Togetherness

The family that _________ together, stays together!

Is it possible to fill that blank with just about anything? Well, barring any illegal activities… yes, it is!

There have been many versions of the saying through the years, and in fact I think it started as ‘The family that prays together stays together’. While this saying may have started out as a slogan to get families to church, I find it has much more meaning when you look at the word ‘together’.

You would think the emphasis should be on the activity the family does, however, I think it’s more important to be together. This isn’t meant to minimize the effect prayer has, but rather to take a look at togetherness in the family setting.

The family that cooks together, stays together!

When I was a child, we were exiled from my mother’s kitchen. Anyone that dared to traipse in there looking for a snack would have to answer to the guardian of all our food, my mother. I frequently have to explain to my mother, that I don’t have time to guard food. I put the best choices I can in easy reach, and hope for the best. It is demoralizing when I have to throw away wilted salad, and then vacuum up debris from chips they got into while I was busy, but I try to remember that more often then not the salad bowls are in the sink to wash, and the chips are still in the cupboard!

When you start to have a larger family, food preparation time can really eat into your schedule. So why do it alone? I like to prep vegetables at the kitchen table, where my two-year-old can always be found. He always is curious about what I’m doing and we have fun naming each item and their color. It also helps me be more mindful of my selection of veggies! If he says “Green!” three times in a row, I know I need to get some more colors into my veggie diet.

Of course, there are endless blog posts about food creations you can make with your kids, in fact I have one myself! Play with Your Food was a post I did last year with Halloween food crafts. But what these posts don’t tell you is the finished product isn’t always so pretty, as the nice pictures bloggers put into their posts, and afterwards, the kitchen is a huge mess. I actually remember taking pictures for that post at such an angle that readers would be able to see the huge mess the kids had made. Although I did mention the mess in a post later that month, about Being Present in the Moment. Maybe, this year, in an effort to be more transparent, I’ll include the mess in my blog pictures, so people will know what they are getting themselves into when they decide to cook with their kids.

One thing I can’t show you in a picture, is the pride my kids have, as they grow older and are able to (and do!) make better food choices for themselves. With the knowledge of how to prepare food, they are given more to choose from than just whatever plastic bag they can rip into. Plus, it becomes an activity that brings them fond memories of their early childhood and time together with us, their parents.

The family that eats together, stays together!

Many people don’t even have time to ponder if sit-down meals bring a family closer together, never mind actually have one. With all the schedules of parents and children’s after school activities, it sometimes seems impossible to get everyone under the same roof, forget about getting them to the same table. But I am a supporter of the family sit-down meal.

When children are small, it is mostly on you to clear enough room in your schedule for a sit-down meal each day. If you don’t, you not only rob your children of time with you, interacting unfettered by the outside world distractions, you rob yourself! We spend so much time doing the less than pleasant part of parenting, it is a really nice change to just slow down and take your children in for a moment. How big they are getting, how much they have learned and what thoughts run through those little minds.

When the kids get older, it becomes more difficult to find that slice of time when everyone can sit down. I remember that my mother somehow made it work, and there was an 18-year age span between the four of us. So, when I started school, my brother was graduating and going to college, and my little sister had just been born. When we all got older, my mom still made us sit down for dinner at least once a week. And I adore her for it. I can recall the enthusiastic way my dad and brother would discuss New England sports, and how my sister and I, only 4 years apart, would kick each other under the table, and then my younger sister would say something adorable and everyone would stop and say “Awwww, how sweet.”

Of course, you can only remember these things if there are no phones at dinner, and although back then, it just meant you would let the phone ring, or later, let the fancy new answering machine pick it up, it’s the same concept. No phones at dinner!

The family that cleans together, stays together!

All this cooking and eating makes a huge mess, of course, and it’s why so many chose not to do it. It takes less time to get through the dinner routine if you don’t pull out all the stops. I mean, for some of you, as you read through the last two sections were already picturing your kitchen sink with plates, pots and pans, the floor and table covered with food and not enough energy to deal with that.

When you have a heavy load, it’s always easier when you have some help. Plus work aids in digestion. So, we all clean it up together. Someone takes the baby and cleans him up, someone else put away the leftovers, while another cleans the table and floor. In 10 minutes we have the whole mess cleaned up and everyone can relax. I have never had a meal cleanup last longer than 15 minutes. I know you may think that’s impossible, it takes forever to do all that work, but in reality, it just doesn’t take that long.

