Countdown to Christmas

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Ready to celebrate the month of December and the Christmas season? We are so excited to offer our latest guide … The Overwhelmed Mom’s Guide: Countdown to Christmas. To get your free copy, make sure to sign up for our email list right here and we’ll send it right over!

Beat the Back-2-School Blues

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Can you believe it’s back-to-school time already? It seems like we’re just finally settling into our summer routine (and remembering how to slow down and relax) and now it’s time to shift gears again!

Here are a few last minute tips for surviving the change:

Bedtimes – If you’re like me, your family bedtimes may be all out of whack because well, it’s summer and, of course, the Olympics! I’m not sure who decided to put so much awesome stuff on way past even my bedtime, but it’s definitely wreaking some havoc on our nighttime routine!

So, perhaps you haven’t had a chance to start setting bedtimes back 15 minutes earlier each night for the past two weeks to gradually ease your family back into a school schedule. It’s okay — please don’t fret! Just like when daylight savings time hits, you will recover. It may take a week or two, but you will survive this.

Here’s a plan: on the day before the first day of school, try to make sure the kids get plenty of activity (swimming, playing a sport, riding bikes, whatever your kids normally do to get some of that extra energy out). Aim for an early dinner and get the kids into bed early. When they protest that they are not tired, hand them a book to read. When they complain that they are missing the Olympics, reassure them that you are recording it for them or that you’ll catch the highlights in the morning. (I think most of it is recorded anyway, right?)

After a little bit, even if they’re still reading happily, turn the lights out at a reasonable hour. It will be tough, but you will survive this. (Have I mentioned that already? I must need the reminder 🙂 )

Prep – Now that the kids are in bed, try to get as much done as you can before the morning. Pack lunches; get backpacks ready; have clothes all set out; perhaps put an encouraging note in a bag or lunch sack for them to find; and decide on breakfast. Speaking of breakfast…

Get them excited to wake up – Plan a fun breakfast that will motivate them to get moving on this challenging day. Nothing too involved or complicated, but choose a meal that will make them smile.

Keep your expectations low – I used to be a photographer, so having a family picture on the first day of school is really important to me. But I’ve learned (the hard way!) to be flexible. Maybe instead of trying to get the whole family and the dog in the photo, I’ll be happy with an individual shot of each kid or a group shot in the afternoon when they return from school. Have an idea of what you want, but also keep some back-up ideas in mind. Be flexible. (Did I mention that already?)

Restart the day if necessary – Perhaps you decided to completely disregard the tip above and were determined to get that perfect family picture (been there, done that). If that scenario happened to end in a puddle of tears from half the family, all is not lost. Take a deep breath, hug your kids, and suggest that you restart the day. No big deal, right? 🙂

Leave earlier than you think is necessary  – No explanation needed. Everything takes longer than you think!

Plan a little something for the afternoon – It doesn’t need to be a big deal at all, but let the kids know there is something for them to look forward to after school — so they can think about if they need to during the day. Maybe it’s getting them a little treat from the drive-thru on the way home or playing board games first thing before they even have to look at homework or sort through their papers.

Be their calm – When you get to school, try to just smile, hug, and take a few low-pressure pics if it’s important to you. Nothing is a big deal — everything is going to be great. Remind them of the tip above before you head out and that you will see them again oh-so-soon as you slip out the door.

You did it! Now go cry/relax/celebrate 🙂

Marvelous (Summer) Mondays

Mondays and I haven’t always had the best relationship. In fact (if I’m being completely honest), during the school year, I flat out dread them.

But Mondays have a new life during the summer. I’ve decided to take them over and remake them into days that I actually look forward to…and it’s working!

On Mondays during the summer, I try not to schedule anything. No errands or outside items on our agenda. Instead, I am relaxed with waking up times and meal times and reading times. It’s all very go-with-the-flow.

