Organize for Spring

By: Leah Prescott

Before I start talking about organizational ideas, I need to get something out there. I am always trying to organize for one major reason: I am a hopeless slob. My mom did her best to teach me better. I have tried reading books and blogs about organization. I continue to purchase boxes, bins and labels. I constantly re-assess our “system” in hopes of improving the result. In the end, it all just seems futile, as no matter what, I continue to naturally make a mess of my surroundings.

The problem is that I crave order. I long for clean, empty spaces with clutter carefully filed away. I truly desire blissful simplicity! In fact, if I could wish for ONE thing right now, it would be to have a place for everything and everything in its place! Now that we have three kids and are also homeschooling in a small space, I have recently come across a few tricks and tips that have helped us cut down on clutter and streamline our schedule.

1. The coaster tray. You guys know that I am not necessarily the DIY girl, but I do enjoy crafts when I have a chance to cram them into my hectic day. This was a fun project that has been used daily ever since we made it. Simply put, you personalize a coaster for each family member and mount it to a board. Now, we go through fewer glasses and cups, and they aren’t sitting around on every flat surface like they were before. Ta-da! Clutter averted, simplicity embraced!

Coaster tray

2. The homeschool bag. This is an idea I found on Pinterest and customized to my needs. I used a large bag with lots of pockets, a file box, and file folders to create a mobile office. Now I can keep our basic homeschool needs at my fingertips, haul them out of the house easily, and hang it all out of sight as quick as a flash. This has helped our “school room” not completely take over our “kitchen.” (Hint: these two rooms are one and the same at our house.)

Homeschool bag

3. Magazine files as storage. This may be an obvious suggestion, but it took me a few years to figure it out. In our tight quarters, I was starting to feel like our antique kitchen hutch just wasn’t worth its large footprint. I was trying to find a way to utilize the storage potential without completely ruining the aesthetic appeal of the piece. Finally, I discovered magazine files could function perfectly to organize workbooks, manipulatives, paper and other school supplies. Now, instead of housing a few seldom-used formal dishes, the space keeps the vast majority of our educational materials right where they are needed. And we don’t have to discard an heirloom that has been in the family for years! Win-win.

What helps you create sanity out of the chaos at home? Currently on this slob’s wish list: a better laundry system, an improved calendar-ing method (right now I pretty much just write stuff on my hand), and for Pete’s sake, some kind of stuffed animal storage. So if you have any suggestions to help a girl out, by all means share them! Your advice will be implemented and much appreciated!

Teaching the Mean

By: Lara Winburn

I have a three-year-old little girl. She is chatty, funny, a little mischievous, and sassy. Sassy… I can handle, you know apple/tree, whatcha gonna do? But right now there is one thing she is not; she is not mean and hopefully never will be. Mean girls suck. Sorry Momma, I know you hate that word, but it is true.

Mean girlsI am sure that somewhere along the way I have been a mean girl, but hopefully not on a regular basis since I wore a cheerleading uniform, which was a while ago. I have outgrown that uniform (sadly) and that behavior (thankfully). There are plenty of unflattering ways to describe me- stubborn, sassy, scattered, loud and opinionated. I will take those, but I would hope mean girl is not on that list.

Growing up, I never enjoyed making declarations like “we are not friends with Suzy this week” or “YOU CAN come over to play and YOU CANNOT.” Plus, my mom was having none of that.

But as an adult and now a mother, I have noticed something.  Sometimes, I’m afraid we are teaching the mean.

I am not starting rumors about moms at the park, and you are probably not disinviting ladies to your slumber party. BUT, I am sure there has been the occasional eye roll or a catty cell phone comment made in front of my little girl. And there is three-year-old Sponge Babe Sassy Pants in the back seat listening to and absorbing EVERY WORD. She already reads expressions and tone. Am I teaching the mean? Maybe more mindful mommy talk is in order.

