Happy Independence Day!

The 4smartypants know how to celebrate with style.

Bectoria here. My family chose to  celebrate the 4th by being in a parade together and then watching a great dance show in the park courtesy of Olmsted Performing Arts (www.olmstedperformingarts.com).

Tonight we will host a huge messtravanganza (see my post “Host a Messtravanganza” for ideas) at our home. For us, it just isn’t the 4th of July without good friends, great food and ridiculous games including a shaving cream slip’n slide, a waterballoon toss and a cake fight.

The most important part of today is sharing in the celebration of our country’s independence. We are so blessed to live in such an amazing country where we can exercise such freedoms as the right to vote. We are entering another Presidential voting season during which I am sure we will all, once again, be saddened by the truths of the state of our nation. Before this happens, let us remember that we are still living in one of the greatest nations on the planet. It is still a country that is strong and just and good. On this day and always, let us say it and pray it… God Bless America.

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A Stupid-Easy Summer Schedule Everyone Can Live With

Time to play in the garden can be magical to a child

Okay. So now the kids have been out of school for a couple of weeks and you’re running out of ideas. You may also feel the urge to lose a few marbles wondering how you’re going to get it all done whilst surrounded by the kiddies.

Don’t fret. Rest assured that these 4smartypants are happy to help! Instead of reverting back to television, video games or spending huge amounts of time, sanity and money on camps, outings and amusement parks, why not put some savvy into your schedule? Here’s what we do…

Instead of allowing the day to be wasted, we at 4smartypants organize each day with meaning. For me, I allow for some structure, like naps, learning time and meals to be surrounded by loosely organized activities. Within this structure, I allow for opportunities to get my household tasks done without taking time away from my kids. This is what a typical day looks like in my home…

Breakfast/Getting Ready (I put in a load of laundry while kids are dressing)

Learning Time (Home schooling books are great for this! I can do dishes while I help)

Arts & Crafts or Trip to the Park or Pool

Free Play (While I switch a load of laundry and make lunch)

Lunch

Reading Time

Nap (I pick one chore item to do each day then fold & put away laundry)

Free Play (While I check emails or write)

Dance Party (Use your imagination!)

Outdoor Play (I usually study lines for my play or go over edits for my book at this time)

Game or Outing

Clean-Up (They can pick up while I vacuum and sweep)

Coloring (While I Cook)

Dinner

Family Time (Everything’s done or can wait ‘til tomorrow. Time to enjoy the family)

Bible

Bath

Story & Bedtime (I do my shopping after the kids go to bed)

Playtime with your children is a treasure that should never be wasted

I realize that the above outline looks like just a lot of common sense. When I was an activities coordinator, I learned that writing down a simple outline of structured, daily activities allowed me to get the most out of my day. I have since incorporated the same practice into my home life with great success. With this schedule, the kids are content to have some structure mixed with nonsensical free-play and I am happy to have time built in to get my daily tasks done.

If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend tugging up those smartypants and giving it a go with a schedule that works for you!

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TYRANNY ON DOMESTIC SOIL (Teaching My Children to Work)

ImageLast week I suggested that you throw away all of your kids’ toys. Cruel as it was, it was surprisingly well-received. As if that challenge wasn’t pressing my luck enough, this post runs the risk of proving to everyone that this crazy mom of 5 is a slave-driving tyrant opposed to all things fun.

My sister-in-law Amanda observed my toy purge via Facebook from her sleep-deprived end-of-pregnancy state in St. Louis. She chimed in once to say, “No. No I will not get rid of all of our toys. I might hide them for awhile, but I won’t get rid of them.” Point made. I didn’t engage her in witty banter as usual since she was days away from birthing a 10 lb 2 oz bundle of joy to add to the 3 toddlers she was already busy with. I went on to post several other updates regarding the purge and then blogged about it without comment from Amanda (who was busy with diapers and feedings and healing from her 3rd c-section in 4 years.)

