5 Tips for a Better Before School Morning Routine

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Like most moms I’m looking at the calendar and counting the days until school starts. You may be counting the days until your little gems will be gone for 6+ hours with joy (like me LOL), or counting the upcoming days in dread. Either way, a new school year is almost here!

I love the start of new school years. I love being able to take a picture of the first day and a picture on the last day to see how each kid has grown. I also love the fresh start to a new school year. You get to meet a new teacher, and your kids get to start off on the same footing as everyone else. This is most important for us; Lane tends to need a clean start each year…

One thing I don’t like about the school year is mornings. In our school district elementary school starts at 8:20am, which means the bus picks the kids up at 7:45am. In order to get everyone dressed, teeth and hair brushed, breakfast eaten, and school bags packed, I have to wake the kids up at 7:00am. Even with a 45-minute window to get everything done, some days a backpack is forgotten or someone is eating breakfast on the way to the bus stop.

I really hate yelling and starting the morning off stressed. I get stressed and feel guilty for yelling, and the kids feel that stress all day. To help cut down on the stress and help mornings to go smoothly, I got in the groove of a morning routine. The routine isn’t difficult; it takes prepping the night before, and helps me use time stamps to get everything done.

I used this routine all of last school year, and I plan on implementing it two weeks before school actually starts. This will help me and the kids get familiar with the routine and the adjustment period is out of the way before the first day of school.

5 Tips for a successful morning routine:

  1. Prepare Backpacks the Night Before
    • Each evening while the kids are doing homework I look through backpacks. Usually there is a permission slip, note home, or something to take a look at. I sign slips right away, and either file or throw away everything else. Every night I have to sign the kids homework sheet saying they read their 20 minutes, and that I saw the folder. I sign their reading log during this time as well. Next, I put their folders and slips back into their backpack and hang the bag by the front door.
  2. Make Lunches the Night Before
    • After dinner we set up our lunch assembly line and each kid makes his or her own lunch. I have snack stations they can pick what sides they want in their lunch and we make sandwiches. This helps in two ways: 1. The kids pack what they’ll eat 2. It frees up time the next morning.
  3. Set Out Clothes Before Bed
    • Growing up my best friend Jamie would pick out his clothes the night before and wear them to bed. His theory on this is he doesn’t have to take the time to get dressed the next morning and gets to sleep longer LOL. Now, I don’t think you need to go that far, but picking out clothes the day before is a good idea. I like that I don’t have to go through six outfit changes with Audrey, just to have her wear the first outfit she tried on. I let her do the trying on the night before and she’s locked in to what she’s going to wear the next day.
    • A tip for girls is to have the days of the week posted on their mirror or wall in their room. It never fails; your daughter picks out a dress and boots to wear every Tuesday forgetting she has gym class. As soon as the schedule for “specials” (gym, music, art, etc.) is established I print out index cards with the information. That way Audrey wears gym appropriate clothes when needed, and she wears clothes that can be washed in case of spills during art class.
  4. Wake up Before the Kids
    • I love my sleep, but I love my sanity and privacy more. I wake up 20 minutes before the kids each morning so I can take a shower, brush my teeth and get dressed in peace and quiet. Otherwise I’m trying to pee and someone is asking me to help him or her find matching socks, or telling me they can’t find their toothbrush. {Side note: Audrey seems to lose her toothbrush twice a day. Miraculously it can be found under the bathroom towel or on the floor Every. Single. Time.}
  5. Keep It Simple for Breakfast
    • I’m not sure how moms in the 50’s made big breakfasts for their families. It’s mind boggling to me… I keep breakfast simple in our house. We usually have an assortment of bagels or pastries, cereal, and previously prepped frozen burritos or egg muffins available. All of these are self-service for the kids; they can pore, warm up or toast whatever is available. While the kids are getting ready I set out the toaster, paper plates and bowls, and the breakfast assortment. After they eat and they’re brushing teeth and putting on their shoes, coats, backpacks; I clean up the breakfast foods and its done!

 

Our Morning Routine:
6:45-7:00am – I wake up and shower/get dressed
7:00-7:05am – Wake kids up
7:05-7:15am – Kids get dressed (I set out breakfast)
7:15-7:30am – Breakfast
7:30-7:40am – Brush teeth, put on shoes, get backpacks ready
7:45am – Leave house and walk to the bus

 

After these tasks are completed, it’s time for me to walk them to the bus and kiss them goodbye. On the bus they go, and it’s peace and quiet for 6 glorious hours…

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Self-Serve Snack Station for Kids

If you’re like most parents, hearing the words “Can I have a Snack?” is continual. On any given day I am asked this question three, four, or five times… sometimes more. Some days I cannot function enough to know if the kids have already had a snack, or if this is the first one.

Now that our kids are older, it’s less boredom eating, and more feeding two growing boys that play sports. If there’s one thing that friends and family were right about, it’s that boys WILL eat you out of house and home. After baseball practice the boys will tear through the cabinets looking for anything they can eat. Seriously, think ravenous bears that have been hibernating all winter and can speak English. It’s really a scary sight. Some days it’s every Normandin for themselves.

In order to keep the kids full while not losing my mind, telling them they can have a snack for the sixth time today, I started a snack system that allowed the kids to be self-service. I created two snack stations for the kids: one full of healthy foods, and one full of “fun” foods. I keep the healthy station in the fridge and the fun foods in the pantry.

