Friday, April 29, 2011

Frantic Friday #19 - Royal Weddings

I don't have a lot to say on the subject, but I do have one thought...

Today we watched, either live or via recording, the wedding of a prince and a new princess.  This event overshadowed war, death, starvation, nuclear radiation, natural disasters and a myriad of other ills in this world.

Some people are angry that we have changed our focus.  They are angry it cost so much and took tax dollars to fund.  They are frustrated soldiers came home from foreign lands to stand at attention along the procession path. They are frustrated with an antiquated monarchy.  I think they are just frustrated in general.

While I have not been a royal watcher, and I knew nothing more than the date of the wedding, I think I know why the world is enchanted.  It is not a complex reason, but valid non the less.

As a human race, we prefer hope and love over war and disaster. Yep, that's it.  I don't think it is anything more profound than that.  While some may dream of being royalty themselves, what is universal is the excitement we feel when experiencing love.  Watching people get married and start a new life is a time honored tradition.  When we see young people in love it is exciting.

I am sure there are plenty of arguments about political positioning, royal excess, the legitimacy of the current monarchy and all sorts of other issues, however today was about watching a public ceremony celebrating a new marriage and new hope.

Once again, given the choice, as a human race, we pick hope and love over war and death.  There is plenty of the latter to keep the news full for years. After we oooh and ahhhh for a few more hours, we will go back to reality, and the media will change its focus again.

For now, however, we can dream, we can enjoy, and we can celebrate. Not a bad thing I must say.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Motivational Monday #42 - Keep it Filed - Or Not

In our lives we deal with a ton of paperwork.  Everything from water bills to adoption papers cross our desks.  The question is what to do with it all.

The first thing to remember is that not all paperwork is created equal.  Your gas bill does not rank on the same level as the deed to your house.  Once a monthly bill is paid, and you verify it has cleared the bank, you don't need it, unless as proof of an expense.  The deed to to your house, on the other hand, is a must save item.

So in the battle of the paper pile, knowing what to file and what to shred is a major asset.  For what it is worth, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Monthly Bills - Residential bills don't need to hang around forever.  Assuming you are not using a household bill as a reimbursed expense, there is little need to hold onto the bill once payment has cleared. If you are like me, you can't get rid of it that fast, so hold onto the bills for 12 months, then shred them.
  2. Receipts - This is a big one at my house.  I love to hoard receipts.  Call it a sickness. If you ever wondered what I spent on groceries...I can show you. In reality, if you can't return it, don't keep it. Once again, I am NOT talking about business expenses, just personal expenses. So receipts for fast food, groceries, a pack of batteries, and other such disposables, do not need to hang around. Receipts for home repairs, large purchases, or warranty items need to be kept in an organized fashion.
  3. Insurance Papers - I can't tell you the number of times I have had to dig out medical insurance paperwork to verify benefits... so I am glad I keep it all.  If you spend a lot of time at the doctor's office, this can become a small mountain of paperwork in its own right.  Keep all insurance papers in a file of their own, and group by type, for example car insurance and medical insurance should be in separate folders.
  4. Tax Paperwork - It is my personal opinion that people don't file their taxes in February because they can't bear the thought of digging out all the needed paperwork, so they put it off until April.  When documents arrive that you know you will need for taxes, put them in a folder marked with that tax year.  Examples would include, property taxes, mortgage fees, pay stubs, investment documents, charitable donation receipts and medical receipts. Obviously this varies per person, but as you find these things, group them together.  You will be glad you did.
  5. Vital Records - This is the stuff we put in a "safe place" and then can't find.  Things like birth certificates, social security cards, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, adoption papers, military records, property deeds, and death certificates need to be kept safe and secure. While the magical "safe place" may seem like a good idea at the moment, a more realistic option is your copy of Prepared Binder. Collecting all you vital records keeps them safe, and allows you to access them as needed.
Okay, so there you have it, my cheat sheet to dealing with paper clutter.  Some things you file, some you shred and recycle.  As long as you do something with it, you will not be overwhelmed by it.  That said, I am off to tackle my own paper pile!  Have a great Monday.

