Jan 192015
 

We all want to make our kids' school the best possible place for them to get an education. I love these practical ideas for helping raise educational standards and helping improve your kids' classrooms. I would never have considered the second as a way to make a real difference!

One of my favorite people in this blogging world is Eli of Coach Daddy. There are many great things you could say about Eli (he is kind, he is a teamplayer, he cares passionately about his kids, he is funny, his dedication to featuring Star Wars pics in his posts…the list goes on), but what I love the most is his originality.  Each one of his thoughtful posts is unique and interesting, and it’s always a delight when I can share space with him in the blogosphere.

He has hung out here before as the one and only Dad of the Year as part of my longest running series, and he’s let me set up shop as a superhero over at his place.

And his monthly 6 Words posts are fantastic.  Eli had the very fun idea to challenge bloggers to answer a particular question every month in six words are less. Sometimes the answers are silly, sometimes they pull on heart strings, but the posts are always a creative blend of blend sincerity. They always leave me smiling–and thankful to be friends with this cool guy who does such a great job of bringing people together while celebrating the realness of our lives.

I’m thrilled Eli is here today, sharing this savviness with us. Below he discusses some very smart ideas about an important an issue–how to make schools a better place for our kids. Please join me in welcoming Eli, readers!

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Looking for some suggestions to help improve your child's educational school system in a productive, hands-on way? You've gotta check out these ideas!

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My kids think they’re too cool for school.

Or learning. I blame Disney Channel kids and pesticides on their baby carrots. But part of it is also a boredom they’ve developed at school. An aversion, to anything school-related. They liken school lunch to prison fare. Recess? Please. They spend more time to sharpening pencils than playing outside.

School’s not broken. It just needs a Jenny Jones makeover. And I’m here to help.

My girls – now 10, 14 and 17 – have had incredible, influential teachers, especially in elementary school. Over time, though, it all changes. Lockers and letter grades come with the territory. No more naptime, and those cute math worksheets with cartoon animals and few problems turn grey with equations.

I know. School isn’t always fun. I drop them at school and add my own yeoman’s encouragement.

Dad: “Tell me tonight what you learned today!”

Kid 1: “It’ll be a short conversation, dad.”

Dad: “Make a new friend today!”

Kid 2: “Yeah, right dad.”

Dad: “Be a good girl today.”

Kid 3: *sly smile* “No promises, dad!” as she slams the door.

Maybe your kids are just … hooligans, you might say. They have that element. But even the hoodiest hoodlum can be swayed with a little love from an engaged teacher. A great teacher adds class to class. She can put the cool in school. (OK, chool, if you want to be technical about it.)

So here’s what I propose.

1.     Reform School Lunch Reform

Even if I wasn’t a right-leaning Libertarian, I’d wrinkle my nose at the Michelle Obama school lunch reform. You can lead a kid to an apple and whole grain pizza sticks, but you can’t force her to eat them. All these mandated extra fruits and veggies turn the trash cans into produce bins.

A Harvard study estimates 60% of fresh veggies and 40% of fresh fruit winds up in the trash. That’s one unsalvageable salad. A heckuva foregone fruit cup.

The fix

What fourth grader wants to eat like he’s recovering from an ulcer? Steal a page from Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook (oops) and sneak the greens into food the kids love. Let’s compromise on the whole grains edict. How about foods with half flour, half whole grain? I bet the kids won’t even notice.

Bonus: Double the recess time. Or triple it. It ought to last as long as at least 12 Vine videos. That’s language the kids can understand.

2.     Rewrite Summer Reading

The girls come home with reading lists they’re about excited about as oven-baked fish nuggets. There’s no Geoffrey Chaucer, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway to be found. Not even any George Orwell, John Steinbeck or even Mark Twain. Instead, obscure, contemporary titles crowd the curriculum.

For a generation of 140-character communication, a love for books is an epic battle. Our generation has taken up arms in this battle with picnic cutlery.

The fix

Have kids read two books every summer. Let a parent pick one – we can choose a book we enjoyed at their age. And let the kid pick the other one. Anything she wants. Ask her to turn in a one-page diary entry on what she learned from one or either book.

Let’s not force-feed an agenda that eats up an already-shrunken summer. We need to give kids a taste of what’s to love about reading.

3.     Ignite our teachers so they can ignite our kids

I can’t believe teachers must pay for most of their own school supplies. Fairly sure Minnesota Vikings football players don’t take their jerseys home to launder. Or airline pilots gas up the jumbo jet on their dime. We need to let teachers focus on lessons and inspiration, not supply and demand.

We love teachers. But there are few stories coming home about what a teacher says and how they’ve influenced their thought or perception. There are more about complacency and discontent. Where have you gone, John Keating? Where is the Dead Poet Society?

Fix

Encourage teachers to exchange lesson plans and other learning tools. The website Teachers Pay Teachers is a marketplace for tried and true lesson plans. Ask for corporate sponsorship of classrooms, where employees donate supplies to a classroom. Enlist college coaches and pro athletes.

Even better: What if local businesses donated spa days or dinner/date vouchers or a free day on the golf links every month for a stellar teacher?

