK Rowling
Holes by Louis Sachar

And because she loves the Dork Diaries books so much, I got her a new series to try out. It's a similar diary-style book (though much shorter—I was surprised!) and they are really cute.

Similar to Dork Diaries: Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters series by Marissa Moss. #overstuffedlife

Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters Series by Marissa Moss:

The Fake Friend!
The Name Game!
The Vampire Dare!

Chloe's Summer Reading (age 13, going into 8th grade):

Chloe just plain loves to read. She's my kid that I will find bawling over a book at 2:00 in the morning or the one that will read all day and ignore everything else so she can finish a book. Because she reads so much, it is harder for me to choose books for her that she hasn't already read!

This year, I went with a dystopian series that she hasn't read yet (at least, I don't think she has), because she tore through The Hunger Games series and The Maze Runner series. I also chose Code Name Verity—a book about World War 2 that was actually on Bria's list last year—because she read The Diary of Anne Frank this year and loved it. The rest are books that were recommended for her age that I think she will love.

Suggestions for summer reading for a child going into the 8th grade. #overstuffedlife

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Lyddie by Katherine Paterson
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld

Bria's Summer Reading (age 15, going into 11th grade):

Like Chloe, Bria also does plenty of reading on her own. She has been working through the whole spinoff series of the Mortal Instrument books and just began Lady Midnight, which is the big, fat first (and only—so far!) book in the Dark Artifices series. I'm not sure when the next one is coming out, so I am guessing she'll enjoy starting The Giver series this summer while she is waiting!

And since she likes to stick to fantasy in her reading, I always throw a couple in there that aren't in that genre just to help her branch out. She usually reads them and enjoys them and then goes back to the next fantasy book in her pile. Which is wonderful.

Summer reading suggestions for a junior in high school. #overstuffedlife

The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
Orison by Brandon Gray (this is a fantasy book that is available on Kindle only—I've read it and it's fabulous!)
The Clay Lion by Amalie John (not pictured because I have it on Kindle)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

I'm looking forward to lazy summer days spent reading out on the deck or at the beach, and I know the girls are, too. Three more days!

What are your kids reading this summer?

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

June 2016 Visiting Teaching Printable

The visiting teaching message for June 2016 is about temple ordinances and covenants. As a person who lives nearly 7 hours away from the nearest temple, I really enjoyed reading this lesson.

Ever since I moved here, the chances I have had to visit the temple are much more meaningful to me in general. I regret all the times I didn't go to the temple when I was only about an hour or so away, and now I take every possible opportunity to go with The Maestro or by myself—and that still only adds up to twice a year. Three times if I'm lucky.

I especially loved Sister Linda K. Burton's quote about temple covenants: "Making and keeping covenants means choosing to bind ourselves to our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ."

Even though that was a few more words than I've put on one of these printables this year, I made it work!

June 2016 Visiting Teaching Message Printable Download for Handout

We are taking our family on a semester long sabbatical to Utah soon. We will leave in mid-July. While I am excited to be closer to family and many of my dear friends, I am really looking forward to attending the temple often while we are there. I have made a goal to go weekly—and hey! I'll have quite a few temples to choose from!

To download:

Enter your email address in the form below to download. Click here to see the form if you are on a mobile device.

The printable will be sent straight to your inbox where you can either print it out or send it to a photo printing service.


June 2016 visiting teaching handout. Printable download.

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