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goalWhat was your goal this morning when you woke up? If you’re like me, it’s probably to make it through the first cup of coffee until coherency sets in. That, however, is a short term goal. Really short.

What about those long term goals? Yes, that includes 5 year and 10 year goals but it also includes weekly, monthly, or even yearly goals. I have to admit that I’ve always had a vague notion of where I was going, career wise. It wasn’t until recently that I had to actually sit down and put those goals down on paper. My first step? Applying for my doctorate.

Why is it important to have goals? Well, if you don’t know where you’re going how are you going to get there? A goal sets the destination and also gives you an idea of how to get there too.

Of course, that’s a seriously lofty goal and it took me forever to figure it out. I wish I had read “How to Set Goals When You Have No Idea What You Want” about a month ago (that would have required time travel though since the post was only written on 9/1/09). Make sure to read the comments, too, as they contain quite a few ideas that might help you figure out your goals.

So, here’s my goals using the “three list” method (see the comments in the mentioned article for this method):

1. Things I want to do: visit the Louvre museum for at least a month; see each and every national monument in the continental United States; go to a writing and/or fantasy/scifi convention

2. Things I want to have: a fluffy dog (check that off the list); a computer that actually runs all my programs without crashing; a Shelby Mustang GT (red with racing stripes, please, and no wussy convertible top); a good pair of shoes every three months

3. Things I want to be: expert in my field (obtaining my doctorate is part of this goal); a mother who attends her kids soccer games/chess tournaments/art exhibits; the wife my husband needs me to be

So, what are your goals? Were they easy or difficult to determine? Which method from the linked article did you use? Tell me because I want to know!

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Since school starts next week for my boys, I thought I’d share five back to school tips that I have found particularly helpful.

Tip #1: Get into the swing of things now

If you’re like me, you’ve let your kids sleep in until 8 am and get dressed around 10 am all summer long. Which is fine right up until the first day of school when the kids need to be up and dressed by 6:45 and out the door by 7:30. So this year I have instituted a “Going Back to School” schedule. The whole family is starting their day just as if school had already started. That means earlier bed times and wake ups, beds made, dressed, fed and ready to face the day by 7:30 am. At least I can get the grumbling out of the way now instead of on the first day of school.

Lunch BoxTip #2 Plan out those lunch menus

I’ve blogged about menu planning before but I think it’s important enough to repeat here. Sit down with your kids and plan out a couple weeks worth of lunch menus which all of you can live with. And, if your child packs his or her own lunch, they have a guide to what to bring for lunch on any particular day. It really nips the whole “But I didn’t know what to make so I took candy instead” argument in the bud.

Tip #3: Go to Back to School Night

Even if you are exhausted from a long day at work, the kids are cranky, and it’s pouring rain/sunny and 150 degrees. Everyone is nervous about that first day of school and it isn’t just limited to your kids.

The teacher is getting a whole new set of children in the classroom, 5 year olds are heading to a new phase of their life, and you need to get a feel for the classroom and teacher. So, it’s a good thing to meet & greet before that first day of school.

Tip #4: Create a Central Calendar

Everyone in the family has a list of activities that come in to the house through a number of ways, i.e. through papers coming home from school, emails from colleagues, party invitations sent in the mail. The best way to coordinate schedules is to use a central calendar. There are literally hundres of calendars available through stores and the Internet for you to use. Pick one and post it where everyone can see it (even the 3 foot tall kindergartner!).

Tip #5: Spend Time With Your Kids

It will be all too soon that they are gone all day and involved in their own lives once school starts. While you, and I, may look forward to that, the excitement wears off pretty quickly. So, take the time now to let your kids know that you love them and that you are there for them (no matter what happens). Enjoy it becuase childhood doesn’t last forever.

Do you have any back to school tips? Please share them with me!

After a completely random landing on a sustainable lifestyle blog, Hole in the Fence (a really good read, btw), I ended up following a link to The Nature Conservancy’s website. And, since the space time continuum apparently stopped while I was surfing the web, I decided that I had a burning need  (and unlimited amounts of time) to use their Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Our family, it appears, puts out about 39 tons of carbon per year. Considering the national average is over 50 tons, we’re doing pretty good. I guess we can do better but that’s another post.

