Achieving Connection with Grandparents Who Live Far Away

Grandparent-grandchild relationships are some of the most special relationships in a child’s life. If the grandparent lives far away, they might only come for occasional visits, especially if they don’t like to travel.

Here are some suggestions for building and maintaining a strong connection between grandparents and small children.

1. Show don’t tell.

Little kids, especially wee boys, usually aren’t interested in long phone conversations. However what they love is to see things.

Show:

– the view out your window

– what you have in your fridge e.g., show them the yoghurts in your fridge and ask them to show you their yoghurts.

– new purchases you’ve made.

2. Dollar store or locally made presents.

Send small presents back and forth. These can from a dollar store or might be locally handmade presents, if you’re travelling in developing countries. Get in the habit of finding out the cheapest ways to ship items and looking out for small, light items that are easy to mail.

If you have friends visiting from where your grandchildren live, send them home with a package.

3. Display their artwork.

Print out artwork your grandkids have done and display it. Alternatively, they can mail their artwork. Take photos of their artwork in your house or show them it over video.

Grandparents: try waiting till your grandchildren are on a video call with you to open any mail you have received from them.

Artwork can also go the other way: Grandparents can do artwork and send it to their grandkids.

4. Carry photos.

If you’re travelling around, travel with a photo of your kids and their grandparents together. Carry in a way that leads to them looking at it frequently. For example, your child may have a photobook of memories from home, that they can view themselves and show to people they meet on their travels.

5. Keep conversations short.

Frequent short conversations are better than long ones. Your children will look forward to the frequent Skype contact and she will be more likely to remain interested during the call.

6. Let them know when you’re going to see them next.

Virtual communication is all well and good but nothing beats real life hugs and in person time. Try to see them twice a year, or once a year if twice a year isn’t possible. Make this a priority. For example, plan vacations together where possible. Older children may even want to go stay with grandparents as unaccompanied minors, if grandparents are in good enough physical/mental shape to take care of them.
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There are some more tips on this topic here.

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Exploring Less Familiar Regions

When Americans go to Europe, they typically go to London, Paris, and if they’re feeling adventurous, Tuscany. However there is much more to Europe than just these hotspots. Many people we know say they have a better time in “second cities” than in capitals. I’m sure this is partly an expectations issue. For example, our expectations of cities like Paris tend to be so high, and our travel dreams don’t feature a subway that smells like pee, long lines at the Louvre, all those types of travel realities.

What if you want to do free ranging exploration? Young travelers will often get a rail pass to explore Europe, or go on a bus tour. Rail passes are slightly less good value now because of the abundance of budget airlines but are still definitely an option to consider (as are point to point rail tickets).

Organized bus tours are falling out of favor, especially with with millennials who want a more unique experience and have confidence in being able to arrange their own travel due to the internet. There are other ways to get around, ranging from cycling at the very inexpensive (but hard work) end, or if you’ve got the budget, then the increasingly popular option of a European river or Mediterranean cruise . The cruises take in some of the most historical cities like Prague, Budapest, and Nuremberg. Looking at the itineraries cruises use is a great way to think about what route you might like to take. The great thing about Europe is that traveling from country to country is like traveling from state to state in the US because the distances are much shorter. International travel by land (or water) is definitely a viable option.

When you’re thinking about going somewhere like Prague or Budapest, remember that these aren’t particularly exotic or intimidating destinations for Europeans and Brits. They are just normally cities. You’ll easy find a hotel and a Starbucks 😉 or the location equivalent. Even vegetarians shouldn’t have too many problems travelling in these regions. For example, Happy Cow has over 50 listings of vegetarian or vegetarian friendly restaurants in Prague.

