Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

3 Ways to Find More Joy This Year

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (4)

No matter how many posts and articles I read (or write) about not making New Year’s resolutions and setting realistic goals and starting a new diet (or organizational system or meal plan or reading challenge) on any day other than Monday, I can’t help but start the first day of the first week of the first month of the new year with some degree of expectation.

When I woke up yesterday, I literally began the day with a smile on my face. And, as anyone who’s ever witnessed my reluctant rising can tell you, this night owl does NOT usually wake up happy! But it was a big day, the first “real” day in the new year! A day full of so much opportunity, a day destined for fresh starts and productivity and greatness.

Except, as it turned out, it was just another day.

Another MONDAY at that.

I had to remind my older daughter 17 times to brush her hair and her teeth – and to put her empty banana peel in the trash can, please and thank you. I had to change my toddler’s diaper and convince her that wearing her coat was a good idea, given the 20-degree air blowing around outside. I put on my sunglasses as we walked out the door, only to take them off again when I realized it was actually quite cloudy. And as I backed out of the driveway, I noticed that the recycling truck had knocked over our trash can, spilling bags of garbage all over the street and yard.

It was just another day. Another day we have chores and arguments and projects and appointments, another day with clouds and trash and cat hair and dirty dishes.

But you know what? It was also another day full of beauty and hope and joy. It was another opportunity to choose my outlook, to determine my attitude, to make a difference – even if it’s just for me, even if it’s just for a moment.

See, I believe that we can find joy – true joy! the kind that can’t be stolen by cloudy skies or spilled garbage (literal or figurative) – every single day of the year. I believe it’s possible and even necessary for our mental health and our relationships and our productivity and success. And I believe that just a few simple steps can help us find a whole lot more of this crucial, beautiful joy this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (1)

3 Steps to Finding More Joy in 2016

1. SAVOR YOUR MOMENTS.

My friend Sara said once that moments are her favorite things. Not Oreos or the fifth Harry Potter book or the color purple or spicy queso, but moments. Much as I love all those other things, I’d have to agree. After all, capturing and savoring moments is why I used to scrapbook years ago – and why I love Facebook now. It’s why forgetting my camera is reason for turning the car around, no matter how far from home I’ve driven.

And it’s why I’ve been known to tear up at random times when I look around and realize this – THIS! – is beautiful. This life, this family, this conversation, this laughter. Even when it’s loud or messy or awkward or weird, a moment sometimes strikes me as so beautiful that I can’t contain my ridiculous tears.

Every day – the regular days, the cloudy days, the hardest days – has sweet moments. Even on days that come with banana peels and mountains of laundry and overdue bills, we can find something to savor.So when you’re struggling to find a silver lining or a glass half full of anything, look for those moments: your favorite song on the radio, the first sip of that cold tea or hot coffee, baby giggles or a side hug from a tween, rain showers or sunsets, an encouraging text message or inspiring quote posted on Facebook at just the right time.

Find those moments – and then savor them. Take a mental picture, close your eyes and bask in the joy for a few seconds, and save it for the next “just another day.”

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (2)

2. EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE.

I know, I know, this is nothing new! When she writes about how listing out the things we’re thankful for can be truly life-changing, Ann Voskamp boils it down to this: “Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful.” Just like that – even when it’s hard to find something to be thankful for.

Sara, my friend I mentioned earlier (and, as it happens, my co-author in a book about joy), suffered from an extremely painful, debilitating disease. And yet, throughout her life, she learned to choose joy anyway. She wrote about that after spending another Thanksgiving holiday alone:

“I’m not in the least bit bothered to be here alone on the holiday of gratitude, because it’s the same as any other day. I am simply grateful. I appreciate my life because it’s the one God has given to me, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it wishing for anything else.”

She was simply grateful – every day, good or bad, no matter what. Wow! Personally, I’m still working on making that kind of gratitude such an ingrained habit. But I believe we can take strides toward this in 2016.

Perhaps for you it will help to keep a written journal of your thankfulness. Or maybe, like me, you need to commit to verbally thanking someone each and every day. I try to send my husband a text message every night before bed (he works nights), thanking him for something – even on days we argue, even on days we don’t see eye to eye. The habit of gratitude that leads to an attitude of joy is something I’m pursuing big time this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (3)

3. MAKE YOUR CHOICE.

Sara’s and my book is called, Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts. It was named after Sara’s mantra and mission: choose joy. That’s what she named her blog, and it’s what she painted on a wall in her condo. When she shared a picture of that painting, she pointed out that the biggest word, the most important part wasn’t JOY; it was CHOOSE.

If we’re going to make this year different than the last one, we have to make a choice. We have to choose to pursue joy, just like we will commit to health and love and hard work and fun. We must make a choice. We must draw a line in the sand, step over it and never look back. No matter what 2016 brings us, it will bring us moments of joy and opportunities for gratitude.

Let’s choose to find them and savor them – and to enjoy the beautiful picture they create!

Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver was released by the Hachette Book Group in 2016. It is a must-have for those searching for meaning and beauty in a world full of tragedy. Sara’s words breathe with vitality and life, and her stories will inspire smiles, tears, and the desire to choose joy. To learn more about CHOOSE JOY, visit TheChooseJoyBook.com.

 

Dora Band-Aids for a Hurting World

Monday, December 21st, 2015

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When my daughter was small, I remember that each and every hurt required some type of medical treatment. We had a constant rotation of ice packs and tiny bandages, often for nonexistent wounds. It was as though the act of putting that Dora Band-Aid on her superficially scraped up knee was enough to close the floodgates of tears and make the world right again. She needed me to see her hurt, to echo how awful it was to be hurt, and then to show my efforts to repair it.