(Now for my disclaimer...If what I said contradicts your accountant or tax preparer, then ignore me. It's okay, it won't hurt my feelings.  And remember, I am talking about personal bills, not business expenses.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blog Frog

I am trying a crazy experiment.  I have added Blog Frog to my blog, and would love those of you who are members of Blog Frog to follow me.  You can click on the widget to the right to do that right now.  For those of you who are not members, join and see all of the amazing blogs out there!

Being Mentally Prepared

If what I have seen on the news is any indication, it looks like the hardest part of any crisis is the shock you feel when something big and unexpected hits you in the face.  It must be hard to come up with a plan when all you can think about is how unexpected this change in your life is.

That said, how do you become mentally prepared for emergencies?  Few of us want to spend extra time dwelling on potential problems.  I think our grandmothers would have called that borrowing trouble.

As pleasant as it may not be, it is important to mentally walk through an emergency plan before it happens. Knowing what to do, where to go, and who to call for help will reduce a lot of stress down the road.  It will also help you determine your needs in case of emergency.  Having those needs identified and planned for can make a huge difference.

Planning ahead and thinking through an emergency does not have to be a depressing activity, it can be one of empowerment.  Taking charge of what is usually free for all type activity can leave you with a sense of peace.

So how do you become mentally prepared?  Here are a few ideas I have come up with, please add any additional thoughts in the comments.
  1. Identify what you will need to know in an emergency.  This information will be a little different for different types of emergencies, but the core things will stay the same.  While you are thinking this through, it is a good time to gather the information you have identified. (Prepared Binder is a great place to gather this case you were wondering!)
  2. Figure out what supplies you will need.  Once again, your supply list will vary based on what emergency you are planning for, but core items will remain the same.  This is a good time to organize supplies, be it camping gear, 72 hour kits or food storage.  Not all emergencies require supplies, but having the things you need readily located will help everyone.
  3. Think about medical needs.  Many of us take daily medications.  Emergencies can often disrupt medication supplies or at the very least, change who is in charge of administering medications.  If you or your children take medications, take the time to document what you use, what dosage you take and the time of day it is given.  What seems like a small thing can become a huge problem if not considered during an emergency.
  4. Find refuge.  Not all emergencies require you to leave your home, in fact most don't, however emergencies very often require us to seek the help of others. Figure out who your refuge from the "storm of emergency" will be. Knowing where to turn will make things a lot easier.
  5. Identify assets.  Assets can be monetary, but they can also be skills, knowledge, supplies, etc.  Knowing what you have to use in an emergency will help you notice holes while you still have time to fill them.
So there you go, five ways to become mentally prepared.  Planning events out in your mind will give you the time to learn new skills, locate information and practice your plan.  Those activities, coupled with your mental preparation will leave you in a much better position to deal with the emergencies in our lives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Motivational Monday #41 - 5 Steps To Get Your Calendar to Work Better For You

Today I realized I had scheduled too many things to fit in the same time slot. I hate it when that happens.

The sad part is I have no excuse for it either. I have a calendar I use all the time, and there are copies of it on my phone and ipad.  You would think with my life following me around in digital form everywhere I go that I would not double schedule myself...but alas, I do.

So what should I do about it?  Well, short of becoming a hermit and moving to outer Mongolia, I will always have things I need to do and there will always be something on my calendar.  After thinking about it, here are a few suggestions to keep this from happening to you.
  1. Put all recurring appointments on your calendar first.  If you have a standing meeting or activity, put it on your calendar as far out as possible.
  2. Include travel time in the schedule.  If you have appointments that require travel, put that on the calendar as well.  It is never fun when you have back to back appointments all the way across town with no travel time factored in. 
  3. Select days for errands.  In the name of organization and gas conservation, group your errands together, hopefully on a day you have set aside for that very purpose.
  4. Color code your activities.  Knowing at a glance that the activity is work, kid, school or entertainment related can help you get a feel for your day. This is especially important when keeping a family calendar.
  5. Put contact info with the appointment. If you are going somewhere new, add the address and/or phone number next to the entry in your calendar.  This will keep you from having to hunt down an old email or post it note when it is time go to the activity.
Using your calendar wisely can improve your time management and help you get through the day with much less stress. While there are as many calendar methods as there are types of calendars, it is important to find one that works for you.

