Monday, May 30, 2011

Reston Animal Park

We took our three year old son to the Reston Zoo in Reston, Virginia on Saturday. It was his first visit and it was precious to watch his face as he took it all in. There was a large petting barn area where you could feed the sheep and lambs and pigs.  And a reptile house full of lizards and snakes. The pony ride he was too scared to try, but he liked seeing the monkeys and parrots. The highlight was definitely the wagon ride through the open area, where they had a variety of animals roaming free. They would occasionally stop the wagon and let them animals come right up to it, so people could feed or pet them. It was fun to be so close to these large animals that you normally only see on TV or from a distance.

The ostrich was a little fiesty so you had to watch out for him (he bit one little girl's finger...poor thing) and we were dodging the horns on our other hefty friend. They only animals they kept further back were the camels and zebras. But we got close ups with llamas and wildabeasts among others. It was a riot. If you haven't taken your children to the zoo in awhile, it's a great idea as the weather turns warm this summer. It's fun to get outside and walk around, while encouraging the children to love animals at the same time.  

Check out the website for the Reston Zoo:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fire Drill

The fire trucks in our cul de sac
We woke up this morning to the screech of the fire alarms in our house going off. We didn't smell smoke or see flames, but after a few minutes of trying to figure it out I ushered all of the kids outside and called the fire department. They came and checked things out and determined that there was a weird short in the alarm system, so when one of the units stopped working it set off all the rest. I was kind of embarrassed to have them come out when there wasn't really a fire, but they said that we did the right thing. Gave us some reminder tips on fire safety. This was a bit of a wake up call for us, so I wanted to pass some reminders on to you all as well. Call a family meeting and talk together about how to keep your family safe in case of fire.

- Plan your evacuation routes from various rooms in the house. Make sure the children all know what they should do if they can't find you. Decide on a meeting place outside the house where people should gather. The mailbox might be a good choice for instance. Or the next door neighbor's home. Do a practice run with your children to be sure they understand.

- Be sure you have working fire extinguishers on every floor of the home. Particularly in kitchens and other rooms where fires often begin.

- Install smoke detectors if you haven't a minimum one in the kitchen, in each bedroom, and near the furnace room. Set up a schedule to test them and change the batteries. Daylight savings time is a good reminder to check the alarms. It's a good idea to install carbon monoxide detectors on each level of the home as well. Carbon monoxide is odorless and deadly, so these can save lives.

- Have your dryer vents cleaned out annually, and vacuum out the sensors in the smoke alarms monthly. Keeping them clean insures that they can detect properly. Do annual maintenance on your furnace and air conditioning units to be sure they too are functioning properly.

- Visit a fire station open house with your kids so they can get to know the firefighters and see their uniforms. Children get scared in emergencies and firefighters can look very frightening through the smoke in their big suits and helmets. Familiarizing the kids with what a firefighter looks like can help them to trust them when needed.

-Place a flashlight in each bedroom, and teach the kids how and when to call 911.

- If you have a two story home, it is a good idea to purchase ladders to go in each bedroom so family members could escape through the windows without jumping if the doorway was blocked.

- Send copies of photos and important family papers to relatives or place them in a safe deposit box, or purchase a fire proof safe for such items. That way when an emergency strikes the only thing you are worrying about is the safety of the people involved.

- Don't forget the pets! Discuss together how you would be sure to get the pets outside in an emergency.

Thankfully in this case it turned out to only be a minor problem. My younger boys actually thought it was great fun and very exciting to see the firefighters drive up in the trucks. But I am thanking my lucky stars tonight that nothing bad happened. I am determined to revamp our family fire safety plan in case it's not just a fire drill next time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rescuing Family Dinner - Bottoms in the Seats

I am on a mission at my house to reclaim the family dinner hour, but an important part of that is making sure that you have bottoms in the seats. ;-) Short of straightjackets, bribery and temptation are your greatest allies in this endeavor.

Some ideas to lure the family to the table and keep them there long enough to enjoy a meal together?

- Cook early so the smell of whatever delicious meal you are making greets them when they first walk in the door. Crockpots are your best friend when using this technique. Smelling the pot roast all afternoon will not only have them dying to come to dinner, but likely they'll be hovering around for a half hour beforehand asking when it will be ready. You can use that time to chat and catch up on their school day as well.

- Proclaim that dessert is only for those who remain at the table until everyone else has finished eating. This not only teaches them the rules of politeness, but also extends your time together into dessert as well, rather than have everyone scatter to the wind and bolt from the table as soon as they have scarfed their meal. When they know they can't leave until everyone is done anyway, they'll tend to slow down and savor the experience more. This is better for family bonding time, and for digestion too. :-)

-  Utilize carpools as often as possible, so that even if one child must be absent for a sports event or something, you can still be there making sure the rest of the family is together for dinner.

- Set the table. Use a tablecloth and have fresh flowers as a centerpiece. Fold the napkins under the forks. Make the table look appealing and it's a more pleasant experience to be there. You can buy sturdy, wash and wear cloths at Target fairly cheaply. It's a small thing that makes a big difference. Treat ordinary family dinners as special events and the kids will begin to see them that way too.

-Have fun...Don't use this time to discuss family problems or talk to kids about mistakes they've made. Keep the conversation light and fun so dinner time is seen as a comfortable happy time together.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New post!