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Healthy snack station with peanuts, hardboiled eggs, carrots, celery, and yogurt

Healthy Snack Station:
Individual portioned in snack-sized Ziploc bags to ensure portion control
Hard-boiled eggs
Carrot sticks
Apple slices
Low-fat String cheese
Yogurt
Celery sticks
Grapes
Natural applesauce
Sliced Peppers and Hummus
Mixed Fruit
Salt-free peanuts

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“Fun” Snack Station with treats

“Fun” Snack Station:
Rice Krispy Treats
Animal Crackers
Fruit Snacks
Granola Bars
Veggie Strays
Pretzels

The rule of thumb for snacks is the healthy snack station is fair game. You can have healthy snacks throughout the day, as many as you “need”. Keep in mind my kids are old enough to know if they are hungry and want something to eat. Also, I pre-portion all of the healthy snacks into Ziplocs to ensure sizes are appropriate for the kids. In general the kids eat one to two of these snacks during the summer, and one during the school year.

The “fun” snack station is less lenient. The kids are allowed to have only one fun snack each day. Whether they eat that fun snack in the morning, afternoon, or as a dessert is up to them. The bottom line is only one fun snack each day, period. A lot of times the kids will save these snacks and eat them as a desert, since in general we don’t serve desert each day.

The way to execute the self-serve snack is really in the planning. Each Sunday after I grocery shop I prep and fill the snack boxes. I make sure to count the portion amounts that I’ve prepared so I know how many are available. Also, I try to make the portion quantities even. For instance, if I am making apple slices this week I count out nine packs of apple slices. I know we have three kids, and each kid can have three packs throughout the week. The same goes for the fun snacks. If I make chocolate chip cookies and each kid can have one cookie a day, I need twenty-one cookies or a combination of cookies and other treats.

Having the snacks self-service and healthy have eliminated me being asked if it’s snack time. It’s been so nice knowing the kids are eating healthy and yummy snacks, and they feel great about choosing their own food.

Bonus! This system also works wonders for making school lunches. Part of our kids’ chores throughout the school year is making their own lunches. They will use the snack stations to build their packed lunches. You’ll need to add more portions and snack quantities if you’re using the snack stations for lunches. Also, I suggest putting a limit on snacks for school lunches. Last year Asher packed carrots, celery, grapes, and berries without a sandwich and no real source for protein. He was starving when he came home! I now have a limit of two or three healthy snacks (depending on what they’re packing and which kid it is), one fun snack, a sandwich and a drink for lunch each day!

Kids’ Lemonade Stand Summer Project

Kids’ Lemonade Stand Summer Project
How Our Kids Learned Valuable Lessons from a Lemonade Stand

When I accepted a full time, work at home job I knew it would be a wonderful change to my home life. I was now able walk the kids to the bus each morning, and pick them up each day. I found myself hearing all about my kids’ day over snack-time, and was able to seamlessly “leave” work and be home without rush hour traffic. What I didn’t anticipate was a summer home with my kids.

There were ups and down this summer. I am so happy we had more ups than downs though. One of my biggest goals this summer was to get the kids involved in something besides TV, tablets, and video games. I really wanted the kids to learn, to grow, and to develop. My hope was they would learn something new about themselves, grow in their mind, body and spirit, and develop a passion for something… anything.

Out of all the planning, the one project that taught them the most was born from a passing comment. We were visiting the dog park with our two dogs and foster puppy when someone mentioned they had nothing to drink. The pet owner was upset they had to cut their trip early because they didn’t bring water with them. It was a hot day and he made the comment, “why don’t you have a lemonade stand here?”

As soon as the comment left his mouth, the light bulb turned on. Why DON’T we have a lemonade stand at the dog park? It’s summer, it hot, and there are usually 20+ people at the dog park at one time. I asked the kids if they were interested in building a stand, and their summer project was born.

I wanted to balance a learning experience as well as a fun time that lasted through the project. I didn’t want them to burn out half way and get bored. In order to keep this balance, I made sure we hit the ground running and set a date in the near future. From the time the idea was born until the actual event day was only 3 weeks. It was a crunch, but we did get it all in, and the kids were excited the whole time.

Building a Business:

The lemonade stand planning started as soon as we got home from the park. I started by challenging the kids to build a business plan. I wanted them to think about what the business was, who the customer would be, and why they were doing it. It’s one thing to have an idea, it takes understanding who, what, when, and where to turn that idea into a business.

Business Plan: A lemonade stand that brings refreshments to not only people, but to man’s best friend too. We’ll serve fresh lemonade, homemade human cookies and homemade dog cookies. A portion of our proceeds and donations will go to A.D.O.P.T Pet Rescue where we adopted our Beagle, Jack.

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Business Concept for the Dog-Gone-It Lemonade Stand

After the business plan and concept was built, it was time to name the business. The kids needed to add their dog friendly concept into the name to make it relevant to the plan. They came up with, The “Dog-Gone-It” Lemonade Stand. It’s a cute name, adds in the dog friendly vibe, and it’s catchy.

I also wanted to teach the kids some “Golden Rules” about business and how to treat your customers. I asked the kids to come up with 10 customer service guidelines for their business. My hope would be the kids could use these guidelines in everyday life, not just in the business setting. We have good kids who are very respectful. I wanted them to understand being respectful to teachers and friends is different than a business setting with paying customers.

Approval:

One curveball that was thrown our way was that the city has protected the dog park and they do not allow vendors to sell there. I know, most of you are rolling your eyes saying, “It’s a kids’ lemonade stand…” Believe me, I did the same thing. However, this is part of the learning experience. Sometimes you get told no, and you need to work through it.

I was able to get a phone number for the director of Parks and Recreation and discuss the summer project and our goals. I let the director know the time and effort the kids have put into the business plan, and asked for her to reconsider. Luckily, she was willing to look over the business plans and the kids’ ideas. After a couple days of waiting, we received an email that she approved their lemonade stand at the park! She only approved them for one day, and a 4-hour block of time. However, she approved them and complimented their hard work.

