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Many of the things I want my kids to learn don’t come from a textbook.  In fact, some of them don’t even have anything to do with school.  Throughout the homeschool day we spend plenty of time learning academic subjects.  I hope they’ll retain it, but odds are, much will be forgotten until they learn it again in the future.  Meanwhile, I focus on life skills which I hope will stay with them and allow them to function as confident, responsible, competent adults one day.  These random life lessons are not all-inclusive, but here are a bunch that come up often.

Using the Library

Finding desired materials online, looking them up and ordering them through the library system’s website, and even calling the library to request materials.

Shopping/Making a Purchase

Knowing how to find items in the store, politely asking for help when needed, how to compare prices including an understanding of unit prices, estimating a purchase price, presenting the proper amount of cash, counting change received, and interacting with the cashier.

Finances

How to count money, safely store it, open a bank account, understand interest, deposit/withdraw money, and how credit cards and loans work.

Answering the Phone/Making Calls

Politely answering the phone, knowing how to make a call to a business and ask for help/make arrangements, request assistance, make appointments, and develop an overall confidence with speaking on the telephone.

Respect for the Elderly

Spending time in a nursing home/assisted living, developing a comfort with individuals in various states of the aging process, learning how to interact with and value the elderly, and how to help take care of older relatives or neighbors.

Meal Preparation

How to plan, shop for, and prepare a healthy meal, including reading labels and recipes, kitchen safety, and use of kitchen appliances.

Cleaning/House Maintenance

How to treat a space respectfully, clean up after oneself, wipe up spills, sweep, change batteries in household devices, use a washer and dryer, be a conscious consumer of water and energy resources, and use household tools such as a hammer/screwdriver/drill.

Animal Care

Respectful care of pets, and how to feed, water, and properly clean up after them.

The ability to help shape our children into functional adults rates high on the list of privileges and responsibilities as parents.  I’m sure I’m forgotten a few, so feel free to share what skills and lessons are important in your family!

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40 Days of Change

The Internet is abuzz with different challenges you can do with your family during the 40 Days of Lent. There is the de-cluttering challenge to eliminate 40 bags of stuff in 40 days. The 40 Acts challenge to do 40 random acts of kindness in 40 days. And the challenge to just give up something you love for 40 days straight- whether it is chocolate, or wine, or even social media. The point is people are preparing to give up something for 40 days as a way to honor their traditions.

But what if you do not celebrate Lent? How can you participate in the giving part without participating in the religious aspect? Well, all it takes is 40 days and a plan!  I am introducing 40 Days of Change in our house this week.  We are literally using our spare change to help make a change. My kids get paid a quarter for certain chores each day and we will let them decide how much of their earnings they would like to contribute to our cause.

Here is what you’ll need:

A jar or box

Spare change

Calendar

A charity to donate to

Start by selecting a clean jar, or box to collect your spare change in. Keep it in a location you pass every day when you come home. You simply empty your pocket change (or change from the bottom of your purse, or the few coins in your wallet) into this container. Random single dollar bills count too, and so does the quarter in the couch or the pile of pennies in your car console.

Next, open your calendar. Mark the day you start collecting your spare change and count out 40 days. That will be your official end date. Take whatever you collect in that 40 day time period to your bank or local Coin Star machine. Once you have counted and cashed in all your loose change you are ready to make your donation. It doesn’t matter how big, or small your contribution is. Every single penny counts!

Last, pick your charity of choice. My family’s passions are pediatric cancer, and feeding programs in our local community. Here are some suggestions if you need them:

St. Baldrick’s Foundation

St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital

A Moment of Magic

Make a Wish

Give Kids the World

Ronald McDonald’s House

Angel Food East

People’s Place Kingston

Caring Hands Soup Kitchen

The SPCA (You can search for your local shelter, or for local animal rescues).

