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Better Gifts for Less Crap

Lately, I am feeling really bogged down by how much stuff we have. More specifically, how much stuff my kids have.  It seems I have become the keeper of the stuff as I am the only qualified person to manage the 10,000 pieces of art my kids create and find a home for the millions of stuffed lovies they bring home. I spend a lot of time purging and finding storage solutions for all their stuff.

I recycled literally 17 different character cups the girls received from different birthday parties last year. We don’t need that many cups for only two kids. Having more than one kid means coming home with double, or triple the stuff from birthday parties, street fairs, library events or anywhere the freebies are being handed out. Don’t people ever think of the poor parents who have to now schlep this stuff home and find a place to keep it? Blerg!

Having twins means I am doubly blessed, and doubly blessed by all the extra stuff they own. Birthday’s mean double the toys and gifts. This also means I will have to find homes for all of them. As soon as the novelty of new toys wears off they leave them sitting in a corner somewhere.

As I was purging all the little plastic toys and notebooks and left over favors from our toy bins and toys my kids have outgrown, it got me thinking about our own gift giving. If I am annoyed at getting all these “things” I have to take care of, surely other parents are annoyed when I give these things too right?

So, here is my Gift Giving Guide for Less Crap for Parents to Take Care Of! Consult this list before the next birthday party you attend and I promise everyone will think you are a gift giving pro!

  1. Buy a kid an experience. Pick up a gift certificate to a local craft store or a bouncy place, adventure park or ceramics studio. Kids can cash in their gift certificates for a day of fun with no tiny made in china plastic toys left over! Think about the places you visit often with your kids and buy them some time there.
  2. Make A CD. Seriously, go old school and make a hit-list of fun songs that you and your child will enjoy dancing and singing along to. It is travel friendly and requires very little space. Pop it into your car CD player, computer or play at home. Make a unique cover with their picture on it, or include a treasured photo.
  3. Get a gift certificate to the popular local ice cream shop. Most kids love getting ice cream any time of year and it saves the parents a couple of bucks when buying their kid a fun treat.
  4. Send them to the movies. Going to the movies requires a second mortgage for most families. Buying tickets for the birthday child means one less ticket a parent has to pay for. Add in some bonus bucks to cover a snack at the concession stand (totally optional). Treat your child to a date day at the movies.
  5. Get them museum tickets. Not a super fancy grown-up museum, but a children’s museum. Again, the birthday child will get hours of entertainment and fun memories without cluttering up an area of your house.
  6. Contribute to their favorite activity. Many families cannot afford to send their kids to places like the Little Gym, or a music for tot’s program. Purchasing a gift certificate, or contributing cash they can apply toward the tuition cost will be a great help to parents and kids will get months of enjoyment! (That’s longer than they’ll play with that brand new toy).
  7. If gift certificates feel too impersonal and you feel like you really need to buy something for the birthday child a gift basket with a theme is a great idea. If the child is really into art maybe some simple art supplies or a nice set of pencils. A movie night with a DVD and snacks. Make it something they can actually use.
  8. A personalized t-shirt they can wear. Kids grow out of clothes so quickly parents can hardly keep up. So extra outfits for birthdays and holidays goes a long way. Make a fun t-shirt with a picture of you with the birthday child, or maybe a silly saying on it. Personalizing it means it is truly one of a kind and no one else will give the same gift!
  9. Give them a coupon book for adventure. This is really great for your own kids, nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Life can get so busy and hectic that we forget to just stop and enjoy simply spending time with our loved ones. Create an adventure coupon book and set a date the child can cash in!
  10. Make a Memory. Have a favorite baby outfit or favorite sports jersey turned into a keepsake. Memory bears, or even a pillow or quilt they can grow up loving and take with them when they set out into the world is an amazing gift that will be treasured forever.
  11. Buy them a piece of the moon. You can purchase a small plot of “land” on the moon. Your child can hang the framed certificate of ownership on their bedroom wall.Or, you can have star named after them.
  12. Make a donation to an endangered species. Most kids have a favorite animal. If it falls into the endangered species category you can pay to adopt one of the animals. Or, you can make a donation in their name to a zoo that does have their favorite animal.
  13. Skip the gifts entirely. When my girls were babies we didn’t need much for them. They were more entertained by cardboard boxes than light up toys. So, we asked friends to please bring a gently used coat or snow suit their child has outgrown to donate to our local foster care department.

