Apr 11

It’s finally warm enough to venture outside here in Chicago! Trying to find something photo-worthy in the newly thawed yard is a challenge. This chair was made by a lumberjack in northern Wisconsin. When it started to disintegrate, I put it out in the garden. I tried to cover it with moss milkshake, thinking a moss-covered seat would be cute, but it didn’t take. The neighboring tree is more friendly to moss, it seems.

Are you following me on instagram?

Mar 12

This winter just keeps on going. It’s a pretty snow this time, but it’s worn out its welcome. Spring, where are you?

Just testing out the embed functionality of Instagram with these photos from a banner winter in Chicago. Follow me on Instagram here.

20131118-090546.jpg I have not always been big on board games. “Monopoly” and “Pictionary” were the extent of my game repertoire prior to having children. But during my kids’ early grade school years, their teachers encouraged us to play board games for the many educational benefits, and as a result, we’ve become a game-playing family. We add new board games to our collection each Christmas, and games are a highlight of our New Year’s Eve with friends. We take board games on vacation with us, and Family Game Night happens several times a year around here. Though we always come back to our favorites, we also like to try new games regularly. To see the very latest in board games, I’ll be checking out the Chicago Toy and Game (ChiTAG) Fair this weekend. I can’t wait! For more details on the ChiTAG fair, and a discount on admission, see the end of this post.

Why Play Board Games?

It shows you care.  Whatever their age, kids love to get parents’ undivided attention. Setting aside a night to unplug and just play games is the definition of quality time. It shows you have made family time—and play—priorities in your busy lives, and that is a valuable message. Even though my kids are in the tween and teen years, when we say it’s game night, we don’t get any complaints.

It’s good for your kids. Board games pack so much learning into a (flimsy) cardboard box! (As an aside – why can’t game manufacturers make stronger game boxes? They are not built to withstand children. Does anyone still have Candyland in the original box? If you do, my hat’s off to you.) Playing age-appropriate games can build skills such as hand-eye coordination, number recognition, money management and more; reinforce social skills; increase attention span; deliver life lessons, and teach healthy competition. If you’d like to learn more about how this all happens, this article from Scholastic is a good starting point.

(more…)

20131101-140130.jpgThis time of year, the calendar seems to pick up speed for busy families. Halloween is over; before you know it, “THE HOLIDAYS” and all their craziness will be upon us. Retailers and advertisers are already pushing their holiday must-haves in the stores and in the media. Before the kid start making their holiday wish lists, let’s help them remember what gratitude is all about! Thanksgiving is the next major holiday on the American calendar, and November 1 is a good time to consciously slow things down and be thankful.

In our family, we’ve had a “Thankful Tree” tradition for at least 10 years now. Super-simple to make, it gives us a focal point for dinner-table discussions about gratitude during the month of November. It’s an easy way to help kids develop the ability to show gratitude, an important skill that can lead to a happier life.

How to make a Thankful Tree

1. Find a flower pot or other container for your Thankful Tree (we used one from a flower arrangement we received).
(more…)

20131018-102503.jpg

Aaaahhhh…screen shot from White Noise App

What do you do to relieve stress? I, for one, have a tendency to blow off the fact that I’m stressed, thinking it’s not a big deal, until it becomes a problem. Or I do something dumb, like drink more coffee, to get myself through the day. (Getting even more wired—not a good idea!) So lately, I’ve been looking for some healthier (and easy) ways to get my stress level under control. Technology to the rescue! Did you know that the App Store is well-stocked with relaxation apps? And, there’s no need to get stressed trying to figure out which app to download. I’ve done some research and some testing so you don’t have to! My top five stress-busting apps for iOS are listed below.

If you feel stressed at times, you’re not alone. According to the 2013 American Psychological Association Stress in America study, approximately seven in 10 Americans report experiencing symptoms of stress such as irritability or anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and changes in sleeping habits. And, women consistently report higher stress levels than men.

Left unchecked, stress—from your job (even if your job is “just” parenting), your thoughts, life events or your living environment—can build up and cause health problems over time. But you can prevent stress from becoming a big deal if you do a little bit to manage it every day. Creating a regular stress management routine can really improve your health and happiness. By putting stress relief tools right on your phone or iPad, stress-busting apps let you de-stress anywhere and anytime. No excuses!

Here are those five apps I promised. Check them out. They can put relief, literally, right into your hands.

BellyBio Interactive Breathing App (by Relaxline, FREE). Deep breathing is a great starting point for stress relief. Many of us go around holding our breath when we’re stressed. If you have never practiced deep breathing, you’ll be amazed at how it helps relax your entire body. This “biofeedback” app is fun to use. You place your phone on your belly and the app gives you visual and/or sound feedback as you breathe, helping you to slow your respiration into a deep belly breath. (more…)

Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

IN THE CHICAGO AREA? Rosalind Wiseman will speak Thursday, September 19 at Glenbard North High School  and Friday, September 20 at New Trier High School. For her other book tour dates, click here.

m&WcoverBoys are MUCH easier to raise than girls, right? That’s the prevailing wisdom among parents: Boys are simple. They play sports or they play video games, they don’t stay mad at their friends for long, and they don’t talk much about their social lives. There’s none of the “drama” we associate with girls and their friendships. Because boys are so “easy,” parents tend to shrug their shoulders and “let boys be boys.”