What good is knowledge, structure and moral focus, if the teachers aren’t feeling it too?

Think about a teacher who made an impact on you.

I’m thinking of mine. And those my girls have had.

I’d even eat a whole grain pizza stick to have my girls in her class.

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When he isn’t answering his kids’ questions about Spider-man sneezes or trying to determine which drummer’s beat to listen to, Eli Pacheco writes a the blog Coach Daddy. Follow him on Google Plus, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:36051083, copyright:hskoken

Jan 162015
 

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We are so wowed by this new site! My son loves it and he is LEARNING to read like mad. Check it out now--you'll be so glad you did!A few months ago, we dove into the big bad world of Kindergarten and hit this learning-to-read business with a frenzy. I’m really, really proud of my son and all the incredible progress he’s made. We’ve even gotten into a bit of a swing of homework time, and learning how to best get it done. Without Mommy pulling her hair out. I’m tickled with the steam we’ve picked up, and I’d love to keep the learning train chugging along. So when Reading Eggs asked us to check out their new website, I leapt at the chance.

I’m eager to tell you all about it, but the best news? You don’t have to just take my word for it. Now through February 28, 2015, you can sign up for your own free 4-week trial!

 

What is Reading Eggs?

It’s a website for children 3-13 years that uses games, songs, golden eggs, and other rewards to make learning to read interesting and fun.

This site is a fantastic way for kids to learn to read--in a way that is fun and engaging! I am so thankful to find this--I can't pull my son away!

Do kids really like Reading Eggs?

YES! Let me share a conversation from yesterday, when my son got up at the crack of dawn:

Me: “Good morning, babe!”

Him: “Mommy, can I play Reading Eggs?”

Me: “Sure, can I have a hug first?”

Him: “No thank you. I just want to play Reading Eggs.”

Huh. Even at 6:45am, Reading Eggs clearly ranks over Mommy. At least he’s polite about it.

Why do children love Reading Eggs?

  • They get to learn at their own pace and do it independently. My son thinks it’s so boss that he gets to use the computer all by myself.
  • They learn through play and get rewards as they progress.

How does it work?

  • My Lessons is the heart of Reading Eggs120 reading lessons that travel through 12 exciting maps. Your child can repeat lessons to reinforce essential reading skills.
You can tell from my sons landing page on Reading Eggs how many fun learning options there are to promote childhood literacy!

His landing page on Reading Eggs–check out all the options it offers!

 

  • A whole bunch of fun places for kids to play while they learn:
    • My House (play arcade games, read Story Factory stories they’ve written using a step-by-step guide, view their awards and critters and decorate their house with their purchases from Reggie’s shop)
    • Skills Bank (96 carefully graded spelling lessons)
    • Driving Test Centre (45 tests covering sight words, phonics skills, and content-area vocabulary that rewards correct answers with a racing car game
    • Puzzle Park (32 word puzzles)
    • Storylands (20 lessons, 140 activities, 20 wonderful books and heaps of rewards!)
    • Music Café (62 Reading Eggs songs)
    • My World (your child can visit 10 destinations)
    • The Playroom (over 170 activities and books.)
    • …and more!
The Playroom on Reading Eggs is one of my sons favorite places to hang out. He can click on the different areas to play different learning games and have fun!

The Playroom in Reading Eggs is one of my sons favorite places to hang out. He can click on the individual areas to play different learning games.

My son loves Reading Eggs, and I love that he loves it. He is too young to have learning be a burden or a huge challenge. This creative website encourages the importance of literacy, while keeping kids engaged through play. I am thrilled to have him use his screen time on Reading Eggs because I know he is working on some important skills through his play.

How can you get Reading Eggs for your kids?

Good news! Through February 28, 2015, you can sign up for a FREE 4 week trial of Reading Eggs. Go check it out, let your kids check it out, and then after you fall in love with it, signing up for continue access is easy-peasy.

Make learning to read fun and easy for your kids! The games and activities on this site keep my son so engaged and exciting about his lessons, he thinks he's just playing!

Reading is not only something my son needs to be able to do, it’s something I want him to enjoy. I delight in reading, and I hope someday my kids do as well. A site that can help me build this delight is a blessing. We’re not letting go of our Reading Eggs any time soon!

Learning to read with laughter? It CAN happen and it's so fun. I'm so thankful for this site and the huge progress my son is making with his literacy!

 

*****This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the Reading Eggs.******

Jan 052015
 

Cleaning out your closet AND giving back to your local school? I love this modern take on consignment-shopping! Go shed your outgrown goods AND score some finds for yourself!This is the time of year when I start to get cagey. The piles of crap loom more implicating and the siren call to tidy up is strong. I feel encumbered by the clutter, yet lack the stamina to smoothly catalog all our outgrown items and pitch them for sale.

While I do manage to clean up a few piles and drop them at my favorite local consignment shop, more often than not, I give up.  I sigh in defeat, grab a garbage bag, and make a non-thoughtful dump of perfectly fine clothing at Goodwill. Don’t get me wrong; I love Goodwill.  But what if there was a solution that allowed me to shed the unwanted from my house while supporting something a bit nearer and dearer to me? Like my kids’ school…

Enter Schoola.