Now I am off to fix my scheduling goof.  Oh well, who wanted to go to the dentist anyway? sigh.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frantic Friday #18 - Pulling Teeth

I have always wondered about the phrase "pulling teeth."  People say things like, "That was as hard as pulling teeth." What exactly does that mean? 

Interestingly enough, tonight I witnessed the effort behind "pulling teeth." My son has a tooth that has no good reason to still be in his head.  The permanent tooth came in long ago, so this tooth by all rights should have fallen out...but it didn't. He has wiggled at it for weeks, but tonight he was determined to get it out.  So I watched my normally hyper bouncy child stare at himself in the mirror as he wiggled back and forth, periodically giving us excited squeals of progress.

All I can say is that the Tooth Fairy is not visiting tonight. sigh

If my son is any indication, "pulling teeth" is a long process, one fraught with tedious repetitive wiggling and boredom.  He was a little surprised the rest of us weren't interested in watching him wiggle, but alas, pulling teeth seems to be an individual sport.

So what is it we do in our lives that can be compared to "pulling teeth?"  What is it we do that is long and boring, not to mention that it leaves a hole when we are done?  If I had to pick my personal "pulling teeth" moment each week, I think I would have to go with laundry.  It is long and boring, and when I am done I have a 'whole' chunk of missing time.  You?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Traveling When You Can't Eat "Normal" Food

I just headed off on my first real trip after finding out I have a ton of food sensitivities. I have traveled a bit before, but have always driven and could take my own food along with me. This time I flew. (Enter ominous theme music here.)

Here are a few of suggestions now that I have traveled and lived to tell the tale.
  1. Pack what you can eat. Check with your airline, but solid foods are usually okay to take on the plane in your carry on bags.  Now that they have eliminated almost all in flight food, it is normal to see people with bags of goodies in their carry on luggage.  There are currently restrictions on things like jellies, sauces and other gel/liquid items. (Check with the airline or TSA if you have questions.)
  2. Make a quick stop at the grocery store when you get there.  A good example from my trip is that I picked up cereal I could eat and some rice milk since I have to avoid dairy.  I also purchased peanut butter and jelly for the Gluten Free bread I brought.  I ate very well during my stay.
  3. Let friends and family know ahead of the trip that you have food restrictions.  Nothing is more awkward than having someone cook all day for you and then not be able to eat it.  I mentioned that fruit was always a good bet for me, and sure enough, the fruit plate they made for me was wonderful.  I knew I would have something I could eat safely, and they knew I wouldn't go hungry.
  4. Be prepared to talk to your waiter in restaurants.  It was a little hard explaining my large list of "don'ts" to my waiter, but he was great about it.  When the food came back prepared differently than ordered, my family jumped to my rescue and told them to try again. In the end I was able to enjoy a nice meal out and feel great afterward.
Traveling when you can't eat a standard diet can be tough.  Planning ahead can mean the difference between feeling hungry and miserable and enjoying your trip without second thoughts.

And as a last thought...Don't ever be afraid to speak up and get the food that is safe for you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Motivational Monday #40 - Drinking Water Out of a Fire Hydrant

Some days just get crazy.  Things fly at you so fast that you feel overwhelmed and discombobulated. I think the term "drinking water out of a fire hydrant" comes to mind.

In the midst of this craziness is usually when we are expected to be the most "with it."  I find it funny, but when all heck is breaking loose, someone will inevitably look at me and say, "So...what do we do?"

I'm not sure when I became the authority on every subject, and if you have met me, you will know I can panic just like everyone else, but it still happens. Someone will expect me to have the answers.  Depending on how crazy the day is, they may just expect to know what is for dinner, but that may be more information than I have to give.

So how do we manage to respond when things are coming at us hard and fast?  How do we stay calm when things are moving and changing all around us?  How do we function in a crisis?

In the simplest terms, we don't.  We rely on what we already know and what we have already decided.  In the midst of the storm is not the time to invent an umbrella.

I guess this is a long winded way of me telling you to come up with a plan.  It doesn't have to be formal written plan every time, but you need to think things through.  A simple example is having a backup plan for a quick dinner on the nights everything is too crazy to cook a full meal. A complex example is having an evacuation plan for your family.

