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Monday, September 15, 2014

How I Handle Screen Time with the Kids

It's a constant internal battle right?  How much TV/video game/computer time is too much?  How do I get the kids to adhere to whatever rules I set without constantly monitoring or nagging?  I had  noticed during the summer that it was very easy for the kids to get sucked into the screens first thing in the morning and have a hard time redirecting themselves afterward.  I would be in the garage working and when I would take a break at 9 or 10AM I would go inside to find them both still in pjs  glued to the tablet and generally the little guy hadn't even fed himself breakfast yet.  (I know - some of your kids sleep until then so it doesn't sound like a big deal.  We are a house of early risers and generally my kids wake up on their own by 7:00)  Not good.
Well, about a month ago I ran across a brilliant idea (found here).  Instead of setting limits on screen time, this mom sets up a list of things the kids need to do BEFORE they spend any time on the computer or TV and once those things are done they are free to spend as much time as they want with the screens.  The beauty of the plan is that you customize your list and change them as needed so that a good chunk of the day is spent doing the items on the list if you so desire.  By putting things on the list that are likely to get the child involved in other activitiess (outside play, something artsy or creative, etc) chances are they will get wrapped up in those activities and be less likely to spend as much time on the screens anyway.
The night after I found the idea I brought it up for discussion at the dinner table.  The kids and the husband were on board and we took the time to discuss what we all thought should be included on the lists.  Kaitlyn was highly involved in the process (she's 10) while Tyler was less interested (he's 8) but both were enthusiastic to start in on the lists as soon as I got everything typed up and posted in their rooms.

 Kaitlyn wanted her lists on her bulletin board and we taped Tyler's inside the doors on his nightstand.
Kaitlyn was so excited she took the initiative and made herself and her brother duct tape organizers to hold the dry erase markers so they could be within easy reach of the lists ;)

 We had decided the format we wanted to use for the lists would be a checklist with spaces for an entire week.  To save myself from having to print and reprint the lists I inserted them in page protectors so the kids can use dry erase markers and the lists can just be wiped off when they are ready to start the next week.  We also did two lists - one for days when the kids have school and one for the days without school (weekends, summer, holidays).  The lists are fairly similar for each child, the only difference being the amount of time each needs to spend reading and things they need a little more help remembering - like Kaitlyn remembering her asthma meds and to apply deordorant in the morning while Tyler's has a reminder that playing with the dog DOES NOT mean wrestling in the living room ;) - and there is a slight difference in their daily chores.  I also divided the lists into sections for Morning, After School, and After Dinner.  My main focus was on getting them to be self-directed (especially with the daily routine/chores) along with giving them some balance between responsibilities, play, creativity, learning (reading), and exercise.

Kaitlyn's List: For Days Without School
Breakfast:  includes putting dishes in dishwasher, putting away food, wiping down counter/table where you ate
Vitamins, Medicine
Get Dressed: includes deodorant, comb hair
Brush Teeth:  with timer, rinse sink afterward and make sure towels are hanging up nicely
Make Bed
Unload Dishwasher (if it’s your day)
Feed/Water Bambi

Active:  60 Minutes
Reading:  30 Minutes
Creative/Productive (Play):  1 ½ hour
Play with Bambi
Straighten up Bedroom
Clean Up Playroom

Dinner:  includes putting dishes in dishwasher, helping to clear table and put away food
Take Out Garbage

Kaitlyn's List:  For Days With School
Breakfast:  includes putting dishes in dishwasher, putting away food, wiping down counter/table where you ate, help pack lunchbox
Vitamins, Medicine
Get Dressed: includes deodorant, comb hair
Brush Teeth:  with timer, rinse sink afterward and make sure towels are hanging up nicely
Make Bed

Homework, put away lunchbox
Unload Dishwasher (if it’s your day)
Active:  30 Minutes
Reading:  30 Minutes
Creative/Productive (Play):  30 Min
Play with Bambi (not wrestling!)
Straighten up Bedroom
Clean Up Playroom

Dinner:  includes putting dishes in dishwasher, helping to clear table and put away food
Take Out Garbage

I'm happy to report that this system seems to be working really well and I have high hopes that the longer we keep at it the more self-sufficient and self-modifying my children will become.
Hey, a mom can hope, right? ;) 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Horse Party Invitations

