Habits

How we're handling screen time

1705_boys_screentime 

I had strong thoughts about how we'd handle screen time with our kids even before I was pregnant. I'd love to share an update on how we're handling screen time with the boys. 

In short, they get very limited screen time and our approach is essentially as I imagined it would be. Among my in-person and online friend circles my sense is that our family is among those that have the most restrictive screen time rules with their kids. I wanted to share our approach to screen time not to make anyone feel guilty about the screen time their kids have. Just like anything parenting related that I share, my intention is to be honest about how we're handling something that can have many options. This is how we're choosing to approach screen time right now, and it will surely change as the boys get older. 

Our approach to screen time for the boys is based on how I grew up (no television was allowed on the weekdays), how Chris and I currently consume media via screens, what I've read about the importance of active versus passive activities for kids, and also just my own parent gut feeling. Trying to synthesize the different articles, studies, and recommendations about screen time for kids leads me to believe that there are wonderful, age-appropriate programs and games for kids. And that allowing them to watch or play these within reason* is not detrimental to their development. However, I haven't read a study that says that it's MORE beneficial for a child to be using a screen versus not using a screen. For us the conclusion is we'd rather create an environment with very limited screen time. It's certainly not the only conclusion. 

But the boys don't have a completely screen-free life. Here are the ways our boys do get screen time right now at ages 2 and 4:

+ During haircuts.

Chris cuts the boys hair every 4 - 8 weeks at home. So far the most reliable way to get the boys to sit still is to let them watch something on the computer. During haircuts Dash has watched part of The Incredibles movie and parts of Lego movie. More recently we have put on episodes of Sesame Street for them and I'd love to show them Reading Rainbow, which I still have vivid memories of watching and loving.

+ During airplane flights.

We fly about once a year with the boys, usually a two-hour flight to Austin. We pack lots of activities and snacks but queue up a couple shows and games as plan B. Cedric is only just now getting to the age when watching something might hold his attention.

+ To see pictures of themselves or friends.

When we take pictures of the boys they usually want to see the picture we took so we'll show them. Sometimes that leads to swiping through pictures but it'll only be for a couple of minutes. 

+ At school.

In Dash's preschool class they occasionally watch short videos related to what they are learning. Dash is also enrolled in a preschool computer class that is offered through his school. He attends once a week for about an hour. I don't feel it's essential that he learns how to use a computer at this age but he really enjoys it so we've been happy for him to go. Cedric gets very limited screen time at school. 

+ At grandparent's houses.

When we visit my parents in Austin or when Dash has a sleep over at Chris's parents we let the boys watch a movie or show. 

By limiting screen time our intention is to teach them to be resourceful about entertainment and inspiration. When they are old enough to choose how to live their lives and how much time to spend watching screen-based programs I hope we've given them a foundation for being more likely to choose a book or to be outside or to hang out with friends rather than passively consuming via a screen. I am not saying that letting your kids use screens means they won't read or be outside or have friends. But I do feel concern over the amount of television Americans watch on average (5 hours PER DAY) and also the effects that it can have on health and happiness (a blog post that Chris wrote but with some great references linked). We're biased, of course, because we chose to ditch our television. But then what is parenting if not instilling the values you deem important in your kids?

I'll admit that at times I have thought, "It would be so much easier if I could let them watch something right now!" Although ultimately allowing regular screen time actually feels like it would be much more difficult rather than essentially never allowing screen time. In instances where we've shown the boys pictures on our phone or when they have been able to watch a video they has asked for more pictures and more videos. Usually a "no" from us leads to whining or a melt down. So in our house no screen time also means one less thing that might cause a melt down. This feels significant! 

I remember when Dash was around 18 months or 2 years old when he first started noticing our phones. We would show him a picture occasionally or a Blue's Clues episode. This was around the time when Cedric was born AND when Dash was waking at 4 AM most days and sometimes we really did need a way to get Dash to sit quietly in one spot for a few minutes. However, this led to Dash being even more interested in our phones and getting upset when he couldn't hold it or watch something. It reinforced our thinking that essentially no screen time is just easier to manage than some screen time. 

