Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Think College is a Rip-Off!

There!  I said it.  I think college is a huge rip-off.  I know it's supposed to be the American Dream, but I was skeptical of it when I was a kid and if anything, I've gotten more skeptical as I've gotten older.  College tuition has skyrocketed FAR more than anyone can explain satisfactorily.  The latest stat I've seen is that it has increased by 1,122% over the last 30 years, while medical costs have increased by only half of that and housing has increased by just one quarter.  If cable TV had increased that much, nearly all Americans would be spending a lot more time playing cards and listening to the radio!  

Next to your house, probably the biggest expense you will have in your life is paying for a college education for your kids.  Therefore, it would only make sense to give it a LOT of thought.  However, for most people, the only thought they give to college is HOW they are going to pay for it, not IF they should be paying for it.

Admittedly, this is an unorthodox and probably controversial view, but I really question if today's college programs are worth these ridiculous prices.  Why do I say that?  Well, for one thing, I think most colleges are not only drastically overpriced, they offer a lot of irrelevant material that isn't useful in the real world - things like French literature, Philosophy, and Western Civilization.  They are interesting and might have some small usefulness, but I would estimate that probably 1/4 of the classes a college kid is required to take teach skills and concepts that kid won't use again the minute he steps out the classroom door.  

I also think they do a terrible job of helping kids pick their major and stay focused in the right direction. I have known so many kids who waste a lot of time changing majors, dropping out, or going into a totally unrelated field because they start out not knowing what the heck they want.  Admittedly, kids change as they get older, but they could do a lot more aptitude testing and educating kids about realistic expectations in various job fields.  I think it would be smart to require short-term internships and job shadowing in 3 to 5 different fields before a student is allowed to select a major.  

Another problem is that parents have tremendous social pressure to put their kids though college whether they can afford it or not.  It's the ultimate "keeping up with the Jonses" situation.  All the kid's friends around the neighborhood are touring colleges and visiting financial aid offices - it's embarassing to admit that you just don't have the cash to take that path.  

So parents end up mortgaging their homes, using their retirement savings, or going into huge amounts of debt to pay for it.  Or the kid takes on a huge burden of student loan debt without any clue of what a serious handicap that is going to be once they get out of school and trying to start their adult life.  And the problem with that is that it is centering around an 18 year old kid who really doesn't have a clue in the world what direction he or she wants to go in.

This is a situation where I have some personal experience. My own in-laws went through all sorts of sacrifices for nearly a decade to help my sister-in-law get her Master's degree - I think in Communications.  Then she for whatever reason, she has chosen to work a string of basic low-paying jobs in retail instead of leveraging her degree to earn what she should be making with that level of education. I don't really know the whole story, but it certainly seems like a lot of time and money down the rabbit hole.  

Same thing with our oldest son, Ryan. He went through one of those pricey computer trade school programs, loved it, got great marks in it, but then he got frustrated with the lack of placement services at the end.  So he decided to go off and get a job as an exterminator with his best friend. He has a much better job now, but it isn't particularly computer-related and after nearly 10 years, a lot of his education, particularly in the fast-paced computer world, is throughly outdated.

And on the other hand, I see people all around me who have done quite well in the world without having that all-important college degree.  I don't have one and I've had a great career and never really suffered for the lack of it. Same thing for my mother, sister, my nieces & nephews, and both of my older sons.  Yet they all have great jobs, pretty nice houses, and they aren't rich, but they're getting by OK.  And they have none of those huge debts for a college education.  Could they earn more if they had a diploma?  Possibly, but hard work and solid job experience are nothing to sneeze at.  And don't forget how many kids do graduate with a degree - even an advanced degree, and still end up working at Starbucks or Target.  

I have some friends who have kids in college who are in their early 20's.  They never made them work a job because they were so worried about keeping their grades up for college.  So, these kids have never actually worked at a full-time job ever in their lives.  I keep wondering what is going to happen if they get out of college with that shiny new diploma and discover that they have no work ethic or ability to put up with a bullshit that is frequently a big part of life in the big city.  My son may not have a college degree in his back pocket, but at the age of 25, he already has 10 years of solid job experience and a few good lessons from the school of hard knocks.  

