Monday, November 23, 2015

Preparing for Winter

Today is the first day that it really feels like winter is on the way. It's chilly, it's windy and there's a real bite in the air. Today feels like a fuzzy boots and winter coat day. The snow has started in other parts of the country, and it's on its way here before long.

This means it's time to finish preparing for winter. I've pulled the snowsuits out of the attic and stored them next to the front door. I've finally put away the short sleeve things I kept out for those Indian Summer days. We finished our yard clean up and staked the driveway for the plow.

But since I spend a lot of time in my car, I spent some time getting that ready too. I'm over at Dutchess Chrysler Jeep Dodge today talking about preparing your car for winter.

What's on your winter prep list?

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Homeschooling When You Aren't In the Mood

Madison and I have officially been on our homeschooling journey for three full months of kindergarten now. It's been a learning experience for both of us. Because Madison's "school" experience was a play based preschool, she wasn't quite sure what to expect from homeschool. And because my last teaching experience was a public school, I wasn't sure what to expect from homeschool. Obviously I'd done my research and chosen materials and roughed out a schedule, but it was new and different for both of us and we both needed to adjust. We've had some hits and misses, but generally speaking, we're happy with the way things are now.

But here's the thing. Some days you just aren't in the mood. We've all had those days. You're tired, you don't feel well, you just don't feel like it. Most of the time, one of us is feeling it, and we can push the other one. But we've had some stress in our house the past few weeks (a story for another time) and it's permeated everything. I'm not really in the mood to plan, and Madison isn't necessarily in the mood to work. When both people aren't in the does that work? When everyone needs a cheerleader and no one is cheering...what do you do?

At first, I thought the solution was sort of a "suck it up, buttercup" answer. Do I always feel like cleaning the bathrooms? No, but I have to do it or we'll descend into filth. Does Madison always want to clean up her toys? No, but it's not negotiable. Who cares if you want to, it's school. You have to. When I was teaching, I had to keep teaching. I might not have been the best teacher, but I did it. Well, now I'm teaching my daughter. If I don't feel like teaching, I still have to do it, right?

It was Adam who pointed out that one of the glorious benefits of homeschooling is that we don't have to do it that way. Madison and I were having our first day when we weren't meshing. I wasn't feeling it, she wasn't feeling it, and even though we were both crabby, I was forcing us to soldier on. Which, of course, was resulting in tears and frustration and two very unhappy people sitting at a table.

I went upstairs for a moment to compose myself and he said,

Isn't this one of those times when homeschooling is awesome? Just stop, get up, and walk away.

Oh. My. God. Brilliant, that husband of mine.

Why were we forcing ourselves to push on when we had the ability to adjust?

I grabbed our coats and we headed out of the house. We ran a few errands, then ended up at the library. We wandered around, grabbing books and DVDs that caught our eye, did some computer time, and finally, made a plan to get our schoolwork done while having a snack.

We re-centered. We came home, and we went back to it after adjusting our expectations.

And now, we know that this is allowed.

Most days, it isn't an issue. We do what we need to do and we're happy doing it. But on those off days, those days when the thought of sitting down at the table with our books and pencils feels like a punishment, we give ourselves that permission to take a break.

We cuddle up in the big armchair and just read together. I read from the chapter books we're working our way through. Madison reads her books to me. We don't stop and do little comprehension quizzes and checks, we just read.

We choose a movie to watch. We have a stack of "school" movies that aren't curriculum exactly, but that I'm ok watching during school time. Fantasia. Disney Nature. Leapfrog. Even movie versions of the books she's reading.

Madison chooses a craft from her stack (a mix of Melissa and Doug and Kiwi Crate activities that we keep on hand) and I bring out my grown up coloring book.

We cook together. We work on a chore together. Laundry is tedious for me, but Madison still enjoys helping.

We go out and visit the library, or take a trip to the science museum, or even just run errands. But we get out of the house.

Most of these days, we eventually get back to what I've assigned for the day. But sometimes we don't. Sometimes, we smile at the thought that we are in control, and and that a day of "hooky" won't derail us.

One of my friends was shocked to hear this. She said that if her kids had the option to just "not do school" when they didn't feel like it that they'd never go again. But maybe because we have that freedom is why it hasn't happened. Let's face it. I do like a clean bathroom, and I'm going to make sure it happens. Madison grudgingly agrees that it's more fun to play in her room when it's neat. Madison and I are happy when we're doing school, even grumpily, because it's the right thing and because we know when we really need that break, we can and will take it. It's these things that shine light on the fact that, for us, homeschooling is the right choice. The freedom to adjust is liberating.

