Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

DIY Outdoor Movie Night

Monday, June 29th, 2015

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

 

*This post is sponsored by Walmart. Proceeds from this post were donated to Riverbend Cancer Services.  Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site and our community! 

Have you ever wanted to create your own DIY Outdoor Home Theater? We have had this on our summer bucket list for years and this summer we decided to finally put together our very own DIY outdoor movie night together with our kids and are sharing it with you today! There is something truly magical about watching a movie together under the stars and I love that you can do this right in the comfort of your very own backyard. We partnered with Walmart to show you just how easy it is to host an outdoor movie night of your own.

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Shopping List:  1) Clothespins 2)White Sheets (King or Queen Size) 3) Projector 4) Outdoor Pillows 5) Outdoor Lights 6) Popcorn Buckets

Now that you know what to buy, here are my tips for hosting your own diy outdoor movie night:

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

 An EASY DIY Set-Up

You don’t need a lot to create a great movie set up. A simple white sheet (we like to double ours up to get the optimum picture)  and some clothespins are exactly what we used to create our set-up. We simply draped our sheet on our clothesline out back and held it in place with a couple of clothespins. Anchor the bottom of your sheet with rocks or a brick to hold the sheet in place, particularly on those windy days.

Although there are more expensive screen options that you can purchase, I have found that sheets don’t take up a lot of storage and offer a decent picture for the price.  Make sure to iron out those creases to avoid having ripples on this DIY screen- it’s worth the extra step!

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Get a Great Picture (and Sound)

Your biggest investment in your outdoor movies will be your projector although Walmart does offer several affordable choices (check out this budget-friendly option for just $113.88)! More than likely, you already have the laptop and with the addition of small external speakers, you will have incredible sound.

We have had our projector for years and take it with us on our trips as a back-up plan for rainy days and we use it at home regularly especially in the winter months.

We were always struggling with sound on ours and we had an ah-ha moment and realized that with the right cable, we could hook the sound up to our daughter’s mini guitar amp. Now we have sound and we didn’t even have to make a speaker purchase. This goes to show that you can really think out of the box on creating your own DIY theater for a great picture and sound for your movie night.

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Create the Mood

With the humble beginnings of a sheet and some clothespins, I am all about creating a mood. Consider stringing some outdoor lights up and around your movie screen to really create the movie magic for the night. I have always found that twinkle lights take everything up a notch when outdoor entertaining and are less than $20 a strand. It’s an affordable luxury for really creating the mood!

Comfy seating keeps your guests in their seat longer (although running around the yard while the movie is playing is totally required!).  Add some blankets to the ground and some comfy outdoor pillows (I love these from BHG at Walmart).  Consider also gathering your patio furniture around to keep things cozy for the adults in the crowd!

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Bring On the Snacks

You can’t watch the movie without POPCORN! Take your popcorn game up a level and craft up a popcorn bar for your guests. Fill trifle containers with popcorn (don’t forget your scoopers!) and then fill ramekins with candy treats, marshmallows, and other fun mix-ins for you guests.

To make the treat more interactive (while you are waiting for it to get dark), you can have a table for decorating  paper bags with stamps, markers, and decorative scissors for cutting a pretty scalloped edge. Have kids create their own popcorn bags and fill them with their favorite combination of treats. For older guests, the party section of the store offers a variety of fun containers you can use for your snacks.

I am also a big fan of the reusable insulated solo cup for outdoor drinks and a perfectly sized popcorn bucket. We found these in the outdoor section of our store.

For drinks, I am a BIG fan of using an inexpensive outdoor flower box for your soda drinks. Isn’t this a fun way to bring drinks to the table? Retro sodas and paper straws are always a hit with my kids. Center this on your picnic table for easy grabbing!

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

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DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Here is our movie screen once it was dark. As you can see, even with a tiny projector, you have a pretty great picture on  your sheet. We found adjusting the bricks to pull out any wrinkling, made a dramatic difference in the projection of our show. Our first movie night we caught, “Little Rascals!”  The kids ran around like crazy, catching glimpses between games of hide and seek.

At the end of the night, it ended up just being me and my Dad, sitting side by side in two chairs, finishing out the show together.

We both agreed, that was pretty darn sweet.

There is certainly something so magical about an outdoor movie and we hope we have inspired you for a night of your own!

DIY Outdoor Movie Night from MomAdvice.com

Reservations to our movie theater are highly recommended. We encourage you to dial our yellow phone to hold your seat! We would like to say a big thank you to Mallory Dzierla Schoenle of Copycat-Design for sharing her talent with the Riverbend Cancer Services.