What is Schoola? It’s an online gently used clothing retailer. It is an online site that mails you pre-paid postage bags to fill with your own outgrown goods (mom or kid) and send back.  They sell your items and then donate 40% to your kids’ school. All the clothes they sell are donated by parents, and the best part is that $2 out of every $5 spent on Schoola goes right back to schools!

Recycle your kids's outgrown clothes (and your own!) while giving back to your local school! AND clean out your closet--it's a win-win-win!!

In early January they’re doing a special closet cleanout #Passthebag campaign and Schoola is calling on YOU! How can you clear out your clutter while helping your local school”?

    • Step 1: Go online to Schoola and request a donation bag. (#Passthebag)

    • Step 2: Fill it, and send it in for the benefit of your child’s school. Schoola is now accepting women’s as well as children’s clothing, so use this as an opportunity to clean out your closets and start the new year off fresh!

    • Step 3: Challenge at least 3 friends or family members to do the same by posting on Facebook or Twitter and using the hashtag #PasstheBag.

    • Step 4: Pat yourself on the back; not only did you request a bag to donate on behalf of your school, but by challenging others you also helped spread the word about the only online marketplace that supports art, music, and P.E. in schools! Once donated items start to sell on Schoola.com, you can track the total amount raised on your school’s fundraising page. Pretty cool right? The more people that donate, the more your school can raise so please share with everyone you know!

Recycle your kids's outgrown clothes (and your own!) while giving back to your local school! AND clean out your closet--it's a win-win-win!!

With all this is mind? Count me in! Too often I feel guilty about not having more time or financial capacity to give more to my kids’ public school. A way to pass on my junk AND help our adorable elementary school score some cash? Sweet!

In addition to shipping off some of our clothes, I checked out the other end of the coolness School.com offers–I went shopping! And it was too much fun.  As I described to my husband, Schoola.com has solved my primary complaint about my go-to consignment shopping–I can’t do it online.  Schoola catalogs each item they sell for an easy search by size and clothing type.

What does this mean? I can shop for second-hand quality clothes for my kids without leaving my home. Ordering was not only easy, but made me feel like a money-saving genius. On top of the thrifty brilliance of consignment shopping itself, rocking the frequent sale codes Schoola offers after you register on their site left me cheering my own heroic.

And I got some really adorable stuff for my kids!

Saving money, cleaning out your closet AND helping your kids' school raise money in the process? You have to check out this site!

To make this site even more appealing, Schoola will be launching a women’s category this spring! This means while you’re shopping for your kids, you can nab something for yourself as well, all while supporting schools. To help build their women’s inventory, be sure to add a few of your own items to your donation bag!

I love saving money + I love finding cute clothes for my kids (and myself!) + I love supporting our local schools without tossing away our hard-earned cash = I LOVE SCHOOLA.

With this perfect storm of genius setting loose, I’m eager to scoop some of my pals into this sweetness. I’m delighted to #Passthebag to Ashley of Dose of Reality, Amanda of Questionable Choices in Parenting and Jessica of Herd Management.  These ladies will be sent a pre-paid postage mailer bag to fill with their own outgrown items, raising money for their schools and cleaning out their closets in one shot? Thank you for supporting this effort, friends!

In case my enthusiasm for Schoola.com isn’t clear, I think this site is fantastic. I love the way it encourages me to sort my mess while supporting my local school. And let’s be honest, you know any chance I have to score fun stuff at a nifty price always ranks high in my book! Head over to Schoola now and treat yourself to some sweet outgrown-clothes-lovin’!

******This blog post was sponsored by and I received clothing from Schoola, but my love for this company is 100% genuine!*******

Dec 312014
 

2015--the year of new beginnings, goals, resolutions, and cleaning out your junk drawer. Why it matters & why you need to claim your own small task to-do list for the new year!One night last week my son and I were doing his devotional. We were reading about mistakes and forgiveness.

“Mommy, ” my son asked, “We make a lot of mistakes and that’s okay?”

“Yes, babe, we make a lot of mistakes because we’re human, but the important thing is we always try to do our best,” I confirmed.

“Yeah, we really try,” he concluded.

Yeah, we really try…

Listen, I’m not huge on resolutions. Mostly because I usually forget what they are before I fall asleep on January 2. And my day-to-day year-round abounds with goals–like emptying the dishwasher and remembering to refill the soap dispenser. It’s the big things in life we shoot for.

But then I saw It out of the corner of my eye. It being the terrifying tower of magazines rising steadily beside my bed, threatening to topple over and bury my children at any second. And I thought, “I can do this. This could be my year–the year I finally victor over my magazine pile.”

This small hope brought a smile to my face–and then immediately took dangerous root as the floodgates of inspiration gave way with a stunning force. Not just the magazines! I could organize other things. ALL THE THINGS.

My mind spinning, I gasped with another shocking revelation: this could be the year I cross things off my perpetual to-do list. 