If you still feel a bit unsure, what can you do to feel more confident? You could try the following: Talk to other people who’ve travelled extensively in Europe. If you plan to travel with kids, then talk to people who’ve done it with kids and check out family travel bloggers. If you’re planning a trip to London, Paris, or Florence, then why not add a few extra days to see somewhere this just slightly more adventurous. Somewhere in Eastern Europe would be a great option but you could also do a second city just in the main country you’re visiting. Using this method, you’re still spending most of your time somewhere you know you’ll like but can step outside your comfort zone just a bit. Once you’ve organized your own travel a few times you’ll most definitely become bitten by the travel bug.

7 Must Have Storage Solutions

These are 7 products that will help keep your home clutter-free. Tidy physical space > tidy mental space. De-cluttering is a great way to stimulate your brain to naturally clean out any old crappy thoughts and behaviors and invite new ones in.

1. Shoe rack.

If people just leave their shoes all over your house or in the front doorway, get a shoe rack to keep things orderly. If you find shoe racks ugly or have limited floor space, consider a tall, thin vertical shelf that can be put on the wall.

2. Kitchen draw dividers.

If you have a draw you tend to overfill and just stuff everything in, get a draw divider for that drawer so that you need to put things in it in a more orderly fashion.

3. A “S” hooks for your pots and pans.

Keeping your pots in a cupboard is bound to lead to that cupboard getting cluttered. Whoever has enough cupboard space?! Instead keep your pots and pans on the wall using S hooks.

4. A board and hooks for attaching tools to your garage wall.

To keep tools accessible and tidy you want to keep them on the wall. Put a large board up on your wall (something you can nail into), get a hook for each of your tools, assign it a position on the wall according to it’s use frequency, and then draw around the perimeter of the item e.g., the shape of a wrench. Using a board stop you from needing to draw on or put hooks in your walls. You may not need hooks if you just use large nails to hang your items.

5. A filing cabinet.

Filing cabinets are ugly and it is a pain to have to store paper in this day and age. However, there is a reason office utilize filing cabinets. They’re the easier way to keep large amounts of paper orderly and easy to access. Don’t over stuff your filing cabinet and get a 4 drawer version since you’ll always end up needing more space than you think.

You should definitely be able to negotiate the price of a filing cabinet with and business-orientated office supply store. Research prices online as well but also don’t be afraid to negotiate with your local store. You should be able to get a great price, especially if you have some flexibility about the color of the cabinet.

Make sure you also get a box of files thrown in with the deal to get you started.

6. A lazy suzy for that odd shaped cupboard.

A lazy suzy is a little disc that rotates and enables you to access items that would otherwise be at the back of the cupboard and hard to reach.

7. A clothes peg basket that hangs on your line.

This probably seems like a very specific item and you may have one already. However I wanted to illustrate the principle that the best storage solutions are ones that allow you to store items literally within arms length of where you want to use the item. You want your stuff to be right there when you need it. If you already have a peg basket, think about what other solutions your home needs to that items are accessible to you exactly at the moment you need them.

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10 Day Plan for Decluttering Made Easy

Decluttering your home can be overwhelming. Below is a 10 day plan where you should be able to complete each day’s activities within 30 minutes.

Some people will likely want to implement this plan on weekend days for 5 weeks. Or else, you could do it weekdays for 2 weeks. The choice is your’s.

Preparation

Get a big plastic storage container and put it by your front door. This is going to be you “maybe pile” = your area for placing stuff you’re not sure if you want to throw out. You can put anything in there and then purge the contents of this container on Day 10 of this program. This will help stop you keeping hold of things “just in case.”

Day 1: Your Purse.

Clean out your purse. Something nice and simple to kickstart this project.

Day 2: Clean Out 1 Junk Draw.

Pick one SMALL cluttered draw and clean it out. Take care not to just move stuff to other locations. You want to actually purge as much as possible so the draw is uncluttered.

Day 3: Under the Bed.

Declutter anything that’s under your bed. If there’s nothing under there, you’re going to have an easy day – you can just give under the bed a good vacuum.

Day 4: Your Linen Closet.

Today, go through your linen closet. Identify any old or excess towels and sheets. If you have extras that are still usable, put them in your car and drop them off somewhere for donation. Throw away the rest. You might think you’ll use them for rags but will you really?