You may be worried there is nothing left “to show” for a birthday gift. I assure you a plastic toy has a limited lifetime of enjoyment, but the memories kids make out of an experience will last a lifetime. And parents will thank you for not giving them something extra to take care of.

 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

Related Articles: Give The Gift of Swag

Creating Unique Keepsakes at Boudoir Baby

They say it takes a village to raise kids, but nobody tells you how hard it is when you don’t have much of a village. As far as grandparents go, my kids have my step-father aka Poppy and that’s it. I miss the days when going out to dinner or a movie with my husband meant I simply had to call my mom. She was always happy to watch my kids. My husband and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary on May 27th and until about 4 pm that afternoon we had no idea how we would celebrate it.

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Will and I have never left our kids with anyone but family or very close friends before. Call it trust issues or my tendency to watch shows like Law & Order:SVU, but I just can’t leave my kids with a stranger or even an acquaintance. We got the crazy idea to see if Will’s sister would watch our kids. They invited us over for Memorial Day weekend during our last visit so we thought we’d take a chance and see if they’d watch them for a few hours while we went out to dinner.

We played a fun game of “You call. No, you call.” Neither of us are any good at asking people for favors. I hate to be a burden to others. So Will asked and when the second his sister said yes we were like, “Great! See you in two hours.”

How far would you go for a date night? We drove all the way to Pennsylvania. It was a crazy, rushed, thrown together affair complete with a speed packing session and a very cranky toddler.

The part we banked on to make it easier for my sister-in-law was Sydney’s amazing sleep record. We typically put her to bed at 7 pm and she sleeps until about 7:30 am, but the second we tried to put her down in her pack n’ play she flipped out. She was having none of it.

My sister-in-law told us to just go and even though I felt pretty guilty about leaving her with an upset toddler, I threw my shoes on and ran out the door like I stole something. That’s how it is without a village. You go months or even years with barely any alone time with your spouse. You almost have to steal those few hours together.

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I honestly forgot what it was like to go out to a nice restaurant with my husband where we didn’t have crayons, kids menus, and I didn’t have to cut my kids’ food up before I could take my first bite. I didn’t have to remind anyone to stay in their chair, eat their food, or not make a mess. I got to talk to a grown up, and not just any grown up, the man I married. It was amazing!

So I’ve learned that even if you don’t have a village, sometimes you gotta jump in the car and drive to the nearest one, even if it is hours away. It’s also important to make a village.

Even if your parents are gone or live hours away, you have to find people you love who also love your kids. Maybe that includes siblings, cousins, or friends. I have neighbors who are definitely part of the village we’ve created. If they hadn’t been out of town, I would have asked them to watch the kids on my anniversary and then Sydney could have slept peacefully in her own crib at home.

My husband and I don’t get nearly enough time alone together and that needs to change. Our marriage is the foundation of our family so I need to make it the priority. One day I may get to a point where I can find a sitter that I really trust, but until then I have to keep building this village of mine.

If you need some inspiration, check out these 10 local date night ideas.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A neighborhood is just the geographic location of your house, until you meet the perfect neighbors that really make it home. Our neighbors the Wall-Carty’s are our family BFFs. We get together at least two days a week to chat and let the kids play. We also share a meal at least once a week.

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Usually our potluck dinners are thrown together last minute and facilitated by a little begging by all the kids. My favorite part about hanging out with our friends is that it’s always, “come as you are,” whether your house is messy or you’re wearing sweatpants. So anything goes when it comes to our potluck dinners.

Here are 6 reasons I love our kid-friendly dinners and why I recommend you plan one with your neighbors, friends or family:

1. Use Up Your Leftovers –  Sometimes we literally grab whatever is in the fridge and head over to our neighbors house or they come to us with their leftovers and voila- instant meal. Not only do you get the pleasure of using up your leftovers, but the kids can choose meals that are new to them so you don’t get the complaining you would get if you just had your own leftovers. Using up your leftovers is a great way to stretch your monthly food budget as well.