Putting Plans in Motion:

After our approval, it was time to put our plans in place. We’ve never made homemade dog cookies before, our dogs like Milk-Bones perfectly fine LOL. However, the kids were very adamant they wanted homemade treats. So, I asked them to find a couple recipes, and we narrowed it down to two types of dog cookies. Also, they planned to make chocolate chip cookies and brownies for the human goodies.

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Homemade Dog Cookies

Since we only go to the park once or twice a week, we weren’t sure of the crowd we would be serving. So, we made a plan to scope out the park at different times, and to get an idea of how many people and dogs we would need to plan for. We determined we might see up to 100 people in a 4-hour time frame.

Lastly, we needed to take our recipes and our number of potential customers, and determine our costs and margins. The kids went through the grocery store with the list of ingredients to find out how much money they would need. They then took that amount and divided that by the number of servings, this gave them their potential profit.

Marketing:

Now, this was my favorite! I went to college for advertising, and have been working in a marketing job for roughly 10 years. I helped the kids come up with an age-appropriate marketing plan that they could execute themselves. We made flyers, which were handed out to neighbors and dog owners at the park. We made a Facebook event and asked friends and family to share on their pages, and we made sure to tag the city. This exposed us to people we knew, dog park visitors, as well as people in and around the city.

We asked customers how they heard about us and most stated Facebook, either the event or their friends who were talking about it.

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The kids were in charge of passing out flyers

Execution:

Now that the plans were in place, the approval came through, and the kids marketed the business, it was time for the lemonade stand! To continue the learning experiences, the kids helped make all the dog treats and cookies. They didn’t load cookies into the oven, but they did help mix, roll/cut, and package all 300 dog cookies and 150 human cookies.

 

The kids set up the stand, and ran the stand all day. It was a little slow at first, but with the help of social media, friends started showing up in no time.

 

I am happy to say the kids were still smiling after a long day. They were able to make $100 from the stand (after paying off the start up costs), and raised $20 in donations for A.D.O.P.T Pet Rescue. As promised they matched the donations with their own profit, and donated $40 total.

I am so proud of Lane, Audrey, and Asher. They started with a plan and saw it through. They were able to learn so much from this experience. When I asked each child what they learned I heard things like; how to make cookies, business is tough, how to count money, and most importantly that people loved their lemonade!

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Lemonade Stand Day!

“Old School” Games To Play With Your Kids!

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Old School Games and Activities To Play with Your Kids!

Some days I like to throw my kids in a fit of giggles and tell them of what we, the old people, did as kids to occupy our time. Those were the days without tablets, cable TV, cell phones, etc. Our kids think it’s the funniest thing that we would put together a 1,000-piece puzzle because it was rainy outside, or that I didn’t have cable growing up, and we only turned the TV on for T.G.I.F. and Saturday morning cartoons.

There were so many games and activities my sisters and I played throughout the day to stay out of my mom’s hair. Today, if our Wi-Fi is running slow my kids stare at me with blank faces repeating the phrase; “there’s nothing to do”. With all the technology and time-occupying things, our kids have lost a sense of fun. They seriously don’t think there’s anything to do because they can’t watch a YouTuber play a video game… how is that even fun? You’re watching someone play a video game… not playing the game yourself… I don’t get it!

I started “Tech-Less Tuesday” this summer with my kids. Every Tuesday we put the tablets away and actually play. I try my best to join in during down time at work, and as soon as 5pm hits, I jump in on the fun! Tech-Less Tuesday is not about depriving my kids of their electronics, nor is it about bashing electronics. There are times I thank The Lord we have tablets. I do feel that tablets and electronic have hurt our kids sense of play and fun however. My hope with Tech-Less Tuesday is to open my kids eyes and minds to something outside of YouTube and Emojis.

As a fun joke my husband and I started listing our favorite things to do as kids. Back when riding bikes, playing outside and staying out of the house was normal. I wanted to come up with a list of things to show our kids, with the hope this would spark them to come up with new favorite games.

Below are our top 5 “old-school” activities:

  1. Puzzle – We used to put puzzles together anytime we were cooped up in the house. I loved large puzzles with lots of pieces, and 3-D puzzles. My husband used to put together model airplanes, which I group in with puzzles. Puzzles are so good for your brain! They merge both sides of your brain to work your concentration, induce calmness and peace of mind, and help with your memory. Not only are they fun, they are functional too!
  1. Card Games – There are so many card games you can get your kids involved in. Growing up I played Rummy 500, War, Skip-o and Texas Hold ‘Em with my grandma. You can start with Go-Fish, War, Solitaire or Uno with young kids, and increase from there. Card games such as Go-Fish and Uno help strengthen memory skills while Rummy 500 and Skip-o help with counting and adding. Whichever game you’re playing with a group helps strengthen our communication and social skills – something I find lacking with younger kid that have their nose to a tablet or phone.
  1. Four Square – There’s nothing like getting outside and playing with your kids. Four Square is where you have a ball, and draw a big box cut into 4 sections. The goal is to bounce the ball into each other’s square. You either want to catch the ball, or return it after only 1 bounce. It’s similar to tennis in a way. I find Four Square to be a game that works on your reflexes, concentration, and social skills. Bonus, you’re exercising!
  1. Hot Lava – This game has so many different names. We played it as Hot Lava and some of my friends played it as Crocodile. This is the game where you jump from object to object without touching the ground. The goal is to be the first one to reach home base. We played this game all the time as kids! Next to Cops and Robbers, this was a great indoor or outdoor game. Yes, my mom used to yell that I would break my neck jumping from the coffee table to the chair, but I never did! Talk about a game with lots of benefits. You are working your balance, dexterity, social skills, and you’re exercising.
  1. Hide and Seek – This is an oldie, but a goodie! We spent hours playing Hide and Go Seek. You can play this game with three people, or like our neighborhood growing up; play with all the neighbor kids. We would have 10+ kids playing hide and seek on the entire street growing up. You had to stay outside, but you could go anywhere in front or back yards. Talk about a game that works your social skills, problem solving skills, and so much more!