Blog returning!!! Won't post quite as often Perhaps but I'll do my best!

Easy Formal Hair Styles For Teens

It's Prom and wedding season again. Lots of occasions where your girls may need fancy "do's." Don't want to pay a fortune having their hair done at a salon?  There are some simple yet elegant styles that you can do yourself at home.  My stylist friend Sylvia Westergard showed me how. (Thanks to my daughters for being models for me)  Here are a couple of samples. The full article is on my website at in the style section.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My 4 Year Old's Quote of the Day

Driving in the car my 4 year old son asked me out of the blue, "Mom, are my grandpa's going to live forever?"

I told him that no one lives forever so unfortunately one day they would die, but that I hoped it wouldn't be for a long time.

He pondered that for a minute and then said, "Well, that will be sad...but at least they'll get to see Michael Jackson!"

Indeed they will son...indeed they will. :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rescuing Family Dinner - Mealtime Conversation Basket

The beautiful tradition of a family "sit down" dinner seems to be getting lost in our society today. This makes me very sad. I know at our house we are too often on the run, grabbing take out  in the car. Or only half of the family is there. Or we're cramming dinner down fast on our way to the next event. This  habit spills over into nights when we don't even have much going on, and people drift from the table to watch a TV program or do homework. Studies show that when families sit down to dinner together regularly, kids get better grades and have lower risk of eating disorders and getting involved with addictive substances. There is also a lower risk of depression in teens who eat dinner with their families on a consistent basis.

So I've decided that enough is enough.We're going to rescue the family dinner at our home and as I come up with ideas on how to do this I'll post them in a series here beginning with this one.

In order to encourage conversation around the dinner table I put together a basket full of slips of paper containing the "question of the night." Each evening as we sit down to the table to eat, a child will get to draw a question from the basket that each family member will answer. Some examples of possible questions are:

"What is one rose and one thorn from your day?" (one good thing that happened and one bad)

"If you could be an animal which would you be and why?"

"What color describes your mood today?"

"What is your favorite movie?" (or book, or family vacation etc.)

"Who is a famous person from history that you admire and why?"

"Name something you are thankful for"

You can tailor the questions to the ages of your children and let the kids participate in coming up with questions for the basket.  It really is a lot of fun and engages the children in what's happening at the table, so they don't rush so quickly through their food while thinking about what comes next. Plus it's a great way to learn a little more about each other too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Revised Car Seat Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with new car seat safety recommendations. Things have changed a LOT since my older children were little. And remember back when we were kids and even seat belts were considered optional? Wow! We've come a long way since then. Click on the link above for information on how to keep your young ones safer while traveling in the car.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cleaning Out The Mom Mobile

Today while driving my son said, "Mom can you open up the car window? It smells bad in here!" Yikes!  Time to clean out the mom wagon. If you are anything like me, your car becomes your home away from home. We spend a lot of time driving here and there and each trip new things get dropped and left on the seats and floor. We eat in there on the fly from one errand to the next. Kids even change clothes sometimes between activities. I try to keep up with unloading it regularly. One trick I have is that every time I fill up the car with gas I spend the filling time emptying out trash into the station garbage cans. This helps. But even still on particularly busy weeks when we are on the move a lot it can sometimes get a bit out of control. Is it just me?  So here is the honest ugly truth of what I found out there when I went to clear out:

- Several half eaten and petrified happy meals on the far back seat (probably the source of the smell?)

-Various preschool and elementary school art projects and papers

- A grocery sack full of random trash...gum wrappers, scraps of paper with addresses written on them etc.

- A bowl that had once contained the dry cereal that was now scattered on the floor.

- A bag full of clothes from our last trip to the mall.

- Gross napkins covered in the remains of a spilled milkshake from last week.

- Broken CD cases with no CD's in them.

- SAT study books

- Bottle of nail polish remover.

- A few mismatched shoes

- A magazine

- Empty fruit cup with spoon

- Mary Kay paperwork and an order I need to deliver tomorrow

- My daughter's scriptures

- 2 jackets (keep in mind it was 90 degrees yesterday...they've been there awhile)

- 2 ice scrapers (see above)

- Pink rabbit's foot

- Sunglasses

- Mad libs

- 3 empty water bottles under the seat

- Easter grass

- One googly eye

- A box of tile

- Xylophone

- One glove

- A red hand towel

- Emergency room records

- Party invitation

- Small silver bucket

- A check for $65 that I forgot I had...yeah!! Bonus bucks!

Wow! Yuck! Feels so good to have it all emptied out. Next stop - the service station to have the car washed and use the big vacuums to get the crumbs!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Paper Sack Easter Bunny Crafts

Some fun Easter Bunny crafts made with paper sacks, markers and construction paper. Really easy and even a couple of my older kids had fun making these...they got just a tad competitive with each other actually :-)

Hand Puppets From White Lunch Sacks

Made with white gift bags...great for collecting eggs at your egg hunt on Easter morning.