What the Carbon Footprint Calculator did, though, was get me thinking about all the things that we can do to be green, business wise. As a matter of fact, now would be a good time to start up a small green business. Not only would you be doing a service for others but you’d be helping the planet and making a living at it, too. Not a bad set of circumstances.

So, without further ado, here are five green small business ideas that you can get started with:

1. Worm Farming – otherwise known as vermicomposting. Okay, it’s not glamorous since we are, after all, talking about worm poop. And you have to really like wiggly slimy things but worms are Nature’s recyclers and, according to my husband, vericompost fertilizer is the tops for any garden (notice how I avoided writing “its the s**t).  Here’s more information about vermicomposting to get you started:

2. Small Space Gardening – This is a very cool idea for those of you who have a knack for gardening. Here are a couple ideas: put together seed packets and instruction booklet for people in your climate zone, go to peoples’ homes and take care of their gardens, set up patio gardens for apartment dwellers for a fee, set up and run a community garden (if you have the room on your property), etc. You may want to start with The Edible Garden (book by Sunset) or the National Gardening Association.

3. Solar Panel Rentals – Sounds weird but it actually does exist. The upfront costs of solar panels is a little steep, to say the least, but if you can rent them from someone, the rental price is typically lower than the energy bill from the big power company. To start up a solar panel rental business, you’ll need to know your solar technology. Take some classes, install your own, install some for others, read about it, etc.  Additionally, you’ll need to be located in a sunny spot with decent solar subsidies to really make a go of it. Of the green businesses discussed in this post, this is the most expensive upfront but one with the longest lasting impact.

4. Green Clothing – Renewable sourced clothing is very hot right now plus it’s good for the environment. And, if you focus on pet clothing, you may have a niche market. Or, you could source the fibers for others to use in their projects (think organic cotton, bamboo, soy, and hemp). If you want to go the route of making clothing, you’ll need to know how to sew really well. So, this particular business is not for me but it might be for you!

5. Going Green Consultant – Why not help other businesses become greener and environmentally responsible? Any business can go green, from the office supplies to investments to business practices. All you need to do is take your passion for helping the environment and apply it in a new direction.

It goes without saying that you’ll need some business sense and elbow grease to get any small business going. However, if you have a passion for sustainability and for helping others, then I say go for it! Do your research and touch base with your local Small Business Administration or SCORE office for help (if you need it).

Do you have some other small business ideas that are sustainable and/or green? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

I love menus. Restaurants make them look so easy to put together. The pictures of the food make the dishes look mouth watering and, when I read the description, the ingredients seem somewhat simple (okay, we’re talking Denny’s not the Russian Tea Room).

And then I think to myself: I bet I could do that. I know I’d save money if I had a plan of attack, so to speak, when payday comes around. All I need to do is sit down and write it out!

And then I get home and two seconds into the meal planning process I give it up as hopeless.

Meal planning can be tough! Who’d a thunk it, right?

So, for today, I’m going to talk to you (and hope that you listen) about the ins and outs of menu planning and how it can benefit you, the working parent.

For starters, knowing what you are going to eat for the next two weeks (more or less) really helps keep down the whining and pestering around 4 pm.

“Mom, what’s for dinner?”*

Those are words you may never have to hear again. All you have to do is point to the refrigerator where the menu is posted, which your child may or may not be able to read. If they can’t, direct them to their other parent or older sibling for translation services.

Then there is the money saving aspect. If you know what you are going to eat, when you take your weekly jaunt to the grocery store all you have to do is purchase those ingredients for your menu. This saves on money because you aren’t buying generalities (gosh,  I think I’ll need 5 dozen eggs as opposed to I know I need 2 dozen eggs).  Just as long as you aren’t buying esoteric items, you should keep your purchases down to a manageable level. If you use coupons and sale items for your menu, you’re ahead of the game! As a side note, I’ve learned that you have to add in your snacks, too, or they catch up with you at the check out line.