After two months of “Tech-Less Tuesday” I am happy to report my kids are enjoying life outside of YouTube. Don’t get me wrong, that first day was rough. After a solid 30 minutes of crying after breakfast, the kids finally gave it a shot. Now, they don’t even ask about their tablets. They see it’s Tuesday, which means they get to play.

Mom and Dads, I encourage your to enjoy Tech-Less Tuesday with your kids as well. Put down the phones, don’t worry about taking a picture and alerting the media, and just have fun. The most important thing we can give our kids, is ourselves.

DIY Cupcake Decorating Birthday Party – On the Cheap!

I love throwing birthday parties for our kids! The excitement, the bright colors, fun decorations and of course… the food. What I don’t love about throwing birthday parties is the cost…and the planning… and the cost. Now, with Pinterest the need to have an extravagant birthday party is huge. You can’t just grill out with a couple of box-baked cupcakes. You have to have homemade cupcakes… and artwork for food… and crafts! The amount of time and money put into a Pinterest worthy party is ridiculous.

This year Audrey had the idea for a Cupcake Wars birthday party. She wanted to decorate cupcakes with friends and have a very girly and cute party. When I started researching and pinning ideas for her party I seriously became ill with how much money we would be dumping on this party. Instead of being discouraged, I decided to start finding ways to save.

After picking up the phone and calling around, I was able to take what could easily have been a $500 birthday party down to a $150 party. I saved a boatload of money, and now I’m going to share with you my Pinterest worthy, cupcake decorating birthday party… on the cheap.

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I kept costs low by ordering a small centerpiece cake and unfrosted cupcakes

The first thing I needed to think about for a cupcake decorating party was the cupcakes. We have a local baker that has been making our kids’ birthday cakes, my birthday cakes, and our Christmas cookies for years. She does a fantastic job and we’ve ordered so much we now get the “Friends and Family” discount. I called Susan and asked how much for a cupcake centerpiece cake (small, only feeds 4-6 people) and the cost for 24 unfrosted/undecorated cupcakes. Yes, she laughed at me. However, I am happy to say I only paid $40 for a small cake and the cupcakes. Score!

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The girls’ decorated their cupcakes with clearance bin frosting and candies… no one knew it was clearance finds, and no one cared!

Since the party was right after Easter I went to every store in our area and picked up clearance decorating kits. I was able to find frosting, sprinkles and a ton of candies for the top of the cupcakes, all on clearance. I filled cupcake holders with the candies and sprinkles, and used Popsicle sticks for spreading on the icing.

Next, we needed to plan the favors and goodie bags. Audrey found a picture on Pinterest for personalized aprons and chef hats, and of course fell in love. So, now I had to enlist some help on creating beautiful aprons when I don’t even know how to start a sewing machine (does it even have an on/off switch?). Again, I picked up the phone and started calling embroiderers in our area. I actually got someone on the phone that was just starting up a business, and was willing to embroider the aprons for FREE. All I had to do was provide the material and put her business card into the goodie bags. She did get business from one of the moms at the party who is a Girl Scout troop leader and wanted names sewn on their vests.

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I found a new business owner who embroidered the aprons for free!

My mom and I glued ribbon on the chef hats, keeping down costs. I found a 3-pack of chef aprons and hats for $19.99 on Amazon. These were by far our biggest expense. I found cupcake ribbon at Michael’s on clearance as well.

I put together take home goodie bags with pastel colored bags on clearance from Easter. I filled the bags with the personalized apron, chef hat, individual take home cupcake boxes, and a clearance paintable cupcake magnet from Michael’s.

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Each girl’s station was set up with their chef clothes, frosting, and candies – ready for cupcake decorating!

Lastly, we needed food. Everyone says boys eat a lot, but apparently they’ve never seen 10 girls eat pizza. I found on Groupon a special for Papa John’s Pizza. If you bought a $25 gift card you received 2 free large pizzas. The best part is you could redeem the gift card and free pizzas at the same time. I was able to get 4 free pizzas, and an order of chicken wings on the $25 gift card. All I paid for was the $25 gift card and a tip.

Believe me, this was an excellent party and it looked like I spent a ton of money on it. When in fact, I only spent around $150. We hosted a total of 6 girls, including Audrey. Each girl had a fantastic time, and I totally impressed the other moms. Thank goodness they don’t know how little I spent!

9 Essentials for Spending the Day at the Pool!

We’re half way through the summer, and by far our kids’ favorite thing to do is swim. We invested in a swimming pass at the community pool for the first time ever, and it has been totally worth it! We are lucky enough to have the community pool right down the street from our house. It’s truly less than a mile away.

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Since the pool is so close, we can throw a couple things in a bag, grab some towels and head to the pool for an hour. This is great in the afternoon! A lot of times it’s too hot and muggy for the kids’ to comfortably play outside. However, the pool is the perfect place to be on a summer day in the mid-west. The best part is, we have a pass so if we only spend an hour we don’t feel like we wasted money.