We purchased her beautiful donation of this handmade lemonade stand to help support the cause and transformed it into a popcorn stand for the evening festivities. Mallory is a big giver in our community and as a DIY girl myself, I can see the labor of love that goes into each of her projects. You can check out her Facebook page or her website for more information about her beautiful pieces! 

For more fun summer activities, check out this page of great ideas! Have you ever hosted an outdoor movie night? Please share your tricks and tips here for a fun night with the family!

walmart_mom_disclaimer

 

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Learning to Love Travel with Your Husband

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Learning to Love Travel with Your Husband

When I was a kid, my family took a vacation each summer. Even if we could only afford to visit the next state over, we went somewhere new. When my husband was a kid, his family spent a week at the lake each summer. Even if the traffic was horrendous, they took a road trip to spend those days swimming and sunning.

Though we knew these things about each other before getting married, we never imagined it would influence our own relationship and decisions for our family. Unlike money and communication and how to fold towels, we had no idea that our approaches to travel could result in frustration, disappointment and general disagreement.

If you think about it, though, travel is more than an interest or hobby. It’s related to how we view spend our time and money, what we determine are priorities and set as goals, and even what we think is best for our families. No wonder it can cause so much trouble between two people with completely different backgrounds!

While WHERE to go is the obvious difference of opinion when it comes to travel, that’s just the beginning. Since getting married 16 years ago, my husband and I have disagreed about…

  • When to travel – which season, which month, what part of the week? early in the morning or in the middle of the night?
  • How long to travel – a long weekend? a full week? a day’s journey away? only a few hours away?
  • How to pack – like a Boy Scout (be prepared)? roll your clothes to fit more in the bag? just the necessities? {shudder.}
  • Whether to fly or drive – spend the money? or the time? or the sanity???
  • When (and whether) to travel with kids or friends or family (speaking of sanity…)
  • How strictly we adhere to an agenda – or do we even need an agenda? {Yes. We always need an agenda!}
  • Where we splurge and where we pinch pennies
  • Whether tourist traps are fun or awful
  • How often to stop for bathroom breaks or photo opportunities

And probably more that I’ve forgotten!

Because of these differences and disagreements, many of our early trips were spent with as many frustrated signs and ill-tempered words as museums and national parks. Both of us assumed that OUR WAY to travel was THE RIGHT WAY to travel, and we felt both disappointed and disgruntled that the other one didn’t get that!

Tips for learning How to Love Traveling with Your Husband

Thankfully, after so many years of traveling together, my husband and I have figured out which details and decisions we can compromise on and which ones we need to take turns on. He knows I’m never going to go somewhere without an agenda, and I know he’s never going to be happy about multiple bathroom and photo breaks. But, for the most part, I can manage a laid back schedule designed for maximum fun and minimum stress – and he almost always humors my requests to stop {again.} for one more break.

Of course, that doesn’t mean our travel planning days are carefree, full of rainbows and giggles. {Um, no.} As a matter of fact, as we worked on plans for this summer’s vacation, we had to debate again the benefit of a larger hotel room when traveling with children versus the benefit of saving a few dollars! But for the most part, our travel dreams are more aligned than ever.

They’re so in sync {sometimes. okay? not always!} that we’ve started a Travel Wish List.

The wish list began when I read something online about how many summers we have left with our kids before they go to college. After I stopped crying my eyes out {because REALLY.}, I counted. My oldest daughter is seven and just finished the first grade. She may travel with us after going to college (and we have a handful more years before her baby sister leaves the nest), but the reality is that we only have 12 summers left before she moves out.

We immediately began brainstorming all the places we want to take her – and then realized that a) the list is way longer than 12 destinations and b) we might not want to take kids on all our trips over the next couple of decades! We came up with a list of 24 places we’d love to take our girls, but the truth is several of the destinations overlap with our couple’s travel wish list.

That may mean we visit those places twice over the years – once with kids, once without. It could also mean our daughters have to make some trips with their own families down the road. In other words…don’t tell the girls, but they might get left with the grandparents a few times, no matter what our list for them says!