I'm at a tough point, because my youngest is now a High School Junior.  So this question is about to get a lot more "real" for me over the next two years.  And I honestly don't know what I'm going to do.  His grades in High School are just so-so and he has not got a lot of motivation or interest in going to college.  I keep trying to convince him that the scholarships and grants mostly go to the kids with the A and B averages, but just like his brother, he doesn't want to hear it.  

I don't think we could afford a big-ticket college, but we have enough set aside for a few semesters of Community College if he decides he wants to go in that direction, but after that, he's going to have to get very serious, very fast about getting some scholarships, getting into a fast-track trade school program like his brothers, or doing a half work/half school program and plan on living in our basement for the next four or five years.  Oh joy...

I think college probably IS the golden key. It definitely does open a lot of doors. But some of those same doors are still going to open for a silver key (trade school), a brass key (community college or night school, hopefully on the on-your-own-dime plan), or even the aluminum key (just skip college and work your butt off for your success).

Another thing to think about before you tie yourself up in a boatload of student loans.  You know, there are college loans and all sorts of other loans, but there is no such thing as a retirement loan. We all want to give everything we can to our kids, but you have to put that retirement first, or you and your brilliantly educated kids could end up with a broke Mom and Dad living in their basement.  Now, THAT'S a scary thought!  

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Boost Your Pinterest Account with Viral Tag

Pinterest is such a big tool for maintaining a blog - it's the one platform you really can't afford to ignore, or even to not use to it's full potential.  Kind of like the 800 lb gorilla of the blogging world.  Like most bloggers, I get at least half my traffic from Pinterest.  

There are several tools available for this purpose, but the BEST one I've found is Viral Tag.  It used to be called something else, I think Pinerly.  But it's the best tool I've seen so far for boosting Pinterest traffic and beefing up your boards.  

It's basically a bulk upload tool specifically for Pinterest.  You can either use it to bulk upload pins to multiple boards on a schedule with very flexible options.  You can space them every 10 minutes or every hour, schedule them for tomorrow or next week.  

I use this option with every post I create.  I typically will post it to 6 or 7 Group Boards that I belong to specifically for bloggers.  I pick a very high-traffic time frame like a Saturday morning and space them about 60 to 90 minutes apart, so everyone in my data stream has half a dozen different chances to spot and pin those posts.  

Or sometimes if I join a new Group Board, I will use it to share some of my existing pins with the new board.  I have an art Group Board called Zentangles are the New Black - it's gorgeous freehand artwork, typically done in black pen on white backgrounds.  There have been a few times when people in my group invite me to share their Group Boards as well, so I will usually reward them by sharing several dozen of my favorite pins.  

Another way I use it is to increase my boards exponentially.  I have added about 5,000 new pins to my boards over the last six or so months I've been using Viral Tag.  I've created 6 or 7 new boards and I've boosted the contents of just about every other board to make them more robust and useful to people.  And I've gained about 3,000 new followers lately with more coming on every day.  

For instance, I've created this board "Scouts are Awesome" - it has hundreds of pins for camping, Eagle ceremonies, merit badges, all sorts of Scout resources.  And whenever I find someone else's Scout board that I like, I can go in and in one step, I can harvest the pins from their board - just a handful or hundreds of them in one step.  And again, I can schedule and time them out any way I choose.  What a powerful tool.

Here's a little snippet of my board on Scouting.  We were researching hobo dinners for a campout, so I have a bunch of them right on the top.   

Here is the link to my Boy Scouts are Awesome board on Pinterest.

It's funny - I used to laugh when people said they used Pinterest to do research, but now I do it all the time.  I know a lot of ladies use it for all their recipes and DIY ideas, but honestly, I'm not the least bit interested in stuff like that.  Sometimes I just use it for relaxation and I just pin pretty pictures of celebrities, or jewelry, or just funny cat pictures.  I even have a board of my favorite SciFi pins called Talk Nerdy to Me.  But usually, I'm using it to build resources that I can share with my users.  For instance:

I have a board of Blogging tools on my Bliggity Blog Stuff for Bloggity Bloggers Board 

I have tips for various issues related to Fundraising on my Putting the FUN in Fundraising Board

For parenting resources and tips for children of all ages, I have an extensive board called Mommy (and Daddy) Bloggers

If it's Thrifty Tips you want - then you'll like my Show Me the Money board

Or if you're looking to be more organized, I have several organizing boards - Adrian's Organized Life is my favorite.  

