Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

Putting Marriage at the Top of Your Holiday List

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Put Your Marriage at the Top of Your Holiday List

Last weekend I went out of town for a business trip. It was a good trip but an exhausting one, and by the time I pulled into my driveway I was ready to drop. After we got the girls in bed, my husband asked, “Do you want to watch a show or are you going to bed now?”

[He was being considerate, but I’m pretty sure he was also crossing his fingers that I’d vote for one more episode of Friday Night Lights, our most recent binge-watch series.]

I dropped down on the couch and he queued up our show. But then I remembered something I wanted to tell him. He paused the TV and gave me his attention. One topic turned into two turned into rabbit trails and problem solving and venting and story sharing. Four hours later as he turned out the light and said, again, “You’ve got to get some sleep!” I realized we hadn’t talked that long in . . . well, I couldn’t remember when.

My husband works nights and an extra-long shift, to boot. I work from home, and we have two children. Throw church, school and other extra activities into the mix and you’ve got two ships that would be thrilled to pass in the night just once this week. I bet some of you have your own version of this too-busy, over-scheduled life that makes couple time complicated at best and impossible at worst.

That’s why we need to put our marriages at the top of our holiday lists.

Life is busy in all seasons, but the holidays can turn that craziness up to 11. Whether you call it a bucket list or a to-do list or a countdown to Christmas or end of year chaos, it’s likely you have some sort of plan and at least a few goals for the last two months of the year. I do. Even though I’m trying to preserve my sanity and my budget by keeping plans simple this year, I still have new recipes to try, thankful trees to draw and fill up, gifts to buy (and wrap), family photos to schedule and take, cards to address and mail, schedules to coordinate and parties to attend.

Winter Evening

If I’m not careful, Mark and I won’t have another chunk of time together (outside marathons of the aforementioned TV show) until 2015. And that thought makes me feel as grumpy as a pre-ghost Scrooge.

To keep that from happening, I’ve thought up a few ways to keep my marriage at the top of my mind – and my holiday list. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Revive a pre-children tradition. The first Christmas Mark and I were married, we baked and decorated dozens of Christmas cookies. We had the best time – and I’m pretty sure we haven’t done it since! What’s something you used to do together to celebrate, perhaps during your dating days or before the kids were born? Whether it was picking a live tree or watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special or something completely different, try putting that old tradition back into the rotation this year.
  • Schedule a holiday date night. Both my husband and I have December birthdays, so we’re even more motivated to make time for a night out around the holidays. But even if your birthdays are months away, it’s still worth it to find a babysitter and get tickets or make reservations for a special, holiday date. (Maybe this year will be the one we splurge on tickets to finally see Trans-Siberian Orchestra!)
  • Plan an adults-only holiday party. This one is a little trickier, but you don’t have to coordinate an elaborate, fancy party. (Although you CAN…if you want!) But maybe you invite friends over for an afternoon open house with cookies and cocoa. Or what about chipping in for a babysitter for all the kids in your group of friends, so the grown-ups can have a Postage and Poker party (where your reward for addressing and stamping all those holiday cards is a fun game night with friends)? Really, though, you don’t have to get creative at all. Simply putting the kids to bed early, inviting friends over and ordering pizza to forget about the holiday stress for a couple hours will do the trick!
  • Have your own thanksgiving dinner. You don’t even have to roast a turkey for this dinner. Just make time to sit down for one meal together, where you tell each other what you’re thankful for. (Remember, gratitude is the one surefire way to improve your marriage!)
  • Team up for those other holiday to-dos. While it might seem more efficient to tear your to-do list or shopping list in half and attack those pesky line items separately, it might be more fun to do a few of those things together. Shop for your kids together, put up those lights together, even buy the holiday dinner groceries together. It might take a bit longer, but that time invested is worth it.
  • Exchange gifts before the kids get up (or after they go to bed). I don’t know how it is at your house, but Christmas morning at mine is all about the children. If you and your husband exchange gifts, don’t let it get swept away in the chaos of giggles and wrapping paper fights. Stay up a few minutes late or (if you’re morning people) get up early and trade presents alone. That way the tie you put into finding something special for your someone special can be truly appreciated and enjoyed.
  • Let the kids sit out on one of those family photos. If you’re having a new family photo taken for your holiday cards (or grandparents gifts!), make sure you get one of just you and your husband. Even if it doesn’t make the card this year, a shot of the two of you can still make it into a frame or your wallet or a canvas for the wall. (Valentine’s Day gift – check!)

How do you focus on your marriage during the holidays?

{Photos by Will Folsom andiRuben.}

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Review & GIVEAWAY: Empowered SAFETY Membership

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

*This post is sponsored by the Empowered SAFETY. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

When my children were small, I was absolutely obsessed with tracking recall information. Let’s face it; the sheer amount of equipment needed to keep your baby safe in that first year is astounding.  Back then I subscribed to Parents Magazine and would skim the magazine for the latest recall information. Over the course of those first few years as a mom, there were many recalls, but I was so busy and so tired that I struggled to stay on top of that and keep up with it all.  Thankfully, there are faster and easier ways to stay on top of recalls now.