This was made by my 4 year old at preschool. They filled an upside down bag with paper and added feet so it makes a great table centerpiece or decoration.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

packing up the maternity clothes

Pregnant with my 1st child in 1990
Not long ago I pulled a box of maternity clothes out of the basement. It was the very last of the "baby" stuff remaining so it was a little bitter sweet sending it off to charity.  I am almost 43 and have children old enough now that they might be starting families of their own in the next few years. I feel very much at peace that my family is complete. And after 9 babies I think I got the full pregnancy "experience." But even still as I let the last box go there were pangs in my heart. Having babies was a huge part of my identity the past twenty years. I always had a baby in my arms or one on the way. It wasn't always easy, but the sweetness of a newborn smile made the hardships fade away. The wonder of new life kicking inside me was awe inspiring. It seems very odd that I will never experience that again.

We talk and read a lot about the stages of a child's development. Growing from babyhood in toddlers into school kids into teens. But do we realize that we go through growth stages as Mommys too? I think back at myself in this picture. I was completely clueless as to what to do with a baby. When they first placed my new son in my arms I was thrilled, but truthfully scared to death. Giving him a bath was a major event. Every "first" he accomplished was a wondrous achievement.  I worried over his every move, so anxious to figure out how to be a good mother. So afraid I would do something wrong and damage him somehow. He paved the way for his brothers and sisters as my guinea pig, and I did eventually chill out about so many things. He tells me all the time how unfair it is that I now allow froot loops in the house for instance. I'm sure he is right. I am a far different sort of mother to my three year old today than I was to him. I hover less. Worry less. But love just as much. People often think that the relaxed nature of mothers with large families is that they get burned out and stop caring so much. Not true. You just learn and grow along the way. There is a learning curve to parenting for sure and as you gain confidence that you can actually keep these little creatures alive it frees you to stress about fewer things. Enjoy and appreciate the daily miracles from a slightly different perspective.

One stage of motherhood has come to a close for me. My youngest is a toddler now and so the days of parenting babies are through. I will miss that very much. But sleeping through the night has its advantages too. And my mother assures me that Grandchildren are the great reward of parenting. All the fun with far less work. ;-) So I look forward to that in a few years. I am still in the throws of parenting the middle aged children, but am heading toward a new stage of parenting adults as well. No matter how old your children get you are always a mother. But this will be new figuring out how that works from more of a distance as they strike out on their own in the world. I think part of the challenge now is rediscovering myself a little bit. Now that the days of pregnancy are over I have more freedom to learn and try new things. I can take the lessons learned and share them with my children from a different vantage point. My heart will always tenderly miss watching my babies sleep in my arms. But the excitement of sharing my pictures from Italy with my kids was pretty amazing too. And climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with my 18 year old son this summer will be the opportunity of a lifetime. I wouldn't trade it for the world even though I might occasionally long to have him be two years old again...sitting in my lap curling my hair around his fingers while I read him a story. I will remember that moment when standing at the summit with my boy who is now taller than me.

Feeling a little wistful today. They are growing up...but I am growing too. Time to embrace the next stages with as much excitement as I did the ones that I'm leaving behind. I can travel now. Start a business now. Go to the grocery store all by myself now. It's wonderful really. But it would be great if someone I knew would have a baby girl again soon so I have an excuse to go baby clothes shopping. I'd appreciate it. :-)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kids airplane tips

I am coming home tomorrow which means about a ten hour flight on the airplane. UGH. It's been such a great trip, but I'm excited to see my kiddos again too. I have some Italian candy and money to show them. They will like that. This trip I'll be on my own so I can quietly sit and read or watch a movie, but usually when I travel it is with a passel of kids in tow. In the early days of motherhood I used to pack everything but the kitchen sink in my diaper bag. And then spend the trip frantically doling out this and that to whoever seemed about to throw a fit. Anyone been there? It can be very stressful traveling with children. On the plane I worried that they were too wiggly or kicking the seat in front of them. I was so concerned that we would be disturbing other passengers that I spent the whole flight in a state of frantic fight or flight mode. I was an exhausted wreck by the end time we reached our destination. And my back hurt from lugging around everybody's stuff. And from feeling like a crazed person trying to keep everyone happy with snacks and games and paper etc. I finally learned a few things along the way that have made trips much easier for me:

-Relax!!! People really aren't paying as much attention as you think they are. The sounds of the plane really do muffle most of the noise on your row, so unless your child is completely screaming they can probably truly barely be heard by the people around you. They are so absorbed in their own conversations or have on movie headphones, that they aren't as bothered as you might imagine. Even those who do hear you most likely have kids of their own and are sympathetic. As for those few rare moments when your toddler is pitching a huge tantrum and others are staring...just remember this too shall pass. And you'll likely never see these people again. Just do the best that you can. What more can you do? Stressing isn't going to help and will probably only serve to further agitate your child.

-You are not a cart horse. Whenever we travel now we pack individual backpacks for each child and they carry their own gear. Even the littlest ones can carry a backpack. They kind of think it's fun actually. That way you can customize each pack to the needs of the child and they have easy access to the snacks and activities that they want without coming to you a million times for resupply. It takes a little doing to fill the packs before leaving, but saves so much stress on the plane that it is well worth the effort. These individual backpacks come in handy during the waiting time at the airport terminal as well.