With a menu plan, you keep the trips to the grocery store down to a minimum. So, if I know what my ingredients are, I can purchase them at one time and not have to make a run to the store every few days for items that I “forgot.” The only exception to this is milk and fresh veggies. We go through both pretty quickly so I always keep a bit of cash on the side to make sure I can purchase these each week (we only shop every two weeks).

So, what are the down sides to menu planning? Well, you have to actually create a menu. And, as I mentioned previously, it’s not an easy task. At least it wasn’t for me. You see, I get tired of baked chicken and salad. Or spaghetti and salad. Or pork chops and salad.

Do you sense a theme here?

When I think of menus, I think of a restaurant menu that has a plethora of interesting choices that are not found in the typical kitchen. This is my downfall. However, when I pick myself up off the floor and return to reality, I realized that I don’t have to spend hours pouring over my recipe box or allrecipes.com to create the perfect menu. There are plenty of alternatives available from the library (gasp!) or on the Internet.

Let us speak first of my friend, the library. How I love her! She is generous with her possessions and stern yet gentle with her reprimands (25 cent late fees, anyone?). Go to your nearest library and look up the following books:

Not into reading cookbooks and copying out your own menus or grocery lists? Me neither. There are other options that will send to your email a list of weekly dinners and accompanying grocery list. Just be aware that these options cost money, typically, and are only for dinners. You’ll still have to plan out breakfast and lunches (the Yum-o! cookbook has many recipes for breakfast and lunch).

  • Menus4Moms Basic Weekly Menu (free for basic menu)
    • added bonus of Grocery Deals, a free way of finding the sales in the grocery stores nearest to you
  • e-Mealz ($1.50 a week, payable 3 months in advance which works out to about $15)
    • recommended by Dave Ramsey
  • Meals Matter (free resource to create your own menu plans from pre-existing recipes or add in your own; simple and easy to use!)

The other option is to use a menu building software that will print out a grocery list for you. There are several available ranging from free to quite expensive. This is a good option if you want ultimate control over what you eat, particularly if you are on a specific diet.

As a final note, these menus are for dinners only. You’ll have to come up with your own ideas for breakfasts and lunches. Ray’s Yum-o! has lots of kid friendly breakfast and lunch ideas that adults will enjoy too. My kids particularly like the breakfast cereal parfaits!

  • Back-To-School Breakfast Recipes
    • if you add the recipes into your meal planner (like Meals Matter), you can get the ingredients into your over-all grocery list; otherwise, just add them onto the list you already have for your dinners
    • scroll to the bottom of the recipe page to get the links
  • Creative Breakfast Ideas (pdf)
    • while I am not endorsing their website, I do find the two page recipe booklet to have some good recipes
  • School Lunch Recipe Tips
    • Okay, I do realize it is summertime. However, if you are working from home, chances are you are making lunch for the munchkins anyway.
    • Or you can go right to the Lunch Recipes, if you prefer.

Do you plan your menus? Is this information overwhelming or helpful? Let me know!

* I have yet to hear them ask their father this question and he’s in the next room!

Have you ever sat down to begin your blog post and then stop because you had no idea what to blog about? I have.

A lot.

It’s a struggle sometimes to find something to talk about because, let’s face it, we want our blog posts to matter.

Whether you are a mom blogger or own a business and using it as a marketing tool, our blog posts are seen by (potentially) thousands of people. We want those people to at least walk away with a sense of respect (hey! she really knows what she’s talking about!).

There is nothing worse than what I imagine a conversation that my potential reader may have after he or she reads my post, “Gosh. That was awful. Why did I waste my time with that?” Whether they do that or not, I have no idea. I’m hoping they don’t.

But how do I keep a steady supply of blog posts that are interesting?

As I thought about it, I came up with three ideas, that when put together, will give you a full monthly/yearly blogging schedule:

  • blogging calendar with a twist
  • alliteration
  • SEO

There are a few blogging calendar’s floating around the ‘net (type in “blogging calendar” with the quotes on Google). However, I don’t like them. Not that I don’t appreciate the time and energy that go into creating them but because they aren’t in depth enough for me.

For those not in the know, most of the blogging calendar’s are just lists of what months celebrate what events and holidays. For example, March is Women’s History Month.