There are days like today though when we want to spend the whole day at the pool. These days take a little more planning. There are things like snacks, drinks, re-applying sunscreen, and all kinds of things to think about. As I’m packing our bag(s) to spend the day at the pool, I thought I’d put together a list of the essentials. These are my must have’s for a fun-filled day poolside with kids.

What to Pack for a Pool Day with Kids!

  1. Invest in a GOOD Beach Bag – Several years ago I bought a canvas beach bag from Land’s End. Our kids were in swim lessons back when we bought this bag, and we used it once a week on lesson day. Almost five years later, we now use this bag for the pool almost daily. It’s an upfront investment, but we’ve taken the same bag to the beach, indoor and outdoor pool, and the lake, and it’s still going strong. There’s barely any wear and tear to it, plus it’s big enough to fit everything!
  2. Small Soft-Sided Cooler – We bought a small, snack sized soft-sided cooler and it’s been a great go-to bag. We can fit five drinks, a couple snacks and a couple sandwiches. Once your goodies are all gone, fold the bag up and stick it in your pool bag. No fuss, no muss.
  3. Personalized Towels – We were using normal beach towels we bought at the store here in town. They are a good quality and no problem, but when we went to the pool I found the same towels over and over again. So, we decided to get towels for the kids with their names embroidered in them. Now there is no confusion if we brought home our towels or if they were mixed up.
  4. Food and Drinks – It’s easy to become dehydrated at the pool on a hot day. Your body temperate stays cool because of the water, however you’re exercising losing calories and fluids. It’s a good idea to have drinks on hand, and a small snack for every hour spent in the pool. There is a snack shack at our community pool, however it’s super expensive. I usually pack small snacks: a baggie of gold fish, a rice krispie treat, and some grapes or cut up apples. I usually have water, Gatorade and a juice box for each kid as well. If you’ll be there during lunch or dinner, check your pool’s rules on carrying in food. We cannot carry in pizza boxes or take out food, so we usually make sandwiches. Tonight we plan on making subs and bringing bags of chips for a quick but yummy dinner poolside.
  5. Pack Gear – I make sure each kid has their goggles, SPF rash guard, flip flops (for bathroom breaks ewww), and Asher has his life vest so he can go into the deep end.
  6. Pool Toys – We can’t bring big toys such as floats and noodles, however we can bring small toys. I make sure the boys have a football suitable for the water, water bomb balls, and that Audrey has her diving sticks, to help entertain them and friends.
  7. Sunscreen! – I am Irish. My kids are pale, have freckles and even red hair. Re-applying sunscreen is a must. I bring with me a mist/spray sunscreen to the pool. This way I can spray the wiggly kids who don’t want to stand still. Make sure you get a sport version that is water resistant.
  8. Hat and Sunglasses – As the kids are hanging out in the pool, my husband and I are usually overseeing everyone. Rarely do we jump in. Since we’re sitting in the heat I always make sure to have a hat and sunglasses. Moms and Dads… make sure you stay hydrated and apply sunscreen too.
  9. First Aid Kit – This seems like your typical Type-A personality trait, and it is… However, we’ve needed a first aid kit on more than one occasion. The first time we went to the pool Asher scraped his toe jumping in and needed a band-aide. Last week, a bee stung Lane on the arm. Luckily we had a first aid kit that included bee sting wipes. I use a quart-sized baggie that has band-aides, bee sting wipes, aloe, gauze, Tylenol, and burn spray.

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After packing all of our must haves, feeding the kids a healthy protein-packed lunch, and ensuring everyone used the bathroom, we are on our way to the pool. Here’s to hoping everyone has a fun, sun-filled day poolside!

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10 Money Saving Tips for Back-to-School Shopping!

As a family we live a fairly frugal life. We eat at home more often than we eat at a restaurant, we stick to a budget and strive to pay down consumer debt, and lastly we ALWAYS shop on the clearance racks. Contrary to many opinions, you can find stylish and cheap clothes on the clearance rack, if you plan ahead!

Last year families with school-aged children spent an average of $630.36 on back to school shopping per child. That’s more than we spend on Christmas gifts each year! What if I told you we spend $250 per child on back-to-school shopping? That $250 budget accounts for clothes, shoes, supplies and everything needed for back-to-school! How I do it, clearance.

First, you should know I buy 90% name brand clothes for our kids. I buy them good shoes that will last until at least Christmas. Lastly, I don’t buy what we don’t need.

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10 Tips to Save Money on Back to School!

Here are 10 money saving tips for back-to-school shopping!

