Monday, January 16, 2017

Taking Control of My Mornings with Bulletproof

Before I had kids, I was a morning person. I would wake up, get ready, and leave for work before my husband was even awake, with a travel cup of coffee and breakfast to eat in the car. I would arrive at school before the doors were unlocked, and the other early birds and I could socialize without guilt and still have plenty of time to get our prep work done. I never really worried about traffic, or rushing to get ready to teach my first class. I was awake, organized, and ready to go. And having such a productive morning let me sit down and relax at the end of the day, when I was mentally drained from teaching. Then my evening at home was open - I could exercise, clean, relax with a book or a show.

I felt organized. I felt in control. I felt prepared.

Then I had one child, and it got harder, especially when I was trying to maintain my pre-baby work routine on top of the daycare drop off and pick up, pumping, and caring for a baby. I wasn't going to bed early and bouncing up at 5:00 am with a full night's sleep. I was dragging my perpetually sleep deprived self up, rushing to get both of us out the door, getting to daycare as it opened, and still rushing when I got to school. Sure, there were two parents helping, but it was a far cry from my normal routine.

I was disorganized. I was frazzled. I was always behind.

Then I had another child and I left teaching to stay home. Two kids under two isn't exactly relaxing, no matter if you're working or not, but it did allow me to relax when it came to mornings. I wasn't trying to get out before the sun rose. The earliest we ever had to be out of the house was 9:00, so when I had been awake with a baby overnight and was trying to dress two kids and myself, I could cut myself some slack. I stopped using an alarm clock and simply got up when the first child roused me.

This was survival back in the early days of infants and toddlers, and I did what I needed to do to maintain my home and my sanity. I don't regret changing my routine - life moved in a different direction and I had to. But now that the girls are older, what I've found is that I've developed some pretty poor morning habits. They're admittedly bad all year round, but much worse in the winter when I hate feeling cold and just want to hibernate in bed.
  • I wake up late - usually as the girls are waking up. They go downstairs in their pajamas.
  • I spend the next chunk of time messing around with my phone in bed. I check social media, I play a few rounds of a game, I read news, I waste time.
  • I look at the clock and panic when I realize how much time has passed. I rush downstairs and panic that the girls are doing essentially what I've been doing on my phone with their iPads. They aren't dressed, they aren't eating, and they aren't ready. Neither am I.
  • Now I rush, short on time and temper, to get myself and one kid showered (thank goodness that the other showers at night), to get a preschool lunch packed, to get the homeschool school stuff organized, to get everyone dressed, to do everyone's hair, and to make sure that the girls have some sort of food in their bodies. They fight with each other, I yell, they cry, we all frantically search for lost items.
  • I eat or drink nothing, because there's no time. They eat cold bagels and dry cereal.
  • We all rush frantically out the door, just on time. We're never actually late, but we're always on the cusp of it. We never make it to the low key preschool playtime before circle time starts, and I'm mom cursing traffic lights on the way to co-op because I will never have time to set up my lesson.
Totally relaxing, and a great way to start the day.

Or not.

So I'm hungry, cranky, under caffeinated, stressed, unprepared and frantic, with two children who are rushed and panicky and feeling like they make me mad every day. And I feel guilty and vow to do better. I spend all day catching up, stay up late so I can finally breathe...and do the whole thing over again.

So when January rolled around, I decided it was time to start kicking the bad habits and picking up some good ones. Sure, as of June, we won't have preschool drop off and we'll be full blown homeschoolers with the benefit of never missing the bus. But we'll have dance competitions and morning classes and homeschool co-op. And while I love the freedom homeschooling gives us, one of my pet peeves is that the moms are always late. Always, always, always. I used to want to scream "WE START AT TEN!!! HOW ARE YOU LATE????" I refuse to have that mom be me, even though I think I get it now.

Here are the habits I'm trying to develop to make my mornings successful.

