Summer Fun

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We still have another week and a half of school remaining, but I know that summer break has already begun for many of you. It’s hard to believe that another school year is coming to an end. Part of me is excited for the relaxed days of summer. No lunches to pack, no early morning wake-ups, and no tightly packed schedule. But the other part of me is dreading those long hot days of sibling fighting and the repeated refrain of those two dreaded words: “I’m bored!!!”

In an attempt to keep the kids busy and limit the amount of whining and complaining, I’ve been trying to plan ahead a little bit. Besides the usual summer camps and swimming lessons, I’ve also been looking for inexpensive ways to fill up our days.

Here are a few things on my list so far:

1)    Summer Movie Programs – A number of movie theaters in our area (Regal and Cinemark, just to name two) offer summer movie programs, when they show a family movie one or two mornings a week for $1 admission. It’s a great way to catch a movie you missed on its first run through the theaters.   Check your local theater for information.

2)    Summer Reading Programs – If you’re looking for ways to keep your kids reading this summer, encourage them to participate in a summer reading program. Many local libraries offer summer reading programs, as does Barnes and Noble.

3)    Arts and Crafts – Many arts and crafts stores, such as Michael’s and Pat Catan’s, offer children’s craft classes during the summer months for reasonable prices.  Some of these sessions require advanced reservations while others are simply drop-in.  Check your local store for all the details.

4)    Kids Bowl Free – Register your kids for the Kids Bowl Free program and they will receive two free games of bowling every day for the entire summer. Yes, every day all summer long. You can’t beat that!

What’s on your list of things to do this summer?

Are You Superstitious?

Image from Morguefile

Image from Morguefile

This past Tuesday, we officially sold our house in Pittsburgh! We accepted an offer on the house at the end of April…and I haven’t posted anything here since! Not because I’ve been too busy or because I haven’t had anything to say. The truth is that I couldn’t wait to tell you all about our big sales news. But I had a nagging fear that posting the news here (in such a public way before the closing happened), would be tempting fate too much. Now, I don’t usually consider myself to be a superstitious person. I’m not afraid of black cats and I don’t throw a pinch of spilled salt over my shoulder. But I guess the sale of our house was just too big a thing to risk. Thankfully, it is now a done deal and I can happily (and with great relief) tell you that we are officially no longer homeowners!!!

But I’m curious…are you superstitious? Have you ever found yourself afraid to share a piece of good news because you somehow felt that doing so would jinx it?

 

What I Learned in April

 

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1)    All it takes for me to get sidetracked from my  healthier living plan is the arrival of Easter. I was doing so well. I was going to the gym regularly, I was eating salads for lunch, and I was cutting back on sweets. And then Easter came, complete with the kids’ spring break from school and three Easter baskets full of candy. And that’s all is took to fall off the “more exercise/less sweets” wagon. But don’t worry, I’m planning to jump back into my healthier living goals…just as soon as I finish off the last of those Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs!

2)    If you take three kids to Target with you, you’ll spend twice as much money but forget to buy half the things on your list.

3)    Siri can read my emails to me. I love my iPhone but never really knew what to make of Siri. But I recently discovered that Siri can read my emails to me, open apps, and even flip a coin (this one comes in especially handy when the kids are fighting over who has to get their bath first.) Find out even more ways to use Siri here.

4)  My FitBit might not be as accurate as I thought.- Say it isn’t so!  While this article doesn’t mention the Fitbit specifically, it does call into question the accuracy of fitness type wristbands overall.  Hey, maybe I actually do walk 15,000 steps every day but my FitBit is only registering 6,000.  Or maybe my FitBit is saying I walked 6,000 steps but I really only walked 3,000.  UGH!

5)   I’m so glad our family does monthly “Parent and One Child Days” - Having three kids is awesome, but it makes it difficult for Mark and I to spend time with each child individually.  So once a month, on a rotating schedule, one parent gets to spend special time with one kid.  This month was Mom and M. day.  M. and I talked about what she wanted to do for our special day, and settled on Monster Mini-Golf.  It was so much fun!  And it reminded me again of why these special days have been a big success in our family.  Not only do Mark or I get the opportunity to really focus on that one child but that kid gets a chance to have a parent’s undivided attention.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

What did you learn in April?