-Your attitude makes all the difference. If you stay upbeat the kids will be excited about the trip, but if you are whining about the troubles of traveling guess what? So will they. In most cases you are going somewhere you want to go and making the trip on purpose right? I know the details can be tough sometimes, but think how truly amazing it is to be able to cross the country in a matter of hours to see family or visit and exciting destination. Don't let the hardships get you down. Focus on the positive and your kids will too. Most of the things we stress endlessly about really aren't that bad if we don't grow them out of proportion in our own minds.

- Bribery works...I know I know healthy food is best. But if some junk food keeps them happy on the plane I say go with it. Let them watch the movie and play that hand held video game. Everyone will be much happier if you do. :-)

- Choose your seat assignments wisely. Think through which children are most compatible with one another and put older ones near younger ones. They can help out some so you are not run ragged. Offer an older child an incentive of some sort to be a "travel buddy" to a younger sibling.  It's a win win situation that way and helps out a lot.

Traveling is supposed to be enjoyable. So play some games like "eye spy" and try to keep on smiling. And plan ahead to arrive early so you aren't running and racing every step along the way. Have fun!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Texting Your Teens

On this trip it has been fun texting photos and messages to my teenagers with cell phones. It's a fun way to connect with them while far away. Truthfully though that has become one of the best ways to reach them even when I am in in town...or in the same house even.  My son once even texted me when we were sitting in the same room watching a movie together. Good grief. The reality is that teenagers can selectively ignore you calling their names. They rarely will pick up if the telephone rings. But a text I can almost always get a fairly immediate reply to. It's the way they talk to their friends and seems to be the preferred means of communication for young people. So it's important for parents to learn the lingo. So they can converse in "teen cell speak"...the abbreviated version of actual speech that teens use every day. Here are some basics to get you started:

LOL - laughing out loud
POS - Parent over shoulder
BRB - Be right back
BF - boyfriend
BFF - Best friends forever
BTW - By the way
CUZ - Because
ROFL - Rolling on the floor laughing
GTG - Got to go
I C - I see
K - Okay
IDK - I don't know
JK - Just kidding
MSG - message
OMG - Oh my gosh
QT - cutie
PLS - please
TMI - too much information
TTYL - Talk to you later
U - You
UR - you are
ZZZ - tired or bored

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do Fast Food Restaurants Target Children? by, Barbara Christensen

Thank you to Barbara Christensen of EatFreshInTheCity for contributing this article. Reprinted by permission.

                                          Do Fast Food Restaurants Target Children?
Yes, according to a lead story on our local news . Of course I had to know what they said in the study. It was done by the Yale Rudd Center and documented the menu items offered in these restaurant and how they are marketed to kids. They looked at 12 of the nation’s largest fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s and KFC. Kelly Brownell, Ph.D, with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said, “Several of the largest fast-food companies have made pledges they would market less to children, but in fact, in the past several years, the amount of fast-food marketing has gone up.” In fact the article showed that the average preschooler sees three fast-food ads per day. I am not surprised. The other day my daughter was watching Sprout while I was cooking dinner, and my husband was shocked that there was a debt reduction commercial on a preschooler's channel. The truth is that your children are watching commercials geared towards decisions that they will want to make in life, that you most likely won’t want them to make. How many of you have kids with credit cards that are just 18 years old?
The study also found that at most fast food restaurants, a single meal contains at least half of young person’s daily recommended calories and sodium. Also they found that at least 30 percent of the calories in these meals bought by kids comes from sugar and saturated fats. And if you didn’t think that was bad enough they found that these fast food companies heavily target African American and Hispanic youth. African Americans see at least 50 percent more fast food ads than their white peers.
Do you want to learn more? There is a great website that I think every parent should check out Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. Some of the top facts that they shared may make you mad…in fact I hope that they do:
Only 12 of 3,039 possible kids’ meal combinations meet nutrition criteria for preschoolers. Only 15 meet nutrition criteria for older children. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
40% of parents report their children ask to go to McDonald’s at least once a week; 15% of preschoolers ask to go every day. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
84% of parents report taking their child to a fast food restaurant at least once a week. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
Teens, 13-17, purchase 800-1,100 calories in an average fast food meal, roughly half their recommended daily total. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
The fast food industry spent more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2009 on TV advertising and other media. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
Our recommendation is to be in control of what your children eat. Make healthy meals at home, and send healthy meals to school. And I love what Bari Nan Cohen, prior entertainment editor for Good Housekeeping, said, “it’s really not whether or not you let your kids eat fast food that determines their nutritional fate, it’s how you talk about all food, all the time, that leaves the strongest impression.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Great Video by Katherine Center

A friend showed me this short clip on youtube and it touched my heart. I thought you all might enjoy it too so I wrote to Katherine Center and asked her for permission to post it here on my blog. She graciously agreed. Katherine is a novelist with Random House. To learn more about her and her books visit  Many thanks to her for this beautiful message.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mommy Vacation Guilt

I am leaving tomorrow to spend a week in Italy. My best friend and her family are living in Rome right now, so I am going to go visit her while my husband holds down the fort here at home. I'm very excited about this trip. It will be my first time visiting Europe and I have a million things I want to see and do. But today I noticed a tiny bit of "mommy guilt" seeping into my day. I'm trying very hard to make sure things are all set and ready before I go so no one's activities will be interrupted at all. Food is in the pantry so they won't starve. This will a good chance for the kids to spend extra time with their Dad, so I know they will have fun. I won't even be away all that long really.  I won't miss too much and they'll barely notice I'm gone before I'm on my way home. So why then am I feeling these pangs that somehow I shouldn't be doing this? I don't think I'm the only Mom out there that feels guilt when she does anything just for herself.  I think we all need to stop doing that to ourselves don't you? And here's why -