This week I am partnering with a fantastic site called Empowered SAFETY to share with you all of the great advantages of a membership & how it can help you keep track of legitimate complaints & recalls when it comes to items you use in your home and the food you consume. We are giving everyone one free month to try this service and giving one lucky reader a six month subscription.

  How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

What Does Empowered SAFETY Offer?

Did you know that there can be hundreds of complaints made to government agencies about child-specific products before a recall is actually issued?  Instead of waiting for the recall to occur, a subscription to Empowered SAFETY can alert you of the complaints prior to the recall even is issued.

With a premium membership you can simply match the products in your home with the half-million child products in Empowered SAFETY’s database, and you will receive an email notification on that product should complaints be made against it. It is as easy as that!

How to Keep Your Family Safe by Monitoring Product Safety Recalls from MomAdvice.com.

We aren’t just talking car seats and baby equipment though; the service also offers valuable information about food safety which, as we know, can be potentially life-threatening to a child with food allergies. You can receive the food recalls in the area where you live so you can stay on top of potential allergens and safety hazards in your home.

How Can This Help You When Making Purchases?

When I make purchases for my family, I spend hours online trying to decide which item will be the best for us based on the reviews of other shoppers. I hate wasting my money or time on purchase that don’t have longevity in our home. When it comes to purchases that keep our family safe, I really want to know that the items that I am choosing will do their job well and that I won’t find myself needing to replace them later.

Empowered SAFETY can let you know if the product you are thinking of purchasing has had any complaints on it, allowing you to be a more empowered consumer and saving you valuable time.

What Do They Monitor For You?

Complaints can come in many different ways and Empowered SAFETY monitors all the different sources so you don’t have to. Not only do they monitor actual consumer complaints, and product and food recalls and warnings to government agencies, they also follow news reports, legal filings, press releases, blog postings, federal & state agency websites for outbreaks & health alerts, as well as member-reported product issues.

As a busy mom, I certainly don’t have time to monitor all of that so a membership like this can save your family a lot of time, hassle, and unnecessary clutter from items that are potentially unsafe and won’t have longevity in your home.

Everyone is a Winner

Today I am giving EVERY reader a free 28-day promo code to try the Empowered SAFETY site. Just enter code the code ES28DAY93  (Expires 11/30/14) upon sign-up on Empowered SAFETY.

Follow the instructions below in our Rafflecopter widget to enter to win a FREE six-month premium membership to Empowered SAFETY.  Good luck, everyone!

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*This post is sponsored by the Empowered SAFETY. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Do You Really Need That Degree? College Loans, Options, and Savings

Monday, October 27th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

College debt has reached an all-time high in the United States. Collectively, we owe over a trillion dollars in student loan debt. Yes, trillion with a capital T. It’s actually over $1,200,000,000,000. Ouch.

Is that degree really worth it

Student loan debt is unlike most other debts though in that it is nearly impossible to get rid of, known as forgiveness or discharge. This means even if you fall on hard times, lose a job, or your life circumstances change drastically it’s extremely uncommon to have that debt wiped away – you’re pretty much stuck with it. For some adults this means they will be carrying debt from choices made in their teens and twenties well into their middle age and often they’ll still be paying off those debts while paying for their children’s education.

When considering our finances it’s important to look at the impact student loan debt has since many readers are impacted by college debt. It’s likely you still owe for your college education if you have one (and often even if you don’t have a degree!). Others may be considering college costs for their children whether they’re toddlers or getting ready to head to college. Finally, there are many adults who go back to school when they change professions or need additional education to improve their earning power.

Since there are a lot of scenarios to cover here I’ll break them down, and you can head to the subsection that applies to you.

Already in Student Loan Debt

You already have a degree and the debt to prove it. While you may owe anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands the advice to not get into debt doesn’t apply. You need solutions and advice on getting out of student loan debt.

Consolidate

If you have multiple loans look into consolidation. You can consolidate loans with your spouse as well. This may allow you to get a lower interest rate or lower monthly payment, but it also makes it easier to manage than several loans.

Pay More than the Minimum

While it’s common sense, paying more than the minimum means you will pay it off sooner. Some ways you can ‘find’ more than the minimum in your budget include: slashing expenses (like dropping cable or getting a cheaper cell phone plan) or adding any pay raises to your loan payment.

Work a Side Gig or Second Job

Need to earn extra money to meet your loan payments or increase your payments to pay it off quicker? Get a side gig or work a second job to earn extra money to put towards your college loans.

Investigate Options

If you’re really struggling financially like having no job call your student loan company before you skip a payment. They may be able to hold or defer payments or offer some other options to help keep you from defaulting on your loans.

Getting Ready or Going to College

If you or someone in your family is headed to school or back to school for a degree it’s the perfect time to consider all the options.

Do you Really Need That Degree?

While a college degree is still statistically going to increase your earning ability over time it’s not always a necessity in every profession. Some professions simply don’t require a degree, and many trades are desperately seeking qualified and well-trained individuals.

Additionally, the job market has changed drastically to allow small businesses with little overhead to thrive. In an age of consulting, freelancing, and startups a degree is nice-but it’s not exactly a requirement. Depending on your skillset you may not have the need for a traditional college diploma.

