28 July 2011

Ready or Not

You are Better Off When Ready
I know that many, if not most moms, are eager for school to start in the next month or so.  I actually prefer it when the kids are home.  I’d rather not have to: make lunches, rush out the door, hurry through the daily tasks, monitor homework, fit in dinner, and rush them to bed, only to start again the next day.

Probably since my oldest was in first grade I’ve said that if I could, I’d keep them home with me, rather than send them to school.  No, I really don’t want to homeschool, I’d just rather not have to deal with the ups and downs of the school days.  That said, ready or not, school will be back in session soon; very soon for many kids around the country.  My kids don’t start until after Labor Day, though, so I’ll enjoy the dog days for a another month
I know opening day is out there.  I’ve seen the displays at Target, gotten ads from Office Depot, signs everywhere remind me of the countdown to the opening bell.  So, I decided to venture out do the supply shopping.  I used to look forward to buying the school supplies.  All the freshly sharpened pencils, crisp notebooks and the wonderful aroma of crayons beckoned.  Now, though, it’s hard to find pre-sharpened pencils.  Therefore, I am the one who has to sharpen them; this thought severely dampens the experience, especially since I have three school aged children, all of whom have about 50 pencils on their supply lists.
Having three school aged kids to buy for makes it a daunting task.

As I stood in the aisle at Target, I found it hard to even get started.  I looked at the first item on the list for the first grader- 2 boxes 24 ct. Crayola crayons.  Crayons are seventh on the list for the fourth grader and not on the seventh grader’s list at all.  Do I go through the first grade list, then the fourth grade list, then the seventh grade list?  Or do I try to get crayons for both at the same time so I don’t have to back track?

I didn’t even get a single item in my cart before I gave up.  Having my 2-year-old in tow probably did not help my state of mind.  I decided to do the shopping from the comfort of my home, online.  Sometimes spending a little more (and it really is very little and the box of supplies comes right to my door) in order to preserve sanity, is worth it.

Getting ready for nine months of packing lunches and snacks is something I do not even want to think about right now, but thinking about it can help me prepare so it’s not such a daunting task.  The main thing I do to make it all easier is to have easily packable items on hand at all times and have back up items to throw in when we run out of time in the morning.  Bags of chips, Uncrustables, bunches of grapes, small applesauces, yogurts, string cheese, etc. all are easy to pack foods.

Bulk bags of healthy snack foods are perfect for helping make the daily snack easier.  (I, personally, don’t remember ever having school sanctioned snack time after kindergarten, but that’s just me.)  I like to keep bulk bags of almonds and dried fruit on hand.  I can just scoop a small plastic container into the bag, pop on the lid and voila- snack is ready for the backpack.

The key to back to school, as any other time in our busy parenting lives, is to make things as easy as possible on ourselves.  Why fret over the small details when, very often, there is a simpler way to go about the task?
The start of the school year is a great chance to start with a clean slate.  Set up a system to make your life easier.

Set a specific place for the kids’ backpacks so that when the kids come home from school, the backpacks, coats, etc. don’t end up all over the house.  You can hang hooks just below the kitchen counter or just inside the door so that the backpacks hang nicely.  Get a coat rack or hang hooks for the kids’ jackets so that they don’t end up dropped at the entryway.  (I also do this with the towels and swimming suits after a day at the pool.)  The key is to keep the mess manageable.  Your house may not look Architectural Digest photo shoot ready, but you’ll feel calmer… at least I do.

Get the children used to a schedule again.  In our house, during the school year, the boys have to read a novel or nonfiction Sunday night through Thursday night.  On the weekends, they can read whatever they choose.  In the summer, they have free choice on Wednesday nights as well.  As it gets closer to the start of school, we go back to the school year reading schedule.  Also, the boys do a bit of “school” work each day.  I print a work sheet off of the internet from a site like math-drills.com.  The boys have to do a worksheet before they get their daily screen time.