Here is a video that shows exactly how I use this marvelous tool.

Now, you're probably wondering about the price.  I'm not exactly sure because it has changed recently.  You used to be able to share an account between five people for $29/month.  That's what I am able to do, so it costs me less than $6 a month, but I am hearing that we have been grandfathered in as a Beta test and they aren't letting new people sign up for shared access.  

So you'd be smart to find someone with one of these shared accounts and see if they have an empty spot on their account.  It might be worth $29/month if you have a business or a wildly popular blog, but for small potatoes bloggers like me, that's pretty steep.  I'm sure it will change pretty soon, but for the time being, that $6 a month is a heck of a deal for such a powerful tool.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

How to Choose the RIGHT Cat for You

I consider myself something of an expert on cat ownership. Over the years, I've had probably 35 or 40 different cats and due to the amazing variety of personalities that cats can have, I've learned a lot and maybe it will help you if you are looking for a kitty to love.  

I got my first cat for my sixth birthday.  My Mom arranged for a neighbor boy to bring the cat over and he arrived at our doorstep with a tiny striped tabby kitten in his pocket.  It was love at first sight and we were inseparable.  I was an only child (well, much older and married sister) so often my cats were my only friends.  

Yes, that is adorable six-year old me with my cat Aladdin
and her two kittens Aladdin Junior and Bob
 - hey, I was six!

After that, we always had cats of every possible variety, sex, size, and age - usually 3 or 4 of them at a time.  Sadly, my Mom would let them go outside, so many of them met sad ends.  Now that I'm an adult, I'm a lot more careful with them, and keep them safely inside.  

So the first important question - cat or kitten?  Unless you have a burning desire to do a good deed by rescuing an adult cat from the shelter - they have a ton of them, but they often have "litter box issues".  I would get a kitten.  Unlike puppies, they are a piece of cake to train, and when you raise them yourself, you can socialize them correctly from the start.  I start my kittens in a bathroom or small storage area with just a litterbox and their food and water. 

There are 3 reasons why I do this:

1.  To cement their litterbox habits.  This usually isn't a problem as long as they are left with the mother for at least 6 weeks.  She will train them for you, and usually (fingers crossed!) they will remember it for life.  

2.  To keep them safe.  Little kittens haven't much sense, and they can chew on electrical cords, strangle themselves on window blinds, or have stuff fall on them.  Or they can just get lost in the house somewhere and if they are very shy, you will have a hard time finding them.  

3.  To protect them from adult cats.  Adult cats are usually pretty tolerant of kittens once they get used to the idea, but at first, they usually will freak out and scare the kitten.  I prefer to supervise all interactions for the first few weeks.  

I let them out whenever I am home and spend lots of time snuggling and socializing my kittens and gradually introducing them to the adult cats.  I will NEVER have another puppy so long as I live, they are just SO much work, but a kitten is usually just a joy to have around.  

Male or female?  I have strong feelings on this.  Male and female cats to me are totally different creatures and as in all things, I prefer males.  I have 3 sons, a husband, a male dog, a male cat (plus a female kitty we inherited from a neighbor) and I prefer to work with men at work.  In my opinion, they are just lots easier, plus I think they are friendlier.  I've had a good mix of male and female cats and I think the male cats (mine are always neutered - so they aren't true males) are more loving, more easy-going, less prone to health problems, and just more mellow in general.  Most of our females have been extremely smart, somewhat skittery, but pretty independent.  Mostly the "you-may-pet-me,-you-peasant" variety.  Whereas the boys are sort of laid back and more outgoing.  Notice that I said MOST - I have had some females who were clingy in the extreme and insisted on being petted constantly, and I've had some males who were super smart, but always friendly.  So, it depends on what you want - lots of love and attention - male.  More independent and can be admired from afar - female.  