Check Pay Rates and Rental/Home Prices

Whether you’re going back to school or headed to college for the first time you need to consider the cost versus the income you will earn in the future. While we all know there are no guarantees of future income checking pay rates in your area and investigating the cost of housing will help you get a general idea of what you’ll have to spend on student loan repayment.

For instance, it doesn’t financially make sense to spend $150,000 on a degree if the average entry-level earnings are $35,000 per year and average rentals cost $750/month.

The math would show you it would take an awfully long time to pay back your loans, and in the end it’s unlikely to be worth the added stress and costs when you could get a solid education and degree for 1/4 that cost.

Exhaust Scholarship and Grant Options

Grants and scholarships are plentiful, but it takes some hunting and some time to getting the most money you can for school. If you dedicate the time upfront though you could end up saving thousands of dollars. There are scholarships and grants that are high value and competitive, and there are smaller scholarships and grants that are for less money and more obscure.

Consider Starting Small

Instead of diving into a 4 year college with big expenses consider a local, smaller school to get your initial credits out of the way. You could even consider an online education if you’re an adult or need to work full-time to fund your education.

Saving for Future College Costs

Saving for your children or family members who you hope to help go to college is a great gift, but you have to consider all the options before you start saving.

It’s vital to be sure you aren’t locking up money that is needed for an emergency fund or for retirement first and foremost.

However, if you have a healthy emergency fund and are (mostly) on track with retirement savings here are come options to consider:

529 Plans

529s are a great option since they offer no taxes when withdrawn for qualified education expenses like tuition. Many states also have no tax on withdraws.

There are two types:

  • Pre-paid plans: You pay for college costs at today’s rates even if costs go up when your student goes to school.
  • Saving plans: Savings plans are based on the stock market with a mix of investments that get more conservative as your child nears college age.

The downside: Funds that aren’t used for college are taxed fully and a 10% penalty is tacked on. While it’s hard to tell when they’re infants, it’s not exactly ideal if Junior decides not to go to school or ends up with a full scholarship.

Roth IRAs

Roth IRAs are a retirement savings vehicle, but they also offer the option of withdraw for college expenses. This can offer the best of both options for families who need to get the most out of their long-term savings.

With a Roth IRA you can use funds for educational expenses OR retirement meaning if your child doesn’t need all the funds you can continue to grow them for retirement without paying penalties.

The downside: Current Roth IRA limits mean you can only save $5,500 each year or $6,500 if you’re over 50 in these accounts.

Note on investing for college: You can encourage family members to add to your little tyke’s college fund (for instance in lieu of gifts for the holidays or birthday presents). For instance grandparents can gift funds to each child, currently you can give $14,000 per year without penalties. 

When Should You NOT Save?

If you’re in debt or struggling financially saving for college shouldn’t even be a consideration. High interest debt (i.e., not your mortgage or your own student loans!) should be tackled before you consider saving for college. If you’re paying 14.99% on your credit cards the math is against you saving for college costs…for now.

Parents often make the mistake of saving for college funds over retirement thinking they have less time to ‘catchup’ on college education costs, but if they aren’t maxing out their retirement savings they could be in major trouble later in life.

While it is a great goal to make sure your children enter adulthood debt-free it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own savings and financial stability-that will impact your children now.

What it comes down to is this–take care and consider all your options whether you’re paying off college costs or saving for your children’s future.

What are your thoughts on student loan debt and college savings? Do you still owe for your education or are you worried about financing your children’s education?

 

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5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

Monday, October 13th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

My six-year-old will turn seven in just a few weeks, which for our family means a party. My mom told me yesterday that Annalyn had reminded her of pending celebration and said, “I need to get busy and make some lists!”

Hello, apple. I’m your tree.

It’s true that my daughter gets her penchant for list-making and party planning from me. Some of that may come along with her curly hair and short legs, but most of it is likely a learned behavior. The fact is that I love planning events, and as my daughter has grown, I’ve shared that love with her.

When I planned her first few birthday parties, I handled every little detail – just like I have for every other event I’ve planned. From theme to food to decorations, I took care of all of it. But when I began dreaming of her fourth birthday party – a Mickey Mouse themed bash at our houseI decided to let her help.

Since then, my little mini me has jumped on every chance to help me plan a party, from birthdays and holidays to fundraisers and church events. She gets so excited, and it’s been a fun way to share something special. Today I’ve got a few tips for making party planning a family affair at your house – without losing your cool (or ending up with an all-candy buffet and buckets of glitter on your floor).

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids

1. Be prepared for brainstorming.

It can be a lot of fun to dream up ideas for your next party with your kids. But – what’s that phrase? Don’t give the keys to the zoo to the monkeys? (No, no, YOUR kids aren’t monkeys. Just mine.) Seriously, though. Unless you are truly 100% okay with your party taking any shape your kids can imagine, I’d recommend having a framework in mind before sitting down to brainstorm with your children.

Anyone can get overwhelmed or out of control when faced with too many options – and that rings even more true with children. I’ve learned the hard way to do my Pinterest surfing in advance, to narrow down the options and filter out the crazy (too expensive, too difficult, not age appropriate, etc.) ideas before bringing Annalyn into the mix. Now, I talk with her about ideas for a theme (if it’s her birthday party), then create a Pinterest board for us to look at together.

