Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

How to Enjoy Autumn to the Fullest

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Tips to Enjoy Autumn at

Every year, as I sprint (or limp, depending on the year) toward Labor Day and long for routine and cooler temperatures and colorful leaves and pumpkin everything, I vow that this will be the year I really enjoy fall. Summer is, quite simply, not my favorite season — but my reward for surviving it each year is autumn. So you’d think I would enjoy it, right?

Ahhhhh, autumn.

Brisk air and comfy sweaters and crunchy leaves and hot drinks and apple picking and pumpkin carving. Autumn, the season of change and preparation as we gently roll toward the holidays and a colder, more hectic time of life. Right? It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it?

[Speaking of romantic, don’t forget to date your husband this fall…]

But the reality of September and October and [hold me] November is that this season is just as crazy chaotic as every other one. We have practices and games and rehearsals and concerts to add to the calendar, not to mention dentist appointments and counseling sessions and family dinners and book club and Bible study and craft projects. (Seriously. Is there another non-Christmas season with SO MANY craft projects?!)

In my family we have a birthday on top of all of the “usual” stuff, and more often than not, as we dive bomb into the holidays I realize that I missed it. I missed my favorite season, the best season of all (in my unbiased opinion!). I missed autumn. Again.

Well, not this year! I’m determined to enjoy every bit of fall this year, and I want to encourage you to do the same. I have a few ideas for making this happen, and I’m happy to share them with you. Just in case you have missed an autumn or two, but long to truly enjoy this beautiful season.

2 ways to enjoy fall to it's fullest at

2 Ways to Enjoy Autumn

1. Pick three things. We all know the temptation of bucket lists, and heaven knows I’ve made my share. But this fall, instead of adding every fall-type activity to your to-do list (not to mention printing it out and putting it on the fridge), why not keep it simple? We’ve already discussed how busy regular life is before we begin adding field trips to the apple orchard. So just pick three things. Pick one special autumn food to make (my all-time favorite is this DELICIOUS pumpkin bread), pick one craft to make (I’ve already bought the supplies to make this wreath from Amy), and pick one trip to take (and if it just happens to be the church fall festival, THAT’S STILL GOOD AND FUN AND ENOUGH!).

Pick three things – a food, a craft, and a trip.

And then? Use all that extra time you’ll have (hahaha!) to simply walk outside and breathe in the crisp air. Or watch a football game. Or let your kids buy pumpkins on your next run to the grocery store. (Believe me, they are still festive when they come from the grocery store and not the pumpkin patch.)

2. Count your days. Time flies when we’re busy or when we’re looking forward to big events, and fall is full of both those things for me. So this year I’m going to make sure I am intentionally taking note of each individual day. (I mean, probably not EACH and EVERY day. Let’s be realistic and accept that even every other day is still better than letting an entire season pass in a blur or parties and costumes and crafts and meetings!)

A few ways you might make your days count this autumn are with a daily photo challenge, reading a seasonal quote or a scripture each day, or keeping a gratitude journal. Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious (or unable to make a choice…something I am quite familiar with!), you could do one of those each month of the season. Start reading a Bible verse each day this month, then take a photo challenge next month, and finish up with a daily gratitude exercise in November.

However you do it (and, really, keep it as simple as you need to), just do something to intentionally appreciate your days.

When it comes to enjoying every season, I sometimes struggle between committing to carpe-ing the diem out of life and remembering that, more than likely, there will be another opportunity to carve pumpkins if we don’t do it this week, this month, this fall. But this year, I’m determined to let all of that struggling and striving and regretting go.

I am going to LIVE and LOVE and ENJOY this autumn. Will you join me?


Brain Food: Trail Mix Energy Bites

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Trail Mix Energy Bites from

I’m partnering today with Workman Publishing to chat a little more about our family’s genuine love for the new Big Fat Notebooks series, perfect for your middle school child, and to share a fun brain food snack to pair with these fun books!

Trail Mix Energy Bites from

Last month I shared with you my car organizing strategies (I can’t believe it still looks REALLY good, you guys!! Miracles DO happen!) and how we have incorporated these books into our car time as a great activity to make the most of those moments. Just like I love to take in a good audiobook or a podcast while I am driving, I love that this pocket of time is perfect for some fun learning on the way for my kids. Why not make the most of all those wasted minutes?

Trail Mix Energy Bites from Trail Mix Energy Bites from Trail Mix Energy Bites from

I know I have said it before, but these books are F-U-N. I am actually going to include these in our holiday gift guide because I think they make an incredible gift for any kid. As you can see, they are adorably illustrated and even the font choice makes it not feel like a textbook, but more like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid escape.

Do you remember that show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Since my daughter has been asking me questions about the things she has been learning from this book and reciting trivia on different subjects, I can tell you that I am, indeed, NOT.

Hey, I can’t be good at everything!

There are five books in this fun series and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History. Did I mention that they meet  Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and state history standards?

Yup, pretty awesome stuff.

You can find these fantastic books at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or Workman.

Here are 4 fun free Big Fat Notebooks worksheets to get you started! 

Thinking Like a Scientist

How to Take Great Notes

Displaying Data

Ancient Egypt Timeline

Trail Mix Energy Bites from Trail Mix Energy Bites from

In honor of fueling our brains, I wanted to create a brain food treat that the whole family will enjoy and requires ZERO baking. Holla!  I am a big fan of energy bites and this little bite is filled with a protein-rich trail mix that is bound together with peanut butter, oatmeal, and quinoa.

