My Notebook Hack


Beautiful notebooks are a necessary indulgence for me. Being able to scribble notes, write inspirational messages and jot down ideas in a piece of art make me happy. It’s why I show up to business meetings with fabulously-colored notebooks instead of the traditional yellow notepads. It’s also why my notebooks often become a topic of conversation.

Through the years I’ve come up with a few hacks to turn my “little of everything” notebook into an organized, efficient tool.

Office supplies needed to hack your notebook or journal:

  • paper clips
  • rubber band
  • binder clip
  • Post-it notes
  • Post-it flags

In the front of the notebook I store a paper clip and a binder clip.

howtoorganizenotebookforschoolworkThese are used to section off a few pages or an entire section of notes. These can also be used to attach loose papers that are needed for a meeting, etc.

On the back cover I add a few post-it notes and flags. The flags are used to flag sections as needed. I like having post-it notes because sometimes I want a temporary note or to share information with others, and I hate tearing pages out of my book.

howtoorganizenotebookintosectionsI purchased this notebook band from Target to keep my notebook closed, but a regular rubber band can do the same thing.

So, tell me. What is your necessary indulgence?

Back to School Checklist (Guide to Being Prepared, Not Stressed)

Back to School checklist with timing and tips 2015I love a good checklist. Actually I love lists – to-do lists, shopping lists, the list goes on and on.

Hahaha, see what I did there.

Okay, I digress. That being said, I need lists that are doable. I refuse to be taunted or intimidated by a list.

Below is my ULTIMATE Back-to-School list, complete with a timeline for planning. It’s helping my sanity while preparing for three school-aged kids. Even better, it is not overwhelming.

Enjoy and I hope it helps you and your family, too.

Back-to-School Checklist with Timeline

Four Weeks Before

  • Take inventory of clothes. Some people do this at the beginning of Summer, but my kids seem to sprout over the break. To make this task manageable, especially if you have more than one child, set a timer and work until time’s up. Do the same each day until you’re done. We worked in one hour increments and it helped me and the kids not be grumpy.
  • Download school supply shopping list from school’s website. At this point you don’t have to shop, but it’s good to have an idea of what you’ll need.
  • Add important school dates to your calendar and/or the family calendar. Doing this early will help you stay on top of events later.
  • Research after school care if needed. Now is a good time to start considering programs or interviewing nannies.

Three Weeks Before

  • Get immunizations and/or physicals if needed.
  • Take inventory of leftover school supplies. Mark items off of this year’s list that you already have.
  • Purchase bookbag/lunchboxes if needed. If using older ones, clean them and make sure all zippers and closures work. Also, make sure straps are in good condition.
  • Put your afterschool research to work. Visit potential programs and/or continue interviewing nannies. Narrow down your list of possibilities and finalize paperwork.

Two Weeks Before

  • Discuss extracurricular activities with kids. Get an idea of what they want to do (if they haven’t started). Keep in mind, homework and down time are important. Resist the urge to overschedule.
  • Do something fun. By now you’re gearing up for school and it’s easy to forget it is still Summer. Enjoy these last days by going to a local pool or beach, eating ice cream outside or having a smores night.
  • Begin adjusting bedtime slowly to get the kids back into a routine.
  • Begin picking up school supplies. I do this in two trips. The first trip is a solo trip once the kids are in bed. During this trip I pick up the staples (yellow pencils, glue sticks, paper, crayons, etc.). The next trip includes the kids and it’s when they pick up their personal items (pretty notebooks, pencil boxes, etc.). I find this is much easier than trying to pick up everything when they are with me.

Week Before

  • Implement a school bedtime. At this point kids can still sleep as long as they want in the morning, but going to bed will help them adjust better to school life.
  • Discuss expectations. This is a good time to highlight the positives of the previous school year and to encourage positive habits this year.
  • Review emergency plan with kids. Make sure they understand what to do if no one is at the bus stop or home, if someone gets hurt, etc.
  • Attend Open House.
  • Label bags, lunch boxes and other personal items. You can purchase labels or use a Sharpie. The important thing is that items can be returned to them if lost.

First Week of School

  • Have a special breakfast of power foods. Fruit, yogurt, waffles, pancakes and eggs are all good choices.
  • Reinforce emergency plans.
  • Make sure your emergency contact information is in their bookbag. I include one of my business cards.
  • Complete parent homework. Yes, you know all of those papers that come home the first week. It’s better to just suck it up and do it. Want to speed it up if you have more than one child at the same school? Fill out one with all of the information that is the same. Photocopy it and then fill in the information that is child-specific on the copies. It’s a great way to avoid writing your name, address and contact info over and over and over.
  • Treat yourself to something decadent. You totally deserve it.

The August Newsletter is Live!

augustplanningtipsforworkingmomsThis month I’m trying something a little different.

