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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. 


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? 

 


Home style Photo Streams to collect ideas and save money

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

I love making our home cozy and functional. It's essentially a project I'm always working on. And finally, after eight years, I'm starting to feel confident in how I want to decorate and style our home. I have a lot of ideas about the yard, too. But all these ideas often lead me to want things for the house, which can quickly translate to spending money.

This year, Chris and I have an aggressive savings goal of $20,000. We chatted our our 2017 budget and savings goals in a recent Matrimoney episode if you'd like all the details. Our savings goal is possible but it requires sticking to our budget. Lots of spending for this and that around the house won't help us get there. 

Even though I can't spend a lot I still love collecting ideas for our house and yard. It helps me learn how to get the look I want, or to figure out a cheaper solution than buying new. Sometimes just capturing an idea and sitting on it lets me let go of the desire to change something or get something new entirely; I realize that what we've got is just fine.

Pinterest is great for collecting ideas, and I love to use it, but it doesn't help me when I'm browsing Target, an antique store or a plant nursery. Me at all of these places: "I want EVERYthing!"

So I figured out something to help: take a picture!

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

Apparently I'm REALLY into giant pinecones. So if you're looking for a gift for me...

I had this idea while using iPhone Photo Stream, the shared photo album option in your Photos app if you're rocking an iPhone. If not, a shared Google Photos album is the same idea. And you know I love organizing photos with Google Photos

I already use Photo Streams for sharing pictures of the boys with friends and family, and for sharing podcast photos with Erica. I realized that I could create home style Photo Stream albums that were just for me, and that they would be a great way to "park" things that I want to buy. It's a similar idea to Pinterest except with my own photos.

So I created two home style Photo Streams for myself: DECOR and PLANTS. Essentially it's for inside the house and for our yard. I'm happy to report that these are helping me so much!

Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING Collect home ideas + save money | RISING*SHINING

Now I take photos to avoid buying impulsively or when I see something that inspires me. Recently I've been leafing through old issues of Sunset magazine to get ideas for our yard. When I see something I like I just snap a photo and add it to the PLANTS album. And when I visited a friend in Tucson we walked around a cute neighborhood and I snapped lots of pictures of desert-scaled yards.

Taking a photo is strangely satisfying and removes the back and forth worrying over "should I get this?" Now the answer is, "Not right now."

The impulse to buy is so crazy. In the moment acquiring something new feels so important. But for me, making the decision not to buy and walking away without spending extra money is much more satisfying.

 


For the love of grocery lists and spreadsheets

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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!


Managing our family photos

An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING

Digital photos can be so overwhelming. So! Overwhelming! We can fill up our phones, dump the photos somewhere and then tap, tap, tap our way to thousands of more photos. Quickly there are photos across devices and clouds (what is this cloud exactly again?) and it's hard to know even where to start. But there is hope! 

My system for managing our family photos does not require a lot of work, keeps my phone from getting filled to capacity and has me regularly printing photo books that are family keepsakes. I have an iPhone and was originally using albums in iPhoto to organize my photos and it was OK albeit a bit clunky. And then I discovered my current system using Google Photos and I feel like "Family photo management? CHECK!" It is incredibly satisfying, especially as someone who loves taking photos but has never scrapbooked or even been great at printing photos. If I can do this, so can you!

An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING

Right now my approach is to create one family photo book for each calendar year. For each of my boys I also made albums for the first year (for Dashiell to 21 months, which is about when Cedric came along). So each January through December I'm organizing photos into one Google Photos album for that calendar year. Then at the end of the year I upload all those photos into Blurb, create a simple photo book, order, and done!

Below I've broken down my system into the tools I use and the process I follow. I would also HIGHLY recommend that you first pop over to the post at Bneato Bar, which is where I got the idea in the first place. She goes over some of the technical parts of getting set up in detail and getting your photos over to Google Photos in the first place. You can do it!

Tools:

+ I use the Google Photos app on my phone and also use Google Photos on my laptop. I use the app to synch the photos from my phone while I have wifi (at home or at work) and I use Google Photos on my laptop to sort the photos into albums.