Then, a few days ago she tags me in this gem. It took me a couple of days to read it and sort through my thoughts on the matter. Assuming you didn’t just stop to read the whole article, I’ll sum it up for you. Researchers concluded after observing families in other countries as well as several in the US that our kids are spoiled and have no sense of independence or responsibility. While 6 year olds in other cultures are voluntarily cooking for and serving meals to other families, 6 year olds in America are expecting their parents to untie and re-ties their shoes. While 3 year olds elsewhere in the world are cutting grass with machetes and heating/preparing their own food, 3 year olds in our own neck of the woods are being told repeatedly and to no avail to do simple tasks like “throw this in the trash can.” While 8 year olds somewhere out there are carrying out major responsibilities that contribute to the welfare of everyone in their home without being asked, 8 year olds in our own homes are rudely asking “How am I supposed to eat?!” when seated at the dinner table without flatware, prompting their parents to get up and retrieve the utensils from a drawer, the location of which the child was well-aware. The connection was made from American parents’ lack of instilling responsibility while their children are yet teachable to adult children still living with and relying on their parents, and epidemic that doesn’t seem to exist in other cultures.

ImageHonestly, I hadn’t considered the idea that my 3 year old and 4 year olds are capable of learning to do things for themselves apart from jobs like putting their shoes away when we walk in the house and putting their books back on the shelf. (Let’s face it, I don’t expect them to clean up toys, we don’t have any!) So this really got the gears turning in my brain. What could my kids be learning to do right now that will prevent them from expecting everything to be done for them in the coming years though they are able-bodied? And I’m not talking about chores to give them that they will moan and whine about and protest and have to be reminded of constantly. I’m talking about training them to recognize when things need to be done and then take the initiative to DO THEM. The possibilities are endless, and I’m just scratching the surface! I have only just started and already I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids. I sat them down and had a talk with them. It went something like this: “Kids, it has come to my attention that you are very capable of doing a lot more things than I previously believed possible. That considered, we are going to make some changes. I don’t know what the kids at your preschool are expected to do at home, but here in the Politte house, we are going to be kids who know how to do things! We are going to be kids who HAVE JOBS! Mommy is going to teach you how to do a lot more things, and we aren’t going to play or watch any shows unless our jobs are done. You are 3 and 4 years old, so it’s time to start pulling your weight.” Blank stares. “So…. what are we? We are kids who……?” After a moment Adeline chimed in, “HAVE JOBS!”

And then we got to it. THAT DAY I taught them how to unload the dishwasher. (Don’t touch the sharp knives.) Adeline pulls dishes out of the dishwasher, Campbell hands them to Anderson who is on his knees on the counter having used a chair to climb up, he puts them in the cabinet. I taught them to use the washing machine, with the help of a stool. I taught them how to use the dryer. I taught them to make their own peanut butter (and sunbutter for those with peanut allergies) and honey sandwiches and to use separate knives so as not to contaminate the sunbutter. I taught them to use the microwave. When I say I taught them, I mean I stood there and talked them through the process, without ever touching anything myself, and my little children completed these tasks, themselves. I haven’t gotten around to teaching them to cut the grass with a machete, yet. All in good time.Image

This is not an effort to work myself out of a job (though it may turn out to be a lucky side-effect). Rather, I  am convicted that I don’t want to be faced with a house full of teenagers (and mine will all be teenagers at the same time) who are accustomed to having me do everything for them. That would most certainly bleed into the kind of adults they become and what they believe they are entitled to.

 I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids.

Part of the training I’m instituting involves NOT REWARDING them. I will occasionally reward them for their good work, but I’m not setting up a system that encourages them to believe doing things that need to be done = getting a treat, or money, or whatever. Unexpected treats are great, and we already do a lot of those, (because contrary to the way I am presenting myself, I am not a tyrant, I DO love my children, and I like to make them happy). But every task does not result in reward. Things need to be done, and we don’t get a cookie for doing what’s expected of us. We may decide to employ an allowance system, but it will be for jobs that benefit the whole family: emptying the bathroom trash, setting the table, yardwork, emptying the dishwasher. Jobs that pertain to individuals to not constitute payment: putting your own shoes away, making your own lunch, washing your own clothes, putting away your own books, putting your dishes in the dishwasher. I don’t know. We aren’t at the stage of promising payment for anything, yet. I’ll have to stew on that one. I want to encourage responsibility with money, so I see value in some kind of payment system. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Now, maybe you think I’m the meanest mom on the face of the planet. If you do, that’s ok. But don’t come crying to me when your 28 year old is still living in his childhood bedroom, eating your food and occupying a line on your cell phone plan. I’ll have my own problems, (like re-learning to load the dishwasher and do the laundry.)