1) It's important now and then for a woman to reconnect with who she is at a deep level. Just her, all by herself. To have fun and have time to think and relax and have adventures.  Just because we had a child it doesn't mean that the girl inside of us ceased to exist. We don't stop having dreams and goals and wanting to play and laugh and explore. I love being a Mom and it brings me great joy. But now and then I want to go remember that I am not just "Kevin's Mother". I am Laura. And I'm going to love eating gelato on the Spanish Steps.

2) It's a good message to teach our children that they need to take time to renew their spirits. So when they are parents they will nurture themselves and their relationships with their spouses properly. I wish now I had understood this better when I was a younger mother. I want to teach this lesson to them.

3) It's a good thing now and then for kids to have time with their dad's with Mom out of the way. The child/father relationship is different than the one they share with their mothers. But since Mom is often the more hands-on parent, Dad can feel a little pushed out of the way at times. He may not do things exactly how you do them while you are gone, but the kids will have a great time. Remember that old Bill Cosby comedy routine? "Dad is great! Gives us the chocolate cake."   No worries...they'll survive.

4)  There can be a bit of relentlessness in the life of a mother. Repetitive tasks and constant demands. Carpools and meals to be prepared. Diapers and dishes. Laundry. Homework. Pretty much dawn to dark day after day. It's all good, but can be physically and mentally exhausting. A little R and R  can help ward off depression and anxiety and resentment. Getting some extra sleep and a little break in the same routine is critical now and then. I am a better Mom when I take the time to recharge my own personal batteries from time to time. Even the long plane ride sounds restful. Hours and hours with no one asking me anything except "peanuts or pretzels?" Bliss!

5) Going away helps you appreciate coming home all the more. As nice as the vacation will be I will miss seeing the faces of my loved ones every day. Will wonder often what they are doing. I'll miss them. And be just as excited to be on my way home as I am to be leaving now. I'll return with some fun stories and pictures and European candy to share! They have already put in their requests.

I'm going to try to keep up with the blogs this week, but if my posts are a little more sporadic than usual I hope you will understand. The Sistine Chapel calls my name!! Au Revoir!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Car Chats With Teens

Our 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Talking to teenagers can be challenging to say the least. They have long since outgrown the notion that you know much about anything, so they don't always come to you for advice like they used to. When you kindly try to offer your wisdom they often have the audacity to call it "nagging."   They will be gone for the whole evening, but when you ask how it was you hear "ok."  Ask what they did, "nothing." If they seem upset you may feel inclined to ask what is the matter, but be careful because that can sometimes backfire. Whatever the problem was can quickly become your fault. It's a volatile time of life, so even if they were very open the day before they may be guarded today. Communication can become very strained as they push the boundaries and exert their independence and this tension can spill over into ordinary conversation. They may seem far more interested in talking to their friends than to you. Take heart. All of this is fairly normal and won't last forever. So how do you stay connected, instill lessons and express love when their eyes glaze over the minute you begin to speak?

Having dealt with four teenagers of my own so far, I have learned a lesson that seems to work every time. Teenagers open up and talk in the car better than anywhere else. I'm not an expert, but I have my theories as to why this is. Teens are fairly self conscious and defensive generally. So if you say to them, "Hey let's talk" their guard immediately goes up as they wonder what you intend to lecture them about this time. But if you invite them to go to the store with you that is totally non threatening, so they are feeling more open. Talking in the car is also nice because it is less direct. Eye contact is wonderful, but can overwhelm a teen if they have something to tell you that they are embarrassed about. Or if they aren't sure how you will react. Not staring straight at them and having scenery to focus on can provide just enough buffer that they feel braver sometimes. In the car you have them all to yourself for awhile. If you can avoid their natural instinct to blast the music at high volume, it is uninterrupted conversation time.  Let them play the music if they wish. That in itself can loosen them up.  Just play it softly enough to hear each other over the din. Don't tackle issues head on. I have found it works better to chit chat about mundane things until you have rapport built up. Then try to ask questions that do not lend themselves to one word answers. Rather than say, "how was school today?"  try, "What's one good thing and one bad thing that happened at school today?"    Then pause long enough to really hear their answer before charging on to make your point.

Another great teen car the driver whenever you can to groups of your teenagers friends. Then just be quiet and listen carefully.   They actually often forget you are there and you will be amazed how much you will learn as they talk to each other. Never use this information against them later or they will think of you as spying on them. Just tuck it away as information about your son or daughter that can help you know them better.