These days it feels like a miracle if my husband and I can go to the grocery store together, sans kids, so even a short road trip would be a gift. But we won’t always have young kids, and we want to plan now so bigger trips are possible sooner rather than later. So we’ve made a list for ourselves – and started a savings plan to make those travel dreams come true. Here are the top 5 places we’d love to go together right now:

  • Chicago
  • Savannah/Charleston
  • Hawaii
  • San Antonio
  • Europe

Our 20-year wedding anniversary is coming up in four years, so we’ve actually started saving for a trip to Hawaii. My hope is that we have way more than five amazing trips in our future, whether they’re far away or just a couple hours’ drive from home – and that, one of these days, we can even learn to agree on the ideal playlist, best snack foods, correct number of bags and appropriate souvenir purchases!

Do you and your husband have the same approach to travel?

 

Photos by wwarby and jolevine

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Easy DIY Summer Time Capsule for Kids

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Easy DIY Summer Time Capsule for Kids from MomAdvice.com.

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 and tween stages this year and I treasure each moment with them so much more as they get older than I had ever imagined.

Today 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.

Head on over the Kenmore blog to get the instructions & tutorial for this easy DIY Summer Time Capsule for Kids.

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Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

As my kids get older, we have found that they need and want less and less.  We have also found that we desire less clutter and more moments with our kids so my husband and I hatched up a Choose Your Own Adventure gift for the holidays this year that we gave them in lieu of gifts.

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? They were my favorite when I was a kid because each time you read a book, you could make a choice that would take you down a different path. I think I reread this one a million times, returning the well-worn pages back to the library, only to to check it out again.

That idea of choosing your own adventures still lives on and I decided that this year, our family would make travel a top priority. I want my children to have big adventures and see the world so at Christmas, we gave them the unique opportunity to, truly, choose their own summer adventure with us as a family.

I tell you this now instead of in the winter because this one requires a chat with your kids about gift expectations and it also requires saving money for your adventure. 

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

We asked our kids if they would like to do a vacation instead of gifts this past Christmas and they were so excited to do this which thrilled us to no end.

Since my husband is a web designer, he came up with the genius idea to create a retro travel brochure (complete with a typewriter smear) that would make it look like this package was designed just for them that they could open on Christmas morning. Since there would be no gifts under the tree, we really wanted to give them something to enjoy on Christmas morning and to create a new tradition of gift-giving in our family!

The Mom & Dad Travel Agency (making dreams come true since a few minutes ago- ha!) cover sheet was designed with their names on it and placed on top of the gift.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

The first package they opened outlined the rules of the adventure.  If you decide to do something similar, you can create your own rules, but these were the rules we set up to make sure that things went smoothly. 

Found below are the rules we gave our kids! 

Rules for Our Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Package

ONE- You must agree TOGETHER on the trip. We know that this will be tough, but it is also a great opportunity to work on your teamwork skills. Take your time coming to your decision and read through each of the files carefully. In it, we have outlined how you will get to your destination, where and who you might visit, as well as the exclusive adventure you will get to take.

TWO- Although we will do our best to book the places we have outlined for you, these will also be subject to availability. Do you know what that means? It just means, it depends on if the places or owners have space for us. For example, if the place we show you ends up not being available when we are able to go, we promise to find something as close as possible to what we have shared with you. That is the MOM & DAD TRAVEL AGENCY guarantee.

THREE- We will book the destination of your choosing as soon as possible, but the trip will be taken in the SPRING (sometime between the months of MARCH-MAY). Again, all of this will hinge on the availability and the ideal weather for wherever you select.

FOUR- HAVE FUN! Again, the MOM & DAD TRAVEL AGENCY is so pleased that you want to do something with… well…, your MOM & DAD as a gift. How many parents get to say that? We are so proud to take this trip with you and look forward to serving all of your travel needs.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I designated one file folder for each package idea and my husband created retro cover sheets for each package. For our family, the three destinations were to Florida (Universal and our Mimi), Boston (renting a houseboat and seeing where my son was born), and California (to see the Redwood Forest). Each package was wrapped individually so they had three files to open in the morning.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I then typed up travel itineraries that we hoped the kids would love reading together in the morning. We really wanted to make each of these special and a true gift in the morning.

Upon opening all three, they had a little conference session on their own to decide the trip that they wanted to do.  As outlined in the rules above, they had to decide together.  We knew this might be tough, but there was also the option of one picking one year and the other picking the next year.  

