Mea Culpa and Group Tool Review

First, mea culpa! I feel terrible for neglecting Curious Kids. I’m talking about the blog, mind you, not the actual kids. The real kids are rested, fed and dressed in clean clothes. At least their clothes were clean this morning. Right now, there are no guarantees.

I do have a good excuse for not posting…I’ve been writing and submitting. I’ve sent out one picture book manuscript and two articles this week. And I have two leveled readers almost ready to go out on submission. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait. That waiting is definitely the hardest part! Cross your fingers for me.

Now, on to the subject of this post. Are you looking for group tools for your in-person critique group, book club, PTA, or Scout troop? By group tools, I mean one place you can privately share a calendar, post photos and video, RSVP for events, maintain a discussion board, and so on. I recently reviewed a whole host of these sites for one of my groups and would like to share a couple with you.

My group opted to set up a Shutterfly Share Site. Shutterfly has designed these free sites for families, classrooms, sports teams, events (like weddings or graduations), and so on. They are private, and you decide who can access the site. There is a group calendar, discussion board and places to share photos, videos and files. As a user, you can adjust your settings so you receive any updates in your email box rather than having to log into the site.

The main reason my group chose Shutterfly is that we can easily use the photos shared on the site to create photo books and other photo gifts. I can already tell you we’ll be making a photo book at the end of the year. We thought using Shutterfly from the get-go would be much easier than downloading photos from another site and uploading them to Shutterfly or Snapfish.

Another popular free site is Big Tent. Big Tent is like a free version of Meetup.com, for those of you who are familiar with Meetup. (Note: Meetup is free for users, but organizers pay $150 a year to maintain sites). On Big Tent you can make your site public or private. Or, you can have a public page and a private section for members only. Essentially Big Tent has the same capabilities at Shutterfly, but if you wanted to create photo books or gifts, you would have to export the photos and upload your them elsewhere. It’s just an extra step.

I suspect many of you have your own curious kids who are involved in lots of activities. Maybe one of these sites will work for you. Or, if you have an in-person critique group or book club, Shutterfly or Big Tent might help with ongoing communications.

Enjoy!

New Year’s resolutions

Turkey trot with Lourdes

It’s New Year’s resolution time! While I’m a very goal-oriented person, I typically don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Generally, I set new goals, both formally and informally, throughout the year rather than confining them to the first day of the year.

Last year, getting on a regular house cleaning schedule was a major goal. While cleaning for our 2010 Holiday Open House, dusting amounted to scraping sheets of dust off of our living and dining room furniture. I was sneezing so hard, my eyes were tearing, and  I could barely see. Thus, I decided that more regular dusting and cleaning in general would make the chores –especially dusting — less onerous. Plus I wanted a house that was ready for last-minute play dates and drop-in visitors at a moment’s notice.

To help me accomplish this goal, I turned to the Queen of Clean, Linda Cobb, who is my cleaning idol. She espoused “green” cleaning before green was cool. Cleaning your mirrors? Try vinegar. Need to clean a drain? Try a vinegar/baking soda volcano! Want to clean a cutting board? Look for lemons. In her book, How the Queen Cleans Everything (Atria 2002) she offers dozens of tips and, in one chapter, sets out a schedule for a year of cleaning. I used her schedule and turned them into checklists that I’ve tried to abide by for the past year. (Tried is the key word here. Will I dust my walls? Likely never.)

For weekly jobs like dusting and vacuuming, I assign each task to a day. Monday I do bathrooms and some kitchen cleaning, since the two chores require the same cleaners (vinegar and Bon Ami); Tuesday I dust; Wednesday I vacuum. Normally I start these jobs while the kids are watching their half-hour morning cartoons. I can get at least the bedrooms vacuumed or dusted, so I can wrap up the remainder of the job at nap time, or, better yet, during the kids’ afternoon cartoons. In January I typically make a big push on some annual jobs like cleaning leather or polishing baseboards. The first month of the year, I do clean on Thursdays or Fridays, but only if I’m watching something fun on Netflix instant or DVD.

As much as possible, I try not to clean during nap time (except for my January kickoff). I once read there was nothing more demoralizing than cleaning during those few precious moments of peace and quiet. I normally use nap time to grade papers or work towards other goals I’ve set.

Speaking of other goals, last summer, I decided I was going to start writing again, and I aspired to get at least one manuscript published in a magazine by the end of the boys’ school year. While, I haven’t had success yet, I keep telling myself I’m taking baby steps. I’ve submitted manuscripts, and learned to love (ok, tolerate) rejection. I also endeavored to build my platform as a writer by launching this blog and committing to blogging Monday through Friday. My writing goals have been a mixed bag, but I’m hoping the relaxed pace of the new year will help me get back in the groove.

Finally, my dear friend Lourdes has foisted a final goal upon me: running a 10K in February. All I can say is, “stay tuned.” However, being able to run down an escaping 3-year-old is a valuable skill (those little legs are fast!), and races do keep me motivated.

For me, staying in shape, having a reasonably clean home and blogging are essential elements for raising curious kids. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If so, what are some of yours?

The day after…thoughts on toys and storage

If your house it anything like mine, it is still strewn with wrapping paper and cardboard boxes and littered with new toys that haven’t yet found a home. I now see why we were required to display our Christmas presents under the tree for a few days after the holiday; it probably took my mom that long to figure out where to put our loot!

Here are a few thoughts about keeping and storing toys:

  • This is the time of year that storage goes on sale. If you have any storage needs, now is the time to buy. For small children, clear storage is generally easiest, because they can see inside without dumping everything on the floor. If you use opaque bins or drawers, try attaching a picture to the outside so children who can’t read know what goes inside. This makes getting children to clean up a lot easier.
  • We are so overcome with LEGOS! I am planning on building this LEGO storage/building station I saw in FamilyFun. Heck I may even build two….one for the Duplos in Finley’s room and the other for the larger LEGOS in Cooper’s room.
  • Less is more. Now is the time to purge those toys your children haven’t played with in a while. Box them up and move them to the garage or attic. You can make a decision to keep them or sell/donate them in a few weeks. I know some people who regularly cycle toys in and out of the house. When a toy’s been out of sight for a while and returns it often seems new and exciting.
  • Did you get a train for Christmas? I love our Gadget Masters train table with trundle. It has a lid (with a chalkboard on the other side) to keep creations out of sight. The trundle serves as a second play space or could be used for additional track and train storage.
  • The boys love to play dress up. I bought a couple of Halloween costumes on clearance as Christmas presents. Right now all their costumes are stuffed in a drawer, which is not conducive to playing dress up. I don’t have room for a clothes rack, so Grandpa, the woodworker, is going to build a petite version of this coat rack.

Enjoy playing with all your new toys!