And then, something like the Steubenville High School rape case happens, and we collectively wonder how our boys got to this point. Or, on an individual level, the phone rings with what author Rosalind Wiseman calls a “bad news bomb” about something your son did, and you suddenly realize that “what you thought was easiness turns out to be your own own cluelessness.”

Yes, parents are clueless about what’s going on in “Boy World,” if Wiseman’s new book is accurate. And, that cluelessness is harming our relationships with our sons and their chances of growing up into decent human beings.

Schoolyard Power Structures

Do you really want or need to know what’s really going on in the locker room or on the playground? Well, you probably don’t want to, but you do need to. Because no matter how great of a parent you are, how good your intentions are, how solid your family values or your faith, you cannot prepare your son to make good choices without an understanding of the social environment he deals with every day. Because “when a moment of conflict [such as Steubenville] arises,” Wiseman says, “boys’ power structures rise to the forefront. They will not confront each other. They are paralyzed.”

Lucky for us, Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the basis of the movie Mean Girls,) which gave us a glimpse into “Girl World,” now gives us a hall pass into the real world of boys. Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope With Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World is her new book, written with the input of more than 160 middle-school and high-school boys. (more…)

School’s back in session and fall soccer season is in full swing. Are you feeling it? This is the first time in six years I won’t be on the soccer sidelines, and I’m going to miss it! Youth travel soccer was a great experience for my son and my family made some great friends through our local soccer club. However, youth travel soccer was also my first exposure to “sports parents”—the good, the bad, and the ugly. So when the makers of Bad Parents, an independent comic film about soccer parents gone bad, asked me to take a look at their movie, I said, “Sure!”  As you can probably tell from the trailer below, Bad Parents is not a movie for the whole family. The film, which is not rated (edited to add: If I had to guess, I’d give it a PG-13, possibly R, for language and sexual humor), is a dark comedy about what happens when a suburban soccer club decides to go to an “A team/B team” philosophy for the upcoming season. It basically skewers the suburban, youth-sports-centric culture, especially the bad behavior of the parents. It’s told from the point of view of Kathy, a soccer mom played by none other than Janeane Garafalo (I’m a fan! Anything starring Garafolo, I’m giving a chance.).

So, the film is pretty funny. My husband and I not only had a few laughs but also a few moments of validation, having lived through almost the exact same scenario when my kid’s soccer club decided to split into “A” and “B” teams. I loved how writer/director Caytha Jentis, who wrote from her own experiences as a soccer mom, totally captured little moments that I also experienced as a soccer mom: How the parents all set their watches to keep time when the game starts, or the embarrassing “Mom cheers” on the sidelines (in our case, the team moms shook a can full of of coins when the kids scored). Speaking of cheerleaders, Cheri Oteri is also hilarious in the film and gives a subtle nod to her Saturday Night Live “Spartan Cheerleader” character. The cast is actually chock full of great comedic/character actors including Christopher Titus, Kristen Johnson, Michael Boatman, and Reiko Aylesworth.

The parents’ bad behavior is over-the-top in the film, but also included stuff I’ve seen in real life, and not just in soccer. Parents offering their kids material rewards if they score a goal? Check. Parents bad-mouthing the other children on the team? Check. Parents offering sexual favors to the trainer in order to get their kid preferential treatment? Oh thank goodness, I’ve never seen that in real life! As silly as this film can be, it does make you think, and examine your own behavior just a little bit. More importantly, it might make you wonder why youth sports brings out the worst in some parents, and what we can do about it. I mean, nobody wants to be “that parent.” Right?

To wrap up, the Bad Parents film is a quirky, funny, independent comedy and it’s worth a look if you’re looking for some laughs as a sports parent. Download it on iTunes or Amazon, or visit the film’s website here to learn more.

How NOT to be “That Parent”

And perhaps now I’ve got you wondering: Is your child’s sports success a little too important to you? Concerned you might be “that parent?” Not to worry. There are many resources that can help you develop appropriate behavior for sports parenting. Here are just a few:

Empowering Conversations with Your Child:  Tips for talking to your kid about sports from the Positive Coaching Alliance, including this: ”Remind yourself that the youth sports experience belongs to your child, not to you.”

Janis Meredith: A wealth of knowledge from an experienced sports mom.

Sports Dad Hub: Blog with lots of tips and “mindset reminders” for “fueling your child’s passion for sports without burning him out.”