 

* The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends no screen time except video chatting for children 18 months and under. They recommend and hour or less of high-quality programming watched with a parent or caregiver for children ages 2 - 5. 


What I spent: April 2017

What I spent: April 2017 | RISING*SHINING

Tracking our spending assiduously, including my own personal allowance spending, continues to be so satisfying. I'm finding it easy in some ways to stick (pretty much) to my budget of $100 of personal allowance spending per month, but hard in other ways.

There are SO! MANY! things I want to buy during the month. By sharing my purchases at the end of the month I might make it look easy to stick to a personal allowance budget but please know that it is not without plenty of restraint!

I've noticed that I'm especially bombarded with "wants" scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest. No surprise but it does leave me thinking of ways to avoid triggering a "buy" impulse. I've shared my method of snapping a photo instead of making a purchase when I'm in a store. I now have collections on my phone for DECOR, CLOTHES, and PLANTS. Those seem to be the things where I'm most tempted to spend money. That helps but wanting to spend up to and beyond my monthly budget remains something I have to actively fight. I've started unsubscribing to brand Instagram feeds for that reason. Instead, I'll try to save a photo to Pinterest of something I like from the brand and then unsubscribe from the feed. 

What all this makes me thing of is how incredibly, and perhaps grossly, privileged I am. On the one hand I can fret that there are so many things that others have that I "can't have." On the other hand, I can think of how rich you have to be to have a budget of $100 per month to spend on whatever you want. I recognize how luxurious this is. But then when you surround yourself with others living the same luxurious life it's alarming how easy it is to feel that I don't have enough.

I try to practice gratitude regularly for all that I have, to get perspective on how wealthy we are and to look for fulfillment outside of material possessions. But I do want to be honest that there are plenty of things I'd love to buy and often wish that I could.   

What I spent in April:

$10.88 - vintage Girl Scout Handbook found while antiquing. I love finding old books on topics dear to me. I was a Girl Scout until my junior year in high school and have fond memories of earning badges and camping in the woods. I'm still friend with many of the girls from Troop 1039.

$16.71 - embroidery supplies to work on the embroidery pattern that I purchased in March. I started the project in Austin and spent a few hours over the week stitching on my parents beautiful screened-in back porch and looking at the Texas oak trees.

$3.99 - coffee at Starbucks for myself and one of Dash's preschool teachers. She mentioned she hadn't had time to have coffee that day and I said that no one who teaches preschoolers should be without coffee.

$12.62 - breakfast at the airport on my way to Austin.

$18.78 - breakfast tacos and coffee with a dear girl friend while home in Austin, my treat. We arrived for breakfast and stayed until they were starting to bring out fajitas for the lunch crowd around us. 

$5.41 - coffee + cookie treat during a work day which felt so luxurious. Technically I could not include this in my monthly spending because my dad always likes to slip me a $20 when I'm home so I used "dad dollar" cash. But to be conservative I'm counting it against my monthly spending.

$15.00 - mascara x 2 (because I'm trying to change my mascara more frequently instead of using the same one for more than a year) and cuticle clippers.

$31.68 - dinner at Postino to celebrate a girl friend's birthday. The best bruschetta.

$2.11 - again with the Starbucks! Small cup of coffee. In my defense, a colleague asked me to connect with someone they know for a networking/informational interview. 

Total spent: $117.18 out of $100 budgeted. 

 

In March $101.35 out of $100 budgeted

In February 2017: $78.57 of $100 budgeted

In January 2017: $126.25 of $150 budgeted


Goals - March 2017

Goals - March 2017 | RISING*SHINING

The year is trucking along and it feels like a good time to check in on my 2017 goals and recommit to them. At the beginning of the year I was reminding myself of CHOOSE on a daily basis and reflecting on gratitude often. February ended up feeling so full and I fell out of the practice.  March is a perfect time to recommit to choosing family and writing, gratitude, and action.