Teenagers get a bad rap I think as surly rude creatures. They can be at times, but they are also quite delightful. It is an age of great confusion and anxiety and change for them. Sometimes they don't talk much just because they really don't know what to do or say. Or they are pondering deep thoughts about life. Seriously. Often I learn more from them than the other way around. And sometimes hanging out with them in silence is ok too. But you will be surprised if you consistently invite them along on errands or find other opportunities to be alone in the car how often they will open up and start talking. Having a hard time getting them to join about offering to let them drive? Yes it's terrifying (but that is another post for another day)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hiking With Your Kids

I went hiking with my husband and daughters (16 and 12) yesterday in the beautiful White Oak Canyon of Shenendoah National Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day in the 60's. Couldn't have asked for better weather. The trail was so pretty. For most of the day we hiked next to a rushing stream, so we had the peaceful sounds of the water soothing us as we walked. The leaves were not on the trees yet so we didn't have the usual greenery, but the advantage of that was greater visibility of the mountains in the distance and of the many waterfalls that you pass along the trail. It was just a really great day.

Now I guess to say that I hiked "with" my daughters might be a bit misleading. In truth they have way more energy and stamina than I do so they spent most of the day about a 1/2 mile out in front of me. They bounced along while I dragged myself upward at a somewhat slower pace. But while we may not have spent the day talking and bonding in that way, we still all walked away with the same memories. We still got out and were active in the fresh air together. I hope I still instilled in them that I value fitness and nature. And taking the time off from other activities to share that with them. I think they had fun. I know I sure did, even though I am sore this morning. I would highly recommend hiking with your children of all ages. In this world of media and rushing around, the simplicity of nature is a welcome environment in which to connect with those you love.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Spring" Party

This coming Sunday (March 20th) is the first day of Spring. After being cooped up inside all winter long this is really something to celebrate!!! So this weekend why not have a "spring" party. With treats and activities based on things with springs.

We went out in the cul-de-sac this afternoon, set up cones and had pogo stick races. There was also some competition amongst the oldest on who could jump the most times in a row. It was a nice sunny warm day today for the first time in awhile too, so it was great to be outside.


Then we enjoyed a cake decorated with slinkies and had slinky races down the main front stairs. For being such simple toys, slinkies have really stood the test of time haven't they? Every new generation seems as taken with them as the one before. Still can't figure out exactly how they work, but we had fun.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celebrate Plate

A fun tradition to have with your kids is a "celebrate plate." When something noteworthy happens to any member of the family they get to use the special plate that night at dinner and announce their good news to everyone. I got this particular one at a Pampered Chef party years ago, but you could also go design your own at a pottery shop. Or even just buy a plate in a different color that distinguishes it from the rest of your set. All that's important is that it is recognized as the celebrate plate and spotlights the child for the evening. This can be used for big things like getting a driver's license or smaller things like losing a tooth. We have two actually, because with so many children there are often multiple "good news" opportunities in the same day. Any chance you have to make a child feel wonderful is precious indeed. So have fun with this and look for excuses to bring out the plate. I have been forgetting to do this lately and my kids have missed it so I vow to start celebrating at dinner far more often again!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day

If I must I must!

Today is 3/14  and since the numbers 3, 1 and 4 are the most significant digits in the mathematical constant "pi", this date has been designated as National Pi Day. This tradition began in 1989 at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Physicist Larry Shaw and his staff celebrated by marching in a circle and eating fruit pie. It was eventually recognized by the US House of Representatives in 2009 as an official holiday, and is currently celebrated in schools around the country. One of the most popular ways to commemorate the day is of course to eat pie. My philosophy is that any excuse for pie is a good one!!! So enjoy!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Warning!!! Window Blinds Danger

Most of us remember a few years ago when the major window blinds manufacturers altered their designs because of the risk of children choking in the cords. Most changed the strings to two side by side rather than a connected loop. We went right out and switched all of our blinds to the new type and felt much safer. But the other night we had a wake up call. Our kids had gone to bed awhile earlier, but the little ones were still running around upstairs as they usually do. We suddenly heard the three year old screech and a bit of a ruckus. My husband went up to investigate only to find out that our son had gotten the two cords tangled together and then had somehow gotten them stuck around his neck. He panicked and started pulling and choking and got a pretty decent red scrape before our nine year old, who sleeps in the room right next to him, had freed him. It all happened very fast, and everything in this case turned out fine. But I shudder to think about the "what if's." What if I had not been home and one of the older kids had been babysitting and not paying close attention? What if my older son had not been only steps away at the time? What if my little guy had not been able to make any sound so no one had realized what was happening? Soooo scary. So I wanted to post this alert as a reminder to be vigilant. The new blinds design is indeed safer - UNLESS the kids have been playing with the cords and gotten them tangled. In that case they are as dangerous as the old ones had been. So as you do your weekly cleaning just take the time to make note of the cords and be sure they are tangle free. It only takes a minute to help make sure your kids are safer.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Loss of a Lizard

Sadly my 9 year old son's pet lizard passed away a couple of days ago. It came on suddenly and we are unsure as to the cause. But these sorts of things are always very hard for kids. Death is an unfortunate reality in this world and I think pets are often a child's first exposure to loss. We held a little burial in the flower bed and bid his friend goodbye. This particular son is not very demonstrative though, and didn't really want a lot of ceremony or to talk much about it, so I have been left with this nagging sense that we didn't do enough to help him deal with this experience. I'd really like to hear from my readers on this one. How have you handled the death of pets with your children? If you have any ideas you would care to share you can post a comment here or send them to me at and I'll gather them and repost as a group for others to see. Thanks so much.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Green Dinner For St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's day is next week and everyone knows that the color green is associated with the holiday. I'm not sure why exactly. Maybe because Ireland is called "The Emerald Isle"? Or because shamrocks are green? Anyone know? In any case, be sure to have your kids wear something green to school on the 17th so they don't get pinched. ;-)  Another fun thing to do to celebrate is to serve an all green dinner.