2. Please Those Picky Eaters – Having more than one main dish means there’s usually something that will please even the picky eaters in your family. Last night we had a potluck where I made a taco macaroni casserole and our neighbors brought some leftover chicken they had on hand. Both their daughter and ours didn’t want the casserole, but happily ate the chicken and their son and ours wolfed down the casserole. With potluck, there’s virtually no complaining about what’s for dinner.

3. Try New Recipes – Our potlucks are great for getting to try new recipes. Sometimes it gets boring with the same rotation of food, but when you combine meals with another family you get to try things you never had before and test them out on your kids before making them yourself. If you love something your potluck partners bring, you can add great new recipes to your family’s meal plan.

4. A No Cook Night – Who doesn’t want a night off of cooking? The best part of potluck is that we often bring leftovers. Sometimes our family cooks and the other brings leftovers and sometimes it’s the reverse. Last weekend my husband and kids went to a wrestling match last minute and had to leave before dinner, leaving a whole pan of baked ziti for just me and the baby. The next day we had potluck at the Wall-Carty’s and they were making burgers so I grabbed that largely uneaten pan of ziti and didn’t have to cook at all.

5. Play Dates – The kids always want to play with each other and having dinner together means that the kids can hang out longer. Let’s be real, the play dates are for us adults too, especially me who works from home and doesn’t get to talk to adults much during the week.

6. Tag Team Parenting – If you have potluck dinners with family or friends whom you’ve made your honorary family, you can tag team up on the kids to get them to finish their vegetables. While our kids don’t like to listen us when it comes to eating, it helps to have another parent reminding them that they need to eat if they want to get dessert later.

When it comes to getting your kids fed and keeping them happy, you really can’t go wrong with a potluck. Plus it’s a great excuse to get together with your favorite people.

Does your family do potlucks often?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

 

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Store window for Boudoir Baby 114 Partition St. Saugerties

The Hudson Valley is so rich with creativity. I am always excited to find new ways to get creative. You know, minus all the crayons and glitter glue. Also, I am always on the look out for heart melting keepsakes. I found both at Boudoir Baby in Saugerties.

This shop isn’t your average baby boutique. Not only does the owner Veronica offer hundreds of local made items, she includes the customer in the creative process! If you can think of it, Veronica probably knows someone who can make it (if she can’t do it herself!).

This store has so many beautiful things on display! It looks like the inside of an Etsy store, if Etsy had an actual store front.

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Find handmade blankets, hats, toys, crib sets and more!

Being a crafty, but busy mom means I have vision and very little time. The most exciting part of working with Veronica designing creative keepsakes is that I can outsource the actual work.  Win-win! Here are some of my awesome finds:

Make a Memory

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Make a special left over shirt into a one of a kind and totally lovable keepsake!

Memory bears are a super heart melty way to give new life to a favorite shirt, or uniform, or other article of clothing that belonged to a loved one. This little bear (pictured above) was once a grandpa’s shirt. My father in law passed away 12 years ago, and left behind a few uniform shirts that will serve beautifully as bears my kids can hug and squeeze tight! Wedding gowns, Nana’s old house coat, even your child’s favorite outgrown clothing can become the sweetest memory! Prices are $35.00-$45.00 and usually takes around two weeks to complete. This is really a personal keepsake treasure!

Make It Personal

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A special keepsake personalized with a child’s name on it is sure to be a hit!

I also really, really love the simplicity of this little gift- a little lamb with a personalized scarf. The lambs are so soft and cuddly. Once you select your lamb you can choose the fabric for the scarf, the embroidery font and font color. This is a great gift for newborns, Christenings, first birthdays or just something special. It’s also a very economical gift choice at $24.95 including the embroidery! (Note that beautiful white bear sitting next to the little lambs- it was made from someone’s wedding gown!).

