August 13, 2014

Fun Ways to Instill Good Work-Ethic in Kids

As parents, we have so many responsibilities on our shoulders. Not only do we strive to make sure our kids know that we love them, but we are also focused on making sure their needs are met and that they grow into responsible young adults who will be a value to the communities they live in. For me, that last one is one of the biggest.
 
Yes, it is very important that my children know how much I love them and of course I do everything in my power to ensure their basic needs are met and that they are protected. However, I believe that it isn’t my job to give them everything they want. There is a difference between wants and needs. And in order to make sure my children grow to be respectable, hard-working, responsible young adults, I have to make sure that I don’t just hand them everything to their heart’s desire. That is a sure-fire way to raise a spoiled, arrogant child who will grow into an arrogant young adult who expects the finer things in life without having to work for them.
I know that the majority of adults feel like the younger generation is the “entitled” generation. Meaning it’s full of kids who feel like they deserve the finer things just because. The issue is that parents today seem to think kids just naturally grow into responsible young adults with good work-ethic and they don’t. Having a strong work-ethic and the drive to achieve goals are both learned behaviors. It’s not something kids are naturally born with.
I believe that parents need to start working to instill these traits when their children are little. However, when working with young children, parents have to look for ways to make it fun. Below are a few fun ways to instill good work-ethic and responsibility into children.
 
      W4-H when children turn eight, they can get involved in their local 4-H program. This program is designed to focus on Science, Health and Citizenship and teaches children what it means to set goals, work hard to achieve them and how to become a value to their community. Hard work, responsibility and respect are just a few of the values children learn through the 4-H program. To learn more about this amazing (and fun) program, click here
 
      One Lemonade Stands, Chores, Etc. - one of the easiest things to do is to give in to the constant, “Mommy/Daddy, can I have this?” when you go to the store. It’s not like we don’t have the money and we know it’s something that they would enjoy. However, when kids don’t have to work for anything, they don’t have a respect for the things we do give them. In other words, our children will value the items they work and save for more than those that are given to them.
 
Therefore, find ways to help your children earn money for the things they want. For example, when your child says, “Can I have this?” Say, “No, but you can earn it.” Then help them earn the money. Working for money doesn’t have to be boring either… it can be fun. Young children often enjoy working lemonade stands and baking goods to sell. They also like to go through their toys and select the items they don’t want to sell in a garage sale. Additionally, chores like taking out the trash, cleaning out the flower beds and vacuuming the floor can be fun when they know they will be receiving money for them when they’re done.
 
      Animals - One of the best ways children can learn responsibility is by helping take care of the family pet. For instance, our oldest son knows his job is to get up and let our dog outside to go potty. He also helps with the food and water for her.
As a country girl, I grew up around animals and when I was old enough to participate in our local 4-H program, my parents bought me a pair of show pigs. While my parents helped me work and train them, I was responsible for feeding and watering them every morning. As I got older, I started clipping them for the shows. I can’t tell you how much responsibility I learned during these years. The experience was honestly priceless. While my first two show pigs were provided by my parents, all of my show animals after were paid for by the proceeds I made from the proceeds made off the previous year’s show animals. In addition to the hands-on responsibility learned from taking care of the animals themselves, I also learned how to keep a track of a check register, how to write checks, what it meant to monitor the food for the animals (if I ran out of food for the animals it was my fault) and so much more. Therefore, if your children show any interest in animals, strongly consider getting them involved in 4-H and the animal science projects they have.
 
      Not Hobbies - Not every child is interested in sports and there are some that have zero interest in animals and that’s okay because everyone has an interest in something. Maybe your child has an interest in hunting, fishing or guns? Get them involved in boy scouts or maybe help them find a group of kids with the same interests. Shooting competitions are getting pretty popular and there are a lot of youth gun clubs where the kids can work to improve their shooting skills through healthy competition.
 
Of course, there are other hobbies out there than those listed above. Horseback riding, building model airplanes/cars/trains, etc., art and design, sewing and the list goes on. Every one of these hobbies provide opportunities for parents to teach their children about hard work and responsibility in a fun way. Therefore, look for those opportunities and take advantage of them!
What is your take on teaching children about responsibility and work-ethic? Do you have any additional suggestions for how to instill these values in children, while still having fun? 