 I've managed to find a little breathing room this week in among work, keeping up with the house and all the moving preparations.  October is fast approaching and with it comes Birthday Month in our families - there are at least 10 that we actively celebrate with close family and friends and several others that I acknowledge with at least a note all within about 18 days between the end of September and the middle of October.  It's intense.  So I took advantage of some extra time this week and dug into the actual party prep for my daugher's birthday.
I thought I would go ahead and share the invitations I finished yesterday.  (I'm always so excited when I finish things, you know?!)  The last few years I have been leaning more toward the digitally designed invitations so I could just get one all laid out and print out as many as I needed.  This year Kaitlyn wants another slumber party and I limit the guests to only three so I decided to make them a little more "scrapbook-y" and three dimensional.  She was very quick to select horses as her theme this year and a few weeks back she sat down with me and we looked at all kind of ideas on Pinterest.  It was a lot of fun.  In the process we narrowed her theme down even further to a western/cowgirl style in pink and brown and that was all I needed to set myself off an running.
 I'm all about using what I have right now and I was happy to find this great chocolate brown and two tone pink polka dot paper in my stash so I used that for the background.  I then proceeded to find some fun western fonts and a font of horse dingbats that I was able to use for the horse silhouette (and will be repeated in most of the other printables/decor for the party).  The rest of it just kind of flowed from there.

The invite reads:
your presence at
Kaitlyn's 11th Birthday

so put on your boots and mosey on over for a 

Slumber Party
The Caldwell Homestead
The shindig begins at 6:00 PM and you can round up your cowgirls at 10:00AM Saturday
Give a Holler:  Alayna (phone number)
Don't forget your bedroll!

I printed that onto cardstock then tore along all the edges and inked them to give it a weathered/distressed look.  Then finished it off with a pink ribbon and the horse silhouette which I had mounted with foam tape to give it some dimension,
Kaitlyn is very happy with the invitations and I'm starting to get kind of excited for the party myself.  Four more weeks to go...

Linking to:
DIY Projects and Receipes with the Party Bunch

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Road Trippin' With a Pet

Two adults, two kids, and an enthusiastic golden retriever "puppy."  2200 miles, three days on the road.  Twice.  That pretty much sums up our road trip this summer from North Carolina to Utah and back again this summer.  Quite frankly there were times in the planning where I thought it was going to be torture.  In the end, it all went fairly smoothly and most of it was even enjoyable.

So what are the biggest concerns when taking a pet on a long trip?  Our first consideration was where she was going to travel.  She's big and she's energetic and her "manners" just aren't where we want them to be yet.  We have a big gaz-guzzling SUV (because I like the extra space and flexibility, and in Utah we needed something that could handle the snow) so it made sense that the dog would ride in the back.  We debated about leaving the third row seats home but were glad we kept them as we made good use of them quite a bit while we were on vacation.  We also knew that we wanted to take her crate with us so we decided to prop it between the second row and the folded-up third row seats, figuring it would act as a good screen to keep her in the back.  In our trial run in the driveway she showed no indication of trying to get past it.  On the road, before the sun was up and we had gone less than 20 miles we had pulled over TWICE to deal with the dog.  We had put her in the back and she was whining and pacing and wanting attention and pretty soon she had found a way around it and was in the kids' laps.  Fine.  We just pulled out a leash and tied it to one of the metal rings in the back.  Mistake in that the leash was too long and she was once again in the kids' laps.  Ok.  We got out a different leash, making sure she had only enough length to stand up and lie down.  She was still agitated and we thought we would have to stop a third time but eventually she did calm down (10 minutes?  20 minutes later?)  And we were surprised at how well she did for the rest of the trip, even showing she was happy to jump into the back of the vehicle at rest stops when we thought she would be anxious to stretch her legs and run around longer.
Tip #1 - make sure your pet has a safe place to ride and is restricted well enough not to bother/hurt passengers if she gets agitated.
Tip #2 - do a trial run and make sure you actually get out on the road to work out the kinks instead of just staying in the driveway.  That would have been a good idea ;)

Tip #3 - plan/pack for as many eventualities as you can.  We pretty much devoted an entire backpack to things for the dog.  We measured out her meals ahead of time and put them each in plastic baggies (we left the big bag of dog food home and bought a new one once we were in Utah since we would be spending 3 weeks there and knew she would eat most of while we were there).  We of course had food and water bowls, leashes, a brush, poop bags, toys, dog treats, and a case of bottled water.  We also made sure to get her a brand new bone and bring her favorite chew toys to keep her busy in the back and at night in the hotel.  We discovered that she doesn't want to eat much when we are on the road and the chew toys and bone got almost no use but it's better to be safe than sorry.  She did drink plenty and since we still give her some peanut butter in her Kong at bedtime every night we figured she wouldn't exactly starve.  Our daughter would also feed her the small treats over the seat when she was being particularly calm in order to encourage the good behavior.