Unique Gift Ideas

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I cannot wait to surprise my mini chefs with these adorable aprons and utensils set! Again, this gift is completely customizable! Transform a family hand-me-down into a beautiful little apron and customize with child’s name. $30.00 and one week turn around! Utensils are $8.00 extra. (Can also add paint brushes instead of cooking utensils for your little painter).

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TOP: Local made toys using eco friendly paints. BOTTOM: Sheepskin baby booties sourced from a local farm and dyed with earth friendly, natural dyes.

Not only can you find unique and locally made gifts, but Veronica helps design every aspect of a baby nursery with a commitment to whole space planning. She keeps an eye on eco friendly products and finishes and an emphasis on locally made, special and unique items. Why didn’t this store exist when I was designing a nursery? My kids got matching crib sets…and I was done.

My girls aren’t little babies any more, but I am excited to be able to create some very special keepsakes for them to enjoy. I also can’t wait to show up to birthday parties with a truly unique gift that no one else is bringing. Oh look, another Win-Win! 😉

The Whatever Mom did not receive financial compensation for this post. All opinions are solely those of the writer. For more information check out the website Boudoir Baby.

The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here.

Find more from The Whatever Mom at thewhatevermom.com 

 

Create a

Keeping up with the demands of being a wife and a mother is not easy. I feel like everyone wants a piece of my time. I realize how important it is to set aside time to be with my spouse.  It isn’t always easy, but as a married couple we need time to connect, catch up and remember why we love each other. We often set aside one night a week for a date night just so we can do all that.

The same idea can apply to my relationship with my kids. After rushing through the weekly demands of school, soccer practice and play dates, my kids and I could use time to connect and relax together. It gives me a break from barking commands, err um… parenting demands and we can just enjoy each other. So, we have a regular date night too.

My life before kids meant Fridays were for partying with “the girls.” Now my Fridays are for snuggling with MY girls. We make a pizza, make some snacks and watch a movie together. Sometimes we get a little take out, but making our pizza gives us time to be in the kitchen together. For me, being in the kitchen with my mom is a very fond memory and I love that I can share that with my girls.

If you want to spend some quality time with your kids set up a night each week to go on a date with one or all of your kids. You don’t have to break the bank, or do anything super fancy. Keep it simple at home, or head out to a favorite restaurant. Whatever is easiest (and most relaxing) for you!

 

Here Are 5 Mom and Me Date Night Ideas:

1. Dinner and a Movie– Pick out a favorite DVD, or find a movie on Netflix. Order in, or make your own pizza. It’s Friday night so do what ever is easiest and allows you to spend the most time with the kids! When my kids were really little we’d pile into my bed to watch a movie.

2. Go Stargazing– On special nights I let the kids stay up later so we cay lay out underneath the stars. It is amazing to hear the questions kids ask about the moons, the stars and life in general.

3. End The Week on a Sweet Note– Go out for ice cream, or make your own. It’s almost summer so pull out those Popsicle molds! We  like to freeze good ol’ chocolate milk for a simple alternative to ice cream. These moments make for great traditions and wonderful memories.

4. Have A Sleep over-  Camp out in the living room, camp in the backyard or let everyone pile into one bed. My girls love, love, love getting to kick my husband out of our room for a “no boys allowed” night. They won’t want to be this close forever, so I am happy to soak up all the extra snuggles while I can!

5. Spa Night– Kids love massages too! Boys or girls will enjoy a foot rub, or back rub after a nice bubble bath. Take turns applying a favorite lotion or oil to each other’s hands and feet. It’s a great way to physically wind down from the week. This was our first official date night when the girls were too little to watch a movie, or go for late night adventures.

This summer I am excited to try switching things up a bit and introducing my girls to a drive in movie. What are some of your favorite mom and me date night activities?

 

Here are 5 Best Practices for Date Night with your spouse.

 

rox The Whatever Mom is a full time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here

 

old school tv

So here it is screen free week and I kicked it off by letting the kids watch TV while I cooked dinner. Ooops! In my defense we were screen free last week.  No,  I didn’t mix up my weeks. I just did not turn the TV on for a whole week. My kids also may be the only 4 1/2 year-olds without an iPad, iPod, iPhone or other digital device. The TV is their only screen.