Last week I discovered that a family I had been working with, through a volunteer opportunity I am involved with, had fallen on some particularly hard times and had been living without things that I would consider basic human needs.  The gas in the home had been shut off, the stove was not in working order, medical needs couldn’t be addressed through their insurance, and there was not even a washer to care for their family’s clothing.

When you have a platform like this to work from, you can often make swift work and can create fast resolutions to problems, simply because of the large circle that comes with this type of job. In a matter of 24 hours, I found I could meet all of these basic needs for this family between our family’s resources and many, many generous givers that I reached out to who helped me close the gap through material and financial donations. If there is one thing I feel proud of, it is is the company I keep.

As I shared those gifts with this family this weekend  I had a flashback of being that mom sharing a Dora Band-Aid again- I was so unequipped. This wound was so beyond the reach of the tiny offering that I had.  I could see so very clearly that there were many other needs that were there and I knew that the gift I offered, while appreciated, was just a small bandage on a problem bigger than I could fill. 

I left my humble bandage for this wound, I echoed the hurt, and I hugged those people and gave what I could.

Those bandages though, those are mine to give out and sometimes I have a whole box at my disposal and sometimes I just have a couple to share that I can sprinkle around. This box is mine to do with what I choose, and yet,  I was surprised at some of the commentary that came from what others said about those bandages.

“Did they deserve them?”

“Were they working?”

“Why had they fallen on hard times in the first place?”

“So many people working the system….”

You have probably heard a few of these before, am I right?

Here’s the thing.

My family?

We worked the system. 

My husband lost his job for a year and we became part of the system that people refer to with that shake of their head.  We found ourselves unable to make ends meet, unable to find employment, and the seeker of any government gift that we could qualify for. My husband and I went without health insurance (a gamble that kept me up every night), we placed our son on a healthcare plan funded by the state, and we eagerly waited for those unemployment checks so we could do things like get groceries and pay our mortgage.

What helped us get through those times were those tiny bandages that so many giving and kind people shared with us. They knew they couldn’t heal the gaping wound we had…it would have been impossible!  Yet, they were happy to share the smaller bandages that made each of those dreary days in my life better.

They brought us meals, they watched our baby, they gave us gift cards to have nights out, they even bought a pizza for the volunteers who later had to move us out of our very own home that we could no longer afford.

I could not even have purchased that pizza for them as a thank you.

Our debt situation?

Well, we needed a full-body cast at that point, not a tiny bandage.

But those bandages made such a difference and I still reflect on the generosity of the people that got us through such a depressing time in my life. 

And now, I’m the lucky one who has a box of tiny bandages to help those in need.

The bandages are often the smallest gifts, but not only are they my gifts to give, but it is their gift to do what they need to do with it. I don’t worry about if that bandage is going to someone working hard enough or if they are deserving of my tiny bandages.

I know God will figure all of that out.

He has a way of sorting things out for me. 

I only hope that other people are sprinkling them in some of the same spots that I am so we can close the gap on those hurts in the world together. When cobbled together, incredible things happen like the small Christmas miracle I got to witness this weekend as we met these basic needs for a family I love.

As we close out another year here at MomAdvice, I hope you will find a way to share your gifts with others, whether they are big or small. Just as I did with my daughter,  I am acknowledging these hurts in the world today, I echo your hurts because I think about them too and pray for resolutions, and I share a tiny bandage with those of you who are hurting.

I am also hoping you are one of the lucky ones holding a box and you won’t forget to share a few Dora Band-Aids of your own, even if the wounds seem too big for such small offerings.

They all matter.

And so do you.

xoxo

Why New Year’s Day is the Most Romantic Holiday

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

How to Make New Year's Day the Most Romantic Holiday

Even though Christmas seems to be campaigning for “most romantic holiday” with its flirty, “Santa Baby” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” its wistful, “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and its determined, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” I’m not buying it.

Everyone knows Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday, and let’s be honest. There’s nothing romantic about stuffing ourselves with turkey or mopping up sweat and fighting mosquitoes while we wait for the fireworks display to begin. Obviously, the only choice for Most Romantic Holiday is New Year’s Day.

Wait – what? Didn’t I mean to say New Year’s Eve? With its fancy parties and bubbly champagne and midnight kisses? WITH ITS WHEN HARRY MET SALLY RACES ACROSS TOWN AND DECLARATIONS OF LOVE?

Um, no. I really did mean New Year’s Day.

I believe New Year’s Day is the most romantic day of the year. The first day of the calendar year is a time for you and your husband to celebrate what’s happened over the previous year – or maybe to close the door on a tough year. Maybe even a little bit of both. But more importantly, it’s a time to look forward together, to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t, to make plans for the best year yet.

It can also be a time to get to know each other better, as you reflect on what was most important, most challenging and most rewarding over the past year. New Year’s Day is not naive; it remembers what’s come before. But it’s hopeful and full of potential for what you can do and become, together, from here on out.

So how can you take advantage of this oh-so-romantic day and celebrate the beginning of a new year (and the end of an old one!) with your husband? I have three suggestions.

How to Make New Year's Day the Most Romantic Holiday

3 Ways to Make New Year’s Day the Most Romantic Day of the Year

1. Look back on the past year together.
Did you and your husband struggle to communicate this year? Did you make a record number of date nights happen? Was this a year you reconnected – or one where you drifted apart? Did you break some habits or slip into some old ones? Did you fight a battle together and win, or fight for each other (which is always a win)? Take an honest look at the last 12 months as a couple, so you can decide which parts you want to duplicate in the coming year and which ones you want to leave behind.