I loved these plain, but I thought they could benefit from a little crunch so I toasted up quinoa in a skillet (watch out, it pops!!) and rolled these trail mix bites into the toasty quinoa for a crunchy coating that reminds me of sesame seeds or even rice cereal.

What Makes These Trail Mix Bites Good Fuel for Your Brain?

Nuts and seeds contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, a major building block of brain cells that are critical for a good memory and stable mood (AKA, they fight the HANGRY!). They are also rich in B complex vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. It takes all these important nutrients to help keep your brain functioning well.

Quinoa is our binding agent and our crispy coating and it also contains vital nutrients for your noggin. Quinoa is so easy to prepare in a rice cooker (this tutorial should help!) and happens to be one of my favorite gluten-free indulgences. Quinoa, pronounced (KEEN-wah) is a very nutritious gluten-free seed that originates from the Andean region of South America. It also is a fantastic source of protein, contains all eight amino acids, is a good source of dietary fiber, contains B Vitamins, and iron. All such good stuff to help your brain!

I hope you can share this delicious brain food (both the treat AND the incredible Big Fat Notebooks with your kids. They truly make learning fun and I’m so happy our family got to share about these with you!

Trail Mix Energy Bites from

Trail Mix Energy Bites
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24
Fuel your brain with these delicious energy bites that provide vital nutrients and vitamins. Packed with quinoa, these gluten-free treats are satisfying and filling!
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (check the post above for cooking directions or follow packaging)
  • 1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup uncooked quinoa
  1. In a dry skillet, heat it to medium heat and toast the uncooked quinoa for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the energy bite to look golden. Be careful, quinoa does pop!
  2. In a large bowl mix together all the other ingredients until they are incorporated well.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and then begin scooping & rolling the balls (I like a cookie dough scooper for this).
  4. Roll each ball into the toasted quinoa, coating all sides evenly. Place on the parchment lined cookie sheet and repeat until all of the batter has been used.
  5. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove and then place them in an airtight container for snacking.

 Recipe Adapted from The Baker Mama

 This post was sponsored by Workman Publishing and Big Fat Notebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own! Be sure to follow the Workman Blog for more great ideas!

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

This post was sponsored by Bayer. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

If we are only doing science with our kids when the science fair rolls around, I feel like we are missing the boat. Every day is an opportunity to teach something about science with our kids through simple routine moments throughout our day. From baking bread to why their bath tub toys float to how swinging at the park really works…that’s all science (and pretty amazing!).

Simple daily activities are a great way to incorporate science into our daily routines and most parents have a desire for that. In fact, in Bayer’s recent back-to-school survey, nearly all (95%) parents surveyed agree that it would be helpful to have tips for turning simple activities into science learning opportunities for their children, which is why Bayer decided to create a program to address this need.

So many of these teaching moments are overlooked in our house so I am excited to partner with Bayer as they work to improve science literacy in kids through their award-winning program, Making Science Make Sense (MSMS). In this program, Bayer creates hands-on lessons to kids to seriously think about science and fostering the seeds of science in our kids even when they are small. It inspired our family to take a science challenge of our own and gave us a TRULY fun moment with our daughter while teaching her a really important science lesson in the process.

I honestly don’t know who was more excited- my daughter or my husband.

Who doesn’t love a crazy chemical reaction?

If you don’t want to take on our experiment, you can tackle so many easy and fun experiments through the MSMS science library exploring topics like what happens when water boils, where the light from sun comes, and why do oil and water not mix. Not only are these fun things to talk through together, they could also definitely round out a homeschool curriculum.

Since we have middle school kids, we have found it takes a lot to wow them so I wanted to create some science fun that they had never seen before. Grab your safety glasses and dive into a fun science experiment with us as we make Elephant Toothpaste and learn a heck of a lot of science in the process.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste


How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

Supplies Needed:

1 Cookie Sheet

1 Empty 2-liter container

1 Tablespoon of Dry Yeast

3 Tablespoons Warm Water

Small Cup For Mixing

Liquid Dish Soap

1/2 cup 20-volume hydrogen peroxide liquid (20-volume is a 6% solution and not available at drugstores so make sure you get the type we are linking to)

Food Coloring

Rubber Gloves


Safety Goggles (we bought these and they fit perfectly)

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

 Directions for Making Elephant Toothpaste

 Please note: We advise parents do the pouring of the hydrogen peroxide as it can irritate the skin and eyes.

1. In a clean 2-liter bottle add 8 drops of food coloring. We picked blue to look like toothpaste!

2. Next have an adult add the hydrogen peroxide to the mixture. A funnel really helps with this step!

2. Add one tablespoon of your liquid dish soap to the bottle. Have your child swish the bottle gently.

3. In a separate cup, mix together the dry yeast and warm water. Mix, mix, mix for 30 seconds.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

4. Place the funnel on top and then pour the yeast mixture into the bottle.

5. Watch in amazement as this starts foaming and overflowing from the bottle. Be sure to put your gloved hands around the bottle to feel the heat that the bottle is giving off.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

Doesn’t that look like toothpaste? We were all amazed at this chemical reaction.

What’s the Science Behind This Elephant Toothpaste?

Each foam bubble is filled with oxygen. The yeast acts as a catalyst to remove the oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. Since we did this process so fast, it created lots of bubbles quickly.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from


We also created an Exothermic Reaction which means you created heat with this reaction. How cool is that? We thought that part was almost as amazing as the foam that we created!

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from

She was absolutely miserable.


Science is awful.