+ I take all photos with my iPhone 6S.

+ All my photo books are created and printed using Blurb.

An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING

Process:

+ Synch photos on phone to Google Photos using app. About once a month or so I synch/back up all the photos on my phone to Google Photos. I do this by opening up the app while I'm on wifi (to avoid using data) and tap the Assistant tab. The app automatically starts backing up all photos. I leave the app open and set my phone aside and let it finish the back up. 

+ Delete photos from phone. This is so scary the first couple of times! But once all the photos have been backed up to Google Photos I go into my iPhone photos, select all (which can be done by holding down your finger on one photo to select and then dragging down - just learned this!) and delete! 

+ Organize photos into Google Photo album(s). At the beginning of a calendar year I create an album in Google Photos called "Team Wharton [YEAR]," so this year I'm working on Team Wharton 2016. After I synch new photos from my phone I'll open Google Photos on my laptop, select all the photos that are candidates for being included in our annual family photo book and add them to our Team Wharton album. I'd also like to start doing albums for trips that we take so this would be another album that I would create, like "PNW Adventure 2016." You can select and add photos to Google Photos albums from your phone but I find it easier to do on a laptop.

Another thing I like is being able to make my Team Wharton albums shared with Chris. This way he can add photos that he takes right into the album. I'll admit that he is not adding photos regularly so as we head towards the end of the year I'll have to make sure I get all his 2016 photos but in theory you could have several family members contributing photos. 

+ Create an annual photo book using Blurb. At the beginning of a new calendar year I create a photo book in Blurb for the previous year. I set time in my calendar to do this over a few days, like my lunch break at work for a week, or a few nights post-bedtime. This is key! If I don't put it in my calendar it doesn't happen.

When I'm ready to start I'll make sure that I have pictures from Chris as well as from the grandparents to complete the Team Wharton album. Once that is done I open Google Photos in my laptop, select all photos in the Team Wharton album, and download them to my computer. This is so that I have all the photos in one spot to upload to Blurb.

Next, I open the Bookwright software from Blurb (it has to be downloaded to your computer). I've found that I've had to re-download this when I make a new album, not sure if I'm doing something wrong, but it's quick so not a big deal. I always choose the 7 inch x 7 inch photo book with an image wrap hard cover and glossy paper. I've been really happy with the quality.

In the Bookwright software I upload photos from my computer and select all the photos that I just downloaded from my Google Photos album. All the photos appear in a "photo bin" at the bottom of the Bookwright software. 

Then, over a few days, I build a photo book. I do each spread fairly quickly and intentionally don't spend a ton of time thinking about layouts. The photos are uploaded in the same order as they were in Google Photos and so maintain chronological order for the most part. So I work from the left side of the photo bin to the right and the photo book ends up in chronological order as well.

I love the pages with a single photo and full bleed (to the edge of the page) so I do that a lot. It's a simple but impactful layout. Or I'll sometimes put a few photos together on a page but have found that my favorite is the single photo with full bleed. I don't worry about how long the book is getting, it'll be what it will be. I don't add text. I've had thoughts of writing with sharpie on the pages afterwards but so far haven't done that with any of them.

An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING

Putting together the photo book takes me a few days but once I get going it's not laborious and it's so fun to see all our adventures from the year. When I'm done, the photo book gets uploaded to Blurb where it can be saved or ordered. Blurb often has discount codes so if I can't find one at the time I'll wait a few weeks and check again.

....and that's it!

I've been surprised at how much the boys love to look through the family photo books already - I thought they would be something they would enjoy "one day" as adults. And looking through them helps solidify my memories of things as well - that trip to the park where the bee was buzzing around us, the day we checked the mail in the rain. The little everyday adventures that are so abundant and specific to this time of life but pass so quickly.

An easy solution for managing family photos | RISING*SHINING

I'd love to know what memory keeping works for you, or if you have any questions about what I'm doing just ask in the comments. 

Happy organizing!

P.S. We chatted all about family memory keeping, including my approach with Google Photos on The Girl Next Door Podcast!