Friday, January 30, 2015

Feature Friday: 18 Til 40

Each Friday we will feature a post from another Mommy Blog. This week is my dear friend Robin. She is an amazing mother and has an incredible story to tell.

Chapter 1

I'm going to be honest.  I am not a writer and have no idea how to break up my life into 18 chapters.  Maybe I will go over, maybe I will run out of things to say.  I will venture to guess that it will NOT be the latter.  I have so many memories.  Some good, some bad, some worse.   All of them have made me who I am today.


Today, that's an interesting thing to think about.  Not in the literal sense, but in the grand scheme of things.  Where I am TODAY is nothing short of a miracle.  My beginnings are so far removed from my present, that I have a truly hard time reconciling the two.  Where did one end and the new one begin.  I could answer that in so many ways, depending on the life event I conjur up.  Before my Mom died and after has always felt like a drastic "new beginning".  Another "new beginning", when Dominick was born and I became a Mommy.  Again, when Eddie is born and I became a "special needs" Mommy and Down syndrome advocate.  But, all those things still seem somewhat "normal".  A far cry from my childhood in Woodhaven, Queens.  Sometimes when I have a memories of those times it feels like it happened to someone else.  I can't even believe that I had been through all the things I have been through.  Like it's some kind of movie that I kind of, sort of remember....but, wait, how did that movie begin? I can't remember! How did it end? Man, I really need to watch that movie again!  Hopefully writing it down will help me to fill in the gaps, uncover some truths and finally piece together this great big puzzle: HOW DID I GET HERE?! How did I ever get so incredibly lucky to get HERE!? In a 3,000 square foot house, in AZ, with an amazing husband and kids. Granite countertops, hardwood floors, a pool in the backyard, a master bathroom with a closet the size of my first apartment.  Separate bedrooms for my boys.  All things that seem so absurdly normal to me now.

Almost anyone reading this will most likely know all that good stuff, the stuff of TODAY.  But it's the prequel that I am looking to unearth.  So, I thank you in advance for listening to the ramblings of a crazy woman.  I will try to somehow make sense of this, and put it in a timeline that is cohesive.  I can't make any promises tho.  Like I warned you, I am not a writer.