I have many friends that clean the house themselves, to avoid the long, inevitable, drawn out task of getting their kids involved in the effort. Even older children can break out the toddler tantrums when you ask them to do chores. So, I use the same tactic I use with my toddler when I want him to eat something, I make them pick between two things I want to happen. Then I just do the other one and my work has been cut in half. I will warn those that are very particular about how chores are done, you may find yourself going behind your children and re-doing the task up to your standard, but don’t use that as an excuse to skip having them so it. When children see what it takes to keep the house nice and tidy, they appreciate you more. Plus they’ll live on their own someday, and they won’t be able to say that you never taught them how to clean!

The family that games together, stays together!

You begin to see that anything that your family does together can have benefits for your family and strengthen your bond, but what about broadening your horizon, and getting into your kid’s turf for a little bit. My parents never had video games, in Ireland, they were lucky to have much at all, but I got into gaming in college, and now I play with my kids. The games they have are very different from what was available to me, and most of the games, I really can’t see myself playing. But I do play Minecraft with the younger kids and last weekend, we started a action role playing game called Diablo, with the older kids. While they saw it as a chance to show off their superior gaming skills, my husband and I used it as an opportunity to teach team work. With four players on the screen, you need to work together to accomplish the game’s goals. Not only that, but you have to sometimes sacrifice for the team. It is obvious that the other games they play teach them to grab all the loot and horde it for themselves. But in Diablo, your team is stronger if you support each other by sharing loot with the team, so that each player has the best statistics for game play.

It’s great for families to do things together, and you don’t need things to be perfect to spend time with your kids. Other things we do together include working out and vegging out in front of the TV; Being super productive and finishing a big project and being super lazy and doing nothing all day. Any and all of these things are opportunities to spend time with your family. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to use the bathroom by yourself again!

What are some of the things your family does together?

 

 

 

 

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Taking Care of YOU – Health Scare

I don’t take care of myself. It isn’t a priority to me. As I type that out, it really looks like crazy talk. Who says that? “My health is not a priority.” Everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to own up to that. But in fact, the first step to making your health a priority, is to acknowledge where your efforts to stay healthy stand.

If you must quickly decide your first three priorities, what would they be? You have 30 seconds to decide. Go!

  1. Children
  2. Husband
  3. Job

That’s what I came up with, did you notice anything missing? I am not even in my top three!?

I love being a Mom, I think I’ve made that clear. I love my husband, and everyone knows you have to put effort into a good relationship. I love my job, I am good at what I do, and it gives me purpose, but also, I just need my job. We have kids to feed!

I don’t just need to move myself up on my priority list, I have to. This is a cautionary tale of what can happen, if you choose to ignore your health for too long.

Quick background, I was athletic as a kid and teenager. I carried a little extra weight when I was young. My mother had an aversion to vegetables, and loved things like Shake&Bake and Hamburger Helper.

Senior Prom 95

All dressed up for my Senior Prom

I didn’t start eating properly until high school. I thought I was so fat. I would make my own dinner of steamed vegetables and whole grain rice and turn my nose up at my mother’s roast beef and potatoes – a staple in my diet my whole life. My health was a priority then. In fact, all my priorities back then had to do with … ME.

The girl in this picture had a different top 3 priorities, namely getting fit, making money and picking the right college. Me, me, me.

And that seems to be the nature of young people. Even the high school students I meet as part of my brother’s memorial scholarship fund hold community service as a resume builder. The school district had made it policy that the students must complete 30 hours of community service in order to be eligible for graduation. And as young people tend to do, status was awarded to those that volunteered at the chicest charity.

But, I digress.

I’m not young anymore, and I don’t prioritize my health, and that seems to be the status of too many moms. If you follow my blog, you know that an x-ray recently showed a small tumor on my right femur. Doing his due diligence, my doctor promptly ordered an MRI, but told me not to worry, it was most probably benign and it was very small.

I haven’t received the official doctor’s reading of the images, but I am not happy with what I saw on the MRI. Yes, I am such a smarty pants that I requested to have the MRI saved to a CD, so I could look at it at my leisure, Google bone tumors, self diagnose and generally drive myself crazy.

Small bone tumor on right femur

The bullseye in the middle of the picture is a small bone tumor on my right femur.

Due to an error on the MRI order, the technicians at the hospital decided better to be safe than sorry and scanned both legs. I am so thankful for whatever error caused them to make that decision. I do have a small tumor on my right femur, as seen in the image on the left. I don’t know what it is. I’m not a doctor, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s kind of a little growth on the outer part of your bone, like a barnacle on a boat.

I could be completely wrong.

But I had to look through all the images closely to find that small anomaly. It’s strange to imagine this small bone blemish, being in close proximity to my knee, happened to show up on my knee x-ray. Because it did, I happened across this:

Left femur tumor

My left femur with a scary looking tumor.

