Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Odds and Evens

Mr. 4 year old asked this week, “If Daddy wants to play with me and you want me to help you with work, would you cut me in half?” Such a wacky, but innocently sweet, question from my little man. (We’ll gloss over that daddy is perceived as the fun one and I’m the one working around the house.)

It’s not unusual to have these dilemmas about sharing in our household though, whether that’s who gets the treasured “truck spoon” pictured above or who gets to open the garage door. Cutting a person or object in half is rarely the answer.

I don’t have room in my brain to remember if big brother got the blue cup last time or not. I don’t know whose turn it is (and I frankly don’t care), so I solved the issue with a simple rule. Odd days of the month are for Mr. 7 year old and even days are for Mr. 4 year old. Now the kids don’t argue over whose turn it is. Instead, they see that they disagree on something and ask what day it is. The victor celebrates the win while the other pouts but quickly moves on. (And, bonus, my kids quickly learned about even and odd numbers!)

You may be thinking, “That’s great, Stephanie, but you are favoring odd days. Many months have 31 days, giving Mr. 7 year old more days than Mr. 4 year old.” Nope! The 31st (and Feb 29 this year) are mommy and daddy’s days. We get to open the garage door those days.

So there.

Nanny nanny boo boo.

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Friday Fav: Halloween and Fall Decorations

Our kids are very excited about Halloween this year, even if it may look a bit different from previous years. I don’t anticipate we’ll be ringing any doorbells to say, “Trick or treat!” Though I’m hearing others in our neighborhood are interested in setting out stations or bowls of candy for kids to grab from instead. My boys have picked out ninja costumes already and wear them on the regular. Bonus, ninja costumes don’t look weird with masks!

We haven’t gone all out this year decorating our home for Halloween or Fall, mainly because the space I tend to dress up the most is currently the virtual school spot for the boys. There are, however, a few festive spiders and bats that the kids enjoyed placing around the house.

Outside our decor is limited to these super cute ghosts I found at the grocery store (oddly enough) years ago and a front door decorated to look like a monster. Mr. 7 year old was particularly into transforming our door into a goofy-looking monster and took over the project. It tends to fade quickly in the sun and gets wet in the rain, but it’s fun to do nonetheless.

Our minimalist Halloween decorations

But what we have really enjoyed this year even more than prior years is spending time during our morning walks, before school starts, admiring the neighbors’ decorations. There are a few homes that have really gone all out with scary beasts, spooky zombies, and blowups that we always spot something new each time we venture out. It’s a nice pick-me-up to start the day and a good reminder that even though our routines are different this year, there are unanticipated bonuses. I love our new routine and the surprises it reveals.

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Wow in the World Podcast

Perhaps I should have titled this post as my sons’ Friday Fav because this is actually one of their favorites.

Wow in the World is a podcast provided by NPR. It is pitched as “The #1 podcast for kids and their grown-ups. Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz share stories about the latest news in science, technology, and innovation. Stories that give kids hope, agency and make us all say ‘WOW’!”

Mindy and Guy Raz are wacky characters who keep the show interesting and end up teaching our kids a bunch of interesting facts. From what I’ve heard, Mindy is the comic relief and constant goofball, while Guy Raz is more practical.

We’ve started using the podcast as an incentive to get to bed. If the boys are ready for bed on time, they can listen to a podcast while tucked in their beds. If they go to bed early, they can have two podcasts. They decide who gets to pick the podcast for the evening based on whether it’s an odd or even day.

The next morning, we get a rundown of all of the new information they’ve learned. I got a full debrief on bees the other day after they listened to The Buzz on Bee Barf! Over the holidays, there was even some contest where the children were asked to submit a design for a gingerbread mansion in hopes of win a prize. Mr. 7-Year-Old is never into these activities, but he jumped at the chance to participate in this one.

I’ve found that kid centric podcasts are not only a great option at bedtime. They are helpful during long car rides (when we actually went places) or when you want the kids to stay engaged in a boring task like cleaning. It’s a win for them because they are entertained and a win for me because it’s educational. Love it!

Happy Friday!

Posted in Blog

Striking the Right Mood In Our Alternative to the “Formal Living Room”

I’m a huge fan of making mood boards or vision boards for rooms before I redecorate. I’d like to say it’s for some sophisticated reason, but the truth is that I need to “see” something before I know whether it works or not. Since we’re in the process of redecorating around here, I’m sharing the mood board for our den that I made in a PowerPoint slide.

This room is technically supposed to be the “formal living room,” but seeing as we’re not really entertaining right now and these types of formal spaces are out of vogue anyway, we are going with a den. To me, a den is a space to unwind with family or maybe even escape to get away from others for a while. I want to use this room to play games and do puzzles with the kids, grab a book from the shelf and read in relative quiet, or escape to have a drink with friends. There’s no TV, but rather cozy places to chill out without a screen.

Okay, so I want this room to be all the things.

We’ll see what we can make happen.

Before we got serious about painting the room, the space was the kids’ playroom. It worked well for many years because the toys were largely contained, and I could easily keep my eyes and ears on them. This was a great solution with early walkers and destructive toddlers.