Not only does this keep her options limited and manageable, it also makes sure we don’t land on less-than-family-friendly pins and pages by accident while searching. (Believe it or not, searching for Minnie Mouse costumes with my four-year-old on my lap taught me that lesson!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

2. Take the guesswork out of your guest list.

Left to her own devices, my daughter would invite every girl she’s ever met to her next birthday party. Telling her she was only allowed to invite seven girls took the wind out of her sails and began a weeks-long deliberation.

Unless your budget is unlimited, you might have to cap the number of invitations you send, too – and I’m learning that elementary school adds a whole new level of complication to this process. When we started talking about this year’s party, I didn’t realize the politics involved – and the life lessons that would come out of these conversations. After all, if you can’t invite every girl you know, choosing who to invite can be hard. Making these decision together has given me the opportunity to discuss friendship and fairness with my daughter – as well as financial responsibility. (Because yes, of COURSE inviting all 22 girls on her first list would be easier!)

3. Ask for input about the agenda.

Much as I like to think I’m hip to what the kids are loving these days, I don’t actually have a clue. So while I think musical chairs and carrot sticks in the backyard is a perfect plan for a sixth birthday party, it turns out my actual six-year-old (hypothetically speaking, of course) might prefer Goldfish and swimming at the community center.

Likewise, when planning a family event or other party that’s not necessarily celebrating your child, he or she might have the creativity you’re looking for. (Playing charades at the family reunion? Serving pizza at the committee meeting? Making a welcome banner for small group or book club? Why not?!)

5 Tips for Party Planning with Kids - Mom Advice

4. Cook up some fun with your menu and decor.

Keeping it simple is the key to every part of planning a party. But when you bring kids into the planning, you might just find your event looks a little more whimsical than you originally imagined. That might mean streamers in every color of the rainbow or balloons covering the floor instead of floating in bunches around the table. It could mean a build your own waffle bar or a pitcher of chocolate milk next to the fancy tea party china. Or it could mean pizza delivered to your door instead of the Pinterest-inspired three-course meal you’d envisioned.

Or, if you aren’t smart enough to curate a Pinterest board before your brainstorming session, it could mean you find yourself making an ocean-themed cake for a mermaid party – despite your annual vows to Never Make a Birthday Cake Again.

5. Put them to work!

When I was a kid, my parents often teased my brother and me by saying the only reason they had kids was to have someone to do chores. Now that I have my own home to manage, I’m not sure there wasn’t a bit of truth to that! But even more than lightening my load of work before and after a party (which may or may not happen, depending on the task and her age and ability), working side by side with my daughter as we prep for a party gives us one more opportunity to spend time together and teaches her the skills of cooking, decorating or cleaning. It also helps her understand just how much work goes into a fun afternoon or evening!

Special Offer: If you’d like more tips for planning parties – with or without kids – I’d like to offer a discount for my ebook, Plan a Fabulous Party {without losing your mind}. Just use the code MOMADVICE for 50% off the regular price!

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5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management

Monday, September 15th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management
Teaching kids to manage money can be a challenge, but with a little planning you can share lifelong skills that will help the kids in your life live a richer life.

5 Ways to Teach Kids Money Management

 

1. Give an Allowance

Allowances are useful tools that allow kids to manage their own money on a small scale. There are lots of considerations when giving your child an allowance.

  • Should you give it to them weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly?
  • Will you track via an app or will you give the kids cash?
  • Should you tie it to chores or simply use the allowance as a tool for learning?

What works for you and your children may take some time to sort out. Additionally it will depend on their age what you consider an appropriate amount of money and how often they should receive it. For instance, a 5 year old may only get $1 per week to spend and save, while a 14 year old may need $15 per week for things like school lunches, spending money, and savings.

Manage their expectations by being clear about the rules of how they spend their money. These are a few rules that we use with our kids that you may find helpful:

  • No going into debt with the Bank of Mom & Dad
  • Savings must equal 10% or more
  • Giving must equal 10% or more
  • Mom & Dad have final approval over all purchases

Start your kids on an allowance early (around age 5) and you’ll find plenty of teachable moments as they learn to manage their money.

Read more: Kids and Allowance

2. Make Giving a Priority

Giving back is an important part of our financial life so we pass on this value to our kids by making it clear that giving back is a priority. You can do this through monetary donations, but don’t overlook the value of time as well.

Ideas for Incorporating Giving Back as a Family:

  • Set aside a % of allowance for donations
  • Commit to donating X hours of time each month as a family
  • Participate in community events like Fun Runs to raise funds and awareness for a cause
  • Find small ways to give back such as buying extra school supplies for your children’s teachers or collecting gently used winter gear for kids in your community
  • Give back by donating items you no longer need like giving used books to your local public or your school library

Read more: 5 Ways you Can Teach Your Kids to Give Back.

3. Encourage Mistakes Now

Encourage your kids to have some freedom to make mistakes with their money now so that they learn when they are young how those mistakes can impact their long-term goals.

For instance, if your child decides they “must have” a toy or item that you know won’t be worth the money you can explain it to them, but also allow them room to make their own decision. They will quickly learn how certain toys are marketed to seem much more fun than they really are!