When I taught second grade, I witnessed mean girl behavior already developing in these seven and eight year old angels. The funny thing was after spending a little time with their moms, you could see the mean girl in them too. Not evil, bad people, not even bad moms – they were just spending a lot of time judging or ostracizing others or, worse yet, judging themselves. Inadvertently, teaching the mean.

My mommy style is FAR FROM PERFECT but I will tirelessly try not to teach the mean. Instead, I think I will try to teach a little more sweetness, being kinder to others and myself. Remember:

“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” - Cady, Lindsay Lohan’s character in “Mean Girls”

PS Who thought Lindsay Lohan could offer such a nugget of wisdom?

PSS If anyone reading this thinks I’ve been a mean girl to them, my sincerest apologies.  (sometimes stubborn, sassy, scattered, loud and opinionated comes out a little mean).

Live, Laugh, Love…An Ode to Women

By: Shannon Shull

I celebrate the women of the world. To be a woman is no easy task. Don’t think it ever has been. It’s a very unique and special thing to live life as a woman.

I had the opportunity to present and share this video at a recent, very special Women’s Society event that raised money for the wonderful organization, Sistercare.  I thought it only fitting to share it with the Every Woman Blog readers.

So, please take a few minutes out of your busy, overwhelmed lives to watch and enjoy this video, which was edited together thanks to the help of my amazing sister, Chelsea.  My hope is that after you watch it, you will feel inspired and empowered. Here’s to reaching for happiness… here’s to laughing, loving and living life to the fullest! Smiles to you all! :-)

Walk It Out

By: Chaunte McClure

Most of us have those days when there is too much on our minds, too much on our plates, too many places to go, too many deadlines to meet and too little time to accomplish all Parkwe’d like to in a day. This hodgepodge of emotionally stimulating ingredients is usually a recipe for STRESS.

That’s the road I’ve been traveling the past few weeks. Today I decided to pull over, as I do from time to time, and walk it out. The stress, that is. Sometimes I take a stroll through my neighborhood, occasionally I make it to a park, but lately I’ve been enjoying a leisurely walk around the State House. The paths around the well-manicured lawn of our state’s capitol lead me to a place of serenity – a place where I can unwind, refresh and regroup. Even though my stay is only for about 10 minutes, it’s still worth it.

There is something about the fresh air, especially after today’s April shower, that helps take my mind off the things I was doing or have to do. Sometimes I may find a bench, sit a while and gaze at the beautiful blossoms or watch the squirrels scurry about.

I could experience less stress if I learn to say no more often. I was doing well at this, and I’m not sure how I got off track. As if having a full-time job and attending seminary part-time Parkisn’t enough for me to handle, I tend take on other tasks when I’m asked.

Sound familiar? Remember, it’s okay to say no. Kindly thank them for asking and explain that you just don’t have the time to devote to any additional tasks. Most days I come home, rest for about an hour and do homework until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Yes, I’ve become used to burning the midnight oil, but if I’m not careful, my marriage will burn out, my sanity will burn out. It’s important to take time for yourself and your family. It’s a balancing act that I find myself juggling every semester, but I refuse to lose control.

I wish I did a better job of controlling my FOMO (fear of missing out). I love social media, and often when I’m working on an assignment I find myself drifting from a Word document to an open browser window which points to Facebook.com. SMH! I promise you there is nothing about pastoral care or church history on Facebook, but for some reason I just have to see what’s going on. Use your time wisely and remain focused on the task you are working on.  (Do you hear that Chaunte?) Hmmm… should this be called preaching to the preacher or preaching to the choir?

Finally, when possible, reward yourself when you complete a task. This helps motivate me, especially if it means I get to go to Target, go outside before the sun sets, spend time with my husband or just relax and not do anything.  Ok, I’ve got to go work on my next assignment and I promise I won’t access Facebook. By the way, share what you do to de-stress. I look forward to reading your comments.

My Job

By: Brady Evans

I am not sure I’ve ever talked about my job here on the Every Woman Blog.  There’s a few reasons for that.