Just look at that face!

Just kidding, she was in science heaven in our backyard lab.

Although experiments are grand, I hope the takeaway is that we have the opportunity to share science with our kids every single day. I hope this idea and the many, many ideas from Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense give you lots of chances to talk about science each and every day.

Do you have any tips on how to share science at home with your children? What hurdles do you experience in encouraging STEM learning beyond the classroom? I would love to hear them!

This post was sponsored by Bayer. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

5 Ways to Calm the Chaos This School Year

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

5 Ways to Calm the Chaos This School Year

For the past several weeks my mantra has been, “I can’t wait until school starts.” As my family and I have struggled with a perfect storm of change, uncertainty and chaos, the beginning of the school year has become something of a Holy Grail to me. I’ve told myself (and my husband and everyone who will listen) that when school starts…

…I’ll be more organized.
…I’ll start eating – and feeding them – more healthy foods.
…I’ll put them to bed earlier (and go to bed earlier).
…I’ll plan meals and make a grocery list.
…I’ll move the laundry from the washer to dryer before it mildews.
…I’ll stop ordering pizza once a week.
…I’ll get more work done.
…I’ll miss fewer deadlines.

It’s a long list of things I think I’m going to accomplish when the school year begins and I reclaim some of my precious order and organization. But though I’m tempted to just stare at the circled date on my calendar (the one that has hearts and smiley faces and blinking lights around it…at least in my mind), the one that says, “FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL,” and daydream about chore charts and folded laundry and deadlines met and boxes checked, I know better.

I know that with the commencement of the school year also comes the PTA, the school activities, the lessons and practices, the homework and tests. I know that the cleaning schedule and the snack shelf and the color-coordinated to-do list will all fall apart — and probably before we hit Labor Day. It’s just the nature of this busy season of life, and turning a new page on the calendar isn’t what makes it less chaotic and more manageable.

No, rather than dream of a chaos-free life (SERIOUSLY. Can you even imagine? We’d just get bored, right? … RIGHT???), I know from past changing of the seasons or school years that it’s better to deal with the chaos than to pretend it doesn’t exist. So, here’s my plan:

5 Ways to Calm the Chaos

5 Ways to Calm the Chaos This School Year

1. Make Meals Easier. Last year I wrote about three challenges and solutions to meal planning that my family has struggled with. I’m going to be honest: not a whole lot has changed since then. Getting food on the table for THESE PEOPLE who want to eat three times a day, every day of their lives, while also dictating how many sweets and how few vegetables they desire IS HARD WORK. But it’s work that has to be done — and that makes a world of difference.

I don’t anticipate turning into a different person between now and the start of the school year. So I’m not going to pin a whole bunch of casserole recipes for a day-long cooking session that will fill up my freezer. (I actually have about a dozen freezer meals in my freezer right now that I FORGOT I EVEN HAD until just recently. Oops.)

Instead, I’m going to take an hour to chop onions and peppers, grill and slice chicken, and brown hamburger. Then I’m going to take another hour to make baked oatmeal and banana muffins. And then? (After I stick all that food in the freezer?) If I’m still feeling industrious, I’ll prep all our lunch and snack food for the first few weeks. (And if not, I’ll recruit my third-grader to do it. After all, she’s the one who will be eating those individual servings of crackers and pepperoni and grapes!)

2. Pick Out Clothes. Now that we’ve moved, our washer and dryer no longer live in our garage. I have an actual laundry room, and it’s on the same level as our bedrooms. But while this is the ideal layout according to moms everywhere, I’m still struggling to implement a system — a system that doesn’t result in mountains of dirty laundry outside the laundry room door and mountains of clean laundry on top of the dryer.

It may still take a while for me to figure out our new laundry system, but my first step to mastering this mess is to pick out my kids’ clothes a week at a time. I was just lamenting the lack of school uniforms at my daughter’s public school, because OH THE GNASHING OF TEETH about what she’s going to wear. Every. Single. Day of my life. I’m hopeful that if she and I take a little bit of time each Sunday afternoon to pick out five outfits, a lot of those fights will be eliminated. We’ll see…

5 Ways to Calm the Chaos

3. Set My Alarm. My oldest daughter’s new school starts earlier than her old one, plus I’m changing my work schedule (read: adding more work, plus leaving the house to get it done). That means our leisurely mornings spent lounging while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (them), scrolling through Facebook (me), and inhaling granola bars at the last minute (um, all of us) ARE OVER.

There’s no getting around it. We have to get up earlier. And that means, if I am serious about calming the chaos, I need to get up even earlier than my kids. Since I wrote all about the struggles night owls like me face when trying to create better mornings for their families, I know the steps I need to take. It’s just a matter of doing it. And it starts with setting my alarm.

4. Buy a New Calendar. When we moved, I tossed our old white-board calendar that hung on the side of our refrigerator. It had seen better days (the middle few squares were completely gray), but the reason I threw it away was because our fridge in the new house is between two cabinets. And the doors are too narrow for the calendar. So it didn’t work anymore.

But you know what else doesn’t work? NOT HAVING A FAMILY CALENDAR! Yikes. This summer has been full of chaos and irregular schedules, and in hindsight I realize getting a new calendar right away might have prevented some of that. So before we dive into the school year, with its activities and schedules and meetings and appointments, I’m buying a new calendar for the kitchen wall and putting it to use! (I also use a calendar app that my husband and I share, because sometimes I am away from home when I need to schedule something and that’s what works for us.)