The Beginning

Let's set the stage.  The first place I have any memory of living is in Woodhaven, Queens.  a 6 story, 6 building apartment complex.  It had two archway entrances, one led to a small street and across that street was my elementary school.   There was a huge courtyard in the middle, and the other archway led to an alley leading to Jamaica Avenue.  I have so many memories of that courtyard.  It was a safe place for all the children in the complex to play.  There were trees throughout, a cement maze like walkway and a huge (non working) fountain in the middle.  There was a tremendous tree in one corner that had roots coming up through the dirt.  I remember playing house with my friends next to that tree every day.  Each divided section that the roots created was a "room".  We would even sweep the dirt in each room.  I wonder where I got such pride, considering the conditions of our apartment.  There were so many families in the apartment complex, and never a shortage of playmates.  The families in the apartments were all middle class families, with working parents.  I am sure some of them struggled.  But I am also pretty sure none of them struggled as much as we did.  The truth is, we didn't belong there, not really.  My Mom never worked for as long as I can remember.  I know she had a few jobs before I was born, but none that I have memory of.  My dad didn't have a job, aside from driving a cab occasionally.  Even when he did, he and my mom would take the money he collected from his passengers and use it for drugs before he was due to hand it in to the dispatcher.  I can remember my dad scrambling and freaking out every evening, knowing he had to answer to his boss, but had no money to turn in.  I know that he would go to my grandparents house and beg for money to turn into his boss or risk getting fired.  It is so strange to me now, reliving these moments as a mother and having this all new perspective.  I cannot imagine the position that put my grandparents in.  By this point, they and my Aunt, my dad's sister, were already paying our rent EVERY month, just so we wouldn't be homeless.  And here are my parents taking such blatant advantage of that, and on top of it groveling for money daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.  ALWAYS.  I remember him taking me with him to pick up customers.  He would coach me on what to say and tell me to make sure I smiled because that would mean a bigger tip.  I will never forget that. He would tell me I was irresistably cute and noone could say no to my sweet face.  What little girl wouldn't want to hear that? The fact that he was using me to make more money to buy more drugs, well that's pretty unforgetable too.  The cab driver gig didn't last, he would hop from one company to another until they caught on to him and the jig would be up.  My mom, well, who knows what she did all day.  I've been told that in the "early days" of thier marriage and the beginning of thier addictions, that she was a super neat freak.  Cleaning up after you, taking cups out of your hand before you were done, just to clean them.  That seems so foreign to me.  As far back as I can remember there wasn't even a working sink to wash that cup IN! Or, if it were working, it were clogged, filled with dirty dishes, water and cigarette butts.  On a bad day, my mom would be passed out in it.  I remember coming home from school to find my mom passed out either in the sink or on the floor.  It would seem that she had the intentions of cleaning, but nodded off before she got started.  That's not how everyone lived in our apartment complex tho, which only made us stick out that much more.  When I would go to friends apartments I would always feel the sense of comfort, cleanliness and family.  Our apartment, well, it had it's moments.  There were days when it got straighten up, but, those were few and far between.  The everyday living consisted of a kitchen with an unworking stove because we never paid the gas bill.  A usually non working sink.  A refrigerator that was home to a few ketchup packets and, on a good day, a block of cheese from the church.  The rubber sides on the doorframe of the refrigerator were imbedded with dead cockroaches and cockroach eggs.  Appetizing, huh? The cabinets in the kitchen were OFF LIMITS.  There were entire colonies of cockroaches living in them.  We went YEARS AND YEARS without opening our kitchen cabinets.  I remember opening one once, I don't remember how old I was, or what made me do it,....but, I will never forget it.  I think you can use your imagination.  The entire apartment was infested with cockroaches.  If you moved anything, at least 10 cockroaches would scutter from under it.  If you left a cup sitting out for 2 minutes, there would be 5 cockroaches drowning in it.  To this day, I still look in my glass before taking a drink, out of fear of a swimmer.  You get the picture, they were everywhere....IN the TV, under every piece of furniture, under the beds.  My bedroom consisted of an entire floor full of dirty clothes.  Completely covered.  I don't remember doing laundry EVER until I got my first job at age 16, where I would use my pay to go to the laundromat.  When I was a little girl I would have to scamper through those clothes to find something to wear to school.  They were all dirty, smelly and stained. When I would lift something up to examine how dirty it was, 5 bugs would crawl out.  I would stand in the middle of the room as a little girl, completely paralyzed and overwhelmed, and that feeling would stick with me long into adult hood.  I would wake up for work when I had my own apartment, as an adult, and have full on panic attacks about "what to wear".  Even now, writing about it my heart starts beating faster and I start to feel the panic set in.  It wasn't about the clothes so much, but about the overall living conditions, the feeling of being buried alive.  It would take me years to finally "get over" those feelings.   To this day, I still get those panic attacks.  I guess in a lot of ways, I will always be that little girl, standing alone in the middle of a cockroach infested room full of dirty clothes wondering what I will wear and what I will eat that day.

That seems like a good place to pause.  It's 2 am and I am sure I will be having some interesting dreams tonight.   Thank you for sticking around. And remember:

There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be

Read the rest of her story at

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Home Office Stations

We've talked about setting up a home office, homework tables, and backpack stations. This time we will discuss all the different "stations" in a home office, or really any central area in your home.

For my family, we have seven major stations to help us function: Chores, Work, Homework, Backpack, Behavior, Schedules, and Files. I'll break down each one for you.

The Chore Station:
 We keep the chore charts hanging in the office. There are numerous chore systems you can use, we have simple dry erase chore charts for the kids. Each kid has their own color chart, and matching dry erase marker attached with velcro. Notice how the little one loves to graffiti the wall around her chart.
The kids know when homework time is over, they must start on chores. They see exactly what they need to do, and they know they can't start playing until all the chores are checked off. We spend less time telling them what to do, and more time working together to keep the house in shape.

 The Work Station:
 The main function of the home office is to get work done. You just need a space that suits your needs and works for you. Mine is fairly simple- computer, desk, writing tools, and printer. You may need more or less space depending on what kind of work you do. Crafters may need more table space and writers may need less distraction. Keeping the desktop free of clutter helps to minimize distractions and maximize efficiency. I also love that I can close the doors to my desk and hide everything. It makes everything look so much neater when visitors come by.

 Inside the doors of my desk I keep my to-do lists and vision statements. They are all laminated so I can use a dry erase marker and change it daily.

 I have my bookshelf right next to my desk so I can quickly grab a notebook and get to work. Because I like my shelf set up a certain way, and the kids have difficulty putting things back, I have a "book return" box on the bottom. When they finish a book, they can just put it in the box and I will put it up for them.