Purebred vs. regular cats?  I can't really answer that one.  Most of ours have been rescues of one type or another - either neighborhood rescues or kittens we've bought from the shelter.  I'm always amazed at the money people are willing to shell out on purebred dogs, but most of the time, you can't GIVE a cat away.  I think that is just universal injustice.  If you mix dogs wrong, you can get some very ugly and messed up dogs.  Not so with cats - you can mix them up every which way and still get the cutest cats ever.  So, I would go purebred only if you are looking for something very specific - I would love a ragdoll or a pixie-bob - they are supposed to have very unique personalities, and I've heard that Maine Coons are great cats, but I've had very good luck with just regular cats.  

Now, here is my opinion on some different varieties of cats I have had.  Note, this is only my opinion - your mileage may vary, but I've had several of each type, so I think I've got some good stereotypes going here.  

Himalayans/Birmans - I have had several of these over the years as did my Mom and they were always our favorites. They are extremely smart - will do tricks, understand simple commands quite well, and are very conversational. I've never had one with a litterbox problem, and they have been the most affectionate cats for me.  I have a Birman currently and he stays by my side constantly - he even comes under the covers and naps with me.  I feel like I can just tell he really loves me, as much as a cat is capable.  

If you're wondering what a Birman is - they are characterized by four white mittens (or gloves) on their feet, but can come in a variety of generally Siamese color variations.  My Yeti is a beautiful Birman that I got from a pet shop - the one cat I actually bought because I couldn't resist him.  He has ice blue eyes, and tons of soft, fluffy cream-colored fur that gets EVERYWHERE.  I tell him he's too pretty to be a boy, but he is definitely the alpha male of all time, even when he was too tiny to back it up.  He has picked fights with every cat that has crossed a toe into this house, and he's quite nosy with the human visitors too.  He always has to come and see what they are doing here.  

This is Yeti, getting into trouble on the desk

Grey cats - I've had more grey cats than anything.  Everything from your basic grey tabby to Smoke Persians, and Russian Blues (I think I've had two of those).  They tend to be sociable and smart, very loving, totally easy-going, fairly quiet cats.  Mine tend to be quiet anyway because I talk to them a lot.  If a cat feels "heard" and like you are playing attention to their needs and wants, they typically won't just randomly meow a lot.  After my Himalayans, grey cats are my absolute favorites.  

Shamus O'Sullivan (Guess when we got HIM?) being
adorable and helping me pack for a trip.  

Calico cats - I've had four or five calicos (calicoes?) - both tortiseshell (black background), and traditional white background.  And every one of them has been pretty much the same.  Very smart, very independent, very female (calicoes are genetically female with a rare sterile male).  They clearly consider you staff rather than family, but they are gorgeous cats.  

This is Lucy-fur!  Sweet kitty, but dumb as a rock and crazy to boot!
Black cats - I've had a number of black cats and I like them, but they are always a bit mysterious and I think a little more stand-offish and skittery than grey ones.  Nike was my second-favorite cat and he was a Tuxedo cat - black with a white vee on his face and chest and white paws (high tops in the back, low tops in the front - therefore Nike Sneakers Frankenweenie was his name - the boys had a part in it too!).  Like Yeti, he was almost scary smart - I'll bet he had a 50 word vocabulary of words he clearly understood, and had a very feisty personality where other animals were concerned.  He would chase German Shepherds without any hesitation.  We had him for 17 years and he clearly ruled the roost!  

Nike Sneakers - Tuxedo cat

Siamese/Burmese - I've just had a couple of these.  They are gorgeous cats, but they are known to be extremely vocal and I think a bit prissy.  Not the type of cat you can just roll around on the floor and wrestle with.  And yes, we do wrestle with our cats - gently.  

Orange/White cats - I've only had one orange tabby and he was a nightmare.  The only cat we could never get to use a litterbox, and we lived in an apartment, so he didn't get to stay long.  I would leave him in a bathroom with nothing but a litterbox and would find a small lake in the morning.  I know some people love them, but they are fairly rare, as are true redheads, and I tend to steer clear of them.  

So, there's my cat menu - take your pick and take your chances.  My best advice is to pick the smartest cat you can find.  Smart cats make great companion animals and can easily be taught to do simple tricks like fetch items or sit up and beg for treats.  And they typically don't have the dreaded litter box issues, which is a problem I've never been able to resolve.  