Here I used basil pasta (spinach pasta would work too) with alfredo sauce. You could put a few drops of green in your sauce to color it, but I realized as I was cooking that I was out of food coloring so I just sprinkled some parsley on top instead. Served with broccoli and a green salad as shown here you have a well balanced healthy meal that just happens to be all green! You can be creative. Serve green grapes or zucchini instead if you wish. We had some green Powerade to drink and for dessert we made lime jello with cool whip and sprinkles. This is not a hard thing to do. You have to make dinner anyway right? Kids really enjoy anything that is a little out of the ordinary, and coming to the table on St. Patrick's Day for "green dinner" can become a simple tradition they look forward to.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardis Gras

Today is Mardis Gras...which is French for "Fat Tuesday". It represents the last day of feasting before Lent begins so it's origin is as a Christian holiday. But over time it has become famous throughout the world as a big carnival day. Two of the biggest events take place in New Orleans and Rio De Janeiro with parades and a lot of wild partying. Mostly "adults only" types of activities are associated with Mardis Gras these days, but there are still some fun things you can do to celebrate with kids.

-Have them make masks out of paper plates and wear them to dinner.

-Decorate your table in bright colors and with beads and streamers so it feels like a festival atmosphere.

- Play some jazz music of course.

- Prepare a meal with all of their very favorite foods. And for dessert serve the traditional King Cake.  The cake is made as an oval to represent unity. It's usually decorated in purple, gold and green to symbolize Justice, Power and Faith. Cover the cake in beads to represent the gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus. And somewhere inside the cake hide a small toy baby. If you are not Christian you can hide a  toy coin or some other fun item instead. Make a rule that whoever finds the item in their piece of cake becomes "King (or Queen) for the day!" The kids will love it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Harlem Globetrotters

We took our 9 year old son to see the Harlem Globetrotters on Saturday night. It was such a great show. I had seen them in high school so I knew they had been around for awhile. But I was amazed to learn they had been touring for 85 years and will visit 200 cities this year. It isn't very often anymore that you find a show that appeals to fans of all ages and is completely wholesome and clean. Just honest good fun. They kept the fans in stitches and had audience members involved throughout the show playing games and winning prizes etc. After the game they stayed to sign autographs and take pictures. I was impressed by the effort they made to give high fives and personally interact with the audience members. The pre and half time shows were very entertaining as was the upbeat music played throughout. We had a wonderful time. Watching my son laughing was worth every cent of the ticket cost. Visit to learn more about the team and to see if they are coming soon to a city near you. If they are I would highly recommend that you go and see them. Take the kids and make a fun family night of it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Children's Fitness!

Kudos to Michelle Obama for bringing increased public awareness to the issue of childhood obesity. It is estimated that the percentage of obese children in the United States has tripled in the past thirty years.  The affect it's having on children's self esteems and productivity is hard to measure, but the impact on the health care system is clear and dramatic.
So what can we do as Moms to help our children stay healthy and fit? I personally do not believe in pushing children into rigorous weight loss plans or diets unless supervised by a doctor in extreme circumstances. But we can certainly incorporate healthier lifestyles in our homes. Here are just a few ideas that are easy to implement starting today:

1) Replace the sugary snacks with healthier choices. Whole grain bagels or carrot sticks. Fruit with yogurt dip. Cheese sticks and granola bars. The kids will eat whatever is fast and on hand, so it's up to us to make sure that better options are available in the pantry.

2) Get outside in the fresh air. Have the kids help with yard work. Take the dog for a walk. Go for a family bike ride.

3) Turn off the TV and video games, and encourage physical activity instead. Organize a basketball or kickball game in the cul-de-sac.   Put up wooden swing sets in the backyard with monkey bars and  climbing walls so the kids get some exercise while playing and having fun.

4) Set a good example for them to follow. I am surprised how often my children will join in with me while I am doing my workouts. My son even ran a 5k with me once. It was amazing to share that experience together.

5) Try as often as you can to cook healthy meals at home instead of grabbing take out or frozen prepared meals. Not only are you providing better nutrition, but the family dinner table discussion time is priceless too.

6) Sign them up for school or community sports or martial arts programs. They get to learn new skills and make friends. Better yet volunteer to coach the team so you can be involved too!

Talk to your kids about nutrition and fitness. Make sure they understand that these are important priorities for you and that you want them to be healthy because you love them. If you instill these principles  and habits in them while they are young just think of the troubles you can help them avoid later on down the road. So let's get our families moving!! It's good for you and a lot of fun too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Remote Control For Kids?