  • Get some things ready the night before. When I know it's just me in the morning, I set the timer on the coffeepot overnight so I wake up to a carafe ready to go. Blending in the ghee and brain octane takes under a minute, and I have good coffee to start me off.
  • Set an alarm. I do hit snooze once, but I don't go back to sleep. It's sort of a double alarm: first is to wake up, second is to get up. After I wake up, I reach for a pad and pen next to me and review my day: what needs to get done before we leave, and what needs to get done once we're home.
  • Stop charging my phone next to my bed. If it isn't within arm's reach, I can't waste time before my feet have even hit the floor. 
  • Make getting some nutrition the first thing I do. I know I need to start small, so right now, I'm having a cup of Bulletproof coffee with a Greek yogurt. Between the brain octane, the good fats blended in, and the good quality coffee, I have lasting energy and fewer headaches and short tempered moments.
  • No tech until we're ready - this goes for everyone. Once you are showered, dressed, packed, and eating, you can use technology until it's time to go.
So far, it's not perfect. I tend to get overly confident if I start out on the right foot, and slip back into the time wasters and wind up rushing to catch up. I make my coffee, but then I get involved with one the girls and forget to drink it. And the girls hate the tech rule. They've gotten so used to going straight for the iPad that it's been a tough habit to break.

But habits aren't formed in a day, and we've been trying to make sure we're keeping each other on track. I remind the girls to get dressed and ready when they first wake up, and they remind me to get out of my warm comforter and start moving. And we all cheer when we all make it out on time!

This post is sponsored by Bulletproof Coffee, but all experiences are my own. Even the embarrassing ones.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Building a Personal Curriculum - Review

One of the toughest parts of building our homeschool curriculum is deciding exactly what will work best for the girls. Every kid is different, every kid learns differently (which, incidentally, is a big part of our homeschool why), so the opportunity to review curriculum is a huge advantage. It seems so fitting that my first review opportunity as a Homeschool Review Crew member is reviewing the yearly membership to!

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {}

When people ask what I use to homeschool, my answer is that we're very eclectic. I know that a one-size-fits-all boxed curriculum isn't right for my particular first grader and preschooler. I experiment, I adjust, and I piece together until I find a truly personal curriculum for each girl. Age and grade level are just factors, like everything else. My "first grader" is only really "first grade" in some things. In others, she's ahead, in things like writing and handwriting, she's not. recognizes this, and helps you find resources that are specific to the skills you are building. In addition, I have one child who loves worksheets, and another who moans and groans when she's faced with anything resembling one. allows for this. And best of all, it allows my girls to find things for their own interests, from space to presidential history to art.

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {}

Madison and I spent some time over our low key weeks around the holidays going through the site and looking at what we found interesting. The majority of her official curriculum right now is Language Arts and Math (and she's working well with what we're doing), so we browsed looking for the other pieces - art, geography, science, and history. We browsed together and made a "shopping list" of things we wanted to look more closely into. It would be easy to try to take on too much at once, so we focused on a few subjects and looked at those lessons carefully.

Honestly, I could have kept browsing, listing and bookmarking for hours. Even things that I knew we wouldn't do this year started my wheels turning for the future. There are so many possibilities out there and so much to explore!

One of the things she chose was a maps unit, geared to K-2 students, from the geography section of the elementary site. She is familiar with the basics of maps, but these particular lessons focused on perspective (the idea of zooming in and out, from a very detailed and specific map of a room, to a map of the world) and symbols.

Neither the mouse or the location have changed, but zooming out has changed our view of the map.

You truly could build your entire curriculum off of this site, but it's also incredibly beneficial to someone like me, who has a core in place, but is looking for quality ways to broaden their lessons.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and I did find a few things I didn't love. Some of the first grade lessons, particularly in history and art, we found to be very dry. Madison is fascinated by presidential history and wanted to look into that first, but we were disappointed in the early elementary offerings. We found mostly one or two page write ups about a particular event or figure with vague suggestions about additional activities. As I looked into the upper elementary, middle and high school history sections of the site I found much more engaging lessons, but it seemed lacking in the primary grades. You could also find yourself with a good deal of printing to do. It would be beneficial to any parent to carefully look at each lesson and "print smartly" - color only when necessary, saving PDFs to refer to rather than printing each page, etc.

But overall, this is a great "one stop" for most homeschooling parents. Having everything in one place, from record keeping software, to a printable homeschool planner ($125 value!), to links for homeschool parent support, to nearly every possible topic you can think of, is well worth the subscription.

