Achieving Inbox Zero

My relationship with email has changed dramatically over time.  In middle and high school getting an email was as exciting as a letter in the mailbox.  In college I had it open almost constantly, answering emails as they came in.  I only deleted junk mail, leaving everything else in the inbox so I could find it.

After I married Andrew I was introduced to the concept of Inbox Zero.  He archived everything (still does), figuring he could just search for it later.  Well that seriously stressed me out.  How would I even remember that I was supposed to search for it?

My respond as emails come in and leave them where they are worked through my first year or so of motherhood.  Then Emily started to “check her email” on her rocks.  I knew I needed to change.  I stopped working on the computer when she was awake and only glanced at the most relevant/important emails that I saw via notifications.

Over time I realized I LOVED not being connected.  I would go two or three or five days without really taking care of my inbox.  Because I was glancing at things as they came in, I stopped responding almost entirely to emails or incredibly late.  I started loosing emails, dropping responsibilities, and became genuinely scared of my email.

When I hit 36 or 37 weeks pregnant with Nathan I decided I would clear out my inbox.  I had around 15,000 emails.  I deleted the junk email, unsubscribed from email lists I no longer cared about, and created labels to sort everything out by era (Des Moines, Canada, Bettendorf, BYU, Indiana). I also added a category for pictures, recipes, specific people, church responsibilities, and receipts.    I sorted through everything while watching Person of Interest with Andrew, had a baby, and continued my old pattern of glancing at emails, leaving them where they are at, and not responding.  It was burst of anxiety every time I thought it about it (which was not very often – I loved the facade of being freed from my email).

When I signed up for the Mind Organizations for Moms course the very first step was tackling your email inbox.  I was skeptical and a bit nervous, but immediately started listening to the podcast explaining the process (while washing dishes, because April Perry knows we don’t have time to stare at our computer screens) and printed out the PDF with all the steps outlined.  She laid out the system so clearly – set up these five labels in your email (Action, Immediate Action, Waiting, Someday, Incubation) and walk through a simple process to put every email in its place. She warned the first 100-200 would be the hardest because they are current.  She was right, but once I got passed that it was relatively smooth sailing, especially because I only had 3,000 to sort since my initial purge waiting for Nathan to arrive.

I still have the same habit of ignoring my email and only really sit down every 7-10 days to truly process what is there.  HOWEVER in 10 minutes I have achieved Zero Inbox, I know exactly what action steps I need to take and what gets top priority, and everything else is completely off the brain.  I first mentioned the Mind Organization for Moms course in November when I was just starting out.  I’ve been following the process to keep my inbox clean for the last two and a half months and now I feel truly liberated and in control from my email.  This first step (of 8!) and I gratefully give it five stars.

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I was given the Mind Organization for Moms course in exchange for my review.  All opinions are my own.

Our New Clean Up Song

I make up songs all day long.  Emily often asks, “Mom did that just pop into your head?”  Yes it did.  Every once in awhile one sticks.  This clean up song is as good as GOLD.  Emily jumps right in to clean up as soon as I start singing.  I can even have my backed turned and wash dishes and Emily calls out, “Sing the blanket song”, “Sing the harmonica song’, “Sing the book song” and then cleans it up.  To the tune of I’m a Little Teapot (well the first half, maybe it is different…):

I’m a little (sock/pillow/block/etc.) on the floor,

And I don’t want to be there any more.

Pick me up and put me away,

So we’ll be ready for a new day.

Once the room is cleaned up we play together or read together until dinner.  Yesterday we settled in to read books after coming in from sledding (it took until February to have snow to play in, and we took advantage!).  Nathan was particularly interested in the Truck Stop book.

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A Night at the Symphony

Last Friday we took the kids the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra’s Lollipop Concert and Instrument Petting Zoo. We told Emily the week before about our upcoming plans.  She could not wait.

We told her we would all dress up. We explained we would arrive and she could try out instruments.  She really really really wanted to play the violin.  We told her we would sit and listen quietly to music, waiting to talk until the symphony was done playing.