First – I think Americans over-identify with our careers.  One of a stranger’s first questions is always, “So, what do you do?”  It is understandable.  We’re asked from a very young age what we want to be when we grow up. (How often is that answer actually accurate?  I wanted to be either a swimming instructor or a barber – I am neither.)  We spend thousands of dollars these days on higher education, and besides the money,  we spend years in school under the threat of “you’ll need an education to get a job!”

Flo & Brady

Second – I love my job.  I am thankful that I enjoy it on a daily basis.  My days pass quickly and are filled with laughs.  But I love coming home more than I love going to work.  I love my sweet dog Flo, my delightful horses, my ever-mischievous-cat, and those other two canines that I allow to share Flo’s space (don’t hate me – I chose favorites!).  I love my farm chores and I love cooking and writing.  I love listening to Cat Stevens and Jackson Browne in the evening and watching the nightly news.

The third reason why I suppose I don’t share too much about my job is that everyone is an expert at my job.  Everyone has an opinion of my job.  Everyone believes he has the right to evaluate me at my job – even though no one is actually ever there, watching.  I guess having a taxpayer-funded job brings those sorts of criticisms and perhaps justifiably so. Still, it is hard having this job and having to sit back and smile while you read social media articles full of opinions with no evidence and clearly little background knowledge regarding the subject at hand.

Paper

Have you figured out what I am?  I am your kid’s public school teacher.  And, as someone once put it, everyone thinks he is an expert on teaching because he’s been a student before.  And nearly everyone has an opinion on my job because my salary, meager as it may be, is funded by tax payer monies.  And thus, my job and my effectiveness at it is constantly under the lens.

I’m not here to fight about Common Core State Standards because it is hard to fight with people who are uninformed about the topic at hand.  I won’t fight with my doctor about the pain medication he recommends for an ankle sprain; I’ll just trust that he’s the informed one and is motivated to do his best work to make me feel better.

And I’m not going to fight about whether or not grammar or cursive should be taught or whether it is “important.”  After all, importance is a relative term.  Wasn’t Home Economics important to students growing up in the 50s?  Can we all agree now that knowing how to prepare a casserole or properly iron a collared shirt is less important nowadays?

But what I’d like you, the ones who criticize your child’s teacher and every move she makes, the ones who post your beefs on Facebook regarding every assignment she sends home and every grade that she enters into the grade book, to know is that we love your kids.  We want your kids to be successful.  We do our best to do the most for your kids every day.  And, most importantly, we are all on the same team.

Purse Food!

By: Sydney Yarbrough

In my efforts to get ready for beach weather, I recently started following a new nutrition plan. The basics of the plan are to eliminate processed food and refined sugar and to eat the right foods at the right time. According to the plan, healthy carbs and fruits should be eaten in the morning, while starches should be eliminated after 3 p.m. I am a student and I work full-time, so following any type of nutrition plan is very much a challenge for me.

This had led me to what I like to call “Purse Food.” Food that I can grab and go, or keep in my car, and I am guaranteed to have something belly-friendly at hand! Here are some of my favorite snacks to keep handy:

  1. Protein Bars- These are tricky. You need to make sure they’re not full of sugar. I prefer gluten-free, sugar-free ThinkThin bars or Cliff bars. There are also tons of recipes for no-bake protein snacks that you can make on Sunday nights to last you the entire week!
  2. smoothieHomemade Smoothies- Anything you can make yourself with fresh produce is always better. I like to add coffee to smoothies I drink in the morning. Keep mason jars or a plastic tumbler cup on hand and make your smoothie the night before if you know you’re going to be in a rush in the morning.
  3. Alternative Trail Mix- Blueberries and walnuts make a great snack. Lots of pre-packaged trail mixes are full of sugar and processed foods. Avoid this and maintain portion control by packing it yourself!
  4. Purse Friendly Beverages- My favorite is coconut water! It’s a great, natural way to stay hydrated during the day and comes in lots of flavors! I also like sparkling water and  making my own flavored waters. Here’s a quick tip: Get a reusable water bottle and add mint and cucumber for a delicious drink!

I hope these tips help for managing your appetite and getting beach-ready for the summer!