Homeschooling doesn't always have to look a certain way, and it doesn't mean that Madison and I are always best friends. But it does mean that we can help each other back on track, and that's a benefit I'm really enjoying.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Managing the Toy Budget

My girls love toys. Truly. They love their toys. They love their friends' toys. They love any toys. And when we're out shopping - no matter where - their first question is "can we go look at the toys?"

They're pretty good about it. They know that we don't buy toys on every shopping trip. But man, do they love to look and lust after whatever is displayed on those shelves. They love the idea of new and what they would do with whatever was lucky enough to be introduced to our menagerie.

New toys every trip to Target or the mall? Not in the budget.

There are a few ways I've found to manage this.

1) Let Them Hold It

Let's face it. We've all tried on a pair of shoes or held up a bag that we know isn't in the budget. But sometimes it feels good to just pretend for a moment. We go through the toy aisles and I let them take a few minutes to hold and touch and even play with what they're lusting after. My only rules are that you can only hold one thing at a time, and that the toys stay in the aisle we found them in. When it's time to move on, we say goodbye and move on.

2) Add it to the List

We make Christmas and birthday lists easily with these window shopping excursions. When there's something that the girls are really lusting after something and having a hard time putting it back on the shelf, I snap a picture of them holding it with my phone and add it to their "wish list" folder. When Grandma or Santa needs some ideas, I can go through the pictures and send them over. That way, I'm not trying to describe exactly which Shopkin set or Busy Book someone wants, but I can send the picture as well for them to match.

3) Selling and Buying

When it's time to clear out the toys, the girls are involved in the process. Plenty of what we have gets donated, but when Madison wants something new, she understands that she can contribute by selling some of what she doesn't play with anymore. Learning value, budget, and prioritizing are good lessons.

Both girls are also fans of the gift card. They love figuring out how far they can make their "toy money" stretch and how long they can make it last. When it's their money it's more meaningful to them and their choices are careful. Great lesson.

4) Renting

These days there is a subscription service for everything. I love my Stitch Fix. We're huge fans of Little Passports  and  Kiwi Crate. And have you heard of Pley?

Pley is a great toy rental service. It helps parents save money, reduce clutter and help the environment too. Kids love it because they get a new toy every month! For a monthly fee, you get unlimited toys (one at a time of course) delivered to your door. Lego sets are the big draw - they have over 400 sets! It arrives and your kids can build and create. When they're done, they ship it back, and the next toy is on its way! For Lego and K'Nex lovers, it's a godsend.

When anticipating the influx that comes in December, it's nice to think of ways that you can manage it! Toy rental, smart listing making and involving the kids are all great ways to start.

This post was sponsored by Pley, but all the toy issues we have are clearly my own!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Giving Tuesday with Everyday Money

Next Tuesday, December 1, is Giving Tuesday. One of the lessons I'm working with Madison (and Reagan too!) is how she can work on using the resources she has to give back.

A few weeks ago I had a pretty cool opportunity. It was Outreach Sunday at our church, and I was assigned to do the children's sermon on the topic. It's a great lesson for kids, and so important to start young. We talked about people we've heard of that do big things. Sometimes it can seem like what we do doesn't make a difference at all. When we have only a little, we can give only a little. But those little bits add up, whether we're sharing those gifts in our own community, or our state, or our country, or the world.

Serving on the Outreach Board has really been eye opening to me. I always tried to make it a point to give back, but this opportunity opened my eyes to all the ways we can do that. We have the resources to spread our gifts out, and it's been fascinating to see how we can help right across to the street, to across the ocean.

Obviously, for kids, it's so much easier for them to see their gifts working in their community. My kids have gotten to see not only people donating, but people who make the effort to work in the community. Gathering items that the adults can bring to the homeless. Bringing food to the food bank. For us, it's important to make sure that the money we give is stretching far and really working. There are so many non-profits that maximize their impact, and a little research can show the way. When Madison and I talk about where to share her money, we look together for the best place to help the causes that mean the most to her.

Sometimes, it's real hands on help that's needed!

Sometimes, it's making sure that every child has a lucky holiday.

We also talked about how sometimes, when you are feeling like you aren't enough in some way, that you find someone to give to. If you are feeling left out, find someone to include. If you are feeling like you need kindness, find someone to give kindness to. If you feel like you don't have much, find someone to give to. When we give, we feel stronger. Better. It takes our eyes off our worries, and lets us know we have strength to share. Sometimes you need help and sometimes you are the helper. All lives ebb and flow in this way, and learning about the whole process helps develop compassion.

