Homeschooling, Printables, Time Management

To-dos; homeschool day 1

Julie / August 23, 2010

So, here is the revised version of The To-Do List:


The other one was technically working fine, but as it grew easier to stay in routine (both from building habits and from decreased mess to work with), I decided that it would be wise to try to work in all the little recurring tasks that still need done every once in a while, but which would be overwhelming to try to check every day.  So now the list has two parts: a daily routine, which is repeated all the days of the week and is the main thing that keeps our house in order, a weekly routine, which is more the tasks that only need to be considered once a week and are tackled Monday-Thursday, and a monthly routine, one part of which is tackled every Friday.  

I’m hoping that the extra routines gradually eliminate any of the mess areas in the house that had heretofore been mostly ignored–like dusting the baseboards. I also formally added mopping to the routine, which wasn’t exactly neglected before, but does require a lot of planning (because it works vastly better without children scampering about).  I still use the principles of different types of cleaning, but I didn’t delineate them in the list because I’ve found myself doing a lot more cleaning-when-the-mess-is-made (which are very short but frequent and unplannable) and a lot less cleaning bigger messes all at once (there aren’t any to clean).



Here’s a little printable: flash cards for the alphabet, with lowercase and uppercase letters separate, and no “hint” pictures.  So simple, I know, but I haven’t actually found any in store-bought packs without pictures, which is dumb, imho, because my two-year-old gets totally distracted by… distractions.


We officially started Pre-K2 today.  I wasn’t feeling well, and neither was E, so it was definitely a light day.  We started with some letter flashcards (this was before I made these) and learned our uppercase and lowercase A, then read some books and found the A’s in them. 

Our formal reading book of the day was The Little Engine that Couldlittlenginethatcould, which is probably my favorite children’s book now that I also had in my own childhood.  I’ve seen it redone a number of times, but I like the original one best.  It’s kind of a two-pronged message, both a Good Samaritan tale and an exhortation to do your best.  Anyway, I really like it, and since we have it, it was an easy addition to our Pre-K2 reading list.  E seemed to like it as well; there were a lot of characters (Humpty Dumpty, dolls, oranges) that she recognized, and she loves trains, so even though it was a pretty long book, she stayed focused the whole time. 

We played lots of “find the letter” games throughout the day, mostly initiated by E.  Somehow she already knows quite a few letters–I’m not sure how!  Once we get more into the swing of things, I want to get her to work on drawing the letters as well her hand coordination is sadly lacking (compared to an adult’s, anyway!), but I think that it will help her learn the shapes of the letters better, if nothing else.

I’m also going to start doing sight words with her, but I thought it would be good for her to know a few letters first, so she has something to latch onto in the words to learn to distinguish them.  We hadn’t had much luck with sight words so far.

Homemaking, Time Management

Using Evernote for Homemaking

Julie / August 19, 2010


Evernote is, I admit, relatively new to me.  I’d read about it quite a bit, but didn’t quite realize that it was free or so completely cloud-based (i.e., everything syncs to online).

Using multiple computers scattered around the house is definitely an essential part of the way I do home organization.  Part of this is because our house is two-storey, and part of it is because I don’t have a good laptop to drag around (and my arms are usually full anyway).  I find it indispensible to have a computer in the kitchen, and so there lives a very old rickety crash-prone laptop that literally dies if you move it too much.  That’s the main one I use, and that’s enough about my computer habits for this post!  On to Evernote.

Because of the fact that I use a number of different computers, it’s more or less useless to me to use local file storage–everything I can possibly throw in the cloud, I do, with the added benefit of then being able to access my whole life in digital from other peoples’ houses and public spaces.  (And if I could justify a smartphone, grocery stores would be a very important addition to that list.)  Evernote, although new to me, is very clearly the cloud-based brain that I’ve been looking for.  It lets me do everything I’ve already been doing, but in a newly unified, extremely-rapid way.

I’m convinced that the key to loving Evernote is to devote some serious time to thinking about specific ways it can work for you, and reading articles and blog posts discussing such specific ways.  Evernote is extremely blank when you first begin, and the hardest part is definitely figuring out frameworks to create and use–how to meld it to your own brain, in other words.  So, without further ado, here are some “frameworks” that have already been saving me immense amounts of time while helping me get even more things done and organized, in the realm of homemaking.


