Starting Their Day Well

My husband works long hours at a stressful job. Sound familiar? So, I like to start his hectic days by doing things that will make him smile.

In our house, that means making him peanut butter toast with green grape smiley faces. You may think this breakfast sounds more appropriate for a 1st grader than a highly educated engineer, but we all have an inner child in us. The day he did a Mud Run, his toast had a stick figure runner, which he laughed about for weeks.

We’ve also been known to leave notes to each other on mirrors that don’t appear until the steam from the shower fills the bathroom. At other times, I’ll start my car and find a CD set to a song he wants me to enjoy on my way to work.

Taken individually, none of these actions may seem important, but they set a pattern. Each one says I think about you, I love you, I want you to do well and have a wonderful day.

Simplicity Tip of the Day: Pick someone you love and for the next week start their day by doing one tiny act that will make them smile. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in you and that relationship.

Posted in Relationships | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Progress – In Trashy Little Steps

It’s amazing how one little change can lead to progress in multiple areas.  Years ago, we started recycling, and this decision produced benefits we never anticipated.

At first we used an old trash bin for plastics and a milk crate for papers. This system was functional and practical – we already had both so there was no expense – but this arrangement left much to be desired. Despite cleaning, the trash can perfumed our garage, and its great size made it hard to transport.

Photo courtesy of IKEA. Our recyclables center was $9.99 at IKEA and well worth the splurge.

We then upgraded to an official recyclables center, a lightweight metal stand with three detachable bags. This center was clean, attractive, and easy to pack in the car. And because it had a third bin, we began collecting our plastic bags.

Fast forward a little further. We noticed how many soft drinks we were consuming. (Those bottles can pile up fast.) This led to us drinking more water and homemade decaffeinated tea. We started reducing the number of processed foods we ate—fewer sodas, canned goods, and prepackaged products. Fresh foods don’t come in a lot of wrapping, so our overall trash diminished, and we got healthier.

And now we come to today. This morning we purchased a garden composter. I know there are less expensive ways to compost our waste veggies, but I’m terrified of snakes, so ground compost piles are definitely out.  Also, I wanted something that was easy to move and rotate. Now, our veggie scraps and eggshells will have a new final destination –in the bin of our little black compost spinner. (The seeds I collected for next year’s garden just shivered in delight!)

Did you catch all that? Let’s recap the benefits that came from one simple decision:

  • A healthier family
  • Better (and eventually free) compost for our raised bed gardens
  • Less overall trash we are producing
  • Materials being recycled and not ending up in a landfill
  • Money saved because…

We may be cancelling our trash service. With so little trash there’s just not much for the trash man to do. This week, he had one measly bag from us. How great is that!

So where have you made progress or where would you like to start?

Living Light Tip of the Day: Make one positive change today and stick to it. You never know where it will lead, maybe someplace wonderful you can’t even imagine.

Posted in Practically Done | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Gifts of Shopping

How would you like to keep in touch with family and friends better, enjoy holidays and birthdays more, and save some money along the way? You can do it. Just try shopping for your Christmas and birthday gifts all year long. That’s going to accomplish those wonderful things? It can, and here’s why:

Keeping in Touch with Family & Friends – Being on the watch for gifts all year round makes us more mindful of our family and friends. If we see a gift for someone, we may immediately know its perfect, but other times we’ll realize we aren’t sure because we haven’t seen or talked to that person in a while. This prompts us to reconnect with our friend. Even if we choose not to buy the gift, we’ve given them a present of our time and attention.

Enjoying Holidays & Special Occasions More – When we leave shopping to the last minute we suffer unnecessary stress. I used to attend far too many birthday and holiday parties frazzled because just a short time earlier I was rushing to buy something for the gathering.  That kind of shopping was no fun.  But, when we have gifts ready and waiting for us, we can arrive at gatherings excited to spend time with our loved ones, open to what they are sharing, and able to share ourselves in return.