Today I’m linking up with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky for her monthly “What We Learned” community link-up.

 

 

Creating our own suffering

Raise your hand if you enjoy going to the dentist. Anybody? Anybody? Yeah, I sort of figured we were all in the same boat. So maybe you’ll be able to relate to my feelings when I got a call from the dentist last week reminding me of my appointment scheduled for 10:30 this morning. When they asked me to confirm that I was still coming in, I briefly entertained the idea of cancelling it right then and there. Not because I was busy this morning, but just because I REALLY hate going to the dentist. But I told myself that cancelling the appointment would just mean rescheduling it for another time and so I would only be delaying the agony. So I reluctantly confirmed the appointment and then promptly hung up the phone and began worrying about dreading it. Are they going to find a cavity? Are they going to tell me that I now need to get my wisdom teeth out? How much is it going to hurt this time when they start scraping?! After taking the kids to the bus stop this morning, I walked back inside the house and immediately checked my phone for messages. Maybe the dentist called to reschedule my appointment? Maybe another patient has an emergency and needs my time slot! But, sadly, no messages and no missed calls from the dentist.

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And so I kept my appointment, dragging myself into the dentist’s office at exactly 10:30 and wishing it was already over. At 11:15, I practically skipped out of the dentist’s office. Zero cavities and all my wisdom teeth are safely tucked in my mouth for at least another 6 months. And I thought to myself, Now that wasn’t so bad. And truth be told, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I convinced myself it was going to be. In fact, the days I spent worrying about this appointment were far worse then the 45 minutes I spent sitting in the actual dentist’s chair.

I wonder how many times we all do this to ourselves. We anticipate something will be terrible and so we worry about it…obsess over it….maybe even lose sleep over it…only to discover that it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be. How often do we create our own suffering? We put off appointments, procrastinate conversations, or simply ignore pressing needs because we think it will be difficult, painful, or simply uncomfortable. And then, when we finally, FINALLY, do that thing we’ve been avoiding, we not only realize that it wasn’t that bad, we are actually glad we finally did it.

I still hate going to the dentist, but I’m glad I went today…if only for the comforting knowledge that I (hopefully) won’t need to go back again for another 6 months. What about you? Have you been procrastinating on something you know you should do because you are convinced it will be terrible?

Image from Quotes Frenzy

The Setback Lesson

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It seemed like spring was finally here. The weather was warm and sunny. The cherry tree in our front yard was bursting with blooms. Tulips and Daffodils were popping up all around. We were outside in short sleeves and no jackets, desperate to soak in the warmth of the sun. And then yesterday happened. The temperatures dropped and the snow flurries came. We turned the heat back on in the house last night and I put on a sweater this morning when I got out of bed. In comparison, this small final gasp of winter was nothing compared to the winter weather of the last few months. And yet, it somehow seemed harder to take and more annoying than ever.   It seemed like a step backwards…a setback.

There is something acutely annoying about setbacks. We’ve all been there. You’re making progress, gaining momentum towards a goal. And then, just when you start to feel good about your hard work…SETBACK!

I am currently having an exercise setback. I was doing so well with my goal to go the gym 3-4 days a week. I was starting to lose a couple of pounds and I felt more energized. But then life got in the way with too many commitments and the kids’ week-long spring break. My routine was disrupted and now I haven’t been to the gym in over 2 weeks. To be fair, I realize that 2 weeks isn’t really that long. But it feels like a huge setback to me.

The biggest problem with setbacks isn’t the setback itself. It’s the emotional reaction we have to the setback.   As soon as I saw snowflakes yesterday, I immediately began my mental kvetching.

Oh no, here we go again. Winter is never going to end! A few days of warm weather and now this.

And every day that goes by without a visit to the gym seems like a tremendous failure. I begin to fear that I will never get back into the routine again. I worry that all my hard work thus far will be in vain.

