Archive for September, 2009

Venturing Out on a Dreary Day

Meagan Francis | 
30 September, 2009 | 

Yesterday was one of those days where it feels hard to get moving. The weather has gotten a bit more chilly over the last week or so, so going out just doesn’t sound as fun. And it was overcast and cloudy all day, sapping my energy levels until I just wanted to take to my bed with a remote control.

By evening, the kids were restless and I was nearly unconscious. I knew I’d feel better if we went out, but every time I thought about it, a list of obstacles popped into my head: I’d have to pack a bag, I’d have to corral the whole crew by the front door, I’d have to oversee the unearthing of five sets of shoes and five jackets, I’d have to strap the baby in the stroller or buckle everyone in their car seats….

Funny how it’s sometimes the smallest details that loom large and make it hard to get out of the house, eh?

In the end, I made the snap decision that, no, we were not going to succumb to dreary-day doldrums. My husband and I packed the bag and found the shoes and buckled the straps and belts, and headed down to see the new fountain in our hometown. And we were rewarded with beautiful, if not exactly hot, weather: right after we got there, the clouds parted and the sun shone down, just long enough for the boys to get soaked in the spray.

owen in the fountain

See what we’d have missed if we didn’t venture out?

How will you soak up the last bits of summer with your kids?

Into the Thick of the School Year

Dawn Papandrea | 
29 September, 2009 | 

homeworkThere was so much anticipation to the start of the school year, that once it started, it seems to be steamrolling by. We’re nearly a month in, and what began as excitement and chaos is now slowing turning into the daily grind.

But of course, just as our children are learning  new things everyday, I’m finding that as we move along, I’m picking up new tricks to keep things organized, help keep my son excited about schoolwork and homework (not easy!), and manage to get out of the house on time in the morning.

If you’re finding it hard to stay in the  your groove, I came across some great tips that’ll help, courtesy of Dr. Mary Mokris, education specialist for Kumon Math and Reading Centers.

Praise your children daily. Let them know that you believe in them, you think they are special and you have confidence in them. In our home, we celebrate on Friday afternoons if my son behaved all week at school, that is, with a trip to the ice cream parlor or some other fun activity. It gives him an incentive to listen, but also lets him know that working hard makes me proud.

Focus on the positives. Reflect on the new skills they are gaining that are needed to be successful in life, such as independence, responsibility, perseverance and time management. I have to do this a lot. My son inherited my perfectionist tendencies (poor little guy), so he tends to be hard on himself if a picture doesn’t come out just right or if he can’t quite master a new skill. Praise, praise, praise really helps.

Set up a study area for your child. Create an area that is well-ventilated and well-lit. Be sure it’s equipped with all necessary supplies. For me, it’s pencils, crayons, construction paper, and scissors. Older kids will need a dictionary, their computer, etc.  Most important, no distractions allowed! That means no TV, phone, or instant messaging during homework.

Establish a consistent homework routine from the start. What works for us so far is coming home, washing up, snack (he’s usually famished), then homework. As soon as my son is finished, then he gets to watch some TV or play. No matter when you fit homework in, the idea is to help children see that it is a priority in your home.

Get acquainted with your child’s teachers and keep the communication open. Teachers are so busy at the beginning of the year getting to know their new students. And often, they don’t meet the parents until weeks later at open school night. This year, I made it a point to ask for a quick meeting with my son’s teacher right away. I wanted to get to know her, and stay on top of my son’s progress. I’m so against the idea that teachers are adversaries — we have to do our best to work with the teacher.

Parents, what are your tips and tricks to stay on track now that back-to-school excitement has worn off? Share in the comments below.

-Dawn Papandrea

Fall Means Soup (Doesn’t It?)

Sarah Caron | 
28 September, 2009 | 

Some foods are just ubiquitous to seasons – Winter foods are heavy and hot like pot roasts or stews, perfect for keeping you snug in the chilly temperatures. Spring foods are light and hopeful like salads and citrusy pastas, looking ahead to days spent playing outside and evenings on the front porch. Summer foods are cool and easy like gazpacho or caprese salad, ideal for ending a sweaty, hot day.

