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How I Feed My Family for Around $100 a Week

In a recent post, I remarked how I typically spent around $100 a week on groceries to feed my family of 6. I had a few inquiries on how I did that, and understandably so! As are most things that are real solutions, the answers are simple and it isn't anything you haven't ever heard before. I don't have a magic formula. I do all of these things, combined, and it works for us.

As you strive for a budget goal that is reasonable for your family, keep in mind cost of living. My area is a little below the national average for food. If the national average is 100, my area is 97. New York City is 125 on the same scale. Los Angeles is 95.5 on the same scale. That might give you an idea of where I am coming from.

Meal Plan
I plan out my meals before I go grocery shopping. I make a list of what we are going to eat for the next week, make a list of what ingredients we need based on those meals, and then go shopping. If I ever go grocery shopping without a plan, I find I spend just as much money as when I go with a plan, if not more, but I come out without items to create meals.

Eat What is In Season
I make an effort to eat the foods in season. I don't buy fruits and vegetables if they aren't on sale, when possible. Obviously it has to be done sometime, but I don't plan a meal full of blueberries in January. No way. I do that in the summer when blueberries are 1/4 the price of January blueberries (and three times the flavor goodness). If I really want to make a recipe that has an item that isn't in season and is expensive, I often just cut out the expensive ingredient. 

Speaking of, I will often substitute really expensive items for something less expensive. For example, when I make pesto sauce, I usually use almonds instead of pine nuts. I know--almonds aren't cheap. But they are cheaper than pine nuts, and I like them just as much in my pesto.

Include Inexpensive Foods In Your Meal-Planning
Plan meals that don't cost a ton. This can mean vegetarian meals. It can mean meals with potatoes or rice. Pay attention to what meals cost a lot and space those out in your planning. 

Have a Leftover Night
One night a week, we have a leftover night. When I make 6 meals a week, leftovers build up. My husband and I both eat leftovers for lunch most days, but there are still more leftovers than we can eat for just lunches. Leftover night is basically a night of free food.

I will also be strategic in my meal planning so leftovers can be used. If we have a pork roast on Sunday, I will plan to make pork tacos later that week with the meat leftovers. Leftover night is not always the most popular with kids, so if you can work leftovers into other meals, they will be better received.

I typically shop on the same day each week. I plan out seven meals even though I also intend to have a leftover night. I do this just so I have a little bit of flexibility in the meal making. The meal I don't make that week is rolled over into the next week.

Get Milk Delivered
We get our milk delivered from a local dairy. This doesn't look like a money-saving method on the surface because the milk is much more expensive that way than from the grocery store. The way it saves me money is that it makes it so I don't have to go to the grocery store as often. In the summer when our garden is going crazy, I can go a long time between grocery store trips. Many milk delivery services will also deliver other perishable items (like eggs), so you can avoid the store when you want to save money on groceries that week. This is further made possible when you have a food storage in place (see next section below).

Buy When It is On Sale
I buy items when they are on sale and avoid them if they are not. When an item is on super sale, I buy a lot of them and put them in my food storage (assuming it is non-perishable). Yes, I get some weird looks and questions from cashiers, even when living in Utah, land of the food-storage people. "So...are you having a really big party or something?" Ha! "No, just stocking up." 

It took me years to build up my daring to buy tons of something when it is on super sale, but now I just go for it. 

Shop Quickly
Like I said, I make a list before I go. I shop at the same grocery store every time. I have that store memorized. I make my list in order of where things are in the store. That way, I can go in and zip through. I have literally parked my vehicle, shopped, and loaded my vehicle with a week's worth of groceries in 10 minutes. And I had a toddler with me. No lie! On my honor. I have done that more than once.

I do keep an eye out for super deals. I know my store, and I know which tags mean "pay attention to this price." I stop and buy those things even if they aren't on my list. Otherwise, I keep my head down and respect the list.
I will make one note--every few months I go to SAMs Club (not my typical grocery store. My typical store is a local store). There are some things at SAMs that are much cheaper than they are at my local store and I stock up on those items then.

Some people successfully go to several stores to get the best deals at each store. That doesn't work for me on a couple of levels. Level one is that I want to spend as little time shopping as possible. When my kids were younger, there was no coupon or sale that would make multiple grocery stores worth it to me. Our stores are not right next to each other--I am talking miles in between each store. No way! Not my idea of fun.

Another reason that doesn't work for me is that I know I would go into that store for sale item A and walk out with several other sale items on top of that. For my personality, it works best to stick to one store and to the deals of that store. Store hopping might work great for you, though.

Shop at Specialty Stores
I stick to one grocery store, but I try to buy certain foods at certain specialty stores. We have a lot of dairies where I live. I buy my cheese directly from a dairy rather than the grocery store. I can easily get it for half off of a good sale price at the grocery store. I buy cheese blocks that are imperfect, so they are even cheaper than what they would be. We are totally fine with imperfect-looking blocks of cheese. 

Buy Meat From Butcher--Or Buy the Animal
We usually buy a beef or pig directly from the person who raised it. This isn't always less expensive than a great deal at the grocery store.  It isn't any more expensive than buying it from the store, though.Something I like about it is buying the animals from a trusted source and knowing what went into the raising of it. The meat always tastes much better than store meat. And it keeps my benefit up that I don't have to go to the grocery store as often. It is food storage that allows me to take a week off of shopping when I need to. The obvious limitation to this is freezer space. You will need a deep freeze or upright freezer to purchase meat from an entire animal. You can often find a friend or neighbor to split the animal with if you don't have a lot of storage space.

Keep Budget In Mind
While you are shopping, keep your budget in mind. Aim to stay in it. Cut out excess foods that you don't need. Pay attention to how often you are throwing out food at home that has gone bad or stale. Try to keep your purchases so you aren't throwing so much out. Do not buy foods that are unnecessary that will push you way over budget. 