Setbacks have a way of messing with our confidence. They cause even the most logical person to overreact. But before a setback sets you over the edge, it’s important to pause and honestly evaluate the situation.  Yesterday it snowed, but today it’s supposed to be sunny and 50. Hardly a return to the weather of January and February, right? One final gasp of winter doesn’t mean that we’re going to have ten feet of snow. Two weeks without going to they gym doesn’t mean that I’ll never go back again. Setbacks aren’t failures. They are unavoidable parts of change. In fact, they aren’t only unavoidable….they are necessary. Setbacks remind us of where we were before and why we don’t want to return there again. Setbacks keep our egos in check and keep us from getting too overconfident when we’ve made a few good strides towards our goal. Setbacks aren’t an excuse to quit. They are a reason to refocus and recommit. Setbacks aren’t road blocks, just speed bumps in the ever twisting road towards our goals.

 

What I Learned in March

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Can you believe that March is over?  Here’s hoping that April brings warmer weather and not one more snow flake.

I’m linking up with Emily Freeman today and sharing a few things I learned during the month of March.

  1. Taking 10,000 steps every day is tough. Before getting my Fitbit, I just assumed that I was taking somewhere close to 10,000 steps every day. Because come on, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? Boy, was I wrong! I had no idea how sedentary I was until that Fitbit pointed it out to me. I was mortified…but then I was motivated to try and move more during the day. I’m getting much better at walking 10,000 steps every day (or I’m at least getting somewhere close to it) but it’s a lot tougher than I imagined.
  2. I may…occasionally… in certain instances…become a little too upset about a television show. Anyone else watch The Good Wife two weeks ago? I was shocked…no, flabbergasted, when Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles) was killed off the show. How could they kill him? In my mind, Alicia and Will were going to eventually get back together. But now he’s dead?! Poor Mark had to listen to me go on and on about this for hours…well, maybe days…okay, let’s be honest, I’m still not over it! Yes, it’s just a tv show. But come on people! They killed off Will Gardner!
  3. Life is full of surprises. If you’ve visited here before, you may recall that we’ve been planning to move this summer. In case you missed the drama, here’s the summary:  We spent many months thinking that our landlord was going to sell this house, requiring us to either purchase it or move. First we thought we were going to purchase it, but then decided against it and planned to move instead. With only a few months until summer, I was really stressing over this move and worrying about finding another rental in our neighborhood so the kids wouldn’t need to switch schools. Well, guess what! We found out that our landlord is not going to sell right now and is willing to let us stay for one more year. We were equally surprised and relieved by this news. It gives us more time to sell our house in Pittsburgh and allows us to stay put for another year. Whew!
  4. The movie “Footloose” is 30 years old…and Kevin Bacon is still awesome!
  5. It’s good to step outside my comfort zone. The month of March has presented me with a number of opportunities to step outside my comfort zone. Whether it was teaching Kindergarteners about trees or making new friends, I found myself nervously accepting opportunities that were at least slightly intimidating. I won’t lie…I worried and fretted before each and every new and uncomfortable situation, as I am prone to do. But you know what? I didn’t regret a single one. It felt good to stretch and reach outside of what feels normal and easy. It made me realize that sometimes the only thing holding me back is me.

Now it’s your turn!  What did you learn in  March?

 

What did you practice today?

 

What-we-hope-ever-to-doAny musician can tell you that practice in a fundamental part of learning to play an instrument.  Sure, talent is a factor but practice is just as important…perhaps even more important.  I recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell, called Outliers. In this book, Gladwell writes extensively about the “10,000 Hour Rule.”  The idea is simple:  people become successful at something by investing 10,000 hours (yes, literally 10,000 hours) doing whatever that something is.  He asserts that being great at anything requires enormous amounts of time dedicated to practicing whatever it is you wish to be great at.  Now, you may be thinking, “10,000 hours!?  Who has 10,000 hours to practice anything!”  It really does sound like a lot!  But let’s not get wrapped up in the actual number, and instead focus on the general idea.  The “10,000 Hour Rule” is simply about the value of practice.  And understanding the value of practice is important for all of us, not just those of us hoping to become famous athletes or musicians.  So what exactly does the “10,000 Hour Rule” mean for you and me?