5. Just Say No. You guys? I really hate missing out on stuff. I do. And I hate it when my kids miss out on stuff, too. And you know what? Even in our new, small town, we have SO MANY FUN OPPORTUNITIES. Teams and lessons and shows and festivals and movie nights and play dates — and then there’s homework and read-to-self and screen time and free play and GO OUTSIDE ALREADY and church and school (oh yeah, that!) and meetings and orthodontist appointments and Bible study and book club and…

If I let it, the world and all of its many amazing, fun, educational, interesting, entertaining, just great in general opportunities will take over my life. And it will drive me crazy. I know, because I’ve done it before (many times).

Last fall my daughter played on a basketball team and took piano lessons. And just that amount of activity, in that season, was TOO MUCH for my family. The stress of two activities, two nights in a row, every week just about did us in. I know! So many families do so much more! And that’s okay. We will someday (maybe even this fall, I don’t know yet) be able to do more. Each family has to figure out their own balance, avoid their own tipping point, and say no to what is too much for them.

So, there it is: my master plan for calming the chaos this school year. I could list another dozen ideas for organization, another handful of tips for running a household well, another bunch of suggestions for turning my crew into a well-oiled machine. But a) I figure we’ll be doing good if we can manage these five, and b) I think any family will be on their way to more peace if they can work on any one of these things!

How will you calm the chaos in your house this school year?


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DIY Car Organizing Tips (Giveaway with Big Fat Notebooks!)

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

You know that mom that always has bandages, always has a snack and drink on hand, can pull a pen out at a moment’s notice, has tissues, never forgets an umbrella, utilizes time well between running kids, and keeps a tidy car?

That’s not me.

In fact, I have been pretty embarrassed about just how bad things have gotten. No one really wanted to ride in my car including myself (insert scared face emoji).

It was on my organizing bucket list to tackle this since a good portion of my day is now spent in the car running kids from activity to activity. I spent an afternoon getting us organized for this school year and I wanted to show you how I did that.

Big Fat Notebooks Big Fat Notebooks

The inspiration came from today’s partner, The Big Fat Notebook series. If your kids love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they will LOVE this new way of learning. When my kids were younger, they were hooked on Brain Quest, but once they hit middle school age, I felt like everything just felt like…Well, work. After a long day at school, the last thing they want to do is browse another textbook. That is why these are so genius. They look fun and teach you something in the process.

There are five books in all, and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History.

They also happen to meet Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and state history standards, and are vetted by National and State Teacher of the Year Award–winning teachers. If you are a homeschooling mama, this would make an excellent addition to your curriculum.

You can find these fantastic books at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or Workman.

Big Fat Notebooks

I am not lying when I say that my daughter has become OBSESSED with these. There has been a lot of fact reciting at the dinner table!

We REALLY want to share them with you so please scroll to the end to catch this giveaway!!

I also wanted to figure out a way that we could keep these books on hand for busy days so I used this as an excuse to get my car organized and create caddies for each kid with the things they need. With school supplies on sale right now, it also happens to be quite an affordable time to create these little kits!

DIY Car Organizing Ideas

DIY Car Organizing Tips from DIY Car Organizing Tips from

After browsing every type of organizer available, I ended up using these shower caddy organizers for each of my kids because they had great pockets and a wipeable surface in case they get dirty or muddy. I also slipped a plastic cup for each to hold pencils/pens so it would make it easier for them to grab. In each one, I have an umbrella, snacks (that can withstand the hot car),  a water, a couple of Big Fat Notebooks (strategically chosen for the subjects we need to work on!!), and packages of tissues.


I had planned to hang them from the backs of the seats, but the width was too deep on our car. I actually think it will be easier to have them on the floor and they can also be moved to the center when they are being used.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

Backpacks can also pile up on the floor so I got these hooks to give these guys a home. It can also be a great place to hang a jacket, hat, or purse. Our backpacks often get dirty and thrown on the floor so I am hoping it helps with that too!

Now that the kids are in better shape, I wanted to work on some problem areas for me. My biggest issue is carrying around gym equipment so I wanted to make that an organizing priority.


DIY Car Organizing Tips from

In my gym equipment stash I have two pairs of shoes (one for dance class and one for cardio), a spare pair of socks, yoga socks, tissues, water, facial cleansing wipes, hair ties, travel brush, and a towel. These are things that I am always forgetting and that I sometimes end up having to buy at the gym.

All of these fit perfectly in this container.

Again, plastic, wipeable, AND breathable.

Not that my feet sweat AT ALL, but I wanted you to know for you. It’s okay. It happens to a lot of people.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

My yoga mat takes up valuable space and I hate that it is always rolling around in our trunk. Again, using those utility hooks to keep it in place along with my hot yoga towel and umbrella.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

To finish up the tour, I wanted to show you just a couple of other things that are helping.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

removable hook for hanging the trash bag- we will see how long this holds!

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

tiny totes for random things- one has receipts and pens, one has snacks for me, one has a mini first aid kit (for a legit one check here!), and the last one has tissues.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

utilizing the gaps for my phone to save space in my drink holder (similar idea here!)

It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud. I feel like I *might* be able to be that mom this year AND my kids will be learning between activities too. High fives all around, friends!

Giveaway Time

Big Fat Notebook

I can’t wait to give someone this whole collection. We are so excited to share this with you! The books included in this giveaway are:

Everything You Need to Ace Math . . . covers everything to get you over any math hump: fractions, decimals, and how to multiply and divide them; ratios, proportions, and percentages; geometry; statistics and probability; expressions and equations; and the coordinate plane and functions.