All this “order” might make me sound like a drill sergeant and give you the impression that my house runs with military precision (I am a Navy wife, after all). However, just like any other household, we roll with the punches.  Hiccups happen every day, in one form or another.  But, with all of these systems in place, at least the potholes in our path cause only small bumps in the road and not flat tires that take us off the road completely.

27 July 2011

10 tips and tricks to get your kids to eat more vegetables

As I've said many times before on this blog, mealtime can be one of the most stressful times of the day for families with small, and even not so small, children. Setting strict rules and limits can be the trick to getting family dinner to run more smoothly. When it comes to getting your children to eat more vegetables, there are many tricks you, as a parent or grandparent, can employ.

1- Take you children shopping with you at the grocery store with the best looking produce in the area. Better yet, take them to a farmer's market. Let them touch, smell and express their innate curiosity. Doing so will most certainly lead to them asking you to buy new vegetables.

2- Give in to their requests to buy even the oddest choices of vegetables. Maybe they think they don't like cauliflower, but when they see a purple cauliflower they might be tempted and the purple variety is packed with antioxidants, so chop it up and serve it with dip, or steam it and serve it with soy sauce. Do whatever it takes. The point is, they might expect you to say "no" to their requests for unusual items, but when you "give in" and make the purchases, they will be more likely to taste and enjoy the healthy foods.

3- Serve cut up veggies with dip. The old stand-by, ranch, is usually a hit, but try hummus, or cream cheese or even ketchup. My boys will devour an entire 2 pound bag of baby carrots if they can sit at the table and dip the carrots in ranch dip or ketchup. It sounds crazy, but it's true.

4- Dress them up- the veggies, that is. This will only work with the younger set, but do not underestimate the power of a smiley face to lure kids into trying new things. Use the vegetables to make artwork on a pita or tortilla. Make a smiley faces with olives, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and lettuce, like this:
A kid can't help but be tempted to taste the different parts of the face.

5-  Hide the veggies.  Wrap a cucumber in a slice of vegetarian bologna (the veggie bologna will add vegetable protein and they won't even notice). Slice a tomato into thin slices and roll one with a slice of cheese.  Put thin pepper slices onto a tortilla, spread on some shredded cheese, roll it up... delicious!

6- Bake zucchini bread.  This is a great recipe, and you can call it cake bread or breakfast bread or blueberry bread and the kids will be none the wiser!

7- Bake brownies.  Try a recipe like this from Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious, and the kids will have no idea the vegetables are hidden inside a sweet dessert.

8-  Make a lasagna and put a package of drained, frozen chopped spinach into it.  If you mix the spinach into the sauce, the kids won't even see the dreaded GREEN specks and will eat it up, getting their daily fill of folic acid, which is great for moms too!

9- Puree a vegetable like peas and add them to your ground beef mixture with spices to make a delicious, nutrient filled, hamburger.  You can even count the pickle relish as cucumbers in the end of the day vegetable tally, if you want.

10- My favorite recent discovery is kale.  My boys- all four of them- love roasted kale!  We call them kale chips.  I pull the leafy parts from the ribs/stalks and lay them out on a baking sheet.  The kale does not have to be in a single layer because the leaves shrink as they bake.  I spray the leaves with olive oil, shake on some salt or garlic salt, bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 and it's done!  It really is delicious.  You can use this same "recipe" with broccoli, cauliflower and several other vegetables.  Use your imagination.

The point is, there are many ways to get our kids to eat more vegetables and other healthy foods.  These ten tips and tricks can help, but we can start by eating vegetables ourselves- without making scrunched up faces!  You can't expect your kids to be excited about dipping a carrot stick into ketchup when you are dipping your french fries into it.  Set an example and eventually the kids will follow your lead.  In the meantime, the tricks will get them started on the path toward a healthy lifestyle.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Peas and Thank You blogging program for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

20 July 2011


Surviving the School Year With Ease

Summer is in full swing, but depending on where you live, school will be starting in as soon as a few weeks.  The signs are everywhere, I've been to Target twice this week and have avoided the Back to School section for sanity's sake.  I'd rather stay in the summer mindset for as long as possible.

