Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let's Do Lunch: Part 2

As I already mentioned, I'm a huge container geek. I LOVE finding the perfect vessel for just about anything and everything. The thing I was most excited for when my kids started school was researching the best lunch kit and container options. I'm not even kidding. (Hey, we all have our own special brand of crazy)

SO, these are my most favourite lunch packing supplies, certified awesome by yours truly:

Thermos brand FUNtainer Bottle - these DO NOT LEAK and they keep water cold for up to 12 hours. We've had one of ours about 5 years now and although the picture is wearing off a bit, the bottle itself is still working great. You can also order new straws from Thermos which is a great way to renew and refresh the bottle without throwing the whole thing out.

Thermos brand FUNtainer Food Jar - just as good as the drink bottles, this is my go to when sending hot stuff for the kids. They don't leak (as long as your kids put the lid back on!!) and they're the perfect size as they hold about a cup of food. I haven't had a complaint yet about cold food at lunch. Here's the trick to ensure kiddos food stays hot.

Rubbermaid Lunchblox - these are just the perfect sizes for entrees, snacks and sides AND they stack and click together which just makes me smile. This is mostly what I used for the first three years of packing lunches.

Yumbox leakproof bento - LOVE this one for "snacky" lunches. They have super cute little pictures of what food group goes in each compartment and they truly don't leak.

Easy Lunchboxes - I finally ordered a set of these this year and I'm only sorry that I didn't order them sooner. I like that the lunch container is just two pieces (with lid) and it's just simpler to load in the dishwasher These are not perfectly leak proof, so if you want to include something like dip or yogurt, you'll want to use a separate little container.

Two compartment snack container - I actually bought mine at Dollarama, but they are almost exactly like this Sistema container. I like it because again, less individual containers to deal with and it holds just enough for morning snack. N recently broke hers and our Dollarama isn't carrying them anymore! Time to get a new one.

I like to keep all our lunch pieces separate from our "family" plastic containers and I keep most of them in this little tub. This is super handy to bring out of the cupboard every morning and prevents me from having to dig through a cupboard for each individual piece. I keep the lunch napkins handy in here too.

Each day after school when the kids unpack their stuff, I rinse and refill the water bottles and pop them right in the fridge. Less clutter on my counter and one less thing to do in the morning. It also apparently helps prevent bacteria from growing between washes. They get a good bubble bath in the sink Friday afternoon and are dried out and ready for Monday morning.

Have you tried any of these great products with your kids? Have you found different options that you just love? Or maybe you're wading through miscellaneous plastic pieces every morning and you're ready for a change. Share your favourites or let me know if you want some help setting up a new system!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Let's Do Lunch: Part 1

Full disclosure: I'm totally NOT a school lunch guru. But, I also don't really hate packing the kids' lunches every morning, even now that I have two kids going to school full time.

I do employ a few strategies to make this chore a little easier for myself though. One of the most important aspects for me is using the right containers, and I'm such a container geek, that I'm going to do a whole separate post about them. (Yay for you, right!?)

My first "strategy" is to not make perfect, Pinterest-y, fancy lunches. I shoot for easy, mostly balanced, kid approved collections of food that don't take more than about 10 minutes to pack up. No themes or cute cut-outs here. If tomorrow is shopping day and I run out of veggies that my kids will actually eat, two servings of fruit are fine. If I run out of fresh fruit, I know I always have apple sauce or frozen mango to fall back on. Done is better than perfect, people.

Next, I follow a formula. This takes the guess work out of what kinds of foods to pack. Morning snack always consists of a carbohydrate (like a muffin, graham or fishy crackers or granola bar) a fresh fruit (basically always sliced apple) and a protein (usually always yogurt).

Lunch always consists of an entree, fresh fruit, vegetable and a dessert. Now, I know of a lot of moms who say their kids don't eat sandwiches and honestly, my kids like them once in a while, but not all the time. So the easiest way to make the entree prep quick and painless is batch cooking and menu planning!

I like to plan two-three different lunch entrees and add them to my weekly meal plan. I can't bear the thought of staring into the fridge in the morning without a plan! My kids don't mind eating the same thing twice in one week, and I'll check in with them and see what they feel like eating in the upcoming days. Then, if possible, I can make up a bunch all at once and just pull out what I need in the morning. Here's  a few examples:

  • Chicken noodle soup, frozen into 8 oz Bernardinfreezer jars
  • 3-4 boiled eggs (N will take one a day with some crackers or mini naan bread)
  • pizza muffins
  • mini quiche
  • bulk sandwiches (use a whole loaf of bread to make up a bunch of sandwiches and freeze them individually)
Don't forget the awesomeness of including leftovers in your plan! If your kids don't have access to a microwave (mine don't) use a thermos to ensure a tasty, hot lunch. Here's the trick. I'll also take advantage of canned, ready to serve soup or Chef Boyardee once in a while. Everything in moderation, right?