I’ve talked before about how I create my meal plan, and Evernote really enhances the results and speed of that process.  I use the web-clipping tool to clip the entire recipe, photo, and prep instructions, put it in a notebook called “recipes,” and tag it with a few of the significant ingredients (in our house, usually that means the meat).  If the recipe is bad and we won’t try it again, I delete it.  If I want to add my own notes to the page, or literally rewrite part of the recipe, I can do that to my clipped version–which of course I couldn’t do to the original website.

I am thus creating a sort of digital cookbook, personalized for our family.  The important thing to remember here is that recalling something from Evernote is much faster than pulling up a webpage would be, yet adding a webpage to Evernote takes only seconds.  It also eliminates distractions from the page, is easy to email to someone else (or myself), and easy to print; again, all my personalized version of the recipe instead of having to work with the default.

The biggest downside to this is that automatic shopping list generation (as per the sites I mentioned earlier) no longer exists.  But this isn’t all a bad thing

Shopping Lists

It has been a source of endless difficulty for us that there are maybe five stores that we shop at semi-regularly and need specific lists for (ShopRite, BJs, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s), yet refrigerator lists don’t work very well for us and five is an unmanageable number of literal paper lists at any rate–especially because some items are truly store-specific (can only be bought at that store) and many items are generic (just most likely to be bought at that store) and so we end up with items crossed-off, duplicated, forgotten it turns into a mess.

There are two different ways I can think of to manage lists online: to make a separate, simple list for every store (in Evernote, a separate “note” for each list), and use some common sense and multi-tasking abilities to think of picking up one’s ShopRite list while at Target; or to have a separate item (a separate “note”) for every single item and tag it with all the store names where it is sold, so that calling up all items listed with “BJs” would yield a complete, current BJs list.  The latter option is infinitely more organized, but it’s also a pretty big trade-off in terms of work I prefer five lists and managing cross-overs in my head instead of on the computer.  Either way, a digital list is much neater, and can be added/removed from wherever you are, or wherever one’s husband is!  And even with the auto-generated lists, I still ended up usually manually reordering it, because going to the store with two tiny children is far, far easier if the items are on your list in exactly the order they are in the store.


This one is really a no-brainer: I have an Evernote notebook and I put all our outstanding bills in it.  If we had more bills, it would be helpful to tag them by month due, but we don’t have enough (that aren’t on auto-pay, that is!) to make even that tiny effort justifiable.  I’ve set up most of our bills to have email notifications (Mint can often do this even if your bill company doesn’t) and I’ve set up my email client to automatically file the bills into Evernote.  So the bills don’t clutter up my emailbox or my calendar, and I can just flip into Evernote and remember at a glance which bills I still need to take care of.  The very, very few bills that don’t have e-notifications can be easily scanned, as can other mail that you “need to keep” but don’t really want to find a physical home for.  Remember, too, that Evernote finds the text in images and makes it searchable.

On a sidenote, here’s the search string, found here, that you need to add to Google Chrome or Firefox to make it easy to search your Evernotes:


This is one area where Evernote really shines.  Know you’re going to need to buy a crib soon?  Want to comparison shop?  Just do your regular browsing on the web, and if you think something is worth coming back to look at again, “clip” the relevant info (pic, price, dimensions, features) to Evernote, add a note of your own if you want, and either tag it with “crib” or put it in a “crib” notebook–depending on the size of your research.  At the end of the day, instead of a hard-to-sort-through list of links with meaningless titles and no other useful information (not to mention you’re dependent on the various server speeds and page-renderings to even get back to the information you already saw), you’ll have a neat little collection, almost like 3×5 cards, all assembled in one neat little place and ready to flip though at a moment’s notice.  Need to send one to husband to review?  Click, done.  Send him the whole set?  Click, done.  It’s not just faster, it actually makes it easier to get an overall picture and make clearer decisions.

Information Collecting

I’m all the time running across information on homeschooling that I think would be really useful later.  And sometimes I can’t find it later (lost in the sea of bookmarks), or I can find it but it’s gone, taken off the web.  Evernote is a way of taking those miscellaneous little tidbits of information and articles and bringing them all together in a coherent, organized, searchable, and tagged way: a way of creating your own sort of sub-internet.  As with recipes, it also lets you get rid of all the extraneous distracting information that you don’t need, so when you go back to read that brilliant article from six months ago, that’s exactly what you find–and all you find.