Tales from Texas, Part 1

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

TexasI guess it was around September that my little sister told me that her husband was looking around for a new company.  She was not excited about the fact that the top location choices were Texas and Colorado, since she now has a little one and has all our family within a couple hours drive of each other.  But, it was a great opportunity and a sweet deal, so in the midst of the holidays, they moved to Houston.  Her husband went before Thanksgiving, while Katherine stayed behind to deal with getting their house in Asheville sold and closed.  After that was completed, she loaded up what was left in her SUV along with the baby, the dog and my parents.  They accompanied her out there to make sure she got there ok and to help with the toddler.

While in Texas, mom and dad happened into a Kroger one day to get groceries to take back to Katherine’s new house.  They couldn’t help but notice that there was a lady behind the deli counter making fresh tortillas.  But, wait, there’s more…she was also making tamales!  Ever since they returned to South Carolina from this journey, I’ve heard about these tamales non-stop.  Other than chile rellenos, tamales are probably our favorite Mexican specialty.  Mom and dad were blown away by how great these “grocery store” tamales were. I’ve been jealous hearing about them ever since.

Well, since the kids had a half day and the next day off from school, we scheduled a long weekend for me and my daughter to fly out with mom and dad for a visit.  (This time of year is crazy for us…it starts with my niece’s birthday [3 this year], next day is mom and dad’s anniversary, March 31 is dad’s birthday, next day is my sister’s birthday [not an April Fool’s joke, it’s legit], then my baby’s birthday on the 8th.  And don’t forget that Easter typically falls somewhere in the midst of all this celebration. So, off to Houston we flew to celebrate all our family festivities and to check on my sister and her new town.

We had several great culinary adventures on this trip, about which I will write subsequent posts.  But today, we’re talking about tamales.  After a visit to the Johnson Space Center (NASA), we went to a Mexican restaurant called Edouardo’s.  Both my parents and I ordered the tamales.  We were served two pork tamales with charro beans. The tamales Tamaleswere certainly better than any I’ve had around here.  The masa was nice and tender and moist. The pork was well seasoned and moist and was that kind of “shreddy” meat that I like. The masa was a bit thick, but since it wasn’t dry, it was ok with me.

However, the next day, mom and dad made a grocery run before my niece’s party started and guess what they came home with?  A 10-pack of Kroger tamales.  I know it sounds improbable, but those little ladies at the Kroger deli have got it goin’ on!  These were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Now I understand why mom and dad have been talking about them for the last 3 months.  Unfortunately, once the package was opened, none of the tamales stuck around long enough for any photo shoots, but I did get one of the (almost as good) ones from the restaurant!

ElizabethElizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)”.  Follow the page on Facebook. All the cool kids do.

For the Love of Fuzzies

By: Lydia Scott

A year after adopting our first two cats (a story for another day), we decided it was time for my son to care for a fuzzy of his own. I was kind of hoping we might find two kitties, and that one of them would like me. I was feeling kind of left out of the fuzzy cuddle world by this point, since my husband and daughter both had kitties who loved them. We found a couple of gorgeous blue-eyed babies that a family was trying to re-home after her female cat reproduced unexpectedly. I’m pretty sure mama was a seal point Tonkinese mix, or something close to that. We saw dad, too. He was a HUGE gray tabby. I immediately went to the biggest, plushest, calmest, mitted blue lynx point kitty and started snuggling up to him. He was so calm and laid back. “Floppy,” is a good word to describe this kitten. He was just what I was hoping for! A relaxed, huge, lap kitty.

Is That a Squirrel?

Tonka - false advertising!

Tonka – false advertising!