Unreal! (I know, please take a minute to collect yourself as needed; this is huge.)

If I’m teaching my son that in this life we are called to at least try to give things a good effort, it may indeed be overdue to do just that? It’s time for me to go in, readers. It’s time for me to go for the gold and show 2015 who’s boss. Without further adieu, I bring you:

The Year of Menial Tasks

1. The aforementioned magazine pile will be gone. While it is largely reassuring that my children are growing taller and less likely to be taken down by the beastly height of the stack, it remains a matter of safety–and sanity. I have so many old issues of Star magazine, I can no longer tell you the latest prediction on whether Jennifer Aniston is pregnant or not, and we all know the devastation celebrity gossip confusion can cause…

2. The junk drawer will be tamed. No really. Sure, its horror is an adorable topic for blog posts, but if I lose another pizza coupon, it could get ugly around here.

3. Possibly related to above junk-drawer situation, I will stop bulk ordering scotch tape and scissors on Amazon and commit to finding at least one pre-owned roll and pair of scissors prior to next Christmas.

There is always hope abundant. Keep striving for and achieving the big goals in life, friends. I promise this post will make you feel more normal!

4. In an effort to reduce our cable bill, I have somehow found myself with a free year of HBO. I’m not entirely sure how this is a productive task, but I’ve never had HBO in my life; I’ll now be watching the HBO series.  All of them. Related, I may not find time to sleep again until 2016.

5. I will stop re-writing “put family pictures in frames” on my weekly list repetitively and actually do it–before I can no longer recognize my children in the pictures because they have aged so much.

6. I will stop hoarding old bras because I’m ticked that I paid for them, but their elastic is now shot. I think there is probably very little use for washed-up underwear and it’s possible that my husband is weary of having to fix the drawer every time I shove it closed, over-filled.

7. I will actually attempt to do all of the above–or at least a few. Or one…or, at least, think about them.

Hey, I wouldn’t want my to-do list to feel neglected if I stop filling it up with menial tasks, right??

Sometimes it's the small things that can inspire change. True story of how I decided to tackle on small task on my list and it make all the difference--the realism may surprise you!

First image credit: Image ID:53783663, Copyright:realinemedia
Third image credit: image ID:1190298, copyright:Zoooom
Dec 192014
 

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Bread! We all love it--finding a recipe that is healthy and delicious can be tricky. I am crushing on this new  product! Check it out and enjoy!****This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Sara Lee® to help promote their new 45 Calories and Delightful bread.****

I’ve told this story in bits and pieces before, but it’s an important one, so bear with me. About two and a half years ago, my mother died. My dear grandma had just passed, I had a 7 mo. old and a 2.5 yr. old who couldn’t walk because he’d hung out in months in a body cast and had to relearn this basic skill from scratch. It was not a happy time.

Somehow my over-exhausted mind decided this would be an excellent point to stop the anti-depressant I’d been taking for postpartum depression. You can already guess the wild downward spiral I followed in the coming months. Weight gain, severe anxiety, horrendous sleep, low energy…yuck.

Then after about a year of this mess, something finally clicked and it was time to get my life together. I began a journey I’m still on, but with a combination of regular exercise, healthy diet, sorted medications, essential oils, and a few other positive choices, I’m on a far, far better road. Praise God.

I still struggle–a lot.

And I’m always so proud of each healthy step I take because of that struggle. Even small things like drinking enough water, logging my step goal, or finding a new product that helps me keep my calorie count in check are all triumphs.

I’m guessing more than a few of you have had your own struggles. While the satisfaction that comes from victoring over these difficulties is more than sufficient, take a minute to score some extra spoils and celebrate your own strength. Head over and join up with Sara Lee®’s 45 Delightful People program. There are a bunch of prizes up for grabs ($4500 to workout gear to iPod shuffle to a year of bread!), plus each participant gets a free tee-shirt just for signing up. Sweet!

When you are done entering, go snatch up some of this healthy bread for yourself and dig into the goodness. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me pursue my own health and weight loss goals:

  • Sara Lee® Delightful Breads are delicious with only 45 calories per full-size slice. I’m looking forward to trying the new Oatmeal flavor, which joins the current line of 100% Whole Wheat (made with real honey), Healthy Multi-Grain and Wheat.
  • The Delightful breads are all heart-healthy and provide an excellent source of fiber in each serving (2 slices), with no artificial colors or flavors, and no high fructose corn syrup.
  • Enjoy Sara Lee® Delightful breads with your choice of spread (jam, peanut butter, and butter are yummy compliments!) or with your favorite lunch meats for the perfect sandwich.  They also work well in your favorite recipes for French toast, bread pudding, strata, panini and more.
  • The Delightful line is available in supermarkets nationwide and has an average price of $3.29 per 20 oz. package.

Added to this brand information is a personal recommendation. I was chatting with a friend, and it turns out she is a huge fan of this bread. As she says, “I like that it has relatively few ingredients compared to other breads – especially reduced calorie ones. Also it’s sweetened with stevia not chemical sweeteners. It’s super soft and stays that way!” My friend is one of the most uber-smart people I know, so in short: check out this bread!