As a mom working from home the TV is often the only helper I have while making business calls, trying to meet a deadline, or cooking dinner. So, instead of going screen free for a week, I just try to find a balance. We may spend an entire week in front of the TV,  and then go weeks without it. I have only one hard and fast rule about TV: the television is turned off one hour before bedtime.

So, how do you find balance in a world driven by the almighty screen?

 

 

Here are 8 Ways to Entertain Your Kids Without A TV:

1. Get Outside. This one is pretty much the go-to activity when the screens go black, right? I know with my family if we start our day outside we are more likely to stay outside. The kids will request a picnic outside for lunch, they will ask to paint or set up the water table outside. We often hit up a park for a several hours, or join friends for a hike. If I have to drive to a location that means even less time to be inside near a TV.

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2. Put On A Play. Get the whole family involved. Let the kids pick a story and put someone in charge of costumes and someone else in charge of props. My kids love to put on a show. Some nights we are princesses at a ball (picture Cinderella running through your living room falling out of her shoe), some nights we are pirates and some nights the kids just act out their favorite stories.

3. Go Out To Eat. Skip the chain restaurant where there are several giant TV’s hanging over your table. Instead, let the kids pick out your picnic menu, grab a blanket and select a location. Choose a new park, a play ground with picnic area, a favorite scenic spot or even your own back yard. You can enjoy the sounds of nature and each others conversation without having to shout over top of a sports cast.

4. Share Your Favorite Hobby. Why not share one of your passions with your kids? Maybe you love to craft, knit, fish, cook, garden or put together puzzles.  Let them ask you questions about it and tell them why you love it. You might get them hooked on a new hobby of their own, or just let them see the person behind the parent.

5. Just Watch Them Play. If you’re kids are old enough let them loose in the back yard, or at a safe area of a local park. Sit down on a nearby bench and enjoy reading your own book, knitting a blanket, or crocheting a gift. Modeling how to relax and connect with your own interests will show your kids the importance of taking time for themselves too.

6. Practice Being Still. This is a hard concept for kids to master (and some of us adults). Sitting still and observing what’s around them helps kids see things from new perspectives, and see things they may miss while focused on a screen. Try introducing yoga, or cloud watching during the day, or staring at the stars at night. Even taking time to snuggle on the couch, or under a tree is a great way to slow down and connect with your kids.

7. Choose Your Own Adventure. Take a long (or a short) drive to a new town and go for a walk. Walk by the shops on Main Street, or stop in for a treat at a small mom and pop shop. Point out how different the buildings are from your own town. Help your kids notice the small things like fresh flowers growing in the window boxes, or the scent of the coffee wafting out of a store front.

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8. Turn Off Your Own Devices. If you have a hard time limiting your own screen time, then your kids will have a hard time too. My kids have already said to me a few times, “mom can you stop looking at your phone?” I converted to a smart phone less than 10 months ago and already I can be too attached. (I just HAVE to know what readers think of my recent post!). To avoid the temptation of picking up my phone I keep it in another room, in my pocket book or just turn it off. “I’ll be on for just a minute,” can easily turn into just one hour of my time.

 

How do you find balance between the digital world and life in real time?

 

Our Chinese red lanterns

Our Chinese red lanterns

Last week I introduced the girls to Mardi Gras with our crafts and cheater beingets. This week we are learning about Chinese New Year!

The Chinese New Year celebrates family and hope for prosperity. Many families gather and give gifts of lucky money tucked inside red envelops and take their family portraits. Many celebrations include lion dances, or dragon dances. This tradition is believed to expel evil spirits and bad fortune. Celebrants even wear red clothing to attract good fortune. There are so many different customs to this two week celebration we couldn’t fit it all in. My girls seemed the most interested in dragons and red lanterns. So, we focused on those to start.

At Christmas I gave each of the girls a new book every night as we counted down to Christmas Day. I usually rummage through garage and library sales to find gently used, inexpensive books. This time, I ordered a few books from Barefoot Books simply because I love the quality in both the writing and illustrations. One of our new favorite books to read (and inspiration for this post) is Lin Yi’s Lantern.