Our munchkins are obviously not old enough to be using the “˜net yet, but I foresee some real uses of Evernote in terms of assembling digital items for their review, as well.  If I find some great diagrams, essays, and a fiction story on ancient Egypt that I want them to read while we’re studying Pharaohs, I can clip them all into Evernote and send them the collection–void of distracting links to follow, questionable advertisements, site downtimes–instead of giving them a list of links to check out on their own.

It’s important to note, too, that with a premium account, Evernote lets you put all kinds of files into it, which really lets mixed-media collecting take off.

Home Improvement Ideas / Inspiration

I honestly don’t spend much time reading home decorating magazines (or doing home decorating, for that matter–I think we have literally two pictures hung in our entire house after four years of living here), but occasionally I’ll run across a picture or an idea or a product that really strikes a chord with me, and if I don’t do something about it right then, then of course it continues on its merry way of falling back out of my brain again.  Evernote lets me grab on to those rare (for me) moments and file them away until I do have the time or resources to deal with it more thoroughly.  Right now I’m just throwing them all in a great big “household” notebook and trying to tag them relevantly–if I had more inspiration moments, I’d probably need to come up with a more detailed organizational scheme.

I’m sure there are many more ways to use Evernote with homemaking, and I hope to discover them as I use it more and more.  It definitely “works for me”!

works for me wednesday at we are that family

Time Management

When Mommy’s sick.

Julie / August 16, 2010

So, our nice little routine hit a big hurdle this weekend: I got really sick.  Some kind of weird, short-lived, severe stomach bug, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t getting anything done at all.  I ventured out of bed just once to try to make myself a cup of tea and promptly threw up before I made it back upstairs.  I started feeling somewhat ill on Saturday afternoon–enough so that I actually didn’t clean up from dinner, for once (at that point I thought “oh, I’ll get it tomorrow when I feel better”) and then I stayed really sick all the way through until after I went to sleep on Sunday night.  This morning I woke up and quickly discovered that I wasn’t quite better still, and called my mom in somewhat of a panic because I was definitely headed toward another day of throwing up and/or passing out.

She came, of course, and I very quickly went back to bed, and after that, I did wake up somewhat recovered.  I can tell my body is still much the worse for the wear, especially my stomach muscles, but I can at least take care of myself and the girls.  Still didn’t feel up to cooking (or eating) dinner tonight, but that’s not terribly unusual just from being pregnant!

Anyway, though, the thing that was really bothersome was that my nice little housekeeping routine DIED.  I can’t emphasize enough how much it died.  It started its demise on Saturday with the aforementioned dinner mess going uncleaned, but then yesterday while I was ensconced in my room, it fell all to pieces.  I woke up this morning to disaster, without having remotely the energy or wellness to fix it.

So, of course, the question is–how on earth does one plan for sickness?  I was very thankful that things were organized enough that I could direct Seth where to find their clothes without getting out of bed myself, and that things were neat enough to begin with that the mess wasn’t truly insurmountable this morning (if I had felt like my normal self, it would have just been a more-difficult-than-usual day, but nothing untamable).  But still, I didn’t feel well enough to even load the dishwasher (and I made myself sick trying to load the washer), and looking around the house was soooo discouraging and made me wonder what we could have done to prevent it.  It wasn’t Seth’s fault–he’d been up all night with me needing help, then up with the girls from 5:30 onward, up through their nap (which I usually sleep though), and then not home until late (they all went to my parents’ so I could rest).  And when he was home, he spent a lot of time playing fetch for me!

Very thankfully, my mom could come over and she actually pretty much cleaned everything back up this morning!  While watching the girls, to boot.  It was a definite “fix” to my problem!  Probably the most logical fix–if she couldn’t have come, and if I’d been well enough to be on my own (I really wasn’t; I think I would have had to call Seth back home or something), then I think what we could perhaps have done is make a concerted effort after Seth did get home where one of us watched the kids and the other one tried to straighten the house back up. the important part being creating a purposeful, highly-focused, highly-energized time to try to whip things back in line.