But fall … fall is a tricky season. You aren’t quite ready to release the delights of summer, so it’s filled with the last tomatoes, leeks, peppers and other fresh goodness that just won’t be available again until June. Still, you are faced with descending temperatures and a need to bring out those sweaters, so cool foods just won’t do … but soup will.

On the first cool day this fall, I practically skipped down to my basement to retrieve a frozen batch of my favorite potato leek soup. The kids and I love the flavors in it, and what says fall more than a warm bowl of soup served up with some toasty bread?

This recipe for Easy Garlic and Cheese Bread is a simple way to use up those leftover slices from another night. It comes together in just minutes and totally beats spreading butter on getting-stale bread.

Easy Garlic and Cheese Bread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice day-old crusty bread (Italian, French, sourdough … whatever you have) into 1 inch slices. Lay the slices on an ungreased cookie sheet and place a pat of butter on each. Sprinkle with garlic salt and grate some Romano cheese on top. Place in the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes, until butter is melted and cheese is lightly browned. Be careful not to burn it.

Around the Orchard

Mott's | 
25 September, 2009 | 

As a new Friday edition we want to highlight some of the great things going on around the web. This week we have some amazing giveaways and contests going on all over the place. So check them out and good luck:

SheKnows $500 Visa Gift Card Snapple Real Facts giveaway

From Dates to Diapers Cradle and All giveaway (9/28)

Amanda Giant Evolution Timeline Playmat giveaway (9/29)

3 Kids and Us Sam’s Club $100 Gift Card giveaway (9/30)

5 Vinez Monkeys Family four pack to Disney on Ice Celebrations (Atlanta) (10/2)

Ice Fairy’s Treasure Chest Build-a-Bear giveaway (10/5)

Simply Being Mommy Snack and Play travel tray giveaway (10/7)

Mom Reviews Diego’s Arctic Rescue giveaway (10/7)

Mommy Niri Zhu Zhu Pet, the Electronic Hamster giveaway (10/11)

The Mom Buzz Family Game Night giveaway (10/16)

Mom Start Snugli Sway Soft Carrier giveaway (10/19)

Moms Are Big in Social Media (Duh!)

Sarah Caron | 
24 September, 2009 | 

A new study shows that moms are dominating the social media world. That shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Women are finding valuable friendships on Twitter and sharing their experiences in blogs. And for the stay-at-home-mom, having that link to the real world always there can really save them from the potential isolation factor.

It’s no wonder that more and more marketers are trying to reach the momosphere.

According to Real Moms Guide:

A Retail Advertising and Marketing Association study released last Wednesday showed that more than 60 percent of stay-at-home moms are more likely to use Facebook, and nearly 17 percent are more likely to use Twitter, compared to average adults.

Nearly 94 percent of the moms surveyed said they seek advice before buying products or services, and more than 97 percent said they give advice on products or services purchased.

Read more here.

Bring the Family: Interview With Family Travel Writer Toni Klym McLellan

Meagan Francis | 
23 September, 2009 | 

Toni Klym McLellan’s three boys, on an adventure close to home.

Toni Klym McLellan, freelance writer and mom of three boys, loves exploring so much that she started, a site devoted to “family adventures at home and away”.  I talked to Toni to find out her best advice for being out and about with kids, whether it’s a trip to an exotic locale or just a hike at the local nature preserve:

Meagan: what gave you the idea to start

Toni:  I wanted to find a way to combine my love of traveling with my kids with ideas for when we were hanging out closer to home, too.

Meagan: What are the biggest differences between being out and about with kids and without kids?

Toni:  Well, obviously being out and about without your kids is easier, and you can be more spontaneous. It’s often a lot more quiet, too.

But taking kids along enriches the life of your whole family, not just your kids. It forges bonds that can last a lifetime. Of course, there’s way more planning involved in terms of what stuff to bring, how many hotel rooms, airplane seats, or campsites you need to reserve, how much time to allot for nursing, potty breaks, and nap times, etc.