  1. Never underestimate the importance of practice.  The “10,000-Hour Rule” doesn’t tell us that we need to be super talented or ultra wealthy to achieve something.  It doesn’t tell us that only a select few can be good at something.  Instead, it shows us that being good at something…anything….simply requires practice.  If you want to be good at something you must put in the work.  Do you want to be a better cook?  You won’t get better if you order take-out every night.  You must practice cooking in order to become a better cook.  Do you want to be a better listener?  A parent who doesn’t yell at their kids all day?  A better computer programmer, public speaker, or bungee jumper?   Practice, practice, practice!
  2. Practicing something once won’t make you great.  When I was a piano teacher, parents always asked me, “How often does my son/daughter need to practice?”  Can you imagine if I had said, “Oh, only about 10,000 Hours.”  Yikes!  Rare was the piano student who liked to practice.  And I had many students whose idea of practice meant ten minutes, once a week, right before their piano lesson. Sometimes students got by on talent for a while, but natural ability only goes so far.  Inevitably the music became increasingly more difficult, and those students either practiced more or gave up.  Because the reality is this:  Being good at anything takes practice.  And to practice something literally means to do it over and over and over again.  You’ll never be great at something if you only do it once.
  3. You are practicing many things every day, whether you realize it or not.  It is through repetition that we learn, hence the importance of regular practice when learning a new activity.  But that also means that every time we repeat a behavior or a thought, we are practicing it.  The more we practice it, the better we get at it.  Every time we help another person we are practicing kindness.  Every time we let go of a perceived wrong done to us, we are practicing forgiveness.  But that also means that every time we yell at someone, we are practicing anger.  And every time we think or say something mean about another person (or ourselves), we are practicing hate.  And remember, the more you practice the better you get at it.  Which leads us to….
  4. Be intentional about what you practice.  The more you practice something the better you get at it, so find opportunities to practice things you wish to improve.  If you want to be a better public speaker, seek out every opportunity you can find to practice your public speaking skills.  If you want to be more outgoing, intentionally put yourself in situations where you can practice meeting new people and making new friends.  Think about the skills you want to improve and then purposefully find ways to practice them.  But remember, the more you practice something the better you get at it, so…
  5. Don’t practice your mistakes.  I had a wonderful music teacher in college who constantly told me, “When you are practicing a piece of music and you make a mistake, Stop!  Fix the problem as soon as you hear it so you don’t keep practicing your mistakes.”  The same idea is true in our daily lives.  If you want to change something about your behavior, the first thing you should do is to stop practicing it!  Don’t allow yourself to continue being passive if you aspire to become more assertive.  Don’t allow yourself to keep hitting the snooze button in the morning if your goal is to finally start getting to work on time.  The next time you find yourself doing something that you really want to change, stop yourself right then and fix the mistake.  Because the more you practice your mistakes, the better you will get at making them.

On the surface, the “10,000-Hour Rule” is a bit discouraging.  Who has 10,000 hours to devote to one activity or skill?  But maybe the takeaway for us isn’t that we should all be devoting 10,000 hours to one skill so the world will consider us great.  Maybe it’s simply the knowledge that by devoting some time on a regular basis we can learn new skills, change old patterns, and establish healthier habits.  We may not all become highly paid baseball players or world famous violinists, but we all have the ability to become more of who we want to be.  All it takes is practice.