This can also be a fun time to create a time capsule. Make a list of questions to answer together – or take turns answering – and record those answers. In the last year, what was…

…the best meal you ate?
…the best movie you watched?
…the best book you read?
…the catchiest song you couldn’t get out of your head?
…the most fun you had as a couple?
…the hardest you remember laughing?
…something new you learned to do?
…something new you learned about each other?

2. Make resolutions or set goals for the year.
Okay, okay, we all know that making New Year’s resolutions is often an exercise in futility – or, at least, frustration since we usually break them all before February rolls around. But what about setting one or two goals for your marriage? We talked about this last year, and this year I found a great list of suggested marriage resolutions that you can check out. I especially love the way this list recommends only picking THREE of these goals and then focusing on them.

I haven’t talked with my husband yet, but I’m hoping we can agree on #2, #15 and #16: regular date nights, inviting friends over for dinner once a month, and trying something new together.

This can also be a time to share with each other your individual goals, hopes or even dreams for the next year. Wouldn’t it be easier to reach your goal of running a 5K with your husband cheering you on? And if he shares his dream of finishing his degree, that gives you the opportunity to talk about how you can support him and make it happen together.

Honestly, my husband isn’t very good at the traditional romantic gestures like flowers or gifts or candlelit dinners he planned. But when he looks me in the eyes as I share a dream or hope from a hidden corner of my heart – and then he says how much he believes that I can make that dream come true? Well, I might just feel a little like swooning, friends!

3. Plan a year of dates.
Last but not least, take an hour on (or near) New Year’s Day to come up with a Date Night Plan. How often will you spend focused time together this year? What will you do? How will you budget for the babysitter? Who will make the plans? And then – this is my favorite part! – brainstorm some ideas for date night activities.

We did this last year, and even though we barely made a dent in that list of things we wanted to do together (because we leaned on our traditional dinner-and-a-movie agenda more often than we thought we would), it was still fun to think up new date night ideas! And, since we weren’t all that successful trying new things in 2015, I’ll be pulling out that list for next year, too.

Okay, friends. Tell me: What do you think is the most romantic holiday? And how will you celebrate the new year with your husband?

 

Circle With Disney: The Only Cyber Deal a Parent Needs

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Protect Your Kids

Sometimes it is difficult to share here and keep a sense of privacy  around certain issues that we have in our family. We have been dealing with a personal struggle with our kids and creating a good balance of online time and offline time with them. Our biggest struggle though has been protecting them from the internet and potentially harmful content as well as monitoring the amount of time they are spending on their devices.

There are a few things that I became aware of over the past couple of years about my loss of control as a parent.

One was that one of my children was getting up in the middle of the night to play online games while we were sleeping because we were monitoring the amount of technology hours they were allowed online. We found out that this child had been getting up at 3 in the morning every day, slipping on their uniform, playing Minecraft until I needed to wake them up, and then pretending to read in their room, absolutely wowing me that I did not have to pull them out of bed. Of course, the routine started to slip when they became an absolute disaster at school and emotional mess when they came home. We checked our internet logs to discover what was happening and realized it had been a routine for quite awhile before we realized they had been doing it.

The second was that one of our children left open their Google searches on our computer and a peek at their open search history yielded a serious discussion we needed to have about sex and the potential that their search could yield pornography or put them at risk of child predators. We should have had the talk sooner- it felt like a parenting fail to see what they were looking for.

The third were some unsavory jokes at our dinner table that apparently had been found on YouTube skits. 

Clearly, we had lost our control.

The Only Cyber Deal a Parent Needs

We started locking down the internet in as many ways as possible. No one could get on during certain hours, their Kindles had every parental restriction we could set, and we blocked any potential sites that we could that might pop up in their searches. We became police monitors of their behavior as best as we could, but still situations arose where we felt we lost control. My husband did hours and hours of research on what we could do to make this better, but we couldn’t find anything that fit our family’s needs. These blockers for our kids created blockers for me all day trying to do my job and I didn’t know how to reset the blockers my husband enabled. Potential monitoring systems would not work with our router so this is the crappy “block you from everything,”  solution that we had come up with for now.

Until THIS.  It’s called Circle. The company reached out to me to help spread the word about their service for the holidays. Honestly, I almost cried when I watched the video because this is what we needed.  THIS is what our family has been waiting for. THIS is the answer to our issues and I am so excited to show it to you today. I am over the moon excited that we are implementing this system in our home to help protect our kids and I can’t encourage you enough to consider the same system especially if you are having these struggles too.

I received a beta unit this week and would love to walk you through it. Even though I am a blogger, I can admit that I am not very tech savvy.  Watch the video to see how easy it was to set up for our family!

Every family needs this in their home.

Don’t believe me? Here is another video clip of it in action! 

Best part…

It’s only $99 FLAT (meaning no monthly fees!!)

Are you tired of letting the Internet dictate what your family is exposed to? Not Anymore! With Circle, you are the boss!

Here are 4 Awesome things you can EASILY do with Circle:

1. Set appropriate filters for EACH DEVICE. Use the pre-designed ones or customize your own.

iOS Screen 4

2. Track where your family is spending their time online. iOS Screen 3

3. Give your devices a BED TIME! iOS Screen 2

4. PAUSE the internet! Yes. you. can. iOS Screen 1

If you are still not convinced, read what these Circle customers are saying about it:

“As the father of four kids from elementary through college age, I am not exaggerating when I say Circle is EXACTLY the device I have been looking for to control the internet in my house. Circle truly is peace of mind in a little white box.” – Wayne Stocks

“Circle has literally changed our lives and how our family spends time on the internet. My worries of what my children could be exposed to online has changed overnight by the use of Circle. I can pause the internet anytime making getting chores or homework done much easier these days.” -Terra Nyce

“Circle makes it easy for me to protect my kids online, monitor usage across all our home’s devices, and create conversations with the entire family. It’s rare that something is simple and effective, but Circle is both.” — Michael Lukaszewski

We are so excited to finally have control again. Get control of the Internet and give your family this gift of Circle on Cyber Monday.