This isn’t to say you can’t also be spontaneous with your kids, but I think that having the logistical stuff in place ahead of time leaves room for spending more time playing in a public fountain outside of a museum or taking a second ride on the El around Chicago’s Loop (my kids’ favorite part about visiting The Windy City).

Meagan: What advice would you offer parents who are just starting to venture out with children in tow?

Toni: Lower your expectations. Everything from day trips to epic dream vacations will require more planning than you’re probably used to. And there are so many factors that can derail a really “planny” outing, from fevers that come out of nowhere to someone losing a shoe to tantrums. So along with your expectations, hopes and dreams for any excursion, pack a hefty dose of “go with the flow.”

Meagan: Do you have any must-have tricks or tools for making outings with your family easier?

Toni:  Hang on to your stroller for as long as humanly possible. You can stow a camera bag, diaper bag, purse, and souvenirs in the bin beneath them, and they’re great for longer outings when even bigger toddlers might still need a nap.

Bring snacks and water. I love chewy granola bars; they pack well and kids love them. Never underestimate the power of a low blood sugar crabfest.

I try to prepare kids for what’s coming up, and head off some of the complaining that comes up by appealing to their competitive nature: how many birds can you spot on the trail?

I also let the kids lead the way sometimes; it empowers them and often leads to hands-on learning experiences you might not have considered.

Meagan: To a lot of people, the word “adventure” conjures up something big: Disney World, Europe, etc. To you, what qualifies as an adventure?

Toni:  I think a parent’s enthusiasm can make anything seem like an adventure, though of course doing something outside of the kids’ comfort zones certainly helps.

With a two-year-old, an adventure can be digging a hole in the garden. One of my kids’ favorite mini adventures is walking with me around the block at night with flashlights or headlamps from our camping gear.

Trying anything new can be an adventure, and I really believe that life itself is an adventure. Raising our kids to feel the same way just might encourage them to see new experiences in that light rather than shying away from the unknown or falling apart when the unexpected happens.

Meagan: I think a lot of people are intimidated just leaving the house with little kids to go to the grocery store, let alone going on a day trip or vacation. What would you say to encourage them?

Toni:  Put your family and your kids first, because we all have a place in this world. As long as you’re working hard to socialize your young children, don’t sweat the occasional dirty look when your toddler happens to let out a happy squeal when they see something they like.  This is huge: let your kids get dirty. Bring extra wet wipes if you have to; that tactile exploration is so vital for them. Know your kids’ energy and highs and lows. Maybe visiting that art museum before their nap isn’t the best call, or perhaps walking to the farmer’s market right after breakfast is the ideal time of day. Most of all: plan to have fun, even if it doesn’t happen in exactly the way you’d planned on.

Read more about family adventures at home and away at Bring The Family.

white house

Translating the President’s Education Speech

Dawn Papandrea | 
22 September, 2009 | 

Whatever your political beliefs, and whether or not you think a presidential speech should be broadcast live in a classroom, the central message in President Obama’s speech to the nation’s students is worth repeating to your children. If you choose to do so in your own words, that’ll work just as well. The point is we all want our kids to do well as students, feel proud of their accomplishments, and learn that hard work has real value.

Here’s what I took away from the speech, and how I plan on conveying it to my 5-year-old in terms he’ll understand.

“No matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an
education to do it.”
You know how you say you want to be a doctor when you grow up? Well, doctors are really, really smart because they tried hard and paid attention in school. So make sure you listen to your teacher.

“But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you
come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no
excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude… That’s no excuse
for not trying.”
Sometimes you might have a bad or sad day, or might wish you had something another kid has, but you’ll feel better if you think about things that make you happy.

“Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. Some things can be tough to figure out or might be harder for you than it is for other kids, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get.” Every kid is good at different things because everyone is special in their own way. You’re great at doing puzzles, but have a hard time riding a bike. Just remember to do your best, keep trying, and you’ll make everyone proud.

“Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.” Mommy and Daddy are always here to help you learn and do your homework, and explain things you don’t understand. And even though we sometimes tell you to stop asking so many questions (like “are we there yet?”) because you’re the most curious kid in the world, keep right on asking.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us to keep our children motivated and help them develop a love of learning. And if hearing the President tout the merits of education or imparting your own message of encouragement will help accomplish that, I say go for it. It certainly can’t hurt!

What did you think of President Obama’s speech? And did your kids watch it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

-Dawn Papandrea

Snacks for Preschool

Sarah Caron | 
21 September, 2009 | 

When my son began preschool last year, I was a wreck over what to send for his “healthy snack.” You’d think that as a food writer, I would just have a cache of tricks up my sleeve — but I don’t. I worried constantly — was the snack I was sending substantial enough? Healthy enough? Would he be able to eat it neatly?

I drove myself a little crazy at first … and then I fell into a pattern: little cups of applesauce with a plastic spoon (I learned quickly that silverware was a mistake — then a spoon didn’t make it home), baggies of popcorn or goldfish, and juiceboxes.

It was boring, but it worked. However this year, I am determined to do better and am already off to a great start. In the past few weeks, I have discovered that Will happens to love hummus and carrots – SCORE! This has openned up a whole new world of potential snacks.

Here are a few ideas I have cooked up for this year:

  • caramel with apple dippers — be sure to sprinkle the apples with lemon juice to prevent them from browning
  • veggies with ranch dressing — fresh green beans, grape tomatoes, sliced peppers and cucumbers are all fun to dip
  • roasted broccoli with cheese sauce — when you roast up broccoli for dinner, do a little extra and then send it for a snack with a few teaspoons of cheese sauce. Mmmm!
  • fruit and dip — a fabulous fruit dip can be made from equal parts marshmallow fluff and yogurt with a splash of vanilla
  • mini caprese — my son love caprese salad and with tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, sliced grape tomatoes and a smattering of basil — all dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, it’s perfect for a quick snack
  • mini greek — like the mini caprese, create a Greek salad in minute with crumbled feta, bite size bits of cucumber, tomatoes and olives and a hint of dressing. Skip the lettuce though, since that will wilt.

Sneaky Chef Prepares Back-to-School Recipes

Mott's | 
18 September, 2009 | 

Missy Chase Lapine, aka the Sneaky Chef, provided her favorite back-to-school simple recipes featuring Mott’s applesauce and juice. Mott’s products are Missy’s super sneaky ingredient because they’re an easy way to get kids servings of real fruit. Check out the video!

Visit Mott’s on Facebook and Twitter!

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What to Do This Fall

Meagan Francis | 
16 September, 2009 | 

Autumn is my favorite time of year to take afternoon outings with my kids. The weather cools down but the sun still shines, the leaves change color, and in the rural Midwestern region where we live, it’s harvest time—and that means lots to do, see, and taste.

Here are a few ideas for places to take kids in the early fall:

Corn Mazes. Popularized in the late 90s, these are still a staple of rural Midwestern life and guarantee a fun way to burn off some energy and spend a pleasant fall afternoon. The mazes offer experiences from spooky to goofy: some are geared toward older kids and adults, while others are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. Check for a searchable database of corn mazes across the country.

Fruit Picking. Even little kids can reach, grasp, and pull an apple off a dwarf tree—a staple at many orchards. Check to find a U-pick farm near you.

Hay Rides Many orchards, farms and pumpkin patches offer hay rides, each with their own unique flavor and fun: you might ride behind a pony, a tractor, or even a mule. Check Pumpkin Patches and More to find a farm near you that offers hay rides.

What if you don’t live in a rural area or within an easy distance to farms? Try these cooler-weather city outings:

Walk on the beach. A stroll along the shore can be just as fun in the fall as the summer. Instead of splashing in the water, dig in the sand, skip stones or collect shells.

Go on a leaf hunt. Take your child around the neighborhood and try to see how many different kind of leaves you can find.

Watch the birds fly south. How many flocks of birds do you see heading for warmer climates? Can you identify the birds using a book or the Internet?

What are your favorite things to do with your kids in the fall? Tell us in the comments below!

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