Also, look at your budget on a larger scale. If I spend $150 one week, I aim for $50 or less the next week.

Take Shopping Weeks Off
Every so often, I just don't shop that week. Because I have milk delivered and foods in storage, I can do that. It forces me to really look at what I have for meals instead of buying new stuff. 

Grow Your Own Food
We grow a garden and preserve what we can. The garden helps us keep food costs down during the harvest and helps provide foods to eat through the winter months. Be like the ants and prepare your food for the winter. If you don't have space for a garden that produces excess, you can preserve foods you buy at the grocery store when they are in season in the summer. Also keep an eye out on farmers markets and nice neighbors. Most people with gardens are very happy to share their excess food. 

Cook Meals
I make our meals from scratch. It is much less expensive to make a meal than it is to buy pre-made meals. There can be expensive up-front costs when you are cooking meals. For example, many spices are quite expensive, but they last you a long time, so you have an expense the first time, but not again for a while.

This is my secret recipe to spending around $100 a week on groceries. There isn't anything new on this list. They are all old tips that I have found work very well all mixed together. 

Why We Require Apologies Even for Accidents

No one enjoys admitting they messed up. No one wants to say, "Hey! I was wrong! I blundered there!" Admitting a mistake is a hard thing. Not even children really like to admit wrong-doing. It can be hard for most of them. Just like adults, children have different personalities. I have a couple of children who are pretty stubborn about admitting fault. I have one who is very quick and easy to apologize. I have one who is okay with apologizing, but feels a tremendous amount of guilt over it. But even the ones who are pretty okay with apologizing don't love it. Apologizing requires humility and it requires realizing you will still be loved even when you admit wrong-doing.

At our house, we require an apology, asking of forgiveness, and reparations when an act was intentional. We might also have a consequence of some sort if it is warranted. For example, if a child hit another, an apology would be required, along with asking for forgiveness, and also some time alone to chill out and get ready to be nice to others again. 

What about when something was an accident?

As parents, we can be unsure how to react when something was an accident. If our child slides down an enclosed twisty slide and knocks a child over sitting at the bottom, we might tell our child to say sorry, but then not push it if our child refuses. It was just an accident, after all. Our child didn't know the other child was there. The other child shouldn't have even been hanging out there!

Accidents happen all throughout life. Sometimes we knock someone's block tower over because we were walking backwards and didn't notice it there. That is a simple example from childhood, but all throughout life, honest accidents happen. Car accidents when someone didn't see the other car or the weather was bad. A child hits a baseball that goes through a window. We forget to show up for something we committed to. We humans mess up a lot in innocent ways. We aren't even talking about the times we lose a temper or are unkind intentionally. These are just the total accident examples.

Who is responsible for those accidents? Who should pay for them, clean them up, make them right?

When something was an accident, our knee-jerk is to say, "It isn't my fault! It was an accident!" and want no part in the responsibility for it. If it isn't YOUR fault when you mess up, whose fault is it? If you accidentally run into someone, who should pay? Because someone has to pay to fix the damaged vehicle. If you didn't mean to hit someone, does that mean the driver you hit should pay for your mistake? They didn't mean to get hit, and didn't cause the hitting, so does that make sense at all? Should someone across town pay for the accident? No? Then who?

It is easy to see in this example that even if you didn't intend to hit someone, and even if you weren't being negligent, you still did the damage and you should still pay.

The same is true for your child and the innocent mistakes. If your child accidentally steps on another child's foot (or your foot--which is constant, am I right?), he should apologize for doing so. "I am sorry I stepped on you!" Simple. Not easy to do. It is hard to admit wrong-doing. But being able to admit fault is an important skill to be learned.

We require an apology, even when it was an accident, for a few reasons:

  1. To teach our children to accept responsibility for actions.
  2. To teach that actions have consequences even if unintended. 
  3. To teach my children to learn to admit when they are wrong. 
  4. To teach empathy in the offended.
  5. To relieve the offended from holding a grudge

There is a difference in how you apologize when you did something by accident and when you didn't something out of malice. I have talked about this in I'm Sorry vs. Forgive MeAn interesting thing is that there is benefit to the offended person with apologies, also, not just the offender.
"Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., Steven J. Sandage, M.S., and Everett L. Worthington Jr., Ph.D., examined whether the effect of apology on our capacity to forgive is due to our increased empathy toward an apologetic offender. They discovered that much of why people find it easy to forgive an apologetic wrongdoer is that apology and confession increase empathy, which heightens the ability to forgive." The Power of Apology
So when you require apologies in your home for even little accidents, you teach your children to accept responsibility but you also help your children grow their ability to have empathy toward others. What an awesome lesson. Teach your children to apologize even when they didn't mean to do something. It won't be a one-time teaching. We still have to remind all of our children that we apologize even when something was an accident.

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BabyLit Board Books {Friday Finds}

You know I love to read. You know I love books. You might know I love classics. I love the classics! I have an extensive collection of hard-back books of the classics. When I was in college, I obviously didn't have much money. Even so, I bought one new classic book each month to build my library (I have always been more like the tortoise than the hare).

When we took our trip to Portland, Oregon this past summer, we spent an afternoon at Powell's Books, also known as City of Books. The friends we were with all love books, also. We wandered through the store, finding our favorite books and our kids' favorite books and sharing them with each other. It was a magical afternoon. This post contains affiliate links.

It was tainted with a twinge of sadness for me though. Sadness mixed with thrill. One of my friends showed me a BabyLit book. Oh my amazing! These are board books based on the classic literature. Why had I never heard of them before?!?!? (insert crying face emoji here). They were first published in 2011, so too late for my first three children, but Brinley and I could have reveled in them.