While we were looking at all the other cats the family had milling around, there was another kitten climbing pretty much everything she could touch, scrambling around the house madly. She was really small, with charcoal gray paws that remind you of a koala, and lynx point coloring, and was INSANE. My husband, of course, thought she was the best thing since peanut butter and after chasing her down, he picked her up and tried cuddling her. The family she lived with had named her Squirrel and said she was the runt of the litter. And like a squirrel, she basically climbed up and down my husband. My husband loved her wild, spunky attitude and fell in love with her. Little did I know, he had decided that this crazy kitty was perfect for…ME. Yep, she was going home with us, too, he announced as I eyed him incredulously. Ummmmm…okayyyy. Fine. This “Squirrel” and my big, floppy, kitten. Hopefully my son would like Squirrel, hahaha! We carried them out to the car and put them in the kitty carrier in the back seat. I sat in the back with them to try to help them feel less lost and alone.

Tonka trying to pounce without being noticed

Tonka trying to pounce without being noticed

I shouldn’t have worried. Enormo-kitty cried, but wasn’t horribly upset. Crazy Squirrel on the other hand, fiercely battled every inch of that carrier. Did you know cats can bark? Loudly? Yeah…she was barking her head off and at one point, I’m pretty sure I saw a scene from the Exorcist replay in that carrier. Our little squirrel kitten was TICKED OFF. There was nothing I could do to console her or calm her. By the time our 45 minute ride was over, both kittens were exhausted. We took the carrier out of the car and snuck in the house to surprise my son. He was so excited! Of course, the idea was to hope that one of the kittens would take to him, and become his buddy. I was hoping it would be squirrel kitten. She was just way too crazy for me, I thought. But, as it turns out, enormo-kitty and my son became buds. Enormo was officially named Frankie and is now about 20 lbs of floppy handsomeness. And Squirrel…

Unbreakable

Tonka the squirrel perched atop a curtain rod. Brother Frankie staying close to the ground.

Tonka the squirrel perched atop a curtain rod. Brother Frankie staying close to the ground.

Squirrel was dubbed Tonka, like the truck that runs over things. And like the Tonkinese breed she seemed to take after so much. Tonka was an “I love everybody!” kitten. She also loved everything, and therefore spent as much time as possible pushing, pulling, chewing, climbing, and destroying all the things she loved. Like lamps. And curtains. And boxes. And dishes. And fridge magnets. And spots on the wall. And earrings…while you’re wearing them. She also knows what coffee tastes like, because she stuck her paw all the way in my cup one morning. She knows what the inside of the fridge feels like, because as I went to close it one day, she darted in and I shut the door on her. She screamed the Tonka-Banshee scream and I thought I’d killed her, but she was fine. I sobbed and shook and held her, apologizing profusely. Not long after, I went to carry her out of our bedroom, and started to shut the door behind me and yep…Tonka-Banshee scream. I had not seen her tail near the crack of the door and it started to close on it. Again, me sobbing and shaking, terrified I’d broken her sweet little kitten tail. I had not broken my kitty, thank goodness. She forgave me immediately, both times. And thus…I was hers. Before I even realized it.

Tonka baby napping

Tonka baby napping

Tonka is very easily startled and extremely vocal about it. She sleeps hard, although a good bit less than the average cat, and when you nudge her to wake her, she will “cuss” you out for it, while petting you lovingly. We believe she is hard of hearing, but not totally deaf. She is the first to greet me when I come home and will yell at me if I don’t head to the bedroom fast enough for her. She loves nothing more than to curl up in my lap for her naps, except maybe batting at the dripping faucet in the bathroom, after she’s looked for the tweezers to drop down the sink so she can see where they go (wonder why the sink gets clogged?).

She Cray-Cray

Tonka thinks there's a magical world behind that cabinet

Tonka thinks there’s a magical world behind that cabinet

Tonka is the reason we have no decorative knick knacks or breakables. She is the reason we have nothing pretty perched atop the cabinetry in our kitchen. She is the reason you hear us say “you better put that away,” at least 50 times a day. And no, a drawer is not good enough. Despite knowing she’s not allowed on counters, when we aren’t looking, she will hop up there and use her paw to slide a drawer open. Usually it’s the utensil drawer, so she can get a spoon out to throw on the floor next to her “kitty toys” she has to play with. If you only knew how many times we’d been awakened during the witching hours by a crash. Always a result of my Tonka, misbehaving while the other cats eye her sleepily. You can practically hear them saying “dude, she’s crazy…isn’t there a little white coat you can put on her so we can sleep?” But she’s SO cute. And she’s SO loving. And she’s SO social, and engaging, and smart. How can you not love Tonka? Even when she shoves your coffee to the floor, and then walks over it to come cuddle you?

