28 December 2011

Hot Pants- Yes they are

I received my HotPants, for review, from the company Zaggora over a month ago.  I really had no idea what to expect but when I opened the package I found what look a bit like black bicycle pants lined in bright yellow, made from wet suit material.

HotPants were born from the idea that the appearance of cellulite can be reduced by Celu-Lite technology which increases perspiration by up to 80%, reduces the appearance of cellulite and body fat.

You can wear the HotPants to increase the intensity of your work out or just wear them as you do housework and go about your business. 

I have been running on my treadmill at least 4 days per week (most weeks) for the past year and eagerly put them on for my next morning's run.  I've lost about 10 pounds since I started this work out regimen and had been stuck at there for a while, so I had high hopes, but realistic expectations.

I mean, really,  pants that can help you reduce your dress size?

What I found:

The HotPants increase perspiration for sure!  They are super comfortable, though tight to pull on the first time and I was drenched in sweat after my workout, the pants themselves did not feel wet, nor stinky.  I was completely comfortable during my workout.  I did not feel sweaty under the pants at all, but I had definitely perspired more than usual during my 30 minute run.

I have not worn the HotPants around the house, only to work out.

I've run 20-30 minutes 3 to five days per week, wearing the HotPants for about 6 weeks. 

I have dropped an additional 3 pounds since starting the wear the HotPants!  I've also dropped a pant size.  I like to think that it is in part due to my great work out, but I must give credit where credit is due:

Thank you HotPants.

My one complaint is that the seam on one side of the pants became un sewn.  I quickly sewed the 2 inch gap on my sewing machine and they are as good as new.

I recommend the HotPants to anyone looking to increase the power of their workout.  I will continue to wear them and hope to continue the trend of weight loss.

The product will be released officially next month.

Disclaimer: I received the HotPants  free from the company for my review.  The opinions are mine and are honest.

27 December 2011

Book Review: Silver Smoke (Seven Halos Series #1)

Silver Smoke a great book for fans of fantasy and the supernatural. Monica Leonelle's first book was fabulous. She is a great writer.

The story is addictive and the book was hard to put down. The characters are complex and have flaws, that make them complicated and very realistic.  It is easy to connect to the characters and to root for them all the way to the end.

I found the story to be complex and unpredictable, which I love.

The author has crafted a tale of myth, legend and lore which suck the reader in from the beginning. There are the classic story conflicts of good vs evil, as well as more subtle conflicts woven throughout the story.

You'll find yourself rooting for the unlikeliest of heros and will not be disappointed.

The book can be found here: Silver Smoke

12 December 2011

Great Gift Giveaway- Hickory Farms

It feels like Hickory Farms  has been around forever.  60 years, to be exact.  They have been around so long because they are a great company and offer a quality product and fabulous customer service.  Of particular interest to many of my readers, and to me, is the fact that many of their products ship free to military addresses. 

When Hickory Farms was founded in 1951 in the pastoral farm country of Ohio, the products quickly became a hallmark gift for those who appreciate rich and savory foods. For the past 60 years, Hickory Farms’ commitment to personalized service and the legendary quality of its products have kept the company popular on gift lists everywhere.

Hickory Farms brings the best of Midwest values and unwavering quality to consumers in North America and the U.S. Armed Forces all over the world. Customers can find Hickory Farms’ award winning sausage, cheese and other specialty items at 750+ Hickory Farms holiday stores, online at hickoryfarms.com, in catalogs, and at leading retailers throughout the holiday

Hickory Farms has a great tradition of giving.

Hickory Farms is committed to giving back through its partnership with Share Our Strength®, a leading national not-for profit organization working to end childhood hunger in North America. This holiday season, when customers purchase a Party Planner gift box, Hickory Farms will contribute $5 to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® Campaign*. Customers will also have the opportunity to include a $1 donation to the campaign with their purchase at a Hickory Farms store or at hickoryfarms.com. Hickory Farms’ passion for fighting childhood hunger has generated more than $1.1M in contributions to Share Our Strength since 2008. The company is looking to raise and/or donate an additional $700,000 this coming holiday season. 

Beyond Share Our Strength, Hickory Farms is a strong supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces serving across the globe. All year long, Hickory Farms offers free shipping on select products to military addresses to ensure that families can send loved ones much needed food gifts and warm wishes.
These items, and more, are shipped free to military addresses:

Supports Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry ® Campaign 
This gift is a flavorful array of our savory Summer Sausage and smooth and creamy cheeses with all the trimmings. With every one sold this year, we will donate $5 to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry ® Campaign. Maximum donation $500,000, offer valid thru 1/31/12.

Free shipping to APO/FPO military addresses
Enjoy the favorite gift sent to loved ones serving overseas, featuring the award winning flavor of Our Signature Beef Summer Sausage and Italian Recipe Summer Sausages. The combination pairs perfectly with our deliciously creamy cheeses, Sweet Hot and Honey Pineapple Mustards and savory crackers.

Free shipping to APO/FPO military addresses
As favorite for over half a century, this classic gift features Our Signature Beef Summer Sausage complemented by our new Farmhouse Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Smoked Cheddar Cheeses.

The fresh fruit lover will adore the Orchard’s Bounty Basket filled with hand packed-to-order assortment of Fuji Apples, Mandarin Oranges, luscious Red D’Anjou and Crown Comice® Pears. Includes Our Signature Beef Summer Sausage, Farmhouse Cheddar and roasted mix nuts in a keepsake Peterboro® Basket.


Free shipping to APO/FPO military addresses. 
This collection of classics includes both beef and turkey Summer Sausages, as well as Hickory Farms’ new, smooth and creamy Farmhouse Cheddar.

 One Lucky Reader will win a gift box from Hickory Farms. 
To Enter, 
1st Entry:  Become a follower of the blog and leave a comment here telling me you did so.

2nd Entry:   Become a follower of The Deployment Diatribes and leave a comment here telling me you did so. 

3rd Entry: "Like" Been There Done That Mom on Facebook and leave a comment here telling me you did so.

4th Entry:  Follow @BTDTmom on Twitter and leave a comment here telling me you did so. 

The giveaway will close Sunday night at 11:59 pm.
After Verification, the winner will be contacted via email and will receive the product directly from Hickory Farms.

07 December 2011

Breastfeeding and Pregnancy- It must be said...

In my opinion, I should not have to say this, but I just heard from a friend who is pregnant with her second child, in less than a year, because "breastfeeding did not serve as adequate birth control." 


In this day and age, with information so readily available, I don't know why people still don't know that breastfeeding will not prevent ovulation in most women.  If ovulation isn't prevented, pregnancy is possible.

If you want to prevent another pregnancy after you've had a baby, you need to use actual birth control methods.  If you are breastfeeding, the best option is a barrier method, such as condoms.  Any hormonal contraceptive has the chance of changing your milk supply, no matter how much your doctor tries to reassure you that it won't.