Given my fits over regularity, these are currently my two favorite products (though I am excited to case out the new Oatmeal variety):

 

The thing of it is, this life is so short. We will all make a mess of it sometimes, but anything that can help us feel delightful and healthy along the way is so worth it.  Sara Lee® 45 Calories & Delightful is a product that can help you embrace more of these sweet moments and take charge of your own well-being. For this reason, I’m a huge fan–and I’m stocking up.

Holiday temptations, bring it on, you’ve met your match ;)

****This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Sara Lee®****

First image credit: image ID:22086991, copyright:yelenayemchuk

Dec 172014
 

If I can do this Christmas craft with my kids, ANYONE can...trust me. I and my non-crafty self are sharing all the secrets with you...happy Christmas crafting!

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time, first published here two years ago.  We’re now all a bit older, but I continue to have active fantasies of the shirts I noted at the end of the post. Godspeed with the Christmas crafts, my friends…

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Gosh, yes…I actually tried to craft with my kids.  I am so annoyingly stupid…

Once upon a time in the not-so far off land of Suburbia, there was a Mommy who was a very good at caring for her home and her family, except for the fact that she sucked at cleaning and cooking, wasn’t awesome with young kids, and was generally terrified of crafting.  This Mommy was married to a very good man; we’ll call him Daddy.  Daddy was reading a book to their little boy and chanced upon cute idea for a fun project to do with kids.  Daddy mentioned this to Mommy, and apparently Mommy had skimped on her daily sanity meds, because she thought this craft would be fun to try with the kids.  She planned to give it a whirl one morning the next week.

In general, anytime Mommy decides to “give something a whirl”, it’s best for all nearby parties to run quickly into a cave and hide.  And so this is the point where our tale takes a very nasty turn south…

Preparations for the crafting event were going relatively well until Mommy realized she needed supplies to create the popsicle stick Christmas tree craft.  Dastardly truth of crafting: supplies are necessary.  Queue to Mommy diving headfirst into several scary large Rubbermaid totes in the basement where the glitter was conveniently stored.  Listen carefully now for the sounds of angry grunts, muffled explicatives and panicked screams for baby daughter to NOT start crawling up the un-baby-gated cement steps.

After some further desperate searching and a minor hiccup when Mommy’s sweet angelic son locked her in the basement as she was juggling the glitter, the baby, a psychotic dog and a laundry basket under arm (there is always, always a laundry basket involved, right?), the necessary materials were finally secured upstairs.  Mommy then felt insanely wise for setting daughter up in her chair with some Color Wonder markers so the rest of this fun event could ensue.  The scene was mostly set with only the paper plates still needed.

For the record, paper plates are definitively integral to all craft projects.  All of them.  If you are looking to go into crafting, start buying paper plates in bulk, and stash them in every nook and cranny throughout your house.  You will always need them and you will never have them when you need them.  There can never be enough paper plates.

While Mommy went in search of the necessary paper plates, her daughter took the opportunity to eat the tip off of a marker.  After a certain amount of hysteria and speculation that Color Wonder ingestion would lead to brain damage of some sort, it was determined that everyone would survive, and the festivities could joyfully continue.

As goldfish crackers flew at Mommy’s head (an alternative activity was needed for daughter after the unfortunate incident in which she ate the provided markers), she learned that hot glue gun glue is indeed rather hot when squirted all over her hand.  As Mommy screamed through the pain, her son fled the room in terror.  But with a little convincing, he soon returned to participate in this delightful experience.

Bring our engaging tale to a close, you can tell from the pictures below, the end result was stunning.  Clearly entirely worth all the effort and served to completely re-educate Mommy, who will now be running gleefully headfirst into the next crafting opportunity after having such a blessedly positive experience.  Bring on the crafts.

Christmas tree craft

Just thought you would appreciate
that I’m still using paper plates from
my daughter’s birthday in July

Mommy is now making “I Heart Crafting” t-shirts which will be available for sale in the very near future.  Stay tuned for this one.  She’s entirely sold out for crafting and wants the world to know.

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Also, pop on over to Hollow Tree Ventures and check out As (Never) Seen on Pinterest for further evidence of how crafty and artsy I am and snag some top-notch creative ideas from some of my favorite bloggers.  As a teaser, my fantastic design inspiration for your child’s train table is pictured below:

Child's Train Table Design @mererdithspidel @RobynHTV

Yes, yes we are awesome parents…

 

Dec 152014
 

Surviving all the stress and craziness of the holidays is no joke. Downed Christmas trees and all, I think I'm onto a valuable trick to help see us through. Tune in here--and grab a glass of eggnog to help us toast our survival!My daughter had a banner week last week.

Upon smelling the rank fishy odor at the grocery store and pondering the stinky source, she pointed at a innocent nearby middle-age woman and loudly concluded “EW! IT’S HER BUTT”. Super.

A kind friend gifted her an Elsa doll for Christmas. She opened it and squeed, “Yay! Now I can be like all the other kids!”. Score one for my continued claim on the Mom of the Year title.