Indeed. How can you not love these fuzzy wonderments of ours? Thank goodness for them all!

Homeschooling

By: Leah Prescott

Colored pencils

Even though I am barely into my thirties, one of the topics that makes me feel rather old is home education. I find myself incredulous at the changes that have transformed the home schooling world over the last couple of decades. I can’t help opening my mouth with the proverbial, “When I was a kid…” because back then, my parents chose homeschooling when homeschooling was barely an option. It was such a fringe movement that strangers would blink at me when I answered the dreaded, “Where do you go to school?” (Often, their meaning was “Why aren’t you in school right now?”) At my answer, they would respond with complete confusion. “Home bound?” I was asked. My, how times have changed…

Now when my girls answer this question it is met overwhelmingly with enthusiasm. I still find myself amazed by this change. One older gentleman at the copy store went on about his support of homeschooling and his efforts to convert his daughter on behalf of his grandchildren. I was somewhat gobsmacked, I admit. We run into other homeschoolers all the time and at the very least, strangers nod knowingly and mention, “My cousin homeschools.” Or “Sure, my neighbors are homeschoolers.” I have had new homeschoolers practically hug me when they learn I am a second-generation homeschooler, and sincere thanks are sent to my parents, pioneers in the field. (We were involved in a court case to legalize homeschooling in the state of South Carolina.)

My mom was constantly faced with the question, “Why do you homeschool?” but that question has basically disappeared from the conversation. (Although I admit that when my toddler is being particularly challenging, I will ask myself the same question, “WHY am I doing this again?”)

With more and more parents questioning the public school system and our nation’s academics falling lower, nearly everyone understands the reason for homeschooling. The question now is, “How do you do it?”  This early in the game, I admit that question is hard for me to answer. I’m still working it out year by year, grade by grade. I guess my complete answer at this moment is, “I homeschool by the grace of God!”  Without His hand on our family, I wouldn’t have the determination and energy for this task.

More specifically, the market is brimming with curriculum, extra curricular activities are abundant, and classes, enrichment and co-ops for homeschoolers are, in most areas, easily accessible. Interested parents need to realize that homeschooling is attainable. I am sad to encounter parents who genuinely want to teach their children at home but feel they are not up to the task. Believe me, you can do it! Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but it is a viable option for many families. The resources are available. The support is attainable. And the results can be very satisfying.

Feel free to ask me whatever you want about homeschooling, I love to write and chat about it. I will answer questions to the best of my ability, based on my childhood and our current situation. Whatever you do, just don’t ask me if my kids are “socialized.”

That question is SO early 90′s.

Picture Your Dreams with a Vision Board

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Over the past eight weeks, I’ve worked hard to recommit myself to a healthy lifestyle, and my new vision board has been key to my success. What is a vision board? A collage of words and images that helps you visualize your goals and dreams so you can move closer to making them reality.

I actually consider mine more of an “inspiration” or “motivation” board, as the pictures and graphics provide a daily reminder of the reasons I am rededicating myself to a healthy lifestyle, including clean eating and regular exercise. Mine consists of a large Post-It cork board placed on the wall at the foot of my bed, a place that I can’t help but see it every morning and every night. I especially love the bold graphics that grab me from a distance.

Vision Board

I happened to love the large self-stick cork board, but your vision board doesn’t have to be as fancy; you can create it on any size bulletin board, poster paper or even online. The important thing is that you use images that motivate you and accurately picture your goals and/or dreams.

Here are a few great online resources to help you create a vision board:

Do you have a vision board? If so, how has it helped you? Describe your vision board, and please share any helpful links about creating one. If you don’t have a vision board, is it something you’d like to do?