If you want to continue to breastfeed your baby, exclusively or not, be very wary of putting any hormones into your body.  The potential for your milk to be at least partially dried up is high.

I repeat, condoms are your best bet to prevent an unwanted, untimely, pregnancy after the birth of your child- until you wean your baby.

"But it took me two years to conceive this baby with clomid and IUI.  There's no way I'm just going to get pregnant without help this time."  Except that you might!  Many people find that their fertility is much higher the second time around and "find themselves pregnant" only months after the birth of their first baby.

So, I repeat, if you want to plan your family, spacing your children according to your schedule, use birth control.

Breastfeeding is best for baby, having a sibling born in the same year might not be.  

28 November 2011

It's Time to Shop

Let's face it.  No matter what holiday you celebrate in your home at this time of year, for the kids, a big part, if not the biggest part, is about the presents. 

So, we parents must do our best to fulfill our kids' wishes.  We hear all about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.  How are we supposed to know if we are getting a good deal?  I found a great site for my Canadian followers.  At this toy site for kids games online, you can shop and compare deals on toys of all sorts! 

The site will tell you the price history of the item and will show you similar items. 

I have 4 kids to shop for and 2 holidays to cover, not to mention 2 birthdays... no small feat.  It's exhausting to think about, let alone make it all happen. I do almost all of my shopping online.  I can't face the stores at this time of year.  The only time I shop in the stores for gifts at this time of year is if I already have to make a trip there and I can just add the items to my existing list.

I find everything online and it only takes a little work to find the best price at the time I am shopping.  With a little work, I can often find a code for free shipping, or have the item shipped to a store nearby where I can pick it up, free of charge. 

I find it helpful to have a game plan, otherwise I end up buying and buying, forgetting what I've already bought for each of the boys.  I've even misplaced gifts in years past, there were too many to keep track of, it was ridiculous.

So, this year I am keeping track of it all on my phone... At least that's what I plan to do. I just have to find the time to go through everything and make the list.  I'm sure I'll get around to it.  In the meantime, it's fun just to shop for the kids, as long as I stick to a budget.

In the end, make sure you are having fun.  Do whatever works best for you.  If you like to get out of the house and shop in the stores, do it.  Go to the mall, go to Target, wherever you feel most comfortable.  I'm most comfortable sitting on my stability ball (better for my back) at my computer, so that's where I do my shopping.  I'm certainly not going to take 4 antsy boys to a store!

17 November 2011

Empty nest

Thanks to Lemuel Craft

Our last child has recently left for college, and my husband and I could not be happier. In many ways it feels like it did when we were first married. We have several close friends who have recently become empty nesters, and they all have raved about it. Now I know why. Our evenings our back to just being the two of us. We live along a lake, and we have spent the last several nights sitting on the dock and watching the sun set. I love our children dearly, but when they lived at home, they brought an added level of stress that is no longer here. However, with two still in college, we have been watching how we spend our money. We recently switched to fixed-rate energy through www.texaselectricityproviders.com in order to have a more predictable bill, and we have dipped into our short-term savings to pay for tuition. Luckily my husband set up a fund a number of years ago to pay for our children’s college education. I am so thankful for our children, but it is nice to be in a new stage of life with just my husband and me.

16 November 2011

Easy Money for Autism Speaks. Please Help!

Get a simple quote from Allstate between now and December 14 and they'll donate $10 to Autism Speaks! 


Allstate “Quotes for Autism Speaks” Aims to Raise $500,000
Initiative to support research for causes, prevention and treatment of autism

NORTHBROOK, Ill., Nov. 15, 2011 – According to autism statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 110 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades. To help address this trend and support autism research and advocacy efforts, Allstate Insurance Company (NYSE: ALL) announced the launch of the “Quotes for Autism Speaks” program. As part of the program, Allstate will donate $10 to Autism Speaks for every insurance quote that is completed between November 14 and December 14, 2011, with the goal of raising $500,000 for the cause.

Individuals who receive an insurance quote will help Allstate reach the $500,000 goal and help change the future for those who struggle with autism. Quotes may be obtained online at AutismSpeaks.org/Allstate or by calling 866-998-4488.

“As a father of twin boys with autism, I recognize the magnitude of autism research, advocacy and outreach and the need to support families and individuals impacted by this disorder every day,” said Mark LaNeve, Allstate executive vice president, marketing & sales operations, who also serves on the board of directors for Autism Speaks. “Through Allstate’s support of this cause, we look forward to engaging families and communities to bring a stronger voice to Autism Speaks and support their mission.”

An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism. This year, more children will be diagnosed with autism than with childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.

“We are extremely grateful to Allstate for its commitment to raise awareness and funds for the autism community,” said Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks. “’Quotes for Autism Speaks’ is a wonderful program that has the potential to touch the lives of countless families affected by autism. We encourage everyone to show their support and contact Allstate for their free quote.”

About Allstate
The Allstate Corporation (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer known for its “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate®” slogan. Now celebrating its 80th anniversary as an insurer, Allstate is reinventing protection and retirement to help nearly 16 million households insure what they have today and better prepare for tomorrow. Consumers access Allstate insurance products (auto, home, life and retirement) and services through Allstate agencies, independent agencies, and Allstate exclusive financial representatives in the U.S. and Canada, as well as via www.allstate.com and 1-800 Allstate®.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $300 million in donated media. Autism Speaks’ family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit, a Grandparent’s Guide to Autism, and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government’s response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 29 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 10 states. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.


15 November 2011

When things go wrong

With four children and a deployed husband, I live to avoid Mrs. Murphy's Law.

Everyone knows Murphy's Law:  "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong," but it is wives of men who travel or are deployed who best know Mrs. Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong when Mr. Murphy is away."

Of course, though, things are bound to go wrong and one of the most challenging examples is something on the car breaks.

The stereotype is for a woman to wait for her man to come home to help fix the problem, but women whose husbands are not available, or who just want to be independent, can learn to fix these problems themselves. 

Developing a good relationship with a good auto parts store can make all the difference.

If something on your car breaks, or a light comes on, visit a shop near you and ask for help.  People in these stores are usually friendly and are almost always very knowledgeable and eager to help. 

Relationships are an important key in many situations.  Whether you need help replacing an old windshield wiper or want to know the right oil to replace the oil in your car, the guys in auto parts stores are a plethora of knowledge.  I've found them to be incredibly helpful and by going back to the same helpful store each time, I establish a friendly relationship and am more apt to get more help with my task, something for which I am very grateful. 

By fixing things around the house and maintaining my car, I show my kids I can do these things and keep the house running smoothly for them even when their Dad is away for long periods.  Kids need to feel  safe and certain that life will continue as they know it.  By being a strong adult, capable of taking care of anything that comes my way, I help my boys feel secure in our home and our life. 