Hudson Valley Hero Project

You can get a little creative and use the money you collect to pay off lunches at your kid’s school, or prepay someone’s coffee at your local coffee house. Perhaps you prefer purchasing gift cards from a local grocery store and handing them out to families standing in line at check out. Earlier this year my girls and I were on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. A lovely woman realized she had a handful of gift cards for the movie concession stand she wasn’t going to use. So, she stood by the ticket booth and handed them out to families that were on their way in. She selected us and it was truly touching to be on the receiving end of such generosity. It also allowed me to splurge on treats for my kids.

There are no rules to 40 Days of Change. We can pick a charity every 40 days if we like, or just stick to doing it once a year. I hope my family will enjoy a new 40 day challenge at least three times a year. Even if we only raise a few dollars each time, the value lies in giving back routinely. Helping my kids connect the entire process of planning, and saving to giveaway, will help them recognize a need and find a way to fill it. They can see that every action matters and through action we can make a difference in our own community.

Related post: Family Savings Jar: Dimes for Disney Charity Starts at Home 7 Ways to Give Back With Little Ones in Tow Give a Kid the Gift of Swag Charitable Giving is A Christmas Tradition

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. 

Homeschooling has grown dramatically in recent years.  Reasons to homeschool vary as widely as the families themselves.  The Hudson Valley features families homeschooling for so many fascinating reasons, worthy of sharing.  To the mainstream public school community, the secret life of homeschoolers may seem mysterious, but there’s no reason not to learn more.  I’ve been chatting up local homeschooling families willing to share their experiences with our readers.

Homeschooling Outside of the Norm

This week’s spotlight is on an Orthodox Jewish family with four children ages two through nine, originally from Brooklyn.  Mom shared, “We keep strictly kosher, [and observe] Shabbat, all holidays.  It was hard to make the decision [to homeschool]!”  Orthodox Jewish families traditionally send their children to religious private schools, so homeschooling can be stigmatized in their culture.  They feel the decision has not been accepted by their community, and have had to distance themselves from unsupportive friends and family.  Mom identified a turning point when her parents remarked, “Wow, I didn’t think this was a good idea, but your kids are so much more well-adjusted than our other grandchildren.”

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Although they live in the Hudson Valley, they travel to Long Island to find like-minded Jewish homeschool families.  They appreciate this opportunity, but are hopeful they will develop a network of local homeschoolers, regardless of religion.  They began homeschooling thinking it may be temporary, but now feel “it has been the best decision ever.”  Without the financial burden of sending their children to expensive private school, they were able to buy a home, adopt a dog, and travel, with funds leftover for field trips and activities in the community.  Their schooling is described as “part time structured learning, two to three days a week, the other days are more of an unschooling way of thinking. Trips to zoos, walk in the park, taking the pets to the vet, etc.”  They utilize www.time4learning.com and Melamed Academy (a Judaic curriculum) for their academics.   Mom likes to turn to outside sources for academic learning “so that the kids see me as their mother and guidance rather than the teacher.”

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A family willing to step outside of the traditionally accepted educational standard for their culture demonstrates the power and benefits of homeschooling.  For them, homeschooling offers peace of mind.  “We know where and how our children get their knowledge, and we get to be involved and watch them grow up.” They are certainly not the traditional homeschooling family, yet they have found a way to incorporate their faith into their ideal educational environment for their children. Their photos show engaged, active children who enjoy varied learning both at home and in the community.  The combination of homeschooling with Orthodox Judiasm results in an unusual blend that works well for this local family, and offers inspiration to others wanting to give this a try.  Mom sums up, “We are a religious Jewish family living in a religious area, but living outside the box of ‘normal.’” Much appreciation to Mom for her candor in sharing her family’s experiences with Hudson Valley Parent. Please join us over the next few weeks as we continue to learn about unique and exciting families who engage in everything from Shakespeare to BMX biking to fulfill their children’s dreams and academic potential.

smart phone

I know what you’re thinking. How did you survive for FIVE long years without a cell phone? Surprisingly well.

This year I asked my husband for a cell phone for Christmas. I felt like I was finally ready to take on an additional expense now that my blog is growing. After my site was temporarily shut down for being over my monthly usage allowance on Christmas Eve, I knew I had to have a way to stay up to date on any changes. It was a wake up call, but ultimately a very good problem to have.