The dog was in the middle of vomiting and my daughter decided he “needed more love” so grabbed him to give a tight stomach squeeze as he was mid-puke. She really is such a sweet child.

She then knocked over the Christmas tree.

Let me restate for effect: SHE KNOCKED OVER THE CHRISTMAS TREE. Like, the broken ornaments, shattered glass, her father was at work, “Go to your room NOW before I completely lose my crap on you!” kind of knocking over the tree.

I really liked my tree. Like, really liked it.

I inherited my delight in Christmas trees: my BFF and I used to joke growing up about my mother’s passion for our family tree. In the event of a home invasion of some sort, we imagined her crying, “Take my children, but save the Christmas tree!”

While I’m not sure I’m this far gone, I definitely have a thing for my tree.

In fact, I had planned to write a post today about how much I love and cherish all the ornaments on my tree. All of them carefully selected or made with love, most of them from my mother. As many of these meaningful ornaments now sit in a need-massive-amounts-of-super-glue pile, obviously, my post plans have changed.

And that’s probably for the best.

Christmas feeling a bit like it's crashing down all around you? It may be. And that's okay. Here's why having the best-laid holiday plans go awry isn't a total loss--I promise.

I’ve found that the older I get and the more my natural inner-planner psychosis takes root, I really need to get over myself. I can lay plans and map out my days, especially the holi-days, with an astounding fervor, but then two funny little things happened that make actually sticking to these plans a bit tricky:

Kids and life.

You see, no matter how much I plot and plan I can’t control either. While I can hope and pray my daughter plays nicely without wreaking destruction (and now is explicitly forbidden from being in the vicinity of the tree ever again), she is most wholly human–and a child. And as much I’d prefer not to spend my afternoon sucking up tree water with the shop vac, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

While my mother was supposed to be here to delight in the ornaments with me and memories from her were not supposed to be lying in shattered shards while I acutely miss her this season, I’m going to choose to trust that God knows what He’s doing. I know I sure don’t.

So what can I do when plans so utterly fail? One thing. Only, ever one thing: GIVE UP.

Completely. Totally. Give up. Things will probably work out. Or they will totally fall apart. Either way, I’m going to do my best to enjoy the parts I can and realize I have little to no control over any of it.

And I’m going to sit here and nosh on the yummy chocolate chips my sweet, sweet friend dropped off when she came over to help me heft the tree back to an upright-ish position.

I’m staring at the tree that looks like a small child on a rampage attacked it–because one did.

It’s a mess. That’s okay. There will probably be other years and other trees. And I’m guessing there were actually very few perfectly decorating Christmas trees present at the birth of Jesus. Yet somehow the angels found a reason to celebrate the holiday anyway.

Dec 012014
 

Taking quality family pictures can be a challenge!  Here are a few simple tips to improve your photos from a professional photographer--who REALLY knows how to work with kids!I remember the good old days.  The days when I used to hold up a camera, ask my son to look at the camera, and he would SMILE. Then somewhere about age 3, his face froze in a cheesy “CHEESE” said between gritted teeth while he focuses intently on a magical fairy dancing off to the side. For clarification, I have never actually seen said dancing fairy, I’m just assuming her presence based off of the fact that I have been unable to get my son to look at a camera for over two years and it must be something very magical to so wholely maintain his attention.

My daughter decided to follow suit in eschewing picture-taking, and their combined general unwillingness to participate coupled with my complete lack of photography skills has left us wanting in the picture department.

Which is a darn shame because I love pictures. Love them in the way one does when they have multiple frames covering all surfaces and exposed wall areas of her home. But I was failing; I simply could not get the pictures of my kids that I wanted. I just couldn’t eke out their sweet smiles whenever I had a camera in hand.

So I decided it was time to call in a professional.

I have long admired the work of Briana Latta Photography. I’ve been checking out her pictures online with a reverence of “Dang! This girl has got skills!” It’s not just that the photos she taken are beautiful, it’s that she has a unique gift of capturing her subjects as their real selves. Briana makes the love and laughter she snaps include YOU as you look at the photograph.

I was thrilled when she agreed to take our family pictures. I was wowed when she humored all my ridiculous questions about outfit choices and requests predict whether the leaves would still be on the trees on our scheduled session date without rolling her eyes. I know–she is a saint.

I was also really dreading the fight of trying to get my children to look at the camera and make “normal faces”.

I need not have worried. When Briana arrived, she took charge immediately and put my children at ease. As she laughed and joked with them, she took time to put me at ease too. Reassuring me that my kids aren’t the only ones in the world that have trouble shining genuine smiles on cue, I relaxed.

Never anything but love and laughter around here...right ? ;) Capturing Daddy and our son in this gorgeous photo was such a gift!

What followed was a fun hour of family time. We hung out in our yard. We played. And Briana snapped it all up, showing off her specialty working with kids. From her website, it’s apparent that she has a lot of experience with maternity pictures, newborn photos, and family shoots, but it wasn’t until she was here taking our pics that I got it.