*This post contains an affiliate link, but I only promote things I believe will add value to your life.

Teaching Kids About Giving & Gratitude

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Teaching Kids about Giving & Gratitude

My daughter has always been annoyingly observant. This means, first of all, that you cannot have “for grown-up ears only” conversations around her, make promises (or threats) you don’t intend to keep, or expect her to simply forget about the slightly traumatizing or embarrassing event from last week. (I know. Typical, right?) But it also means that as a two-year-old, she recognized the insanity of the suburban grocery store situation.

One day after picking her up from the babysitter, I said, “Okay, Annalyn, we’re going to go to the store now.” As we drove down the highway, she asked, “What store?” and I answered, “HyVee.”

All was well – until we pulled into the parking lot and started walking toward the store. Toddling along, holding my hand, she looked up and shouted, “NO! No, Mommy! This is the wrong HyVee!

She was just two years old, but already she was realizing that in this suburban setting, we can find a grocery store on just about every corner.

Of course, as she was also learning, not all grocery stores are created equal. For example, the big box store where we usually buy groceries is a smaller version of the big box store a few more miles down the road. When it was first converted to a superstore with groceries, I was super excited. Driving fewer miles to buy groceries was a definite plus, but I was also relieved to shop in a store slightly smaller than the Atlanta airport.

Until I couldn’t find the right peanut butter. Or deodorant. Or soy milk.

See, it turns out that we traded miles of walking for a smaller selection. That makes sense, of course, and isn’t the end of the world by any measure. But you wouldn’t have known that from my initial reaction. “What the heck? How could they have all these other salsas but not the one I want? What is wrong with this store? Stupid store.”

Talk about first-world problems! And…talk about setting a bad example!

We live in a small house in an old, deteriorating neighborhood. Nearly every room in our home is broken in some way, and my car drives like it’s one gear shift away from a failed transmission. Every holiday, date night, birthday party and new outfit stresses out my budget and me. And we carry a much higher balance on our credit card than I like to admit. However, by the standards of a huge majority of people in this world, we are wealthy. Not just comfortable, but rich.

How, then, do I teach my daughters a healthy perspective on all our blessings, as well as a grateful and giving heart?

We do it by talking about having a grateful heart, reading stories about thankfulness and sharing, praying before meals and thanking God for all He’s given us every night before bed. We send thank you notes for gifts, and when it’s appropriate, I point out how much more we have than others – and how that means we must share with others. (Okay, fine, sometimes it’s more frustration than an appropriate teachable moment. But can you blame me, when I hear the words, “Is that all?” for the umpteenth time in one back-to-school shopping trip?)

But we also fight the occasional case of the gimmes (often prompted by the arrival of an American Girl catalog…SIGH…!) by giving our time and resources to help others. The holidays bring up lots of opportunities to help others in a special way, but giving back is something we can do in our own lives, in every season:

We can make meals and deliver them.
We can order pizza or pick up chicken and deliver it.
We can send a thank you note.
We can send a gift card or a gas card.
We can proofread her resume – and explain LinkedIn.
We can take baby clothes to a friend.
We can pick up a Sonic slush on the way.
We can keep extra gloves and granola bars in the car for those in need.
We can sit and visit and listen and laugh (and maybe cry, too).
We can pack up the kitchen and the boxes and the truck.
We can unpack the truck and the boxes and the kitchen.
We can order another pizza or fill up her freezer.

Helping friends in a real, tangible way is important to me. And just as important is teaching my girls that this is what we do. We don’t just talk about it or feel bad about it; we don’t just toss out platitudes or empty promises. When we hear about a lost job, a scary diagnosis, another round of the flu, a last-minute move, a no-good, very bad, terrible day, we can do something. We can help. We can give out of our abundance; we can love.

And somehow, between a not-quite-daily gratitude journal and sponsored kids and thank you notes and meals dropped off for a sick friend, my girls seem to be learning a little bit about giving and gratitude. At least until they find the next overpriced toy catalog in the catalog…

How do you teach your kids about giving and gratitude?

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How to Make a Homeless Care Package (Free Printable Supplies List)

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Note: From November 2012, this is one of the articles I’m most proud of on Mom Advice, and I’m SO happy that it’s also one of the most pinned, making me proud of YOU. I’m republishing it for our November Focus on Giving M Challenge with the hopes it will see a whole new group of people who will be inspired to give!

One thing that you may not know about our family is that we are really passionate about caring for the homeless. Creating a homeless care package can be one fantastic way that your entire family can be involved in caring for the homeless. Today we want to provide a checklist of supplies for the homeless, a local resources sheet you can print out (if you are in our area), and some tips for involving the whole family in this project.

This month Walmart let me choose a project that I was passionate about for the holidays and showcase how families could recreate it in their own homes. As I always disclose, I am compensated for my writing, BUT instead of accepting the compensation, we invested what I would have earned along with the gift card budget Walmart gave me to give back to the homeless in our community. 

These homeless care packages can be prepared for your local homeless shelters or kept tucked away in the trunk of your car for those you may see on the street looking for your help. I love feeling armed in these situations and these kits are a simple way to show how much you care.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t tell you that my husband inspires me every day with his giving heart. Last winter, he was coming home late from work because he would see people in need and run to stores to get them supplies and gift cards.

That is his heart.

That is why I love him.