Every day she asked, “How many more days until the Instrument Petting Zoo?”.  On Friday morning she jumped out of bed, “When are we going to the Instrument Petting Zoo?!?!?!”  After dinner.  “I can’t wait that long!”

But wait she did.  I’ve never seen her get her socks, shoes, coat, gloves, and hat on faster than that night after dinner.  We parked a few blocks away. “Where is it? Why do we have to walk so far? Let’s run to keep us warm!” It was only 20 degrees.

Emily tried out the violin, followed by the flute.  Nathan tried the drums.  He was exhausted and mostly just snuggled close to Andrew.  The conductor was standing nearby and we pointed him out to Emily.

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We started heading to our seats and Emily exclaimed, “Mom, I want to dress up! We have to dress up!”  Ooops. We explained we dressed up before we came, not that we are wearing dress-ups at the concert. The lady behind us could not contain her laughter.  Emily brushed it off and followed us to seats near the front, looking for the conductor.

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The symphony began by introducing each instrument.  They played a short classic piece.  Emily sat stone faced, but when the violas started play her feet moved wildly.  Nathan sat on our laps for the first little bit.  Then he discovered he could walk up and down the row.  He exercised his smiling super power in hopes of getting skittles from a boy sitting next to Emily.  The (probably) six year old smiled back, but no skittles were forthcoming. He had the people behind us smiling with him, with his shrieks of excitement.

When we got back in the car after a brisk run, Emily asked, “When are we going to the symphony again?!”

Soon I hope!

Project: Rag Rug

Last year with the start of our family scripture study being distracted by toys, I decided to make a rug.  A place where no toys are allowed, where we can focus on reading together.  About that time our sheets wore out and I had some old painting sheets that my family gave us to hang on the windows until we got blinds.  On a rainy day in March last year I began ripping the sheets into strips.  This once-in-awhile project lasted until July.

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This was a project that began with little planning and I was surprised at every turn.  It took me a while to figure out the best way to braid. I started out on the floor with the braid free; it was infuriating.  Later I tried to wrapping it around the banister which worked really well, using a clip to hold the braid in place.  I pretty much ignored our stairway decoration until fall, and then only worked on it infrequently.

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I decided January would be the month I finish the rug.  I spent lots evenings braiding while listening to audiobooks, podcasts, or general conference talks.  I was thrilled with the system, until it was time to take it off the banister.  The slats are narrow enough that it was incredibly challenging to get the entire braid off the railing.  It became a two person job to get it off and then untangle it.

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Once it was untangled we realized the only way to keep it that way was to wind it into another, really big, really heavy ball.  I indulged in a medicine ball workout with it before moving on to the next step.

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I wasn’t sure how I wanted the rug to look exactly so Andrew sat with me on the floor, throwing the ball back and forth while we tried out some different sizes. 

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The sewing commenced last week.  I mostly sewed while the kids ate snacks, with a few marathon sessions while Emily was at Joy School and in the evenings.  It took me awhile to figure out how to sew it without the weight of the rug pulling on it.  The outside is beautiful and the inside is less than I hoped for.

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Another unanticipated detail was the amount of thread I’d go through.  3 spools, 1300 yards.  It got down to the last few windings of the third spool – I was afraid I would have to pick up a 4th spool just to finish.

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In the morning when Emily came downstairs she was thrilled that I made two chairs in the rug.  A silver lining after all.  Mostly I feel a huge sense of accomplishment with finishing a project that required lots of discipline to do things I didn’t particularly like.

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I love seeing the growth of the kids from the start of the project until now.  I’m excited for all the memories we will make on this rug.  It starts out with the sheets Andrew bought while I was pregnant with Emily because I was certain I would throw up on our one set and then we’d have nothing else to use, and the sheets that followed me through childhood with a piece of each place we lived on it.

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Today Was the Day…

We went on a run outside.