 

Top Five Wednesday- My Top Five Favorite Resources for Saving a Few Dollars

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One of the ways I’ve been living out my 2014 phrase “Take action and move forward” is by making a conscious effort to spend less money (the “action” part) in an attempt to reach some of our money goals (the “move forward” part).   I’ve been a moderate coupon user for years but I’ve been looking for new ways to save a few bucks.  I’ve stumbled upon five that I really like and wanted to share them with you.  And so here are today’s Top Five Money Saving Resources:

1)    IbottaIbotta is a cool rebate app that you can download to your phone or tablet.  Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can search for rebate offers by category and then store.  If you see a rebate you want to use, you can unlock it by completing simple tasks, such as answering a survey question or reading a couple sentences about the product.   Then buy the product, take a picture of your receipt, and upload the picture.  For even easier redemption, link your loyalty cards to Ibotta and the rebates are automatically added to your account when you purchase the item at that store.  In order to cash out your earnings, either transfer them to a PayPal or Venmo account, or request them in the form of a gift card.  I use this app primarily for grocery shopping but Ibotta also offers rebates for restaurants, movie tickets, and pet supplies.

2)    Checkout 51Checkout 51 is another great way to save money on groceries.  After creating an account, simply scroll though the money back offers available for that week (offers change every Thursday morning).  Unlike Ibotta, there are no tasks to complete in order to unlock the rebates.  Simply buy any of those products at the store and submit a picture of your receipt showing the purchased product.  Once you earn $20.00, Checkout 51 mails you a check.

3)    Ebates- I’ve actually been using Ebates for a while now.  It’s great for anyone who shops online.  Create an account then shop at your usual online stores using the links found on the Ebates website.  Each store offers different rebate percentages.  After you’ve placed an order, your cash back will be credited to your account.  Ebates is a quick and easy way to earn money back on purchases.  The one downside is that they only mail out checks four times a year.

4)    Swagbucks-  Swagbucks is a website that allows you to earn points by performing a variety of tasks.  Those tasks include completing surveys, playing games, watching short videos, searching the web using their search engine, and making purchases (just as you would using Ebates).  You can then cash in your points for gift cards for places like Target, Amazon, Starbucks, Old Navy, Lands’ End.…the list goes on and on.  Swagbucks is more work than the other options on this list, but I’ve been amazed at how quickly the points add up. 

5)    Saving Money at Target-  I shop at Target so much that I feel like I should own some stock in the company!  So I’m always looking for ways to save some money on the stuff I buy there.  Back in September, I posted about Target Cartwheel and I still highly recommend it.  But until recently, I had no idea that Target offers both printable and mobile coupons!  And you can combine your Target Cartwheel offers with your coupons to save even more.   So cool!

Happy  Shopping!

*I am not affiliated with any of the above mentioned websites, apps, or stores nor am I receiving any compensation for this blog post.

What’s Weighing You Down?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Over the past few weeks, Mark and I have been having a rather important and time-consuming discussion.  This discussion hasn’t been about the kids or his career.  Not about world affairs or the local news.  Nope, we’ve lost hours of our lives talking about…our stuff.  Yes, that’s right.  Our stuff.  Now please understand that we don’t normally spend so much time thinking about our belongings, which in retrospect could be how we ended up with so much stuff in the first place.  It still amazes me that after moving as many times as we’ve moved, we’ve still have so much stuff!  And here’s the really sad part, we don’t even use all of it.

For example, we have lived in our current home for almost two years and there are still dozens of packed boxes in our garage.  These boxes sit in our garage, not because we don’t have time to unpack them but because, quite frankly, I don’t know where to put all the stuff that’s packed inside of them.  That, by itself, is a sure sign that we simply have too much.  Too much furniture, too many mementos, too much…stuff.  And that would be bad enough, if those boxes were our only unused belongings.  But sadly, there is more.

When we moved here two years ago, we stored a few things behind Pittsburgh.  Not much really…just a desk.  And a large buffet table.  And there’s also a ping pong table…a couch…an armoire.  Wait, did I mention a piano?  And oh yes…more boxes.  Now, in our defense, we moved from a fairly large house to a much smaller one.  We told ourselves that we were only renting this smaller house and maybe, (hopefully?) we would eventually move into a bigger house again and then we would be able to use all those things.  That doesn’t sound too ridiculous, right?