I do have some great tips for cat "stuff", so I will do a follow-up post with some great cat items that I highly recommend for your furry friends.  So stay tuned for more cat posts.  

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

3 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Healthy Eating

These are some simple strategies to get your family to eat a bit more healthy without having to listen to them whine about it, or resort to sneaking veggies into their favorite foods. Also, if you are trying to lose weight, this is a great way to nudge your own diet in the right direction without feeling deprived. 

All it takes is a little understanding of human behavior and a few simple adjustments. Here is the first strategy and a few ideas to make use of it. 

1.  People life to do things that are easy and they don't like to do thing that are hard. (Shocking, isn't it?)

how to eat healthy

Use this to your advantage by having the healthier foods cut up and available for grab & go snacking. The not-so-healthy foods need to live in more inconvenient places like high shelves or the deep, dark cabinet corners. If you have to get on your hands and knees to dig back into a cupboard for the cookies, you’re much less likely to eat them.  

Same thing with sodas. Keep a large pitcher of ice water on the table, but put the sodas on a shelf in the garage or in the basement. Consider offering a small incentive for drinking water or milk with meals – a few extra minutes at bedtime is a nice reward and easy for Mom to follow through with.  

When serving meals, leave the pasta & other starches on the stove, but make sure large bowls of salad & veggies remain on the table. Lazy creatures that we are, most people will not walk the 3 feet to the stove to get their second helpings if there’s an option within arms length. Same thing for chips, cookies, etc. Serve yourself a SMALL portion, then close up the bag and put it back in the cupboard. If you leave it on the table, your hand is liable to sneak over there, when you’re not looking.

2.  If you want to train a dog, you've got to be smarter than the dog.  Works with kids too.  

Remember Popeye and his spinach? During the 50’s when that cartoon was new, spinach was one of the most popular vegetables. However, I think that particular fad had worn off now. So why not start your own fad? Use your imagination. Broccoli can become “dinosaur trees”, peas can become “power peas” and impart imaginary super powers, and ants on a log are always more fun to eat than plain celery with peanut butter and raisins. How ‘bout Rain Forest smoothies? Come up with fun names and new stories for the items you want your kids to eat.
how to eat healthy

Change your comfort foods. We have certain comfort foods we prefer because that’s what our Mom’s served us when we were sick or feeling sad. Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken soup, milkshakes, meatloaf – these all fall into that category. So why not start some new traditions for our own kids? A turkey pita sandwich with vegetable soup is probably just as tasty when you’re sick as the cream-laden tomato soup with a buttery grilled cheese, as long as it’s served with a heaping helping of TLC and a warm hug. 

When your kid does well at their piano recital, take them out for frozen yogurt rather than an ice cream sundae. The praise and the concept of a “special treat” is what is important, not the fat content of the food consumed.

how to eat healthy
If all else fails, you have one undeniable option – your checkbook. Chances are, you or your spouse buy nearly 100% of the food your family eats. Set firm policies for what does and does not come into your house. 

My husband can buy ice cream, bacon, and big bags of shredded cheese. He’s over 21 and he can do what he likes, but we have agreed that he won't do it out of our regular grocery budget. If he wants those things, he needs to pay for them with cash out of his pocket. They still show up sometimes, but we don’t have them nearly as often as we used to.
This brings us to strategy number three, which is the best and the easiest.

3.  Your stomach is just plain dumb about serving sizes and so is your brain.  Mine is too...

Study after study has proven that people have no clue whatsoever when it comes to portion sizes. Even scientists who do this type of research for a living have been fooled with a clever enough setup. 

You can use this to your advantage in two different ways – use large portion sizes to fill up on healthy foods and use small portion sizes to eat less of your not-so-healthy foods.

This is a great excuse to get a complete set of new dishes. Make the dinner plates smaller, the salad bowls larger, and the dessert bowls tiny, but exquisitely beautiful so dessert will feel like more of a treat. Soda glasses –
small, water glasses – large – you get the picture. Buy some extra measuring cups too. Make serving sizes “official” and serve foods with the same measuring cup every time, even if you think you know how much a serving should be (you don’t).

how to eat healthyAnother tip is to simplify your meals. If you have more foods to choose from, you’ll eat more by default. They did a study with M&M’s – people with 10 colors of M&M’s ate a whopping 40% more than people with 7 colors. Yeah, we’re goofy creatures that way.