I facetimed my grandma and she helped me fix my sewing machine.

Emily turned the bathroom into an ice skating rink with half a bottle of hand soap and slid around until she wiped out.

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I made honey candied ginger for the first time – mostly a sticky mess on the stove from the liquid boiling over while I was trying to clean up soap.

The kids woke up 7 times between 9:30pm-5:30am.

There was serious cabin fever and the hitting to show it.

I watched a webinar about podcasting during nap time.

Nathan hung out in the car seat we are borrowing from some neighbors.

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We made another fort – this one had two doors so they could go in and out at the same time.

We made popcorn and ate it on the floor while reading books.

I talked to my mom for 45 minutes to get to the end of the day a little bit faster.

Andrew and I participated in a finger print study and made $20.

Andrew did most of the putting to bed.

I’ve been thrilled to go to bed since I got out of it this morning.

 

Red Light, Green Light and Walking

Our family plays lots of Red Light, Green Light.  It has become a family home evening game staple because everyone can participate.  Tonight Nathan spent most of the game walking.  By himself.  He went between each of us and the couch.  He gets so excited and we all cheer him on.  Walking still only occurs when Andrew is around so the evenings have been super fun lately.

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Moments

Last night Nathan while I was nursing Nathan he sat up and pointed to a picture of Jesus.  He said something that sounded like Jesus.  I followed with, “Jesus”, which he repeated a few times.  He went back to nursing, then sat up and pointed again. “Jesus.”  He later found another picture of Jesus in the room.  He pointed and said, “Jesus.”  He officially has a first word.

I taught Joy School last week.  The craft was to glue macaroni noodles to spell out their name.  The kids took right to the task, all the while chewing the dry noodles.  It was so loud I couldn’t help but giggle.

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Nathan was playing at the piano (arguably one of his most favorite spots) when we heard a loud crash.  He knocked our cd player/radio off the top.  When Andrew retrieved it we found it broken beyond hope.  The next morning Andrew took it apart during breakfast, salvaging some motors, speakers, fm radio tuner, and LCD screen.

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Last week Emily woke up from a nap all out of sorts (which is why I don’t mind that she usually doesn’t nap).  I had been reading about the importance of art for kids and pulled out the paints, something I rarely do.  I gave her two colors and she spent 45 minutes painting the front and back of her paper.  She narrated as she went, describing a road and sidewalk.  She finished in great spirits.  Nathan had a grand time with a paintbrush, water, and his sippy cup.

Nathan has made it a standard to throw food on the floor when he is done with it.  He likes to keep only what he is interested in on his plate.  A few nights ago Emily laughed when he did this.  Then Nathan laughed.  Then they both started throwing food on the floor.  The game tries to return at most meals.

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Emily saw Frozen twice during Christmas break.  She is usually Elsa, and I’m declared Anna.  Nathan is Olaf if he tries to join in.  A three year old version of Let it Go is sung constantly, “Let it go. Let it go. Don’t let them leave. Don’t let them goooo.  Shut the door.  Be a good girl.  I have to stay. I have to go. Distance makes things small.”

Nathan has had a really rough few weeks (months actually).  Last week was a peak of roughness.  He hardly slept and he cried a lot.  He had a fever from a flu shot booster in addition to teething.  In a moment of desperation I took a selfie with him.  The next one is taken half a second later.  Distraction successful.

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On Friday it looked warm so we attempted a nature day.  I packed a picnic, put lots of layers on the kids, and prepared to be outside for hours.  We made it 45 minutes.  The kids found a puddle and progressively got wetter.  Nathan soon joined in, puddle swimming.  The cold set in.  We went home and did a warm bath and relocated our picnic to the living room.

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Emily discovered, while I was putting Nathan down for a nap, that she can bring a chair over to the freezer and get a treat.  The first day she scooped herself a bowl of ice cream, cleaning up as she went.  The next day she found the chocolate chips.  Now she has a four day ritual of bringing a blanket over and eating a treat snuggled up in the kitchen. She’s already looking forward to tomorrow.