When drinking water out of a fire hydrant, the easiest way to stop the flow of water is to step out of the way.  If you have a plan already in place it is a lot easier to do that. So take a moment and do some planning.  It will make you feel better and you will get a little less soaked!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Frantic Friday #17 - Find One Place of Peace

Having a place of peace is an important part of maintaining personal sanity.

In my house I try and have one place I can always go that is calm.  I don't want to look at junk, I don't want to hear noise and I don't want to see unfinished projects. I want peace.

For me that is my master bedroom. I try and keep that one room free of clutter and noise so that when I am there I am happy and calm. (Do you see that big grin on my face just thinking about it?)

I would suggest on this Frantic Friday that you identify a place of peace in your surroundings.  Maybe it is your bedroom, but it could also be a corner chair with fluffy pillows and a beautiful view out of the window.  Your peaceful place could be a bench in the garden or a chair by the pool.  Wherever you find your peaceful place, remember to preserve the qualities that bring you peace.

It may feel weird to etch out a tiny corner of the universe to feel peaceful, but trust me, you will be a much happier person if you do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Meal Plans

I have resisted the idea of meal plans for many years.  It felt like I organized so many parts of my life that my meals was just overdoing it a bit.  Then I remembered that I like to eat.

Have you ever noticed that you eat better when you have an idea of what is for dinner?  How many times have you looked at the clock, let out a small (and hopefully tame) expletive when you realized you had a house full of hungry people and no idea what anyone was going to eat? (Can you say - last night? Yep.)

I think that in the case of meals, a little planning can go a long way.  Having the ingredients on hand makes food prep a lot less stressful.  It also means you are more likely to shop for what you need and less likely to fill the cart with the "well that looks good" favorites. (Read: Junk)

On a preparation note, planning meals gives you a really good idea of how much food, and the types of food your family can eat in a week. Shopping when there are sales and stocking up on staple foods is a great way to expand your buying power.  For example, I always try and have spaghetti fixings in my house, so I wait for sales on the sauce my family likes.  I keep meat in the freezer and noodles in the pantry.  I know it will be a "please everyone" meal, and that is a good thing. 

I guess my point in all of this is simple.  Start to plan your meals in advance.  You will save money on groceries, you will have a plan when it comes to meal time, and you will be less stressed in the process. Mmmm, that combination sounds delicious!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Motivational Monday #39 - In the Blink of an Eye

Life sometimes feels like a long, straight, highway, with miles stretching out in front of us.  Sometimes it is a winding and curving road that never lets us catch our breath.  Then again, sometimes we find ourselves on unpaved sections, or at the edge of a cliff.

This last week has been an interesting ride of ups and downs.  For me, the road changed in an instant.

I think being prepared can be many things to many people, but to me, right now, being prepared means having a plan for those unexpected turns in the road.

In the blink of an eye my road changed from an easy Sunday drive to a crazy and bumpy dirt road.  I can not tell you how thankful I am that the preparation was in place to make that wild ride possible.

As I settle into this new stretch of road I am encouraged by the transition I just made, and ready to explore the path ahead. You never know when your journey will change in the blink of an eye...but we all know it will.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Frantic Friday #16 - Thinking of Others

If you are anything life me, your days quickly fill with to do lists and unexpected interruptions.  You may spend hours running from one activity to another, all the while feeling as if you accomplished nothing.

Today I am going to add one more (gigantic) thing to your list.  I am going to tell you to do one huge thing.  It may just knock you over...

Somewhere in the chaos of your life, you need to think of others.  Yep, there, I said it.  I went and added yet one more thing to your to do list. (You can kick me if you want to...)

Before you get too worried, I am not suggesting you take in meals to your entire neighborhood, or even that you bake cookies for the PTO meeting.  I want it to be a bit more basic.  Notice the clerk at the store, be kind to the lady in line at the post office, and maybe, just maybe, wave to the grumpy neighbor down the street.

Thinking of others does not have to take a lot of time.  It does not need to be a separate item on your list.  It just needs to be a habit we develop.  Sometimes we forget that everyone has feelings and that just because we are busy/stressed/hungry...whatever, we do not have the right to treat others poorly.

I really think that if we are kind and treat others well our overall day will be better.  I will be the first to tell you I can be grumpy, but I have never had that grumpiness get me anywhere.