We use Mondays to talk about the week ahead – what we want to work on, what we have going on, and what we want to take on. We pick something from our bucket list. We talk about our goals. We decide what books we want to read.

Then we go swimming. Or eat a popsicle. Or watch a Rangers game. We just relax and enjoy summer.

Mondays have become our day – and I’m loving them!

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Our Summer Party (almost) Failed

So we had our big welcome to summer celebration and it was almost an epic fail.

Things started off pretty well…my plan was to do a little something that I knew each kid would enjoy.

My daughter is a big lover of baking and s’mores, so instead of just making the traditional favorites, I found a new recipe for s’mores fudge bars. My daughter loved making these with me and her Nana — and we all loved eating them. Win!

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Next, my middle son is currently focused on creating a new breed of super heroes that he plans to sell to DC Comics or Marvel (may the highest bidder win!). He is always asking us to draw one of his newest creations and for this part of our party, I let him give us all assignments on what to draw. He was ecstatic. Score!

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Now comes the part that did not go according to plan. For the main part of our celebration, I wanted to take the kids and all the grandparents to Studio Movie Grill for dinner and a viewing of Angry Birds.

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All was proceeding nicely until the previews started — while I knew my toddler would love Angry Birds, I forgot that I have no control over what they show before the movie.

Let’s just say he was NOT pleased with the preview choices and before his meal came out, he demanded rather loudly: “I want to go HOME!”

I’m not too proud to admit I quickly pushed my little buzzer and asked them to bring out the dessert immediately. That kept him happy for a few minutes, but once the ice cream was gone, he looked at me and said, “I want to go home.”

So, my dad and I and my little guy ended up walking around a nearby grocery store while the rest of our crew finished the movie.

It wasn’t ideal but I checked an errand off my to do list and my mom and the big kids loved Angry Birds. So there you go.

We wrapped up the evening by letting my oldest son pick between a family basketball game and swimming. He shocked me by picking swimming — but it was the perfect ending to an almost-perfect day 🙂

Here are a couple of things I learned for next year:

– Keep as much as possible a surprise for a couple of reasons. One, everything is just a little bit more fun and exciting if it’s a surprise. Two, if you don’t tell the kids your plans beforehand, they won’t have time to try to change/add to or complain about your ideas. Lesson learned the hard way!

– In years past, I tried to make everyone do everything together, but it worked well this time to just do the baking part with my mom and daughter and let the boys do the taste testing. Everyone was happy!

– Always remember to go with the flow! If something’s not working, try something else. My little guy had a lot of fun helping me look for fruit and birthday cards at the store, even though that wasn’t part of the original plan 🙂

Please share if you’ve had a welcome to summer celebration!

February LOVE Challenge: Week 3

As amazing as our children and our spouses are, life would not be the same without our friends.

They listen to us, encourage us, and let us know that we’re not alone. They offer to help when we don’t even know what to ask for. They make us smile when all we want to do is cry.

DSC_2411I consider this amazing woman one of my best friends! You are a wonderful mother, wife, teacher, and sister! I am thankful for you today and always!

As we continue our February LOVE Challenge, let’s find some ways to give some TLC to our friends. Here are a few ideas:

  • Try to send out three handwritten cards to friends near or far who might need a little extra reason to smile this week. Want to put a fun twist on this idea? Send a “Cookie Card” from Cheryl’s!
  • Did you just finish reading a book that you love? Instead of sticking it back on your shelf to collect dust, why not offer it to a friend?
  • Each time you see a friend today, give her a compliment. Start out your conversation by letting her know how awesome she is!
  • Pick one (or more) of your friends and think about something that might really bless her this week. Maybe that means offering to help with carpool or inviting her to breakfast/lunch/dinner so she can vent. Find a way (big or small) to show her how much you appreciate her friendship.

Have fun spreading some LOVE this week 🙂

February LOVE Challenge: Week 2

Focus on YOU!

Even though I was planning on saving this part of the challenge until the end of the month, I figured some of us moms might need a little TLC right about now.