They are primer books. You cover camping, flowers, colors, playtime, counting, animals...They have:

Now you know. You don't have to live in the sad darkness like I did. 

Rules for Balancing Screen Time

Screen time can be fun. It can be helpful for mom on rough days. Screen time needs some balance, however. This post outlines four rules to help you have a balanced screen time approach in your home (and why you want to do so).  

Rules for Balancing Screen Time

When we first moved into our current house 7.5 years ago, we had no television hook up. Antenna service wasn't fantastic in our area then. Satellite service was so very expensive. Cable service was not an option in our neighborhood since a contractor cut the main line when building one of the homes. So we did without for about six months...until American Idol started up and I needed television access. 

Those were a great six months. It was haaarrrddd at first. We were all used to our short but daily television time. Brayden and Kaitlyn didn't know what to do at first (McKenna was still a baby). They figured things out, though. They found things to do and managed to have an enjoyable six months despite the lack of television in their lives. 

Despite our enjoyable hiatus all those years ago, we do allow screen time at our house, though our children do not have free reign with it. We have limits. I am trying to teach them balance. We live in a world filled with technology. I want them to learn to meter screen time and use it wisely. 

We have been raising a voyager generation over the last ten-ish years. Our children are the first to grow up with access to screens everywhere. Screens are becoming more and more present in our lives. Even many restaurants are cutting back on waitress time and replacing that interaction with a screen. We have to figure out how to teach our children to learn to balance technological presence in their lives while simultaneously trying to do the same in our own lives.
"The uncertain reality is that, with this new technological frontier in its infancy and developments emerging at a rapid pace, we have neither the benefit of historical hindsight nor the time to ponder or examine the value and cost of these advancements in terms of how it influences our children’s ability to think." How Technology Changes the Way Children Think and Focus  
We don't know all of the impact technology has. I do not feel technology is all good, nor do I think it is all bad. I think we can take it either direction. I am a believer in the axiom "moderation in all things," and so at our house, we have moderation when it comes to technology. Here are some rules we have in our home for balancing screen time.

Have Limits 
Limit the amount of time allowed with screens in a week. Limit the places screens are allowed (no dinner-time screens, for example). Limit the number of days screens are allowed each week. 

Some children (and humans) might be able to have free reign with no rules or limitations with technology and not spend most of their free time with it, but most cannot. They need limits. I don't use the term "need" lightly. They NEED limits. Need. You cannot let your children have free reign and unlimited access to screens. 

The impact of television and other technology on people is an old debate. When I was in college, I worked in the writing center tutoring students through their required English 1010 and English 2010 classes. In 2010, they were required to write a paper defending a topic. One of the most popular topics covered was if television was harmful or not. The thesis statements came down on both sides of the issue.

I stand firmly on the side that says television (and other forms of screens) impacts you. Screens impact you. Since my college days, more and more studies have come out to support that thesis. 
"Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.
But it’s even worse than we think.
We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex." source here
Did you catch that last paragraph? Read it again. " exactly the same way that cocaine does." Technology needs limits. NEEDS. Needs

At our house, our children get three hours of video game time a week (if they don't pass of piano songs, they get two hours instead. I tell them that is how they can find the extra time to practice their songs to the point of passing). Yes, I said week. I know numbers show some children have more than twice that in a day. We are week.

They get maybe one hour of television a week, though we don't have hard-drawn rules. Most weeks, it is zero. This is different for Brinley, though. She gets an hour a day. 

They might also watch one movie each week on the weekend. 

We have exceptions. This past weekend, the Steelers played a football game. The Steelers are my kids' team. They watched the game. I didn't turn it off after an hour; they watched the whole thing. So have rules, but don't be afraid of making exceptions in either direction. More on that below.

Take a Break When Needed
Even with your limits, you will find times when your children seem overly addicted and obsessed with technology and need a full on break. I call this a technology fast. I find this need especially true for my children in extended periods of bad weather. For example, right now, we have had feet and feet of snow in just 2.5 weeks. We have had three snow days from school when there hasn't been one in 15 years. Our area is used to snow, but this is a season's worth of snow in a couple of weeks.

Just yesterday, I told my husband I feel like the kids need a full on break from technology. They have limits. They know their limits. Even so, they ask for extensions. They ask for more. We decided that next week will be no screen time week for our kids. A technology fast. 

My kids know it is coming and they are totally on board and supportive of it. They can tell they are feeling obsessive. They don't like the feeling and want to break the cycle. They also know why we are doing the fast. It isn't a punishment. It isn't because we are mean parents. It is because we love them. We have explained our reasoning for having technology fasts and they get it. 
"...your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality." source
I find it imperative to take these breaks from technology from time to time. This following quote helps me hold my position:
"In my clinical work with over 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts."source
No Screens In Bedrooms
Rules for Balancing Screen TimeI talked about this in How to Establish Safe Media Standards For Your Familydo not allow screens in your child's bedroom. Have a place electronics are stored each night. This protects your child in many ways. For the purposes of this article, it helps protect your child from spending too much time with screens. 

It's Okay To Have Days You Have More Screen Time Than Usual
The potential for addiction is real. We need to be mindful of that. Some days, however, we might allow our children to indulge heavily in screen time. Those are not days to be guilty over! You might be sick. You might have a newborn. You might be trying to get some project completed. You might be in major need of a break. It is okay to have the occasional day that breaks your limitations. Make these days the the exceptions and it is okay to use them when you need to. 

Technology can have its place, and can even have its benefits. 
Research shows that, for example, video games and other screen media improve visual-spatial capabilities, increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among clutter. Also, rather than making children stupid, it may just be making them different. " source
Despite the benefits, you can have too much of a good thing and striving to have balance in your home is wise. There are harmful impacts of too much screen time, and those impacts are becoming documented. Be intentional with your days and with your rules. Roald Dahl recognized the damage of too much television when he wrote his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What was true for Mike Teavee all those years ago is true today. Plus, you'll get no commercials.