Big things happening in March:

+ St. Patrick's Day. Not usually a big deal for us but we love to make any holiday a little special for the boys. We're thinking of having either family or friends over for an Irish themed dinner that night. 

+ Family and friend birthdays. There are three this month!

In March I choose to...

+ Plan Dashiell's birthday party. Oh my heart - FOUR!

+ Create a photo book using our wedding photos. I have digital versions of photos from our 2010 wedding but have never made a book. Hoping to have this finished by our 7th anniversary!

+ Buy some new plants for our front yard. 

+ Not make many weekend plans. Last weekend we had a gloriously unplanned weekend and it was so good for my soul. I loved being together as a family and going with the flow of where the weekend took us. I'd love to try to create more of that in our life. 

+ Launch two new Neighborly Advice classes with The Girl Next Door Podcast. We'll be retiring the first two classes at the end of the month in case you are interested but haven't purchased yet. 

Recurring monthly goals:

+ Spend 15 minutes each day on creative writing. This is any writing that's just for me. It could be blogging, writing in the boys' memory journal or working on an essay.

Update: Still not getting to this every day but I love having it as something I'm striving to do every day.

+ Make Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings for work and leave Thursday and Friday open. As part of CHOOSING family and writing I want to get my work done for my podcasts and Copper Quail Style early in the week so that evenings later in the week are free. It's easy to put this work off to another night since timing is flexible but getting it done earlier will mean I can relax sooner.

Update: Trying to get back on track with this after a full February and having weeks where I worked nearly every night.

+ Check Mint at least once each week. To CHOOSE savings I need to be mindful of every transaction and stick to my monthly personal allowance budget.

Update: Yes! Still keeping this up and I love how in tune with our finances we are. As a result of both Chris and I checking Mint more often we are staying on budget better than we ever have before. 

 

Happy March!

 


For the love of finishing things

For the love of finishing things | RISING*SHINING

Last year I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and I still think of it often.  Erica and I even discussed it in a Girl Next Door Book Club

In the book, Rubin outlines four habit tendencies - Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, Obliger - which describe how a person responds to internal and external expectations. (You can take the quiz here to find out your tendency.) I'm an upholder and respond equally to internal and external expectations. In other words, I love goals and enjoy meeting them. Surprise!! I had so many lightbulb moments while reading about my own personality and having it articulated in new ways. Plus, what is more fascinating than learning about yourself?

After describing the four tendencies Rubin covers lots of other traits we should consider when trying to make or break a habit. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Are you a moderator (a little at a time) or an abstainer (all or nothing)? Are you an opener or a finisher?

Lately I've been thinking about this last one: opener or finisher. When Erica and I chatted about the book on The Girl Next Door Book Club I thought I was an opener. I have so many things going on! So I must love to start things. 

But one morning as I was grabbing my lunch and coffee, about to head out the door, a little collection on the counter caught my eye. It was a squeezed and nearly empty bottle of Aquaphor, a Burt's Bees so near the end that the internal tube of chapstick will pop out and an upturned bottle of Trader Joe's white pine lotion (an attempt to use every last bit). Later at work I found that I had another bottle of upturned Trader Joe's lotion.

Then I thought of the way I have a hard time buying new deodorant until I have nearly none left (still obsessed with this by the way). And also how I'm still wearing casual shoes that I love even though they have a hole in the toe and running shoes I've been wearing for nearly 4 years (it's a miracle I don't have chronic shin splints). I love to wear things until they wear out and since these are still functioning it's hard for me to buy new.

It's not just material things. At work I find so much more energy and satisfaction in finishing a project than starting a new one.  

And so it dawned on me that maybe, in fact, I am a finisher. I love to follow-through and complete something that I said I would do. I am an upholder, after all. Being a finisher definitely supports my somewhat frugal sensibilities and definitely my minimalist sensibilities. I do not have interest in trying lots of different shampoos, eye shadows, shoes or accessories for example. Maybe my finisher nature is why! I used to follow a blogger who shared a favorite beauty product round up each month. I realized that it actually really stressed me out to think of having 7 - 10 NEW products every month. There's no way I would ever use all of that! Or want to store it all.

