6 Things to Look for in a Planner

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Facebook that my favorite ink+volt planner just came out with their 2018 version and as a result of a few comments, I thought it would be fun to discuss what I personally look for in a planner.

Then, I thought it would be cool to see if ink+volt would be willing to partner with me. (I’m trying to be bolder in reaching out to companies.) Since I already bought their planner for myself, ink+volt generously offered to send a black 2018 Signature Series Planner to one of my readers (US residents only).

So, make sure you comment on this blog post (make sure it’s on the actual blog post and not on the Twitter or the Facebook) and I will choose a winner at random. Please leave a comment before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

Incidentally, I am not getting paid for this post; I purchased this product with my own personal funds and the only thing I am receiving from ink+volt is the black 2018 Signature Series Planner that I’m giving away.

Anyhow, as many of you know, I am a stay at home mom of four children. I homeschool my older two, send my third to Chinese preschools, and also have to keep my one year old alive.

Between all the classes and extra-curricular activities for my kids, my never-ending task list for the household and family, and my own personal goals and plans for my blog and its growth and expansion, I was having a really hard time keeping track of things.

I was super frustrated with all the planners that I saw because none of them fit my life.

I used to be a huge fan of the Franklin Covey Planners, but they are expensive and I no longer used them in the same way I had in high school, college, and at work. In fact, I started to see them as a huge waste of money because I didn’t really need a daily planner with each day broken down by hour.

The thought of writing in all our classes and appointments seemed silly and redundant because I have a smartphone with Google Calendar installed. Plus, I never carry a paper planner around with me because it just adds weight to my diaper bag/purse.

No thanks.

The problem was, though, that I could not figure out a way to keep track of all the repetitive daily tasks I had to do – as well as other items on my to-do list. Plus, I wanted a centralized place to write down thoughts and ideas for my business.

I tried all sorts of apps and fancy tracking systems for my tasks and goals. I even paid money for some of them! They all failed. (Or rather, I failed them? I don’t know.)

I am a very visual person and I really needed my tasks and goals to be laid out in front of my eyeballs and apps just did not cut it. Plus, it is still really hard for me to brainstorm or even see all my thoughts when it’s on a tiny screen.

I felt like a constant failure.

Then, I saw a ink+volt’s Kickstarter for their planner on Facebook near the end of 2015.

I must have watched the ad at least 5-6 times with great longing. It sounded so beautiful. To have a planner that would help me reach all my goals! It appealed to my little Type-A heart.

But I was afraid.

I was afraid that I was setting myself up for another disappointment. Plus, it was $40 for a planner and I wasn’t really keen on spending $40 for a planner I wasn’t sure I would use.

But then, I thought, what did I have to lose? $40 isn’t TOO bad – and WHAT IF IT WORKS? WHAT IF IT IS TRUE?

What if it really COULD change my life?

Well, long story short, (HA! As if I could ever tell a story in brief.) I loved it. And it changed my life.

Here then are the things that I look for in a planner – and how ink+volt’s planner hits the majority of them to my immense satisfaction.

1) Lays flat.

This is super important.

The last thing I want when I’m looking at my planner is to have to find something else to weigh it down so it doesn’t close up on me. Also, that would block part of my view of what I’m scheduling. That just seems counterproductive.

The ink+volt planner lays flat despite it being a hard bound book. There is no spiral binding to get in the way of my hand if I have to write near the fold of the book and I can see the entirety of both pages – even if it’s near the crease.

2) Large, legible font.

Look, my eyes are NOT getting any younger. When I was in my youth, I didn’t mind tiny print. Now, I do not have the time nor inclination to hunt around and make sure I’m on the right page.

Since the 2018 ink+volt planner has been redesigned, I miss the giant font for the “Week Of” portion, but love that it now includes the dates of the whole week instead of the first day only. (It’s still legible – just not GIANT.)

Even with that minor detail, everything else is still an easy to read, large font. My eyes are grateful for the lack of eye strain.

Font size of 2018 ink+volt planner

3) Sturdy, quality materials.