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Babywise Friendly Blog Network:
The ladies of the Babywise Friendly Blog Network (BFBN) are all talking on screen time today. Check their posts out:

How to Keep Kids Happy and Engaged During Learning Time

The first time my husband and I made gingerbread houses with our two young children, it ended in disaster. I am actually surprised it is a tradition that we have done year after year since. We didn't enjoy it. I don't think the kids enjoyed it. We were all edgy and intense and our picturesque activity went up in flames.

Since that day, I have learned some important steps to take to ensure our learning time and activities is a positive experience. Our time is beneficial and enjoyable. 

Be Prepared--Have Stuff Ready
If you want to really torture yourself and your child, say, "Time to do a learning activity!" and then prepare the activity while your child asks over and over again when you can start. I know, any mom with experience with children is saying, "Duh!" but that is a lesson I had to learn. Have the activity prepped before you announce it is time to start. Announcing before it is ready is like telling your child dinner is ready 30 minutes before it is time. If you like whining, try it out. If not, wait until you are ready.

The only caveat is if you have a child who loves to help and/or is capable of helping to prep the activity, go ahead and have your child come early and help get things ready. Otherwise, be kind to yourself and your your child and be prepared before "starting."

If you want an easy way to be prepared every day of the year, get my eBook Babes, Tots, and Kids

Choose Appropriate Activities
You don't want activities that are too hard, nor do you want activities that are too easy. If they are too hard, your child will get frustrated and you will do it all for your child. If they are too easy, your child will be bored and either balk at doing it or be done in under 60 seconds. Sometimes you don't know for sure what is appropriate for your child, which is why it is a good idea to have some back-up plans. Don't forget about your stash of puzzles, board games, or things like the peg-boards I talked about last week. They make great back-ups when your child finishes planned activities too quickly. 

Choose a Good Time of Day
No one operates well when they are tired or hungry. Try to do activities when your child is well-rested and not hungry. Also, do it when you can have minimal distractions. If you have more than one child, either have activities for the other child planned or do the activities when the other child is sleeping or doing something like independent playtime. 

Keep it Fun
Make this learning time at home fun. You are introducing the concept of learning to your child. Don't turn it into something to hate. 

Have Expectations for Abilities
Part of the problem my husband and I faced that first gingerbread house experience was that we both wanted a picture-perfect gingerbread house at the end. We were making it with a 3 year old and 1 year you can imagine how perfect it looked in the end. We both quickly realized our folly. Of course it wouldn't look perfect! Duh! 

It is okay if your child's picture doesn't look like the picture on the blog post or Pinterest photo. Those photos are often taken of the project completed by an adult or older child, not a two year old. Be okay with things looking authentic for your child. 

Have Expectations for Participation
While you want to make it fun, it is okay to require that your child sit and complete the project before moving on to the next phase of the day. Part of the benefit of doing these activities at home is that your child learns to focus, to sit still, to listen to instructions, and to get things done. If your child is burnt out, go ahead and help him finish the project up, or make the decision to set it aside and finish the rest tomorrow. Just make sure you are making the decision based on your best judgement, not that you are letting the child drive and dictate the schedule. 

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How To Organize Toys

When Brayden was young, I had a good friend with a boy just a few months younger than he was. I was sure we owned every toy worthy of owning at the time (which is funny to look back on because we didn't have many). When we would visit her, it would amaze me that we had basically completely different toys, and they toys they had were all great and fun, also. How could that many toy options exist in the world!

As kids get older, the toy collection grows and grows. You don't want to just get rid of the toys when your oldest is too old for them because there will be younger siblings to play with those perfectly good toys. But we only have so much storage and so much space. Decisions must be made and organization must take place. Here are some tips for organizing toys, complete with tips from fellow blog readers. 

Only Keep What You Have Space For
This seems so simple and obvious, but it is very easy for us to get to a point where we just have more stuff than we have space for. Once you are out of space for toys, it is time to make some decisions. 

I have a very hard time getting rid of perfectly good toys. I was raised by parents who didn't have much. Their parents lived through the depression and were savers. You save, save, save. 

But they didn't also live in a time like ours where there was major consumerism. They didn't have the volume of stuff that we have. You just need to have a logical talk with yourself and say, "When we are out of space, it is time to donate or sell our excess." 

Emily said: "We don't have a perfect system, but the one thing I love is an old dresser (that I refinished) that we use as our TV stand. Each of the large drawers holds a category of toys (trains/tracks, blocks, cars, etc.) If a drawer can't fit everything it's time to donate! I love that it's an easy storage system that doesn't scream "toy storage.""

Ask For Experiences for Gifts Rather Than Toys
You won't have a relationship with everyone where you can make such requests, but for those you do, ask for experiences rather than toys. I am one who finds it tacky to tell people what gifts to get unless they ask for ideas. If "the thought" is what counts, when you take the thought away from the gift-giver, you are making it the "thing" that counts. 

What you can say, though, is "We are out of space for toys in our house! If you would like to give a gift, an experience would be fantastic!" 

You can alternatively ask for no gifts or ask for smaller items or items that can be added to collections so there is not more space needed.

Emily Ann said: "we don't have a ton of toys in our house and ask that ppl not give our son toys as gifts (we would rather have experiences like going to the zoo and what not). we have a small wooden box in our living room and a wire basket thing from target in our sons room to hold toys. in our basement there is a play area with a toddler slide, swing, small ball pit, a discovery kids tent and some toys. we live in the country and its really muddy so we needed an indoor play area. i watch while hes playing with toys and if its something he doesn't have interest in after a few times i usually give it away"

Get Creative With Toy Storage
There are so many ways and places you can store toys. Under bed, in dressers, in drawers in your family obvious great source for good ideas on toy storage ideas is Pinterest. I have some ideas on my Play Room board and some in my Organizing board. You can do a simple search on "Toy organization" and find a lot of great ideas and find ones that make sense for your space. 