A scary looking thing on my left femur. What is that!?

It was the first thing that took my notice when I opened up the pictures on the disc on my laptop at home. How lucky was I that they even scanned my left leg?

I spent a whole day looking up MRI images of femurs to try to figure out what it is. I stopped. It was making me sad and scared. I will speak to my doctor about it at my appointment next week.

The second thing I noticed while I looked at my MRI was not the related to tumors at all. I think it is a much more telling factor in my overall health though. Look at all that fat!

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

Cross section of my meaty thighs, ugh.

When did that happen!? For those of you unfamiliar with these types of images, the white stuff is fat, the darker area is muscle, and in the middle, are my bones. My fat doesn’t even totally fit on the screen.

I can’t stop looking at it, how it has found it’s way into my leg muscle, how hard it must be for my wimpy small muscles to lug that extra weight around and how unhealthy I know it is for me.

This can happen too easily, if you don’t keep yourself as a priority.

I continued to workout after college. I continued to work out at gyms into my 30’s. So where did I go wrong?

In 2011, I was in a terrible car accident.

My poor Corolla, RIP

My poor Corolla, RIP 2010 – 2011

The lady in the White Trailblazer was texting instead of driving, and struck my little and stationary Corolla at over 40 M.P.H. It resulted in many injuries, including a disc herniation in my neck. I could barely walk, let alone work out. My new routine consisted of flexing my neck muscles. The rest of me got very little use. The next year, my brother died, and I became terribly depressed. I became pregnant in 2013, and used it as an excuse to eat way too much. When the baby came in 2014, I wasn’t even doing my physical therapy anymore, and just took naps in the middle of the day with my little one. Now, it’s 2015, and my knees are killing me!

It is important to process and recover from setbacks, like the ones I had. I was off work for nearly 2 months with the car accident, and nearly 4 months in 2014 on maternity leave. Looking back, I wish I had made myself more of a priority. I became swept up with the idea that I would lose my job, and so started putting in longer hours and eating lunch at my desk. This led to exhaustion which caused me to wake up late nearly every day, and skip my breakfast. Somewhere amongst all this, I forgot that in order to give people the best of you, you must be at your best.

Now, I’m past the time of needing to make a change. I have to make a change. If things stay the way they are, my kids will have to take care of their mummy, and that is not what I want for them. No one ever wants to burden their kids.

No waiting for New Year’s resolutions or cheating at holiday parties, I need to move more and eat less. Any favorite tips you have, things that worked for you? Help get off on the right foot, by leaving helpful comments below. Thanks!

Just Say YES!

To keep your sanity, just say NO YES!!

There are many sources of advice on how to say “No.” An internet search will pull up many tips and hints on how to say no to people to lower your stress and increase your productivity. I’m going to tell you the opposite – just say YES!

With the myriad of things each day we have to do, choose to do or do because we finally have two minutes of down time, it is important to limit how thin you spread yourself. Only, that isn’t what people are doing. We end up saying no to family time and yes to more work.

I’m not economy expert, but I can see people happy to still have a job, while they watched coworkers laid off or forced into early retirement. It certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to ask for that vacation time off, does it? Sometimes, the work of those that have gone is foisted upon you, as the positions at your job go unfilled.

So, when you shuffle on home at the end of the day, you just need to relax. We’ve been told, letting stress build up is no good for your health. So, you have to take action to control your stress. Maybe you workout to combat stress. Maybe you eat your feelings. Whatever your plan (or non-plan) may be, you have your routine to keep your sanity. So, when your family asks you to change that, it is understandable why you might get a little nervous and cling to your routine with a resounding “No.”

Work commute

Even though this is part of my commute, I still need to de-stress when I get home from work.

All work and no play makes Supermom a dull girl. It’s a good thing I’m not yet Supermom, because I can set my routine aside and get me some yes.

If you follow my blog, you may know I’ve been suffering some leg pain, and recently was told I have a bone tumor in my femur. So, when my husband asked me out of the blue to go for a walk with him one evening after work, I definitely had a valid excuse. When I opened my mouth to answer him, “Yes.” came out instead. It wasn’t a long walk and we didn’t break a sweat, but I had a chance to connect with my husband, which I would have missed out on had I declined his invitation.

My 12-year-old suddenly emerged from his room, which is a rare circumstance indeed, and asked if he could watch TV with me. I had too much to do to play couch potato in the middle of the afternoon, he must see how busy I am. “Sure.” As we watched one of his favorite shows, he started telling me about the people on the show. Then we ended up having a conversation about his future, and that he may not want to go to the regular high school, here in our town. Even though all his friends will be going there, he thinks he wants to go to the Technical High School. Now, we could have discussed this later, he has the rest of this year and next school year to decide. But I was there for him, and now we both know that when he needs a sounding board, I’ll be there for him.