Look, I like a deal as much as the next person, but I also hate things that fall apart. And since this is a weekly planner, I will be using it all day, every day. The last thing I want or need is for pages to rip out at a perforation (because knowing my luck, it would be something important) or the ink to bleed through the pages, or even have the cover rip off or start curling.

I am pleased to say that despite living on my kitchen table and in my laptop bag, the ink+volt planners have survived each year with little wear and tear.

I have spilled tea and all sorts of food stuffs on it and the pages have not turned to mush and ripped or torn. They kind of crinkle after drying, but they did not disintegrate. The ink barely bled.

The covers are sturdy and aren’t scratched or nicked. Even the rounded corners have stood up nicely. The two ribbon bookmarks did not fray or tear out.

This planner is meant for daily abuse and it can take it!

4) Good balance in planning elements: not too structured and not too blank.

For me, any planner with an hourly section (as well as lots of tiny sections to fill out) makes me break out into a panic. I also panic when there are completely blank pages (like the Bullet Journal). The former makes me feel too much pressure to fit my life into their suggested boxes and the latter makes me feel too pressured to design the best flow/calendar/doodles/etc.

I like the ink+volt because it is a good balance between the two extremes.

These planners split week days into morning, afternoon, and evening sections. Weekend days are about half the size of a weekday – which works out well for me. (Not so for some of my friends. They cram a lot more into a weekend day than I do in a normal day.)

I’m so happy they don’t have hourly breakdowns because quite frankly, my life is not measured in such minute (pun intended!) blocks of time. I need space to breathe. With hourly schedules, I feel as if I have to throw away my entire day if we get off track (even if just by 15 minutes).

I understand that may be a personal problem or quirk, but that’s what works for me. If you are someone who can stay on schedule and also live and die by those minutes, I can see how the lack of an hourly schedule would be annoying.

Keep in mind, I note all my appointments in my phone – so I really do not need the hourly slots to remind me of when I have to be somewhere.

I use my planner for the big ideas – as well as to list the small details of my big ideas. I do not use it to keep track of daily living.

Incidentally, the ink+volt has weekly journal prompts but I also hate journal prompts so I ignore them and just use the empty space for working out whatever it is I need to work out. This year, they added tiny dots in a grid pattern so it resembles the Bullet Journal in that aspect, but I like them because I think it will help me write in straighter lines.

Weekly View of the 2018 ink+volt planner

Monthly View of 2018 ink+volt planner

5) Well thought out design – especially the Goals section.

Technically, this could be under the previous point. However, I feel as if this particular feature deserves its own bullet point because one of the main reasons I bought the ink+volt planner was for how they designed their goal section.

I LOVE how there is a yearly, monthly, and weekly goals section and pre-made boxes to check off. (I love checking off boxes. I also love crossing items off a list. Sometimes, I do both.)

Monthly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

Weekly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

I LOVE how there is a place to list your big accomplishments in the yearly, monthly, and weekly sections, too. All too often, we forget all the awesome stuff we have done and then, when it comes time to reflect upon the past year either personally or professionally, we think we’ve done nothing.

These sections remind me that I’ve done a LOT worth celebrating.

Yearly Goals and Accomplishments in 2018 ink+volt planner

They also have a page where you focus on a habit to change each month and provide boxes for you to check off when you do it for each day that month. I confess, I don’t use this section much – but I have in the past and it did help!

As an aside: I have definitely found that by actually filling out the goals sections and then actively reviewing them on a weekly basis, I have gotten much better at following through on the tasks I need to do to get what I want. So I am absolutely grateful for this planner.

Would I have gotten the same results using some other planner? Probably. I don’t think that any particular product will be a magic bullet unless you personally do the work. However, this particular planner called to me and because of that, I was able to use its system to accomplish what I wanted.

In addition, there are lovely and useful details that make the planner easy to use. There are two ribboned bookmarks you can use – that though not quite enough for me personally, I still appreciate.

I use one bookmark a the current monthly view and I use the other bookmark at the current week schedule. In addition, I have a sticker tab at the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals pages as well as a tab at the very end where there are blank pages. (Ink+volt also sells planner accessories – I just use what I have on hand for free at home.)