Use Totes or Bins for Storing Toys
This post contains affiliate links. A good old reliable form of toy storage is to put the toys by groups into plastic rubbermaid-type totes or to use baskets in the IKEA type bookcases or something similar. We use both of those methods for books and toys frequently. 

The tricky thing with the totes and bins method is you either need to commit to being present when all toys are cleaned up or you need to commit to remaining calm when the items are put back in the wrong bin. You can label and that can help, but things will get put away wrong and you will need to go through them every so often to re-organize. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; re-organizing is a good chance to get rid of things. It does take time and it does add to your to-do list. 

Erin said: "My son has hundreds of little trucks. To stay sane, they are all sorted into separate plastic bins (tractors, hot wheels, diggers, monster trucks, etc). He's allowed to have 2 bins out at a time. If he wants a different type of truck, he has to clean up and trade one in. Keeps me from having to see hundreds on the floor at the same time, and him from spending 2 hours cleaning them all up. "

Donate (or Store) What Isn't Played With
Like I said, it is easiest to keep things clean when you have less stuff than you have space for. That means you need to get rid of things when you run out of space. If you run out of toy space in the house, but you have storage space, doing toy rotation is fantastic (see below for more). 

If you don't have space for storage, donate your toys. You could also sell them on classifieds. Get them out of the house and into someone else's house.

There just isn't much point in keeping out something that rarely gets touched. Getting it out of the way will keep things cleaner and will likely keep your child more engaged in what IS there since there won't be too many options. 

Rotate Toys
The concept for rotating toys is simple. You have some toys out that can be accessed. You have some toys stored away somewhere that is out of sight and out of reach. Every so often, you take the toys out of storage, add them to what can be accessed, then put away other toys. This keeps toys interesting and fresh. It is like Christmas every so often. You can decide how often to rotate. I usually like 2-4 weeks. 

How to organize toysElizabeth said: "For my little girl, her obsession is books! We have three 'loads' that I separated carefully balancing it out (fiction, non fiction, a kipper book in each pile etc) and I rotate them every 3 weeks or so. That way, her book shelf isn't a constant mess and she can actually see almost all her books at a glance.

I'm about to redo our craft cupboard. But I did recently buy new drinking glasses and the box it came in made a perfect 'craft caddy' for my three year old. She got a stash of crayola for Christmas but I didn't feel good about her using everything at once. So I chose a selection of things and now she has a jar of 8 markers, 12 crayons, glue stick, scissors etc all in one caddy. I don't have to hunt for lids or missing things because there are only a few things to keep track of!"

Tips For Keeping Things Clean
1-Limit how much is out--this is when toy rotation comes in handy.
2-Have clean-up rules--have a rule that toys have to be cleaned up before they move on to a new toy. You should also have your child help. Children are more likely to be careful about what they get out if they have to help clean up.
3-Don't buy too many--When it comes time for Christmas or birthdays, be aware of your available space when buying new toys. There are a lot of fun toys out there! You probably don't have space for all of the ones your child would love, and that is perfectly okay! 
2-Toy time out--If your child won't keep things clean or help clean, have a consequence. Take toys away if your child won't help clean up. 

Christina said: "I use a ton of 31 bags to organize toys. I also have a TOY TIME OUT BAG that gets filled with the toys left on the floor for my daughter to earn back. I do frequently purge toys as well by donating them or saving them and rotating them out, but since I don't have much time to rotate toys, they are either organized and put away, in time out, or gone. LOL"

Diedre said: "All our toys are sorted by type into plastic boxes with lids. These are placed on a small shelf in their playroom. Depending on the size of the toys (some things are in slightly bigger boxes) the shelf will fit 6-8 boxes/items. They also get to have 4 larger items (think dress-up box, doll house, etc) that just stay on the floor around the room. Anything that doesn't fit on the shelf goes into a closet. This gives the kids a variety of things to choose from without having too much to clean up. 
Any time they clean-up without whining, or do an extra big job around the house, or anything else I decide is worth it, they get to trade one item from the shelf/floor of the toy room for one out of the closet. This way I get willing helpers, the toys get rotated, and everyone is happy."

Toys definitely have the potential and power to take over your home, but it doesn't have to be that way! You can utilize these ideas to keep control over the toys and not let the toys control you.

If you don't already, be sure to follow me on Facebook. I share what is posted here each day along with other articles I find helpful and interesting. I also answer questions and do live Q&As each week. It is a great way to connect!

You can also find me on Instagram, posting pictures from our days as well as quick tips.

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Two Things You Can Do To Avoid Yelling At Your Kids

Yelling just doesn't leave you feeling happy. It might feel good to release that pressure in the moment, but that moment is always followed by immense regret. Yelling might work to get what you want at some points, but it is not an effective, long-term parenting tool. If you are like most moms and want to avoid yelling at your children, there are two things you can do to set yourself up for more success.

Two Things You Can Do To Avoid Yelling At Your Kids

If you want to set yourself up for success to not yell at your kids, you need to start by thinking of yourself like you think of your toddler. What sorts of things do you do to make sure your toddler is set up for success?

1-Make sure your little one gets enough sleep.
2-Make sure your little one gets good food at regular times.

Simple right? 

But this can be easier said than done when you are a mom. 

Two Things You Can Do To Avoid Yelling At Your KidsWhen I had one baby, it was hard to not always be able to get sleep. You think I would have been prepared for the difficulty when my other babies came along. Um, no! It is much easier to be patient toward a baby all day than a toddler, preschooler, or older when you are running on little to no sleep. Babies don't ask a hundred billion questions a day. Babies don't want you to play ponies with them. Babies don't have a driving need to get out of the house. Newborns don't need anything more than a bottle made or breast offered at mealtimes. When you have an older child, you suddenly need to be interactive all day.