But looking back, I think it would have been better if we could have had a plan for the house to get less messed up to begin with.  For one, although I had no idea how sick I was going to be on Sunday, if I hadn’t put off cleaning up the dinner dishes on Saturday, we would have been in much better shape, because dishes and pots and pans snowball.  (Clutter begets clutter.)  So onward, if I’m well enough to possibly complete a task, I hope I learned my lesson and will actually do it.  You never know when the next day  is going to be ten times worse!  I legitimately didn’t feel like it, but afterwards I really regretted leaving it undone.  If I felt that crappy, I could have asked Seth to do it then, before it got all piled up.  Secondly, I could have given Seth lots of suggestions for how to prevent clutter in the first place.  I really didn’t care, on Sunday; I was too sick to care!  But there are so many ways that I know, because I’m here and deal with the two munchkins all day, to keep the clutter down.  There are rooms that they can play in for a really long time without ever making an unmanageable mess, even if totally unsupervised, and then there are toys that turn any room into a disaster area within moments of being gotten out.  I could have said a really simple sentence, like “to try and not have a big mess for us to clean up when we actually feel capable of cleaning, why don’t you keep them in the nursery all morning and play with the Fisher-Price toys?”  That’s like five or six sets of toys that they could get out all at once and still be able to clean up in less than ten minutes.  Our biggest problem might simply have been that I wasn’t thinking about the mess that was happening, or the difficulty I’d have in reining it all back in.  And there were some points even on Sunday when I could have handled the kids for the five minutes or so it would have taken Seth to keep the kitchen manageable.  It’s all about small chunks, especially when you’re sick.

All-in-all, it has been an interesting and insightful experience.  It was definitely less disastrous than it could have been, because the house wasn’t particularly out of order before the weekend happened.  I did need to do laundry, especially diaper laundry, today, but there wasn’t much and it definitely wasn’t a build-up.  If I’d been sick another day or even two, it still would have been okay.  So, in short, it was nice to see some of the real effects of the routine-keeping.  On the other hand, it also really pointed out a need for focus, even in sickness, because I hate that things still got so disorderly after only two days, especially since our weekends had been going “cleaner” in general.

Live and learn!  🙂

Homemaking, Time Management

A peek inside the routine.

Today has been a definite “off” day–the kids were fussy, I woke up exhausted, naps went poorly, and my mom couldn’t come over for very long (during the summer she has been coming over a lot!).  So, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to explain how my routine actually works out… on a bad day.

Before breakfast, I set out the meat for dinner.  Item one checked off the list.

After breakfast, without the routine, I probably would have thought to myself, I’m exhausted, the house isn’t a wreck, I’m just going to do laundry and then chill with the kids a bit.  But the routine beckoned.  I’ll admit I didn’t do as much as I would on a “normal” day, but by naptime I’d restored the rooms to “normal,” done two loads of laundry, stuffed/folded the rest of the cloth diapers, gathered up the bath toys and dumped them in the kitchen sink with some bleach to soak for a few hours, and started in on clearing off the top of the refrigerator (one of my projects I’d determined to accomplish today).  On a more normal day, I would likely have finished the laundry and the fridge, done some actual cleaning in the bathrooms instead of just decluttering, and probably attacked a few piles of clutter in the areas I “normal-ized” so that tomorrow would be even neater than today.

Anyway, I decided to save the vacuuming (small task with a good cordless stick vac–I can’t recommend them enough, mommas!), the rest of the top of the fridge, and the laundry-folding for this afternoon, along with cooking and giving the kids a bath.  I also was able to declutter some outstanding “hotspots” upstairs, research some issues I ran into with cloth diapers, and spent a good amount of time chilling with the munchkins this afternoon, all even before my mom showed up!

One thing that is really working with this new routine is that it has an enormous amount of flexibility and daily autonomy.  So on days like this past Monday, when I have energy and drive paired with a complete lack of children, the routine motivates me to really get a lot done.  And on days like today, which is easily my worst day so far this week, the routine makes sure I don’t fall behind and end up in an even sorrier state of housework tomorrow.  I think this is the single biggest key to finding a routine that I can continue to follow from day to day and week to week.  It’s also kind of funny the way that it’s teaching me some basic principles instead of just being a list of items to check off.  It also makes me think consciously about what things I need to do today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, and make a real implementable plan for when to get them done.  The whole “nighttime routine” idea–just thinking about the next day and making sure I have the answers to some basic questions–has deeply changed the way my day goes.  I wake up knowing some of the big things I need to get accomplished, knowing whether or not laundry is one of them, and knowing what I’ll cook for dinner.  Small things, granted, but making these decisions on a different day than I actually have to fulfill them helps me to be more honest and ambitious in my plans.