  1. Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
    • Go through last year’s clothes and see if there is anything that still fits and is in good condition. Most of the time you can make last year’s outfit new again with accessories.
  2. Make a List
    • Start with a list of what you do need to buy. Shopping without a list will lead to buying too much, or too little.
  3. Start Early
    • June and July is a perfect time to start clearance shopping. Spring styles are moving out of stores, making way for in-season Summer clothes. I start at the expensive stores and get the stables; jeans, hoodies, flannels, etc. These are going to be the building blocks to your child’s outfits and will probably be worn 2-3 times before being washed. Spend a little more on these pieces and get good quality.
    • I usually try to pick up a tank top or two, as well as a pair of shorts for those couple weeks leading up to fall. I can generally find a cute summer outfit or two on clearance in July.
    • Allowing extra time also lets me look for Buy 1 Get 1 deals. I can score free shoes at this time as well as socks, underwear and more. Meijer has Buy 1 Get 1 sales each week, and I can usually get several great deals.
  4. Buy Mix and Match Outfits
    • The key to not spending too much on clothes this school year is buy items that can be mixed and matched.
    • Pieces such as a shirt that can be worn with jeans, a skirt, and layered with a sweater can make 6 different outfits: Shirt + Skirt + Flats, Shirt + Skirt + Leggings + Boots, Shirt + Jeans + Flats, Shirt + + Jeans + Sweater + Boots
    • This works for boys as well. Jeans + Tee one day, next week try Jeans + Tee + Flannel over top.
  1. Buy the “Throw Away Fashion” Cheap
    • To me “Throw Away Fashion” is the printed tops with a character, or the tie-dye shirt everyone is wearing to school. These are the pieces that are popular today, but in a month they won’t be cool. I usually buy these at big box stores such as Target. They are cheap enough to “throw away” after a month, but your child gets to wear the latest trend. I would shoot for only 1-2 pieces in your back to school shopping.
  2. Think Longer Than Just Fall
    • When buying clothes for back to school I am not only buying things for the month of September and October, I plan for all of fall and into winter. I try to stretch clothing by buying layer pieces and buying the next size up. Sure, the first week or two of school they might be a little baggy, but kids grow quickly! Plan ahead and buy the next size to ensure they get the length needed.
  3. Buy Quality Shoes
    • We buy shoes three times a year. I buy shoes at the start of school, for basketball season, and again in late spring. In order to get the length out of a pair of shoes, you need to buy good quality. I used to buy shoes from Target when our babies were small, now that their feet aren’t growing as quickly I buy named brand such as Nike, Adidas and Sketchers. These shoes don’t wear out as quickly, allowing me to buy fewer times throughout the year.
  4. Buy Quality Backpacks
    • When my nephew was in elementary school my sister in law gave me a great tip on backpacks. She said she bought three backpacks for her son during Kindergarten. Instead of buying a good quality backpack, they bought a character backpack from Meijer. The backpack was $20 and she ended up buying three of them… that’s $60 in one year for backpacks! Instead of buying three lower quality backpacks we decided to invest in nice backpacks for our kids. Sure, the upfront cost is $60 for one, however they have lasted two years and are still going strong! LL Bean repairs their backpacks and they carry a warranty. If they get destroyed, send it in for a replacement or to be fixed!
  5. School Supplies
    • We get off easy on this one… our school has a program where you pay $15 at the beginning of school for all of your supplies. We have to buy a backpack and any fancy supplies our kids want, but the basic school supplies are already taken care of. Ask your school if they have this program, or suggest it!
  6. Haircuts
    • Most people don’t think about budgeting in a hair cut before the start of school, however we always get our kids fresh new cuts before the first day. I wait for a $5 hair cut coupon from Great Clips, which usually comes out right before school starts. This is a great way to get a fashionable cut for cheap.

 

Do you spend too much on back to school shopping? What are your tips on saving?

5 Ways I Stress Less and Laugh More!

There is no harder job than being a mom. I don’t care if you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a little of both. You can be a hover mom, a crunchy mom, or a free spirited mom. No matter what type you are; we are all the same… we’re moms. Believe me, we all love our kids. We all want what’s best for them. And we all struggle. We struggle with anxiety, stress, lack of patience, pressure from other moms, etc.

When we first started having babies everyone told me about everything, except the stress. Friends and family would tell me to sleep when the baby slept, and get used to life without sleep. What no one tells you is how hard life is with a toddler and with school age kids, and OMG with kids in sports! Whether your kids are babies or like mine, half way through childhood, the facts are still the facts. It’s stressful being a mom.

A couple Christmases ago I had a major panic attack. I went into the hospital because I couldn’t breathe, and my doctor asked if I was stressed. My answer to him was: no more than usual. I truly thought it was usual to have a panic attack and be stressed. What the what?!?! It was normal for me to have panic breathing and to go into the hospital? After that I made a promise to myself not to accept stress as the norm. Instead I would take steps to relieve my stress. Anxiety is contagious – you and everyone around you feel it.

 

 

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5 Ways Moms Can Relieve Stress in Our Busy Lives

Here are five ways I relieve stress in my life. Keep in mind my life is crazy. I have three kids, work a full time job and have three dogs. I’ve been using these technics for the last three years and I am happy to report I don’t panic breath anymore. I yell less and I don’t have a weird eye twitch (I did though LOL). These tips work!

  1. Get Ready for the Day
    • I know it’s hard to get out of bed, especially when you have a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, or a toddler who has nightmares. I wake up an hour before the kids each morning so I can shower, eat breakfast, have a miraculous cup of coffee and read my daily devotional.
  2. Quality Time
    • Raising babies isn’t about the to-do list; it’s about our babies and providing them a nurturing and enriching life. Take time each day to spend quality time with your kids. To me, quality time means not reprimanding them, but enjoying them as human beings. I spend quality time by reading to our kids before bed (still to this day and they’re 10, 9 and 7).
  3. Set a Bed Time
    • Kids need a lot of sleep. I can always tell when my kids didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I have always had a slightly early bedtime for the kids, but it’s more of a quiet/rest time before they go to sleep. Our kids start showers at 7:30pm, we read together at 8pm and quiet time starts right after (8:15-8:30pm). Lights are always out at 9pm. That means our kids get 30-45 minutes each night to read on their own, draw, or write in their journal before they go to sleep.
    • Once you’re kids go up to bed, take this time to have some quiet time for yourself. Read, watch TV, and catch up with friends and family.
  4. Once a Week
    • Friday’s are for me (before and after the hours of 9am-8pm that is LOL). Trent has Fridays off, so he gets the kids up and ready for school, brings me a coffee and breakfast treat from the coffee shop, and lets me get an extra hour of sleep. After work, dinner and kid’s bed time, its more me time. I like to take a detox bath, use a deep pore-cleaning strip on my nose, drink a glass of wine, and settle in for a movie rated higher than PG.
  5. Once a Month
    • This was the hardest thing for me to do when my kids were itty-bitty. However, I know it’s much needed. Once a month go out and get a pedicure, get your hair cut/colored or go on a date night with your husband. Better yet, combine all three! Go to the salon, get a pedicure and your hair done, and then go out for a date night.
    • Don’t have the money to hire a sitter or spend on dinner and a movie? Get creative! We usually hire my mom (haha) and plan a date around coupons or rewards we have. We went on a date Friday for very little money. I had $10 in rewards at AMC using their Stubs program. We went to a matinee, which costs $3.99 for each ticket. We split a drink and small popcorn ($6 with AMC coupon). Dinner we used a buy one get one deal at Longhorn. I did however splurge and pay for a margarita.