Taking care of yourself is never a priority, but it should be. When you feel happy, content, and rested, you bless your whole family.

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Here are a few tips for how to show yourself some LOVE this week:

 

  • Set up a breakfast/lunch/dinner date with a friend who encourages you. I just had the chance to meet with a sweet friend last week, and it’s amazing how much joy that brought me. I could share my thoughts and worries and experiences – and she could relate to so much that is going on in my life. Just having someone that “hears” you and knows what you’re going through gives you confidence and reminds you that you are not alone, sweet mama!
  • Go through your “to read” book pile and pick the one that looks the most interesting to you (not the one you *should* read). Commit to reading the whole thing this month! Perhaps you could have “family reading” time in the afternoons or choose to read before bedtime or when you first wake up. I love reading a good book – it means I always have something to look forward to!
  • Create a soothing evening for yourself after the kids are tucked in…maybe that means trying out a fun new dessert recipe you saw online…maybe that means relaxing in a bubble bath while you read that magazine you’ve been meaning to get to…maybe that means making some hot chocolate and cuddling on the couch with your husband and just talking about the day or watching a show on TV. Savor your night!
  • Make a playlist of your favorite songs to listen to in the car! Have you tried “Spotify” or “Pandora”? They each have their pros and cons, but the bottom line is that they both have an option that lets you listen to free music. I think it’s so much fun to find an old favorite or a new catchy tune – music has a way of lifting your spirits and giving you that little boost of energy to make it through the day!
  • Explore a hobby that you are interested in. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to draw – check out some YouTube videos on different techniques or go to the bookstore and find a book that teaches you the basics. Find a passion and take small steps in making that grow in your life.
  • When you’re shopping for Valentine’s treats for everyone else this week, pick out a little something for yourself. Maybe that’s a new journal or a new set of pens that you’re just dying to have (or is that only me that loves pens?). Happy Valentine’s Day to you 🙂

 

Now those are things that sound fun to me…but if none of that speaks to you, just spend a few moments thinking about who and what brings you joy – and then brainstorm a few easy ways that you could make some of those things a part of this month. The key is to focus on YOU – even though it’s hard. You deserve it!

February LOVE Challenge: Week 1

Focus on THE KIDS!

Can you believe it’s already February? To help celebrate the month of love, I am working through a Love Challenge all month long! The first week focuses on showing some love to our children…

Day 1:

Today’s challenge: Play a game with your kids! My children get so much joy out of playing games together – whether that’s an impromptu basketball game in the dining room (please don’t judge me for having a basketball hoop in my dining room!) or a board game that we play together at the kitchen table (which is much more civilized). Take some time today to let your child pick out a little game for you to enjoy together. The best gift you can give them is your time

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Day 2:

Yesterday, we had a lot of fun with the Day One challenge playing our own version of “Apples to Apples” (we included Super Hero cards!) – and I was surprised at how something so simple really made the kids’ day 🙂

Today’s challenge: Find a time in the day to give your child a hug and tell them something that you really love about them. Maybe it’s their sweet heart for their younger sibling or their consistent effort on their homework. It doesn’t have to be anything big – just take a few seconds to let them know that you love them and you see the good in them!

 

Day 3:

Yesterday, I took the time to intentionally give each of my children a hug and tell them something that I really appreciate about them. I was happy with the result: one child took it as an opportunity to discuss a broader topic that he had been worrying about. I was surprised that this one little gesture on my part got him talking about some things that were bothering him – and we had a good conversation about these issues that neither one of us realized he really wanted to talk about.

Today’s Challenge: Write a sweet note to your child and leave it in a fun place for them to find! The location that you choose will depend on the age and temperament of your child. I put one note in a lunch sack because I know that particular child will be excited to find it there – but my older son might not be so thrilled to pull out a “Love, Mom” note around his buddies. Be creative: you might leave it at their place at the dinner table or on their pillow. Just write a few simple sentences to let them know that you love them and you are proud of them – whatever you think might bring a smile to their face!