13 November 2011

Set Expectations

Running a chaos free household is not hard.  It might seem overwhelming, but it is an achievable goal, even if you think it's too late to change your kids.  It is NEVER too late.

The first thing you have to do is change yourself.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine, who happens to be a family counselor.  We were discussing this issue and she pointed out that, for the most part, unless we make a concerted effort to change, our parenting styles come from how we were parented.  Our parents are our models.

So, if you remember chaos in your childhood, you probably have it in your life now, too.

Here's how you can change things...

1.  Make up your mind to make the changes.

2.  Decide what the changes you desire are.
     -  Be specific.
              -If you want to yell less., that's a goal.
              -If you want your kids to listen the first time you tell them something, that's a goal. 

3.  Don't be overwhelmed by the thought of the work it will take. By taking small steps and being certain of your goal, you can make changes.

Let's say you want your kids to listen to what you say and do what you tell them to do, here's how you get there...

1.  Call a family meeting.
      State your concerns and your goals and tell your kids how you all are going to make the home a happier place.

     Be honest.

     Tell your kids that you haven't been doing your job of setting rules and following through with them but that those days are over and you are all moving forward.
     Tell them that this isn't a punishment, but that it just hasn't been working well the way it is and you want everyone to be more happy and calm at home and having set ways the house will run is the way to get there.

     State the "new" rules.  For instance, no yelling (yourself included), following parents' directions, doing chores, respecting siblings and parents, etc.

     List the consequences for not following the new rules.  Consequences should be clearly stated so there is no room for argument.

     I do not recommend stating rewards.  The kids should follow the rules because that is how families work.  The reward is the smooth and happy family life.   

2.  Start right away.  Easing into the rules will not help.  You have to show the kids you say what you mean and mean what you say.  This is critical to the success of the plan.  If the kids see you wavering, even a little, they will walk all over you and it will be even harder to make changes.

     If your son is antagonizing your daughter, tell him to stop: hitting, kicking, poking, whatever, right now.

     Hopefully he will stop, but if he does not, say, "I've told you to stop, do it now or I will take away your (fill in the blank) for the rest of the day."
     Then do it.
     Don't raise your voice, don't show your agitation, just do it casually.  It is the rule, the rule was broken, consequence is not up for argument.  If the child continues to commit the infraction or protests, tell him that he needs to stop or the further consequence will be (fill in the blank.)

     Then follow through and stick to it.  Do not give the item back until the end of the day no matter how great the child's behavior is as the day goes on.  A consequence is set in stone.  That is the only way you will make changes.

As I've said time and again, you have to say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you back down even once, you shoot yourself in the foot and your kids will slip further into the pattern of undesirable behavior. 

Small children who don't follow rules become teenagers who rebel, break rules and slip into dangerous patterns of behavior.

Now is the time to fix these patterns.  Even if you have a teenager you can change the patterns.  It just takes effort and stick-to-it-iveness on your part.

I cannot be more clear about this issue.

I see families struggling wherever I go.  At the grocery store, I see families with young children barely getting through their shopping because kids are yelling and whining and causing a raucous the entire time.  The parents look exhausted and beaten down and without hope.  The trip could be made so much more pleasent if the parent set expectations from the start and stated the consequences for not meeting the expectations.

What I see, though, is kids whining and throwing a fit to get something, parents trying to fend off the requests but giving in in the end.

Remember, kids will always ask one more time than you can refuse if you are in the habit of giving in.  They know you are weak and will prey on the weakness in order to meet their goal.

You have to reset the process.

You need to persist in order to meet YOUR goal.  YOU are in charge, as long as you remember that and keep your goal in sight, you will be successful.  Your kids will argue but in the end, everyone will be happier because your household will run more smoothly.

I see families with teenagers whose parents have given up trying to get them to conform to the family rules.  These kids have been successful at being in charge in their families for so long, it's the norm.

Of all things, remember, as parents, you run the family.  You are in charge.  Set the rules, set guidelines and stick to them.  Say what you mean and mean what you say EVERY TIME and things will get better, probably a lot more quickly than you think.  Don't be "bossy."  You are the boss, but you'll achieve your goal more easily if you are calm and nonchelant about it. 

1.  Set your goals.
2.  State them to your kids.
3.  Implement the changes.

It is as simple as 1-2-3.  Really.

20 October 2011

Controlling the Clutter

When I had only one child, keeping the playroom tidy was no problem.  Fast forward to today and, often, I can't walk a straight line through our playroom, or man cave, as my sons prefer to call it.  I have to meander through the strewn toys, books, remotes, dvds, legos (ouch)...  well, you get the picture.  That is, until I decide I've enough and take control of the clutter.

Here's how I do it, and you can too...

1-  As I have mentioned on this blog before, every few days I call for a 10 minute tidy.

What is a 10 minute tidy?  It's how I get my boys to keep the playroom from getting overrun by the mass of clutter.  10 minutes is a manageable amount of time for the boys to clean up without getting overwhelmed.  By doing this every couple of days, it truly does control the mess.

2-  Location Location Location.  Every category of toys has it's place in the playroom.  Wii games belong in the cabinet, neatly stacked.  Legos belong in large bins and we have smaller plastic drawers for the special Lego items.  Books belong on the shelves, obviously.  Larger toys and games have places in the closets and in large buckets (purchased at Walmart) that line the walls.

3-  Assign responsibility.  Each of my four sons has his own area of responsibility.  Just like the Navy has numbered fleets that control different theaters of operation, each kid in our family takes control over a region of the playroom.  This is very effective because it often prevents mess in the first place.  If Dwight sees Zack leaving remotes and Wii games on the floor of his domicile, he will immediately complain and make Zack put them away so that it is not left for him to take care of in the 10 minute tidy.

These three steps can go a long way toward keeping your clutter under control.  They have saved my sanity, the boys know what I expect from them and how to make it happen.

The Forever Moments

I just received a beautiful piece of art from The Forever Moments.  The photo was taken when Horatio visited us last month.

My days are filled from 0' dark thirty until way past sundown.

I often forget to capture the fun moments on the camera, but even when I remember to snap a photo, the pictures rarely leave the hard drive on my computer.  I know I'm not the only one who has this problem.

Of course I wish I had time to make scrapbooks, I've even been to some of those scrapbook parties where an organized mom teaches us barely put together moms how to put together detailed scrapbooks with our kids' pictures, making the rest of us feel wholly inadequate.

Sometimes I find time to stick a favorite picture of my adorable (yes, I am biased, of course) kids into a frame, but that's about the most ambitious I get.  I barely have time to shower some days, so creating works of art is WAY down on the To Do list.

So I am very happy to have found this great site where someone will do it for me!

You can send your favorite images to The Forever Moments and they will do all the work!  They have dozens of templates to choose from and you can personalize them all.  They personalized the dog tags on my template.  (I've edited the boys' names for privacy, the writing actually looks just like the "Daddy" on the other dog tag.)  They will use whatever names you request, no matter how silly, and will even change colors for you.