Tip #4 - at rest stops Divide and Conquer.  It didn't take us long to figure out a system for dealing with the kids and the dog at rest stops.  Since it was very hot, we didn't want to leave the dog alone in the car for even a short amount of time.  So I would take the kids in to the restroom while my husband would get the dog out and let her walk around and take her own potty break.  When the kids and I were finished we would give the dog some water and the kids would give her some love while the husband went to the restroom.
We used the same method when stopping for the night, though it was a little harder.  The husband would usually go check into the hotel and the kids would either go in with him or stay outside with me while I walked the dog.  And here's where it got hard because the dog loves to meet people and likes to get right up in their space and she's big enough that for the most part we don't trust the kids' strength to control her if they really needed to.  Sam would bring a luggage cart back out with him and we would re-latch the dog into the back while we unloaded the luggage from the top of the vehicle, usually while dealing with excited and fully energized kids while we, the parents were nearing the end of our patience for the day.  We got through it though, with Sam taking the leash while we walked into the hotel and the kids "helping" me get the luggage cart where we needed it to go.  Once we were settled in the room one of us would go for take out.  Then I would ususally take the kids to the pool to work off some energy while Sam took the dog for a long walk or if the hotel had a fenced in area for pets he would throw the ball for her there.

Tip #5 - research and book hotels ahead of time.  When we drove out here four years ago with just the kids we took the "we'll stop when we feel like we need to and just find a place as we go" approach.  That doesn't work so well with pets.  Many hotels don't welcome pets and the ones that do often charge extra for pets and have restrictions as to the size of the dog and things like what entrance you can use with a pet (they usually want you to enter and exit only through the back/side door).  And not all hotels are created equal - the first night the "pet room" we got was well, gross.  It was dank and smelled funky and the carpet looked clean but felt wet, as if they steam cleaned it but it didn't dry completely and we insisted the kids not walk on it without their shoes.  I'm sure there are a number of good chains, but we quickly decided on one we are comfortable with and stuck to it for the rest of the trip.  

Tip #6 - roll with it.  I mean this in all senses of the phrase, good and bad.  Everyone is better off when you deal with things with patience and try to see the humor in things when they go awry.  For instance, as the sun was getting lower in the sky on the first day, Bambi started getting really fidgety and loud.  Once she had settled in originally she had ridden most of the trip without incident and it hadn't been that long since our last stop so we knew she probably didn't need a break yet.  I think it was Sam that spotted the patch of light being reflected onto the ceiling of the car just out of her reach that she was trying to get at.  See, she loves chasing the light from flashlights or what I used to call "Tinkerbell" as a kid - the reflected light that bounces off watches or mirrors when the sun hits it just right.  And the angle of the sun had found the screen of a cell phone that was sitting on the console causing a band of light to reflect onto the ceiling and drive her nuts.  It didn't take us long to figure out that as long as we kept the reflective surfaces covered from about 6-7 PM she would be able to remain calm.
On the other end of that, our dog is very friendly and loves people and she's "a pretty dog" so she gets a lot of attention.  At one busy rest stop when the husband took the kids inside first I didn't make it more than 10 steps from the car with her before they got back because multiple families with kids asked to pet her and it was so much fun to watch the kids and make small take with the adults.  At another rest stop a guy we ran into said he trains service dogs and noticing my focus on trying to keep Bambi sitting nicely while he petted her he ended up giving us a mini dog training/tip session.  Despite the desire to get to our destinations as quickly as possible, the entire exprience was more fun because we took the time to enjoy the process, the sights, and the people we met along the way.