 The Homework Station:
My post on the Homework Station was more detailed, but essentially, you need a quiet place for the kids to do their homework.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Home Office Part 3: Homework Table

Part 1: The Setup          Part 2: Backpack Station

Part three of our home office series involves a homework area for the kids. Getting kids to focus on their homework is a task in itself. You can make this chore a bit easier by creating a designated area free of distraction for them to work. 

The first step is to find an area of your home with ample space and minimal distractions. Do you have only one child or do you need to accommodate several children?  Is there plenty of light or will you need to add a lamp? Finding the right location and figuring out a setup that works for your family is the first, and often the biggest, step in the process. We decided on this corner of the home office.

Once you have an idea in mind and measurements of the space, you need to find a table or desk to fit. You don't need to spend a lot of money, it just needs to serve its purpose. Our first homework table we found at a yard sale. Our second one was an old folding table we had in the garage. Check thrift stores, yard sales,  or even other areas of your home for furniture to fit your needs.

And finally, the finishing touches. You'll need to have all needed supplies within reach but not cluttering the work area. We have a simple three drawer cart which slides under the the table and out of the way. We happened to have an extra one laying around, use whatever you have. The goal is not to spend a lot of money, just to have a functional homework area. You can use old jars, baskets, anything to corral the supplies. Our drawers hold pencils and sharpeners, extra paper, and coloring or activity books for the younger ones. We have little mason jars on top for crayons, scissors, glue, and dry erase markers.

Above the table we have a US map, with pins marking where family members are. We also have the Ten Commandments and the fruits of the spirit to remind everyone of the behavior and character expected of them. The giant white board is used for my assignments and project deadlines.

Now we have a quiet area to get work done and homework time is slightly less stressful.It is right next to my desk in the office, so the computer is close by if needed for research and I can work alongside them in the afternoons.

Products Used:
The Ten Commandments for Kids Chart

Carson Dellosa Word Strips Sentence Strips (4455)

Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Markers, 12 Colored Markers(30072)

Plastic 3 Drawer Storage

Drawer Organizer Bins

Home Office Part 2: Backpack Station

Home Office Part 2: Backpack Station

Click here to read Part 1: Setup

Kids require a lot of gear for school. Backpacks, coats, gloves, shoes, projects, notes from teachers, and notes to send back to the teacher. We needed a space to 'catch' all these items when they came home and keep them all organized. I thought long and hard and sketched several designs before deciding on one I liked. 

First, I needed a place to park their shoes. I like to keep school shoes separate from dress and play shoes. They are required to wear tennis shoes for gym class, and I hate hunting for missing shoes. I got them each a bucket in their color to hold 2 or 3 pairs of shoes. They typically hold rain boots, tennis shoes, and casual slip-ons.

Then, I needed a place to hang their backpacks and coats. We live in the south, and weather can vary from 100* to low teens, hot and muggy to rainy and windy. So we needed it to hold a light jacket and a heavy winter coat, as well as the backpack. I decided on these pretty three-prong hooks, which were sturdy enough to support the weight of everything but also looked nice on the wall. 

I also wanted to hang a bulletin board to hang notes, permission slips, schedules, and other important information. This is also where I keep a list of emergency contacts and information in case my children have to call 911. I use large thumb tacks to hold the important information at the top, since it doesn't need to be changed often. I added smaller tacks at the bottom for the kids to pin up anything I needed to sign. I often hang up finance information or other family notices on the board as well.

Finally, I wanted it all to look cohesive, rather than a jumbled mess of stuff. I picked out this lovely bench with three cubbies to hold the shoe buckets and a comfy seat for them to sit and take off their shoes. The seats also raise up for additional storage, which is nice for school projects or extra supplies they may need. I think it pulled it all together and made my entryway look a little nicer, while also helping keep school needs organized and ready to go.

I love the way it looks, and getting the kids on the bus in the morning is easy when everything is by the door and ready to go.

Home Office Part 1: The Setup

Home Office Part 1: The Setup

If you work from home, home-school your kids, or are a student yourself, the home office can be the most important room in your house. How your office is set up can determine whether you work efficiently or spend all your time hunting down supplies and clearing off a place to work.

I am a full time student, I do some work from home, and I have three kids who need a place to do homework. It took lots of trial and error to find a setup that worked for everybody. As an extra challenge, my home office is also the main entryway to my home. This meant that on top of my typical office needs, I also needing a landing spot for keys, mail, and bags. We had to get a little creative, but we finally got a system that works for us.

This is the layout of my home office. It's a very odd layout, so it's hard to get a picture of the whole room. These were taken when we first moved in, so it's clean and empty.

Standing right inside the front door, this is the view. Office to the right, living room straight ahead, kitchen in the back right corner.

