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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Photo credit:  Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Career Interview over at Savvy Working Gal

I don't often talk much about my 35 year career in the business world.  I'm not sure why because it obviously is a big part of my life.  So when Savvy Working Gal - who is one of my best SITS Sharefest buddies - asked me to do an interview on my working career, I immediately agreed. 

My Corporate Interview over at Savvy Working Gal

I'm pretty happy at how it came out.  She asks some good questions and I like to think I had some good answers.  It's not really a rags-to-riches story, but it's a good serving of empowerment and making the best of the hand life deals out to you.  

You can check out my fabulous Interview at her site Savvy Working Gal.  And she has plenty of other good stuff for both the Working Moms and the SAHM community.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Super Easy One-Hour Gift

This is one of my rare crafty posts, but this little idea was just too easy and too good to share.  I used it as a graduation gift for my friend's daughter, but you could use it for so many different uses for people of all ages - a neighbor, a co-workers, a friend from church.  Would be perfect for a last-minute birthday gift for a kid or an adult. I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't be pleased to receive a cute little gift like this?  

The supplies needed for this are very simple and pretty inexpensive.  I had purchased a whole stack on these darling multicolored Chinese take-out boxes for a couple of dollars at Michael's - they actually make awesome luminaries for Christmas as well!  I had some bags of different colored shred on hand on my craft room, so I picked a pretty yellow to go with the green box.  Then I bought some of that graduation themed metal confetti and a card at the Dollar Store.  Estimated cost about $3.00 for materials and card, not including the cash.  

Then all you need is some moolah.  I used $20 worth of dollar bills, but I'll leave that part up to you.  Try to get nice crisp bills from the bank.  Then you just take the bills and fold them into heart shapes.  There are dozens of videos on YouTube that will show you step-by-step exactly how to fold them.  Here's the one I used because it only has a few steps:

Here's a link in case it doesn't work.

It takes about a minute to fold each, so that's most of your hour right there.  I usually do them while I'm watching TV.  

Then just put some colored shred in the bottom and layer in the heart-shaped bills with the confetti.  Close it up, sign the card, and you are good to go.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Organizing the Disorganized Child

I know that most kids are going back to school during this time period, so I wanted to be sure you got the info in time to do you some good.

To me, the advantage of being an older Mom is that this isn’t my first rodeo. This month, we are making our 3rd trip through High School. Son #1 sailed through with flying colors, but son #2 had that ADHD business happening and it was pretty rough going. Since son #3 is practically a carbon copy of #2, I have a chance to do things a little differently this time around and hopefully get through with a little less stress (on both of us), and I hope a better outcome.

Image courtesy of [PhotoStock] /

One thing I’m doing differently is doing my homework - literally. A friend recommended a great book called “Organizing the Disorganized Child” by Martin L. Kutscher & Marcella Moran. I’m not only reading it, I’m blogging about it, partly to help me cement the lessons into my life, and partly to help you with your kids too.

The opening chapter really rang a bell with me. They start out by talking about brain development. Turns out that part of the problem is that these kids may not have developed mature enough brains to have the thought processes required for proper organization. That made a big change in my attitude right there. You can get mad at a kid you think is lazy or isn’t trying hard enough, but not at a kid who simply isn’t capable of what you’re asking.

Once you take the anger and frustration out of the equation, it’s much easier to focus on the strategies that will help your son or daughter be more successful. One place to start is right at the beginning, while you are buying your back to school supplies. 

One of the biggest pitfalls of the Jr/Sr High life is the “black hole” backpack. You want to look for a backpack with just a few pockets, and a simple notebook set-up that will minimize any confusion. I chose a Trapper Keeper notebook with front & back pockets and dividers for each subject. I labelled the front & back pockets very clearly as “PAPERS TO GO HOME” and “PAPERS TO TURN IN” so there is only ONE place to keep papers that need to travel back & forth. Simplicity is the key - it makes it so confusing for these kids if they have multiple places to look for their things.

The planner is also a critical key. You have to get them into the habit of writing down their assignments for every class, every day. Our rule is that if he leaves it at school, he has to go to bed early - a fate worse than death in his book. He also has to write something for every class - even if it is “No Homework”. Otherwise, he has to use the “phone a friend” option to call one of his friends from that class and get them to confirm the homework assignment. That stops the “I don’t have any homework today” excuse right in it’s tracks. And besides, "it’s totally embarrassing, Mom!" That makes it a great deterrent.

Setting up the study space is the next step. Structure is SO critical for these kids. Set up a specific time and place for studying and set it up in a way that works for your particular kid. A visual learner may need to have everything out where he can see it, while a different type of kid can only focus on one assignment at a time and can’t have anything lying around she might play with. Use a timer and schedule frequent breaks (also timed). Don’t forget the importance of praise and encouragement. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Consider locking up the electronics until homework time is over - we have an on-going power struggle with that one.  Mine isn't as much of a text-a-holic as most kids, but he can't bear to do the simplest task without his "music" and his ADHD kicks into gear when he has access to the Internet - he suddenly HAS to look up obscure bits of knowledge.  I need to nip that in the bud.  I have a similar problem at work, so sometimes I keep a pencil box handy to put my phone in time-out mode.  

One thing our school does is ZAP parties. ZAP stands for Zeroes Aren’t Permitted. They have parties every two weeks that can only be attended by the kids who have no missing work. Kids who do have missing assignments get to spend the party in study hall playing catch up. That is a huge incentive for these kids. Even if your school doesn’t have something like that, nothing is stopping you from making your own ZAP party for your kids and her friends. Maybe set something up to take turns hosting with a few other parents.