You also have to parent. You have to correct older children. A newborn doesn't require discipline, but a, yes. 

Be mindful of this and do what you can to be well-rested. I know, it can be the impossible dream.

No matter what ages of your children, be sure you are aware of what time you need to be in bed by the night before so when your alarm goes off in the morning, you will have gotten enough sleep to be a nice mom.

Food is also easier said than done. This is true for moms of new babies as well as older kids. I often find myself at lunch and realize I never got breakfast. Life with kids is busy, and we moms can easily forget to take care of ourselves. 

If you find that you frequently have a hard time keeping your temper in check, first look at your sleeping and eating habits. You never know if such a simple fix could lead to a happier you.

 7 Phrases to help you avoid losing your temper as a parent

The Benefits of Having a Family Dentist {Guest Post}

This is a sponsored post.

As a parent and as an adult, you know how important it is to care for your teeth and care for your child’s teeth. After all, good dental hygiene can help you have healthy teeth and gums and can also help ensure you reduce your risk of other illnesses, such as heart disease.

When it comes to dental care, choosing the right dentist is very important. Some people choose a pediatric dentist for their child and then a different dentist for themselves, and while this can work, it’s not always the best option. Having a family dentist instead of multiple dentists could be beneficial for your family, and here’s why:

You will build a relationship.
When you have a family dentist, you will build a relationship with your dentist. With small children, your child will be able to grow up with the same dentist, and this provides a sense of trust. It also means your child doesn’t need to find another dentist as they get older, and this can be extremely rewarding for your child. Plus, when a dentist is involved with your entire family, it provides a better sense of trust and respect over the years that you’ll come to appreciate.

You can receive a nice discount.
Even with insurance, dentists often apply discounts when applicable. With a family dentist, you may end up receiving discounts for having multiple people attend the same office. If you have a large family, this discount can be extremely beneficial to your budget.

Aside from discounts, your family dentist may also be more likely to work out a payment plan with you for more expensive procedures. For instance, if they know that you will come back on a regular basis, they will be more willing to break a large payment down into smaller increments to help you make your dental care more affordable.

You have a better sense of family history.
When a dentist sees you and your children, they have a better sense of your genetics and family history. This means they could recognize issues with your child’s mouth or gums that others may not have noticed, only because it’s something that you or your spouse had an issue with. Putting your children’s health in the hands of someone who will take the time to provide them with extra care.

It’s less scary for little ones.
The American Dental Association states that it’s a good idea to have your child start seeing a dentist at age one, but many parents often wait until a child is older. When your child is older, the dentist can be a scary place. However, if your young child has been to that dentist’s office and has seen you or older siblings receive treatment from that dentist, it can be less scary for them in the end. This can make going to the dentist easier on young children.

They’ll work with you.
When you have a family relationship with a dentist, the office will likely be more accommodating to your needs. For instance, they may be more willing to work around your schedule for procedures or fit in all of your children at one time. In addition, if your dental insurance were to change, many family dentists will often find a way to still work with you in order to not lose your business. If you want a dentist you can rely on, a family dentist is the right choice.

When it comes to your family’s dental needs, choosing a family dentist provides you with plenty of benefits you won’t find anywhere else. This is a sponsored post. 

Pegboard with Pattern Cards {Friday Finds}

Friday is currently Brinley's least favorite day of the week. Most people love Friday, but for Brinley, it is torture day. It is the day of the week she doesn't get to go anywhere. The other days she has playgroup, dance class, and preschool.

This past Friday, she was bemoaning her fate. I got out a whole bunch of random learning activities I have created or purchased over the years and came across a peg board with pattern cards. This grabbed her interest! She had enough mental challenge before her to get her to be satisfied where she was. This post contains affiliate links.

I bought ours many, many years ago and can't find the same thing on Amazon anymore. We do have this one from Plan Toys which is great for younger little people. It works great for about ages 1-4 or 5. 

The one Brinley was playing with was more challenging. This one is similar.

And that same brand has a junior version for smaller children.

Pegboards are great to have around for your child to have something he/she can do independently when you don't have time to prep something amazing. They are highly educational and challenging. They can also be fun for car rides (though you do risk pegs getting lost in the car). They are portable and quiet, so they could be good in a waiting room or at a school presentation--places where your child might not be interested but needs to sit quietly.

15 Common Characteristics of Gifted Children

The day I realized my oldest child was truly gifted and not just a smart kid was one of my most poignant moments of regret as a parent. I have always tried to parent without regret. Of course moments come up. I wish I had been more patient. I wish I had focused less on my to do list the day before. Little mistakes come along. Most of the time, however, I have no major regrets. I parent very intentionally and don't make major decisions lightly.

15 Common Characteristics of Gifted Children

This was a day of regret, however. My son was in the third grade. Eight years old. I had spent eight years of his life not addressing the fact that he was gifted. Sure, I always thought he was smart. I am an observant person, though, and it doesn't take much observation to see that basically every parent out there, especially the first time parent, thinks their child is the best thing to ever walk on the earth. I knew I was super impressed with everything he did, but I also observed him daily from the moment he was born. To get to where he was from where he started was impressive. Sure, most babies learn to smile at some point, but when my baby did that for the first time, it was the most amazing smile ever shone! At least that was my opinion, and I knew every parent out there felt the same about their own babies. 

I thought he was smart. Of course I did. I am his mother. 