Each template is cut out by hand, not printed out like you see on other sites.

You can order the templates with or without the frame.

Prices range from $9.95 to $19.99 depending on the intricacy of the design, and they donate $1 of each military themed template order to Blue Star Families, which I love!

I received my art over the weekend and the boys and I immediately found prominent wall space on which to hang it.  Then, the next time we skyped with Horatio, we took the camera over to the wall so he could see it.

It brought tears to his eyes.

The best part, readers, is that we have one to give away and you can enter several times.
The giveaway will run through November 3rd.

For your 1st Entry: Head over to The Forever Moments website and then come back here and leave a comment telling me which layout is your favorite.

For your 2nd Entry: Head over to facebook and "Like" their page.  Leave a comment there saying BeenThereDoneThatMom sent you and come back here to tell me you did so.

For your 3rd Entry: Become a Follower of this blog and comment here to tell me you've done so.
For your 4th Entry: "Like" Been There Done That Mom on facebook and leave a comment here telling me you did so.

For a 5th and Final Entry: Follow @BTDTmom on twitter and leave a comment here telling me you have done so.

I will choose a winner on November 3rd and the winner will be contacted by the great women at The Forever Moments within 2 business days to choose a layout and get the ball rolling!
I received my template as a gift from The Forever Moments but the opinions I've expressed are solely mine.

22 September 2011

Get Playing!

The Worldwide Day of Play is September 24th this year.

What is the Worldwide Day of Play, you ask?  It is the one day per year that everyone, everywhere, is encouraged to join together, shut off the television and get outside to play together as a family.

The Day of Play is a great opportunity to get your family going in the right direction toward being active and healthy. It's easy to get stuck in the routine of watching tv every day before and after homework and dinner, but, in my experience, once we get the kids outside and playing, they want to do it day after day.  Playing comes naturally to kids and when parents join in, it is even better.

We try to get outside in the evenings whenever the weather is clear.  We are lucky to live in something similar to a cul-de-sac so the kids can play without fear of traffic and they can play with the 10 other cul-de-sac kids.

We get games of four square going that last for two hours or more.  I just love watching the kids play games I enjoyed when I was a child.  We keep endless supplies of sidewalk chalk on hand so the kids can draw hopscotch paths and other artwork.  They once did a hopscotch path with 100 squares!  They had fun AND taught the preschool aged siblings more numbers.

When the sun goes down, the flashlights come out for rounds of flashlight tag.  With sunset times getting earlier and earlier these days, the flashlight games can begin sooner and the kids run themselves ragged before having to go inside and shower or bathe before getting straight to bed.  By getting active, they burn their pent up energy from long days of school and homework and are able to get to sleep more easily.  It's win-win!

When I was a newer parent, I did not want my kids to get dirty when they played.  Getting dirty meant more laundry and more time spent in the bath.  I then realized that the dirtier they were, the more fun they'd had, and laundry is going to pile up no matter what.  It's nothing a bar of soap and some Clorox bleach can't easily fix.

With four boys, I was destined to have a constant stream of kids in and out the front door.  Getting outside to play is the best thing we can do to keep our kids healthy and active and ready to learn at school the next day.

I signed the Pledge to Play Outside at http://clorox2play2day.com and I encourage you to do the same.

Let's Play!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Clorox2® blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

21 September 2011

Read Together

It's tempting to give up reading to your kid as soon as he can read independently.  Every minute a parent gets back to herself counts, but did you know that by continuing to read to your child you can greatly increase his vocabulary, reading aptitude, and therefor, increase his test scores later in life? 

Even when your child is reading "chapter books" you should sit down with him and read a book to him. 

I can hear you saying, "what the heck am I supposed to do?  I have three kids.  I can't read to each one of them.  I'll never get time to myself."  What you can do is select a book that is slightly above your younger child's level, but not too 'over his head'.  You will be surprised how much he will pick up from your reading and your oldest won't get bored, even if he says he will. 

In our family, we especially like the Great Illustrated Classics and Classic Starts books.  The stories are timeless and reading them can help our kids on many levels.  They hear words they can add to their vocabularies, they learn stories that they will hear referenced again and again throughout their school years, and they learn lessons from the stories themselves. 

At our house, we are currently reading the Harry Potter Books.  The stories keep the boys' attentions and we are spending time together each night.  All four boys look forward to the next chapter.  Of course we don't read together every night, and sometimes one of the boys has too much homework to listen or one is too tired, but we keep it up because it's great on so many levels and I encourage you to do the same.  You won't be sorry.

11 September 2011

IEPs and 504 Plans- Be Ready

504 Plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are the source of angst for many parents of school aged children.  I’m here to tell you that these plans work for kids, and they are worth the hard work required by parents and educators to get them right.  

I'm not going to beat around the bush, though, you have to work the system to get them and work even harder to get the plan to work for your child.  I’m definitely not here to bash the system, I want to arm you with the tools to get through the process and come out on top.

One of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I suspect that one of my other sons has dyslexia as well. I’ve been attending IEP and 504 Plan meetings for eight years, so in this case, I really am a been there- done that mom. 

The most important thing that I’ve learned, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn, is do not let yourself be intimidated at the meetings.  It is easy to let yourself get overwhelmed by the sheer number of administrators, educators, counselors and specialists sitting at the table.  It has happened to me on more than one occasion and is very frustrating to walk out of the school building and suddenly realize that I did not succeed in getting my child what he needs.  

Here’s how to make sure each meeting is successful:

Know what you want.  Before you go to the meeting, decide what your objective is.  Do you want a 504 Plan for your child or an Individualized Education Plan for him?  504 Plans are simply educational and environmental accommodations for your child.  Teachers and administrators are obligated to follow the plan in every way possible to help your child be as successful in school as his or her peers.  An IEP is a list of goals and a timeline stating how and by when the goals will be reached.  Good information can be found online at sites like this: 504 Plan vs. IEP and this: IEP Goals.    

Lay the Groundwork. Start by contacting the teacher directly.  Sending an email is effective because it gives you a record of all contact.  Once you have made your inquiry, the teacher is obligated to follow up and get you the information you need and set up a meeting, if warranted.  

Be Prepared.  Now that you know what type of plan you want for your child and have a meeting set up, revisit the key websites and write a list of accommodations or goals for your child.  Be specific so that you can make yourself clear in the midst of all the voices at the meeting, which can be an emotional setting.  

Anytime a parent is working hard to help her child, emotions can take over, and levelheadedness is crucial to success at these meetings.  Showing emotion is perfectly fine, of course, but you have a clear mission and need to keep a clear head so that the desired end result is always in sight. 