Our new favorite Barefoot Book

Our new favorite Barefoot Book

It shares the story of a little boy getting ready for the moon festival and his desire to carry a red rabbit lantern. I love this book because it has a great story, some folklore and includes a craft idea at the end of the book!

Folklore about the

Folklore about the Moon Fairy

A little history about life in China.

A little history about life in China.

We found these dragon coloring pages on Pintrest. Just color, cut and paste to a craft stick or back of a paper plate to  make a mask.

Coloring our dragon masks.

Coloring our dragon masks.

 

Here is what you will need to make your own red lanterns:

Materials for red lanterns - including our Chinese take out menu.

Materials for red lanterns – including our Chinese take out menu.

  • Red Paper
  • Gold Paint or markers
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Chinese food take out menu (all this talk about Chinese culture made me hungry)
Instructions on how to make your own lanterns.

Instructions on how to make your own lanterns.

I let the kids go to town with the dot paints and make their lanterns their own. Once the paint is try simply fold paper length wise, then cut a straight line stopping about 2 inches before the edge of the paper. Repeat about 7 times (depending on how thick you make your cutting lines). Open the lantern and roll it until the ends touch. Tape the ends together. You can make a handle by cutting another strip and taping it to the top.

Our Chinese red lanterns

Our Chinese red lanterns

The girls wanted the lanterns to really light up, so I added some glow sticks. We turned out the lights and carried them in our own little parade and danced like dragons. Now where is that Chinese take out menu?

 

You can read more about Chinese New Year and the lantern festival here.

 

NOLA

My tour of the Mardi Gras Museum NOLA 2005

It’s Mardi Gras! Although I have never been to a Mardi Gras celebration I have been to New Orleans where Mardi Gras really never stops. My husband and I spent a week in NOLA soaking up the local color, eating some of the best southern fare and enjoying a whole lot of musical history (along with our bourbon in to-go cups). Ah life before vacationing with kids.

Mardi Gras is also called “Fat Tuesday” the “feast before the fast.” It’s a day to over indulge in food, drink and merriment before the fasting and abstaining for 40 days of the Lent season. You can read more about Mardi Gras history here.

Here’s how we are getting Mardi Gras ready:

I found this really fun alphabet activity from Crystal & Co. and fell in love!

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Use easy print outs and coloring pages for a fun Mardi Gras pre-K activity.

 

After tracing and cutting out our crowns from yellow construction paper, we used our “sticky jewels” and stickers (no glue required) to decorate them.  We colored the letter K, cut it out and glued it to green or purple pages- representing Mardi Gras colors.

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Use gem stickers for a less messy option for decorating your crowns.

 

We also printed out a Mardi Gras mask for the kids to color. We had fun talking about the grand Mardi Gras ball gowns, masks and costumes.

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We found this Mardi Gras mask coloring page online.

 

My girls quickly recognized that a King would need a Queen. So, we added a Q for Queen activity.

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Our Mardi Gras art.

 

No Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without King Cake!

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Store bought cinnamon rolls are a great cheat for King Cake.

 

I was really excited to find this cheater King Cake idea on Pintrest! A traditional king cake is a fluffy pastry dough filled with cinnamon and a sugar glaze. Why NOT use store bought cinnamon rolls? By tradition, there is usually a small plastic baby inside the cake. Whomever finds the baby will have good fortune, and is often treated like a king for the day. I’m not too keen on adding plastic toys to my list of baking ingredients, so I used a colorful Tootsie Roll. (Mostly b/c I am fresh out of miniature, plastic babies in my pantry and I have plenty of Tootsie Rolls).

 

 

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Hide a small edible inside the rolls for kids to find.

 

The girls enjoyed sprinkling the colored sugar over the glaze.

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Baking is a great activity for kids to use those fine motor skills.

 

There ya have it! A super simple way to introduce Mardi Gras to your little ones. A few colorful activities to get you through a dreary winter day. If you want to keep the momentum going turn up the Jazz, open and umbrella and dance around the house. If you really want to get a little crazy try this recipe for pralines (or praw-leens as they say in N’awlins). Or, just buy them here.