Why the regret when I found out he wasn't just smart, but gifted? Because I didn't push to have more of an idea of his level of intelligence. I didn't educate myself on giftedness so I could help him navigate that world. It is learning your child has an aptitude for something and you haven't done anything to help nourish that aptitude. And once I started learning more about giftedness, I realized there is not only the aptitude side, but with giftedness comes the weaknesses. Gifted children typically excel in areas and lack in others. So not only was I not nourishing the aptitude, I wasn't taking into account the weaknesses and responding to those effectively. 

I will always be thankful to his third grade teacher who explicitly expressed to me how very gifted he was. She didn't beat around the bush. She didn't tone it down. She said it exactly like it was and made sure I grasped it. This post contains affiliate links.

That is when I started researching how to parent a gifted child. 

A gifted child has unique needs. Just as a child in speech therapy needs specific education and help for that, a child who is gifted needs specific education and help. Most gifted children are out of sync in areas of life. "The more highly gifted the child, the more out of sync she is likely to be within herself, with wide difference between areas of strength and areas of relative weakness" (A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children page 7).

I don't want other parents to face that feeling of regret. Whenever someone contacts me wondering if their child might be gifted, I encourage them to research it. I highly recommend the book A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children. I realize the emotional risk here. I was there. I didn't want to be in a place where I pressured my child to be gifted if he wasn't. I didn't want him to feel the pressure to be gifted. I wanted him to know I loved him for him. No pressure. 

But there is power in knowing! So it is worth researching. 

It is also hard with teachers at school. No one wants to come across as a crazy mom, so when a Kindergarten teacher told me how he is really quite smart, I just nodded. I didn't ask more questions. He is my oldest and people didn't know me. Teachers are hesitant to use the word gifted before age 8, typically. Before that, it is hard to tell if intelligence is because of nature or nurture. It truly is hard to tell. They don't want to falsely label a child. 

There are some common characteristics of gifted children. Page 11 of A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children is full of a long list of characteristics. Of course, gifted people are humans, which means there is a wide diversity among them. And many of the listed characteristics can definitely be the result of nurturing. Usual alertness as an infant? Sound like a common comment toward Babywise babies in general? Longer attention span? Sound like a common result of a child who does Independent Playtime consistently? So it is tricky to look at the list and think, "My child is gifted!" without questioning some aspects. 

It is worth noting that my second child has also been identified as gifted. Once my oldest was, I knew she was also, especially when it came to the language side of life. With that said, I don't know what will happen with my current seven year old. She won't be identified now until she enters fourth grade due to the restructuring of the gifted program in our district. It is ironic that I hesitated to look into giftedness with my oldest because I didn't wand him feeling pressure. Now I have two gifted children with two more to follow--talk about pressure on them! I don't put it there, but I have no doubt it will be put there by themselves. 

That brings us to the 15 most typical characteristics of gifted children. These characteristics can help you determine if your child might be gifted. These start on page 12 in the A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children book.
  1. Strong verbal abilities. Gifted children have large vocabularies. "Their verbal abilities usually
    lead them to be early readers, and they often read extensively. Even before they can read, these children delight in (and insist upon being read to and are highly self-motivated to learn letters and numbers" (page 12-13). Here is the hard thing with this. I am one who speaks to my children like I speak to adults. I also read like crazy to my kids. These are things that will lead naturally to all of my kids, no matter what, having strong verbal abilities and loving books. Nature versus nurture can come up with every one of these. 
  2. Usually good memory. They learn quickly and easily and will "quickly notice if you omit a word when you read a bedtime story." Sometimes personality can come into this. Kaitlyn would never correct someone. She is too much of a peacemaker to tell the person reading the story they left a word out.
  3. Intense curiosity. Gifted children endlessly ask why. The hard thing with this one for me is, isn't this every single toddler and preschooler out there?!?
  4. Wide range if interests. Some focus completely on one single interest (until they move on) while others move from interest to interest. 
  5. Interest in experimenting. They may take things apart, mix things together...
  6. Passionate imagination and creativity. Gifted children often have imaginary friends. " long as the child gives and receives affection, imaginary playmates simply reflect the child's  high intelligence, active imagination, and creativity" (page 14).
  7. Remarkable sense of humor. They delight in word play and silly one-liners. 
  8. Desire for reasons and understanding. Gifted children are not satisfied with the answers of "Just because" or "Because I said so."
  9. Impatience with others or with themselves. They are often impatient. Gifted people have always been gifted, so they don't understand why others are not grasping concepts or moving through tasks as easily. I was labeled gifted as a child, and honestly, I was an adult before I really accepted that maybe people weren't just playing dumb or being lazy when they didn't get something. Gifted children can also be very impatient with themselves because they know what they want to accomplish, but can't quite reach it yet. 
  10. Longer attention span. "Persistence is a long-lasting trait of gifted children and adults" (page 16).
  11. Complex thinking. "The search for complexity leads them to become easily bored, particularly with routine tasks, and they may abandon tasks if they are too mundane" (page 16). 
  12. Concern with social or political problems or injustices. Gifted children are rule followers and have concern for rules at a younger age than most children. They are also concerned about fairness. 
  13. Sensitivity. "Professionals are beginning to recognize that the brighter the child, the more sensitive he may be" (page 17). They can be sensitive toward the feelings of others, sensitive to the expectations of others, and sensitive to conflict (peacemakers). They can have easily hurt feelings. They can also be sensitive to touch and smell. 
  14. Intensity. Gifted children are more intense than most. They do things with intensity. They believe things with intensity. They state opinions with intensity. 
  15. Daydreaming. They can get lost in their own thoughts and daydream. 
Many, if not all, of these traits can be used for benefits and can also be a hindrance. Strengths ad weaknesses. Daydreaming is a great skill for solving problems, but it can get a child in trouble in class if he isn't paying attention. Playing one million questions a day can get old, quickly, but it helps a child learn a lot if an adult will answer those questions. 