Plus, the planners all now have a half-pocket included on the back cover for you to slide important notes or loose pages. I don’t really use it, but I do have my kids’ master homeschooling schedule tucked in there for reference.

Pocket on back cover of 2018 ink+volt planner

6) Leaves a lot of room for personalization.

Personally, I hate adding stickers, washi tape, or doodles to my planner. It stresses me out. I want things to be consistent from January through December and would make myself sick with worrying about whether I used the same sticker for a thing that I used last time – and all sorts of nonsense that in general, I do not consider personalization a bonus.

However, I recognize that not everyone has my problem and inability to chill. So, for those of you who love to decorate and go wild with stickers and washi tape and who knows what else – there is plenty of space for you to indulge your creative sticker using urges.

Plus, ink+volt have an undated version of their planner that you can use if would like to start using the planner right away and don’t want to wait for the new year.

Incidentally, one of my friends uses undated planners in a completely unexpected way. I thought folks just got the undated planners and then added in a full year’s worth of dates from whatever start date they choose. But she actually only fills in the date on the days she actually uses/needs her planner!

I found that SO interesting – and something my little Type-A heart would have never thought up! You can’t do that with the ink+volt undated planner because they do label the week days. BUT, you could ostensibly copy her idea and only use the weeks you want to.

I find this to be mindblowing in the sense that it would never in a million years occur to me to use a product in this manner. But she did and does and it works for her. (The coolest part is that she thought of it on her own – as in, it wasn’t some life hack she read somewhere. So creative!)

Anyhow, these are just a few of the things I look for in a planner beyond the obvious “is it pretty?” question. I have been very satisfied with my ink+volt planner and look forward to another productive year with it in 2018. (In true fact, once it hits August/September every year, I start looking out for their emails to buy the next year’s planner. I worry they will sell out!)

All in all, so glad there seems to be a planner out there for all of us – and that it doesn’t have to be the same one. What do you look for in a planner? Which planner have you found to be your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget. Enter to win a free black 2018 Signature Series Planner (US residents only) by leaving a comment on this post before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

My Lazy Veggie Ways

I’m taking a break from the Money Series for the moment. Never fear (or my apologies) – it’ll come back later this month. I’m just feeling a little burnt out on writing about money matters (not to mention a little bored) and no one wants to read a post that sounds forced and obligated. That makes a potentially boring topic even MORE stultifyingly dull.

Anyhow, today’s post is about vegetables. That’s infinitely more interesting than saving for retirement, amiright? And not just vegetables – it’s about hiding vegetables in smoothies. The sexiness in this post is unreal. Prepare to have your mind blown!

Disclaimer: As usual, links to products are my Amazon affiliate links. 

My kids, especially Cookie Monster, are somewhat picky eaters. (They’re not extreme picky eaters, but enough so that it annoys the crap out of me and affects my enjoyment of meal times. I am working on this and will report the results in a later post.) It’s a trial to get them to eat their vegetables so I cheat. I hide them in smoothies (I know, not a novel idea).

Here’s what I do. I pile in a bunch of veggies and fruit into my VitaMix and blend on high. Sometimes, I will add plain yogurt and/or milk. Because the VitaMix pulverizes everything, it’s very thick and can almost replace a meal! To make a more juice-like drink, I just add more water or milk. I usually serve this in a cup as a smoothie with a cool reusable lid and reusable straw. (I got sick of my kids spilling as well as “wasting” the smoothie with a smoothie mustache that they would wipe off onto a napkin. The straw is also a lot softer so they don’t cut their lips/gums on a plastic straw. Yes, it’s happened. My kids are talented.)

If I have extra, which I usually do, I will pour into reusable squeeze pouches that Cookie Monster LOVES. In fact, he loves them so much that even after downing a pint glass of the smoothie, he’ll demand to eat a squeeze pouch of the same thing he just drank. It’s ridiculous and makes his poo AWESOME the next day. (It does help with constipation, though!) I chose these pouches because from the reviews, they don’t explode or leak. I haven’t had a problem thus far. Like all reusable pouches though, it’s hard to get the edges clean so I’ve used either a butter knife or chopstick to scrape at the food gunk. I hand wash even though they are dishwasher top-rack safe.