If there is one thing I firmly believe in, it is that giving should be a family affair. We have to lead our children by our example. I want my children to remember that what made our family special is that we always gave with our whole hearts.  

My kids assisted in every aspect of this project. My son came with me and did the number crunching on a good old-fashioned calculator, my daughter helped sort and organize all of the items we bought, and both kids helped fill the bags with all of the necessary items.

Here Are My 3 Essential Elements to a Great Homeless Care Package

Feed Their Needs- One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is homeless is personal hygiene items and food to nourish their bodies. Begin by picking up items that will satisfy this area in their life first. Simple items like shampoo, a razor, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, a bar of soap, and tissues are great items to keep on hand.

Food like granola bars, crackers with peanut butter, trail mixes, dried fruits, and a bottle of water are also great items to tuck into your bags. If you have the funds, small denominator gift cards (we did $5 Walmart gift cards) can also be great to give so that they can pick up a meal or item(s) they might need.

Provide Warmth- We live in Indiana and the winters here are brutal. I can’t imagine how cold it would be to stand on the streets without the proper items I need for warmth. Add items like thermal boot socks, gloves, scarves, and hats to your gift bags. Items like these may seem out of your financial reach, but I found all of these at the dollar store and the sets of gloves were a mere $.50 each.

Feed Their Souls- I am sure it goes without saying, but feeding someone’s soul is just as important as feeding their needs. You can feed their souls in a variety of ways depending on your families beliefs and resources. We created a local resources list (available for local residents to download) that they can tap into for further resources in our town. A note that lets them know that they are on your prayer list, a note of encouragement by your children, or a scripture that you find comforting can also be excellent additions.

God has been so good to us, but 10 years ago we were in a very different place than where we are now.  My husband was unemployed for almost an entire year, our financial situation was a house of cards, and my heart was in a bad place. Although I don’t like to admit it, I wondered what my purpose on this earth even was. I never have forgotten that dark place and it is why we still try to be so careful with the resources we have been given and why I have such a tender place in my heart for those who are struggling.

Being careful though doesn’t mean that you can’t be a giver. There are fantastic ways to give, both big and small, around the holidays. Be sure to check our list of ten painless ways to give back to charities to help you get started.  I call these smaller ways to give the, “scraps of life giving.”  I have talked a lot about that with my partnership with Pure Charity as well! 

We want to help you give back to your community! Here are some resources to do just that!

Grab our Free Homeless Supply Checklist for your your care packages. Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!

Grab our Local Resources List for your care packages (if you don’t live in Michiana, you can use this as a template for your own sheet)!  Don’t just click on the picture, head to this link to grab a full-size PDF version!

 

How do you give back in your community? How do you teach your kids to be givers?

 

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. For this project, all compensation was invested in aiding our area homeless.  My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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What We Have Learned From Adopting a Shelter Cat

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

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Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fresh Step® litter.

I had never had a cat growing up, but when we were newly married the only type of animal that we were allowed to have in our apartment was a cat. We naively headed to a pet store and purchased our first cat who lived with us through the birth of our two children and a move that brought us from Massachusetts to Indiana. When she passed away, my home felt empty and I found myself incredibly lonely. I never realized how much she filled my days and how much I would miss her daily presence in my life.

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com our first family selfie with Lulu

This time, I was a little older and a little wiser than my newly married self. I knew that there were many cats available at the shelter that needed a home and I wanted to get our next animal from there to support a great local shelter. We knew that kittens went quickly while the older cats tended to stay longer so we picked out our sweet Lulu who was still a young lady at three, but had been at the shelter for awhile. What a hard selection it was though as we browsed pages and pages of cats looking for a home to call their own. Lulu captured our hearts thanks to her sweet disposition with kids, her sassy tuxedo, and her adorable name (I happened to play a Lulu in a high school play).

On July 15, 2013  we brought her home with us and I immediately moved into crazy cat lady loving territory. I have never loved an animal more than I love this cat.

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

Lulu has brought so much joy to my life and to our kid’s lives that we all fight over who gets to hang out with her.  She follows me from room to room like a puppy when it is just us two and enjoys the pets and snuggles from our kids when they get home, waiting by the door patiently for their arrival.  We celebrate her birthday every year on Halloween like the crazy cat lovers we are and sing her the birthday song, much to her disappointment. The torture!

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

What Are the Benefits of Adopting a Shelter Cat?

There are so many benefits to adopting a shelter cat and today I want to share a few important reasons with you about what a special gift it is to give one a place in your home:

You Are Saving a Life- There are over  2.7 million animals who are euthanized each year because there are too many pets and far too few families to adopt. This number could be dramatically reduced if more families adopted instead of buying animals. Not only that, but by adopting an animal you also free up space for another animal to take their place and find a forever home.

You Can Take Advantage of Adopting an Adult Animal- Kittens are so fun, but can be a lot of work. Lucky for you, you can skip the toddler stage and jump right into adorable calm and companionship. We found an adult cat fits perfectly in our family and adds so much to our household.  With adult cats their sweet dispositions are already established and you can move right into world’s best couch companion without the crazy! 

You Support the Work of a Great Non-Profit- When you adopt a pet from our shelter, you assist a not-for-profit organization, but you also send a message to others who will be asking you for years to come where you obtained your adorable pet. There are so many incredible volunteers who spend countless hours caring for these animals as they await their forever homes. Nothing makes me happier than to honor the hard work of these volunteers by adopting a pet and supporting great companies like Fresh Steps®  who help support organizations like these.

Why You Should Adopt a Shelter Cat from MomAdvice.com

How Fresh Step® Helps Shelter Cats Through Their Million Meow Mission

Fresh Steps has a Million Meow Mission that strives to help all cats experience a loving home. Whether it is through caregiving, volunteering, or financial donations, they consider every act of kindness to a cat in need a true gift.