One of our original playroom setups

Now that the boys are 5 and 7 years old, though, I don’t need to hear and see them constantly. Honestly, I could go for a lot less noise and fewer LEGO pieces underfoot on the regular. Moving the playroom to an upstairs bedroom (with a door!) has given us this space.

My husband graciously agreed to support this redesign and move of rooms, thank goodness! We’re currently in the middle of the project having moved the playroom and painted the den. Now we’re waiting for furniture to be delivered, and then I’ll add the finishing touches. Now we’re getting to the fun part of the project! I’m sure I’ll share photos when we’re all done.

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Reflections On How Time Is Perceived

I’m currently reading Laura Vandercam’s book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. Of course, with that title, I couldn’t pass it up. Plus, I’ve been following Laura on her Best of Both Worlds podcast for some time. I like what she has to say.

My October book recommendations post will surely rate this book highly. But, even now, when I’m only halfway through it, it’s made me reevaluate about how I’m using my time. It’s a concept I circle back to regularly in my life, and I guess we all should revisit the idea from time to time. Am I spending time on pursuits that I value, bring joy, and make this one life we are living better for me and others?

I remember going through this reflective exercise after my older son was born. I have always been a list-maker who only feels accomplished as plans are executed. Babies and toddlers don’t follow plans. Ha! Nope, not at all. I had to shift my mindset. My goals were no longer to spend the weekends getting dishes done, laundry washed and folded, etc. as fast as possible so I could relax. My focus was on spending time with my little guy. Now the chores still needed to happen, so when my son was old enough, he helped. Sure, it made the whole endeavor take three times longer, but my perception of how I was supposed to be spending my time changed, so it didn’t matter.

I went through this exercise again right before I started this blog. It had been a daydream of mine for years to start a blog, but I never began. Oh sure, there were tons of reasons. I didn’t know how to start. No one cares what I have to say. I didn’t have the time. These were “reasons” and fears that I could overcome. After going through a time tracking exercise, I realized I did have the time to blog. I Googled a bit to figure out how to do it, picked a path, made a loose plan on what to write about, and started writing. I hope others read it, but I’ll write nonetheless.

I’m starting to get that itch again that I want to experience more in life. There are things I want to do with the kids before they are too big. There are places I want to explore around where we live that we never go to because we live here and “we can go any time.” Well, “any time” needs to happen. And as much as I want someone else to plan all of these adventures for me so I just have to show up, that’s not going to occur. I need to make the plans for any activity our family deems safe at the moment and just do it.

To begin, of course, I made a list. Then, we talked about it as a family. (What?! You don’t spend family meals planning out a bucket list of experiences!? Ha!)

I aim for the stars. “Let’s go to the Grand Canyon!”

The kids don’t know what they don’t know and ask for the familiar. It’s evidence that we’ve made some fun memories in the past that they want to repeat. “Let’s go back to the trampoline park!”

My husband likes to relive favorites with the boys. “Let’s watch the Marvel movies together.”

I think the best way to start making these happen is to consider adding them to our seasonal bucket lists posted on our command center. Every time I make the next season’s list, I’ll try to add at least one or two items from our family bucket list so they actually get the attention they deserve and start to happen.

This is my kind of thought exercise! I’m not trying to get more productive so I’m getting 6 hours of work completed in 4 hours instead. I’m thinking about how I want to spend time with my family and get more joy out of life. This is my true priority.

Posted in Blog

People to Know Series: #1 Meet Michelle Da Silva

I’m excited to kickoff a new series today highlighting guest contributors! The whole notion behind this series is that there are all kinds of different people out there that I like to get to know and learn from along the way. I’ve been amazed over the years to learn that there are so many other women, employees, and parents out there who share my concerns, struggles, and triumphs. We have so much in common but sometimes very different life experiences or methods for living this one crazy life we get.

I want to learn more about everyone, and I’m curious about the nitty gritty. What routines do you put in place to survive chaotic mornings? How do you strike a balance between work/school/parenting/etc.? What have you learned along the way in your journey through life?

These guest blog posts are a start to those types of conversations. Therefore, each guest contributor has graciously agreed to answer some questions for me.

I’m pleased to introduce Michelle Da Silva as my first guest contributor! She is a blogger I follow at www.growingwithspawn.com. Check her out there or on Pinterest and Instagram at growingwithspawn or on Twitter as ShellyDS2.

SS: Describe yourself in a tweet’s worth of words.

MDS: I’m a working, millennial mom who feels like a kid trapped in a grown up world.

SS: Walk us through what a typical day in the life looks like. What are your routines, and where are you spending your time?

MDS: Pre Covid, my routine involved waking up at 4:30am to go for a 5am CrossFit class. After this I would rush back home to shower, prep my toddler for daycare and head to work. My work days usually started at around 7:30 and ended close to 6pm. When I get home in the evening, the focus is on giving my little one a bath while my husband makes dinner.

SS: What does self care mean to you, and how do you work it into your life?