Anyway, once we realized we would be moving this summer, we began to consider and evaluate our stuff.  Most recently, Mark and I have been talking about our Pittsburgh stuff.  Specifically, what do we do with it?  How do we get it all here?  And when do we move it here?  Do we move this stuff down here now so it’s already here, or do we wait until we move to our new place this summer and then go back to Pittsburgh and get it?  And the biggest question of all…will any of it even fit into our next home, which will probably be close in size to our current home.

The more we talked about it, the more confused we became and the more frustrated we felt.  And then we asked ourselves this question:  Why are we holding on to this stuff? We haven’t used any of it for two years, and haven’t really noticed its absence.  What if we just get rid of it.  Yes, that’s right.  Get rid of it.  Get rid of anything we can’t use and/or won’t fit a home roughly the same size as our current one.  Get rid of anything we never really liked in the first place.  Get rid of the old baby stuff we’ll never use again and the boxes of who-knows-what that I’ve been saving for God-knows-when.  Sell it, give it away, donate it…and I’m fairly certain that there are things that just need thrown away.

At first, the idea sounded drastic.  But the more we talked about it, the better it sounded.  Because the sheer amount of stuff we have is simply weighing us down.  We aren’t holding on to most of this stuff because it’s useful, or even because we love it so much that we can’t bear to part with it.  We’re holding on to it because of what it represents.  In some cases, these belongings represent the past.  High chairs and cribs remind me of when the kids were smaller.  Getting rid of them is acknowledgement that our family is forever past the baby years.  In other cases, we’ve held on to belongings in hopes that they would work “someday.”  We’ve been holding onto a rather large beautiful wooden desk for over a decade.  It looks like the perfect desk.  Lots of drawers, beautiful finish.  But it’s heavy and awkward, too big for practical use in most of the homes we’ve lived in.  We are in love with the idea of it rather than the reality of it.  As we considered each belonging, we realized that most weren’t useful or practical.  And in some cases, they were things we didn’t enjoy or even like anymore.  So why exactly were we keeping them?

As soon as we made the decision to get rid of stuff, I felt instantly better. It was as though a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  Sometimes holding on to stuff holds us back.  Once again, it comes down to the question of intention.  It’s not enough to simply hold on to something because it’s familiar, or sentimental, or because of sheer inertia.  Whatever we have in our lives should serve a real purpose.  Because if we aren’t careful, we can easily fill up our homes and lives with useless, meaningless stuff, leaving no room for the things that really matter.

And so Mark and I are beginning the long process of ridding ourselves of stuff that no longer makes sense in our lives.  We are asking the tough questions:  “Do we love it?”  and “Can we use it?”  We are letting go of the things that no longer fit our home or our lives.  I won’t lie…it’s not an easy task.  But I feel lighter already.

Five Minute Friday – Choose

Welcome to Five Minute Friday!  I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and many other wonderful bloggers to share a few minutes of writing on the word CHOOSE.

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Choices.  Life is full of them.  Everything we do from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep is a choice.  What we eat.  What we wear.  The house we live in, the car we drive.  How much we spend and where we spend it.  Everything is a choice.  And let’s be honest…all these choices can be pretty exhausting!

I’ve always struggled with choices, which is probably why I tend to be habitual.  Having the same thing for breakfast every day means one less choice to make.  Shopping in the same stores means never wondering where to go to find a pair of jeans or a new set of towels.  But those choices that I have to make outside of my daily routine?  Boy, are they a struggle.  I make pros and cons lists.  I analyze every possible scenario.  I stay up late thinking about them.  I fret and worry and ask other people what to do until I finally run out of time and make a choice out of desperation.

The other day, I read this quote by Wayne Dyer:

Our intention creates our reality.

And it hit me.  I’ve been worrying and analyzing and asking people’s opinions, but the one thing I’m not doing is asking myself the most important question of all:

What is my intention?

What’s my plan?  What is my purpose in doing whatever “it” is?  Because without knowing my intention, how can I possibly choose what’s best?

What is my intention? 

What is your intention?

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