Saving Time  – When we shop for gifts regularly, we greatly reduce our trips to the store. Instead of driving around town looking for a present, we can do this shopping in the course of our everyday errands. Then, when the date for that special occasion arrives, the only trip we have to make is down the hall to our closet.  Suddenly our time saver has become a gas saver, which leads us to…

Saving Money – Of course, shopping all year around can help us find some great deals. A sale in late summer may yield a perfect gift for someone with a November birthday. There are other benefits, too. My husband and I save money by looking for gifts whenever we are on trips. We search for items unique to that area. This opens our possibilities to presents that would be too expensive in our hometown or not available at all. As an added bonus, this practice keeps our overall household spending lower. We know we are going to purchase a gift sometime, but by getting it on a trip, we enjoy the thrill of shopping without buying frivolous things for ourselves just because we are on vacation.

So, even if your next special occasion is months away, try looking for gifts the next time you’re at a store. You never know what you’ll see or which loved one will come to mind.

Simplicity Tip of the Day: Consider redefining multi-tasking as doing one thing well and gaining multiple benefits.

How do you reduce stress at the holidays? We’d love to hear your tips.

Posted in Gift Giving, Multi-Tasking | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Organizing Crafts and Projects

Craft room organizing products are big business, but you don’t have to spend big dollars to get your project clutter under control. Some of the best organizing tools are inexpensive and may already be in your house.

We’ve talked about using notebooks to tame paper (if you missed that post, you can check out my ode to notebooks here), so today we’re going to cover a few other back-to-basics powerhouses.

Manila Envelopes –Ever tried to get a sewing pattern back into that envelope after you’ve cut it? Not going to happen. Try putting that pattern into a 9×12 manila envelope instead. You can attach the original pattern envelope to the manila one and easily know what design is inside. Manila envelopes are great to use when you don’t have enough material to fill a notebook, you don’t need to access the items frequently, or the items you want to contain are odd sizes. Craft room uses include:

  • Sewing patterns
  • Instruction collections (I keep separate envelopes for Christmas crafts, crocheted baby blanket instructions, knitted garment instructions, etc.)

Hint: Try storing your envelopes in a magazine holder. These holders are inexpensive, portable, and can be used anywhere – desk, bookcase, closet shelf.

2-Gallon Freezer Bags – If you’re a scrapbooker, these bags are your best friends. Made by both Hefty and Ziplock, these bags are large enough to hold a 12×12 sheet of paper and all the pictures, stickers, and memorabilia your have for your page. Use these bags to organize your memorabilia. Then, when you are ready to do some pages, simply grab a bag, and everything you need is already inside. Craft room uses for freezer bags include:

  • Scrapbooking
  • Small sewing and needlework projects
  • Ribbon collections (when they are off the spool)

Hint: Store these large freezer bags in a portable hanging file. I use a plastic “milk-crate” style holder with legal size hanging files. (Large freezer bags are too wide to fit in the standard letter size hanging files.) This will keep your bags in order and let you easily find the ones you need.

Shoe Boxes – Although featured in organizing stores, many people still only use shoeboxes to hold their shoes or miscellaneous junk. They can do so much more! I’ve used shoeboxes all over my house, but in the craft room they keep my project tools together. I have separate boxes for seed collecting, herb drying, wood-burning, needlework embellishments, computer accessories, and more. Shoeboxes can be purchased in many styles, colors, and see-through options, but don’t overlook the boxes that come into your house for free. Any clean, sturdy box that can easily be opened and closed will do.

Simplicity Tip of the Day – Finish using what you have to do a job before buying anything new. This practice will encourage you to purchase wisely and find new ways to use the items you already own.

Posted in Organizing and De-Cluttering, Series: Taming Your Desk | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Handle Negative Feedback

I debated about posting this topic. It doesn’t seem to be part of living practically and light, but it is in so many ways.

When we decide to live according to the values that are important to us, we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to look at our situations and think creatively for new paths. That’s when the onslaught of negative feedback begins. Here are a few facts:

  • Being creative draws critics.
  • Criticism is never fun.
  • If we don’t learn to handle criticism, we’ll never reach our potential.