I’ve also noticed that knowing I’ll have to do things the next day makes me infinitely more likely to take care of them the night before.  I’m strongly motivated to clean up the kitchen after dinner, because otherwise I know it’s one of the first things waiting for me in the morning.  If I see a pile of things waiting to go up or down the stairs, I’ll probably grab it the very first time my hands are empty–and put it away properly–because I’m going to have to do it in a moment anyway, may as well do it when my hands are empty!  Dirty clothes on the floor?  I’m obsessed now with picking them up right away so that I don’t have to go around the house in search of them.  At the same time, though, the fact that these things aren’t actually on the schedule until “later” helps me not get stressed out and feel overloaded by them.

“Clutter begets clutter” is such a true statement!  And for me, at least, having a lack of clutter to begin with–and obsessing about maintaining that lack–is an essential motivating tool.  I’m terrified of it getting out of order!

(Written earlier this week.)

Homemaking, Time Management

Finding My Routine, Part II

Today has been day two, and so far, the routine is really working.  In fact, today it worked so well that I felt completely underwhelmed by my work load!  🙂  Although, the vast majority of the credit goes to the fact that yesterday–my initiating day–I found myself home alone for a very, very long time.  (The girls went to the zoo with Mammaw again.)  I tried to make good use of the day, though, and tried to get every item done pretty well so that today wouldn’t be so much work.  I had thought it would take a week or so to get every area on my list back in enough order so that the deeper work could begin and the “upkeep” work would be manageable, but my unexpected free day yesterday put me far ahead of my own schedule.

So today, I learned a very important motivation lesson: if I do a really good job every day on the small tasks I need to do, then they won’t stack up and become overwhelming.  Instead, I’ll be able to do new things.  Today it took me perhaps an hour or so to get the entire house back into the same level of order as it was yesterday, which left me with time to do other things (play with the kids! go on a field trip!) and to work on specific trouble spots to bring the house into even better order than it was already in.

At any rate, I wanted to write up some of the things that landed on my “routine” sheet.  Again–I know that a working routine is going to look different for everyone, and mine are definitely not “right” answers!  But these are the basic components of my list:

~ * ~

Reminders: things I tend to forget if I don’t actually have a visual reminder of them, and things I prefer to forget if I don’t like to do them.  On my list, this is things like: meal-planning, setting out the meat to thaw for dinner, and laundry.

Blitz-Clean:  this is one of three “types” of cleaning I have specified in my routine.  A blitz-clean is a five minute interval in which I run around like a crazy chicken pretending like company is going to show up in the designated location any minute.  Basically, cleaning up the gross offenders in the room, straightening stacks, throwing toys in their bins, etc.  The main goal isn’t so much accomplishing a great feat of cleaning, but rather sort of “lassoing” an area/room and getting it under some semblance of control.  On my list, this is the first thing I do in the morning–in the living room.  It’s not only one of the areas in the house that gets the most out of whack, it’s also one of the areas that is the most important to look passable for company, including company that shows up unexpectedly at ten o’clock in the morning.  A Blitz-Clean is an efficient way to bring the room back to center in preparation for a more thorough cleaning later in the day.  (It’s also a little bit redundant, since the c/d/c [below] later would cover everything, but I think it’s worth it for the lessened stress of random-company and more pleasant environment from the very beginning of the day.)

c/d/c: Check, Declutter, Clean: this is the second type of cleaning, one that’s designed to be flexible in depth according to how messy the area is and how much time I can actually afford to spend in cleaning it.  (This flexibility is key to actually accomplishing something every day and maintaining some consistent order from day to day.)  A c/d/c should take from two minutes for a well-kept room to thirty minutes for one that’s beginning to get out of hand.  Includes clearing surfaces and “hot spots” (to borrow FlyLady’s term), small accumulations of messes, and routine cleaning (vacuuming, mopping, dusting, counter-swiping).  Does not include tackling larger, harder-to-surmount messes which have accumulated–those are reserved for deeper cleans.