My last strategy is making the lunches right after I get myself dressed when the kids, hopefully, are still asleep. I creep around the kitchen like a ninja, often in the dark. I enjoy these minutes before they wake because I can get a jump on unloading the dishwasher and making lunches before they emerge, grumpy and ravenous, and therefore avoid 87 interruptions. When I'm trying to multitask breakfast and lunch prep, I swear it takes me five times longer because I lose my focus, and you know, morning fog. If you're totally not a morning person, then you might have better luck doing your lunch prep at night after the kids are in bed? The point is to do it when you don't have other things (tiny people) demanding your attention.

Do you hate packing school lunches or do you have a great system that works well for your family? If lunches are the bane of your existence, hopefully you can employ a few tricks to make the task less painful. AND, if you have an awesome tip, I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Have you Heard of Highly Sensitive Children?

I have a child who I love so much that it constantly smacks me in the face and downright surprises me (actually, I love both my kids like that) and at the same time this kid makes me crazy and frustrated and totally unsure of how exactly to parent him. From infancy, he's been tricky. He's my fickle pickle. I've been really worried about him at times; maybe something's "wrong".

And then, this past January, I came across some info about Highly Sensitive People, or more specifically, Highly Sensitive Children (HSC). Oh! So that's why my fickle pickle cried when we sang happy birthday to him at his 2nd birthday. That's why he had (and still sometimes has) major issues with food textures. That's why he hates when something unexpected happens, or can't stand to be the tiniest bit 'dirty'.

Wow! I'm not a terrible mother; all these tantrums and outbursts are happening for a reason. My great little dude is just experiencing his environment differently than a lot of people around him. He experiences sensory input and emotions really deeply. And that's pretty cool. He notices the most amazing things that most would overlook. He has this really clever sense of humour that makes me laugh every day. His lows can be very low and explosive, but his joy is vibrant and contagious.

A close family member and a good friend, both highly sensitive awesome dudes themselves, have been helping me understand what might be going on in J's brain. How very amplified everything is for him. I definitely understand how I totally can't cope when I become overwhelmed; he just gets overwhelmed a lot more easily.

So now I'm focused on how I can help him understand and express his emotions. I'm more aware of what stimuli is going to overwhelm him and try to give him opportunities to decompress. I try (though it's still SUPER hard) not to get so embarrassed when he starts misbehaving in a grocery store because I know more is going on than a kid choosing to be a total brat.

I don't bubble wrap J. A lot of things he really enjoys end up being totally overwhelming. (We call it filling his junk drawer; like bucket filling, but with negative stuff). A friend's birthday party, the annual community parade, or camping with cousins and staying up late will undoubtedly result in a big ol' melt down. But that's ok. I see it coming now. And we empty his junk drawer together by laying in his bed, listening to music while I scratch his back. Or he plays lego or plays with home made gak.  He's learning to open up and express himself like when he told me about the different colours of his brain the other day.

I have two extraordinary kids (yes, I know I'm a wee bit biased). I'm so honoured that these little spirits chose me to be their mother. And now it's my responsibility to help them both navigate the big, scary, beautiful world and become extraordinary adults.

Have you heard of Highly Sensitive before? Maybe you, or someone you know is highly sensitive and you didn't know it's an awesome club full of cool people.

For more info, check out these links.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Less Mess in Minutes: Homework Caddy

I'm so sorry; I know it's not even August yet, but school is right around the corner, and I don't want it to sneak up on me an bite me in the butt. So I am starting to plan and organize for the new school year now.

I'm sharing a super quick and cheap homework caddy with you today. I threw it together last school year from a basket with a handle and a set of plastic cups from Dollarama. Don't get all Pinterest-y on this project (unless of course you want to). It doesn't need to be labelled and look like you sourced it from Pottery Barn. Just essentials that your kids need to do homework each night, corralled in one place.

The rest of the kids art and craft stuff is in a cupboard in the basement (which is also begging for a re-do) and that's fine for special projects or creative sessions. This is just enough stuff to get the job done.

Do you have your homework essentials ready to go? Would your kids benefit from a little caddy, or does your family do something different? I'd love to hear about it!

Ok, go back to your iced coffee or lemonade and don't think about school anymore today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Less Mess in Minutes: Tidy First Aid

Now that the kids are getting older and more independent, they can do awesome things for themselves like get their own snack and wipe their own nose. They can also tear apart my first aide drawer and get themselves a bandaid. Ugh. This spot was already kind of falling apart, and now that it's scrape and bite season, it's gone from bad to worse.
Notice the crumpled box that got into a fight with the drawer.

Time for an organizing project. Yay!! (Hey, some people do yoga or play guitar; I organize.) I can at least give myself props for having all this stuff in one central location. BUT, I knew I could do better. I grabbed this great little tool box organizer at the Dollarama, and after I killed myself getting the darn label off last night, I was good to go.

Step One: dump everything all over your dining room table and make a huge mess.
Apparently I have enough bandaids for the next 15 years, so that's good.
Step Two:  take inventory and realize all your antibiotic ointment is long expired. Put "antibac oint" on your grocery list. (I also looked at our travel first aid kit that we take camping and realized I needed a new roll of gauze, so I put that on my list too.)

Step Three: arrange everything in your nice little organizer box so that it totally looks like you have "it" all together.
Our new ouchie kit, sans antibiotic ointment, cause I didn't get to the store yet.