Briana really, really knows what she is doing. Not only is she not put-off by energetic kiddos, she genuinely enjoys them and knows how to get the best out of them. By the end of the session, they were laughing and giggling at Miss Briana and her camera, making me believe my family CAN get pictures taken!

The natural way my kids are captured laughing and playing in these photos is fantastic! What a great family photo session--go book yours today!

It was such a blessing to work with Briana’s talent!  Make tracks over to her site and book a session ASAP for your own family. Trust me, your frames will thank you for the gorgeous updates ;) And I don’t think there is any better gift for loved ones than pictures. Grandparents swoon to get sweet photos! Or  know a pregnant mom? Treat her to a maternity or newborn session–such an incredibly thoughtful gesture!

And as a special gift for my readers, Briana is giving away one free mini-session below! Go enter and capture your family in some gorgeous photos–and have a fun time hanging out with Briana while they being are taken!*

For those of you not local to Briana, you can still enjoy her talent. As she snapped our session, I was so impressed with her skills, that I asked her to put together a few basic tips to share with all of you.  These are things that I never do, but are simple steps you can take to make a big improvement in your own pictures:

1. Consider lighting.

Overcast days are perfect days to take pictures outdoors. If it’s a very sunny day, know that the sun is particularly bright and harsh on facial skin tones from 11 am to 1 pm. Early morning and later afternoon/early evening are better times to take pictures outdoors.

2. Don’t keep the flash on automatically.

A flash sends a strong burst of light directly in front of the camera. In many situations, using flash can wash out the subjects in a picture. Try turning the flash off, and see what the pictures are like without flash in certain settings. You may be surprised how much nicer the picture looks. Of course, if you’re in a dimly lit environment, flash is probably your best bet.

3. Think about perspective. It’s very common to pick up a camera and snap a shot of your kids playing. But, consider bending down and getting eye level with them. Or, move over them and stand directly above them and get a picture of their face looking up at you.

You can make a picture so much more interesting by simply changing the angle it’s taken from. One of my favorite practices is to watch my kids playing, pick a fun vantage point, and call their names to get them to suddenly look at me as I take a picture. Then I get a quick, genuine expression of them having fun that doesn’t look posed.

I always feel weird about head shots, but I love how the photographer helped me relax so she could capture this smile! Book your own session today--you will LOVE your pictures!

Isn’t Briana so smart and savvy?? Go snap up those sweet photos, friends, and happy picture-taking!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Please note photographer does not travel more than 1/2 hour to meet for session and all details and scheduling of mini-session must be coordinated directly with photographer and are subject to her availability and determination of all terms.

All family photos featured are the work of Briana Latta Photography.

****While Briana allowed me to experience and review her work in exchange for this post, my family’s delight with our pictures is 100% genuine!****

****Thank you to Aria’s Bowtique for providing my daughter’s sweet hair bows for the photo session!****

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:26391017, copyright:michaeljung

Nov 242014
 

Sometimes it feels like you are just going to snap. Keeping calm is not an easy thing, and motherhood can be so demanding. But if you allow the breaking to be cathartic, you may just be able to clean up the glass and move on.Sometimes it feels like you are just going to snap. Keeping calm is not an easy thing, and motherhood can be so demanding. But if you allow the breaking to be cathartic, you may just be able to clean up the glass and move on. It might even feel pretty amazing when you get all the tears out...I love my kids. I love the way my son works passionately to understand EVERYTHING and how he insists on praying for China at dinner because he is fascinated that it is already breakfast time there.

I love that the knees on all my daughter’s pants are stained and worn because she throws herself into playtime with vigor and how she gives me sweet little back pats when I hug her because it’s a Mommy-thing to do.

I love their laughs, their smiles and even their messy backpacks strewn all over the kitchen. It’s evidence that they are growing, learning, and thriving, right?

I think of making cut-out sugar Christmas cookies with them and the flour getting stuck into the wooden floor cracks for weeks, and I still love them. Right after I bang my head against the wall for a few minutes.

Despite all this loving, they wipe me.

Some days I don’t know what is up or what is down or which way to even start looking if I did have time between apple juice refills to figure it out.

This life is not an easy thing; it’s not supposed to be.

That’s okay.

But some days when the demands are raging, and the middle-of-the-night cries were plentiful, breathing in and out becomes a bit tricky. It’s a feeling of being swallowed into a complete loss of sanity, strength and self.

One day recently, my daughter was having A Day. You parents know what I mean. It can be tempting to check a child’s behavior as faulty discipline or poor boundaries, but after hanging out in motherhood for a few years now, I have learned that there are the children who break into an emphatic hour-long rolling tantrums because the color of the plastic Goldfish bowl they were handed is not pink and there are children who just eat the Goldfish.  There are children who can remain in a generally seated position throughout church and those who spontaneously turn into a wild climbing monkey as soon as the pastor begins speaking. I know, because I both types of children.

My daughter is more of the tantrum-ing monkey variety.