Learning about money is a process. Whenever money comes their way, they are supposed to allocate into three : spend, save and donate. This helps teach them about budgeting and “everyday money” which is the money leftover after you pay your necessary monthly expenses like bills, rent and food. This leftover money, the "everyday money" can be allocated into spend, save and donate. And while it might seem like SPEND would bring immediate gratification, SAVE is also satisfying and DONATE brings happiness.

Did you know that Capital One has teamed with renowned Boston photoblogger, Jesse Burke, to launch the second chapter of ‘Everyday Money Boston’ – a program that highlights individuals around the Boston community by showcasing the most meaningful ways in which they use their money? Capital One believes in supporting its customers in the areas of life that are most meaningful to them–such as the philanthropic deeds they’re devoting to their communities, using their own everyday money. This holiday season, Capital One Everyday Money Boston  will celebrate local heroes and shine a light on the efforts these Bostonians are making to better their city with money from their very own pockets. And, of course, there are ways to give back even if money is short like my kids. I’d love to hear how you are giving back this holiday season! Please share!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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Monday, November 9, 2015

Potty Training is a Process

Potty training. One of the great rites of passage for parenthood. No matter what kind of kid you have, it's not a stage you look back on with fondness.

Thanks to Charmin for sponsoring this post. But as always, my experiences, stories and opinions are mine alone.

Reagan was my last kid to potty train. As potty trainers go, she was pretty easy. Some of this was because she is incredibly stubborn. As counter intuitive as that sounds, it meant that she refused to participate whatsoever until she decided she was ready, but once she was, she was going to see this thing through.

So that first hurdle? Losing the diapers? That was easy. Ok, maybe not easy, but easyish. 

Then, as I found with Madison, that's only stage one of the process.

Sure, she stayed dry. But now we had to worry about staying dry and clean. Clean hands, clean potty, and clean tush. Because teaching a toddler to wipe and wash is another beast entirely.

 Next paragraph here.Potty training. One of the great rites of passage for parenthood. No matter what kind of kid you have, it's not a stage you look back on with fondness.

Reagan was my last kid to potty train. As potty trainers go, she was pretty easy. Some of this was because she is incredibly stubborn. As counter intuitive as that sounds, it meant that she refused to participate whatsoever until she decided she was ready, but once she was, she was going to see this thing through.

So that first hurdle? Losing the diapers? That was easy. Ok, not easy, but easyish. 

And, as I found with Madison, that's only stage one of the process.

Sure, she stayed dry. But now we had to worry about staying dry and clean. Clean hands, clean potty, and clean tush. Because teaching a toddler to wipe and wash is another beast entirely.

Going from a thorough wiping from mom on the changing table to regular toilet tissue can be an adjustment for a little one. It's a different experience and one that they can dig their heels in about, especially if you have a stubborn kid like I do. When you're on this stage of potty training, it's time to go for the good stuff. The soft, cuddly, teddy bear stuff. The Charmin.

Charmin is available at Sam's Club for a limited time with 1000 extra sheets in each pack. The girls and I took a trip there to stock up on the good stuff.

As we walked around Sam's, we found that they have plenty of the tools that we used to make potty training easier. The big bags of treats to use as little incentives (we used m&ms), plenty of juice boxes, and of course, the exciting prize for finishing the journey.

It's a big milestone! Definitely worthy of a treat.

While we were there, naturally, we had to make a stop in the rest room.

Prepare for potty stops on the go. You can't be in the process with a fear of public restrooms!

At home, we have a step stool so that the girls can wash their hands on their own. It's nice to see that some stores have lower sinks as well.

Big tips for potty training? Wait until they're ready and eager to participate. Let them pick out their own big kid underwear. Salty snacks and plenty of juice give you plenty of opportunity for practice. Incentives, big and small are worth their weight in gold. Finding ways to help them take ownership of the cleaning process (soft Charmin helps here!). And if all else fails...

...make a stop here on your way out.

Share your potty training tips and tricks for a chance to win a $50 Sam's Club gift card!

$50 Sam's Club Gift Card Giveaway for Charmin  photo mediumsignature_zpsbff01a79.png

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ready for Road Trips

We don't take road trips often, but now is the season when it seems like we are spending a lot of time in the car, driving to see family all over the state for celebrations and get togethers.

My kids are great in the car for short stints, but like any kids, they can be rough when you're sitting in Thanksgiving traffic. A stocked car can help, but when you know you're taking a trip, it's good to really be prepared.

I'm over at Central Avenue Chyrsler Jeep today talking about how to survive road trips with kids. What are your tips?

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