Although I was aware of the program, I wasn’t aware of the work they did to support fospice care. I am not sure if you have even heard of the term, “fospice care,” but it is one mission in particular that is so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.  Fospice care is when a family foster cares for a cat that is terminally ill and gives a shelter cat a loving home where they can spend their final days with a family. It certainly takes a special family to do this and Bosley was  one strong cat who overcame the odds and spent a beautiful year with one family who opened their home to make it a place of sanctuary for Bosley in his final days.

Watch this video about Bosley and the family who got to be his family during these last peaceful moments. How can you not want to support a mission like that?

This year, Fresh Step® continues its commitment to shelter cats by offering enhanced opportunities for its Paw Points loyalty members to get involved. Members can:

    • Enter their Paw Points Code to show support for shelter cats and receive a Million Meow Mission badge to share on social media
    • Donate Paw Points to support shelters and receive a $2-off Fresh Step® coupon and a Million Meow Mission badge to share on social media
    • Share their Adoption Story with the community. For more information on the Million Meow Mission and to get involved, please visit their website.

 

We hope you can join us in supporting this great cause through your purchase of Fresh Step® Litter. Now that we know their mission to assist others, it makes our purchase feel even more special!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fresh Step® litter.

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3 Ways to Take the Hassle Out of Packing School Lunches {& Free Printable!}

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

This is a post from our diy/craft contributor, MJ.

Mom Advice lunch time printable- free download!

For the first time ever, I’m packing lunches for three kids – which means three drinks, three sandwiches, three treats, and three sets of complaints! Like any parent, I strive to pack healthy and tasty meals that the kids can enjoy in the middle of their days, but oftentimes my best attempts fall short of their hopeful stomachs.

So now that our trial and error efforts have failed, and I’ve talked it over with my children, we’re proud to recommend these three ideas that have helped turn our lunchtime fails into lunches that leave only the crumbs behind.

1. Ask your children what they want and give them the tools to make good decisions.

Before we head upstairs for bedtime, I ask each child what they’d like for lunch. Sometimes we have what they want, sometimes they ask for food they shouldn’t have, and sometimes they have NO ideas. To avoid the headache, I created this Lunchbox Helper!

DOWNLOAD THE FREE LUNCHBOX HELPER PRINTABLE!

Lunch box helper printable

Food choices are separated (roughly) by food groups, and my children are able to make smart choices for themselves (eg: see that fruits and vegetables should be a part of every meal!). It’s also come in very handy for grocery prep. My children can add their own ideas to the sheet and mark off what they’d like to pack for lunches and snacks, and we can know in advance what we need to have in our pantry!

3 Ways to Take the Hassle our of School Lunches

2. Organize ingredients in a place they can pack for themselves!

Lunchbox Helper lets your children see and select what they want to eat, but let’s take it to the next level and have them pack their own meals. In our home, we have all the good stuff on the lower shelves where small hands can reach exactly what they need. In the pantry and in the refrigerator, all the fruits, veggies, grains and goodies are at child height.

I love how Amy organized her space so that an entire lunch can be gathered up from the space of a few drawers. No confusion means less work and less hassle for everyone!

School Lunch Ideas

3. No matter how the food tastes, send them off with your love notes.

When my oldest started in full-day Kindergarten, I sent her off with a note in her lunchbox. As she mentioned that she sometimes didn’t know what to talk about at the lunch table, I started adding a joke to those notes. Over the years, these evolved into illustrated notes with the drawing sometimes being much funnier than the corny joke!

Through a wonderful partnership with The Land of Nod, my illustrated jokes are now reaching hundreds of lunchboxes! Just a few months ago, my Lunchtime LOL Notes went on sale as a full pack of 180 jokes for every day of the school year. It’s been such a treat to hear how parents and children alike are enjoying these notes and turning any menu into a time for giggles.

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I’d love to hear your ideas! What works for packing lunches in your family? Any great foods to suggest?

XOXO, MJ

A Night Owl’s Tips for Better Mornings

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Night Owl's Tips for Better Mornings

I set my alarm for 6:30 this morning. But when I realized I was putting away my book at 1:30, I decided I’d better turn it off. Luckily (and not commonly) my girls slept past 8:00 – which meant I didn’t get the early start on my day I’d hoped for and needed. I didn’t get that email sent or the laundry changed or – I’m the saddest about this one – the shower taken.

No, instead it was another morning full of chaos and rushing around, shouting at one daughter to brush her teeth and make up her bed now, now, now then frantically rustling through the fridge and pantry to find something to pack in the other one’s lunch. I got my contacts in but no makeup on and just enough deodorant to [hopefully] prolong anyone noticing my lack of shower. And the house? Well, it was a victim of one more hectic and hurried morning, with papers covering the table and dishes filling the sink.

Don’t even ask me about the laundry.

I’m not a morning person, you guys. Like, AT ALL. When I was a little girl, my dad worked the evening shift so I stayed up very late with my mom. You know, watching M*A*S*H and Barney Miller and Taxi, like most three-year-olds? It made sense for my family and I only blame my parents for my night owl ways in jest. Really, it’s just how I’m wired and what I prefer. Nights are my favorites; mornings are the worst.

But I can’t argue with science. And evidence. And facts or whatever. [Yes. This is how immature and disgruntled I am when discussing the benefits of early mornings. I’m not even going to try hiding it!] Studies have shown (and early birds have bragged) that people who get up early are more successful. Studies have probably shown that they’re happier and thinner and more organized and always send their Christmas cards on time, too. I’m not sure about that part; it just seems like something morning people would say.