Everything You Need to Ace Science . . . takes readers from scientific investigation and the engineering design process to the Periodic Table; forces and motion; forms of energy; outer space and the solar system; to earth sciences, biology, body systems, ecology, and more.

Everything You Need to Ace American History . . . covers Native Americans to the war in Iraq. There are units on Colonial America; the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation; Jefferson and the expansion west; the Civil War and Reconstruction; and all of the notable events of the 20th century—World Wars, the Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and much more.

Everything You Need to Ace World History . . . kicks off with the Paleolithic Era and  transports the reader to ancient civilizations—in Egypt, Greece, India, China, Africa, Rome; the middle ages across the world; the Renaissance; the age of exploration and colonialization, revolution and imperialism, and the modern world and the wars and movements that shaped it.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts . . . covers everything to get you your best marks: grammar, including parts of speech, active and passive verbs, Greek and Latin roots and affixes; nuances in word meanings; textual analysis, authorship, structure, and other skills for reading fiction and nonfiction; and writing arguments, informative texts, and narratives.

One (1) lucky winner will receive:

  • Copies of all 5 titles in the Big Fat Notebooks series
  • Branded school supplies including highlighter/pen combos, a notepad, and jigsaw sticky notes.

Please follow the widget below to enter to win! I hope this post inspires you to get organized. As always, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

DIY Car Organizing Tips from

This post was sponsored by Workman Publishing and Big Fat Notebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own!


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Tech Monitoring In Those Middle School Years

Monday, August 8th, 2016


This post is brought to you by CJ Affiliate’s VIP Content Service. Thank you to Norton by Symantec for sponsoring today’s post!

I have tried to live in an honest place as we have disclosed over the years our family’s struggles with filtering web content for our kids and creating a healthy balance of online and offline time. I admit, in these lazy days of summer, I have become a little less stiff with the rules. One thing that will not change though is the need to monitor what sites my kids are visiting. Today I want to talk a little bit about how we monitor tech time in the middle school years.

You see, this is a big transition year for us as parents because we have moved out of the elementary school years and are jumping into middle school. It’s the time where we are letting our oldest have a phone and where the kids are asking to build their own social media presence.

With a mom as a blogger and their father working as a web consultant, you would think we would be really cool about this stuff…but we aren’t.

I don’t feel bad about the overprotection at all though.

The things that they do on social media and the things they are viewing online can often do more harm than good. It can even follow them into adulthood as they are job seeking. I have big dreams for these two and I want to protect them as long as I can.

Although we have many procedures in place for their handheld devices, the content they have been viewing on the computers has been our biggest hurdle. My husband spends evening hours going through their web history and clicking to see what they have been up to. This requires many clicks to Minecraft music videos and hair tutorials.

Isn’t that how every dad wants to spend his time?

I’m pretty sure we would rather be drinking wine and binging on Netflix together.

Since we have been in the trenches with this for some time, I wanted to share with you things that we have been doing to try to do a better job with monitoring our middle school kids on the internet.

Call Family Meetings- Many family meetings have been called in our home as we do our best to monitor our kid’s technology time. Sometimes the kids want to call their own family meetings to revisit rules and sometimes we have to hold family meetings because rules have been broken.

As parents we are always striving to keep the communication lines open. Whenever we add new security measures or revisit the rules of technology in our home, we want to offer that kind of support and communication (even if they don’t always like the rules we are devising). Making them feel like active participants in the decision-making is really important to both of us.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help on Setting Time Guidelines- When we were struggling to establish the right guidelines for our children, our family consulted with a child psychologist to see what time limits would work best. His advice was one hour of tech time on school nights and two hours on weekends/vacations. We have done our best to adhere to these guidelines to create a good balance of tech time and real-life time together.

Tech Monitoring In Those Middle School Years from

Install Internet Monitoring Software to Keep Them Safe- Although we have felt in control of handheld devices, we have felt less in control of the sites they were visiting on our computer. Often the restrictions installed where inhibiting us from doing our own work so we needed a solution that could help keep them safe (and our computers- more on that soon!)

Norton Security Premium

Norton by Symantec sent us a Norton Security Standard membership offering a year protection on ten devices in our home. This version of Norton also includes their family-friendly features (which you can purchase a la carte. We have been using it for the last month and we are both pleasantly surprised at the filtering it can do for web content. This security system goes way beyond just time restriction.

Norton Web Supervision

Norton Security offers another level of web supervision, allowing your kids to explore the web safely by blocking content that you deem unsafe.   It also offers a lot more depth into their search history,  allowing you to see words and phrases your kids are searching. This can help you to see what they are interested in as well as keep on top of  the inappropriate stuff to block.  In fact, you can see it all at a glance. Check out that screenshot above to see the info that will now be right at your fingertips.

Norton Time Management

Want to monitor time usage? Norton can do that for you too!

Just as important as all of that though, once your service is activated, you also have location supervision to monitor your child’s location on your Android & iOS devices so you can see where your kid is (and if they are where they are saying they are going to be- ahem!).  Please note, this option is available only in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand & Japan. The iOS features are available just in the US.

The pricing on all that for the first year costs $49.99 and subsequent years are $99.99. They offer a variety of packages though for your needs including the Norton Security Deluxe (for 5 devices) and the Norton Security Standard (1 device)

Keep Your Computers Safe- Tragically, our computer died last month (R.I.P.) and its tragic death is because of the vulnerability of these computers as our kids played games and (unknowingly) loaded our computers up with malware. My husband had to buy a new computer and we are now relying on Norton to block all the malware.