I am by no means a superfan of sports, but I like cheering for the local teams, and this time of year that means watching Patriot’s games. (I love the Bruins, but the channel their games is broadcasted on, is not in our cable package, BOO COMCAST!). Then, the baby indicated he wanted to explore outside. The sun was going down, and it would be getting cool. I was all comfy, settled in to watch the game. Don’t I deserve some “Me” time?

Instead, I said “Okay.” and outside we went, where this happened:

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Maybe that isn’t so much, but I bet it meant something to him, more than looking at the leaves through the glass door, or hearing me cheer for the Patriots. Then something even better happened. My husband came outside to join us and snapped this picture of me and the baby:IMG_0923

That’s my hubby’s finger in the upper right hand corner, but who cares? I love this picture. And all I had to do was say “Yes.” So, go out there and get yourself all of the Yes you can squeeze in.

What did you say yes to today?

I Agree with Kayne West: A Plea to Designers of Apps for Toddlers

My world does not cross with Kayne West’s world very often. (Read: at all). He is a famous celebrity, a rapper, record producer and fashion designer. I am your average working mom just trying to make sense of my world. With the vast differences in our experiences, it is little wonder I don’t share many of his views on things. I couldn’t begin to fathom what his life is like.

So when I heard about his tweet regarding in-app purchases on games for toddlers a few weeks ago, I, for one, could finally relate to the guy. I hope by now, he has managed to turn on the parental controls on his iPad to keep North from running up any more bills. Kim seems to know all about it so she can help him out.

But even with the in-app purchasing disabled, it is extremely frustrating for not only the parent, but also the child when they are trying to use, what is advertised as, a game for kids. Let’s take for example, my toddler’s favorite game: EduKidsRoom by Cubic Frog. Just typing that, I sang the little opening like the children in the app. I can’t help, it is the #1 thing my son likes to open when he gets his mitts on my iPad. It is one of the apps I don’t mind him using, because it shows him letters and colors. He always gets excited when yellow shows up, and cheers “Yellow” just like the kids in the game. It is marked as for ages 2 to 6, and my son is only 18 months old, so to be fair, he is using the game outside of the suggested parameters. Here is a shot of the opening screen:

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But seconds later, you get this screen:

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This ad pops up shortly after you open the app. I mean – just look at it. Of course the baby has tapped it, because he doesn’t know any better. It is bright and colorful. It’s baby click-bait!

The pause before it shows up is just long enough that your finger is already in motion to hit the “Play” button. Even I have been tricked into clicking on the pop-up ad. It opens up the company’s website on Safari, and you are no longer in the game. The baby has already learned to hit the Home button to exit out and reopen the game again, only to once again have the pop up ad redirect him. He gets frustrated and abandons it. So, to resolve the issue, I bought the full version, through the handy-dandy ads placed in the game.

IMG_0853IMG_0854

IMG_0852But even then, there are links to places baby doesn’t want to go, like a website by Cubic Frog for parents, a link to rate the app and of course a link to the App Store, so you can buy more Cubic Frogs games. It seems you are supposed to tap and hold for these items to open, but they open with a regular tap too. Not that it would matter, because toddlers don’t differentiate between tapping and holding and just tapping. The baby is drawn to tapping on these links because they are colorful buttons, and the baby is coo-coo for buttons right now. (He takes an enormous amounts of selfies, because he can’t help but press that shiny red button in the camera app.)

It seems a simple enough solution to start the game for him, so he doesn’t see the home screen, to access these links, but seeing that the only button on the iPad is the Home button, he frequently exits the game only to reopen it. With this particular app, it returns to the main screen, no matter how briefly you’ve left the app.

So now that someone like Kanye has expressed his frustration with these kid’s apps, let’s use this visibility to make a plea to app designers for toddlers: Stop the nonsense!

(I wonder if this will be part of Kanye’s platform when he runs for President in 2020?)

Making Friends

I remember when my son first took the basketball court. I was so proud a tear came to my eye.

I played in school, and was very good. All I wanted for my son was a chance for him to have the great experience that I did with organized sports. The camaraderie of  defeating your opponents together. What could bring you closer?

It started of well, with me cheering him from the sidelines, but all too soon I realized my cheers had become constructive criticism. “Pass the ball!” “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” “Watch the ball!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my son talking out around the three-point mark with a player from the other team. Over the noise of the gym, I could still make out what they were talking about, they were that far away from the play. They were talking about Thomas the Tank Engine.