Right now, the price is $12.95 a month, or $139 for a year. But in mid-January, only a few days away, the price will go up, so it's worth locking in while it's at this lower rate. And until January 15, you can use the code CHRISTMAS to get a $9.95/month rate, and the code CHRISTMASYEAR to lock in a year for $90 - a huge savings, especially when the price increases!

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {}

Crew Disclaimer

Friday, January 6, 2017

Disney on Ice - Big and Bold for Every Hero

There's nothing like Disney when it comes to going big.

We were so excited to hear that Disney on Ice was back in our neck of the woods. The girls have gotten to attend these shows for three years straight now, and every year it's an amazing treat. We've seen the Treasure Trove, and the Celebrations that Disney on Ice had to offer, and this year, the girls were in heaven, because the show we saw was Dream Big.

We were provided with tickets for the purpose of providing an accurate review. Our experience is, of course, authentically ours.

The girls were bursting with excitement, as usual, as we made our way to the arena in Bridgeport. I love this particular arena because parking is easy and affordable (we found space in the garage without a problem for a flat $10), and it's easy to get in and out without dealing with city traffic.

Every time we enter, we know that Disney World itself will take a lot of preparation and budgeting, because the concessions are eye catching and tempting. Everything is dressed in Disney magic, from the popcorn to the cotton candy, to the snowcones (yes, it's January. But, you know, ice.) At first, it's hard to swallow the thought of a $15 snack, but everything comes with a souvenir. Cotton candy with a take home crown or Olaf hat is a treat in multiple ways. We always tell the girls we will give in once. This time, they both opted for cotton candy, and they were so happy with the hats they didn't beg for anything else. Naturally, there are ample options if you are looking for other souvenirs, and judging by the amount of light up spinning wands and toys, plenty of people did partake.

The girls are starting to get used to being at shows, and we had the opportunity to get programs this time. I'd never put too much thought into them, but they adored looking through them. It gave them a general idea of what to expect, and just helped the excitement to build.

But when the show starts is when the magic really happens, and this show was exceptional. Eight princesses, helped along by Tinkerbell, with occasional check ins from Mickey and Minnie featured the most empowering moments of eight Disney Princesses - Jasmine, Snow White, Belle, Rapunzel and Ariel filled the first half of the show, and Aurora, Cinderella, and Tiana were in the second half - finished with a full production of Frozen, from the opening of the gates to Anna's sacrifice and the return of summer to Arundell. This was clearly a crowd favorite - both Anna's and Elsa's featured skate solo performances to their big songs were accompanied by a full audience of singers.

What I loved about this particular show was, though most princesses did have some time to show off some pretty fantastic pairs skating with her respective prince, and even those who didn't showed up partnered for the big finale, the overarching theme was the moments of strength and adventure. As a theater person, I'm a big fan of the production number, and this show was full of them. Big scenes with plenty of skaters weaving, dancing, and doing tricks generated a feeling over fun and adventure, rather than simply showing the longing and happily ever afters the princesses are stereotyped with. That can be tough with some of the old school princesses, but seeing Maleficent's full dragon transformation, complete with lighting the ice on fire, the dwarf characters cavorting, and Cinderella's carriage rolling seamlessly, reminded us that, for their era, these were some pretty daring girls in their own way.

What did the girls take away? The truly talented skaters performing some amazing pairs - and solo - routines. The snowfall that stayed steady through the Frozen story. Cinderella's truly fabulous sparkling skates. Eight skaters traveling as a team to form the dragon that Prince Philip bravely fought. Skaters "flying" from the balcony and landing, perfectly, on their skates. Tinkerbell showering the ice with pixie dust. Watching Olaf melt and lose his head, Anna "freeze", and Elsa transform, live, and right before their eyes. And most importantly, seeing every skater remember to interact with every princess and hero in the audience.

As an adult, it's easy to think that we "get it". We're too smart for the magic, we've seen it all before, we know the stories too well.

But watching all those dressed up kids lose their minds over Elsa and Anna, giggle over Sebastian and Flounder, squeal and gasp over every lift and toss and jump, sing along to their favorite songs, and become truly swept up in the magic of Disney and a live performance, is worth it, no matter how many times you go.