I also freeze them in popsicle molds to make popsicles. I first started with standard popsicle sized molds by Tovolo, but my kids can’t finish them. Cookie Monster finds them too cold and will only eat a few bites. The good thing with these molds is that I can shove a partially-eaten popsicle back into the mold and store in the freezer until he finishes it. The bad thing is I think it’s taken a year for him to eat just ONE. These are popular with play dates, though. (I don’t serve the ones he’s gnawed on already, obviously.) Tovolo also makes really fun-shaped molds like rocket ships and ice cream cone shapes.

When I switched to the small NUK popsicle molds, I had much better luck. I really like them because Cookie Monster and even Gamera can finish it in one sitting. Their handles are super-easy to hold and catch a lot of drips. Plus, they’re fun colors. You can even break apart the molds so you can shove them in any random corner of the freezer.

It’s so silly but even though it’s basically the same smoothie, my kids like them in different formats. Go figure. I’m down with whatever puts veggies and fruits in their goldfish cracker filled bodies.

If I have enough popsicles/pouches, I will fill a re-usable tumbler for Hapa Papa to take to work as breakfast. I’m still working on remembering to do this.

In addition to the smoothies, I will also occasionally make veggie breads (from this carrot cake recipe). My mom juices and she will freeze the leftover fiber/pulp. I will either put these into the smoothies or use them in my veggie bread. I pretty much use this recipe except I also add the vegetable pulp, one or two smashed bananas, and a cup of chocolate chips. I also don’t include the walnuts (I’ve used finely chopped pistachios) and use regular unbleached organic flour instead of pastry flour. I would give you measurements, but I don’t have any. I just dump at will. 😀 It usually makes two bread pans worth of Veggie Bread. With two cups of organic sugar in it, it’s hard to mess up. I would freeze the leftovers if there were any. I usually consume an entire loaf by myself.

To give you some ideas of what to put in the smoothies, I’ve included a bunch of the fruits and veggies I use. I often just buy bags of frozen organic fruits from Costco. (Especially for berries since it’s just too expensive to juice fresh ones.) I often also wash grapes or fruits that I will forget to use in time and freeze them in small baggies.

Just remember to have a good ratio between sweet fruits and the sometimes bitter veggies. You can also add honey if you think it’s not sweet enough. Remember, too, that I have a VitaMix so it liquefies seeds and tough fibers. If your blender isn’t quite as powerful, of course, adjust accordingly. Again, I don’t do measurements. I just shove as much stuff in the blender as possible without it exploding. Obviously, these are not all-inclusive. 😀

Fruits

– Globe grapes (with seeds)
– Bananas
– Apples
– Mangoes
– Avocado
– Pineapples
– Watermelon (especially the rind without the green peel)
– Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)

Vegetables

– Carrots
– Celery
– Spinach
– Mixed salad greens
– Kale
– Beets (including tops) (turns the smoothie an awesome magenta color)
– Chard

Anyhow, hope this is helpful! Gamera tends not to drink as much of the smoothie unless it’s thinned out with more water. She doesn’t care for the fruit pouches but will devour the popsicles. So if your kids don’t go for the smoothie, perhaps they prefer its other incarnations.

I’d love to hear your ideas, too! Let me know in the comments what has or hasn’t worked for you. Thanks in advance!

The Only Appliance I Love (Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter)

For those of you who know me or have been in my home, you know that my favorite kitchen appliance (other than my microwave oven and my toaster oven – are those considered appliances?) is the Vita-Mix. In fact, it is really the only kitchen appliance that I own (other than the aforementioned microwave and toaster ovens). (OK, I lied. I think I have a Magic Bullet and an unused fondue maker thingy. Whatever.)

Also, I hate appliances in general because they crowd up the kitchen counter and take up valuable cabinet space. Just to show you how much I love this thing, I ALWAYS HAVE IT OUT ON MY COUNTER. That is because I use it almost every day. And I love it.