And above all, repeat to yourself every day. I survived my school days, my parents did too, and so did all my friends. Our kids will too.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Paying with CASH Hurts - It's a Good Thing!

I know most people think that money is just money, but I'm here to tell you that there is an enormous difference between paying for things with cash and with other forms of payment - including credit/debit cards, checks, or your phone.

Behavioral scientists have done probably hundreds of experiments over the years that clearly prove we have an emotional connection with actual cash that we don't have with other forms of payment.  Here are a couple that I remember hearing about:

  - Researchers put cases of soda in college dorm fridges.  Alongside the cases of soda, they put paper plates of dollar bills that represented the approximate value of the soda.  Then they waited a week and came back to check.  The sodas - all gone.  Every last one of them.  The dollar bills - nearly all untouched.  The students viewed the pilfering of sodas as fairly benign, but they clearly recognized that taking money - even a dollar, was a strong cultural taboo.

-  In another experiment, subjects were given an easy one-page questionnaire to fill out.  Half were paid the grand total of .12 cents in actual cash money, while the other half were given a voucher for .25 cents that they could redeem for a candy bar.  Even though the second half was paid the equivalent of twice as much money, the first group spent an average of 10% more time completing the survey.  Even though the payoff was such a slight amount of money, it still was recognized as being more valuable,

Interestingly enough, mere mortals like us are not the only ones who have access to this research.  You can bet that every corporation with a product to sell, knows this research backwards and forwards.  They know that you will spend significantly more money if you use a non-cash form of payment.  And they leverage that in any way they can.

There were actually commercials on a few years ago that were blatantly anti-cash.  They would show dancing water, rotating flowers, and tons of happy people moving in unison to happy music.  Then everything would come to a screeching halt whenever someone stepped up to the cash register with cash in hand, like it was a bad thing to show up with in God We Trust greenback dollars.  Then someone would whip out a piece of plastic and boom, all the music would start up and all was right with the world.  That was about as subtle as a ton of bricks.

Here's WHY they don't want you to pay with cash:

- You are much more price-conscious when spending cash.  It's so dang easy to just swipe that little plastic square and not think about the price.  There's no natural stopping point with a card like there is with cash.  Plastic just feels unlimited.  

-  You genuinely might not have enough cash with you.  Cash is a finite resource - when it's gone, it's gone.  No retailer wants to lose a $60 sale because you only have $58 in your hot little hand.  

-  Cash brings you back to the good old-fashioned state of "can't afford it".  It just feels more "real" when you are handing over a chunk of cash vs. an electronic transaction.  Try doing this with grocery shopping once in a while.  You become VERY aware of the prices when you are facing the embarassment of having to put items back at the register.  

I used this on my son a while back - the one that just got married.  He had a gym membership that he hadn't used in quite a while.  It was set up on automatic payments (here's a link to why THOSE are such a bad idea!) so he didn't really pay much attention to it.  So I told him to imagine going into that gym every month, reaching into his wallet and pulling out a nice, crisp $20 bill and handing it over to the muscle-bound guy at the front desk.  Then I told him to imagine just turning around and walking right back out of there without even getting the exercise he was paying for.  That was the reality of it, but he couldn't see that until he put the emotion of cash into the picture.  He called them up and quit the next day!  

That's why those envelope spending plans really work.  The ones where you put all your money for the month into different budget envelopes.  It's a lot like Weight Watchers - you only get so many points and then you're DONE.  No wiggle room - you spend money here, you have to take it from there.  Lawyers call that a bright white line - the clear difference between right and wrong.  

That's why, when I'm really broke, or when my spending is particularly out of control, I immediately switch to cash.  It's always a big eye-opener for me and I usually get my finances back under control at that point.  How often do you go on a strict cash basis?  Probably not often enough...

PS:  Tonight we learned the downside of paying with cash.  I gave my son a $50 bill to pay for his back-to-school supplies.  He came up to me with that look on his face - you know the one.  The "something really bad" look.  Sure enough, it had dropped out of his hoody pocket.  Fortunately, Target shoppers are apparently very unobservant because he found it on the floor by where he had been shopping - whew!  

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Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Janoon028 /

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canvas Prints from Canvas Champ

Custom canvas prints are the new trend in decorating.  They are wonderful because you can do them up in any combination of photos, colors, or words in any size you like, and they are a remarkably inexpensive way to decorate your home.  

Canvas Champ offers a huge range of sizes and styles of prints - even banners for your business.  I particularly like the metal print photos - those look pretty cool.  They are having a big sale right now - 65% off site-wide.  The price for a standard 8 X 8 canvas wrapped print is only $10.

I love the look of multiple prints grouped like this.  Naturally, I received a free print as compensation for this post - fortunately, my son just got married, so I had a perfect reason for wanting a canvas print.  Here's my handsome fellas!  

Here is their info:


Now you know me - I always give an honest review of both good and bad points.  I'm very happy with my print, but I would be careful using the Mirror Image option on the edge treatments.  You have the option to choose a plain color, wrap the image around the sides (which would have cut off part of their heads), and mirror image.  Because mine was ordered directly from the manufacturer, they gave it the mirror image treatment, which created a little oddness around the edges with two extra sets of hands and a partial extra head on the top.  But since you'll have the opportunity to preview your canvas before you place your order, so you'll be able to avoid little missteps like that.

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