Still, some part of me will be sad to say goodbye to the old me, the one that didn’t have a smart phone permanently in my hand.

I can already feel myself being sucked in by smart phone addiction. The last time I had a cell phone it was a simple tracfone that I used mostly to keep in touch with my husband while I was at work. That was before I started working from home.

I still want to hold onto the pre-smart phone me. She learned some very important lessons that I want desperately to remember.

1. Pay Attention To Who You’re With – I am a people watcher. Whether at restaurants, kids’ play places, the mall, the playground or the library I’m always watching how people interact with each other. Over the last five years I’ve had plenty of time to see how people interact with their  friends and family in public and I’ve been a little disturbed.

Smart phones are awesome, but I noticed that nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the people they were with. Couples sat silently across from each other at restaurants. Parents sat silently on a park bench while their kids played almost exclusively by themselves without more than a quick passing glance. People spent a lot of time looking at their phones.

I get it. I feel my potential to be sucked in, especially by social media. It’s exciting to be able to connect with people on so many platforms ALL THE TIME, but I’m so glad for these five years during which I focused exclusively on my friends and family.

I was able to give them my undivided attention. I got up and played with my kids at the park. I chatted with my husband at dinner. I was able to be fully present and I think that’s something I want to be aware of now that I’ve got a new toy. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m glad these five years were all about the people that love me and whom I love more than anyone in this world.

2. Privacy Is A Premium – Now that I’ve got a smart phone and I can be reached at any time, I’m a little sad. It was sort of liberating not worrying about my phone ringing or dinging to let me know someone needs me. I’m a mom, I already feel needed EVERY SINGLE SECOND of the day and it is exhausting.I can’t tell you how many times over the course of five years I’ve overheard someone on the phone in a public restroom and thought, “What on EARTH could be so important that it can’t wait till you’re out of the bathroom?” It’s bad enough I don’t get privacy in my bathroom at home.Plus the ick factor is really high for me. To me, nothing you press against your face should be out where it’s exposed to urine and fecal matter. But hey, that’s just me.

3. Remember To Have Actual Conversations – Being without a smart phone these past five years, has made me nostalgic for actual conversations. Now it’s all text messages, Facebook messenger and emoticons (most of which I’m still struggling to understand the circumstance that would actually warrant its use). Being able to connect all the time, has actually made the quality of conversation decline in my opinion.We’d rather send one liners to each other than really connect.

I get it, we’re a busy society. We’re always moving, always working, and always parenting on the fly.But I hope I don’t forget that what we say to each other will always be more important than how we choose to do it. During my phone free years, I may have chatted less with people, but I definitely feel like I gave them more of myself and the conversations actually strengthened relationships.

One day my kids will ask me for a cell phone. I know it’s going to be a LONG time before I say yes. I want them to make their words count. I want them to actually connect with people. I want my kids to see me when I’m talking to them, instead of a cell phone screen. I’m glad that I went such a long time without one, because I can always say that if I survived, they can too.

4. Learn Not To Panic Over Potential Emergencies – The question I was constantly asked when I didn’t have a cell phone was, “What happens if there is an emergency?” In five years, I can honestly say that I never had an emergency happen while I was out. I work from home so it definitely helps that I’m home a lot of the time.Maybe it’s just luck, or maybe we just tend to anticipate emergencies more than we used to.We envision our kids getting sick or hurt at school, the car breaking down or our spouse needing to reach us urgently.

I’m not saying emergencies don’t happen. I just happened to be able to live with the uncertainty better than most. The one time my tire got a flat was when we were driving to the local lake this summer and since my husband had his car packed with our inflatable boat and life jackets he was driving behind me at the time. I had the van packed with kids and snacks and it was absolutely the best case scenario. The kids and I found a grassy spot on the side of the road and ate some snacks while my husband changed my tire and then we were on our way.

There were plenty of times my husband wished I had a cell phone over the last five years. But honestly he did what we all did pre-cell phone era; he waited till I got home. Since I work at home, I’m here the majority of the time. I think some “emergencies” are really just small panic attacks that come from having to wait a little longer to talk to someone. By faith or by luck I survived without any permanent psychological scarring. Five years without a cell phone has taught me to be more aware of my surroundings, pay better attention to the condition of my car, and anticipate whether or not my child’s cold will land them in the nurse’s office.