This installation did not slow down our computers at all and it protects them from the daily Roblox malware attack.  It’s a welcome sight not to see my homepage screen changed or a bunch of random video pop-ups that I can never shut down now off our computer thanks to this security measure. For us, protecting our computers is important for our work and Norton can save us a lot of money to keep these computers functioning at their optimal performance.

To learn more about Norton by Symantec products, visit the Learning Center.

Model the Kind of Behavior You Want to See From Them- My husband & I have to be on our computers and devices a lot for work, our kids know that. This is how we pay our bills. The thing is, we can always do better. By doing a better job with this, we can teach them that social media does not need to be the center of our world. Having a clear work day schedule end time and getting the heck off the computer is now my priority.

These years? Precious. My people? They are precious too and far more precious than any social media interactions that I might be indulging in. I need to show them that and model that for them so they can do that for their own people someday!

Let’s chat! Do you have any tips for tech time monitoring? I’d love hear how you are doing this with your family!

This post is brought to you by CJ Affiliate’s VIP Content Service. Thank you to Norton by Symantec for sponsoring today’s post!

7 Ways to Help Kids Deal with Change

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

7 Ways to Help Kids with Change

This summer has been a rough one at my house. Our family has experienced a pretty significant amount of change in just a few months and, while it’s been good change, it’s been really hard on my eight-year-old daughter. We’ve spent hours talking and listening and praying and planning and, honestly, yelling and eye-rolling and crying. I’ve felt frustrated, exhausted and helpless as we’ve tried so hard to help her cope with what has been, to her, an overwhelming amount of uncertainty and change.

So, obviously, I’m the person to write a list of parenting tips for kids dealing with change! Okay, fine, expert I am NOT, but I can tell you the handful of strategies that has worked for my family. And then, in the comments, perhaps you can share what has worked for yours!

7 Ways to Help Kids Deal with Change

1. Remind them of the things that never change. Whether you are moving to a new town, joining a different church, or saying goodbye to a family member, reminding your children of the permanent things of life never hurts. Tell them, over and over if you need to, that you love them no matter what. Tell them that they are smart and brave and strong, that God is in control, that family comes first. Tell them the fundamental truths that your family believes, and tell them often. Remind them that some things, like your love for them, never, ever changes.

2. Maintain routines whenever possible. As a grown-up who doesn’t love change, I know how important routines can be to me. Sometimes, the simple familiarity of putting away groceries or checking my social media accounts in the same order can be soothing enough to help me deal with chaos in other parts of my life. Kids are no different. So even when you are frantically packing boxes or going to doctor’s appointments or contacting lawyers or buying uniforms for their new school, the regular things of life can help your family deal with stress. If you always eat tacos on Tuesday, try to keep eating tacos on Tuesday – even if that means grabbing a bag of pre-made tacos in the drive-thru or using those packed boxes as a makeshift dinner table.

3. Listen. Just listen. I’m a fixer. I know it’s more of a cliché for the man of the house to be the bad listener/wannabe fixer, but I play that role here. I have very limited patience for listening to the same old sob story, the same old fears and anxieties without pushing for a plan, a strategy, a list of things to do TO FIX THE PROBLEM. And sometimes that’s great and helpful and smart…and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my family just needs me to sit down and listen, to hold their hands, to give hugs and smiles AND NOT ADVICE. And while that doesn’t come easily or naturally to me, I’m trying to learn to do it sooner rather than later, before we’re all frustrated on top of all the other feelings.

4. Help them express their feelings. My mom is a teacher, and she’s always coming up with great ideas for helping my girls share their feelings. She knows that sometimes kids don’t have the skills or maturity to say what’s on their minds, so drawing a picture or singing a song might be the best way for them to process and express their emotions. I’m still working on this one!

5. Take a break from the stress. When I get overwhelmed, I tend to stick my head in the sand. I’m not really proud of this habit, but it does help me recognize that sometimes we need a break from dealing with drama. If your family is in the midst of a change, odds are you have lots of tasks and to-dos weighing on your mind and your schedule. And you need to do them! (Don’t be like me and avoid them!) But if you can find a few minutes to watch a funny video with your kids or a few hours to take them to the park, that break will likely go a long way toward relieving the tension and their anxiety.

6. Talk about the good parts of the upcoming change. Does your new house have a big back yard? Will the new baby be super cute? Will your new job mean you travel less? Even changes that are hard and even unwanted – like death, divorce, job loss, or a friend moving away – might have a silver lining. If you can help your kids identify something good in the situation, not only will they be able to adapt to their current circumstances better, but they’ll develop the skills needed to choose joy in all kinds of situations.

7. Remember the past. Change can be exciting and good, even when it’s difficult. But the thing that came before? The one you’re moving past or growing out of? Your kids probably think it was good, too. So take one last photo in front of your old house before the moving truck pulls away. Make a quick photo book of pictures of your child and her friends. Give them some prompts to list out all the things they loved about second grade or their beloved pet or their soccer coach. Let them keep their mementos and help them preserve their memories, allowing them to look back and remember even as you all move forward.

Originally I was going to write a post about books that help kids deal with change. I’d read It Will Be Okay: Trusting God Through Fear & Change with my girls, and I was certain other books must be out there on this topic. I generally assume that books are the answer for all problems, so why not a whole list of them?!