SportsParent Central twitter list I’ve started a twitter list of people I believe are posting great content to help sports parents make knowledgable decisions and help their children enjoy the youth sports experience. You can find it here. Feel free to suggest some additions.

Have you seen bad behavior on the sidelines in youth sports? Are you “That Parent” or do you know one? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!

Disclosure: I was not compensated, nor did I receive any goods, in exchange for this post. Opinions are mine, all mine.

Well, it’s mid-July, and for many of us that means four to six more weeks of kids home from school.  By now you know whether your summer routine is “working” or not. You’re either blissfully enjoying the rewards of the season with your offspring, or grimly counting down the days until school starts. Or probably, like me, you’re somewhere in between.Untitled

I think most parents want their kids to have a great summer. And by “great,” we don’t mean “sitting in the house playing video games and watching the Disney Channel 24/7.” No, we envision some sort of ideal, fulfilling summer involving bicycles, lemonade stands, tennis, beaches, roasted marshmallows and sidewalk chalk. Well, the problem with this vision is that it doesn’t just become reality all by itself.  You, the parent, need to help it along a little, while still going to work (inside or outside the home), folding laundry and getting meals on the table. Enter the summer routine (sometimes known as a chore chart). Nobody likes to be a taskmaster, but we all can benefit from a little structure. Or as I like to say, “Get your chores done so you can have fun!”

Since my kids were little, I’ve had some sort of summer routine for them to follow. Our summer routine has evolved as the kids got older and I discovered what worked and didn’t. I’ve generally used chore charts throughout the year as well, with limited success. Kids hate chores, right? Not (so much) anymore! This summer seems to be the best ever for us, and I wanted to share what’s working. I’d really love to hear what’s working for you, too!

What’s On the Chart?

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 1.37.59 PMAlthough I already had an existing summer routine chart that I simply tweaked to reflect some new ideas, those tweaks made all the difference! I credit the Power of Moms “Summer Camp Kit” with the inspiration for this year’s summer routine. Their idea of having “must-do” activity categories was a breakthrough for me!  Definitely check it out, purchase their kit, and save yourself a lot of work. Here are my kids’ must-do activities for each day: Bible time, 5-10 minutes; wash, brush teeth, and get dressed; feed the dog (either a.m. or p.m.); dispose of clean and dirty laundry in their rooms; pick up their stuff around the house, tidy their rooms (twice a week), contribute to the household (see “choice” below); do a mealtime chore; play with the dog 30 minutes (alternating days); be active outside for 30 minutes; practice something (see “choice” below); and read 30 minutes.  The rest of the day is free to hang with friends, go to the pool, whatever.

What’s Working This Year

Unlike previous years’ charts, this year’s chart is actually getting used, without much complaint. Here’s what I think is working:

Screen Limits The first summer rule we ever had was “No TV Before 3″ (meaning 3:00 p.m.).  I figured that was a good way to get the kids involved with something else before the TV monster took over. Many days, once they got started with something fun, they never even wanted to turn on the TV. Now, we still have the 3:00 rule, but we have to say “no screens” to encompass iPods, computers, etc. If screens are involved in a kids’ project, as they so often are these days, then we make an exception to the rule. However, charts must be done before screens can be used.

Choice Choice! What a concept! Let your child choose how he or she contributes to the household. This works so well, I can’t even believe it. Our charts say, “Contribute to the household.” On the back, this is explained: “Do a substantial and needed chore such as: take out the garbage, fold a load of laundry, sweep the kitchen floor, (the list goes on).” The only requirement is that it must be a needed chore. In other words, if the garbage doesn’t need to be taken out, you can’t use that as your contribution for the day. Mealtime chores are similar, just related to mealtime (empty dishwasher, wipe down table, etc.). For “practice something,” kids just need to work at and get better at something, whether it’s juggling, piano, algebra, dance, Spanish, or baseball. With choices, kids can’t get tired of doing the same thing every day or claim to hate a particular activity. After all, it’s their choice!

Earning Potential First of all, I am a firm believer that rewards don’t work. I’d much rather have my kids be intrinsically motivated to do things. However, earning some spending cash is a pretty good motivator! Earning money is a real-world skill and that’s part of the point of doing these summer chores. In summers past, I had an all-or-nothing philosophy. Kids had to complete their entire chart to earn their weekly allowance. Well, that was a dismal failure. I guess the concept of having to check every box was overwhelming. And, life does sometimes get in the way. So this year, we are going with a pay-per-square approach. Each square they check off is worth 15 cents. That doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up to around $10 a week if everything is completed, plus a bonus for a completed chart. It’s working: My kids are actually volunteering to do chores, and that is music to my ears.

What About the Fun Part?

I highly recommend putting some structure to the fun part of your summer, too. There are many lists on the internet of fun summer activities. I have captured several of them on my Pinterest page. I’d love to hear all of your suggestions, comments, and feedback. Please leave a comment!