Here’s a big tip that will save you money too. Don’t buy the big Costco sizes. I know America has this love affair with Costco and those fabulous warehouse-sized containers of stuff, but studies show if you have a whopping HUGE container of something, your brain just makes you want to use it up faster. So, you don’t save any money in the long run, and you are getting fatter in the bargain. If you insist on buying the big sizes for the sake of economy, do yourself a favor and split it into two containers with the bulk of it out of sight. Trust me, it works.

Disclosure: Many of these tips came from a fascinating book I read recently called Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More than We Think by Brian Wansink. I recommend you read it to learn even more about this helpful and interesting topic.

Image courtesy of Lobster20 /

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Answer to the Ice Bucket Challenge

I think this ice bucket challenge craze that is going on right now is just amazing.  It has been such a benefit to raising awareness and funds for the ALS Foundation.  I heard today that the donations have topped $94 Million!  I was reading about it on a bulletin board at work and I was surprised at how many people had family members and friends who had suffered from this rare but just horrendous disease.  

I have been nominated for the challenge by a couple of people, but A) like most sane people - I hate freezing cold water, though I could probably tolerate it for a few minutes  B) I hate seeing videos of myself at least twice as much as I hate freezing cold water, and C) I'm a writer and I feel that my words have more power than yet another video of someone dumping water on their head.  

When I first heard about this challenge going on, my first thought was for one of my co-workers who died from ALS a few years ago.  Brett Butler wasn't a very close friend of mine, but he had the kind of personality that made a big impact on me.  He was just a fun guy and you could tell from the start that he really loved his family - his wife and three daughters.  

I always used to tease him about his name.  "Oh Brett Butler, Brett, you rascal - y'all come help me" I would simper in my best Southern belle imitation.  "I'sa comin' Miss Scarlett" he'd reply.  

Since I was raising three boys and he was raising three girls, we had a lot of conversations about parenting and just life in general.  How to stretch a dollar and manage to raise your kids right and save for college, etc.  Just normal stuff and no shadow of what was on the horizon in his life.  But just a few years after I worked with him, he was diagnosed with ALS and he died just a couple of years later, probably from respiratory failure as is typical for the disease.  I think he was maybe 47 or 48 years old.  Far too young.  

He lost the ability to walk, he lost the ability to speak, lost the ability to feed himself or even do the simplest of daily tasks for himself.  He not only was robbed of the ability to support the three daughters and wife he loved so much, but in the end, he had no choice but to become an enormous burden to them.  

Brett was a big, barrel-chested guy that looked like he could pick up a school bus - to think of him ending up like Dr. Stephen Hawking, ALS's most famous victims, just breaks my heart.  That's so wrong - that a proud man like that could be so humbled and brought down by such a terrible disease. 

These people need help and deserve our help.  No one should have to suffer like this.  No family should have go through the grief and stress of watching their husband and father wither away like this and then be left with a mountain of medical bills to pay.  

There has got to be a way to defeat diseases like this and we have to help.  I don't care if you pour a bucket of ice water over your head or not, but donate.  It's too late to help my friend Brett, but there are more than 5,000 people who will get this same catastrophic news this year.  Let's hope that next year, there will be a lot fewer because of all these ice bucket challenges...  

ALS Association - please make your donation here.  I did.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Painlessly Teaching Children to Clean Up

One of the biggest conflicts between parents and children of any age is regarding chores.  It's exhausting and demoralizing for all parties involved.  So, what if there were a way you could painlessly teach your children to get into good habits at an early age?  It's going to require some big changes, but I think it can definitely be done, and I think it would be absolutely worth it.  