I can see the quizzical look on your face from all the way over here and I know what you’re thinking: what has that got to do with my blog or my readers?

Depends. How many of your readers are female? You have a 50/50 chance. Well, that isn’t the point of my blog. Okie dokie then. Is there anything in common between the “general idea” of your blog and “Women’s History Month”? Anything at all? Oh, well as a matter of fact, I think that….

Ah. Now we start getting somewhere. You don’t actually have to celebrate Women’s History Month (although it would be pretty cool if you did) but if you can come up with 3 to 4 ideas that are related to women’s history and your blog, you have at least 3 to 4 blog posts. You can even take that a step further and give link love, product reviews, or memory posts (I remember when…) based on those 4 ideas that you just brainstormed. All with that general spark of “Women’s History Month.” And, by the way, you don’t have to use those topics in just the month of March!

Onto alliteration. According to Webster’s Dictionary, alliteration is “the commencement of two or more words of a word group with the same letter.”

Now, I’m not trying to toss out some fancy schmancy English terms at you. I bet you alliterate every day or see it every time you read a blog. Stop blushing. You have a seriously warped mind, did you know that?

Follow Friday? Thankful Thursday? Wordless Wednesday? Meatless Monday? Any of these a-ringin’ a bell? (Thank you, Sid the Sloth, for that line!)

If you can come up with an alliterative theme for each day of the week and then brainstorm 3 to 4 sub ideas for each theme, you have LOTS of blog posts ready to go. Let’s look at an example, shall we? Meatless Monday.

Well, the first Monday we can give out a vegetarian menu for the week/month. The second Monday, we can review a vegetarian book (with a recipe thrown in for good measure). Third Monday might be a guest blogger who talks about vegetarianism or something related to it. Fourth Monday might be the health benefits of meatless meals with the accomanying recipes. You can keep doing this til the cows…oops…flowers…nah, cows come home.

The last idea I had for blog post topics came to me from Twitter’s trending topics (although you can use Google Trends or Google AdWords just as easily). It’s pretty simple actually: see what people are talking about and then talk about it too.

It’s an easy way to find something to blog about that generates traffic to your blog. I know, it seems kind of underhanded, doesn’t it? And it smacks a bit of  “keeping up with the Joneses.” Well, if you feel that way try staying within the parameters of your blog’s main topic or idea(s).

For example, my blog is about working from home. I do talk about lots of other stuff, mostly because it’s my personal blog and not a professional one. If I was desperate for a topic, I could type in “WAHM” into the Google Trends and voila! Literally hundreds of articles from the past 5 years pop up about WAHMs that can give me some ideas on what to write about.

If I use the trending topics on Twitter, I can find related items about working from home and, say, Star Trek. Maybe. If not, I could probably use it as a segue and then brainstorm. Either way, I end up with a blog post!

Or I could run over to AdWords and do the same thing to see what people are searching for. You can use this as a SEO tool but I like it as an idea generator.

I know what you’re asking. “So what?” Actually, that’s a fabulous question. Use it every time you get a trending topic or search term. Then answer it. Then keep asking “So what?” over and over, answering it every time. Do it enough times, and you end up with a viable list of topics for your blog.

So how does this create a monthly or yearly plan of blogging topics? Well, if you do the above three things, calendar with a twist, alliteration, and SEO, you should have at least one thing every day to talk about for a month.

And then you can do it again and again. Mix it up and keep it fresh. I like doing My Opinion Monday and WAHM Tip Wednesday (alliteration). I also add in some SEO and trending topics in there (check out my post from Tuesday). And, there is the events calendar (Mother’s Day, anyone?). In between I manage to squeeze in some posts that don’t have a defined theme other than they are mine and related to me as a woman, mother, and WAHM.

By the way, some people like to use Google Docs spreadsheets as a way to track what they will discuss on what day. *ahem* It’s a useful tool but don’t be married to it. If you find something that is outside of the “blogging calendar” then by all means blog away about it.

It is, after all, your blog!

Do you have any tips or tricks about generating blog topics? I want to know! And more importantly, so do my readers!

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