While it’s hard to watch your child make mistakes they will learn from their actions instead words, and those lessons tend to stick with them much longer. It’s better to make a $10 mistake now than it is to make a $10,000 one when they are an adult.

4. Practice what you Preach

Speaking of actions being louder than words-be sure to show your kids a good example as well. While we’ve covered a range of financial topics here in the past it’s the everyday decisions our kids seem to latch onto readily.

By doing things like shopping with a list, avoiding impulse purchases, and sticking to your budget you will be doing more than just saving yourself money-you’ll be teaching your kids to do the same.

5. Involve Kids in Family Money Decisions

While some families may feel the family money is a private matter be sure to be open about how the bills are paid and how family money decisions are made.  For instance, if you’re planning a family vacation you can set up a family money jar and discuss what things the family can cut back on to make the vacation a reality.

As kids get older you can become more open about your finances and teach them the real nuts and bolts of managing credit, debt, and making the tough financial decisions that most of us face.

While your 6 year old may not need to know how much you pay for electricity each month you can explain how much you save if he turns his light off before he leaves for school. The older your child becomes the more you should share with them. For instance perhaps with a 16 year old you may be more apt to discuss car payments, insurance, and maintenance as they learn to drive.

What advice do you have for teaching kids money management skills?

 

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5 Ways to Date Your Husband This Fall

Monday, September 8th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

NIKON D700, AF 50mm f/1.4G f/1.8, 1/400, ISO 200, 50mm

Fall is my favorite season. October, in particular, is my favorite month; it’s the month when I met my husband and when my oldest daughter was born. But I’m pretty partial to the entire leaf-changing, sweater-wearing, pumpkin-craving time of year.

And even though it can also be one of the busiest times of year (leading up to the holidays, which always take the cake as The Very Busiest of All), there’s just something about the combination of blue skies and crisp nights, colorful leaves and spicy breads that makes me want to plan a date or two with my husband.

Unfortunately, my husband’s and my schedules don’t always cooperate with each other – or with our budget. So sometimes date planning takes a little more creativity than checking the local movie times and rifling through my stack of nearly expired restaurant coupons.

I sat down and did a little brainstorming, and today I’m sharing five ways to date your husband this fall.

5 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Fall

1. Revert to childhood.

Take a look at all those fall bucket lists on Pinterest – and pick a few of the activities to save for the grown-ups. Carve some pumpkins together or pick some apples. Drink cider or jump in the leaves after the kids are in bed.

We know several couples who attend a Halloween costume party – in full costume – every single year. Why not? Why not make a fall tradition of being silly together?!

2. Walk down memory lane.

Visit your old campus for an afternoon. Take in a football game if you can! (This would be perfect for us, since I actually met my husband at one of our high school football games!) Go for a drive or a stroll or a hike, and reminisce a bit. (Remember, making – and keeping – memories can help you make the most of your marriage.)

Or pull out those dusty photo albums and recreate the poses and photos from your early days of dating or marriage. (Bonus points if you use a collage of the old and the new pics for your Christmas card!)

Dating in the Fall - 2

3. Try something new.

Cook something new for your dinner in, or check out the farmer’s market or antique shops in the next town over. Go to a play, or watch your favorite band – or maybe one you’ve never heard of! – in concert.

This November, my husband and I are going to a book signing for one of our favorite comedians – something we’ve never done together!

4. Act like a tourist.

When we first moved into our house, I decided to look up every fall festival in the metropolitan area. We never made it to the chili cook-off, but the sidewalk chalk festival was amazing and the Renaissance fair remains one of my favorites today.

Find your city’s visitor center’s website and pick an event or attraction you’ve never seen, and go together!

Dating in the Fall - 3

5. Get prepared and be spontaneous.

Fall can be a hectic season. And sometimes plans don’t work out; kids get sick or someone has to work overtime, and date nights get canceled. So what if we were prepared for those last-minute realizations that we have some free time?

I KNOW. It doesn’t happen often. But when it DOES … grab it! And if you’ve taken time to brainstorm easy dates, grab your “go bag,” too.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about tossing some paper plates and napkins, a bag of chips or trail mix or cookies, some water bottles and a blanket in a basket that you keep in a closet or the trunk of your car. Then when you discover a kid-free afternoon – or even an unscheduled lunch hour, you’re nearly ready for a picnic or a hike.

Next time I find myself with a few extra minutes to talk to my husband (this will happen someday … right?!), I’m going to ask him to brainstorm with me for fun, creative dates. That way, when we find time together that we weren’t expecting, we won’t be restricted to what movies are out and when the next one starts.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always do some early Christmas shopping. Together time and crossing something off your to-do list? Win-win.

How do YOU date your husband in the fall?

{Photos by Sean McGrath, Shaun Anyl and Seth Lemmons}

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One Easy Way to Encourage Your Child’s Imagination

Monday, August 11th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

One Easy Way to Encourage Your Child's Imagination via MomAdvice.com

A couple months ago I posted this on Facebook:

“Annalyn gets so into character when she plays make believe that when she says, in a panic, “Mom! Where’d you put our helium tank?” I actually think, “Hmmm…where DID I put that helium tank?” (Guys, WE DON’T HAVE A HELIUM TANK.)”