Stay on Track.  Once you are in the meeting, keep your eye on the prize.  Unfortunately, oftentimes, the teachers, counselors and administrators see your goal of getting an IEP or 504 plan as just one more thing to do in their already busy week.  An IEP or 504 Plan creates more work for many people at the school.  If your child is getting by, they might try to talk you out of your plan.  DO NOT LET THEM DO THIS.  You spent a lot of time and energy getting your plan together.  You know what is best for your child’s education.  Stay the course, but do so nicely.  Keep a smile on your face and kindly refute their efforts to dismiss your concerns.  Getting your child a Franklin Speller is not the answer to helping him learn to deal with his dyslexia. (This was actually suggested to me at a recent meeting!)  If you know that your child needs real help to get an equal education, then be assertive.  Remember, you catch more bees with honey, so smile when you assert yourself, but show them you mean what you say and that you have no intention of backing down from your goal.

If you follow these steps, you will get your child what he or she needs.  It might seem like an insurmountable objective, but the system is set up to work for you, you just have to learn how to work your way through it.  

It is definitely a learning process, but hopefully the course will be easier now that you are ready for action.

Good Luck.

23 August 2011

"The Worst Day Ever"

Today was not a great day, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that bad.

I left the boys in the house for a short outing to get the oil changed in my car.  When I stopped at the store to buy apples on my way home, I got a call on my cell phone.  It was my neighbor, whom I don't know very well.  He said, "Your kids are yelling out the window.  They say they are locked in a bedroom."  This was more than a little embarrassing, so I very quickly explained to him that I had turned the door knob of that bedroom door around so that when I give my 3 year old a time out, he can't get out.  I thanked him and quickly called another neighbor and close friend and asked her to dash over to the house and free the boys, which she did.

When I returned home, shortly thereafter, I asked the boys how they knew my cell phone number to give it to the neighbor.  They explained that 7 year old Bob knew it.  Dwight said that Bob doesn't know how to go through caller i.d. or the phone's saved numbers, so he'd memorized it.  It's a good thing he did because otherwise they might have been left in there until I got home.  Dwight was in a bit of a panic.  He admitted that he had freaked out while they were locked in the room.  He even did some damage to the door, trying to break it down.

As I suspected, 3 year old Harold had turned the lock and then one of the other boys had closed the door, not knowing it was locked.  Since Harold is now sleeping in the main bedroom with the other boys, we've turned his old room into the "man cave" and all of their Lego creations are on display in that room.  The boys spend quite a bit of time in there.

I have now taped up the locks on ALL of the doors in our house.

I was definitely thankful that nothing dramatic happened while they were in there.  A few hours later, I was even more grateful for the timing since at 1:51 p.m. we experienced a 5.9 magnitude earthquake!

I heard and felt the rumbling and quickly realized what was happening.  All four boys came running up the stairs asking what was happening, was it an earthquake?  I confirmed that it was and calmly but quickly shuffled them out the door.

They were all shaken up (pun intended) especially Bob and Dwight.  Dwight wanted to know what in the world was going on today.  Was the world going to end?

We spent a good amount of time talking about what an earthquake is and why we don't need to worry now and then they went back downstairs to play.  Bob and Dwight came upstairs to check in, periodically, asking questions to get reassurance that all was well. 

Dwight accompanied me when I went down the street to pick up dinner.  Bob called my cell phone to tell me he had a bad taste in his mouth and he couldn't get rid of it.  He said he'd had it since the earthquake.  I asked him what it tasted like and he said, simply, "nervousness."

Dwight knew that I'd bought Bob's Halloween costume a few weeks ago, when he'd told me how much he wanted to be Voldemort, from Harry Potter.  He is currently reading book #4 and is a big fan of the series.  Dwight suggested that we give Bob the costume early, as a show of appreciation for remaining calm and saving the day when they were locked in the room.

It was such a sweet thought, coming from an older brother, so I went ahead and let Dwight open the package and give the costume to his little brother.  Bob was beyond thrilled and played in the costume until bedtime.  Before going to bed, Bob gave me a hug and said, "Mom, you really turned my day around.  I thought it was the worst day ever, but now it turned out ok.  Thanks."

17 August 2011

The "talk" for a seven year old

Seven year old, Bob, has asked where babies come from several times over the past few weeks.  He has asked at odd times, like at the dinner table or in the car with all of his brothers around, so I have avoided answering him by saying we could talk about it later, when it is just the two of us.

Two nights ago, though, he asked again while I was helping him to get ready for bed and I could no longer put off the inevitable.  My mind raced for the right answer. 

Each child is unique and each is ready for a different level of information and detail and different times.  Bob is bright and knows a lot, but his "awareness" of human relations is not high.

So, here's what I said.  "There's a special kind of seed in a mommy and a special kind of seed in a daddy.  When the mommy and daddy want to make a baby, they give each other a special kind of hug and the seeds go together in the mommy and grow into a baby."

He gave a satisfying, "Oh.  Thanks, Mom," smiled and dashed out the door to brush his teeth.  No further questions!


I recently purchased two books about puberty and S-E-X for my preteen and teenaged boys.  I pre-read the books and found that the one that is all about puberty: American Medical Association Boy's Guide to Becoming a Teen  is age appropriate for 10 year old Dwight, but It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (The Family Library)   is too advanced, in other words, TMI, for Dwight, but will be a good resource for 13 year old Zack. 

This is a tricky topic for many parents but it cannot be ignored.  Ignorance leads to no good.  So I hope my experience will help other parents.

11 August 2011

What's a Cleava? Here's What... Plus a GIVEAWAY!!!

One of my favorite podcasts is Lian Dolan's The Chaos Chronicles.  Lian is funny and witty and always has interesting things to say.  In March she mentioned something called the Cleava, you can listen here.  Lian had received a press release about the product and thought the concept was funny.  The idea intrigued me.  I often find myself in situations when I'd like to be a bit more covered than the cut of my clothing allows, so I contacted the company to ask some questions and they sent me a sample to review here.

What a great creation this is!  You may think to yourself, "how hard is it to put on a camisole?  Why would I want a Cleava?"  Well, sometimes a cami just won't fit under your clothes, and sometimes it is hot outside and another layer of clothes, no matter how thin, makes you even more sweaty than you would have been without it.

Coincidentally, I recently bought a dress for a special occasion and it shows a bit more skin than is appropriate for the event.  So, this morning I unwrapped my brand new Cleava and tried it on with the dress.  As the website shows, the Cleava is very easy to put on.  The material is high quality and the workmanship is very good.  It takes seconds to put on and I could even put it on after I was already wearing the dress.  Here are before and after pictures: (taken by my 10 year old)

 I am very happy with the results.  I know I will get a lot of use from my Cleava.

Get one for yourself!

The best news is that I have one to give away!  You can enter by becoming a follower of the blog and leaving a comment on this post.  You can also head over to the Been There Done That Mom page on facebook and "Like" it for a second entry (leave a second comment here telling me you did so), and follow @BTDTmom on twitter for a third entry (leave a third comment here telling me you did so).  Be sure to leave your email address here so that I can contact you if you win.  The contest will be open through Friday, August 19.