August 12, 2014

Easy & Healthy Meal Ideas for the Entire Family

While I absolutely love my life and enjoy being a wife and mother, I will openly admit that the job can be stressful and that I get a little overwhelmed from time to time. This generally happens right around summertime when our schedules begin to fill up more quickly. It just doesn’t seem like there is enough time in the day to get it all done.
 
Like many people, I’m often tempted to swing through a drive-thru somewhere and get dinner for everyone to save time. While there is nothing wrong with doing this occasionally, if we aren’t careful “occasionally” turns into two or three times a week. Not only is that expensive but it’s definitely not healthy for your family to eat that much take-out on a weekly basis.
However, I get that preparing healthy meals for the family takes up even more time in your already tight schedule. In addition, dishes are dirtied in the process and I imagine you are like me and hate having to leave dirty dishes in the sink because I didn’t have enough time to clean them up before running out the door again. While this may seem discouraging, it doesn’t have to be. Below are a few quick and easy healthy meal ideas to ensure your family eats a meal that’s good for them and that you still have plenty of time to prepare and clean up before heading out the door again.
      Baked Tilapia – We all know that the recommended intake of fish is three times a week due to the Omega-3’s and other important nutrients found in fish. I try to hit the three time a week rule, but fish can get pretty boring if you don’t learn how to cook it a few different ways. My favorite, as well as, all three of the guys living with me now (ages, 31, 6 and 1), is baked tilapia. All you have to do is melt some butter, brush both sides of the fish with the butter, season (both sides) to your taste and bake for 10-15 minutes at 375° Fahrenheit. For the veggies, simple steam a bag of frozen vegetables (they make those microwaveable now…super easy!) and you are ready to go!
 
Spaghetti – This is another great healthy dinner choice that’s easy to make. To make it healthier use 100% whole wheat spaghetti and the more expensive spaghetti sauces. Choose a sauce with only three or four ingredients – the more natural, the better! To make it a quick dinner with little clean up, prepare everything the night before except the pasta.  Aside from the noodles, everything can be reheated an still taste wonderful. It’s a fast, healthy recipe that everyone in my family loves!
 
Rotisserie Chicken Wraps – This is another favorite at my house that is pretty much a staple in the fridge in case we need a healthy meal on the run! All you have to do is buy a rotisserie chicken when you’re at the grocery store, take it home and shred it (do not save the skin) and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it (within a few days, hopefully). Make sure you have 100% wheat tortillas, honey mustard and some pepperjack cheese on hand (and whatever else the family will like) and ready to get out. I simply spread a little honey mustard on the tortilla, topping that with 2.5-3.0 ounces of shredded chicken and then ¼ cup of Pepper Jack cheese on top. Microwave for about 30 seconds and you’ve got a fast, easy and healthy meal ready to be eaten.

As a mom, we are under a lot of pressure from our spouses, kids and other outside influences to keep up with everything. The last thing we should have to worry about is whether or not we have enough time to feed our families a nutritious dinner. Hopefully the meal suggestions above have given you some ideas for how you can achieve it all!

Do you have any favorite meals that are both easy to prepare and nutritious that you would like to share with us? Please do! 

August 10, 2014

Wedding Travel on a Budget

The summer is almost here and for a lot of us that means that a wedding is about to take place. While we all love attending weddings, the out-of-town weddings can be a bit burdensome, especially for those who are trying to save money. Even if you aren’t actually in the wedding, traveling to attend one isn’t necessarily cheap. However, there are some things that you can do to help minimize the cost and ensure that the wedding is an enjoyable experience.
      Book Lodging Online. We all know that one of the most expensive parts of traveling is paying for lodging. I can remember when $60 would get a nice hotel room. Now, it seems like a decent room costs at least $150 per night, unless you know where to shop for your hotel room. My favorite place to book hotel rooms is on Priceline, but there are other sites like Travelocity and Expedia that are pretty similar. Basically, these sites help hotels fill rooms. They do this by offering “customers” rooms for a fraction of the price they would get by booking at the hotel…or their website. The cool think about Priceline is that you can enter in the amount of money you’re willing to pay for a room and possibly get one for that price. On several occasions I have booked a room at a 5 start hotel for $65! It’s worth it if you’re looking to save a little money while attending an out-of-town wedding.
 