CHALLENGE: teach your kids 5 new jobs this week that you’ve considered to grown up for their age. Let me know how it goes!

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3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Going Minimalist

Mac here!  Today, I was reflecting on my recent journey towards minimalism, and I thought I’d share just a few things I’ve learned through the process:

1.  YOU are more attached to your children’s toys than they are.  

Or, at least, I was.  As I worked through my 15 Days to Minimalism (more to come on that), I found the place I purged the LEAST was in the toy department!  Stuffed animals stare at you with their big sad eyes.  You’ll find yourself struggling to part with toys that are part of a set, in which one item is played with and the rest of the items are toy box clutter.

Then there are the cute toys.  The ones where you think, “Oh, but they love these wooden blocks…” and you need a girlfriend there to mock you saying, “Oh, but YOU would LOVE it if they actually loved those wooden blocks!” because your kids NEVER play with the things.

2.  Everyone will support your choice to embrace minimalism, until you tell them what you’re getting rid of.  

You’re reading this and you KNOW I’m talking about you, because the response is so universal:

ME:  Hey! Would you have any use for an old grill (or a tote of kid’s clothes, or some scrapbooking stuff, or some cookbooks…) We’re really trying to get rid of stuff.  We’re going for minimalism.

YOU:  Oh!  You GO girl!  Do it now, before the kids get old enough to stop you!!!  I’m a minimalist at heart, but my spouse (or kid) wants to kill me when I get rid of ANYTHING!

ME:  Ha ha!  Oh, boy, it’s liberating, too!  Just yesterday, I got rid of (X).

YOU:  WHAT?!  You got rid of (X)?!  But (Y)!!!

We can fill in this equation with any variety of nouns and adjectives.  “You got rid of that doll?!  But it was part of your childhood!!!”  “You got rid that purse?!  But it was a Coach!!!”  “You got rid of that dresser?!  But where will you put your clothes?!!!”  “You got rid of that trivet?!  But it was magnetic!!!”  “You got rid of those drapes?!  But you could make something with that fabric!!!”

Obviously, everything in my home was something I loved, or at least liked, or at least seemed like a good idea–at the time.   But we are a growing changing family with needs that change and evolve over time, and tastes that change and evolve over time.  Just because something was valuable to you at one time, doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with it forever.  Your friends might protest, but stick to your guns.  Stuff really IS just stuff.  Bless somebody else with it.

3.  You might be a bit disoriented at first.

Shortly after I finished my 15 Days to Minimalism, I got that unsettled feeling in my guts.  Lucky for me, as someone who’s made a couple cross country household moves, I recognized it.  It’s the “new apartment” feeling.  Over half our stuff was gone, and now, when I pick up all the toys and do the dishes, my home literally looks like it’s staged to sell!  I probably wouldn’t have felt this way had I not torn into the process so suddenly, but it is what it is and the feeling went away after a few days, just like it does when you move into a new home!  A couple weeks later, I’ve adjusted to our new normal, and I regret nothing!

Hope that helps with your summer de-cluttering!

Just a note, I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks.  Double up on your bloggy love for Bectoria and Stephanie!  I recommend this post from Bectoria to spruce up your summer self-care routines and this classic from Stephanie will have you double checking your house for child safety hazards.  

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8 Simple Dresses

By Bectoria Crandall

“Sigh. What on earth am I going to wear today?” Cue 15-20 minutes of frustrating outfit trial and error.

Layering it up for a movie I was in. Wardrobe loved it!
(The Glasses were a Joke!)

If the above scenario haunts you each morning, trust me. You’re not alone. I’ve mentioned in other posts that once upon a time ago I was a very busy lady. At one time in my life I was attending grad school, working for CPS full-time (a million plus workweek-trust me!) all the while filling the rest of my time raising foster children. It was during this very busy part of my life that I developed a new strategy for dressing myself. I guess I just finally got tired enough of the nagging question mentioned above and decided one day to do something about it. Since then I’ve found that sticking with this strategy has allowed me to save big whilst dressing to the nines.