Day 5: Old Electronics.

Collect you any old electronics, including power packs and chargers and take them to your local electronics disposal.

Day 6: The Paper Monster.:

Find at least 10 pieces of paper that can be thrown out. Find 5 additional items where you can just snap a photo of the document with your camera phone, rather than keeping the original. Upload the photos to Dropxbox for safe keeping.

Day 7: Underwear and socks.

Just like you did with the linen closet, go through your underwear and socks and throw out anything that’s paste it’s wear by date or anything that was a mistake purchase.

Day 8: Duplicates.

Do you have duplicates, triplicates, or more of some items where you only need one? Dispose of 5 categories of these. You can put them out on your stoop and put a sign that says “free.”

Sample items are things like an extra umbrella or extra pens.

Day 9: Broken items.

Do you have any items that are broken – things you contemplated getting fixed but never got around to. Discard these items today.

Day 10: Purge Your “Maybe” Pile.

Today’s the day to go through all of the rubbish you have designated as “maybe I’ll throw that away or maybe I won’t.” Most likely you will be ready by now to throw away most, if not all, of the items in your big plastic container. If you haven’t used them since you started this project it’s time to toss them!

If there is anything you want to keep, today is the day to re-home it. Remember to put things away where there is space. Don’t stuff books into overcrowded book shelves etc. The only way to keep things tidy is for everything to have a place and for that place to be uncluttered.

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7 Apps That Will Save You Money

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1. Gas Buddy

Shows you the cheapest gas near you. Super easy to use. You just hit one button and it uses your location info. I regularly manage to save around 20c a gallon using this app. I’ve discovered some gas stations that I drive past but have never paid any attention to or where the price wasn’t clearly visible from the road.

2. Red Laser

This app allows you to scan the barcode of any item and the app will look for the lowest prices for that item online. I tend to keep the boxes of things like sneakers so I can easily scan the barcode and reorder an item I like. This allows me to later reorder the old model that I know I already like and can usually get at a huge discount.

3. Google Maps Navigation

You save $ instead of buying a GPS and you save gas when you avoid unnecessary driving around in circles. The app will reroute you based on traffic levels so you also save gas and time you would’ve spent sitting in traffic.

You might find that it suggests some short cuts on routes you often take but have never considered.

4. Viber

The Viber app allows you to make free calls to other Viber users anywhere you have a data connection. Unlike Facetime, there are versions for non-iphone users. The call quality is usually better than Skype. This app is excellent for when you’re taking overseas trips and want to stay in touch with family at home, or whoever is watering your plants.

5. Hotwire.

They currently have an offer where the first time you use the app you get a $25 discount on any booking of at least $100 (can be a 2 night booking a lower rate).

6. Amazon Price Checker.

A quick way to see if something is a good deal is to see if you can get it cheaper on Amazon. The Amazon Price Checker app makes that easy,

7. Parking.me.

Put in the address or zip code and this app will show you the cheapest parking options. Not only that but it shows them on a map so you can see which is going to be in the sweet spot between cheapest and most convenient.

Getting some extra money for your travel fund.

1. Apply for refunds.

Before you leave overseas on longer term travel make sure you get any refunds you’re entitled to when you cancel services. This includes:

– from your car insurance if you prepaid in advance,
– deposits you’ve paid when you started your utilities at your house or apartment.
– TV license fee in the UK.
– Car registration fees.

If you’ve got time left to run on any contracts like the your phone or the gym, then do some research about the best ways to disentangle yourself from those situations. Don’t listen to what the sales guy tells you! There are often ways and means! Go through your last few months bank statements and minimize, to the greatest extent possible, any payments that will still be coming out while you’re travelling. Make sure you understand the implications of canceing things e.g., you probably don’t want to cancel your health insurance to save a few hundred dollars, if there is a risk you could develop a long term problem while you’re away and then not be covered for it if you re-apply for health insurance later. An alternative to canceling is sometimes trading down e.g., keeping third party insurance for a vehicle you’re going to be storing.