Two true stories about when I first started using the Vita-Mix. (Sadly, they do not show my brain working in the most flattering light. Even sadder – all pre-pregnancy/baby brain. There are no excuses. *sigh*)

Anyhow, when my mom first got the Vita-Mix, she mentioned that it blended everything so well that it would puree even the seeds of grapes so that you couldn’t taste it. She asked me to make her a smoothie, telling me I could just put all the grapes in the blender. Somehow, I took that to mean that I would put all the grapes in the blender, including the stems. Cuz you know, FIBER. I think I did this for at least two weeks until I realized, “Hey, that’s REALLY stupid. Why would you put WOOD into your SMOOTHIE?” But even with my idiocy, the smoothie was SMOOTH. No splinters or wood chips in our drinks.

Then, another time, because I pack so much stuff into the smoothies, I was having a hard time having everything get blended. I don’t know what I was thinking. They have the fancy lid with a hole in it so you can use the tamper tool without either splattering everything on the wall or taking off your hand. Well, I was an idiot and put in the tamper WITHOUT a lid and wouldn’t you know it? The Vita-Mix destroyed the tamper.

So, a normal person would just toss everything out, right? NOT ME. I thought it was a waste of all that good fruit so I picked out all the big plastic pieces of the destroyed tamper and then served it to my mom, Hapa Papa, and I. It was all going so well until half way through my drink, I almost choked on a huge hunk of plastic. Thank goodness neither my mom nor Hapa Papa had drunk any of their smoothies yet.

Now clearly, if an idiot like me can use it, it’s a powerful machine indeed.

Product: Vita Mix
Company: Vita-Mix Corporation
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Disclaimers: I bought mine from Costco during a promotion for $375. I included my amazon affiliate link for this product, but it’s ~$100 cheaper if you just buy it from Costco. I am not being compensated by anyone to post about the Vita-Mix.

Review

Pros: I own it, my mother owns it, my brother owns it, and I pretty much force everyone I know to get one. Because it is awesome. Other than the prohibitive cost, this would be a 5 out of 5 star product. However, if you use the product on a regular (or daily) basis, why it’s almost $1/day (if you buy from Costco). Just think of the savings!

This thing blends everything. (Allegedly, even a mango pit! Because it’s jet engine powered! That last comment may be somewhat of an exaggeration.) The majority of what I make are smoothies – and it is SMOOTH. I tried to compare with a Cuisinart Blender, and it just didn’t compare at all. These are the blenders that Jamba Juice uses for their smoothies – and for good reason. I put in whole grapes with seeds, apple seeds, any fruit with seeds, whatever – and it’s SMOOTH. No prickly bits, no chunks of un-blended fruit or veggies. It’s awesome.

I also use it to make my own almond butter (Cookie Monster is allergic to peanuts), hummus, pesto, sorbets, soups (rarely), baby food, but mostly smoothies. I’ve used it as a mixer for cakes. I’ve used it to chop up veggies. It is awesome. The recipe book is handy (but not necessary), and you can definitely make more stuff – like drinks, soups, dips, etc. I just happen to use it for the things I like. Ooh, and I often put the smoothies in those re-usable fruit pouches for kids to eat, or I put them in popsicle molds for the freezer. (This is how I sneak in veggies into their diets. Plus, it helps them poo!)

The Vita-Mix is pretty easy to clean (you just add dishwashing gel and water and then mix on high). I would recommend cleaning right away if it’s something sticky (like almond butter). For smoothies, often a quick rinse will do.

It’s super easy to use and has a great 7 year warranty. I’ve had to replace some parts and I received it in the mail in less than 2 days! Awesome customer service. Hopefully, I won’t have to use the warranty again, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Also, you can add on dry-blades if you grind your own flour, etc. but even I am not that hard core. I just have a wet-blade and so far, have not run across any problems.

Cons: Pretty much the only con is the high cost. $375 (the best I’ve seen at Costco) is a lot of money. So, I would only buy the thing if you are sure you will use it. I was already used to making smoothies with my mom’s Vita Mix so I knew I would use mine. Obviously there are weeks I use the Vita-Mix more and weeks I totally forget about it, but over all, I have definitely gotten my money’s worth!

Anyone with the Vita-Mix care to comment and join the fray? (I know, a discussion on blenders is not exactly the most thrilling of topics – but let me tell you, it is HANDY! And makes my job as a mom much easier.)