What I found, though, is that similar posts had already been written. And since I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel (but did want to make sure to share these resources with you), I thought I’d just tell you about the lists I found. Great Kids has a list of seven children’s books about moving, and the University of Wisconsin has a long list of children’s books about various types of change. And my friend Tsh wrote about 14 books that help ease children through transition several years ago, and it’s one I’ve bookmarked for future changes!

Okay, now it’s your turn! As I said, I’m far from being an expert on this topic, so I’d love to hear what’s worked for your family.

How do YOU help your kids deal with change?

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6 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Summer

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

6 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Summer

The other night my husband called me around nine o’clock. In lieu of hello, he said, “Go outside,” as soon as I picked up the phone. He was on the interstate, driving past our exit, and amazed by the brilliant sunset painting the sky. A truck driver who works nights, he doesn’t get to Netflix and chill with me after the kids are in bed, and finding ways to connect — or just veg out together (quality time love language for the win!) — is a challenge.

But on that night, we stared at the same sky for a few moments, oohing and aahing over the orange and pink stripes that I saw from the front porch and he saw from the front seat.

No matter what shift you or your husband work, connecting in a meaningful way with any regularity can be difficult. And while I’d like to say it’s easier in summer, because we’re all maxing and relaxing to some old-school hip hop, sipping grown-up drinks and holding hands while the kids play nicely in the pool, that’s not really the case, is it?

Summer might be more flexible or laid back in some ways, but it’s still real life. And no matter what the season, real life can get in the way of our desire, our intention, our plans to connect with the one we love most. So, just like I found a few fun (realistic) ways to date your husband in the fall, I’ve put together a list of fun, easy ways to date your husband in the summer.

Side note: In my effort to be original and helpful to you, I did some research on summertime date night ideas. And while I am sure some of us would love filling an inflatable baby pool with pillows for a comfy night of stargazing or adding candlelight (or glow sticks) and the word “strip” to board games for a grown-up night at home, I decided to keep it a little more simple this time.

(And, let’s be honest- every time. Because seriously.)

Tips for Dating Your Husband in the Summer

6 Ways to Date Your Husband in the Summer

1. Sip and sit under the stars. After you get the kids to bed, grab your hubby and a cold drink and slip outside. Drink some lemonade (or whatever your beverage of choice is), lean back and watch whatever show nature has for you. Sunset or stars, clear sky or clouds, it doesn’t really matter. Taking a quiet moment to relax and connect is the point.

(Bonus point? This date is free.)

2. Netflix a new show. Or Hulu or Amazon Prime. Or wherever you can find a show or miniseries or movie trilogy to watch while snuggled up with your favorite person (and maybe a bowl of popcorn to share). My husband and I just caught up on the show we’ve been watching on Netflix and now, while we’re in mourning a little bit, we’re also on the hunt for a new show. For us it’s not just about vegging out to something entertaining; it’s about sharing an interest and getting so caught up in a fictional group of people we can’t stop talking about them when the show’s over.

(Side note: If you have any suggestions for a new show, I’m all ears. In the past we’ve watched Friday Night Lights, White Collar, NCIS, Castle, Blue Bloods and Psych.)

3. Catch an outdoor show. No, not the sunset again (although that’s always an added bonus, isn’t it?!). I’m talking about attending an outdoor concert or play, or maybe watching a movie at the drive-in. Even though the bugs and the humidity and the beating sun get on my nerves like nobody’s business, something about summer nights takes me back to the days when my husband and I were dating. Back when he would willingly do things like attend Shakespeare in the Park, and I would do anything outdoors without griping about feeling sweaty. So, this summer, I’m checking the city’s calendar of events for our next date night!

4. Stay inside. If you’d rather not sweat on your big date, try something indoors instead. You can always do the typical dinner and a movie (it’s our default, especially when a new superhero movie is out!), but why not mix things up this summer? Try karaoke and drinks or a museum and frozen yogurt, or pretend to be a tourist and hit up your town’s coolest attractions!

5. Go back to school. Take a class together! Learn to cook a new dish or paint some pottery. As long as you can both keep your sense of humor and focus on the time together (and not getting it right the first time), you’ll have a great time — and maybe even learn something new!

6. Ride the ferris wheel. Or pet a prize-winning pig or spend all your quarters to win a giant stuffed animal. I’m talking about going to a fair or a carnival, of course! Even if your state fair isn’t the best state fair in the state (a little musical reference, if you will), summer is the perfect time to get lost for a bit wandering through the lights and noise and aromas of a traveling fair — and to share a funnel cake, of course!

What’s YOUR favorite way to date your husband in the summer?


Easy DIY Summer Time Capsule for Kids

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Make a memory for your kids (and you!) with this fun summer activity!

Make an easy summer time capsule- a great activity for the whole family!

This year has flown by for our family and it’s hard to believe summer is so quickly upon us. Each year I’m more desperate to hang on to our summer and our memories together. My kids are hitting the teen stages and I treasure each moment with them so much more as they get older than I had ever imagined.

I want to share with you a fun summer time capsule ornament that your children can hang on the holiday tree or can be the launching point of a fun family mealtime together this summer. Have you ever had your kids create a time capsule? I am telling you, it is so much fun and gives you a glimpse, as a parent, into what is important in their lives.

How to Make A Summer Time Capsule


Supplies Needed


1. Tell your child at the beginning of the summer to begin gathering small items that represent their fun-filled summer! To get them brainstorming, consider gathering a representation of their favorite crafts, board games, building activities (puzzles or building blocks), beach finds (pretty sand or shells), or items found on nature walks. Tell them you want this capsule to really showcase what they were passionate about that summer so they can create a really important collection for their capsule.