 

Day 4:

So yesterday, I stuck little notes of encouragement in various places for my children to find during the day. I’ll be honest: not one of them mentioned it to me afterwards 🙁

So, I asked my daughter if she had seen her little letter from me. She smiled and said, “Oh yeah, thanks!” before giving me a quick hug and running off.

Not satisfied with that resounding response, I asked one of my sons if he saw his note. “Oh yeah! I found it in my lunch. I didn’t want to throw it away, Mom, but I had to at the end of lunch…but thanks!” Okay, he didn’t want to throw it away – so that’s something, right?

Lesson learned: every attempt I make at this whole parenting thing will not be a huge success greeted with fanfare and applause. But I remind myself that’s not the point 🙂 The key is to keep trying, which leads us to the next idea…

Today’s challenge: Make tonight’s dinner fun! Include at least one “surprise” course that will make the kids smile. For us, that means breakfast for dinner – the easiest way I know to win “mother of the year” in our home.

 

Day 5:

I would *love* to hear if any of you had fun at dinner last night! Nana made pancakes for our special treat – and (as expected), it was a hit!

For our final challenge this week, I encourage you to find a little chunk of time this weekend (maybe 30 minutes or so) that you can dedicate to exploring something your child is really interested in. Maybe that’s a sport that you could play with your child just for fun (no instruction or “practice” – just fun!).

Maybe that means playing an electronic game and, instead of playing on your phone while your child plays their game, you could say: “Hey, now how does this Minecraft thing work again?” – and really listen 🙂

Show them you are interested in what interests them. And even if you don’t “get it” – focusing on their likes and letting them explain it to you will be a gift they will cherish!

Why I Won’t Give Up on our Christmas Countdown

For the past three or four years, I rush into December, full of good intentions and plans for 24 straight days of Christmas Countdown activities. We always start out strong – for the first week, we don’t miss a beat! Rocco (our Elf on the Shelf) is bee-bopping all over the place, we have our Christmas advent reading every morning, and we wrap up the day with a fun activity at night.

By week two, I am burnt out and stressed out – have the Christmas cards gone out? No! Is my Christmas shopping done? No! Are the Christmas decorations up? Well, yes (but that’s only because of my secret weapon: Nana!).

Several days will go by before one of my kids will ask, “Hey! What about our Christmas Countdown?” And then I’ll kind of hunch my shoulders and start rummaging through drawers, praying that I’ll stumble across a little craft that will make them happy – but no matter what I find, I’m confident that at least two of my kids will give me the stink eye with that complete awareness that I’m just making this stuff up as I go along.

Knowing this – that I am destined for certain failure, that I just can’t meet the expectations that I set – why do I do it? Why do I try again, year after year? Well, it’s simple. Despite the mistakes of the past, I firmly believe each and every year that I can do it. That it will work. That things will be different.

Is this a naïve and irrational thought? Probably – if you keep doing the same thing, you will most likely get the same result.

So I guess I’m okay with that. For me, the effort is what means the most. And I think that when my kids look back on our holidays many years from now, it is what they will remember most – not that I accomplished everything, but that I always tried. And never gave up.

Besides, despite our “failures” during the Christmas Countdown, we have made lots of amazing memories along the way…

Day 6: Fun matching Christmas pajamas! Will they hate me for this later?