 

Mardi Gras Fun Facts:

The colors Gold, Green and Purple symbolize Power, Faith and Justice.

It is actually illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras parade float without wearing a mask.

Whom ever finds the baby in the king cake has to buy the king cake for next Mardi Gras.

Over 500,000 king cakes are sold in New Orleans alone!

New Orleans isn’t the only host to Mardi Gras. Countries around the world celebrate with Carnival which includes dramatic costumes, floats and parades.

The original Mardi Gras traditions began with  merrymakers binging on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese remaining in their homes just before Lent.  This is to prepare for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting.

 

Jay finally "earned" his dessert by eating his dinner. He doesn't even remember the mini-tantrum it took to get to this moment.

Jay finally “earned” his dessert by eating his dinner. He doesn’t even remember the mini-tantrum it took to get to this moment.

My House, My Rules

Back before there were lengthy discussions about bottle vs. breast or what was “good parenting” and what was “bad parenting” was my parents’ hardcore parenting style. No sugar coating or being your child’s friend. My parents were great, but by today’s standards they’d be hardcore. Only because today I think a lot of parents live in fear of their children’s tantrums, disapproval or hearing the words “I hate you.” To me, if I don’t hear that once a week at least it means I’m not doing my job. I think our parents’ generation was more concerned that we had full bellies, a roof over our heads, good grades, and acted respectfully, especially to our elders. They didn’t concern themselves so much with the organic not organic debate or whether or not to vaccinate. I think my generation sometimes can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees.

Inspired by my Step-dad’s immortal words, “If you don’t like what’s for dinner, the diner is down the street,” here are three hardcore parenting lessons we should have learned to make our lives a whole lot easier.

1. You Eat What I Make – Did we like every dish put in front of us? No. But we ate it because there was no separate kids meal to choose from. I honestly don’t know how moms manage to put together multiple meals each night, but I simply refuse. If my kids don’t like something they are still required to eat a little of it. I think as moms it’s easy to get tired of the fight, but in my house it’s “No dinner, No dessert.” Not eating is not a choice. Kids aren’t going to like what they are given sometimes, but I want them to learn to make the best of it. A boss will not simply take an assignment off their plate (pun intended) because they don’t like it. I don’t ask that they clean their plates, only that they make a decent effort.

2. No Means No – Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one? What it really means is quit asking me because my decision is final. Being a parent is sometimes like being subjected to terrorist level manipulation tactics. The screaming, the complaining, the nagging, all in an effort to wear down your patience so you’ll give in. We all want to be the “good parent,” but it’s so important that we are people of our word whether they want to hear it or not. If no means maybe, we’ll spend our lives arguing with our kids.

3. You Can Do It Yourself – As soon as my kids master a new skill I say a silent prayer of thanks. Why? Because it’s one less thing I need to do for them. I was making my own lunches in elementary school and could cook and do laundry long before high school, things that don’t seem to happen much anymore. Our parents taught us self-reliance and trust when they told us to do things for ourselves. While my kids are still young and can’t do a lot of things on their own, giving them ownership over the things they can do teaches them responsibility. They get themselves dressed and brush their teeth, hang up their backpacks and put their dishes in the dishwasher. Doing the little things for your kids may seem quicker and easier, but in the long run encouraging them to do things for themselves will give them independence and you a much needed break.

No Drama Mama

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Warning: This Is Not Your Typical Holiday Post

It’s almost Christmas and so the blogosphere is jam packed with posts about presents, trees, charity, the holiday spirit and all that. Since I don’t have the Martha Stewart gene I’m not even going to attempt a post about the perfect Christmas.  Instead I want to talk about something that most people don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t belong on some snowy Christmas card. The holidays can bring profound sorrow out, coaxing it from the corners of our hearts. All the talk about more, leads to feelings of less. All the family gatherings seem to remind us of empty chairs. If you’ve never lost someone, you can probably skip this post. This one is for all my fellow closet Christmas criers.