Step Four: put everything away all neat and tidy and feel like you're winning, even if only for a brief moment.
The drawer houses all kinds of other things like the hydrogen peroxide spray, extra q-tips and cotton pads, and the really BIG bandaids for when you scrape-off-your-entire-knee-and-may-need-stitches.

Now, if I could just get the kids to put their bandaid wrappers away when their done...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sometimes, DO sweat the small stuff, and the big stuff will take care of itself

We've all heard it before, "Don't sweat the small stuff" but today I'm going to tell you why sometimes you should! I'm certainly not saying that we should get caught up in the trivial details of life and miss out on the bigger picture. BUT, I do realize some amazing benefits when I take some time to deal with the details.

Putting in a little time and effort to set up a system or schedule can save me from some major headaches, and it actually helps me accomplish my "big picture" goals as a side effect. Here are some examples:

Small Stuff: I have all my bills set up with automatic withdrawal and all my statements come electronically.
Big Stuff: My bills are always paid on time and this ensures a good credit rating. Less paper coming into our house means less clutter to deal with.

Small Stuff: I subscribe to a meal planning website and initially took some time to really personalize it. I make a meal plan and only shop once a week.
Big Stuff: Only visiting the store once a week helps me save a lot of money. (Have you ever run into the store for milk and ONLY came out with milk?) Having a meal plan means we're eating healthy, home made food most nights, and we're eating together at the table, which is really important to us.

Small Stuff: I create a seasonal, capsule wardrobe for myself.
Big Stuff: Again, I save a LOT of money because I'm not buying clothes willy-nilly whenever I feel like it. I save time and energy in the morning when I get dressed, and I feel good about the way I look.

Small Stuff: I have some great systems in place to deal with all the papers the kids bring into the house.
Big Stuff: I'm able to catalog keepsakes for the future, stay current with permission slips and items needing my attention, reduce clutter and stress in our home and teach the kids important organizational skills they will need as they get older.

As you can see from these examples, taking care of the small, boring details of life like what to wear and eat, and how to deal with bills and paper clutter can really help me accomplish my big goals like living in a clutter free(ish) home, saving money and eating healthy foods with my family.

Sometimes setting up these kinds of systems and routines can be overwhelming. I'd ask you to first think about your most important life goals and values, and then think about what kind of "small stuff" is hindering these goals and values most. This is probably where you should start.

  • Want to lose some weight or eat more healthy foods? Take a look at how you make meals happen in your house. 
  • Want to save money or get your finances in order? Review how you manage bills, and pinpoint leaks in your budget that could be improved.
  • Want to work on the clutter in your home so it can become a place of rest and joy? Pay attention to what kind of clutter is your biggest problem and address that first.
Working towards the "Big Stuff" is never easy, but it's always worth it! We all deserve to live a full and rewarding life, in line with our own personal values.

What small stuff is holding you back? Can you think of one detail oriented action that you could take right away that will support your goals and values?

Still stuck? Leave a comment or get in touch with me. I'd LOVE to help you sort out some of your small stuff. Helping others in this area is actually part of my bigger life goal of sharing my organizational talents!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Kids Paper Clutter

I already told you all about how I manage the paper clutter in our family and I promised to elaborate on what I do with all the kids art and keepsakes. I'm not a fan of keeping many hard copies of anything, so naturally, I turn to technology.

Throughout the school year, I pin the kids projects up on our "gallery" wall so we can all admire how terribly gifted and talented they are. (This is just a metal curtain rod with strong magnets to attach the artwork). But what do I do when the gallery is full? I take stuff down and chuck it in the recycle! But don't worry, I'm not a heartless creature, unappreciative of my children's creations.

Before this stuff hits the bin, I grab my smart phone and make a digital copy using the CamScanner app. I make one folder for each kid at the beginning of the school year and by the end of June I have a great, clutter free, digital collection of the year's projects.

Of course, to truly enjoy and archive this artwork, I need to go a step farther and get these images off my phone. I've made photo books online in the past, but I haven't been thrilled with them in terms of ease and price. So, for N's grade one book, I created my pages using Google Slides. I was able to create each page just as I wanted without worrying about fitting my images into a template that really didn't serve me well. Then I took a PDF copy of all the slides to Staples and had them printed in colour on card stock and coil bound. I LOVE how it turned out and it was pretty inexpensive too.

There are still a handful of projects each year that I do want to keep, along with yearbooks, class photos, report cards, awards, etc. For these items, N and J each have a file box with hanging folders, labelled Baby Years, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Grades 1-12. I figured I was better off to label all the folders at once and be done with it. Now when something special or important comes along, once we're done reviewing or displaying it, it has a home and it's archived for the future. These boxes are on the top shelf in N's closet, so they are super handy for me to pop down when I want to put something inside.

This may look like a lot of steps, but honestly I only spend minutes here and there capturing images and filing special keepsakes, and the photo book only took me about an hour to create. It is so worth it to not have piles hanging around my kitchen or feeling guilty about not keeping special memories for my kids to treasure in the future.

What do you do with your kids paper clutter? Do your treasure every doodle, chuck the lot of it, or employ your own clever system?