So, lets look into this criticism thing together. Yes, I’m still learning, but here are a few tips I’ve picked up from years of study:

Consider the Source. What is this person’s agenda? What does he have to gain or lose by what you are doing? I see this principle discussed regularly in weight loss literature, debt reduction books, addiction seminars, and other areas that deal with breaking a cycle. People are used to having us a certain way. When we make changes in our lives, we force people to look at their own lives, and they may not like what they see. Before you take to heart what others are saying, consider all the personal reasons they may have for giving you this feedback.

Determine What’s Really Being Said. Sometimes criticism is simply a cover for a deeper message the person can’t express. A while back I met with a woman who wanted to give me feedback on a recent talk I had made. After being grilled and critiqued for what seemed like forever, I realized the issue wasn’t anything in my speech. This woman was upset because she hadn’t been embraced by a certain group they way she wanted. She never said this openly, but after listening to her for over an hour, the message was clear. If I had gotten upset and only heard her criticism, I would have never understood her real heartache.

Focus on the Message, Not the Messenger. Sometimes the message we most need to hear comes from a person we’d most like to tune out. Don’t fall into this trap. Once you’ve already done the first two steps, pause for a moment and see if there is truth in what is being said. If there is, take the message to heart. It’s so easy to disregard people who annoy us, but just because someone is irritating doesn’t mean he or she isn’t right. Be smart. Separate the personality from the pronouncement and work on the area in question.

Know Your Reasons. Books on building positive habits often start with this exercise: write down all the reasons why you want to change. That’s a good beginning, but it’s not enough. You need to know them by heart. Post them as reminders in easy to see places wherever it makes sense. Know them so well, you can be roused from a deep sleep and rattle them off. Make your reasons a part of how you think, and they will become a part of how you live.

Renew and Recharge. You can do all of these things and still find yourself struggling. When that happens it’s time to renew and recharge. One of my favorite ways is to listen to powerful music while doing something physical – exercising, housecleaning, digging up weeds in the yard. Here are a few of my top “keep going” songs:

Sister Hazel – “Change Your Mind
Newsboys – “Stay Strong
Rascal Flats – “Stand
Matthew West – “The Motions

Practical Living Tip of the Day: Put good things into your mind. You have too much to do to waste time with anything that is unworthy.   …Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

Things to Check Out

Want to help your kids go after their dreams? Then, visit the new post on DevoKids today (based on Proverbs 13:4).

Also, the new Gary Chapman book Love Is a Verb Devotionals is about to hit stores. You may remember Gary from his wildly popular book The 5 Love Languages. Love Is a Verb Devotionals shows that love in action. Yours truly has two devotions in it. Several other local authors are also featured including Upstate Fellowship of Christian Writers co-founder Edie Melson and multi-published Highlights author Pam Zollman. Look for it in bookstores beginning October 1.

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Grocery Lists Made Easy

Ever tried to use a grocery list only to find something wasn’t working? Perhaps you‘ll recognize yourself in one of these 4 Levels.

The progression of a grocery list maker…

Level 1: We don’t need a list. Like the Cooking Channel chefs we’ll wander the market and see what looks good.  Result: Three days later we ask, “Honey, will you check on and see what we can make with green olives and milk?”

Level 2: We write things on any scrap that is handy. Result: On shopping day we have our six-year-old follow us through the aisles gathering the papers we drop. Halfway through the store she asks, “Mommy, do you want me to grab the pink Post-it stuck to your fanny?” “Uh, I’ll get that one.”

Level 3: Refrigerator notepads are the way to go. We can easily reach the list to make notes, and we always know where it is. Result: While putting our last frozen food item in the cart, we realize we missed getting onions in the produce section. We weigh our options: melted ice cream vs. onions for the stew. The ice cream wins. Onions don’t add that much flavor, right?