2. Get the best prices when you sell your stuff.

There are several things you can do to get the best prices for items you’re selling online. Taking good photos and writing good descriptions is important. It’s also important how you price your items – not too high and not too low. You can never really be sure of this, unless you can look up past sales prices of virtually identical items. One option is to ask friends or co-workers who use the sites you’re selling on, what they think the prices should be. Otherwise you’re likely to fall into the trap of overvaluing your own stuff.

3. Do some extra work.

Overtime at your job is one option. Other options include things like babysitting or odd jobs. Be upfront with people that you’re trying to put a few extra dollars in your travel kitty, so if there is anything they want to outsource to you, you’re open to it. There are plenty of jobs e.g., cleaning someone’s pool that don’t take rocket science, and that many homeowners will be happy to take a break from. Doing this type of thing will build your confidence if it’s not something you usually do.

4. Submit a tax return.

If you’re an employee who has taxes deducted from your pay, and you’ve only worked part of the year, chances are you’ll be eligible for a tax refund. This is because the tax calculations generally assume you’ll be working for the full year. Some countries don’t require their citizens to file taxes if tax has been deducted at the correct rate, so you might not usually file a return. If you want to get the refund, you will usually have to file. Check out whether you can do this yourself. It might not be as daunting as you think.

Image by Moyan Brenn under Creative Commons License.

7 Tips for Saving on Your Regular Purchases Without Couponing.

1. Use a cash back credit card.

Many people sign up for credit cards to get frequent flyer points as sign up bonuses. For your regular purchases, you should be using a credit card that gives you cash back. There are some that hover around 2% with no annual fee. If you put $20,000 on the card in a year, you’ll get $400 cash back – a very nice saving!

This tip applies if you travel coach and would rather have flexibility about your airline and hotel choices, rather than be locked into one brand. By all means, still sign up for other cards to get the initial sign up bonuses. For your regular purchases, I favor cold hard cash back (lol).

2. Move your regular purchases to your credit card.

If you have a card that gives cash back, you’re now saving money for every charge you put on your credit card. Go through any bills you have that you pay from your checking account and see if you can move them to your credit card. Take a look at your check book to see any checks you’ve written in the last 6 months that could have been paid on your card.

3. Are there any regular purchases where you can purchase through an “online mall” for additional cashback or points?

For example, whenever I order my phone refill card from Wal-mart, I going through the American Airlines shopping portal. This earns one frequent flyer point per $1 spent.

You can also use sites like ebates.com where you’ll get at least 1% cash back on virtually any online purchase.

If you shop a lot at Amazon and have an existing card that gives you a high % of rewards for purchases at supermarkets, another trick is to buy Amazon giftcards at your supermarket and then use those cards to shop on Amazon.

These may seem like small savings but if you spend say $30,000 a year on shopping for your family’s expenses, then averaging 3% cashback is a $900 saving. It’s worth putting up to 10 or so hours into developing systems for HOW you make your purchases so that you can save on autopilot.

4. Get smart about extended warranties.

Buying the extended warranty from the store where you buy the item is rarely the best deal. Shop around online for other extended warranty options. And, consider whether you need the extended warranty at all. Amex cards can be used to get extended warranty protection in many cases. Just make sure you use the Amex for the purchase and not a gift card.

5. Check for duplicate benefits.

Check for services you are paying for twice. For example, my car insurance already provides roadside assistance benefits so I don’t need a AAA membership.

My credit card covers collision damage on rental car hires.

I have an audiobook subscription but I’m thinking about giving it up because so many of the audiobooks I want are available from my public library. They also have lots of titles for your kindle too. If you have a library card, you may not need to duplicate with purchases. Whenever I need to place a hold on an item, I typically only need to wait a few days till I get an email saying the item is now ready for download.