Instead of emailing each time I post something new, I’ve done a monthly newsletter that includes my posts, along with other interesting news from around the web. I would love if you checked it out.

Once you check it out, please take a couple of minutes to answer this very short survey. With your help, the September issue can be bigger and better.

More importantly, your honest feedback will help me provide information to make your life easier.

Thank you so much for your support! I am continuously amazed at the great people that support this project.

Love, Towanda

August Holidays and Celebrations

AugustHolidaysandReasonstoCelebrateHappy August, aka Last Full Month of Summer!

As you start to get ready for Fall, Back to School and other things, don’t let this month slip by without some celebrations. Here’s a list of holidays and events to inspire you, :-).

August is:

Family Fun Month

Golf Month


2nd       Friendship Day and National Sister Day

7th        International Beer Day

9th        Book Lovers Day

10th      National Smores Day

12th      International Youth Day

13th      International Lefthanders Day

15th      National Relaxation Day and Corn on the Cob Day

18th      National Soft Ice Cream Day

19th      Snuffleupagus Birthday (The Sesame Street fan in me LOVES this!)

20th     National Lemonade Day

21st      National Senior Citizens Day

25th      National Banana Split Day

26th      National Dog Day

30th      International Bacon Day

31st       Eat Outside Day

Bonus: Looking for other ways to enjoy this month? Here’s my list of ways to enjoy August!

A Love-Love Relationship with Viva Chicken

viva chicken review charlotte nc restaurantA few years ago I was at work warming leftovers for lunch, when two colleagues walked in raving about their great lunch. They went on and on about a quinoa-stuffed avocado and some of the best chicken they had ever had.

I’m not an avocado lover, so I sort of listened to the rest of what they said, but not nearly as much as I should have. A few days later another colleague mentioned the same place, swearing by the chicken. This time I made a mental note to Google the spot, Viva Chicken.

One look at their menu and I quickly added them to my list of places to try.

It’s Peruvian inspired so everything is seasoned well, especially the chicken. There’s a nice mix of entrees, sandwiches and sides to fit almost any dietary preference. This explains why I have yet to go during lunch and there not be a line.

On my first visit so many people in front of me ordered the avocado I did, too.

Viva chicken quinoa stuffed avocado with pulled chickenThen I understood the hoopla. It was SO. GOOD! If you order it, add pulled chicken. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. And this is coming from someone that has a love-hate relationship with guacamole.

It’s now years later and Viva Chicken is still one of my absolute favorite places for lunch in Charlotte. In addition to the avocado, their chicken, plantains, cilantro-infused rice and French fries are all fantastic.

I also swear by their herbal lemonade!

Viva chicken herbal lemonade reviewA couple of things to note if you’re going to Viva Chicken during lunch.

  • There is always a line, but I love that I can order and pay online, then skip the long line for my food when I arrive. This is perfect for the days I don’t have time to wait in line, but I don’t want leftovers either. I use this option a lot!
  • There is very limited parking on the street, but you can usually find parking in the lot across the street. Another perk to the lot is you don’t have to worry about getting in the parking spot lines just right to avoid issues with the streetcar.

Enjoy your visit! Towanda

15 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of Summer

howtoenjoysummerThe sky was a gorgeous rainbow of blues, pinks and lavender this evening, and adorned with some of the fluffiest clouds ever. It was mesmerizing, until I noticed it was almost sunset at 8:15 p.m.

To some this means nothing, but for me it was a reminder that Summer will be over soon. The days are getting shorter and if I’m not careful I’ll be thrown into fall without getting the most from Summer 2015.

So, instead of panicking, I made a fun list. Hopefully this will be my reminder to live in the moment, and not get totally distracted with Back to School planning and all of the many things that vie for my attention. And hopefully it will encourage you to get the most out of yours, too!

“Last Month of Summer” Inspiration List

  1. Serve a Summer-inspired brunch one weekend, featuring lots of summer fruit.
  2. Have an outdoor movie night.
  3. Have a family water fight. My girls have so much fun with water balloons and other water toys!
  4. Up the ante and create a water obstacle course. Include everything from sprinklers and slides, to kiddie pools and buckets for dumping.
  5. Get the most of long summer days by sleeping in one day and then staying up late. On another day get up early and go to bed early!
  6. Be lazy. It’s Summer. No other reason is needed to just relax and enjoy the day.
  7. Spend an hour (or more!) playing childhood games. There’s nothing like a good game of kickball, hopscotch or jump rope. Bonus: It’s fun exercise.
  8. Pick a night to stargaze.
  9. Check out a local festival or event.
  10. Have a “me time” picnic in the park.
  11. Stroll the farmer’s market for fresh dinner idea.
  12. Fit in another trip to some water. Pool, beach, lake… something.
  13. Throw some veggies on the grill; maybe some protein, too, :-).
  14. Attend a free concert in a park.
  15. Choose fun one day over household to-do list. Chores will always be here, but Summer won’t!