I have very little wall space, so we had to get creative with the layout.
A large window uses up most of the front wall, and the wall to the left of the door has the garage door, so furniture won't fit there.

We needed 3 main sections: homework area, backpack area, and mommy work area. We also needed to squeeze in the book shelf and filing cabinet.

When considering how you want to set up your home office, take into account the layout and any specific areas you may need. Do you need a craft area? Homework table? Home-school area with room to teach and work? Do you work from home and require a fax machine, phone, or other equipment? Decide what you need before buying or moving anything to save time and money.

In Part 2 we will work on the Backpack Station, perfect for the kids to dump all their school gear when they come home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Complete Home Filing System

Complete Home Filing System 

I always tell my husband "when, not IF, I'm on 'Hoarders', there will be no dead cats or ceramic figurines,  it will be all papers and food."

I have a slight hoarding problem when it comes to paperwork. I'm terrified to throw anything away in case I need it someday. I go through all of my papers once a year to get rid of anything I no longer need and make room for a new year's worth of paper. I figure as long as I keep it all organized its not a problem. And I can't count the number of times I have saved the day by finding that old receipt or warranty information. Needless to say, I have a very thorough filing system.
home filing system

Keeping papers filed and organized is super easy, once you have a system that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all file system that works for everyone. This system works great for me, but you may need to tweak it to fit your needs.

 My system,  of course, is color coded. I've mentioned before that everyone in my house is assigned a color, and everything from laundry baskets to dishes is that color. This makes my life so much easier!
home filing system

The Basics:

I have 12 main filing categories. All main categories are the basic green hanging folders, labeled in black.
 SMEAD Hanging Folders Green, Letter Size - 50ct
home filing system

file system

Each main category has multiple subcategories with color coded files, individually labeled in that color.
Pendaflex Two-Tone Color File Folders, Letter Size, 1/3 Cut, Assorted Colors, 100 Folders per Box (152 1/3 ASST)

color file system

For example,  I have a main category of "insurance", and in that folder there are five sub folders-one for each person in the family. We don't all have the same insurance plan, so this makes it easy to keep track of each person's plan and benefits.

The Colors:

Each person has their own color: dad is red, mom is orange, child A is blue, child B is green, child C is purple. Each topic also has a color: household is yellow, finances are navy, banking is maroon,  credit/loans is brown, and vehicles are teal. This system makes it easy to quickly find the file I'm looking for.
Avery Removable Labels, Rectangular, 1 x 3 Inch, White, Pack of 72 (06728)

home filing systemThe Details:My categories are as follows. You can add or delete categories to fit your situation.

Medical: mom, dad, child A, child B, child C
Insurance: mom, dad, child A, child B, child C
Vehicles: car registration, car maintenance, car insurance,  bike registration, bike maintenance, bike insurance
Bills: water, sewer, electric,  internet, phone, rent, etc
Credit: card 1, card 2, card 3, card 4, mom credit report, dad credit report
Finances: mom student loans, dad student loans, car loan, budget, financial goals, debts
Taxes: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011....down to 2007
Household: notebook copies, schedules, blog, receipts and warranties, babysitter information
School: mom, dad, A, B, C
VA: education benefits, disability, appointments
Banking: account 1, 2, 3, 4
Important Documents: mom, dad, A, B, C

Every piece of paper has a specific place. This helps eliminate paper clutter, ensures a safe place for all my documents, and makes it easy to find exactly what I need right away.

How To:

-Make a list of all the types of papers you want to keep. Shot records, school forms, birth certificates, insurance, name it!
-Then split them up into categories that make sense to you. Perhaps everyone gets their own folder and all of their stuff goes in one place. Maybe you want a folder for each month to keep track of bills and finances. Decide what works for you.
-Pick out supplies to match your ideas. Do you need a hundred folders or only ten? What size and type of labels? There are endless possibilities, so take some time to design your setup and find products to meet your needs.
-Get to work! Label, label, label! The key to staying organized is having a place for everything and knowing where that is.
-Put it all together. Once your folders are labeled and everything is ready to go, start filing. If you come across something that doesn't have a place, make one. If you don't like something,  change it. Make your system work for YOU. 

Supplies I used, some of which I had on hand, the rest I bought at Office Depot.

This "project" is ongoing, as filing systems often require updating and revising as situations change. The total upfront investment for 225 folders, 3 sets of labels, and color pens was roughly $50. You could certainly buy smaller packages for less, or get basic colors for very cheap. I am just slightly anal about my color system, so I spent a bit more to get exactly what I needed, and a few extras so I can to it as needed.