If you're local to CT, Disney on Ice is performing at the Webster Bank Arena from January 5-8 and at the XL Center in Hartford from January 12-16. Tickets for Disney on Ice Present Dream Big are available in Bridgeport by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000, or in person at the Webster Bank Arena CLICK IT or TICKET Box Office or Hartford at or by visiting the XL Center Box Office. All seats are reserved. Restrictions and fees may apply. Ticket pricing is subject to change based on market demand.

The Winter Rule I Want to Ignore

I grew up in New England. I love New England. I may talk about leaving every now and then, but realistically, I don't think we'll ever really have reason to leave. I love hot summers by the pool with the ocean a short drive away. I love how gorgeous the fall is, and how perfect the weather can feel. I love watching the world explode back into green when spring comes. I even love how pretty the snow looks.

Looks. Just how it looks.

I don't love feeling cold. I don't like getting out of bed, after the thermostat has cooled the house for the night and it hasn't warmed back up yet. I hate getting out of the shower (and, let's be honest, into the shower too) when it's cold. I bundle up with the best of them and look at the pretty snow, but mostly, I'm yearning to just hibernate underneath some warm blankets.

And if it's cold enough to snow, or, as happens for a few snaps, too cold to snow, I'm definitely no longer a fan. A few days ago we took the girls out to lunch and the movies, and it was mid-30s with an icy rain and a bone chilling wind. Most of our day was obviously spent indoors, doing indoor things, appropriately dressed for the winter. But those times we had to get in and out of the car had me whining every time about how much I hated that kind of weather that just chills you completely through.

And then I feel even worse, because of the girls and their carseats.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that kids shouldn't wear their big coats while they're in the carseats. It's just not safe. I know, it feels like it should be, but physics doesn't lie, and straps that are pulled out to accommodate the bulk of the coat will be way too loose in a crash. Car ponchos are a great alternative for little ones - and it's a craft even I can do!

On a regular day, this isn't a big deal. The girls have heavy fleeces that pass the carseat safety test, and when they add a scarf and hat and mittens at our destination, they're fine to scurry with me through the parking lot until we're warm again, and then scurry back. My car doesn't heat up instantly, but it doesn't get warm fast, and even in cold temperatures, a fleece is sufficient about ninety percent of the time.

But when I'm feeling super cold, I really, really, really want to ignore that carseat rule. Pretend I don't know it. Pretend the trip is too short to really matter. Or the physics is wrong. Or luck is bound to be on our side.

When it stinks is days like we just had, where a fleece is not a good choice in the icy rain, and their thin raincoats are nowhere near heavy enough for even the short walk. Or like last night, when we went to an arena and had to walk a good distance in the cold from the parking garage, then wait outside in a line. In those cases, we bring the heavy coats and luckily, they're old enough now to put them on themselves in the car when we arrive, and take them off when we get back in. It's a pain in the butt, and on an errand day, it feels absolutely brutal.

What parenting rule do you desperately want to ignore?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I'm Supermom....But Only In Name

So in my partly-crunchy (ok, barely crunchy), Pinterest-mom-wannabe life, I've come across a few tips that make me sound like much more of a Supermom than I actually am. I can sit in my MOPS group, or on an online advice group, and sound really on top of things and even a little bit clever as I spout my Google and Pinterest garnered knowledge.

I know how to get gum out of basically everything.

I know how to get crayon out of basically everything.

I know how to use essential oils to repel insects and spiders.

I know the magic stain fighting mixture that can get everything from dirty tubs to cloth car interiors cleaned.

As a homeschool mom, people expect me to have all kinds of tips and tricks to help with various issues, and, between my internet searches and my former life as a teacher, I do have some ideas for reading, for behavior, for fun playtime indoors.

On the internet, I am Supermom. I gather a lot of information, and I have a pretty good memory for that kind of stuff. I have a really poor memory these days when it comes to which child is which and why I walked into certain rooms, or where I left my morning coffee so I can find it and drink it before someone spills it, but I do remember that hot vinegar will pull gum right out of clothing, or that clove oil repels stink bugs.

In real life....