Sigh. I can joke all I want, but the truth remains that mornings are made for productivity and sanity and a life that runs smoother than what I experienced this morning (and so many others). And it’s with these frustrating facts in mind that despite my night owl ways, I am constantly trying to get up earlier.

I’ve told you all this because I don’t want to make it seem like I have it all together, like I’m some sort of morning expert (ha!), like my mornings actually couldn’t GET any better. That is the opposite of the truth. So if you are longing for better mornings in your life and your house, you’re not alone. I’m with you, and here are some things I’ve tried in the past and plan to try in the near future.

(I mean, probably not tomorrow morning because I’m writing this post late at night. But maybe the day after that?)

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A Night Owl’s Tips for Better Mornings

For Getting to Bed Earlier:

  • Stop reading mid-chapter. If you are a late-night reader like me, this tip from Modern Mrs. Darcy is crucial. Don’t fall prey to the wily ways of authors. They make those chapter endings cliffhangers on purpose, friends! They want you to stay up all night reading! They do not want you to be presentable or coherent in the morning. So foil them and your night owl-ness by stopping in the middle of a chapter.
  • Wind down with mundane tasks (fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, balance your checkbook). I seem to get a second wind right before bedtime, when I realize the clock isn’t kidding about how late it’s gotten. Which might be great for getting a few more things accomplished before falling into bed…but isn’t so great for turning off my brain and falling asleep. So I save the harder tasks that require more brainpower for earlier in the day.
  • Keep a notebook by bed. In case your brain still won’t turn off. Or in case your best ideas show up at the worst times.

For Making the Most of Your Mornings:

Sure, sure, get up earlier. Maybe try baby steps and set your alarm just a few minutes earlier each day. But in case getting up earlier is as hard for you as it is for me, here are a few ideas for milking the minutes before the day starts, few as they may be.

  • Work in advance. Make lunches, choose outfits, pack bags and find paperwork before you even go to bed.
  • Exercise at night. (Unless it keeps you awake and then never mind.)
  • Shower at night. (Same exception as above.)
  • Fix breakfast before you need it. Take an hour or so each week to make a batch of breakfast muffins or casserole – or smoothies (my most recent obsession).

For Making the Start a Little Less Painful:

  • Don’t check your email. Or Facebook or Twitter or whatever it is you look at when you grab it as you roll out of bed. Don’t do that. (I’m talking to myself, if you hadn’t guessed!)
  • Keep the TV off. Or turn it on. Whatever works for you – but make sure you’ve thought about what actually works for you (as opposed to simply turning it on out of habit). (Then again, if your toddler wakes up saying, “Poopy! Dressed! Mommy! DANIEL!” then you might have to find an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood no matter your preferences…)
  • Give a hug. More than one of my friends swears by The Hugging Method. Okay, fine, I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but they start their kids’ days with a 10-second hug. For their families, it makes a world of difference in how they all approach the start of a new day. One of these days my grumpy morning self is going to give this a try.
  • Get a drink. I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t love coffee. (I know. I KNOW this might be why I am so bad at mornings. I know!) But I do know that drinking a big glass of cold water goes a long way toward waking me up and shaking off the groggy haze of I Stayed Up Too Late Again.

So, tell me: am I alone in being a night owl who struggles with mornings? How do YOU create better mornings?

 

Photos by Henrique Simplicio and Alex via Flickr’s Creative Commons.

 

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Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

With my son’s blessing & permission, we are sharing our story of what is like to have & be the parent of a child with ADD in this continuing series. To read Part One of our diagnosis story, click here.  Part 2 continued the diagnosis and treatment process!  Today we tackle working with the schools! We welcome your comments and hope our story helps other families facing the same challenges.

I think one of the biggest challenges for me as a parent wasn’t just the treatment process, but more the stigma and worry about what having a label like ADD can do.  Before we dealt with this, I had always thought of this as kids being crazy (and probably indulging in too much sugar), but ADD/ADHD can be so different for each kid. Maybe you had an idea for that label too? It isn’t always necessarily hyper kids- I don’t think I would have identified my child as that. In each child, it looks a little differently with similar characteristic traits.

Today I want to talk about how we tried to set Ethan up for success at school.  I already told you, this kid is SMART (he gets it from his daddy!), but we needed to get certain tools and people in place to help him be the star that we know he is!

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

Start Talking Early

We knew that Ethan was struggling at school and we felt like we needed to let our teacher know that we were working really hard to improve things for him and hopefully for her too! I set up a meeting with the principal and his teacher and tearfully explained that we were working with our doctor and were in the process of figuring things out and asked for a little patience until we had some answers. They both were genuinely kind and sympathetic as we were floundering to figure out how to help Ethan.  Looping them in early bought us a little grace during the diagnosis process because they knew we were trying very hard to make things better for all the parties involved.

Once we had a diagnosis, we were able to begin making the accommodations necessary through our public school system and our principal explained how we could get a 504 for Ethan in place once we had this paperwork. Depending on your needs, you may need an IEP or a 504.  If you are trying to figure out what you need, I love this table that breaks down what each of these means on Understood (a great resource for parents!). At times, with speech services we needed an IEP. When speech was dropped, we just needed the 504. It depends on what type of accommodations your family needs to determine which type of paperwork is filed.

What The Heck is a 504?

Once we had the official paperwork from the testing with our diagnosis, we put a plan in place for Ethan.  We set up a meeting with the principal, his teacher, and with someone who could set up something called a 504 plan for him. A 504 is basically a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school that is written together.  It provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students and is provided at no cost to you.

Here is the thing… I did not want to ask for special favors or inconvenience our teacher, but I knew that there were things that really needed to happen so that Ethan could perform successfully at school. It pained me to ask for “favors” (I am a big people pleaser and hate being a bother to people), but I knew this could help him so much!