Yesterday was a fairly typical afternoon. The TV was blaring in the family room even though I'm not sure anyone was even watching it. The phone was ringing with a reminder that my kids' lunch account balances were low at school. My 14 year old had rap songs (if you can really call them songs?) blasting from his ipod in the kitchen. My 12 year old daughter was practicing piano. My 16 year old daughter was asking me if we could go antique shopping on Saturday. The dog was barking to be let outside. The three and four year old boys came running full tilt through the room screaming about something or other. I couldn't quite make it out. But it seems that my 6 year old son was involved somehow, because he was in hot pursuit also at top volume. And my 9 year old son was yelling from upstairs "MOM...can you sign my field trip form and help me make a costume for colonial day at school?" My desk is in the kitchen so this is the usual environment that I write in. With activity swirling around me and lots and lots of noise!!! I chose this location on purpose. For the most part I prefer to be in the middle of the fray so I can interact with my kids even while working. I don't ever want them to feel that I am not there for them when they need me to solve their issues large or small ("Mom...don't forget I need crickets for my lizard" - "Mom...can you take me to a friend's house in ten minutes?" - "Mom...just wait until you see the mess the little boys made with cereal in the basement.") Being a Mom is my most important job so smack in the midst of the chaos is where I love to be. Usually! But I must confess that yesterday I found myself fantasizing about how great it would be if someone invented a remote control that worked on children. Think about it! When the cacophony reaches epic proportions, as it has been known to do at our house, how awesome would it be to be able to push a MUTE button and have peace restored immediately? So I could take a few breaths and calm myself internally before turning the sound back on. That would be bliss! On those crazy mornings where my kids are poking around getting ready for school, or when they are dragging their feet at chore or homework convenient would a FAST-FORWARD function be instead of nagging endlessly? On the days when I am feeling lonesome for my grown sons who live on their own now, I sure would adore a REWIND button. To go back and relive one of my favorite days from when they were little. INPUT mode would come in handy when trying to get my points across to a stubborn teen or instill values and important life lessons that I want them to understand. And I am certain I would use the PAUSE button often...when asked a difficult question that I'd prefer to ponder before answering...or at those precious moments when life feels simply perfect. Like when my 4 year old throws his arms around me and says, "I love you Mom. You're so cute". Yes, I'd like to savor that one and have it on TIVO to replay to him at age 13 when he doesn't think I'm quite so smart anymore.  But alas this magical remote control is only in my mind. So I guess it's best to just press PLAY. And enjoy the show!

Monday, February 28, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

White frosting, green sprinkles, and a few chocolate gold coins make these cute "Leprechaun gold" cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day.

I made these fun Shamrock cupcakes using white frosting and yellow sprinkles.  I took gum drops and rolled them out flat with a rolling pin. I used the mini shamrock cookie cutter from the pampered chef holiday set, cut out the shapes and added them to the tops. Hint...use flour when rolling out the gumdrops or they get too sticky to work with. Then once the shapes are cut out rinse the flour off with water.

Sneaky Leprechaun

St. Patrick's Day is always very exciting at our house, because every year we are visited by a very sneaky leprechaun. We never see him. But we know he comes some time in the night, because when the children wake up he has left a note with clues as to where he has stashed his gold. They then go on a hunt to find the chocolate gold coins hidden all around the house. They look forward to it for weeks in advance. It's become such a tradition that I even sent some gold "coins" to my grown sons this year. They'll pretend they think it's silly now, but you know they'll actually love it! 17 more days!!! The kids are already asking if I think our leprechaun friend will come again this year. I'm thinking the odds are pretty good!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


One of the greatest challenges of being a mother is the juggling act we must perform every day. Whether you work outside of the home or not, every Mom has multiple roles to fill. Chef, chauffeur, housekeeper, nurse, therapist, encyclopedia of random information, artist, room mom, team mom, teacher, drill sergeant, conflict mediator, party and event planner, holiday coordinator, nutritionist, laundress, etc.  Most of us have had little or no formal training in the majority of these categories, but suddenly are expected to become experts, or at least be baseline proficient in them once our first child arrives.  It can be a fairly daunting thing at times. I have had many moments in motherhood that completely stopped me short. Speechless.

"Mom...why is the sky blue?"  (anyone?)

"Mom...I don't get this math problem." (the high school homework sometimes does look vaguely familiar...but's been awhile)

"Mom... I forgot I have to make a model of a pyramid by tomorrow morning out of sugar cubes." - (this was at about ten PM the night before)

"Mom...Chip isn't moving. Is he dead?" - (Chip was our pet rat...may he rest in peace)

"Mom...where do babies come from?" - (Yikes!)

" come water is leaking from the ceiling?" - ( was bad)

Mom...Mom...MOM!!! Anytime anything needs fixing or figuring out it's up to Mom to take care of it. If there is blood or vomit  involved they come running to Mommy to make it all better. Holidays and vacations are pretty much Mom territory start to finish. Errands and daily jobs like laundry and dishes are never done. Wash, rinse, repeat! Multi-tasking only goes so far, and it's easy to get a little frazzled from time to time isn't it? But take heart...that's normal. Just keep on trying your best and loving those babies to pieces. That's what really matters. If your child comes home from Kindergarten and you realize they had on mismatched shoes that day...or you forget to send in the Valentines for the class party...just let it go. Give your child a hug ask them if they know that you love them. If they say "yes" than you're doing ok. And every once in awhile in the midst of the busy days take the time to stop and listen to the sound of your children's laughter. That's the paycheck for all of your hard work after all. Enjoy it! Moms rarely hear it so I want to shout out today - You're doing a great job Mommy!!! Just thought you should know!