7. Limit the time you spend on these strategies.

It would be easy to obsess of getting the absolute top amount of cash back for every purchase. However that is rarely a smart use of time. Basically making sure you are getting something back EVERY time you make an online purchase is the best strategy, EXCEPT where you are making more than several thousand dollars a year of purchases through a channel. When it gets to that level, you want to make sure you’re getting the best % back.

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5 Suggestions for a Calmer Home

1. Everything should have a place.

If everything in you own has a designated ‘home’ within your home, it’s a lot easier to keep things tidy.

What’s important is that all items each have an uncluttered place you put them after use. This should be as close as possible to where you use the item. In other words, you shouldn’t need to walk to the other end of the house to put something away.

2. Turn the TV and radio off when not using them.

Eliminate excess noise as much as possible. The sound of silence is incredibly calming. You can’t always control the noise level at your home e.g., neighbors mowing their lawns. However, when you have complete silence at home, take a mindful moment to enjoy it.

3. Fix broken stuff.

Broken items give a home bad energy and are annoying. For example, if a door has become sticky. Get yourself a good handyperson who can take care of little jobs for you. Have them come in as soon as two or more things need doing. I use a guy my Mum found. He’s amazing and can fix virtually anything. And, he only charges $25 an hour! Keep a running list somewhere of what you’ve noticed needs fixing. Throw out items that no longer work and all their attachments e.g., old chargers. Take to electronics recycling.

Things that might need doing include
– leaking faucets
– a lawnmower that’s become difficult to start
– repainting where paint has cracked from the sun
– chairs or tables that have developed wobbles
– remotes that have dead batteries
– door handles that have become loose

4. Assign a weekly time for taking care of little issues around your home.

Some issues that occur around your home, you’ll be able to fix yourself. For example, lightbulbs or batteries that need changing. Assign a weekly time when you can either fix issues yourself or arrange for your handyperson to come.

Identify items that you can order online and create “wishlists” for these items so you can easily reorder them as necessary. Ordering online means you can just order the items when sitting at your desk at work or whenever the needs crop up. You won’t need to remember to get the item from the store. The simplest solution is to join Amazon Prime. That way you don’t have to deal with minimum order requirements and can get free 2 day shipping.

5. Develop systems and procedures.

For anything you do regularly, you should have an efficient system and set of procedures. For example, where you hang your keys when you walk in the door or how you pack lunches for your family. Help your children and husband to develop systems. For example, your child might have a system for how they get their school bag ready, or a system for what they do when they get home from school, like where they put their bag and changing their clothes.

For younger children, you can make a series of photos of each stage of a system and put them in a flip book. This means they can have visual reminders of what comes next in a process. For example, they might have a flip book containing the photos of everything they need if they’re doing to do painting e.g., put on their apron, put an old sheet on the floor so they don’t make a mess of the carpet etc.

photo credit: Take Back Your Health Conference, Los Angeles 2015 under Creative Commons license.

How to Prepare for a Road Trip

Here are 10 tips for how to prepare for a stress free road trip.

1. Top up the fluids in your car

e.g., water for your window wipers.

2. Make sure your tires are at the correct pressure.

This helps with fuel efficiency.

3. Familiarize yourself with the Google Maps app for turn by turn navigation with voice prompts. Sometimes the voice prompts can require a bit of fiddling to get working. I think my issue was that I normally use headphones with my phone. The phone defaults to not playing sound if headphones have been recently pulled out while something is playing and I think this was causing the voice prompts not to work at first. Make sure you have the latest version of the app i.e., check there aren’t any updates of the app (click the app store icon on your phone to check).

4. Get a stand to mount your phone to your dashboard.

Using your phone for navigation is cheaper, and typically just as good, as dropping $100 on a dedicated GPS. If you think you will be going places that don’t help cell reception then you might look at an app that where you download the maps in advance for offline use. There are some free ones.

5. Get a car charger for your phone.

If your car doesn’t have a USB port, get a charge that plugs into your cigarette lighter. You can get these with double slots so you can charge both your iphone and ipad.