I hear all the time how moms feel guilty when they spend time and money on themselves. I understand this completely! I always felt like I was working a full time job and now I am going to take more time to myself and away from my kids? You work HARD though for your family. Raising babies and running a house is selfless work. The best quote I have read about anxiety, quilt, and mommy stress is, “Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can”.

So, take the time to be gentle and kind to yourself. It will pay off!

Give Your Boring Spaghetti Night a New Twist!

Growing up I lived with my single mom, and two sisters. We were a relatively small family and often didn’t eat home cooked meals. Our meals were out of a box or fast food. However, my aunt and uncle have five kids, making them a very large family, and the exact opposite of our small family. I loved listening to a big family and all about their lives. I would hear about a home with a mom and a dad, plus brothers and sisters, and it was always entertaining.

On occasion we would go to my aunt and uncle’s for dinner, and every time they served spaghetti. I would eat the heck out of their spaghetti, but my cousins would all groan and complain. When I asked one of my cousins why he hated spaghetti, he told me they ate spaghetti several times a week. I used to think about what he said. I never understood why they ate spaghetti all the time. We’re not Italian… maybe it was Aunt Tammy’s favorite dinner? I love it, may be she does too?

Now that I have a family of my own, and understand budgeting and how expensive groceries are, I can also understand and how cheap spaghetti is. I can usually find a box of whole wheat pasta noodles for $1 and sauce just as cheap. I still love spaghetti, and would eat it once a week. However, I often hear grumbles from my kids.

There are two things I got to thinking about with spaghetti dinner. 1. We can’t eat it every week without someone getting bored. 2. We don’t eat enough spaghetti to make up a full box. Usually we eat three-quarters of the box, making an odd amount left unused. I always keep the extra and combine it the next time we have spaghetti. It’s weird to me though. Sometimes I will have fettuccini noodles, and the next time thin spaghetti noodles. Therefore I’m not always combining the same type of noodle. Is it just me, or does everyone find it weird to eat two different kinds of noodles at once?

One day I was getting ready to make spaghetti for dinner. When I looked in the pantry I literally had a quarter box of thin noodles, rotini noodles, ziti noodles and elbows. That’s a lot of boxes taking up space in my small pantry. I got the idea to still serve pasta, but turn my normal spaghetti dinner into a pasta bar!

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Pasta Bar with left over pasta noodles from the pantry, left over sauce and chopped chicken breast!

Luckily a pasta bar isn’t any more difficult to prepare than a normal pasta night. I still have to boil noodles, warm up the sauce, and make a protein. However, the kids see pasta night differently when it’s a pasta bar. Bonus: it uses those left-behind portions of pasta and costs next to nothing!

Depending on what I have in the fridge, freezer and pantry is what I have on the “bar”. This week I have a quarter box of rotini, penne, and a bag of frozen tortellini (I’ll use only half this round). I also have homemade marinara sauce left over from our baked spaghetti last weekend and homemade alfredo sauce in the freezer. To complete the meal, I picked up day old Italian bread from the bakery (79 cents, chi-ching!), and a salad from the store. For a protein we’re having chicken breasts.

Pasta Bar Ingredients:
-Pasta: Whatever you have in the pantry!
-Sauce: Homemade or jarred sauce (try to have two or more options)
-Protein: Seared chicken breasts
-All the Fixins’: Parmesan cheese, bread, and side salad

Directions:
-Gather your pantry/fridge ingredients! We have:

  • Rotini, Penne,  and Tortellini pasta
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Alfredo and Marinara sauce

-Cook pasta to package directions (when using multiple types of noodle I bought a divider for the pot. This allows me to cook 4 different types without them mixing – Type A personality here.)
-Cook sauce (warm up sauce) as directed
-Chicken: Sear chicken breast on the stove top while sauce and noodles are cooking (I butterflied the chicken breast so it cooked quicker, drizzled a small amount of olive oil and sprinkled Italian seasoning on the chicken breast. Next I seared the chicken breast on both sides in a pan on the stovetop. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. When butterflied, the chicken took 5-7 minutes on each side on medium heat.)
-When all ingredients are cooked, place them in their own bowls. You could use a buffet-serving platter, however I just use individual bowls.
-Butter the bread, and mix up the salad.
-Place all dishes on the dinner table or on a counter (truly buffet-style) and allow the kids to serve themselves.
-Enjoy!

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Let the kids serve themselves!

This is a great idea to save money using left overs or pantry only meals. We have a weekly pasta night, and usually have enough for a pasta bar once a month. Just like our left over buffets, I try to have some fresh sides (bread, veggies for the toppings, salad, applesauce) to breath new life into the meal. Lastly, allow the kids to serve themselves. This is what makes the meal fun – everyone gets involved!