“Get your head in the game!” My son rattled, turned his head with a start, and tried to comply. I wish I hadn’t turned into that mom, but I had. It would be best if I could have controlled myself without learning the lesson the hard way. In a way, I’m glad I got it out of my system so early. We still had more than half the season left, and in that moment, yelling from the sidelines, I could see a truth about my child that I had all too conveniently ignored. He is not competitive. And that is fine with me. He just wanted to make friends.

Friends

We had just moved from Virginia to Massachusetts and my son saw basketball as a place to forge friendships. In his young wisdom, he knew sport can bring people together, in victory or defeat. Once I saw that he wasn’t there to crush his enemies, I recognized his attempts to be friendly. The remainder of the season, I kept my mouth shut, and offered praise after each game. “That was a great pass!” “Your shot was so close, maybe next time, bud!”

Then something wonderful happened. He made a shot, and his face was priceless. I had another tear well up in my eye. I didn’t miss it because I was relaxed and enjoying the game, instead of trying to coach him from the sidelines. But he didn’t look to me when it happened, he had his teammates congratulate him, and that is why he was there. To have friends.

With my competitive nature, I can truly understand if you are unable to get to the zen state, where you watch calmly from the sidelines, and let the team coach instruct your child. A small suggestion to those who need to be involved, volunteer, get a team of your own to coach, and instruct the athletes of the future. Then take your coach hat off and enjoy your kid’s game. Maybe they’ll even win when they aren’t distracted by all your yelling and screaming.

Being Present in the Moment

As parents, we have many responsibilities, ambitions, tasks and burdens. Corporations should thank us, because multi-tasking was undoubtedly created by parents. With technology making our tasks more accessible, i.e. mobile banking, online shopping and even an APP to help us talk to our kids, we are being driven to produce more results, more often.

In my childhood, I remember clear boundaries being drawn in regards to my parents’ time. When my mother sat down each month and handled our bills, we were not to bother her. My siblings and I would find something to do, and if we argued about it, we kept it down because Mum was busy and interrupting her was not an option. We weren’t scared to interrupt her, we weren’t under threat of punishment and we weren’t all that considerate that we left her be simply because disturbing her concentration was rude. My parents’ boundary lines taught us to prioritize our needs, so that everything we experienced wasn’t an emergency.

Well thank goodness I don’t have to set boundaries! I can just do all those things on my phone while I attend to my children’s every need and want!

Wait a second… but that isn’t a good idea.

Aside from the fact that children do need to be taught boundaries, I am doing no one a service by splitting my attention in too many directions at once. Can I really enjoy their performance at the soccer game, if I’m making my shopping list through my grocer’s weekly ad app? Am I really listening to the song my son made up on his guitar, if I’m running through a To-Do list in my mind? Will I hear the baby’s first word, if I’m listening to the news while making dinner? Probably not.

I have often struggled in my life to be present in the moment. I barely remember my college graduation, with all the logistics of my whole family coming in from out-of-state, getting them checked in to their hotels and figuring out what restaurant could accommodate us, I forgot to stop and take a picture. I had no pictures of my graduation ceremony, or myself in my cap and gown. The professional photographer at the event only has a picture of me hurrying back to my seat. I couldn’t even take a moment on the stage, to savor the culmination of my college career. I had to throw my gown back on, late that night at the hotel, and snap a few pics.

These days, I’m slowing down a little. It is important to me to make these memories not only last, but exist! Making memories is an active participation task. You must do your part to not only plan these things we do with our family, but you must participate as well. I have gotten a little better at it now that I’m more mature, but I wish I knew these things when I was younger, especially as technology has become a larger part of my life.

These are a few tips, that I would have given to my younger self:

Life isn’t made up of ambitions

When I was small, I was a bit of a dreamer, and spent much of my time planning my future. I’m not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill “I want to be an astronaut” day dreaming. I mean I did research, made lists and planned it out, I even had a list of dogs I wanted to own! (Although, I DID want to be an astronaut, very much so, for about 6 months.)

Now that I am older, I realize life isn’t about the specific job you hold, things you own or places you visit. It is the attempts to achieve your ambitions. It is the memories you create for yourself and others. Especially when you have children. Those memories will hold value to your children when they’ve grown, and they will pass those values to their children.

Set a time to focus on your business, and take care of your business during that time.