2. Have your child jot down 5 things that they love about summer. Guide them with a gentle writing prompt to explain why they have included these items in their capsule to represent them.

For example, “I love seeing my mom cry when I take all of her money in Monopoly.” Of course, that would be YOUR child, not MY child (*ahem*).

Don’t forget to have them include the date somewhere on this sheet so you can keep track of the years!

3. Fill an ornament with their trinkets and the facts about their summer. Snap shut at the seams. If you are concerned about longtime storage, you can secure with a little hot glue along the seams.

4. Use permanent marker to write your child’s name and the date somewhere on the ornament.


In our family, we are all about board games, building blocks, finding seashells at the beach, and my daughter has developed a strong love for finger knitting this year. I love this representation of who she is at nine!

Don’t let the time capsule fun end at summer. We incorporated this same time capsule idea in our NYE celebrating as a family, but selected a few things that represented our favorite moments of the year. Over a celebration dinner, we each twisted open our capsules to share our favorite moments together. I remember that night well because I learned so much about my kids and some of the things they included surprised me. I guarantee you will learn a lot during the big time capsule reveal and make some beautiful memories.

For a summer capsule, this same idea would be fun for a family s’more night or as a fun ending to a sundae party together. Celebrate the end of summer in a new way and remember to get your kids thinking now because beautiful collections that represent them take time!

I hope you enjoy this fun craft together and please be sure to let us know if this becomes a part of your own family traditions as it has become such an integral part of ours!

Easy DIY Summer Time Capsule for Kids from

*this post contains affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though!


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How to Make Bubble Snakes

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

How to Make Bubble Snakes from

These Indiana girls couldn’t be happier that summer is around the corner and today we wanted to show you how to make bubble snakes with our homemade diy bubble recipe. If you haven’t tried our bubble recipe, you are in for the best bubbles ever this year. This fun activity is brought to you in partnership with Tum-E Yummies today.

Have you made your own bubbles or a bubble snake before? If you haven’t, you are going to be amazed at the difference in this solution versus what you buy at the store and the staying power of your bubble snake. Not only are making bubbles and bubble snakes fun, but they are also a lesson in science.

According to Steve Spangler Science, “Bubbles form because of the surface tension of water. Hydrogen atoms in one water molecule are attracted to oxygen atoms in other water molecules. They like each other so much, they cling together. When you blow air through your Bubble Snake maker, you are creating hundreds of tiny bubbles. As the air wiggles through the fabric, bubbles are continuously being made. The bubbles attach to each other when they come out of the fabric. It’s all thanks to the same hydrogen bonds that make bubbles possible!”

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really understand the science behind bubble making. I love a bit of science with our crafts. Let’s get mixing!

How to Make Bubble Snakes

How to Make Bubble Snakes from

Supplies Needed

Dishwashing liquid soap

Glycerin (we found this behind the pharmacist’s counter at our local superstore. Can also sometimes be found in the first aid supplies section)

Pitcher (we love the kind with a plunger to mix the bubbles)

Liquid Food Coloring

1 plastic bottle

Box Cutter

An old sock or a washcloth (secured with a rubberband) Bubble tray or a disposable plate or bowl

DIY Bubbles Recipe from

1. Mix up your homemade bubble solution in your pitcher (recipe below). We halved our recipe to fit in this two quart pitcher, but you can definitely mix up a full gallon too. Set aside.

How to Make Bubble Snakes from

2. Today, we are using a Tum-E Yummies container for the base of the craft, so let your kids drink their favorite flavor to get the container ready to be used! If your kids haven’t tried these, they are fruit flavored waters that come in five flavors (Very Berry Blue, Greentastic Apple, Fruitabulous Punch, Orange-arific, and Sour-sational Raspberry). Each of these have 100% daily value vitamin C, B6, B12 and only 50 calories and 13g of sugar. You can be assured, you will need all those vitamins for the bubble blowing that will be happening once we are done creating this craft!

3. Take a box cutter and carefully remove the bottom of the container. Once this is removed, secure a sock or a washcloth (secured with a rubber band) over the newly opened end.

4. Take your liquid food coloring and create a stripe of each color (red, yellow, green, and blue) across the bottom of the sock or washcloth. The more you add to the bottom, the more vibrant the colors.

5. Dip the rainbow end into the bubble solution. Be sure to get a good soak of bubbles on it to create your snake.

6. Blow on the other end of the container to blow out that colorful bubble snake. Be sure to stress to your kids to not suck in their breath (who wants to swallow bubbles? yuck!).

How to Make Bubble Snakes from How to Make Bubble Snakes from


How fun is that? I guarantee amazing bubble snakes with our diy recipe! While you are at it, be sure to purchase some big wands for this fun project. You really won’t believe how big these bubbles are or how long they hold their shape before popping.

How to Make Bubble Snakes from

A huge thank you to Tum-E Yummies for partnering with me to create this fun summer activity idea. You can find these flavored waters in many convenience stores, grocery stores, and drugstores. My kids really did love this fun twist on water and I know they will make a fun addition to our pool bags this summer after a long day of swimming!

DIY Bubble Recipe
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Keep these items on hand to make bubbles all summer long. You won't believe the size or the staying power of this amazing solution.
  • 1 gallon water
  • ⅔ cup dishwashing soap
  • 2-3 tbsp. glycerin
  1. Mix all these ingredients in a container. DONE!

For more fun family ideas, follow Tum-E Yummies on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!

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