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Make your own meal: choose your pasta, sauce and all the fixings!

Tips on How to Enjoy a Nightly Family Dinner

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Our family hasn’t always sat around the table together night after night. In fact, most nights when our kids were little we would sit on the couch watching TV, or we would feed the kids and then my husband and I would eat after they went to bed. When my oldest son started having some behavioral problems we were desperate to find a solution. What we found is my oldest son, Lane, has ADD.

After the diagnosis and some serious soul searching we decided not to medicate Lane. Instead we would try more natural ways of managing his ADD. I am a firm believer that most boys before the 90’s would have qualified for ADD. Heck, the term “boys will be boys” came from somewhere. We knew it would be a hard road, but we were determined to make it work.

During our research, one thing I kept hearing about was how food and dinnertime around the table really makes a difference in our lives. Caffeine, added sugars, food dyes, any artificial ingredient alters your mind. In addition to that, I read how many benefits family dinner around the table has. It sounds so simple… eat dinner at the table. Eat dinner at the table with all members of your family…at least five days a week… OK sounds easy, but in reality it’s not.

Let’s look at the benefits of eating dinner around the table:

  • Lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression
  • Higher grade point averages and higher self-esteem
  • Better vocabulary skills
  • Not as picky of eaters
  • Lower rates of obesity and eating disorders (This is HUGE, I grew up with an eating disorder and I do not want my daughter to go through it!)

 

The benefits go on and on, and each one is truly intriguing. With the need to have healthier eating habits, and a way to connect and improve Lane’s behavior, eating dinner around the table was a light-bulb moment for our family. This could be the key to our non-medicated success.

Since we didn’t start out as a family who ate dinner together each night, there was a learning curve. We had to figure out how to eat around the table and how to make conversation. Not only that, we had to figure out how to do it with three kids! We had three kids in four years, so needless to say it was hectic. Dinner around the table with a six year old, a five year old, and a three year old was messy, loud, and all around stressful until we got the hang of it.

There were several things I know now, that I wish we would have known when we started. Tips that would have made the transition easier and everyone leaving the table enriched. Below are five tips I can give you that I learned the hard way. Dinner around the table should be enriching. It should open up your family dynamic, allowing you to yell less, laugh more, and set your family up for more fun together. I don’t know a single parent who wouldn’t love to love their kids more!

  1. Start Small – One thing I learned is you don’t have to go from zero to seven gourmet meals each week. Start small, pick one or two days that you have an evening free and go with it. Add in more nights as you can, or opt for a breakfast together around the table. Meals don’t need to be elaborate or gourmet – eat what your family normally eats, or order pizza! As long as you’re at the dinner table eating together, you’re doing something right.
  2. Unplug – This is a big one people! No phones, no tablets, no TV. Simply unplug. Family dinner loses some of those benefits when we’re staring at our phones. Parents, lead by example on this. Make sure your phone is tucked in your purse or in another room. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is our time.
  3. Now you’re asking… “If we don’t have our phones what the heck are we going to do”? Talk to each other. Not about the weather, but about your lives. This is the whole enchilada baby! You’re talking to your family about their lives, getting to know them, getting to know their friends. It’s time to start talking again. When we started Lane was in Kindergarten all day, and Audrey and Asher were in preschool. Both Trent and I worked outside of the house and we were apart all day. I started this game, “Suck and Sweet”. You go around the table and say one Suck (bad thing) and one Sweet (good thing) about your day. We’ve been having family dinner for five years now and there’s always something to say. Sure, the Sweet might always be “recess” for your child, but one day it will be something else, and you get to hear about it!!! #ParentWin.
  4. Picky eaters… I know some of you have those rare golden children who eat anything. They love food. They love trying new food. They love vegetables. Well, I don’t have one of those kids. I have three very picky, very different eaters. I make one meal for dinner, and I try to make sure it’s a square meal (protein, vegetable, starch, dessert). The kids have started branching out and now try everything. They may not like it, and they may not eat it again. However, they now try it. I introduce a new recipe once a week. When I do introduce something new, I make sure the veggies and starch are something they know and love. Lastly, I let them vote. After we try a new recipe, the kids will vote whether it’s a keeper or not. They feel in control with the voting and are more likely to try it so they have something to say. Everyone loves to be a critic, and I will use that to have our kids try new things.
  1. Lastly, make dinner fun. It should be fun! Your kids should crave dinner with the family, and they will. Some ideas are make their favorite desert after dinner, or take a walk after dinner. Play a silly game – we like trivia and guessing games. Pick an animal in your mind and have the kids try and guess what it is. Give them a couple clues, and get them involved. Tell jokes – our kids love to find jokes online (kid appropriate) and tell them at dinner. Ask the kids to guess what ingredients are in the dish. Anything, just make it an enjoyable experience.

 

After five years of enjoying family dinner, I am happy to report it helps. Lane is still un-medicated and we have very little behavioral issues at home and at school. He does struggle some with learning, but we’re continuing to improve with other initiatives there. Our kids are open and tell us about their day. Thanks to our dinners together we caught on very quickly that our youngest, Asher was being bullied on the school bus this year.

On top of the big moments, there are so many small ones that show our family is stronger. We’ve branched out to a weekly family night in addition to family dinners, and there is very little yelling and discipline in our house.

All I can really say is… bring back family dinner! I know it’s cliché, but the problems we face as parents today are nothing like in the fifties when families ate dinner… as a family. As parents, its on us to set examples for the next generation. If in the next decade we’re the Jetson’s, I want to live in a sky rise with my dog Astro, eating dinner around the table (preferably dinner would be prepared by my robot maid), with my husband and kids.