When I come into my office during the day, I have time set aside for daily tasks, like running reports, checking emails and making phone calls. It works well at home too. When I get home, I have a little 30 minute routine that I go through that gets me up to speed with the rest of the family.  I talk to my husband, during this time I assess his stress level. If the baby has been crying all day and has worn him out, it is easy to tell. Because he is a man, he just says “The baby cried all day, I’m going to lay down, you’re up.” (A side note, I’ve encouraged my stay at home mom friends to use this line as frequently as needed.) My husband will fill me in on the day, what the baby did or didn’t do, and since I want to teach the baby to talk, I ask him about his day as well. Did he play with his favorite toy? Did he take a nap? Did he drink juice? He just sort of gazes at me happily, I can only assume glad to be part of the conversation. I check in with my older son the same way.

The reason I can take this time to connect with my family is because I have set aside time to deal with the business of running my house. It is so tempting when I see the mail by the door on my way in, to pick it up and start going through it, but knowing that I have time set aside to handle my correspondence leaves me free to check in with the rest of my clan. I planned dinner the evening before, so I’m not stuck trying to figure out what to eat and there is nothing thawed, or I need to go to the store for that one ingredient item, which somehow ran out. And the mail will be handled, just not in this moment.

My secret productive hour? It is actually in the morning. Since I’m blessed with a stay at home spouse, I don’t need to prepare the baby to leave the house for the day. Most days he is only waking up when I am leaving. I realize this is not everybody’s situation, and morning can be quite hectic. But take a look at your day and find that time you can get down to business. Then stick to it, everyday.

Note that it doesn’t have to be the same time everyday. On weekends, my productive hour can shift to just after lunch. Everyone is fed and happy, the baby takes a nap, and I have some quiet to deal with my responsibilities.

No one is saying emergencies won’t pop up, and thankfully we have the technology to make those easier to handle, but paying your electric bill at your kid’s dance recital is not one of them. Transferring funds into your checking account because your husband mixed up the debit card with the credit card might be.

During an activity, don’t worry about the mess.

My kitchen must be cleaned daily, as most people’s do. So, when I decided to do those Halloween food crafts two weeks ago, I started to notice that we were making a huge mess. I immediately shut that thought down.

How do you eat this thing?

How do you eat this thing?

That is the old me, the me without a graduation picture. When I shook the thought off, I caught a glimpse of my stepson opening his mouth super wide to bite into the skeleton pretzel brownies. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for anything, especially not a little extra mess in the kitchen. Ok, a super big mess. But who cares? I’m still going to have to sweep the floor. The odd thing is sweeping the entire floor takes about the same time with a little bit of dust as with a lot of pretzel salt and brownie crumbs. You’re still covering the same area. So, don’t worry about it and instead pay attention to what is happening in front of you.

You are responsible for you

Well, sort of…

You are responsible for your kids, yes, but can you make them feel differently about a moment by changing your behavior? No.

I really wasted so much time worrying about everyone feeling good in the moment, that I failed to notice how I felt about what was happening. When I look back at those memories, they are faded somehow. On my graduation day, I was totally worrying that everybody was comfortable, watching all the interactions between my friends and parents, looking out for my brother, in case there was an area he couldn’t take his wheelchair. But nothing I could have done or not done would have changed their day. It only changed my memory of the day. I definitely wasn’t thinking about how I felt about completing my degree and savoring the victory of a job well done.

Feelings go hand-in-hand with memories, and strong emotion can boost your memory. So, take a second to feel all the feels. And you don’t have to do this only at special family events, do it every day.

Pay attention to these tips, and when you look back, you won’t see lists, bills and your phone. You will see your life, made up of wonderful memories.

This post was inspired by the photography of Eric Pickersgill and blog post by

Play with Your Food

Last week, I happened upon some great ideas for food crafts. With hope in my heart, I went to the store, bought the ingredients required, and set off to have a fun weekend with the kids. These ideas are by Robert Mahar , presented by Julianna Strickland. I loved the ideas immediately, but would the kids enjoy making them as well?

10426257_10208053654088187_3504280038095661407_nI set up at the kitchen table, made a one of each and called the boys into the room. Did anyone want to try or make things with me? The baby was, of course, very interested. All the items on the table just had him ready to create, or at least grab things and push them into his mouth. Then I looked at the faces of my 12 and 10 year-olds. Slightly more reserved than the baby’s reaction, they actually sat down at the table. Now, I just had to reel them in. I started with chocolate, because that is very hard to turn down. I pushed a plate of witch hat cookies towards them. Easy and fun to make, we just used some orange icing on the center of a Keebler’s Fudge Stripe cookies and pushed a Hershey’s Kiss onto the icing to make the point of the hat. 12115559_10208053653808180_5987752917513585714_n

Then, I hit them with the skeletons; a brownie base, with a pretzel spine, ribs and a marshmallow head. More fun to look at, but much more difficult to actually eat. The kids seemed to prefer making them to actually eating them. I have seen a few variations of this one, using a cupcake instead of a brownie, or leaving out the pretzels. If we were having a Halloween party this year, these would make fun centerpieces.