Level 4: We print out the super-duper, pre-formatted, all groceries known to man list and vow to use it forever more. Result: We unpack our groceries with pride. We’ve got this shopping thing down. Then we hear, “Babe, where are my granola bars?” “You didn’t put them on the list.” “ Yes, I did—right here .” We pull out our magnifying glass to see where he’s pointing. Sure enough, there’s a check in the tiny box between the listings for goat cheese and haggis.

If you find yourself in any of these examples, may I suggest going to Level 5: using a customized, easy to read, simple grocery list.  A few years ago, I created one for myself. Today, I’m sharing how you can do it, too.

Creating a Custom Grocery List

If you have Microsoft Excel, you can download Grocery List.xls and modify the file. Otherwise, download this Grocery List.PDF and create your list by hand. To see what my custom Grocery List looks like, click here.

Now, lets get customizing. (Don’t worry. There are only 2 steps!)

1. Categories – Both grocery lists above contain 9 sections you can customize for how you shop. Label each section with a category you use. Here are some possible section titles:

  • Produce
  • Meat
  • Frozen Foods
  • Dairy
  • Pantry Items
  • Personal Care
  • Miscellaneous

Note: For my family, we don’t go through a lot of personal care items, but we do make regular trips to WalMart. So, I use one section for WalMart items and one for Other Stores. This lets me combine my regular shopping into a single list.

2. Standard Items: Once you have your categories, add the standard items you buy almost every time you shop. My goal is to shop once a week; therefore, the standard items on my list are things I buy almost every week. FYI – You’re goal is not to fill every line in the category.  You’ll use the blank lines for non-standard items that change from week to week.

That’s it. Save your list and your ready for

Using Your Custom Grocery List

  • Make 4-5 copies, enough for the month, and post them in a visible place. I use a magnetic clip to hang mine on the refrigerator.
  • Add items to your list throughout the week. If you run out of blank lines, mark through an item you won’t need this week and write the item you do need next to it.
  • Make note of any items that are getting low, even if you don’t need them yet. This lets you be on the watch for sales.
  • Adjust your custom grocery list periodically as your shopping needs change.

Simplicity Tip of the Day:  When it comes to repetitive tasks, try having a Goldilocks mindset. Keep refining your systems until they work “just right” for you.

Posted in Kitchen Tips, Organizing and De-Cluttering | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Gifts We Remember

The last few weeks I’ve been working on a project that had me considering the “how to’s” of gift giving. I researched articles on saving money, shopping with a plan, giving with style, and many other useful tips. (Yes, I will share these as Christmas draws closer!) This material gave me great practical ideas, but the light was missing. When I paused to reflect on the gifts I most remembered, two from my childhood immediately came to mind: a kitchen set and a tangelo.

My sister made the kitchen set. It was constructed with cardboard boxes, but this was no crude mock-up. She created a two-tiered spice rack with hand-lettered “bottles” made from decorated paper towel tubes. The refrigerator was a pristine white and had a working door. Inside were empty food boxes carefully glued together to look right-off-the-grocery-aisle fresh. I also had eggs – Legg’s eggs, the kind that came with pantyhose in them.  Mine contained hand sewn fabric eggs that appeared to be fried.

The tangelo was from my brother. He came home one afternoon and called me into the kitchen. He smiled as he pulled the fruit out of the brown paper bag. I thought it was an orange, but he told me it was something new, a fruit we had never seen before. He explained that a tangelo was a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine, and he had bought one just for me.

Why are these gifts so memorable? I felt the love behind them.

When I was starting elementary school, my sister and brother were in their upper years of high school. They had very little in common with their baby sister, but these gifts showed me they cared.  My sister knew I liked to play make-believe, so she used her talents to give me wonderful props. My brother was a guy who divided his hours between school, work, and car repairs, but he took the time to share something he thought I might enjoy. Their gifts showed they knew and thought of me. What more could a little girl want?

Simplicity Tip of the Day: The gifts we remember aren’t about money or glitz; they’re about the love we feel behind the present. When contemplating a gift, consider what you know about that person and how you can best show love to him or her.

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