Cleava comes in dozens of materials and designs, I am sure I will want to get others.  Sure, tank tops and camis have their place, but the Cleava will definitely come in handy.

28 July 2011

Ready or Not

You are Better Off When Ready
I know that many, if not most moms, are eager for school to start in the next month or so.  I actually prefer it when the kids are home.  I’d rather not have to: make lunches, rush out the door, hurry through the daily tasks, monitor homework, fit in dinner, and rush them to bed, only to start again the next day.

Probably since my oldest was in first grade I’ve said that if I could, I’d keep them home with me, rather than send them to school.  No, I really don’t want to homeschool, I’d just rather not have to deal with the ups and downs of the school days.  That said, ready or not, school will be back in session soon; very soon for many kids around the country.  My kids don’t start until after Labor Day, though, so I’ll enjoy the dog days for a another month
I know opening day is out there.  I’ve seen the displays at Target, gotten ads from Office Depot, signs everywhere remind me of the countdown to the opening bell.  So, I decided to venture out do the supply shopping.  I used to look forward to buying the school supplies.  All the freshly sharpened pencils, crisp notebooks and the wonderful aroma of crayons beckoned.  Now, though, it’s hard to find pre-sharpened pencils.  Therefore, I am the one who has to sharpen them; this thought severely dampens the experience, especially since I have three school aged children, all of whom have about 50 pencils on their supply lists.
Having three school aged kids to buy for makes it a daunting task.

As I stood in the aisle at Target, I found it hard to even get started.  I looked at the first item on the list for the first grader- 2 boxes 24 ct. Crayola crayons.  Crayons are seventh on the list for the fourth grader and not on the seventh grader’s list at all.  Do I go through the first grade list, then the fourth grade list, then the seventh grade list?  Or do I try to get crayons for both at the same time so I don’t have to back track?

I didn’t even get a single item in my cart before I gave up.  Having my 2-year-old in tow probably did not help my state of mind.  I decided to do the shopping from the comfort of my home, online.  Sometimes spending a little more (and it really is very little and the box of supplies comes right to my door) in order to preserve sanity, is worth it.

Getting ready for nine months of packing lunches and snacks is something I do not even want to think about right now, but thinking about it can help me prepare so it’s not such a daunting task.  The main thing I do to make it all easier is to have easily packable items on hand at all times and have back up items to throw in when we run out of time in the morning.  Bags of chips, Uncrustables, bunches of grapes, small applesauces, yogurts, string cheese, etc. all are easy to pack foods.

Bulk bags of healthy snack foods are perfect for helping make the daily snack easier.  (I, personally, don’t remember ever having school sanctioned snack time after kindergarten, but that’s just me.)  I like to keep bulk bags of almonds and dried fruit on hand.  I can just scoop a small plastic container into the bag, pop on the lid and voila- snack is ready for the backpack.

The key to back to school, as any other time in our busy parenting lives, is to make things as easy as possible on ourselves.  Why fret over the small details when, very often, there is a simpler way to go about the task?
The start of the school year is a great chance to start with a clean slate.  Set up a system to make your life easier.

Set a specific place for the kids’ backpacks so that when the kids come home from school, the backpacks, coats, etc. don’t end up all over the house.  You can hang hooks just below the kitchen counter or just inside the door so that the backpacks hang nicely.  Get a coat rack or hang hooks for the kids’ jackets so that they don’t end up dropped at the entryway.  (I also do this with the towels and swimming suits after a day at the pool.)  The key is to keep the mess manageable.  Your house may not look Architectural Digest photo shoot ready, but you’ll feel calmer… at least I do.

Get the children used to a schedule again.  In our house, during the school year, the boys have to read a novel or nonfiction Sunday night through Thursday night.  On the weekends, they can read whatever they choose.  In the summer, they have free choice on Wednesday nights as well.  As it gets closer to the start of school, we go back to the school year reading schedule.  Also, the boys do a bit of “school” work each day.  I print a work sheet off of the internet from a site like math-drills.com.  The boys have to do a worksheet before they get their daily screen time.

All this “order” might make me sound like a drill sergeant and give you the impression that my house runs with military precision (I am a Navy wife, after all). However, just like any other household, we roll with the punches.  Hiccups happen every day, in one form or another.  But, with all of these systems in place, at least the potholes in our path cause only small bumps in the road and not flat tires that take us off the road completely.

27 July 2011

10 tips and tricks to get your kids to eat more vegetables

As I've said many times before on this blog, mealtime can be one of the most stressful times of the day for families with small, and even not so small, children. Setting strict rules and limits can be the trick to getting family dinner to run more smoothly. When it comes to getting your children to eat more vegetables, there are many tricks you, as a parent or grandparent, can employ.

1- Take you children shopping with you at the grocery store with the best looking produce in the area. Better yet, take them to a farmer's market. Let them touch, smell and express their innate curiosity. Doing so will most certainly lead to them asking you to buy new vegetables.

2- Give in to their requests to buy even the oddest choices of vegetables. Maybe they think they don't like cauliflower, but when they see a purple cauliflower they might be tempted and the purple variety is packed with antioxidants, so chop it up and serve it with dip, or steam it and serve it with soy sauce. Do whatever it takes. The point is, they might expect you to say "no" to their requests for unusual items, but when you "give in" and make the purchases, they will be more likely to taste and enjoy the healthy foods.

3- Serve cut up veggies with dip. The old stand-by, ranch, is usually a hit, but try hummus, or cream cheese or even ketchup. My boys will devour an entire 2 pound bag of baby carrots if they can sit at the table and dip the carrots in ranch dip or ketchup. It sounds crazy, but it's true.

4- Dress them up- the veggies, that is. This will only work with the younger set, but do not underestimate the power of a smiley face to lure kids into trying new things. Use the vegetables to make artwork on a pita or tortilla. Make a smiley faces with olives, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and lettuce, like this:
A kid can't help but be tempted to taste the different parts of the face.

5-  Hide the veggies.  Wrap a cucumber in a slice of vegetarian bologna (the veggie bologna will add vegetable protein and they won't even notice). Slice a tomato into thin slices and roll one with a slice of cheese.  Put thin pepper slices onto a tortilla, spread on some shredded cheese, roll it up... delicious!

6- Bake zucchini bread.  This is a great recipe, and you can call it cake bread or breakfast bread or blueberry bread and the kids will be none the wiser!

7- Bake brownies.  Try a recipe like this from Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious, and the kids will have no idea the vegetables are hidden inside a sweet dessert.

8-  Make a lasagna and put a package of drained, frozen chopped spinach into it.  If you mix the spinach into the sauce, the kids won't even see the dreaded GREEN specks and will eat it up, getting their daily fill of folic acid, which is great for moms too!