In fact, we are planning to recycle one that wasn’t chosen (that seemed to get a lot of buzz) and add a couple of new options.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Over our annual Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls, they shared that Universal was the chosen holiday for the year. I am proud to say it wasn’t really about seeing the Harry Potter world at all… it was, in fact, getting to see their amazing Mimi that really sold our Mom & Dad Agency package.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I hope this idea is inspiring to your family! We are so excited to take adventures with our kids this year and in the years to come and are so happy they enjoyed this gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Amy’s Notebook 05.20.15: M Challenge Technology Syllabus

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

m-challenge

Note: As a wrap-up of each month’s m challenge theme, we will be using the last Notebook of the month as a sort of “Cliffs Notes” edition of the challenge – a place where you can find a list of all the articles we’ve published for the challenge, as well as more inspiration and links from the web around the challenge theme. Our hope is that this will serve as a one stop shopping for the theme that you can refer to as well as catch up on in case you’ve missed anything!

May M Challenge: Focus on Technology

Other Links for Using & Managing Technology:

Efficiency Apps via Buzzfeed

Source: BuzzFeed

 

Great list of apps that will make you more efficient.

20 tech hacks – game-changing secrets for the stuff we use daily.

How to use The Cloud to organize your life.

Do you think you could go paperless?

List of top apps to try this year!

Ways to organize your home with Evernote.

Tips to maximize the power of Gmail.

How to make your Wi-Fi signal stronger.

 

Driven-by-Decor-Hack-an-Office-Organizer-to-Create-a-Super-Convenient-Family-Charging-Station

Source: Driven By Decor

 

DIY a decor-worthy charging station for the whole family.

Or dedicate a mudroom cabinet for family electronics.

Simple ways to declutter your online life.

An app to help kids earn screen time – and helps parents manage it!

10 tips to keep technology from taking over your family’s life.

How to talk to teens about distracted driving from smartphones.

17 apps that can save you money.

Could you detox from your smartphone in 7 days?

5 easy steps to clean up & organize your desktop computer.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Making Face Time a Family Priority

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Tips to Manage Kids Tech Time by Making Fact Time a Priority

When my children were small, it seemed that all they wanted to do was play with me, draw with me, and read with me. As they get older, it seems that all they want to do is play on the computer, play on the DS, and play on the Wii… and not with me?

What a change in priorities it has been to be so low on the activities totem pole!

I say this tongue in cheek, of course, because I am just as guilty as my kids of making screen time more of a priority than it should be. I could spend hours on my phone checking all of my social networks and being disconnected from the three people that love me most in my life.

One evening I looked around and saw each of us in our respective corners with our screens and I knew that something had to change. I want my children to have their downtime after school, but I also want us spending time together as a family.  I wanted to share with you our solutions for making family time a priority again.

Declare Face Time

When my kids get home from school it is time for snacks and homework. After that, they are free to do screen time alone until 5PM. At 5PM, I declare it, “FACE TIME!” Face time is not FaceTime on the iPhone, instead it means that we will have time together as a family until bedtime.  It means having a family meal together with great family conversation, reading books together, playing a board game, or spending an evening playing outside together.

I thought Face Time was a genius idea, but the first night my husband looked at me and said, “So we are ALL supposed to not be on the computer?” Yes, admittedly, I had to flip my phone upside down because each time the screen popped up; I was dying to know what was happening in the world. The two people that had the hardest time were the two of us and the kids took the change in routine surprisingly well.

Do Screen Time Together

If we use screen time during our Face Time it must be all done together.  Some evenings we spend an evening Wii bowling together and other evenings it is a night of wild dancing on our Just Dance game. I will admit that I often request a rousing round of Band Hero so I can sing with my very own Partridge Family.

We recently added a new screen time feature to our family that we are all absolutely loving. For about seven years now, I have made homemade pizza every Friday night for our evening meal and we have watched a family movie. In the last few months we have changed our pizza night to a, “Docu-Pizza,” night that we have all come to look forward to together. The evening consists of 1 pizza, 1 documentary, and 1 great family conversation afterwards. We have exposed the kids to lots of different cultures and watched documentaries about everything from the art of origami to puppetry to a senior citizen dance crew. It has led to amazing discussions and allowed us to use our screen time in a way that benefits our whole family.

If you are looking for some fun documentaries to add to your family viewing, be sure to follow my Reality Bites Pinterest Board for some fun movie suggestions to incorporate into your very own Docu-Pizza Night.

Screen time done together connects us and the kids are learning to include us in the gaming fun instead of doing the games on their own.

Use a Screen Time Monitoring System

I find it is much easier to monitor screen time hours during the school year since the kids are in school during the day. In the summer months is when screen time can really get out of control.  I wanted a way to monitor their screen time so we decided to create a printable ticket that could be used for just this occasion.