MDS: I’m not the best when it comes to self care but I make sure to include exercise and healthy food otherwise I’m terrible to be around. It is crucial to make time for yourself each day to do at least one thing you love be it soaking in the tub, running through your face routine or even lifting heavy equipment in a smelly room.

SS: What’s one productivity hack you don’t think others will know?

MDS: Cook in bulk over the weekend and store the extra food in the freezer. It makes it so much easier to have a homemade meal during the week when you’re too busy to cook.

SS: What are your favorite weekend activities?

MDS: My weekends are all about my daughter. I have her signed up for swimming classes and almost always have a play date scheduled.

SS: If you could go back 10 years and offer yourself advice, what would you say?

MDS: If I could travel back in time, I would most likely tell my younger self to slow down and just breathe because everything will turn out okay. I was an anxious and depressed teenager but in hindsight, everything I went through has equipped me to raise a strong and intelligent daughter. 

Many thanks to Michelle for being my first collaborator. If you would like to be a guest contributor, please email me at stephanie.spinapolice@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Blog

My Daily Inner Monologue Regarding Back to School

I have been postponing writing anything about the 2020-2021 school year on here because I just don’t want to think about it. Funny enough, though, it’s all I seem to be thinking about these days. Just ask my husband. I’m driving him crazy.

Our county schools have opted for 100% virtual education for at least the start of the 2020-2021 school year. I will avoid giving my opinion on the politics of this choice. Our family is privileged enough to make virtual learning work. I fully acknowledge there is no good solution to making sure our elementary-aged children are well educated while keeping everyone healthy.

Last Spring’s online classes for the kids didn’t go particularly well. Our public school district botched the rollout and couldn’t get technology issues easily resolved. There is a lot of pressure on the schools to “get it right” for the Fall, and I’m anxious about it. There’s a greater expectation for kids to be online during the day and the sample schedule I’ve seen have the kids busy during much of the normal school day. I have no idea how we’re going to keep two young kids focused on graded schoolwork and Zoom classes while my husband and I work from home, even with our two-hour shifts.

I’m again so thankful for my employer who allows us to make our own hours. But, I still need to be available for my team members and clients throughout the day. And, I really don’t want to be waking up before dawn and working after the kids’ bedtime for an undetermined number of months just so I can sit beside my kindergartener to make sure he’s paying attention during circle time. I CAN do this, yes, but it sounds miserable for all involved and not terribly educational.

I’m trying to keep our options open for next year, but I’m running out of time. I’m considering homeschooling one or both of the kids so they can at least entertain themselves or go to some sort of daycare for the remaining portions of the day. It’s a full-year commitment though, and I’m hopeful the younger elementary kids will get back into a classroom sooner rather than later.

There are some private schools that are going back full time, but I’m pretty convinced that they will end up being told to close for at least a portion of the year. Then, we’d be paying for a private school and still be back to virtual teaching.

I’ve researching “podding” (geesh, what a word) but haven’t seriously explored it. The ones that have tutors and teachers leading them, understandably so, are EXPENSIVE. The whole pod movement seems to be figuring itself out. Nothing is clear cut, which makes me hesitate and avoid wading into the water. For instance, if I’m paying for a tutor to come to my house two days a week and a neighbor’s house three days a week, how do you handle payment, taxes, insurance? Ugh, forget it!! I don’t have the time and energy to get into all of that.

For now, the kids are going back to public school, even though it is going to be virtual. As long as the official school day schedule isn’t crazy, we’ll probably stay with the public school. My big concern is that the kids don’t go back to the classroom at all this year, because then I would have wished we homeschooled, but I can’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the nature of a pandemic. At least the school board is saying they want K-2 back into the school once it is feasible.

I keep telling myself to breathe. One day at a time. These “grades” the kids are going to get don’t really matter. They will learn what they need to learn because I will focus on the fundamentals with them at home like we’ve been doing since March 13, 2020 – the day “the world turned upside down.” (Look! A Hamilton reference! I’m driving my husband crazy with those too.)

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Friday Fav: Solo Kid Time

One thing I’ve missed from “The Good Times” before COVID was having a bit of time every week solo with the kids. Mr. 4 year old would start school before Mr. 7 year old, so I’d have about an hour with Mr. 7 year old in the AM and 30 minutes or so with Mr. 4 year old many days. It was a nice time to connect with them individually. Well, that time has now disappeared.

To compensate, I’ve been taking walks in the evenings with one of the kids. We determine which child joins me based on whether it’s an odd or even day.

It’s worked out really well so far. I’ve gotten to ask the kids questions and hear how they’re feeling. I ask them questions about being home so much and how they are feeling about their brother, and then I listen to a lot of information about video games. I’ve enjoyed this time together and am happy to learn that the children have adjusted so well to this new normal.

Bonus! My husband gets one-on-one time with the kid that is left at home. Mr. 4 year old helped his daddy organize the garage, which doesn’t sound like a blast, but categorizing objects and cleaning up is one of Mr. 4 year old’s favorite activities. May that forever be the case.