 The highest point on our journey - elevation 8640

We have to do the whole thing over again in a couple of months when we move back to Utah.  And that time around we will be taking two vechiles and dragging a trailor and plan on it taking even longer.  I'm not dreading it, though I'll be happy when it's over and we are settled.  ;)  However, I'm interested to know - do any of you have any tips or tricks we should know about?

*This post is part of a series you can see the other parts here:
1:  Road Trip Activity Binder

Linking to:
Sunday Showcase
Link Party Palooza

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Is Summer Really Over?

School has started and Labor Day has passed us by.  I suppose that really does mean Summer is over for the year.  It makes me a little sad since we've had such a great summer and I hate for it to come to an end.  Plus with temps in the 90s here in NC all week, the weather sure doesn't suggest that Fall is on it's way.
But.  When I think about fall I get really excited too - pumpkins and leaves and hot chocolate and sweaters and birthdays (what? you don't have half the family's birthdays all crammed into about 3 weeks at the end of Sept/1st of Oct like we do?!).  So I'm taking one final look back at all the great times we've had - road trips, boating, pool, beach, vacation, fantastic time spent with family and friends...
Yep - we did almost everything on the list!  And we will try to make the most of the last week or two that the neighorhood pool will be open for the season.  Then fall will be here and we will love that too. 

But, oh summer!  We will miss you!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

One Litte Word - August Prompt

It's September!
What?  You knew that already?  ;)
Life has been crazy here - always lots going on with school starting and the pre-moving prep kicking into full gear.  What I'm realizing as I try to juggle it all, is that my Word for the Year has become even more present and important for keeping calm, balanced, and sane.  Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I have to set priorities and decide what I can/should be doing with my limited time and energy and the other day (August 31, in fact!) I gave myself some time to finish up the prompt for August from the One Little Word year-long workshop I am participating in.
It has been a few months since I've shared anything from the OLW workshop - not because I haven't been doing it, but because I didn't have anything tangible to photograph.  I'm great about watching the video for the month, thinking through the prompts and journaling my thoughts in the notebook I set aside specifically for that.  My sticking point is making the opportunity to put together the final presentation form of each one for my book.  I find that I need a chunk of quiet time, uninterrupted by the kids, the husband, the dog, the To Do List...and during the summer that was harder than usual to find.  Hopefully I will find time soon to finish typing up the ones I "missed" from June and July.  But I digress.  Since I did get August's done (and before the month was up!) I thought I'd give myself a digital pat on the back by posting a couple of photos here on the blog.
 The prompt for August dealt with music/lyrics that apply to our words.  Turned out to be harder than I thought.  First thing I realized is that there is no way to search for songs based on subject matter - at least not a way that worked for this purpose.  Eventually I stumbled onto a search term (lyrics to live by) that worked for me in Pinterest to turn up short quotes from song lyrics.  Then I turned to the music I listen to often.  Guess what I found out LOL.  I don't usually like a song for the lyrics/message behind it.  I must be more of a rhythm/melody person.  Eventually though, I did pull together a collection of quotes from songs that I feel really do apply to what is happening in my life right now, the lessons I'm learning, and the mindset I am hoping to acheive.
 Do you have a song that speaks to you right now?  I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kids are Back in School!

Can you guess what we did yesterday?!
 Exactly!  First day of school - woohoo!
I am not one of those moms that spends the whole summer wishing the kids were back in school but I have to admit that there are a lot perks for Stay at Home Moms when the kids are in school.  Like the fact that the only dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter are the ones I put there.  ;)  And the quiet - oh the quiet house!

The kids were ready for a change too, even if they wouldn't admit it.  I couldn't help smiling to myself as I listened to my oldest help her brother select his clothes the night before and at his excitement in the morning to finally put on the new I-can-tie-them-myself! shoes he has been so excited to wear.  Our morning went very smoothly with no issues getting up and out the door with plenty of time to take photos on the porch before heading to the bus stop.  They were both so bubbly and chatty when they got home from school, too.

True to form, I did my best to add a few special touches to the first day of school.  I made special muffins for the kiddos for breakfast and made sure they had something fun in their lunchboxes.  And I pulled out the last of my husband's award winning chocolate chip cookie dough from the freezer so they could have fresh from the oven cookies when they got off the bus.  However, what I personally look forward to the most is my annual Back to School Mom's Brunch!