Now, believe me when I tell you that I do not take credit for all the amazing characteristics my daughter has. Just like her strong will and curly hair, some things just came with her. And her vivid imagination and flair for the dramatic are two of those things.

[I suppose I could take credit and/or blame for those things, since they certainly came from my gene pool. But it's not like I intentionally passed on those traits anymore than I did my green eyes or seasonal allergies.]

However, I did recognize early on the benefit of encouraging my daughter’s imagination – and one simple trick has helped me more than any other. Ironically, it’s something I can’t do well in any other area of my life, but when it comes to pretend play with my kiddo, I’m all over it.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always the most FUN person. I’m practical and grounded and realistic. I think fast and I’m able to see what will work and what won’t, and I have a low threshold for the ridiculous. This is exactly what led to a lecture from my manager at the advertising agency I worked at following a brainstorming lunch. That’s another story for another time, but let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the best team player during that meeting. (In my defense, though? Their ideas were insane.)

ANYWAY.

My first reaction to silliness is to squash it, but that’s not the kind of mom I want to be to my girls. So as I’ve noticed my oldest daughter’s love of acting and pretend play grow stronger, I’ve worked hard to encourage her (and to be a little more fun). Though I mostly just reminisce about my role as Glinda the Good Witch when remembering my days in high school theater, I also learned a little about improvisational acting back then.

Encourage Imagination: Playing Dress Up via MomAdvice.com

When participating in an improv exercise, you should never deny your fellow actor. This rule is the cornerstone of improv and, while never denying your child wouldn’t exactly be a wise strategy for parenting, going along with my daughter’s pretend play every chance I can has become nearly second nature.

The first rule of improvisational theater (improv) is to say, “Yes, and…” Accepting the premise one actor offers (the “yes”) and then building on it (the “and”) is the best way a scene develops. This Mad Lib-ish strategy can lead to hilarious results – and a lot of fun for your children. For example:

Child:  We’re going to the circus today.
Mom: Great! Do you think we’ll see some elephants there?
Child: Of course we will. I’m the elephant trainer.
Mom: That’s right. That’s why we have elephants living in our back yard.
Child: Yes, and when it rains they sleep in my bed.
Mom: Sure they do – and they always leave peanut shells on your pillow!

See how much fun that is? And, at least at my house, a pretty drastic break from the norm! So even though fun and silly and pretend don’t come to me naturally, I’m learning to take that old theater lesson and put it into practice at home.

That means that these days, when my daughter runs into the house, jabbering about the fairies she found in the big tree in the back yard? I “yes, and” her. I ask her how many fairies she found and what they’re named and what color their dresses are. And, of course, I ask her if they can fly. And when we’re driving in the car, and she leans up toward the front seat and says, “Mom! Hand me the tools, please,” well, it usually only takes me a couple seconds to switch [mental] gears, realize she’s pretending, and pass the wrench and hammer to the back seat.

I’m pretty sure she’s not actually building a roller coaster back there.

How do you encourage your child’s imagination and creativity?

 

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Make the Most of Your Marriage by Making Memories

Monday, July 14th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Improve Your Marriage by Making Memories via MomAdvice.com

My husband and I have friends who have known each other their entire lives. I’m not even exaggerating. They have a photo of themselves as toddlers, playing together. And sometime in their early childhood, they reportedly were married in someone’s backyard or living room.

{Of course, the photo above is not the famous one of my friends. But it IS their son with my daughter, and I figure I better keep it in a safe place just in case they end up marrying in 20 years or so!}

Though I joke about being a child bride anytime someone asks how long I’ve been married, I didn’t actually meet my husband until my sophomore year of high school. Still, that was obviously a LONG time ago – and means this year marks 15 years of marriage and 20 years of being a couple. We’ve known each other for longer than we didn’t.

All that time together means a lot of things. It means baggage and patterns and finish-your-sentence arguments. But it also means inside jokes and stories and finish-your-sentence-in-a-good-way. We’re working on those bad habits and same old arguments, but I’m also convinced that focusing on the memories we’ve made together can do just as much good for our marriage.

—————

Earlier this year our pastor spoke about improving relationships. He cited a study where new couples and established couples were observed eating dinner. Younger couples talked for the majority of an hour spent together, while couples married for several decades only spoke to each other for a few minutes out of an hour.

A few minutes?! Yikes! I think that goes well beyond “comfortable silence” that can seem like paradise after a day with noisy kids or chatty co-workers.

As I’ve thought about these two things (knowing my husband for 20 years and older couples not having anything to say to each other), I’ve wondered if one will affect the other – and how we can avoid becoming silent senior citizens who are more interested in their meatloaf than their marriage.

Improve Your Marriage by Making Memories via MomAdvice.com

Since my marriage hit a low point a couple years ago, I’ve learned so much – about marriage, about my husband, about myself. I’ve read countless articles and books; we’ve spent hours (and dollars, SIGH) on counseling. I now have a much better grasp on our love languages, on love and respect, on the importance of date nights and being on the same team.

In short, I’ve learned how much WORK marriage is.

And it is. But it’s also a lot of fun!

Or . . . it’s supposed to be.