These tech tickets have made us all more aware of how much screen time we are using and have been a great way for us to monitor the amount they are getting. Each child gets one chore ticket and two tech tickets for the week in our house. The chore ticket must be punched before they can start with their first hour of screen time.

Tech tickets grant the child one hour of computer or video game time. We do not count television time as tech time in our house. Kids can watch 2 shows daily on Netflix. We no longer have cable television so that has really helped us do a better job of not zoning out on the television. A timer is set and once it dings, the card is punched for that hour.  It is as simple as that!

We made an agreement that if the child wants to save computer/video game time that they can save and transfer the hours to another day. They can not, however, cash in on an advance on their ticket.

My husband and I keep shaking our heads as we see the kids getting back to the root of playing together again. Without the screen distractions, they are playing more outside, playing more together, reading, and creating more. It makes my heart happy to see them getting back to this again and embracing imaginative play.

This is what being a child is about and this is what being a family is about. I am glad we are rediscovering these simple pleasures again.

How do you make Face Time a family priority in your house?

 


 

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Using Technology to Make the Most of Summer

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Boy using laptop outdoor

I’m not sure if you’ll see this as good news or bad news, but friends, summer break is almost here. Yes, it’s true. Those little people who eat so much food and make even bigger messes? They are going to be home for a solid 10 to 12 weeks, and they are going to need something to keep them occupied.

My almost-second-grader is a girl after my own heart these days and totally into books. That means our schedule is filling up with library events, reading programs and make-your-own bookmark craft projects. But eventually she’ll need a break from books (gasp! why?! I KNOW.), and then it’s time to figure out other ways to spend our summer days.

Now, obviously our summer and yours will involve lots of outdoor play, pool time, baseball games and the like. Even if – like me – you’re a little indoorsy, sunshine and swing sets and sandboxes and sweat seem to be required summer ingredients. Even if the siren call of our friends Netflix and Kindle is loud. Right?

So the question becomes: How can we balance our use of technology during summer break?

Great ideas, advice & tips on using technology during the summertime with your family from Mary Carver via MomAdvice.com

I’ve found that we use technology in four ways during family time (or Mama-is-working-so-find-something-quiet-to-do time).

Watching. Obviously this is the most passive of uses for the wonderful world of technology. From episodes of Kitchen Crashers saved on the DVR (my daughter’s latest obsession) to silly, G-rated clips on YouTube, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to watch online. That’s why I work hard to keep track of her screen time (and mine) so we don’t overdo it and turn into Screen Zombies!

TIP: PBS, Disney, Nickelodeon and Sprout have free apps that show full episodes of your kids’ favorite shows.

Playing. Are your kids into Minecraft? If so, you can probably skip this one, because you are covered. My daughter hasn’t discovered Minecraft yet, though, so we have to look hard for appropriate games. Games that don’t require spending money to get to level three. Most the games we’ve found require just about as much brainpower as watching an episode of The Odd Squad on our PBS app, so I count games with her other screen time.

TIP: Don’t forget to adjust your settings so purchases require a password.

Learning. Now, learning games? THOSE I can get behind. (Even for myself, not that it’s a real hardship to “force” myself to play Trivia Crack instead of Candy Swipe…) My daughter knows the way to convince me to allow a little more time with the Kindle is to play an educational game, but she doesn’t mind the compromise anymore than I do. Tons of games that really do teach kids are out there – and many of them are free. One I plan to encourage her to play this summer is from PBS Kids, and it has several ways to teach her how to count money (something she hasn’t mastered just yet).

TIP: Your kids’ school is a great resource for educational websites, especially ones that they’re already familiar with. My daughter begs to play ABC Ya or read with Raz Kids, and we log on through her school’s website or with her teacher’s username and password. So find out about your options before school’s out!

Researching. When I was a kid and had a question about something my parents didn’t know (or wanted me to learn on my own), they always said the same thing: “Look it up.” Back then, that meant going to our shelf of World Book Encyclopedias. Not so much these days! Today if I tell my daughter we need to look up some information (she’s still a little young to do it herself, although she’ll be on her own soon), she knows we’re heading to Google, Wikipedia, Pinterest or another website.

TIP: In addition to looking up facts about whales, recipes for popsicles and the history of LEGOs, you and your kids can also look up community events or reserve books at the library.