9- Puree a vegetable like peas and add them to your ground beef mixture with spices to make a delicious, nutrient filled, hamburger.  You can even count the pickle relish as cucumbers in the end of the day vegetable tally, if you want.

10- My favorite recent discovery is kale.  My boys- all four of them- love roasted kale!  We call them kale chips.  I pull the leafy parts from the ribs/stalks and lay them out on a baking sheet.  The kale does not have to be in a single layer because the leaves shrink as they bake.  I spray the leaves with olive oil, shake on some salt or garlic salt, bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 and it's done!  It really is delicious.  You can use this same "recipe" with broccoli, cauliflower and several other vegetables.  Use your imagination.

The point is, there are many ways to get our kids to eat more vegetables and other healthy foods.  These ten tips and tricks can help, but we can start by eating vegetables ourselves- without making scrunched up faces!  You can't expect your kids to be excited about dipping a carrot stick into ketchup when you are dipping your french fries into it.  Set an example and eventually the kids will follow your lead.  In the meantime, the tricks will get them started on the path toward a healthy lifestyle.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Peas and Thank You blogging program for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

20 July 2011


Surviving the School Year With Ease

Summer is in full swing, but depending on where you live, school will be starting in as soon as a few weeks.  The signs are everywhere, I've been to Target twice this week and have avoided the Back to School section for sanity's sake.  I'd rather stay in the summer mindset for as long as possible.

However, Back to School time is out there.  It is approaching more quickly than my boys like to think.  Every year, before school starts, I like to get a game plan in mind.  I want to be as organized as possible and get off to the right start so that we can survive the daily grind with poise.  Or, at least appear that way.

First, I designate a place for the four boys to put their backpacks when they get home from school each day.  Before they even wash their hands (a must when they get home) they are to empty the backpacks of anything needed for homework and anything that I need to see/sign/return.  Backpacks should be organized and cleaned out at least once per month in order to avoid being overwhelmed by clutter.  Encourage kids with lockers to keep anything they don't need at home, at school secured in their locker.  There are some very cool locks out there, like this one from Master Lock.

And watch this fun video: 
And find out more at their facebook page: www.facebook.com/masterlock

My kids have a set time for homework.  It isn't the same time for each of them but each boy knows his time and we stick to it.  I find it works best to have a little down time after school for a snack and brain refreshment and then have them get to the homework sooner than later, so that the time does not get away from us.  Usually 30 minutes to an hour of downtime is good.

Finally, a set time to get ready for bed and a set time for lights out is crucial to having a successful school year.  There are charts, like this Sleep chart, that tell you the approximate amount of sleep that each age group requires.  These are a good place to start to gauge what time your children should turn out their lights and you can work back from there.  My seven year old and three year old start getting ready for bed at 7:15.  The seven year old can read from the time he gets in bed until 8:00, when he shuts off his light.  My three year old shuts of his light when I leave the room after our book, song and prayers.  My 10 year old starts getting ready for bed at 8:45 and his lights out is 9:30.  13 year old, Zack, goes upstairs at 9:20 and his lights out is 10:00.

A good night's sleep makes everything else in the home run more smoothly.

These seemingly simple steps really will help make your family life easier during this school year.

01 July 2011

Roadtrip with Kids

I took the boys on a road trip and, in the interest of saving gas money and being a bit more green, we took our smaller vehicle, a hybrid.  In doing so, I realize that most of what I packed last year for this adventure was completely unnecessary.

I packed each of the boys' clothes in his school backpack.  Since we were traveling to my parents' house, I knew we could do laundry.  I packed each boy 3 pairs of shorts, 5 shirts, one pair of pjs and 5 sets of underwear.  Of course, I packed more clothing for myself, but that is the privilege of being the mom and the packer!

The trip was about 14 hours of driving, before you figure in the stops.  Yes, it's a long drive, but we do it in one day and it's what I'd recommend to any other family traveling like this, unless, of course, the driver gets tired.  Then, by all means, stop at a hotel for a night's rest.  For me, though, a bit of 5 Hour Energy gets me through the last bit and I'd much rather have one long day, than 2 long days plus a restless night in a hotel with 4 boys. 

Of course I miss Horatio and would prefer to have him with us all summer, but I have to admit that being able to do it all on my own schedule, listen to my own audio book choices, have my own snacks, etc., isn't so bad.

Recommendations I have for others embarking on such a trip are as follows:

Pack light

If you have a DVD player, take a variety of DVD choices, making sure each child has 2 he likes.

Check the condition of the headphones before departure.

Keep extra batteries in the glove box.

Use dramamine for any child who has ever shown a hint of motion sickness.

Keep a supply of sickness bags.

Pack snacks: Boxes containing small bags of pretzels, crackers and cookies work best.  The children can make a choice, eat their snack, and dispose of the trash.

Give each child a bag for trash so that the garbage does not accumilate.

If you make a stop for gasoline or potty breaks, make every passenger use the facilities, no matter what, so you don't end up stopping again 15 minutes later.

Don't sweat the small stuff.  You'll get there when you get there.  Enjoy the scenery!

Be safe.

22 June 2011

10 Time-Saving Tips to Make Your Life As A Busy Mom Easier

Let's face it.  As I've said many times before, right here in this blog, parenting is hard.  One of my goals, as the Been There Done That Mom, is to help my fellow moms' lives easier.  Over the past 13 years of my parenting life, I've had game plans, adjusted them, re-adjusted them and polished them.  Now, in particular, I have to be organized.  I am temporarily a single mom because my husband is deployed for at least 18 months.  He's been gone for 6 months already, so I'm getting pretty good at staying organized.  (I hope my friends and family who read this don't laugh out loud.  I'm trying.)  It's an ongoing process, but in many areas, I've got it down...  For now, anyway.

So, here is a list of 10 ways you can make your life easier.

1.  Keep a Calendar and Actually Use it.
Sure, it seems obvious.  What family doesn't have a calendar hanging on a wall somewhere in the house?  The problem arises when appointments, meetings, field trips, strings concerts, etc., don't make it from the email messages and newsletters to the calendar.  I find that as soon as a new date pops up in my email or in a phone call, I have to walk immediately to the calendar and write it down or it floats out of my brain, never to be found again.  Even better than having just the paper calendar or white board, is one of the online calendars.  Google has one, Mac has one, there are several out there and if you put an appointment on a specific date, then anyone who has access to the calendar can see it.  This is very handy for busy families.