We had a failed attempt at making witches brooms, like the ones shown here. The cheese crumbled too easily, and the chives snapped apart when I tried to tie them. The apple peanut butter marshmallow teeth fell apart when the kids tried to put them into their mouths. Although they said they tasted yummy, I could tell they were disappointed that they couldn’t walk around and use them as false teeth.

I finished off our food fun with jack-o-lantern stuffed peppers, which I had been roasting in the oven while we were having our fun. My planning on this wasn’t best, since the kids were now filled with sweets and weren’t in the mood for something a little more substantial. Oops!

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I learned a few things – primarily, that you should have lunch first. But also, I had selected too many projects to do, which resulted in a long shopping list. Although, it is important to pick more than one project, because if it fails, you can quickly move on to the next fun project. You don’t want your kids shuffling back to their rooms disappointed with your craft fail. The reward for all this effort? An extremely messy kitchen, and the gratitude from my children. Yes, actually grateful that I took the time to do something with them. They said it was fun, and they enjoyed it.

I felt the meter move closer to supermom.

My Swagbucks Experience

I joined Swagbucks 3 weeks ago, and I have definitely learned some things. You should read this before you try Swagbucks (SB) for yourself. On a boring Friday evening, I was reading some blogs about bringing in extra money. I came across some information about Swagbucks and decided to give it a try. It was easy enough to sign up, after a minute, I was up and running. When you first begin, they have tutorials you can watch to learn how to use the site. You can watch them, but the site is very intuitive, it doesn’t take long for your clicks to add up some SBs.

I started with watching videos. There are tons of videos on the site; the types of things I was watching everyday anyways. The news headlines may not be as current as you would like. I watched a video about Hurricane Joaquin’s path, and how it might hit New England, the day after the storm had already passed us, way out at sea. As much as I liked the videos, they repeat day after day, normally being updated weekly. Which means I watched that hurricane video every day for a week. But, it’s not a big deal, because I just left the string of videos running in the background, and switched over to it when a story came on that I wanted to see. They give you 1 to 7 SBs for a playlist of videos.

You learn very quickly that 100 Swagbucks can normally be redeemed for about $1. This helps you figure out what is worth your time. So, the playlist of videos earns you just pennies. This makes it unlikely you will sit there and play videos that you aren’t interested in. I got a bunch of ideas for things to do at Halloween from the videos and I can’t wait to try them this weekend with the kids. So, they are entertaining and even useful videos.

Then you may want to start to branch out. The website sets a daily goal of SBs to earn, and you’ll find that watching videos won’t cut it. They have polls you can take, websites you can explore and even offer SBs for money spent at online websites, like Target, Groupon, etc. Generally, you would earn 1SB per dollar spent, which is like a 1% coupon. Would you even cut out a coupon for 1% off?

Well, I went for it, in the interest of seeing what this website had to offer. I needed some Polo shirts for my son, so I decided to buy them online at Old Navy, which for this week, you get 6 SB for every dollar spent. I was thinking, “Alright, a 6% coupon, that’s much better! I would maybe cut out a 6% off coupon…”  Well, I had some reward points from my Old Navy credit card, and decided to apply them to my purchase. Even though I spent $100, the amount credited to my Swagbucks was less the rewards, or $50. They only credit you for money that came out of your pocket. Same thing happened for another store, where I had a rewards check that I used during checkout, and I wasn’t credited for the full amount that I spent there either. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, I’m just saying it is what it is.

Being the competitive type, I pushed to see how much I could earn. I ended up with about $10/week, just over 3,000 SB in three weeks. I requested my first cash out yesterday, in the form of a Visa Reward Card. It turns out that has to be used online, because it’s a virtual Visa. You don’t get a card in the mail. They also have gift cards to just about any place you can think of, or anything you can think of (ebay, Amazon, Playstation Store, restaurants, etc.).

Overall, it seems harmless, and a way to make some pennies that you don’t have to dive through your couch for. But as I think back, I have to ask my self, was $30 worth it?

Some offers on their site should be avoided at all costs. The iPhone 6S release in September had a unique offer popping up on Swagbucks. To earn your SBs, you simply had to tell the site where to mail your iPhone 6S, and it would be on its way to you. This is a complete scam (read more here). To their credit, Swagbucks removed the offer fairly quickly, I only saw it offered that one day, but if you thought you could get an iPhone 6S for free, then you probably are too busy with the spam hitting your phone and email to even read this post.