Child playing video game with father

A Few More Tips & Ideas:

For older kids, technology is certainly going to be used for keeping in touch with friends. But even the youngest kids can Skype with grandparents or help you send a thank-you email after a play date.

One way to make sure your whole family is getting enough activity is with a device that measures your steps. Set a daily goal for each family member or even launch a friendly competition throughout the summer! Whether you use an app, a Fitbit, or a pedometer from the discount store, the point is to be more mindful of how much you – and your kids – move, and to encourage each other to do a little more.

And, of course, family night doesn’t always have to revolve around a movie or board game (those are the go-to activities at our house). Break out that Wii Fit, LeapTV or XBox Kinect – and break a sweat together!

Last but not least, summer is a great time to start discussions about safety. Remind your kids that not everything on the internet is healthy for them, and help them learn a few family rules about what you share online and what you do not. And as you tug the Gameboy (or whatever is cool these days…I CAN’T KEEP UP!) out of their hands and point them toward the backyard or the baseball field, use that opportunity to make talk about balance (and not turning into that Screen Zombie!) part of your regular conversations.

How do you plan to use technology during summer break?

 

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Free Printable Chore & Tech Time Tickets

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Tech-Chore Tickets Free Printable Note: Originally published in 2012, these tickets have continued to be a wonderful way to monitor both screen time and chores with our kids in a sort of “hands-off” way (meaning, it’s not up to me to keep reminding!). With our focus on technology m challenge, it seemed perfect to share again for those of you who are looking for a better way to manage screen time and make sure chores actually get done.

My husband created this great printable for summertime chores and monitoring computer time with the kids that I’m excited to share with you- free printable chore and tech time tickets. The tech hours punch-tickets in particular have helped both us and the kids know how much time they’re spending on technology. They can be printed and used with a simple hole punch to signify if the child has used their tech time or has completed their chores.

I really wanted to spend quality time with my kids this summer and I find that screen-time really distracts them from our time together. These tech tickets have made us all more aware of how much screen time we are using and have been a great way for us to monitor the amount they are getting. And they work hand-in-hand since the tech time can’t be redeemed until the chores are completed, so it’s a win-win.

How We Use The Tickets

– Each child gets one chore ticket and two tech tickets for the week in our house.

– The chore ticket must be punched before they can start with their first hour of screen time.

– Punch the ticket itself at the end of the day, BUT morning chores have to be completed to redeem the first hour of time, then evening chores are completed and the second hour can be used.

As an example, this is what our list of chore activities to be completed looked like when my children were 10 and 6(alter as needed for your kids and needs):

6 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, sweep (with a quick vac) under the table after each meal, meal helper every other night, (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with laundry sorting.

10 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, wipe down both bathrooms, meal helper every other night (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with loading and unloading of laundry.

Reward- $5 weekly

Tech tickets grant the child one hour of computer or video game time. We do not count television time as tech time in our house. Kids can watch 2 shows daily on Netflix. We no longer have cable television so that has really helped us do a better job of not zoning out on the television.

A timer is set and once it dings, the card is punched for that hour.  It is as simple as that!

We made an agreement that if the child wants to save computer/video game time that they can save and transfer the hours to another day. They can not, however, cash in on an advance on their ticket.

I will not lie, the first day was ROUGH. Two hours does go by quickly for everyone. That said, after the initial two days, we have really been enjoying our time together. We keep busy with fun outings and tackling our summer bucket list together. I find that breaking the day up with an outing seems to make the day go by faster and takes the focus off of the lack of screen time.

Today my son said, “Wow, that hour was really long!”  It was funny how he was whining about the hour being too short the first day. I think we were all losing track of how much time we were spending on our respective screens.

Everyone parents differently. This parenting strategy works for us and I hope it will help someone else out there too!

I didn’t want to waste anytime getting these printables out to you though because they are quickly becoming a valuable part of our summer time together and I think they could be valuable to you too!

Grab your Printable Chore Tickets.

Grab your Printable Tech Tickets.

 

Notes on the printable- There are three tickets per sheet. These are color tickets, but you can switch your printer settings to black-and-white or draft mode to save on ink.

 

How do you monitor screen time in your house? What does a typical chore list look like for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

I told someone the other day that my husband and I aren’t even ships passing in the night right now. We’re more like ships in completely different oceans.

Thankfully, we do live in the same house. My husband isn’t deployed or traveling extensively for work. But he does work incredibly long hours on the night shift, which means our time together – as a couple and as a family – is extremely limited.