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We’ve been diligently preparing dinner during afternoon snack time.  The kids are getting more involved, and still love eating bits of the food as we go.  They will eat lots of raw vegetables, but barely touch their food at dinner.

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I taught Emily how to make paper airplanes a few days ago.  I was surprised with how well she could follow directions.  Her plane flew really well. Nathan was incredibly fussy, but stopped crying every time an airplane flew by.  He had a grand time throwing them, even when the went behind him.

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A few days ago Emily climbed up on a chair and got into the cabinet.  She started pulling out little jars and the dried fruit and nuts.  She said she was making trail mix.  I handed her a bowl and she set to work. At first she hesitated with how to get the peanuts into the bowl, then leaned over without prompting and grabbed a spoon.  She filled five little jars and now has snacks ready to go for herself at a moments notice.  It was good to see her take a clear independent step forward.  Nathan was right there for every step, enjoying free access to food and playing in the sink.

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This week the kids have started playing with the duplos they got for Christmas.  They even play by themselves for a few minutes.  This is a huge leap forward in the Jackson household!

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To curb distractions during dinner we have started lighting a candle some nights. Emily loves it when we tell her the story of Peter Rabbit and where they lived before coming to earth while they eat.  The kids love blowing on it and watching it dance.

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Nathan has started taking steps by himself! For months he has taken just one or two while crying the entire time.  This week he has taken up to six steps, but ONLY if Andrew is around and I’m out of sight.  He insists, with a tight grip, that he holds my hands to walk around.  Everywhere.  As soon as Andrew walks in the door he will go from squatting to standing, take as many steps as he can before falling, and then stand back up again.

 

Food Staples: Mini Muffins

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For years I have loved having muffins on hand as a snack.  When I was in college my mom experimented with freezing muffin batter in silicon muffin pans.  She would store the frozen batter discs in a ziploc bag in the freezer, ready to pop into the oven at a moments notice for fresh muffins.  I followed in this practice for a few years.

Then I realized starving toddler plus tired mom does not make time for preheating and baking muffins.  Or remember the batter discs are waiting to be baked.

The next phase was to start baking muffins and freezing the already cooked muffins in the freezer.  1 minute in the microwave and we are good to go.

The final discovery in making muffins a food staple at our house was using mini silicon muffin pans.  I have two of these and LOVE them.  The muffins slide right out with out any help from me.  It takes three mini muffin to equal one typical sized muffin.  This means I can eat a muffin as each batch comes out of the oven (!!!) and the kids waste much less food.  Nathan can down 4-5 without blinking, which I prefer to one and half and wasting the remains.

I have tried a number of recipes over the years, but I ALWAYS go back to Mels Kitchen Cafe.  She has muffin making down to an art and science.  I make a double or triple batch of each recipe at bake it all at once.

Healthy Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

Whole Grain Peanut Butter and Honey Banana Muffins

The Best Zucchini Bread (I make muffins)

Once the muffins are cooled I store them in a gallon sized ziploc bag or, my new favorite, a ice cream container. With the mini muffins, 20-30 seconds in the microwave makes them as good as hot out of the oven.

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How Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf), Charlotte Mason, and Essentialism are Shaping My Role as a Mom

I struggle with the open-endedness of motherhood.  Diaper changes, feeding, cleaning, and sleep take up a good portion of the day.  But there are at least six unstructured hours of time to fill.  I often default to just sitting on the floor with the kids. My mind is wandering or stressing about what I want/need/should be doing.

But fear keeps me on the floor.  Fear of neglecting them.  Fear of being distracted. Fear of making the wrong choice, as if there is one right way of spending time in motherhood.  So paralyzed, I sit there building stress and frustration all the while trying to be the attentive, engaged, teaching, fun parent.  No wonder I feel worn-out.

As I told this all to Andrew in December it ended with, “I have no idea what that time is supposed to look like. I don’t know what I’m aiming for.”  With the problem firmly identified, I’ve been searching for an answer.  What is time with young children at home supposed to look like for me?