1.  Calm down their environment

Kids have SO many clothes, toys, and just "noise" in their lives these days.  It's no wonder they are on constant overwhelm.  Too many activities, too much access to technology, too much stuff overflowing their rooms and play spaces.  It would be too much for a NASA Scientist to keep it all organized!  Look for ways you can calm down their environment:
  - Limit technology time to a bare minimum
  - Cut back on play dates as well as music and sports programs after school.  The schedules for sports participation are just crazy these days - 3, 4, even 5 times a week, it really is ridiculous the amount of commitment required.  Performing arts are just as crazy.  Your child may love to do it, but they may love having a regular pick-up game in the neighborhood just as much, or having a dance club with their friends - and YOU can control the time commitment.  
  -  Simplify their rooms.  Figure out 10 days to 2 weeks worth of their favorite clothing - including some dress up items, and a few grungy things and donate the rest.  It seems like a strange thing to do in our culture, but it's so hard for kids to manage 50 different outfits.  
  -  If possible remove toys to a separate play area, and cut them back by at least 25%.  You don't have to get rid of the toys, but you can box them up in a garage or storage area and rotate them every few months.  Then it's like having all new toys.  And when they are not so overwhelmed by choices, they will actually PLAY with the toys they do have.
  - Encourage outside time every day.  Take walks around the neighborhood with them, get them to the park, and encourage them to play out in the yard.  There have been so many studies that prove outside time is calming and beneficial to their overall health.  
  - Build in a little quiet time - even if it's just 15 minutes of reading, or just sitting on a porch swing and talking.  I'll bet only 1 kid in 100 gets time like that on a daily basis.  It's probably nice for Mom and Dad too!  

2.  Build daily chores into their routine.  

Kids need to learn that household chores are a daily requirement and aren't anything to make a big deal out of.  They've done just fine with wearing seatbelts, and taking vitamins, and going to school every day.  If chores are made just a matter-of-fact part of everyday life, it makes it one less thing to argue over.  And never use chores for a punishment - you don't want your child to have a lifelong aversion to them.  Instead treat them as a fact of life and demonstrate that by doing your own chores in a quiet, efficient and consistent manner.  

3.  Don't buy into the drama

Some kids LOVE drama - especially girls, I'm told.  I don't have any, so I can't swear to it.  But it's soooo easy to get drawn into the fights, and arguments, and threats over housework.  Just don't do it.  Think like a traffic cop.  A good cop doesn't call your car a pig sty, compare your car to your brother's car, or threaten to put you on restriction for a misdemeanor.  Instead, he very calmly identifies the misbehavior, defines the penalty, and writes the ticket. Try to copy that behavior and don't get into the excuses and the whining and the drama. One thing that is a very valuable tool is the "when, then" technique.  If a child argues, procrastinates, or just refuses to do a chore.  Just state very matter-of-factly - WHEN you have completed ______ THEN I will drive you to dance practice, fix your lunch, let you go play, whatever is next on the agenda.  And then stick to your guns and tune out the arguing, whining, or door slamming.  They may not complete the chore in time to go to dance practice - this time.  But next time, they will know you mean business.  

4.  Rewards are fine - bribes are not

We all like to be recognized for our efforts, adults as well as children.  But they are smart enough to know the difference between a bribe and a reward.  Children should receive an allowance to give them a little freedom to choose things they want and a chance to learn about money.  I don't know if tying allowance to chores is really a great idea.  If you are going with the concept of chores just being a necessary part of life, I don't think they should be rewarded monetarily.  You don't pay them to eat their vegetables, take their vitamins, or wear a seatbelt - it's just an expected thing.  Chores should be too.  It's much more motivating to compliment their efforts - even if they aren't perfect.  It's OK to say, you are doing a better job on making your bed than last week, or to say - you've been really good about doing your chores for the last few days, let's go get a snowcone to celebrate.  

So, let's take a look into the future.  Let's say you take this advice to heart - simplify the schedule, clear out the room, box up some of the toys, build in a little outside time and a little quiet time every day.  You work on getting the chores done daily with no drama, and a calm attitude, and you show genuine appreciation for their efforts.  How do you think your child might be different three months down the road?  Might they be calmer, more organized, more in control of their schedule and their possessions?  

I think so, and I think they also will have more respect for you as a parent.  They will have learned that the whining and fussing over chores isn't productive, but just getting on with it and doing them will win them much better rewards, even if the reward is just a little extra time with you on a nature walk, or a trip to the park.  And a little extra peace and calm in the house, would certainly be worth a few months worth of effort, don't you?   

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