 This is a tradition I started back when my daughter first started school as I knew I would be a little sad to see her growing up and wanted a way to celebrate the milestone - and to distract myself.  It served its purpose perfectly and I have had a casual Mom's Brunch every year since.  I don't go into full out party mode - the point is to keep it casual and just enjoy some time with the ladies without (most of) the kids running around.  I set aside the first day of school for myself with no real worries about the To Do List or running around so brunch can go on as long as we feel like it.

I do Mom's Brunch potluck style so prep work on my end is minimal though I do like to add just a little bit of fun to the food display.  A few weeks ago I ran across this great Dr Seuss printable (here) and with our big moving date looming in the near future I knew that a Places You'll Go theme was exactly what we needed this year.  In keeping with the chalkboard style I printed out a few more school-type signs (ran out of time though so only one made it onto the table - the fun flags and water bottle labels will have to get their turn another time.  You can find those printables here).  Then I added a few maps to round out the Going Places idea.  The maps themselves were road maps of the states - one for North Carolina, one for Utah, and the others were the home states of some of my friends.  And yes, my friends did actually notice and comment on the fact that their states were included.  (See?  The details DO matter!)

I know - I should have taken the covers off the dishes and the coffee cake wasn't even out of the oven for this photo but hey - when you have to decide between taking beauty shots for the blog and actually participating in your own party... ;)
Happy Back to School Everyone!  I hope this year is a wonderful one for all!

Linking to:
Party Bunch Linky Party

Friday, August 22, 2014

Halloween/Thanksgiving 2x4 Craft - Double Sided!

If it weren't for other people, I don't know if I'd manage to work in time for "fun" crafting very often - especially right now when I seem to spend most of my days in the garage working on drying racks or sorting through yet another closet or stack of boxes in an effort to pare down all the STUFF before we move.  However, I get pretty cranky when all I do is "work" so a couple months ago when I was asked to put together a craft for the women's group at a local church I was pretty quick to agree.  I love introducing people to one of my favorite hobbies!
It didn't take us long to decide on an easy (and hopefully quick!) 2x4 craft for Halloween and Thanksgiving - yes, it's double sided!    The easier it is to change out holiday decor and the less space it takes up in storage, the better, right?  The front side reads "BEWARE of little Monsters" and the back side says "THANKS for little Blessings."
We ended up with almost 30 people signed up for the craft - Yay!  I'm told most of them have never done anything crafty so I've been thinking extra hard about how to have it all go as smoothly as possible.  Over the last week or so I've pulled together a kit for everyone and while I was at it I figured, hey, why not pull together a quick How To for the blog.  I haven't done one of those in a while.
In the kit they will find the wooden blocks, vinyl lettering, patterned paper cut to size, a couple pieces of ribbon (which I forgot to put in the photo!) and even a nice little reference sheet.  I took the extra time to type up the reference sheet because 1) a few of the people won't be able to make it tomorrow but still wanted to make the craft and 2) with that many people they may not be able to have the example blocks right in front of them and I wanted them to at least have photos for reference and 3) some people learn better/retain things better if they can read it instead of just listening to a quick explanation.

*For those of you that are going to ask (and I know someone is going to ask!) here is a quick run through of the sizes for the wood pieces.  You can use a 2x4 for all pieces (I got 2-3 sets out of one 2x4).  Cut out two pieces 7 1/4" high, two pieces 4 1/8" high, and two pieces 3 1/2" high.  For the base block I cut it 14" long then ran it through the table saw (or rather, my awsome husband did) so that it was 2" high.

The rest of the process is pretty easy:
-paint all sides of all wooden pieces.  (Actually I would have preferred to stain them, but the stain has to dry overnight and it really messy so I figured paint was a much better option for craft day)  It will probably take two coats.
-cut your patterned paper slightly smaller than the size of the blocks.  Adhere patterned paper with Modge Podge or similar adhesive
-apply vinyl lettering
-apply another coat of Modge Podge over the top of everything, including the sides that are only painted (this keeps the finish consistantly glossy on all sides)
-when dry, attach ribbon embellishments using wood glue or a hot glue gun.

Told you it was easy! ;)  Now for the beauty shots.

The big craft day is tomorrow!  I've already been over to help set everything up - can't wait!  I'll let you know how it goes... ;)

Linking to:
Link Party Palooza
BFF Open House Link Party