It also taught me to be more patient and reminded me of the immense capacity people have to be kind to one another. There was the time my car’s battery died in the parking lot of the post office and a man cleaned my connectors and got it started back up. Nobody wants to rely on others anymore. I get it, I really do. We’re too busy. We’re too distrustful. We want assurances that we can’t always have in an unsure world.

I want my kids to be able to call for help should they need it when they get older. But I also want them to have the skills to assess situations, the mindfulness to anticipate potential problems, and the courage to wait if necessary without panicking because the worst thing you can do in an emergency is panic.

Your brain will always be your best asset. Perhaps the smart phone comes in second place.

I’m excited by the prospect of all the things my new smart phone can do for me, but I want to hold on for dear life to the lessons I’ve learned from my five years without one.

How long could you survive without your smart phone?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

When I was a kid New Year’s Eve was so exciting! My parents would let us stay up until Midnight to take us out to breakfast. We called it “First Breakfast” because it was literally the first breakfast of the New Year. One year we went to the diner with my parents and their friends, another year the local firehouse hosted a first breakfast event. I was just four years old when my parents started this tradition, but I still remember it today!

I knew I would make this a tradition for my little family one day. The only problem is, at age 6 my kids still “can’t hang.” If they do not go to bed at the same hour every night we have horrible, monstrous humans we can’t face the public with. So our solution is to celebrate a big first breakfast at our kitchen table every year. We make it special with colorful decorations and drink out of fancy glasses. It has become such a big hit at our house that I now keep a kit ready. I pull it out on New Year’s Eve after they fall asleep and set it up before I go to bed (hours before midnight).

The traditional colors for New Year celebrations are silver and gold, or black and white. However, we prefer the colors of Mardi Gras- green, gold and purple. These are all colors of royalty and represent prosperity and good fortune; all great things to hope for in the New Year and they make a pretty colorful back drop to our first breakfast.

Here is what I have in my first breakfast celebration kit:

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Champagne Flutes– We don’t actually serve champagne (to the children) for breakfast, but we do like feeling fancy. So we serve up their morning OJ (and our mimosas) in these colorful, reusable flutes. The kids really get a kick out of it!

Hats, Noise Makers and Beaded Necklaces – every year I set the table with these fun accessories for each person in the family. As soon as the kids come out in the morning we put on our fashions and march in a noisy parade through the house. Since mommy and daddy can no longer hang till midnight either, this noise isn’t so horrible after a full night’s sleep.

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Holiday Crackers- these are just fun! You pop them open and there is usually a paper crown inside along with some jokes and a little trinket. It keeps the kids busy while I am cooking up breakfast. They take turns cracking each other up and I get to enjoy hearing them laugh instead of argue for a minute. P.s. Holiday crackers usually go on sale for half price after the holiday season.

Tableware- I use disposable decorative paper plates with matching napkins. After cooking a big breakfast of omelets, bacon and fresh cinnamon buns, and drinking a few mimosas, I could use the break from washing dishes. P.p.s I hit up the dollar stores after the holiday and pick up festive prints for 50 cents each. I stock up to keep on hand for the next few years.

Masks- one of my kids wanted to start wearing masks for our parade one year and so the tradition has stuck around. We don’t wear them while eating breakfast because that would just be weird. Unless you are six then it’s just breakfast time. (I don’t even ask anymore).

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Clock– another kid created tradition. It makes a great centerpiece for our table.

Not included in the kit are colorful foiled chocolate coins I toss around the table to represent money and sweetness. I buy these every year because obviously chocolate is not going to survive more than a day in my house. And it could get pretty gross in storage for a year. I keep all our decorations in a reusable clear tote and put away until our next first breakfast.