But my finisher nature doesn't apply to all things. I abandon books if I don't at least enjoy them somewhat.  I also don't mind getting rid of things if I'm not using them at all as opposed to feeling that I must "use it up."  I've never been a pack rat but especially after reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up I don't like to hold on to something because maybe I'll use it. Or maybe it's that I can't stand not making progress on finishing something so I'd rather just get rid of it.

I was chatting with Chris about this and he also thinks he's a finisher. In fact he said, "Yeah, didn't you notice how I put some water in the body wash to make it last longer?" He wants to use every last drop of that body wash. I actually did draw the line at overly-diluted body wash and cracked open the new bottle. 

I've been trying to think of how this insight about being a finisher should apply to my life. Part of the power of getting insight into my own personality is recognizing the person I am and not fighting against it. Maybe it will even bolster my commitment to having less and buying fewer things. By having fewer things I can enjoy finishing them or using them up. For the most part I can't think of habits or practices that I need to change but it's interesting to see some of my habits in light of finisher tendencies. 

What about you - do you think you're an opener or a finisher, and how does that affect you? 

 


For the love of grocery lists and spreadsheets

171_grocerylist

What you see above is my new and improved grocery list. It makes me ridiculously happy. So does talking about grocery list habits (totally serious). So let's talk about it. 

Let me answer a few questions. Yes, the columns are arranged by aisle content at my Trader Joe's. And yes, our most frequently purchased items are listed according to where they are in the store. And yes! there is a spot for listing meals and items to purchase elsewhere (Target/other grocery store) at the bottom. I KNOW. 

Designing a grocery list template like this is something I had on my mental to-do list forever. Finally I made the time to do it. And like many things that I put off, it ended up taking maybe 30 minutes and I wondered why it had taken me so long to do it.

To make the template I created a spreadsheet in Excel and organized the columns to reflect the aisles at our Trader Joe's (where we shop each week). Since I had the room, I have most columns reflect just one side of one aisle. So if I were a tiny shopper in this spreadsheet I'd be walking down the line dividing the columns, grabbing jam from the right and vitamins and toilet paper on the left.

Then I added our frequently bought items on the correct "aisle." I was able to do this mostly from memory but as I find a frequent item that I missed I just update the template. I'm also finding that our frequently bought items change over time, so I'll update the template accordingly.

To make a grocery list I indicate an item that we need by circling it. If we need something that's not already on the template I'll write it on the correct "aisle" and then circle it. I prefer to take a highlighter to the grocery store and cross items off that way. Because I'm adventurous that way.

The best part about this layout is that it's exactly how my mom made our grocery list when I was growing up. So now you know where I get it.

I printed about 10 of these and have them clipped to the side of the fridge. Also on the side of the fridge is a small white board where we jot down items we run out of or need throughout the week. So when I sit down to make a grocery list I grab a grocery list template and first circle or write in any items from the whiteboard.

At the bottom I write out dinner ideas or anything special we are going to make (like if we are hosting friends for dinner).  Then I circle or write in and circle items that we'll need for those meals/recipes and round out the grocery list with anything else we need. Such as BOURBON for maple bourbon ciders on my big Christmas Eve/Christmas shopping list above. 

And if you are not already convinced to give this a whirl, have I mentioned that one day at Trader Joe's a 60s-ish man stopped to admire my grocery list and proceed to ask if he could take me home with him? Still got it, guys. But honestly, it was not creepy and he kept exclaiming to his wife throughout his shopping trip about my organized list. This is the kind of first impression you want to make on people! 

I'd love to hear how you make your grocery list! I've tried an app but I hate having to take my phone out a million times at the store and keep waking it up. For now old fashioned paper is working for me. Grocery list-making is one of those weird topics that seems mundane but that completely fascinates me. So do tell!