I also took issue with some of the websites the Discover option took me to. Most websites were fine, you could explore stories from all over the web. Others were just blatantly installing cookies, without even the guise of having interesting content. My computer started having issues, and my web browser would close unexpectedly. I started noticing the ads on every page were things I had recently searched for online. I was definitely being tracked.

Undoubtedly, if you are on the internet, there is some tracking going on. Just by saving preferences on some websites, you are actually installing first party cookies. But if your web browser is crashing, you’ve got some cleanup to do on your system, if you haven’t inadvertently downloaded a virus somewhere along your travels.

I think that overall, Swagbucks could be a fun way to pass your time on the internet, but watching videos and visiting sites you aren’t interested isn’t worth the pennies paid for these actions. If you add the headache of selecting an offer that gives your email to third parties, or worse, your phone number, it’s worth it to pay them to leave you alone. In fact this week, that offer showed up on my Swagbucks page – I can earn Swagbucks if I let an app have access to my account:

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Um… no thanks. I don’t want to sell my privacy for pennies, which incidentally, is what I was doing for the past three weeks. Time for me to go to the National Do Not Call Registry, to re-register my number.

A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Preparing for Junior High School

Transitioning from class-centric format of grade school, into the realm of period scheduling is a big change and one that can be overwhelming. Kids need to make it to their next class on time, carry with them the supplies needed for their next class, remember locker combinations and handle the expectations of several teachers. But they can do it, and here is how you can help.

These practical skills will prepare them to be organized, independent and successful students in high school and on into college.

Study location: Designate a table or desk where your child always completes their homework. They will need a hard surface, so that they can complete their work neatly. Some people use their kitchen table, and that is fine, but I made sure that my son’s room had a small desk in it. It’s great for him, because he is easily distracted when around others, so the kitchen table may have too much stimulus for him to concentrate fully. Also, if homework time runs into dinner time, then your child has to put away their stuff, so you can eat at the table, and get it all back out afterward.

Schedule: Help your child to prioritize and plan their study session. To encourage your child, you can start with the easiest homework, leaving the hardest for last. This can backfire though, as your child grows more weary, the harder assignments become almost impossible. I worked with my son, and we came up with a great plan that works for him. Math first, as it’s his favorite subject, but is also the most time consuming. We leave his 30 minutes of reading each night for last, in fact, he normally takes his shower, crawls into bed and then does his reading. It makes the reading more enjoyable.

Staying on task: As I mentioned before, my son gets easily distracted. To be fair, our family isn’t really very conducive to studying right now. We have the 17 month old, who adores his older brother, wanting to play with him, and knocking on his door, something he’s just learned to do. Dogs that want to play in the evening, dinner time, chores to be done. It can be really distracting! You can use a timer for your child, is that visual will help them. I simply check on him while he studies. He uses his iPad for parts of his homework, so it just can’t be taken away, but he doesn’t need his phone, so I take that. I also take the headphones, so he doesn’t sneak and listen to music. To encourage his focus, I make sure that when he gets home, he doesn’t do homework first. He’s been in class studying all day! He takes the dogs for a walk, plays with his brother, plays his guitar, but he is not allowed to watch TV or play Xbox, as those activities can be huge time sucks!

Support: If your child has difficulty completing an assignment then reread the directions with them, and go over their class notes with them. My son’s school encourages our texting crazed children to use that technology to ask your classmates how they did the assignment. In the end though, if they tried for 30 minutes, and still are unable to complete the task, I simply send a note saying that my son tried, had difficulty, and probably needs a review. This is encouraged by his teachers because they want to know if something is going over their student’s heads. It is more important to get a good night sleep that to stay up late stressing!

Finally, just a word about school supplies. Children today have so much to carry around. My son likes to keep everything in his bag, that way he doesn’t forget anything and always has what he needs for class. Alternatively, if he can’t find it in his bag, he knows it’s good and lost. But I caution you to check how heavy your child’s bag is getting. Just because you bought a ream of paper for your kid for the year, doesn’t mean they have to carry around the whole ream. Only put into the binders the paper that is needed for the week. Keep folders and binders organized. Also keep pens, pencils and other supplies at home, so your child has less to lug around. I helped my son divide up his supplies, so that he has what he needs in his bag, and it’s not too heavy. I have encouraged him to organize his locker.

At some point, you just have to let them go forth and work it all out for themselves, but your guidelines will give them a starting point. have a great school year!