My journey is far from complete (in fact this is one that probably doesn’t end…) but I’m making excellent headway.  Here are some of my absolute favorite resources:

Simplicity Parenting.  This book is fantastic.  It was incredibly specific in helping me create a vision of what we are going for.  It talks about simplifying the child’s environment, the day to day to embrace the ordinary, our relationship with them (no helicopter parenting in its many forms), and the exposure to the adult world.  This book follows Waldorf principles of creating rhythms and routines in our days and has a strong focus on building family relationships and unity.  There is a large section on toys – a selection process for what to keep and what to part with, and what to look for in a toy.  It also talks about embracing slow days, which is something else I have to come to grips with entirely.  Another (bigger) Waldorf resource that is a great starting place is You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  While not a parenting book, read alongside Simplicity Parenting I felt so much clarity in my mind.  I’ve taken notes on the entire book in the back of my planner so I can refer to the principles at a moments notice.  I now use, “What is important right now?” as a measure throughout my day to help me make decisions.  Really the book applies to everyone and I highly recommend reading it.

What really made the book powerful and immediately applicable for me was the Mind Organizations for Moms course I worked through at the end of last year.  It helped me set up a system for everything that I think about, put it on paper or file it away, and analyze my options before moving forward.  This system alone has had the biggest impact on making room in my mind to think and stop thinking.  It has created space in my brain and home to be intentional.  Reading Essentialism helped create a more defined criteria for what I’m looking at doing, so I can focus my work for the biggest impact.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years:  This is a short, read in an hour book.  My main take-away from this book to teach and encourage independence.  We’ve been trying to mix things up so kids have access to food they can prepare and take more control over daily tasks by changing the environment.  I feel exceedingly more patient remembering that one of my jobs is letting them take time to figure out how to function in this world.  And I’ll stop mentioning it after this, but it pairs nicely with Essentialism too (as do the following…I really like that book). A much more detailed book in examples and methods is Montessori From the Start.

Home Education.  Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800s early 1900s. She loved children, understood children’s needs and natures, and saw them as beings straight from God. While she never had children of her own, she provides great instruction and encouragement to mothers after spending the majority of her life surrounded by children.  When I read her words I feel I have purpose, I am calm, and I am excited about being with my children.  I don’t feel like I did her writings justice at all.  Highly recommend reading this one in bits and pieces because it is packed with wisdom.  My favorite Charlotte Mason book not written by Charlotte herself is Charlotte Mason Companion.

These are also all homeschooling methods. I have read a number of other homeschooling books. I initially picked them up figuring homeschoolers have kids home all day just like I do now, and have to do school on top of everything, so they are bound to have some secrets.  In more of an educational vein, I really enjoyed The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and Educating the Whole Hearted Child.

While we have zero decisions or plans made in the homeschool realm, I have been actively thinking about what I think the ideal education setting for early childhood education looks like (under the age of 6). I like the culture of the Waldorf, the methods and principles of Charlotte Mason, and the curriculum of a classical education.

But wait, this article clearly sets the correct tone.  We don’t need to do more for young children, Life is the Curriculum.

The true mark of success. Today I sat down and just ate lunch with the kids.  Relaxed in my seat.  Let them talk.  Nathan started a new game, which continued throughout the day with various objects.  He handed me his sandwich, put his palms up and waited for me to put a piece of sandwich in them. Over and over again.  He had us all laughing.

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Emily was quietly occupied for almost two hours during rest and read time today.  I thought we were making real progress.  As soon as she heard me up and about she ran down covered in make-up.  I calmly reclaimed the makeup that she had scaled the closet shelves to obtain. I took her to Walmart still wearing makeup singing at full volume, “Let it go. Let it go. Can’t hold it back any more,” on an endless loop for two hours.  We received many, many smiles and comments.