The Perfect Storm

It should be no big secret that Christmas is an incredibly difficult time for many people and I’m no exception. I always think of grief as a storm in the ocean, the tide may go out, but it always comes back in and Christmas, my friends, is the perfect storm. It’s a time when there is so much focus on family and the loss of each of my loved ones seems to build upon each other to create the most insurmountable of waves.

The Club Nobody Wants To Join

When I first tried to explain it to my husband, I told him losing a parent was like joining a club that none of the members wanted to belong to. I told him he just wouldn’t understand and that was fine because I didn’t want him to. Fast-forward many years and I stood by his side while he lost his mom and then a few years later his dad and two years ago he held my hand when I lost my mom. There has been so much loss for a couple in their 30s including our first child that I never got to meet.  If you’re a member of the club you already get it. You’ve heard that shriek of grief that somehow reaches out from your soul and sounds foreign even though you’re pretty sure you’re the one making it. I just want you to know that while the world parades it’s holiday joy, I’ll be joining you in the solitude to bare my soul and remember each amazing human being that has passed from my life.

Leaning On Family & Faith

I know that despite the sorrow that is bound to overtake me this season, I am profoundly lucky. I have loved and been loved so well. Some people never get that. I don’t have the words to make grief fade because it doesn’t, the space between waves just gets wider. All I know is that I have to fight the urge to isolate from my friends and family. My husband and children give me the strength I need to get through another wave, another storm. I lean on my faith and it helps me see eternity not the punishment I used to think was – the time away from my lost loved ones. It helps me see that good bye is not forever, but just for now.

Keep Treading

I think the thing to remember during the Christmas Cry is that the wave, though big, is temporary so if you feel like you’re drowning in sorrow just keep treading water and reach out for help. Check out Hudson Valley Parent’s article, “Tears and Tinsel” to learn ways to cope with grief while honoring your lost loved one. I’m going to add three of my own tips:

1. Get In The Picture – Yes, you heard right. So I’m as guilty as every other mom who tends to stand behind the camera instead of in front of it. The day of me feeling good enough to get in the spot light is probably never going to dawn, but in the mean time I owe it to my kids to get in all the great holiday shots with them. Why? Because these pictures are how they will remember me when I’m gone. Do you want your kids to remember a trip or a visit to Santa but not that you were there with them? The best way to honor your loved ones is to give your kids more memories of you. I think the thing we’re most afraid of when we lose someone is that we will forget things about them that we loved. Photos help keep memories alive in our minds so while we can’t go back and take more of our loved ones, we can honor them by making more memories for our future generations. We are the living extensions of those who’ve come before us.

2. Explore Your Ancestry – I think it would be cool to learn more about where you came from and I think family trees and histories are a great thing to pass on to your children. I’m so glad I got to interview my grandmother for an article I wrote in college on women and work. I got to hear about her life as a young woman, mother and the amazing superhero I know she was. I’m thankful to know things about her that happened before even my father was born. If you have older generations still living, I highly recommend interviewing them and collecting as much information you can about their history as well as other family members. Ancestry.com is worth a try as well, though I’ll admit I’ve never used it. Feel free to share your experiences with it here.

3. Remember What Irritated You – This one is going to sound crazy, but hear me out. When I was going through my mom’s clothes and jewelry after she passed, my step-sister and I started sharing stories about some of the crazy things my mom has done. Thinking about that time she tried to back off an on-ramp on the highway or how she’d get crazy before company was coming and go on a cleaning spree and start vacuuming at one in the morning, they made me laugh at a time I thought even smiling was impossible. Not only does it remind you that they were human beings with flaws, not icons on a pedestal, but finding the humor and love in all the things that drove you crazy about them reminds you that life is messy and flawed and it’s ok to laugh at your lack of control sometimes. I often come up with musings I call Erinisms and here’s this week’s: Family is not comprised of people who revel in your greatness. It’s comprised of people who celebrate your flaws.

So I hope you find healing this holiday season even amidst your grief. If you find it during a late night secret Christmas Cry, don’t worry you’re in good company.

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