Super-Work: similar to Blitz-Cleans, but a little bit longer in duration (more like fifteen minutes), and focused on a problem area rather than an entire room.  Basically, these are the bits of work that need done but are outside the range of a c/d/c clean.  On my list, this is an unassigned block–meaning that each day I choose what small area to attack and conquer, based on the various needs and resources (time, energy) available.

Kitchen: similar to the living room, our kitchen gets messy fast.  Unlike the living room, however, the mess in the kitchen literally multiplies if left unattended, so it’s the one area of the house that qualifies for a routine cleaning that’s more thorough than a c/d/c: basically, in theory at least, the kitchen gets cleaned top-to-bottom and all the dishes done and put away… every single day.  The goal is to have the kitchen totally clean, every morning if not every night.  Otherwise, things just keep stacking up!

Daily Project: this is sort of an extended Super-Work; the idea is to work on tasks that take an hour and half or so to complete.  It’s not necessarily “cleaning” per se, but it is “homemaking” and is usually cleaning.  This is also the part of my routine that will get utterly cut if we’re not at home, if something comes up, if someone is sick, or if I’m just too worn down.  But the DP is also one of the most fulfilling parts of the day (“Guess what I did today, honey!?!”) and so I’m not tempted to cut it too often.  Some examples of DPs would be: switching wardrobes to the next size/season, going through bins/piles of items, sorting and finding new homes for bags of incoming items, cleaning the basement, etc.  The DP is the one area where I still find it very useful to use a traditional todo-list and manager–I use Remember the Milk and put my items in a “Household” list with no due date, then use the GMail widget to pull the list into a location I see a lot throughout the day, so I can think about the potential projects and choose the one(s) that fit the best with my particular day.  The added benefit is that this declutters my brain: by writing down the little things I need to do “some day soon,” I no longer have to actively think about or remember them!

~ * ~

Yes, some past-tense there which doesn’t make much sense considering I just drew up my formal schedule on Sunday.  But some of this–particularly the distinction between different kinds of cleaning, and the idea of “projects,” is things I’ve been doing for a while.

Homemaking, Musings, Time Management

Finding My Routine

I am one of those people who thrives with a little checklist.  It makes me focused, dedicated, determined, and I love that feeling every time I cross a task off the list.

But the problem with housework is that it’s kind of insurmountable to create a good list.  There are so many recurring tasks, so many tasks that depend on others, and so many things that crop up that I can’t possibly plan for in advance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to create such a list.  I’ve made spreadsheets, schedules, and checklists; I’ve tried Remember the Milk and Toodledo; I’ve even written my own little program to manage my tasks the way I prefer them managed.  I’ve read Flylady  and Shopping for Time and countless blogs on the subject.

And still, I can’t quite compile a list that actually works in our house.

Some lists don’t have enough, and I end up not getting enough done.  Some lists are so overwhelming with the detail and scheduling that the second I have a day that goes utterly unaccording to plan, I’m instantly so far behind on my to-do list that I pretty much have to scrap the entire thing.

This morning, I hit on a new idea: I’m not hopelessly inept at the actual doing of household things, it’s just the planning that trips me up.  (Although the planning certainly makes the doing more efficient.)  So–what if I made a list of the way my day would go, on a “good” day, with the tasks and chores that I get done?  And what if I left it sufficiently vague so that on a really good, energetic day, I can do all the tasks really well and thoroughly, and even work in a bit extra–but so that on a bad day, I can just do the bare minimum and not fall completely off the chart?  What if I don’t account for all the tasks that I do anyway (like brushing my teeth), and make sure I’m only spending time worrying about (and feeling good about completing) the tasks that I actually have to work to find the motivation to do?

And so I made a new list, and I called it a “routine” instead of a to-do list.  Because really, this isn’t a list of things I need to accomplish, this is just the way my day needs to be structured and the habits that I need to form.  I’ve failed too many times to be very optimistic about the success of said “routine” layout, but I’ve never quite felt so strongly that a list was in harmony with the way my days really happen, or that it had the right blend of flexibility and high expectations.

We’ll see how it goes… tomorrow!