As a mom, a type A personality, a [recovering] perfectionist, an oldest child, I’m not always very FUN. I’m responsible and organized (sometimes), I get things done, and I take care of people and business. But fun? Not so much.

After 20 years I forget too often how much fun I can have with my husband. But taking time to reminisce every now and then reminds me that one of the most fun parts of my marriage IS the fact that we’ve known each other so long. We’ve grown up together, and our lives are enmeshed in a thousand ways. Our families, our jobs, our homes, our friends – all of it is connected in one way or another.

Every time we visit our hometown or old friends, I remember how it felt back in the day, how much we laughed, how amusing (and not annoying) I found his teasing, how my shoulders didn’t hunch and my jaw didn’t clench with the stress of the everyday. And I remember being in love – young love, early love, no-real-responsibilities love.

As we walk down memory lane – whether literally at his dad’s farm or figuratively with a yearbook, scrapbook or long-forgotten mix CD – something special happens. We smile a bit more, we laugh out loud a lot more, and my heart just feels warmer toward him in general. Reminiscing is good for my relationship.

I don’t think this is restricted to couples who grew up together. No matter how long you’ve been married, you’ve created memories with your husband.

  • That place you met – or had your first date
  • That song you danced to
  • Those photos of your funniest faces or fanciest prom outfits
  • Your favorite movies – and movie quotes
  • The inside joke you can share with just a wink or raised eyebrow
  • Those friends you double dated with back then

Remembering those things together will help you recall the sweetness of young love and also remind you of your heart connection. And it might just help you remember how to be a little more fun!

Of course, as I think about those older couples with nothing to say during dinner, I’m even more determined to keep making those fun memories. I ask him if he’s heard a new song that I think he might enjoy as much as I do, we binge-watch a TV show together, we plan vacations and take last-minute road trips. We pass notes in church (shhh! don’t tell!), and we take those obnoxious-to-everyone-else selfies when we manage to get a date night.

We make memories – so we have something to look back on, no matter how old we get or how many dinners we share.

Reminisce with us today. What’s one of your favorite memories of your husband?

Photo source

 

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Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

As my children grow older, I strive to find more meaningful ways to celebrate holidays. The 4th of July has always been a burst of red, white, & blue through our home, but I can’t say that we have ever spent time together discussing the importance of this day and getting to know the heroes behind what makes the 4th of July so special. Today I want to share with you a fun way you can share about the 4th of July Heroes in your home and a fun way to incorporate their images in your home to make the day more meaningful and festive.

I partnered with Walmart on this project and all the materials you need for this can be found at their store.

To begin, you can select your 4th of July Heroes that you want to talk about. I found this great list for kids that I used to select our heroes to focus upon. I then headed to Wikipedia and found images of each of our heroes and converted them to black & white and saved them on my computer. If you would like to use the same heroes as us, here are the heroes we selected for our project.

George Washington

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

John Hancock

John Hancock

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

John Adams

John Adams

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your heroes selected, head to the Walmart Photo Site and upload the images there. In addition to having 1 of each image printed in 4×6, also add 1 set of wallets for each person.  If you send these to the one-hour lab, it will be less than $6 for all of them. While you are there, you can also pick up a package of mini-clothespins, a set of notecards for your kids to write on, supplies for this easy flag bunting, and this burlap wreath to decorate with. Since I already had these things in our home, it helps cut down on cost and storage for us this year.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your images, have kids select which person they are interested in discovering and have them find information about their 4th of July heroes. I challenged my kids to find one or two facts about each hero.  We also read about the first 4th of July and how different is from how we celebrate today.

I am embarrassed to say that I was learning right along with my children and soaking it all in as much as they were. Abigail Adams, for example, was one of our favorite people we learned about. Did you know that she had five kids that she cared for and homeschooled while her husband was away serving his country?  Not only was she passionate about women’s rights, but she was also passionate about equality for all people, whether they were black or white. She helped care for the soldiers in her home (feeding them and treating their injuries), and she even learned how to make her own gunpowder. Emily and I are big fans of Abigail Adams now and all she did for our country.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Likewise, my son loved John Adams and his fun fact was that he thought his teachers, “held him back.” Despite being held back from his true potential in grade school, he passed his entrance exams to Harvard and his parents, who were farmers, gave up several acres of their own farm land to pay for John’s schooling. And, boy, did that pay off! John Adams strongly supported independence from Britain, signed the Declaration of Independence, and negotiated the treaty ending the Revolutionary War. He later became the nation’s first vice president and second president.  This led to a great discussion about recognizing our true potential when sometimes others do not.

Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King referenced Crispus Attucks in one of his speeches? He held him up as an example of black patriotism at the beginning of our nation’s history. Yet, we never knew anything about what he did for our country. I’m so glad we know now.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids
Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

If you have smaller kids, you can share simple facts and have them draw pictures. Clearly, the fact that Abigail Adams rocked it as a mom and had five kids was worthy of a picture. Make this time fun for your kids while acknowledging the sacrifices that so many gave up for our freedom.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once we were done discussing our heroes, I incorporated these pictures into our holiday decor. I pulled some of the flags off of our bunting and switched them with pictures of our heroes.  I took the items off of my burlap wreath and clipped the wallet images with mini clothespins on the wreath. I hung this in the center of our mirror and added the flag & hero bunting around the frame of the mirror.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

I love these touches to our 4th of July decorating, but I love even more that my kids know about these patriotic heroes.  I hope this idea inspires you to learn more about this holiday and the heroes who made this day possible for all of us.