However, Back to School time is out there.  It is approaching more quickly than my boys like to think.  Every year, before school starts, I like to get a game plan in mind.  I want to be as organized as possible and get off to the right start so that we can survive the daily grind with poise.  Or, at least appear that way.

First, I designate a place for the four boys to put their backpacks when they get home from school each day.  Before they even wash their hands (a must when they get home) they are to empty the backpacks of anything needed for homework and anything that I need to see/sign/return.  Backpacks should be organized and cleaned out at least once per month in order to avoid being overwhelmed by clutter.  Encourage kids with lockers to keep anything they don't need at home, at school secured in their locker.  There are some very cool locks out there, like this one from Master Lock.

And watch this fun video: 
And find out more at their facebook page: www.facebook.com/masterlock

My kids have a set time for homework.  It isn't the same time for each of them but each boy knows his time and we stick to it.  I find it works best to have a little down time after school for a snack and brain refreshment and then have them get to the homework sooner than later, so that the time does not get away from us.  Usually 30 minutes to an hour of downtime is good.

Finally, a set time to get ready for bed and a set time for lights out is crucial to having a successful school year.  There are charts, like this Sleep chart, that tell you the approximate amount of sleep that each age group requires.  These are a good place to start to gauge what time your children should turn out their lights and you can work back from there.  My seven year old and three year old start getting ready for bed at 7:15.  The seven year old can read from the time he gets in bed until 8:00, when he shuts off his light.  My three year old shuts of his light when I leave the room after our book, song and prayers.  My 10 year old starts getting ready for bed at 8:45 and his lights out is 9:30.  13 year old, Zack, goes upstairs at 9:20 and his lights out is 10:00.

A good night's sleep makes everything else in the home run more smoothly.

These seemingly simple steps really will help make your family life easier during this school year.

01 July 2011

Roadtrip with Kids

I took the boys on a road trip and, in the interest of saving gas money and being a bit more green, we took our smaller vehicle, a hybrid.  In doing so, I realize that most of what I packed last year for this adventure was completely unnecessary.

I packed each of the boys' clothes in his school backpack.  Since we were traveling to my parents' house, I knew we could do laundry.  I packed each boy 3 pairs of shorts, 5 shirts, one pair of pjs and 5 sets of underwear.  Of course, I packed more clothing for myself, but that is the privilege of being the mom and the packer!

The trip was about 14 hours of driving, before you figure in the stops.  Yes, it's a long drive, but we do it in one day and it's what I'd recommend to any other family traveling like this, unless, of course, the driver gets tired.  Then, by all means, stop at a hotel for a night's rest.  For me, though, a bit of 5 Hour Energy gets me through the last bit and I'd much rather have one long day, than 2 long days plus a restless night in a hotel with 4 boys. 

Of course I miss Horatio and would prefer to have him with us all summer, but I have to admit that being able to do it all on my own schedule, listen to my own audio book choices, have my own snacks, etc., isn't so bad.

Recommendations I have for others embarking on such a trip are as follows:

Pack light

If you have a DVD player, take a variety of DVD choices, making sure each child has 2 he likes.

Check the condition of the headphones before departure.

Keep extra batteries in the glove box.

Use dramamine for any child who has ever shown a hint of motion sickness.

Keep a supply of sickness bags.

Pack snacks: Boxes containing small bags of pretzels, crackers and cookies work best.  The children can make a choice, eat their snack, and dispose of the trash.

Give each child a bag for trash so that the garbage does not accumilate.

If you make a stop for gasoline or potty breaks, make every passenger use the facilities, no matter what, so you don't end up stopping again 15 minutes later.

Don't sweat the small stuff.  You'll get there when you get there.  Enjoy the scenery!

Be safe.