      Leave the Kids at Home. If it is at all possible, leave the kids at home when you head out of town for a wedding. First of all, most children couldn’t care less about the couple in love and tying the knot and will therefore only be bored during the trip. In addition to that, kids are expensive. Some hotels charge extra for more than 2 guests in a room and there is the fact that the kids also have to eat, just like you. So, instead of spending $20 for meals, when you have the kids, you could easily spend $40+ per meal. So, if you are fortunate to have family living nearby who wouldn’t mind watching the kiddos, take advantage of them!
 
Car Pool. I know, this one sounds a little lame, but if you are able to find someone to take the kids for a day or two while you’re at this wedding, then consider car pooling with another (kidless) couple on the way to the same wedding. By agreeing to split the gasoline acquired during the duration of the trip, you could actually end up saving yourself anywhere from $60-$200, depending on how far of a drive the wedding is.
 
So, there are a few ways that you can save money when you head out of town for a wedding or any other big event. Do you have any additional suggestions? Please share!

August 8, 2014

Organizational Tools Every Family Needs

When my husband and I first got married ten years ago life was much simpler. We didn’t have to worry about keeping things organized because it was just us. There just wasn’t as much on our plate and our life together was really, pretty simple. Fast forward about five years after our first son started walking…things got pretty hectic and unorganized in a hurry.
I’m going to be honest with you guys, I am not a naturally organized person. It’s not that I lose things or forget to pay the bills or anything like that. No, my struggles are things like keeping the house nice and orderly, getting dinner on the table on time, washing/folding/putting away the laundry, etc. And, now that I’ve got two kiddos (ages 6 and 1 ½), it’s very important that I get this organization thing mastered before life gets any crazier.
 
Since I know that I am not the only mother out there who feels like she’s struggling to stay on top of things, I’m going to share with you some of the organizational tools that have helped me, and my family, keep it together.
Mail Bin: Every day when the mail arrives, I immediately tear up the junk mail and take the important stuff to our mail bin (it’s actually a little plastic desk organizer). The bills get separated and put with the “books” (our account ledger) so that they get paid on time and the stays in the bin. Once my husband gets home, he goes through the mail in the bin and sorts through it. This mail bin has really helped us out a lot. We used to have a terrible time keeping our mail organized. Some days it would get tossed on the desk in the office, other days it would be left on the bar in the kitchen and sometimes it even got carried into our bedroom. The mail bin has simplified this problem and works quite wonderfully for us!
 
Filing Cabinet: If you do not have a filing cabinet, it’s time you break down and buy one. You can find affordable ones in any office supply store (think Staples). My parents actually gave us a small metal one when they upgraded theirs to a wooden filing cabinet. This cabinet has had a HUGE impact on our stress level. We have a file for practically everything (credit cards, car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, the dog’s registration papers/vet papers, medical statements, utility bills, and the list goes on. For those important documents like your marriage license, social security cards, hospital birth certificates, etc…get a fireproof safe – they make those for files too.

Large Dry-Erase Calendar: In my office I have a large dry-erase calendar that I wipe clean at the end of every month and begin filling in for the new month. I fill in all the “to-dos” for that month with their corresponding dates. Dental appointments, t-ball games, lunch dates with friends, etc. I have started color coding my appointments, giving each member of the family a different color so I can look at the calendar and instantly know who has something going on for that particular day. My board also has a “notes” section, so it makes it easy for my husband or whoever to leave a note for me to see.
 
So, those are my top three organization tools that have had major impacts on my family’s organization lately. What are some of your  favorite organizational tips and/or tricks for unorganized families?

August 7, 2014

Attending Summer Activities with Toddlers

I’m not sure about how things are going for you and your household, but the activities at our house are definitely starting to pick up now that the weather is getting warmer and summer isn’t too far away. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, my oldest son started t-ball practice! Where is the time going?
 