Our 504 has pretty much remained the same since elementary school with a few tweaks here and there for his accommodations.

We Need To Be In the Loop- Our biggest issue was that we felt in the dark about what needed to happen during the day and if the teacher needed something from us. We asked that Ethan write in his agenda daily what needed to happen and requested the teacher initial to verify everything so we weren’t missing important papers and deadlines anymore. We also asked that any further communication that she wanted to do with us also was on the agenda so we could be sure not to miss anything.

We Need Access to Quiet Spaces Sometimes- Some classrooms are rowdier than others. He had a hard time focusing when there was a lot going on and we wanted to be sure that he could take advantage of a quieter room if he needed it. This is something we only have cashed in on once, but it’s nice to have in place.

We Asked for A Little Grace on Late Papers- This is never to be abused, but sometimes our disorganization has caused us to be late on assignments. We just asked for grace, particularly transitioning into our new school routines since having zeros for late assignments could really lower his grades.

We Need Extra Time At the End of the Day- This was particularly important as we headed into middle school so that he had enough time to get his books and papers gathered and organized before getting on the bus. That extra 5-10 minutes made an enormous difference in our organizational level and our grades. I think this was the best thing we asked for!

Where Does the 504 Go?

For us, one of our biggest transitions was going from an elementary school setting to a middle school setting. Although we had communicated with his teachers that he had ADD, we did not know that we need to communicate with the middle school that he had a 504 from elementary school and that we wanted to make sure everything was set with it moving forward into our new school. If there is one thing we learned through this process, we learned that we need to check in every year about this and make sure that it is communicated with his teachers. The first year of middle school taught us a lot about making requests known as we were struggling to even pass because the accommodations weren’t there.

What ends up being the difference in the grades if the 504 is not addressed?

We went from barely pulling C’s to High Principal’s Honor Roll!

That’s an incredible difference for a child and for their family.

It’s also an incredible difference in my child’s confidence about himself.

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

How Can I Continue Making His Day Better?

Not only do we have the 504 in place for Ethan, but we take advantage of anything that the school offers that can continue improving those grades and helping him feel confident.

Confidence is such an important thing for a kid.

When our middle school offered free tutoring, we took advantage of that so he could stay after school and tackle that homework with help. We found that he was more productive in that environment than he was riding the bus trying to work on his homework when he got home.

We also looked into ways that he could burn off energy in a positive way. We were lucky enough to have gotten the scoop on cross country in middle school from another mom and this helped Ethan burn off some energy and be a part of a team that really fit with his personality.  I love that his coach focuses on each child doing their own personal best and that he has managed to find fun ways to encourage my child to run with a system of great rewards that Ethan finds motivating. We also love that running is an activity he can always do when he needs to burn off a little steam at home. What a great gift!

I wrote a special note to his coach to thank him for all he does to encourage our son because it has meant so much to us and to Ethan. His positive influence has been a big gift to our family.

How Can I Set My Kid Up for Success?

Success at school starts at home. I can do all of these incredible things for him through the people he interacts with at school, but if I am disorganized at home, those repercussions follow Ethan and make his day hard. It’s a team mentality and I struggle each year as the new school year starts. I can barely keep myself organized most days, let alone stay on top of someone else’s stuff too!

As a parent, I have to make sure that I communicate with his teachers from day one, I have to make sure the appropriate paperwork is filed on his 504, and I have to be the one to stay on top of everything with his homework and projects.

Being organized at home is important because it can be the difference between a good day and a bad day for my son.

As he gets older though, I am trying to push a little more back to him. Someday he will be an adult and he won’t have a mom setting everything up for him in his workplace and in his home. I want to raise a self-sufficient child so I have to do my part to help him do that. Sometimes he will do great with it, sometimes he won’t.

We don’t expect perfection, we are proud of him for trying and doing the best he can.

We certainly aren’t perfect either.

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

The Nagging Mom Transformation

I needed to work on my nagging as much as Ethan needed to work on better habits.

In the morning, the routine was the same:

Do you have your papers?

Did you get your agenda signed?

Did you do your homework?

Do you have your gym clothes?

(said in a nagging mom voice)

I started utilizing a checklist that I would sit by his backpack to go through and would just remind him to check his checklist in the morning instead of the daily nag. I turned off my own distractions and just focused on a good breakfast and building that kid up at the bus stop. I made more time for hugs and less time for Facebook-checking. I tried to tell him one thing I was proud of him each day. All of this has become such a part of my routine that I don’t think about it anymore.

I don’t think this makes me an amazing mom and I don’t say this to brag, I just say this because part of the transformation of this diagnosis is the transforming I had to do on myself.  I had to see the psychologist so I knew how to respond to my child better. I have to invest the time monthly in check-ups and making sure his medical needs are addressed. I have to communicate with the school staff so they know I care. I have to make room in our schedule for activities that make my son feel confident.

It has all been worth it.

Every.

Single.

Moment.

I hope that sharing this story offers some encouragement to you. As a blogger, there is a difficult balance that we have to deal with when sharing about our families. I shared this because I felt so very alone in this process and I know our story can help others.

If you are working through this with your child, I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are a good mom.

The process of discovery, diagnosis, and treatment can be transformative for a family.

Your process might look different than mine or you might explore other avenues than we did. Each family must figure out what works best for them.

I have found I was a much harsher judge of other moms before this experience. Now I just look at all of our different paths (with all those winding turns) and say, “I am so proud of you for doing what’s best for you!”

If there is anything I have learned from this experience it is that it takes a village.

I am so thankful for mine.

xoxo