Our version of First Breakfast may not have the same kind of thrill as when I was as a kid, but it is our own. Right now while the kids are still little and so dependent on routine, we are happy keeping the first breakfast tradition alive eight hours after the official start to the new year. It feels more manageable and sane for us. Maybe one day my children won’t turn into gremlins and we can move this tradition to a new location. Or, maybe we’ll return to this cozy tradition year after year. Either way I just hope they remember these first breakfasts as fondly as I remember mine.

What New Year traditions do you and your family celebrate?

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. 

 

Pre-kids, I was fairly laid-back.  It was easy to be carefree and fun-loving when my job was pretty much to worry only about me, myself, and I.  Fast forward twelve years, and my responsibilities have broadened to include caring for my two girls, three pets, a husband, and sometimes extended family, all who have varied needs.  I’m now the serious one, and I suppose I’ve embraced that, because I keep things running smoothly with my lists, planning, and schedules.

Sometimes, though, being the grown-up is a drag, and kids learn to tune their parents out. There are times when I can’t repeat myself one.more.time.  No one is listening, or my kids are squabbling, or I find myself caught in “mommy mode.”  I can’t remember exactly how she came about, but one day, I invented a fun-loving alter-ego, Lady Leaf Lover.  She speaks in a British accent and offers only compliments and encouragement.  Lady Leaf Lover doesn’t appear too often, but when she does, my girls greet her with hugs and enthusiasm. Sometimes she invites her husband, Lord Leaf Lover, to make a cameo, and he’s an even bigger goofball. The whole process gets everyone in hysterics, and whatever scuffle the Leaf Lovers interrupted is long gone.  Should you introduce a Lady Leaf Lover to your parenting repertoire, and if so, how?

Pick a true alter-ego

If you’re the serious one, your alter-ego should be funny.  If you’re the goofy parent, let your new character be as serious as a General.  No matter who you choose, you want to both shock and crack-up your brood.

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Go with a wacky name

Who IS Lady Leaf Lover, and where on Earth did she get her name?  I really don’t know, but my girls googled her and couldn’t find any evidence that she’d ever posed for a photograph.  Regardless, every time she surprises the girls by popping in, her trills of “Darlings!  I’ve missed you!” pause any conflicts, and their attention is immediately riveted.  Mrs. Smith might be funny if she tried hard enough, but an absurd name really lightens the mood.

Be positive

Parents are great at giving orders and doling out consequences, but what kid is excited for that?  Your alter-ego, however, offers nothing but love.  When the kids are overwhelmed by a task, Lady Leaf Lover swoops in with encouragement and fun ways to get the job done.  She’s patient, she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and help out a little, she doesn’t get cross, and no one gets mad at her.

Use a funny voice and/or accent

When Lady Leaf Lover first came to visit, she spoke with a British accent.  That fact is both comical and unfortunate.  Comical, because I am terrible at accents, and often waver into Scottish, Jamaican, even Western; unfortunate for the same reason.  Her voice is high, squeaky, and silly.  “Get ready for bed!” sounds much funnier when Lady Leaf Lover says it, and for some reason, my kids are more willing to listen.

Lighten the mood

Your alter-ego is your tool for when the daily parenting tricks are not working, and everyone needs a change of pace.  There are times when we’re all frustrated and I know the situation could go downhill fast.  At that moment, I’ll take a deep breath, quietly exit the room, and find some strength from deep within.  I return with a, “Helloooo!” and everyone brightens.  It’s a signal that we’ve shifted gears and turned a tense situation around.  It might sound silly, but there’s a lesson there.  When things are getting out of hand, it’s better to take a step back and find a positive way to deal with things rather than to let it escalate.  Humor isn’t always appropriate, and there are plenty of times when I’m not in the mood.  Alter-egos are like a secret weapon to be enacted only when the time is right.

Parenting is hard work.  There are tantrums, disagreements, homework, and bedtime. There are times when being a parent feels easy and can be done with grace, and other times when every morsel of energy doesn’t feel like enough.  There’s a time and a place for all kinds of parenting, and it helps to turn to humor when it’d be just as easy to turn to anger.  Channel your inner Lady Leaf Lover, and share your experiences with our readers, below.  Tootles, Darlings!

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