We did t-ball last year, but this year it is going to be just a little different for our family. The big difference is that our youngest is now a toddler whereas last year he wasn’t fully mobile. He was perfectly happy sitting on a blanket or on our lap for the duration of the practices and games. This is definitely not going to be the case this year.

After a couple of weeks of practices, I’ve finally figured out a few tricks for how to survive these events with a toddler in tow. I’m sure as we work our way throughout the summer, I will acquire a few more tips for my “tool bag,” but these are what I have so far. If you have toddler that you will be toting around for your older kids’ activities this summer, feel free to give a few of these a try!

Bring a variety of snacks. Toddlers burn a lot of energy, especially once they really start getting around good. While it can be a little tiring digging for the snacks, when you are at summer activities, these snacks serve two purposes: 1) they re-energize the kiddos and, 2) they take up time. Getting toddlers to slow down is definitely a game and providing them with a variety of snacks is a good way to do it. This is especially true when you pull them out at different times throughout the event.
Go for a walk. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to get a toddler to sit still, nothing works. This is when I take the little one for a walk. If we are at t-ball practice, we walk around the edges of the field where I can still see what’s going on and how big brother is doing, yet little brother has enough space to explore. When the little guy gets irritable and he’s fed up with sitting still, a change of scenery usually does the trick.
Bring “special” toys. Recently, I went to the Family Dollar store in search of some small, inexpensive toys that would hold my toddler’s interest when attending his brother’s summer activities. These toys are our “special” toys, meaning that they stay in a box in the back of my SUV and only get to be played with at his bubba’s activities. This keeps the toys interesting and easily helps me keep him distracted for about 15-20 minutes.

Do you have, or have you had, a toddler that you’ve had to take to an older sibling’s activities? Do you have any additional tips for surviving these events with a toddler? If so, please share!

August 6, 2014

Help NICU Babies with Your Wedding Dress

In just a couple of months, my husband and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been ten years as I can still recall our wedding day perfectly. Aside from the pictures and our personal memories from that day, the only thing we have left from our wedding is my wedding dress. 

While I love my wedding dress, I have been ready to part with it for a while. Originally, I was saving it in case we had a daughter and she wanted to use it for her wedding. However, after having our two boys, my husband and I have decided that our family is complete so there is really no need for me to continue saving the dress.

I’m not really a sentimental person and don’t see a need to continue to store it, especially since we have an assortment of wedding pictures to look back at. At one point I tried to sell it. There wasn’t any interest then, so I’ve just been holding on to it..

Perhaps, you or someone you know is in the same situation. While they love their wedding dress, they don’t want to continue storing it any longer when it could be used elsewhere? While I have been at a loss for ideas of what to do with my dress for a couple years now, the other night I was on Facebook and saw an article about the NICU Helping Hands organization.

This organization was started to create a support system for families who are going through pain of having a newborn hospitalized in the NICU. Here families can find the support and educational tools they need to help them through this difficult time.

While the technology today is amazing and many babies in the NICU do grow strong enough to go home and live a long life, there are still those who don’t ever get to go home with their loving families. It’s these babies and their families that you can I can help with our wedding gowns.

In the past, the babies that passed away in the NICU were wrapped in a thin hospital blanket before being given to their families for burial. What the volunteers behind NICU Helping Hands are doing now is taking donated wedding dresses and turning them into beautiful “angel gowns” for these precious babies to wear for their final photos and burial services. By the way, the angel gowns are given to the families free of charge.

I cannot imagine the pain (and hope that I never have to) that comes with losing a child, and while I know nothing can take away this pain, I feel like this is a way for me to help. NICU Helping Hands has stated that they can make up to a dozen angel gowns out of one dress and they will send keepsake pieces back to the owner of the donated wedding dress, if desired. Additionally, they will also send a receipt for the donation back to the owner so you can deduct the donation on your taxes as well.

If you are like me and think that this sounds like a great thing to do with your wedding dress, you can find all the information you need regarding the donation process here.