Recently we’ve been attending a marriage class at our church, and one of the topics we’ve covered is connection. In our particular group it felt like my husband and I have a unique struggle, but I know that’s not the case in general. I have many friends whose husbands are gone at either unusual or unpredictable times or for extended time (and sometimes both). When one or both spouses are away from home a lot, staying connected can be difficult.

If you or your husband work an odd shift, work more than one job, work in law enforcement or medicine, own or run a business, serve in the military, or any other number of things that keep you busy, connecting with him may take what feels like a superhuman effort. And, of course, if you’re already running on steam because of that exhausting schedule, that make seem impossible!

But it’s not. Staying connected to your husband doesn’t mean you need to plan (and pay for – ugh!) a weekend getaway every month. You don’t need to schedule walks on the beach or candlelit dinners, or fear the consequences. (Although, let’s be honest. If you live near the beach or own candles, those things never hurt!) Staying connected to your husband during super busy, crazy chaotic seasons can happen with a few simple, intentional moves.

First, maybe we should define “staying connected,” though. When I use that phrase, I mean that both spouses maintain a warm feeling about one another, showing each other kindness and attempting to make the other one feel loved on a regular basis. What keeping that loving feeling looks like, tangibly and practically, in YOUR marriage? That’s up to you (and your husband)!

Now, on to the tips!

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

7 Ways to Stay Connected During Busy Seasons

Date Nights: I know, I know – big surprise! Date nights = everyone’s solution for improving your marriage! But seriously, you guys. Finding time to spend together, alone, is crucial. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Last week we had our monthly date night scheduled but I couldn’t find a babysitter. So I reserved a movie rental and made sure we had popcorn in the pantry, and we still had time together after putting the girls to bed.

Eat a Meal Together: Since we’re already talking about busy seasons, it’s obvious that eating dinner together each evening may be difficult or even impossible. But if you can’t eat dinner together, can you eat breakfast at the same time? Meet for lunch? Feed the kids at the normal time and eat with your husband later? Skype while you eat your meals in completely different time zones? However you arrange it, something about sharing a meal creates a closeness that can’t be duplicated with other food-free interactions.

Send Him a Message: I send my husband a text message each night before going to bed. It’s the end of my day but the middle of his work day, and I just want to make sure he knows I’m thinking of him. We’ve also started using Voxer, a voice message (and text message) app on our phones that allow us to leave messages for each other when we’re thinking about it – without waking each other up (a problem since our schedules are opposite). Maybe those things would work for you, or perhaps you need nightly phone calls or morning Skype dates. The point is to keep communicating so you can stay on the same page, even if you’re not in the same room.

Watch a Show Together: One of the perks to having a husband who works nights is that I don’t have to share the remote or negotiate the shows we watch. However, it also means that we’ve picked a handful of shows that we record and watch together on the weekend. And when “our” shows aren’t on, we watch something together on Netflix.

Others might say that watching TV together isn’t spending quality time together. But for us, it is. It’s something we only do together and it’s something we have in common. And though you might not think deep conversations could come from watching the latest episode of Castle or catching up on all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, you would be wrong.

7 Ways to Stay Connected During a Busy Season

Share a Hobby: If TV isn’t your thing, maybe you could read a book together and discuss it when you finally have time together. Or plant a garden together or refinish furniture together or train for a 5K together. (Or train for a 5K separately and then run the race together.) As long as you’re doing something together that you both enjoy, you’re connecting!

Write Him a Letter: My husband doesn’t know it, but on the rare occasion he leaves a note for me (“Don’t forget toilet paper at the store,” “Please wake me up at 4:30,” “Here’s that check to deposit.”), I keep them. There’s something special about seeing his handwriting and his words written just for me – even if they are about mundane, everyday things. It reminds me of the days when we dated and exchanged notes and letters, the days when the most serious thing we had to discuss was our feelings for each other.

Today I’m more likely to send that nightly text or scribble a sentence or two in a birthday card than write him a love letter. But I do think about it sometimes. I wonder if I could convince him to share a journal where we left each other notes. I wonder if I could make time to actually write him a letter. On paper. With a pen. I can’t say I have experience with this tip, but after all my wondering, I’m certain that doing this – even every once in a while – would amp up my connection with my husband.

Think Happy Thoughts: Even before my husband worked nights, he worked evenings. And before that, he worked two jobs. So we’ve had lots of practice fighting the drift of missed connection. For many years I spent that time alone, annoyed and resentful. That strategy is NOT the way to stay connected with your husband, in case you were wondering.