2.  Plan Meals
One of my least favorite things to do is plan what is for dinner.  It's definitely one of my weak areas.  Once I know what we are having, though, I can go into auto mode and cook the meal and put it out without incident.  So, I find that if we sit down and decide what we will have for dinner each night of the week, on Sunday, for instance, I don't have to think as much and the evening goes much more smoothly.  Sometimes I let one child or another plan the meals for a week.  Or, I give each child a day of the week to select the menu.  Giving the kids input helps them have some ownership of the plan and makes for less whining at dinner, and less need for wine at dinner for me!  A second point in this step to making your life easier is, when making your shopping list, you should try to write the list in the order the items appear in the aisles of your store.  I, personally, prefer to do my shopping at Target, if possible.  The prices are good, I can get my groceries AND my every day items, AND I can stop at Starbucks on my way out of the store.  It's the trifecta of shopping trips.

3.  Set Homework Time
If left to their own devices, I think most kids would wait until just before bedtime to do their homework.  This is not a good plan.  I also think that making kids do their homework as soon as they get home leaves a lot to be desired.  Kids need some down time, just like we do.  At our house, we set an alarm to go off at the same time each day.  When the alarm goes off, about 45 minutes after the boys get home from school, they know it is homework time.  No arguing.  45 minutes gives them time to wash up (very important after a day at school), get a snack, run around or watch TV or whatever helps them relax and refresh.  By the time the alarm goes off, they should be ready to get to work.

4.  Set Expectations
This idea is less concrete than the others on the list so far.  But, it is probably the most important for helping to make your home life easier.  If kids don't know what you expect of them, you can expect them to fail to live up to your expectations.  Be clear.  Explain what you expect of them when you say, "clean your room."  Or if you say, "clear the table," but you really want the dishes, napkins, serving dishes, condiments- EVERYTHING, off the table, then make it clear that that is what you expect.  Setting the expectations ahead of time will save you a lot of time either doing the task yourself or explaining what you meant in the heat of the moment.

5.  Let the Kids Sort the Laundry
In our house, with 4 boys, I realized early on that having separate hampers for the different laundry loads would save enough time to make it worthwhile.  I bought a sorter with three separate sections.  The boys, including 3 year old Harold, know to put darks on the right, lights in middle and whites on the left.  All I have to do on laundry day (pretty much every day is laundry day around here) is take the clothes from one section, drop it into a basket, carry it to the laundry room and wash.

6.  Keep Socks Separate
I have to give credit where credit is due.  My husband, Horatio, came up with this idea when he saw me struggling to sort through about 100 white socks.  Each son has a different brand of socks, which is a start in helping to make the pairing up process easier.  Horatio came up with an ingenious way to make it even more simple, though.  I bought 4 lingerie bags and labeled each with our boys' names.  When the boys go to put their laundry in the proper section, they also put their socks in their own bag.  Then, when the socks are clean and dry, I can quickly pair them up and put them away.  I've even gone further with the older two boys, ages 13 and 10 1/2.  I take the bags and dump the socks into their underwear drawers and let them do the pairing up each day.  Let's face it, a white sock is a white sock and since each kid has his own brand, they all match.

7.  10 Minute Tidy
I have to admit that I stole this idea from a children's show on PBS.  The clown character used to have a 10 minute tidy in each show.  I applied this idea to my kids.  If I tell the boys to "clean up the playroom," they get overwhelmed and annoyed and the whining begins almost immediately.  If I set a timer, turn off the tv, turn on music and proclaim that it is time for a 10 minute tidy, the whining is minimized and you'd be surprised how much can get put away in 10 minutes.  I should get back to the Set Expectations point, though.  Explain that tidying up means putting toys/video games/books/etc. in their proper places.  Sticking everything under the sofa or in a drawer is not really cleaning up.  Doing this will just make the job harder next time.

8.  Make Good Use of a Coat Rack
I'm pretty sure some readers might have read that line and said, "huh?"  So, I'll explain what I mean.  Last summer I was overwhelmed by our family's pool outings.  We have a membership to our neighborhood pool and the boys like to go every day.  But, when the boys started asking to go to the pool, all I could think of was the 4 wet suits, the 4 wet towels, the goggles, the swim shoes, the snacks, the MESS!  After a lot of thinking, I came up with the idea of a coat rack.  I went online and searched for a relatively sturdy one.  I wanted one I could use in the summer for swimming gear and in the winter for coats and hats.  Now, when we get home from the pool, the boys hang their suits and towels on the coat rack in the entry way.  Sure, it's not the most attractive thing to have near the front door, but people who come to our house know we actually live there.  It's not a show house, after all.  At least this keeps the stuff from sitting in a pile collecting mildew!  The rest of the gear goes into a cute pool bag that I ordered from Lands End, and the bag stays in my car.  Now, when it's time to go to the pool we just grab our stuff and go.  We know where it is, the suits and towels are dry and the goggles haven't gotten lost somewhere!

9.  Labels
No, I'm not talking about deciding which of your children is the smart one or the silly one or the trouble maker.  That would be wrong... right?  A few weeks ago, I was finally fed up with finding more drink ware than we have family members on the kitchen counter and table.  The boys would take a cup, drink from it, and then leave it on the counter or table.  Then when they were thirsty again, they'd forget which one was theirs and just take another one.  By the end of each day, there were at least 6 or 7 kids' cups in various positions around the kitchen.  So, I took out a sharpie and labeled cups with the boys' names on them.  Now, not only do they know which cup was theirs, if someone leaves one out at the end of the day, I know which kid to "remind" to put it away.  There's no room for error OR denial!

10.  Don't Put it Down, Put it Away
I'm as guilty as the next mom when it comes to clutter.  It makes me crazy, though.  I turned over a new leaf this year- at least I'm making an effort at doing so.  My new philosophy is, "don't put it down, put it away."  This way of thinking and doing helps everyone in the family.  I try to remember to put things away the first time, so I don't have to do it later.  It basically saves half the time.  If you are carrying something in your hand, take the extra minute to put it in its proper place and you won't have to move it later.  If I carry one of my 3 year old's toys in from the car and set it on a chair in the living room, on my way to the kitchen, I'll eventually have to go back and pick up the toy and put it somewhere it belongs, which will take at least a minute.  If I put it in its place the first time, it will probably take an extra 20 seconds than just setting it down on my way through the house.  Doing it the right way every time would really add up to a lot of time saved.

11.  Bonus! Hire a Professional Cleaner
Yes, it will cost some money, but it will save you SO much time it is probably worth it.  Let's face it, cleaning your house is time consuming and with our busy lives, we probably don't do a great job at a thorough cleaning.  I find that hiring someone great to clean my house not only saves time, but it keeps my house cleaner and neater.  Every two weeks, a fabulous woman comes to my house and cleans it from top to bottom.  I have to tidy up before she comes, so it keeps me motivated to keep the house less cluttered in the first place.  Of course I have to spot clean in between.  I have to clean the toilets practically every day- I do have 4 boys, after all.  But the house is spotless once every two weeks, even if it's just for a few hours before the kids track in the leaves or spill pretzels or drop their school papers in a trail from the door to the kitchen.  I cherish those few hours and you probably will too.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Starbucks blogging program, for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”