 

The Truth About Thanksgiving

I wanted to give you all a quick update on our #BestThanksgivingYet – I have to say that it did not turn out as planned, but was still pretty awesome!  Here are a few highlights:

  • With all of the rain predicted for Thanksgiving afternoon, we ended up playing our big football game around 10 in the morning (which wasn’t quite the same). And it ended up just being me and my hubby versus my two oldest kids with my brother-in-law (who was his high school QB) as all-time quarterback. Somehow, we still made that a pretty competitive outing (I was sweating so much I counted it as my workout for the day!). The rest of our crew jumped on (or around) the trampoline while my sister looked on – and they had a blast. So, it wasn’t how I pictured but still great!
  • Making a Thanksgiving meal is just endlessly more complicated than I ever imagined – even with a timeline! So we ended up assisting Nana with all the traditional items (which were delicious) and my one “adventurous” contribution was a baked mac and cheese dish (which was a hit if I do say so myself).
  • Oh – and I can’t forget my first pumpkin pie attempt (which was shockingly easier than I expected). I made it the night before and my husband couldn’t resist sneaking a piece when it was still warm (you can tell instantly who cut out this piece of pie by the care taken in slicing ever so neatly!)….

  • We started our gratitude jar tradition – which was actually really sweet — and then ended up being hilarious when my husband began stuffing the jar with notes “from” each of us (i.e. one from my dad, expressing his amazing gratitude for our dog Ranger who never fails to steal one of his gloves or his hat or take off with the one necessary part to whatever thing my dad happens to be fixing). My husband is already thinking up some great “gratitude” for next year!

Overall, I will declare it our #BestThanksgivingYet (and already have more ideas for next year). As always, the lesson I continue to learn in all of this is to be flexible and go with the flow! There are so many things you can’t control (like the weather and how hard cooking a huge meal is) – so the point is to find the beauty (or the humor) in it all…and I think we did that!

So, after a quick sigh of relief, I looked up and it’s already December – which means it’s time for our annual Christmas Countdown. I will give you my detailed plan soon – but let’s just say the goal this year is to actually complete the 24 days of activities! I am awesome at starting but struggle with the finishing (as my oh-so-observant 11 year old likes to point out on occasion). I am more determined than ever to complete our countdown – and I’ll share my tips on that as well! (Sneak peak: one of the main tips is to always have a little back up plan in place!)

 

Do you do an advent celebration or Christmas countdown with your family?

#BestThanksgivingYet – The Menu

Planning the Thanksgiving meal can definitely be the most overwhelming part of the holiday, especially for those of us who struggle in the kitchen (ahem). Here is my strategy for a stress-free (ha!) and delicious meal:

1 – Write out the menu
The first step is to figure out exactly what you want to serve. Include family favorites, dishes that you can make easily, and something that sounds good to you! Discuss your plans with a few of the attendees to get their input, if you wish. My planned contributions this year: coconut cream pie dip and graham crackers as appetizer; turkey and waffles for the kids (and me?) for the main course; pumpkin pie for dessert.

2 – Delegate
Everyone is always so kind in asking what they can bring – take them up on their offer! When you have your menu plan ready, select the items that you would like to delegate and be prepared to give a few options to anyone who asks to help out. Having someone bring a cheese and cracker platter or a vegetable tray can be a simple task for your guests and a huge help for you!

3 – List your ingredients
Once you’ve settled on what you’ll be responsible for, gather your recipes and create your shopping list. Plan to go on the Sunday/Monday before Thanksgiving at the latest (if at all possible) for round one of shopping. If you’re anything like me, there will be a round two shopping trip on Tuesday/Wednesday for all the items I missed/didn’t think about during round one!

Me and my number one shopping partner…the little guy doesn’t understand why “Spot” won’t jump in the cart with him!

4 – Create a timeline
One of my biggest struggles in cooking (there are so many that it’s hard to say which is the biggest), is getting everything to stay warm and be prepared at the same time. Knowing this, I plan to come up with a detailed timeline that addresses several issues (What can I cook beforehand? When do I need to get the turkey in the oven? How much time will I need to warm everything up?) – so that I can efficiently and effectively get our Thanksgiving meal on the table!

Well, that’s the plan (in theory)! Decorations are going up, items are being gathered, Nana has set off on round one of our shopping trips…#BestThanksgivingYet is under way 🙂