If you are wondering if your child might be gifted and these 15 characteristics seem to describe your child, I highly recommend you read A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children. It will help you get a better idea if your child is gifted and help you nourish both the strengths and the weaknesses of your child. You can know you did what you could to nourish, and you can move forward with one less regret. If you still are feeling unsure, be sure to read up on How To Tell the Difference Between Smart and Gifted.

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Bedtime {Poll Discussion Post}

The importance of bedtime is probably highly underrated. The timing of bedtime can strongly influence how night sleep goes and what time your child gets up the next morning. 

Please take a moment to answer the questions below. Doing so will help other parents now and in the future. It is very helpful for me when compiling answers if you at least number the answers you give. You can also copy the questions and answer them. If the question does not apply to you, simply put "N/A."
  1. What age is your child?
  2. What time is your child's bedtime?
  3. What time does you child get up each morning?
  4. What is your bedtime routine?
  5. How often do you have an altered bedtime for any reason?
  6. How does your child respond when bedtime time is off? How does sleep go that night and how is the next morning?
  7. What do you do that makes bedtime go smoother?
  8. Any thoughts or advice on bedtime and its importance?

McKenna Child Summary: 7.75 Years Old

This is a summary for McKenna from 7.5 to 7.75 years old.

Eating is normal for her. That means she eats a lot and likes to eat healthy foods.

Sleeping has been great! We have continued the schedule change I talked about last time of doing family scriptures in the morning instead of the evening. This means she is able to get to bed earlier, and it really makes a huge difference on her tendency to argue. Sleep has a huge impact on her behavior. 

School is going really well for McKenna! She is having a great year. She really likes her teacher a whole lot. I find it so interesting how different personalities mesh with each other differently. McKenna is such a fun-loving person that I was sure she would prefer the fun-loving and outgoing teachers. While she loved them, she has loved every teacher she has had, she really thrives with the type of teacher she has right now. Her teacher now is chill. She doesn't get mad, and she also doesn't get overly excited. It is actually a very similar personality to mine. Her emotions are very stable. McKenna has really thrived in that environment. 

McKenna at the school's Evening of Art (like reflections). She did great! Here she is showing her first place in music.

In saying that, I don't mean her other teachers haven't been fantastic and that she didn't do well in school before. I just mean she does best with the more even-keeled teachers, which is not what I assumed would be true a few years ago. 

McKenna at a race at the school

Last time, I talked about how she wanted me to not read aloud to her anymore. I recently decided the best way to fit in reading to all of the children right now is to find a book I can read to the three older children at the same time. It isn't my ideal. I would prefer one-on-one. Life just isn't allowing for that to be a consistent daily thing. I was addressing that by taking turns with the kids, but I think I would rather read to them each day at the same time than have weeks where they aren't read to.

With our house addition, I often have long spurts where my husband can't help with anything around the house. This past fall, we had 6 solid weeks where he went to work, came home, and worked on the addition. He was working furiously to get the outside done and dried in for winter. With the added burden, I couldn't possibly read to 4 kids individually every night.

So I read to Brinley individually (and since our big push, my husband usually comes in and helps put Brinley to bed and reads to her). Then I am reading a book to the three older kids.

It was tricky finding a book they could all agree on. They all have different tastes in books, the most obvious being Brayden's leaning toward fantasy-type books (like Fablehaven) or World War II Historical Fiction, and McKenna leaning toward more girl-oriented books (like Whatever After and Nancy Clancy). 

I finally picked Old Yeller for them. It wasn't one they would have chosen, but they have of course enjoyed it so far, though they have been on edges since the first page since he declares that he kills the dog in the end...but I think it is good for them to have that warning. Before this, we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That was another good one. I think I will continue to pull from these classic-type books for now. I have my eye set on the Princess Bride...

Last time, I talked about McKenna's big decision between swim team and gymnastics. The pool had to change their hours, and she was unable to continue swimming lessons. She literally cried every week that she didn't get to go swimming. Finally one week I asked her if she still wanted to do gymnastics, or if she would rather do swimming. She immediately replied "Swimming!" 

So I got ahold of our swim teacher who is also the gold team coach. We got a try-out taken care of and McKenna was ready for swim team. I felt bad that I had encouraged her to go toward gymnastics when she clearly prefers swimming, but our swim teacher said she thought it was a good thing. Because of this experience, she knows she misses swimming more than gymnastics. So it helped her learn better what she prefers. I thought that was a good point. 

First day of swim team 

She has only been on the swim team a couple of weeks, but she very much loves it. She comes home completely exhausted, which I have never seen before! McKenna's never tired physically. So that is fantastic. I know it won't last forever. Once she builds up her endurance for swimming, it won't be as tiring for her, but it is great for now. And she doesn't hate it! Brayden hated it for a little while--during the time he was building his endurance. She just asks for more. 

A nice perk for the family is that her practice times are the same times as Brayden's (Brayden goes more days a week, but her days are at the same times as his). So it feels like we just cut out something. McKenna just shifted, but it freed up the family quite a bit. 

Dance revue
McKenna is also taking piano lessons and doing well. She is also in a Musical Theatre Dance class. she is enjoying that a lot. Last year, she took dance off to do cheer leading. This year, she went back to dance. 

Date night to the Nutcracker

Finally, McKenna is hard to shop for. Not because she is picky, but because she is NOT picky. She likes everything, but also isn't so much into toys as she is into doing things. So for Christmas, we got her  a punch pass to a rock-climbing house. She LOVES it. She was so excited about the gift. I love experience gifts because they don't take up space in the house. 

School Schedule:

7:00 AM--wake up. Eat breakfast. Get ready. Do morning chores. Read scriptures. Practice piano.
9:15 AM--school starts
4:00 PM--home from school. Homework. Then free play.
5:30 PM--Dinner. Then time with family.
7:00 PM Start getting ready for bed.
8:00 PM--in be