I have a daughter who, despite all my attempts at prevention, gets gum on everything.

I have another daughter who seemed to miss all the instruction on where it's appropriate to draw with crayon.

I have a fear of spiders (and all bugs, but spiders send me into honest to goodness panic attacks) that is so severe I'm afraid of what might happen if I encounter one when Adam is away. So I repel them with every weapon that I can research so my kids don't see me paralyzed with fear and develop phobias of their own.

I have a house that is always stained. Always, always, always. Clothes. Rugs. Carseats. Sheets. I love buying new things, but I hate that they will be stained within hours of coming home, because my children are magic like that. They don't restain the old stuff, they find a freshly cleaned or brand new piece of fabric every time. 

I feel inadequate as a homeschool mom almost every day, especially when Madison starts poking around instead of doing her work, or suddenly seems unable to read, or write, or remember her math facts that I know she knows.

I feel like a fraud. All the time.

I know a lot of things, and I can give solid, researched advice. But if you saw me in real life, you might not want me to. It's a messy life. It's a low patience mom life. It's an imposter life.

Underneath that Supermom cape of knowledge and experience is a mom in leggings and a sweatshirt who just lost her tempers because the family room is a disaster again. Who wears her scuffy slippers as she walks across a floor that looks like it hasn't seen a mop in weeks, and gets into a car that smells like old food.

But I also have a feeling that I'm not alone in this feeling. I know a mom who posts things that she does with her kids, and people think she's just this amazing mom with a wealth of activities, but she knows that she just searches the internet because she's ready to tear her hair out. I felt this way as a teacher (will they figure out that I'm just figuring everything out as I go?), as a writer (will they realize that I have no idea what I'm doing?) and heck, even as an adult (does everyone feel like they're just playing house?), and realize that you know more than you think.

If you're're super. And if Pinterest helps you don that cape, it's worth it.

Especially for that magical stain mixture. Capes stain too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On My Time

A few days ago, I got a call from my sister that definitely unsettled me. Still does, actually. I think about that call all the time.

She's fine. Family is fine.

But her car is not.

See, my sister and I, coincidentally drive the same car. They were a model year apart, little differences in the interior, but we essentially had the same vehicle, same mileage, same everything. We both whine about the lack of roominess, the minor annoyances, the inability to carpool effectively. But it was kind of convenient that we drive the same car.

Drove the same car. Because what she was calling to tell me was that, on a drive home from a ski trip, her transmission basically imploded (I'm sure there's a better way to describe that, but this is what I'm going with), the car, in traffic, became undriveable, and as they found out after a lengthy tow and a sobering conversation with their mechanic, a big mess. Needs a new transmission, and, as it turns out, basically a new engine too, because the head gasket blew too. Fixing it would be a huge expense that doesn't seem worth it to take on. So now she and her husband are forced into car shopping.

This is not the end of the world. It's almost ten years old, with high mileage. Getting a new car isn't a ridiculous prospect. In fact, now that she's come to terms with the situation, she's actually looking on the bright side, comparing models and preparing to say a final goodbye to the things she didn't love.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I'm desperate for a new car myself. I've been yearning for a minivan, but Adam's actually talked me out of that now, and I'm looking at a "regular" sized SUV with a third row option for the carpooling I'm apparently desperate to do. So I should be feeling envious, not unsettled. I should be jealous.

But the thing is, I don't want my hand forced. And with a car that has its share of creaks and rattles and moans, having my hand forced is a possibility that, now, I feel like I really need to face. The car isn't perfect, but it drives fine. But Janine's car drove fine...until it didn't. She knew it wasn't in perfect condition, but she didn't realize that a transmission failure was imminent. What could be lurking under my hood? I don't want to pay a huge amount of preventative maintenance money when I'll probably be replacing it within a year, but I also don't want to end up on the side of a highway with two little girls.

So right now, to keep things on my time, I'm doing the little things that make me feel in control. I'm keeping an eye on my tires (a tough one with all the potholes everywhere). I'm making sure I'm changing the oil before I really need to. I'm staying aware of what my car actually sounds like when I start the engine, and when it drives, and I'm looking into what a changing sound means.

And I'm still lusting after my new car...on my time.

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