What’s my secret? The number eight. Okay, so NOW I’m starting to sound as quirky as my other posts! Let me explain…

Many ladies spend gobs upon oodles of money on various wardrobe items without giving too much thought to just how useful that item actually is.

Okay, so confession time… Those within my closest circles know I tend to splurge on little treasures dreamed up by my girl, Kate Spade. This is a fault that I’ve grown to live with over the years.

Setting my own little vice aside, allow this hypocrite to tell YOU how to be more frugal. Instead of wasting time and money on the insanity of fashion randomness why not plan out some bangin’ go-to outfits that you will love living in? How many you ask? Aha! That’s where my magic number comes into play!

Put simply, there are seven days in a week. If I only see you on Tuesdays and have just eight outfits in my wardrobe, then you won’t see me in the same outfit for quite some time. If you do see me on a daily basis, you’re not going to catch onto my trick because I’m still changing my stylish look every day and not falling back on the same, boring “old reliables”. Catch my angle? Here’s how I do it…

Let’s say I’m building my summer wardrobe. First I’m going to choose my base garments. I love summer dresses. And YES! I do keep a simple black summer dress in regular circulation throughout the season. (Nana-nana-boo-boo’s on you, Mac!). I also have some fun and flirty summer blouse & skirt/shorts combos that I like to wear. From here, I lay out the eight base garments or combos on my bed.

Building a seasonal warbrobe from what you have is very frugal but doesn’t mean you can’t go shopping and add to your wardrobe. I’m merely suggesting that you add some strategy and dare I say “savvy” to your shopping. When I’m at the stage of selecting my base garments, I check what’s missing. Maybe I have an awesome skirt but no proper blouse. I make a note of the item and then jot some ideas as to what could go with it.

Don’t tell Stephanie, but I’ve recently become more phone savvy and now store this info in my phone so that I can have it readily at-hand when I hit a great sale. This trick allows me to stay frugal while keeping myself fashion-forward.

Newly put-together outfits can replace or be added to your eight at any time. The point is that focusing on a minimal amount of “outfits” will allow you to look amazing without breaking the bank!

Quick Tip: Each season has its own unique wardrobe challenges. Weather, proper color and proper fabric cut and weight come to mind. I use these considerations at the beginning of each season to build a wardrobe that will work for me. (Hot Tip: Some items can cross-over into different seasons. Bonus

Note: Different outfits can have different looks with the right layers to compliment. For example, tossing a cute jacket over a simple summer dress can make it double as the perfect outfit for a girl’s night out. Take that same dress and layer it up with some nice jewelry and you’re ready for a more formal setting. I love picking out and taking note of all of my options. (Hint: Doing this will help train you to shop for more versatile pieces in the future).

Once I have my base garments selected, I move on to building each outfit in layers. First, I match outfits with shoes and purses. I then move on to more accessory-ish type of stuff. Jewelry, scarves, hats, belts, you name it can really add that finishing touch to whatever you’re wearing.

From here, I make sure that I have ideas in mind for if the weather suddenly changes. I match up jackets, long pants, you get the idea.

FYI: I recently added an exercise regimen to my daily grind. Here’s a shocker… Being a SAHM with little ones, my “morning” exercise routine can, at times, get delayed. Rather than scrubbing it in baggy sweatpants for half my day, I opted to pick some cute exercise clothes that look half-way presentable in the event I have to venture into public before I become fully human and am still in my “workout” clothes. I use the same strategy of “8” for my workout wardrobe.

Okay, so if you’re reading my workout paragraph and you’re good at math, you’ve found out my secret. Sometimes the laundry doesn’t get done on the same day each week! Don’t judge me!!!

Once I have my outfits matched up, I organize everything by taking photos of each look. These photos are then posted on the inside of my closet door. Sounds a little obsessive, I know, but man is this quick reference helpful at 7AM! I then hang my clothes in an order that works best for me and voila! I’ve got a hot wardrobe all set to go!

I realize that my methods often look like a hot mess of madness, but I gotta tell ya, I am constantly being complimented on my outfits. So, give it a try! I only hope that incorporating my strategies will bring you the same luck.

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