Happy 4th of July, friends!

walmart_mom_disclaimer

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Planning One-on-One Time with Kids

Monday, June 9th, 2014

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Spending One-on-One Time with Kids at MomAdvice.com

“I just . . . feel like you don’t pay any ATTENTION to me!” she wailed.

My six-year-old daughter, folks – the drama queen. Just half a dozen years under her belt, and already she’s a master manipulator, saying the words that cut deepest in my mama’s heart. I often ask my husband where on earth she could possibly get these traits – and then pretend not to notice when he stares at me pointedly.

Yes, it’s true we are a melodramatic bunch in my house, but despite the crocodile tears and bedtime delay strategies, I know there’s truth in my daughter’s complaint. We had a baby in January, and after being an only child for six years, my oldest daughter is having a rough time with the adjustment.

Don’t get me wrong! She LOVES her baby sister. Like, crazy over-the-top adores her. But she still has felt overlooked and underfed, at least in the attention department, and has found lots of ways to let me know. Even though her methods (and method acting!) irritate me, I’m thankful she’s spoken up so my husband and I know she needs a little extra assurance that we love her just as much as the tiny baby everyone keeps fussing over.

I know that so much of good parenting is being intentional, setting specific ideals and goals for our families and then following through. But man, oh man, is that ever difficult when you’re tired! And if there’s ever a time for being tired, it’s when a new child enters our homes and throws everything – sleep, meals, family dynamics – into chaos. Still, this is important.

So what’s a tired mom to do when one of her kids feels left out? Make a plan, of course! Okay, maybe a plan isn’t the obvious go-to solution for all of your problems, but if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about life, it’s a solid to-do list or outline. Or chocolate. So maybe there’s more than one thing…

ANYWAY.

Though I love plans and lists, I didn’t foresee this issue the way I did meal planning and grocery shopping. So while I spent my last trimester shopping, cooking and freezing in bulk, I neglected to plan ways to make sure my older daughter felt loved after we brought home her baby sister.

That’s okay, though! It’s never to late to make a parenting plan, and besides, your kiddos might be feeling overlooked for any number of reasons (not simply as a result of a new baby in the family). So let’s make a new plan together.

Planning One-on-One Time with Kids

My approach to planning one-on-one time with kids is three-fold:

First, I make sure we connect every day. Whether that’s an extra bedtime story or snuggling in the morning before anyone else wakes up, adding to our gratitude journal during dinner or discussing the latest kindergarten “gossip” in the car on the way home from school, I make sure to look her in the eye, hold her hand and listen to her heart. That seems like the bare minimum, I know, but slowing down enough to really connect with the people we love most can fall by the wayside easily on busy days if we’re not intentional.

Secondly, I ask my daughter for her opinion and input about family activities. When it’s appropriate, of course! I certainly don’t check with her before paying the bills or planning a date night with my husband. But occasionally, she gets to choose what we have for dinner (and then, ideally, help me fix it) or what movie we watch on a Friday night.

And on the day after school ended in May, we went to lunch for a “summer planning meeting.” I told her when she’d be attending summer school and theater camp, and what days she would spend with a babysitter or grandparents. But then I asked her who she’d like to invite over for playdates and what special summer activities she wanted to add to our list. (Sidewalk chalk paint, s’mores and a family game night, in case you’re wondering!) She loved feeling like her opinion mattered as we made our summer plans (and bringing her notebook to Chick-Fil-A for our “lunch meeting” pretty much made her day).

Finally, we plan dates. Sometimes it’s an actual outing:

- going to a movie
- getting ice cream cones
- shopping for a new outfit

But other times, it’s simply taking time to be together:

- reading an extra story at bedtime when the baby happens to fall asleep early
- walking home from school so we have more time to talk about her day
- letting her paint my nails
- having her tell me all about her make-believe superpowers and fairy princess friends

One-on-one time together doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal, and you don’t have to spend hours on your city’s calendar of events or Pinterest to find the perfect activity.  Playing a round of Go Fish, making his favorite dessert together or playing catch in the backyard after dinner could be all it takes to make sure your kids remember that you think they’re special, all by themselves.

The point isn’t spending money or spoiling a kid who’s feeling underappreciated or overlooked. And sometimes, it isn’t even about spending hours and hours together, gazing into each other’s eyes or – even worse – wielding glue sticks and glitter to make the Pinterest-perfect craft that will prove your devotion and Mom of the Year status. It’s simply about showing your kids a little extra love when they feel unloved.

We all feel unloved at times, and our kids are no different. So whether it’s because of a new baby or a new house, overtime keeping you or your husband at work more than usual, or any stage when they need a bit more attention, making a plan to keep your relationship with them on track will go a long way.

And now I have to get busy typing up my daughter’s “Summer Plan,” because that was my action item after our lunch meeting and summer is already underway!

How do you spend one-on-one time with your kids? Have you ever made a plan to prevent one child from feeling neglected or overlooked?

Photo by Dave Parker

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