I do not want to point the finger at her exclusively. On this particular day, I was especially over-tired, my son was struggling with homework, and dinner was burning. In fact, I had already called my husband in tears twice that day, threatening to quit. Quit what, I’m not sure, as Motherhood allows no take-backs and my only boss is myself; I can’t imagine how pissed she would be if I handed in my resignation.

In any case, I sent the children out to play and decided to take one small productive step for my day; I would put away the dishes. I opened the cupboard and a glass flew out at me. It shattered all over the open dishwasher, counter, sink and floor.

It shattered all over my last tether to stability and I fell to the floor, sobbing. I crouched there, among the broken glass and just let the wails rack me, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this any more….Ican’tdothisanymoreIcan’tdothisanytmore…” Over and over and over again.

If anyone had been watching, it would have seemed a dramatic movie scene. The sheer, unprovoked action of the glass throwing itself out of the cupboard at me seemed horrifically cruel. It felt as the weight of a thousand impossibilities was exploded at me and were escaping through my my cries.

It felt cathartic.

It felt real.

And as some innate part of me found its way through my hysteria to carefully clean up all the glass shards before they met tiny little toes, I knew this one truth: I was right; I couldn’t do it any more.

For that day, it was too much. I had been stretched and pushed too much, and I broke. But in the breaking, the well of of all I was holding in found a way out. And that part? Felt wonderful.

I will always love and care for my children. Even when I think I can’t find a way to tidy up glass shards, I somehow will.

I will also break sometimes, and that will be okay. And on those days sobbing it out will feel pretty darn good.

And on those days I will quit. After I clean up the broken glass, of course.

 

Image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:2534803, copyright:sirylok

Nov 222014
 

Managing multigenerational needs can be stressful. Here are tips and advice for doing it with ease and grace. The sandwich generation has a tough calling--but it can be done!I am 35. What does this mean in this today’s world? I have young kids who run me ragged with Daniel Tiger parties while I have parents who are entering their more aged years. Or I would have “parents”, except my mother left us a couple years ago, and my very boss father is now running solo.

I’m the sandwich generation, and I’m not complaining. I think it’s a wonderful gift to have kids who know their grandparents, I like having people of different stages who need me on this earth. I like to be needed; it helps keep me away from compulsive cross-wording in boredom.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t share how tricky it can be.  I will never forget the poignant sticky-wicket of being 7 mo. pregnant with a 2 yr. old at home and visiting my father in the hospital for a health situation while caring for my dying mother. That was not “supposed” to be. But it was.

The reality is that aging parents is part of our reality in this era of quality long-living and thriving. What a blessing! But for all the times it gets tricky (managing health needs, insurance coverage, etc.), it’s great to know there is a supportive resource in Grandparents.com.

What is Grandparents.com?

It is a site that provides valuable information to consumers about the health needs and interests of our parents and grandparents. Aetna recently teamed up with Grandparents.com to evaluate what issues are most weighing on this population and what we can do to help them address their needs.

In attending a briefing regarding the findings of this study with Dr. Randall Krakauer, M.D., Vice President and national medical director for Medicare Strategy and Innovation at Aetna and a recognized leader in geriatric care and board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology, it was reported that grandparents often regret not making wiser choices in caring for their health from a younger age.  While they often have computer and online access, navigating through healthcare responsibilities and Medicare Open Enrollment can still be a daunting task.

As the General Open Enrollment period runs from November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015 and Open Enrollment for Medicare beneficiaries runs from October 15, 2014 to December 7, 2014, the holidays are a great time to discuss benefits and health goals with our parents and grandparents. Resources such as Grandparents.com or AetnaMedicare.com can be very helpful in working with your family members to make informed decisions regarding their coverage.

In addition to teaming up to navigate through insurance needs, we can also help our loved ones care for themselves by encouraging healthy living habits. How can we do this?  As Dr. Krakauer says, “Don’t neglect your own health! Pay attention to your own exercise and diet and set a good example by learning about and practicing healthy habits yourself. As far as working with parents or grandparents, it is going to be very helpful to remind them that that it’s never too late to get healthier! Even if you have had high blood pressure, you can still prevent future damage by getting your blood pressure under control.”

By caring for ourselves and paying attention to our own health needs now, we can not only help our parents and grandparents, but establish healthy standards in our homes for our children as well.  It’s truly a win-win-win situation.

And while technology is newer to the older generation, as noted above, most parents and grandparents do have access. Use the internet to access great up-to-date information, and if you live further away from family, it can be a great way to communicate and check in on maintaining healthy goals. I know my dad, sister, brother-in-law and I have a lot of fun becoming Fitbit friends and keeping up with our daily progress. Sadly for us younger folks, my dad always schools us with a higher step count! Grrr.

I’m very fortunate in that my dad is incredibly savvy navigating his own way through all the Medicare choices and decision-making and does a fantastic job staying active and healthy, but I know this isn’t always the case.  The older years can be a tricky ones to find your way through, so don’t be afraid to seek help. And online resources like Grandparents.com or AetnaMedicare.com are perfect places to start.

Go navigate through these years the smart way, friends!

 

****I participated in this program on behalf of Aetna and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.****

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:10848277, copyright:Wavebreakmedia

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