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After the library today the kids and I were reading books on the floor.  I took a little stone away from Nathan that Emily had gotten out of my room during rest and read time, and Emily quietly picked it up.  While I was reading about Madeline, she interjected, “Mom I swallowed it.  I swallowed the stone.”  So then we called the nurses hotline, who said as long as there isn’t any pain we just need to wait it out.

This is what my motherhood looks like.

It Makes the Difference

Emily has started adding, “it makes the difference” to various statements.  For example, when referring to using two different fingernail polishes, “You need to paint the sparkly one first, and then the purple one.  It makes the difference.”

Her phrase has popped in  my head numerous times this week.  Here a few little things that “make the difference”:

Nathan really hates it when we interfere with his play.  I’ve tried to bake with him like I do with Emily, but he does not like being told what to do.  The challenge is finding ways to let him be close but also have 100% control.  I’m only starting to make headway.  Our first kitchen success was a rice tray, which Emily quickly joined in on, and I was able to bake alone (for about 5 minutes).

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For about a year we’ve been slowly reducing the amount of toys we own as well as the amount of toys the kids have access to.  Lately I’ve been pulling out one toy for the day.  We play with it for special time in the morning (15 minutes of my undivided attention) and it stays out the rest of the day.  Nathan and Emily have been playing side-by-side well and there are glimpses of playing together.

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We tried making black bean mint brownies, highly recommended by my friend Faith (check out her instagram account for simple, fast, delicious whole food, plant based meals and treats!!!).  It called for peppermint essential oil. After some deliberation about whether we could use mint extract instead, I remembered that we have a teeny tiny bottle of peppermint essential oil a friend sent to mask kitchen smells while I was in the throws of morning sickness.  There was enough left to add to the brownies, and it definitely made the difference.

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During Christmas break we played games almost every evening once the kids were in bed.  We decided we want our family to make slowing down and playing games a nightly thing (or a few nights a week at least).  Emily and I have been setting up and playing the first half of busytown while Nathan gets ready for bed.  Then I put Nathan to bed while Andrew plays the second half.  It helps us all unwind and it is refreshing to engage with Emily in a different way.

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After reading Sink Reflections last year, I committed to following Flylady’s system this year.  Each Monday we do Home Blessing Hour (Emily says, “I love home blessing hour!” every time I announce it).  We vacuum, dust, wash mirrors and doors, take out the trash, look through magazines, and mop for 10 minutes each.  Some weeks we only make it through vacuuming and dusting before the kids are done.  Usually we manage to get through most of the jobs.  Emily sets the timer, we pass rags around, turn music on, and move!  The level of cleanliness in our house has skyrocketed without taking time  to clean on the weekend!

We also keep the kitchen sink clean, Flylady’s first habit.  I found this under the sink wire storage at goodwill a few weeks ago for $1.  It makes the difference!  I’ve been looking for over a year for one but haven’t been able to fork out the $10+.  I love going to bed with a sparkly clean sink with cleaning supplies stored (which leads to the entire kitchen being cleaned) and waking up with a fresh start to the day.

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Last year Emily and I started a lemon tree and avocado tree from seed/pit.  They are thriving, now that I know to look to the avocado tree for signs of thirst and water them both at that time.  I love having their company washing dishes.  I also recently discovered the overhead light above our kitchen sink.  It almost feels like a candle overhead, so cozy, and I love the mood it sets for our cold winter nights and mornings.

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I’ve been spending 15 minutes each day cleaning in the zone for the week.  I look ahead on Sunday night at the zone missions, write them down, and check them off as we go.  I usually get 3-4 of the 5 tasks accomplished, which is way more than ZERO.  After living here for two years I’ve actually accomplished things that have been bothering me for well over eighteen months:  cleaning out cobwebs, the ceiling fan, scrubbing cupboards, and getting the food off the ceiling that’s been here since before we lived here.  I feel so empowered by following the plan and doing a fun activity with the kids.  We are seeing progress, the house is feeling cleaner, and we are learning skills together.