I’ll be completely honest: I still struggle with resentment sometimes. A schedule like ours is super annoying and can be super frustrating, too. But when I maintain a good attitude, focusing on the good parts of our life, remembering all the many reasons I love him, and expressing gratitude instead of grumbling, it’s a whole lot easier to connect with my husband when he finally gets home.

How do you stay connected to your husband during busy seasons?

Photos by Richard Min, bigbirdz, and Natalie Lucier.

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Saving Money & Sanity with Kids’ Clothes

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Right now my daughter’s bedroom floor is covered in clothes. Some clean, some dirty, none folded. Supposedly the piles are organized by type (pants, shirts, etc.), but it’s hard to know for sure. Probably because, at this point, I’m averting my eyes rather than staring directly at the chaos.

Sometimes, the combination of kids and clothes drives me crazy!

When it comes to laundry, we’re still figuring it out at my house. Overflowing hampers, piles of clean-but-wrinkled shirts, dozens of sad unmatched socks – we’ve got it all. So I’m all out of advice for dealing with the care and cleaning of your clothes. But more than seven years into this business of clothing kids, I have learned a few things that just might help you save money and possibly your sanity.

Saving Money & Sanity with Kids' Clothes

1. Learn to love hand-me-downs. Or garage sales or thrift stores or consignment shops. Whatever it takes to get your hands on a large amount of clothes for a little amount of money – DO IT. I’ve been incredibly blessed with a cousin whose daughter is a few years older than Annalyn. They’ve generously shared clothes since my kiddo was born, saving me so much money and time and shopping sanity. When we’re finished with the clothes, we turn around and hand down the good ones to another cousin whose daughter is just a year younger than mine.

Those clothes didn’t quite make it back for a fourth round, so my youngest daughter hasn’t received as many hand-me-downs. Still, we try to pay it forward by boxing up her too-small clothes for a friend whose daughter is a few months younger than Adrienne.

2. Find a quality brand you love. I happen to love Carter’s. I have friends who swear by other brands, but Carter’s is my favorite. The clothes are always super cute, fairly priced (especially at the outlet store!) and well-made. They hold up to the abuse of a little person (and my belief that everything should be wash and go). And I can find them in several different stores. Whether I’m shopping at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target or JCPenney, I can find cute Carter’s clothes for my kiddos.

3. Buy in season. I know. The frugal folks will tell you to buy clothes on sale at the end of each season. But I’m telling you: your kids will grow in weird, unexpected ways. And storing all those clothes is a pain. (And if you forget you have them until that next season is two-thirds the way through? Well, you’ll wish you’d walked right on by that clearance rack!)

4. Give your kiddo choices. As they get older, your independent and creative kids will develop opinions about their attire. Oh yes, they will. And that brown floral peasant blouse that you just love (and may have bought a version of every single fall since she was born)? Yeah, your darling daughter’s not gonna go for it. So, my advice is to give her choices. “Would you like to wear this outfit today or tomorrow?” “Would you like to wear the pink dress or the pink shirt and gray pants?”

I imagine this is an issue for boys, too, but as a Girl Mom, I don’t know. Boy Moms – what say you?

5. Let them dress themselves. If you dare. And possibly retaining veto power. I definitely have veto power at our house, but some of the other moms at our preschool let their kids wear whatever they pick out. I suppose this one depends on your tolerance level. Big surprise – mine is pretty low.

6. Extend the use of your favorite items. Sundresses are my favorite piece of clothing ever. Obviously they’re perfect for summer, but stick a t-shirt and tights under a dress – and voila! You’ve got a spring/fall outfit. You can also add leggings under dresses that are too short. As a matter of fact, I just bought an adorable toddler dress today for Annalyn to wear over her denim shorts this summer!

Boys aren’t left in the cold with this tip, although capris and peasant blouses don’t really translate here. But layering t-shirts over or under long-sleeved shirts can stretch out their wardrobe a bit, too.

7. Embrace the pink. Or the green. Or the polka dots. Or the Mickey shirt or the Dora socks or the monkey hat. Our kids are showing us their unique personalities and passions when they beg to wear the same outfit or color or headband  or ball cap every day. It won’t last forever. And all those people at the grocery store or gas station, staring at your pretty little princess or camouflaged superhero? They know your child picked it out. And they think it’s cute, too.

How do you save money (and sanity!) with your kids’ wardrobes?

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