6. Familiarize yourself with the routes your going to take.

I like to do this on my laptop and then check to make sure those same routes are showing up on the phone. Sometimes Google maps for desktop shows different route options vs. Google maps for phones. Usually the desktop version gives you the most logical routings. The phone excels at adjusting your route based on live traffic data.

7. Practice driving using the Maps app.

It can take a few runs to get accustomed to using the Google maps app if normally you don’t use a GPS or navigation app when driving in your home town or city.

Use the maps app for a week or so at home, before your trip. You might be surprised and discover some more efficient routes around your own neighborhood.

8. Gas Buddy

Get the Gas Buddy app if you are doing a road trip in the US. This will show you the cheapest gas prices in your current vicinity. It is brilliant and has saved me a lot of money.

9. Parking

Check out parking options if you think you’ll be driving anywhere where parking will be difficult or expensive. The http://www.parkme.com/ site can be quite useful, although it doesn’t typically show the free street parking options or store/mall parking lots you can park in for free.

Try and find a supermarket or mall near where you going for parking purposes.

10. Plan to keep hydrated.

Make sure you have a water bottle and/or coffee cup that will sit nicely in your cup holder. You might also want to pack a small cooler (one that will fit inside the car rather than the trunk) so that you can keep drinks and snacks cold.

How to Recover from a Bad Day

1. Give yourself permission to take time to recover.

After a bad day, give yourself permission to take an evening or a day or two to bounce back. Sometimes we just push through emotional pain without taking the time to have a period of emotional recovery. I’m not talking about months, I’m taking about a few days.

2. Spend some time in silence.

Decompress by reducing noise and other excess stimulation. Take a few minutes without the TV on.

3. Take a long bath or shower.

Use the heat of the water to soothe your adrenalin soaked muscles. Use a peppermint soap or any other mild, natural scented soap that helps you feel calmer and refreshed.

4. Do something routine but not unpleasant.

Sometimes it’s nice to come home and cook after a bad day. Other people might choose to do laundry or weed their garden. Anything that requires “singletasking” is often a good way to feel like you’re moving forward after a bad day but also like you’re moving forward emotionally.

5. Don’t make any snap decisions.

Sometimes it feels like the issue needs to be sorted out right now. Usually it doesn’t. Tolerate the uncertainty and it not being all worked out and finalized yet vs. run the risk of making an impulsive decision you might regret later.

6. Call a friend, but not for a marathon chat.

Talking to a friend after you’ve had a bad day can be a great thing to do. However, don’t spend an hour talking about what has happened. You can briefly mention what’s going on but then move on to other topics. A positive distraction is usually a better idea than wearing out your welcome mat with your friend. Other people usually have things going on in their lives too.

If you want company, consider asking a friend to come over to watch a movie or something else low stress.

7. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, but believe those feelings will pass.

Whatever you’re feeling, whether it be angry, anxious, guilty or depressed, allow yourself to feel whatever you feel. However you should also expect that those feelings will naturally pass.

8. Eat what you like, but don’t binge.

If you’re craving carbs due to stress, go for it. However don’t binge or overeat. Make popcorn, eat a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, or munch throw a whole tub of hummus. I often crave salty carbs if I’ve had a really bad day and no harm ever comes of it.

9. Do what’s right for you in terms of alcohol.

Some people I know swear by a glass of wine to help them calm down and relax after stress. A few of my closest friends use this as a coping strategy but only very occasionally. For me, a glass of wine wouldn’t improve the situation. Know what’s right for you.

10. Take it easy for a few days after your bad day.

You don’t want to grind to a halt in terms of productivity after a bad day. However, you do want to let yourself naturally recover. Find a balance between staying active / productive and allowing time for recovery. Long walks can be good vs. other types of strenuous activity – again know what works for you. Are you a long walk person or do you prefer to get your mojo back with a hard out zumba class? For me, I will for for a long walk or swim but there would be no way I’d have the willpower to energy to get myself to an exercise class or the gym.

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