Bonus: Here is a summer bucket list I created. You may find some inspiration here, too.

Enjoy! Towanda



Ice Cream and Cake Birthday Party

icecreamcakebirthdaypartyplanningThis year I decided at the last minute to have an ice cream and cake birthday party.

Here’s how I pulled off a fabulous 40th Birthday Party in a few days.

I texted/emailed my friends and family the invite. I sent each one individually so that my guests wouldn’t be bothered with reply all answers.

Trust me, this is very important.

Plus, the personal note was a nice touch, especially given the timing.

Next I ordered a custom cake.

40th birthday cake edible bowThe other supplies were easy to purchase, but the cake needed personalization. I chose Sweet It Is and luckily they could fit me in. You can also try your local grocery store in a pinch.

Once the cake was ordered, I worked on my party shopping list.

For decorations I made a sign to frame in an 8×10 frame for the ice cream buffet table.

ice cream party bar free printable signFeel free to download the free ice cream buffet printable and use!

I went with gold and white, and splashes of pink, for my theme colors. This saved time and money because I was able to repurpose Christmas decorations.

I love using white for entertaining because it is the perfect backdrop for almost everything. For this event, my white was the tablecloth and some of the serving pieces.

The white tablecloth was a nice balance for the glitzy gold. I draped a bright pink cloth over the cake stand to add a pop of color to the table and to bring out the pink flowers in the floral arrangements. I picked the flowers at Trader Joe’s.

toppingsicecreambarI wanted to keep a carefree atmosphere (and limit the amount of work I needed to do) so I let the ice cream and cake buffet table serve as the decorations. It served as a focal point, and even better, there was only one area to clean up at the end of the night.

I set up a smaller table with drinks and supplies for overflow.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re having an ice cream and cake party.

Make sure you have dairy and non-dairy options. I purchased vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream. I also purchased coconut milk ice cream and soy milk ice cream. This provided options for guests that were vegan and/or dairy free.

Offer different types of toppings. I included fruit (strawberries and blueberries), candy, chocolate and hot fudge. I also added cookies and cake. This way each person could make their own favorite dish.

Start later in the evening. I had a start time of 7 p.m. so that guests could have dinner before coming. I made sure everyone understood it was an ice cream and cake party, but the time was a further reminder to eat dinner beforehand. This also worked for the kids, because it was a great treat after their dinner.

Set everything out and let your guests serve themselves. This was an easy party to organize in a short period of time, because most of the supplies could be purchased in one place, and the buffet was self-explanatory. This also meant I had time to socialize and enjoy the party, not work the party.

Enjoy and good luck with your shindig!

AC Santo Mauro in Madrid, Spain (a review with pics!)

AC Santo Mauro hotel in Madrid Review
Lobby of AC Santo Mauro

AC Santo Mauro is a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and it is FABULOUS!

It’s a boutique hotel, which I LOVE, especially when traveling for vacation. With boutiques it really is about the experience and the city you’re visiting. I felt like I was in Spain from the time I walked through the gates, plus there was the perk of earning Marriott reward points, :-).

AC Santo Mauro was built in 1894 as the residence for the Duke of Santo Mauro, and it still feels like it is fit for royalty.

santomaurophotoandreviewoflobbyFrom the time you walk through the gates you are surrounded by elaborate and beautiful details. And while the common areas feel like a palace, our room was modern and sleek with all of the comforts you expect.

When we entered our room we were greeted by a hallway that opened up to the living/sleeping area.

reviewandphotosofguest room Santo Mauro MadridThere was a walk-in closet that had plenty of room for me and Hubby’s things.

santomauromadridreviewguestroomclosetphotoThe bathroom was well-maintained and stocked with Morton Brown toiletries.


AC Santo Mauro review and photos of bathroomWe had a basic guest room, so the bed, lounge area and table were in the same space. However, this didn’t make it feel cramped. We were very comfortable.

santo mauro madridreviewThe grounds are beautiful and have a lot of areas that are perfect for strolling, grabbing a drink or hanging out with friends. During our night stroll we saw groups sitting outside enjoying the patio/garden area and others coming back from an evening on the town.

The staff was very nice and accommodating. We were checked in quickly, they gave us suggestions for things to do and when we called down for extra supplies they were delivered fast. Hubby ordered room service late one night and it was also delivered quickly.

The other great thing about AC Santo Mauro is that it’s walking distance from Puerta del Sol, and the walk is through a vibrant area. It took us about 20 minutes to walk and that’s because we were people-watching and admiring the neighborhood. It’s Madrid, how can you not do this, :-).

Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol areaYou can also jump on transit a couple of blocks away if walking is not your thing.

I’d definitely stay here again and I can’t wait to try another hotel in the Autograph Collection.

Enjoy your visit!