Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Night at the Fair

Corn dogs, cotton candy, turkey legs and deep-fried twinkies! Hawkers and clowns and the Peking acrobats! Does it get any better than that?

This was the first time in years that we went to the fair without the kids. That meant we missed certain parts of the fair, like the midway (sigh of relief), the wild rides (another sigh of relief) and the pig races (a really big sigh of relief.) Not that those things weren't fun, but this year I had all the time in the world to wander through the arts and crafts building and marvel at the talent displayed there. The paintings were stunning, the photos amazing, the table settings innovative and the collections lots of fun. It was a slower, more relaxed trip to the fair and I liked it. I guess there's plenty to embrace about this empty nest thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Separation Anxiety - in Reverse

Well, my 18-yr.-old son left for Australia last night, so now the shoe is on the other foot. After all those years of little ones hanging onto my leg and not wanting to let go, it's my turn to worry about my son as he travels to a different continent - heck, even a different hemisphere!

I had a taste of adult separation anxiety two years ago when my daughter went away to college. I was okay up until the final goodbyes, then found I couldn't speak. I held back the tears until I got in the car, then let loose. This September, I get to say goodbye to my son as well, as he heads off to college too, so I guess I should be getting good at it by now. But it takes some courage to send your child so far away.

My one consolation is that I remember so well how much fun I had the summer I was nineteen. I got the opportunity to study in Heidelberg, Germany through my college, Pepperdine University. It was the best summer of my life, hands down, as I got to travel to many countries and experience different ways of life. I will never forget that summer, and I hope my son will have great memories of his time in Australia. My daughter is looking to study in Ireland, and I know my youngest will want to take some type of big trip as well.

It's all a part of growing up, going on these adventures. It's tough on the parents, but it's so educational and so meaningful to the kids, and I hope every young adult gets an opportunity to broaden his or her horizons and go explore the world!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Writing with Writers

I came across a great site for kids today. It's called Writing with Writers. It's a Scholastic website where kids can get expert advice on writing in a variety of genres by successful, published authors. For example, mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon presents a short mystery of hers for your child to read. She then provides some writing tips for your young author, before taking him through the writing and revision process step-by-step. He can then publish his story online. Why not check it out? Who knows, your child may be the next Agatha Christie or Erle Stanley Gardner!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Party time!

One more idea on keeping the teens busy this summer. Let them plan a party for their friends and put the entire thing together. That means they should clean the house in preparation for the big day. They should pick a theme for the party, then plan and shop for the food and decorations. Make sure they stay within a given budget too. They will appreciate you so much more when they discover how much effort and energy went into all those birthday parties you gave them. And they will feel proud of themselves for planning and executing their own party all by themselves!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


As your teen gets older, she craves more independence from you. This can be tough for a parent to accept, but it's a natural part of growing up. Kids want to spend more and more time with their friends and less time with the family. That's especially true of their parents, although younger siblings may get short shrift too as the older kids distance themselves from childish pursuits.

Now is the time to start giving your teen more independence. Of course, you must take into consideration her level of maturity - not all teens are created equal - and let her have some opportunities to prove herself responsible. Summer is a great time for this. There are any number of fun activities, whether it's spending the day at an amusement park or going to the state fair. Maybe you could drop her off at the beach with her friends for a few hours or let them walk to the movies alone.

Bit by bit, you should be giving them more responsibility and judging how well they handle it. It will help them stay busy this summer and they'll grow up a lot too!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Making His Bedroom His Own

It was fun, wasn't it? Designing your child's bedroom, first as a nursery and later as a kid's room? Well, now it houses a teenager and it should reflect that fact.

As kids grow up, their personalities emerge and they should have their own private space that reflects that personality. What better time to re-do your teen's room than the summer, when he is bored and looking for something to do? That's right, now that he's a teen, he can wield a paint brush or assemble some new furniture all by himself (or at least with minimal supervision.) Even if the room isn't ready for a major remodel, your teen can make a few changes that make his or her space seem more grown up.

Of course, it's your house, so you still have veto power. You can nix the black walls or the disturbing poster your teen picked up at the swap meet. Negotiate, compromise, and give your teen something to do this summer!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Keeping Teens Busy During the Summer

As the long summer days press on, time at home with the kids can wear on your nerves a bit. While there are plenty of activites to keep young kids busy, it can be a lot harder finding things for your teenager to do - especially if that teenager is too young to work and drive a car. This week, we'll explore some of the unique challenges we parents of young teens face during the summer months.

If anyone has any helpful ideas, don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Tomorrow: Updating Your Teen's Room

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Break up the Monotony

Whatever you do in terms of exercise, you must keep it fresh and interesting or you will soon give it up entirely. Have you seen those vita courses? You walk from one point to the next, then stop and perform the specified exercise. You may be asked to do some pull-ups or push-ups. You may be asked to stretch, or do a short step routine. This way you work different muscle groups and keep your walk interesting.

Don't live near a vita course? Make one of your own. Throw in a few toe touches or jumping jacks. Get creative. Have fun! Keep exercising!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Exercise While You Watch TV

Okay, no time for exercise today? But you found time to watch TV? Here are a number of things you can do while watching your favorite show.

Exercises to do sitting down.

- Head and neck stretches (Slowly move your head forward and back, left and right.)

- Shoulder shrugs (Move shoulders up, hold, release, repeat.)

- Arm stretches - (Get creative here - up, forward, to the sides, behind you...)

Exercises to do standing up

- Leg work (Lean against a wall; slide down until you can feel the burn and hold.)

- Calf exercises (Stand on your tip toes and hold. Release and come back onto your heels while leaning forward slightly. Feel that stretch.)

- Strength-building maneuvers - (Using a chair for support, try a number of balancing poses.)

Floor exercises

- Crunches (Move slowly and carefully and hold each crunch for a few moments.)

- Leg lifts (There are several varieties of leg lifts. Try them all.)

- Push ups or planks (These are great to build your core strength.)_

Do you have more energy now? Did you still get to see your TV show? Try this at least three times a week and in no time you will feel stronger and firmer and less guilty about watching TV!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baby Steps Work for Exercise Too!

When I first joined the gym I thought I was in pretty good shape. After all, I had kept up with my kids, walked regularly and had kept my weight under control. So I was shocked when I lasted a mere three minutes on the elliptical machine.

Apparently, living in a one-story house and not having to climb any nearby hills had taken its toll. My legs ached almost at once, and I was embarrassed at being in such poor shape. But I didn't give up. I decided at least it would be easy to improve on such a poor performance, so I set a goal to last 5 minutes the next time. I made it and increased my goal by two more minutes each time. I didn't always reach my goal, but I kept building up my strength until I was doing 35 minutes on the elliptical, as well as working out with weights.

Baby Steps! Don't give up!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stress-Reducing Benefits of Yoga

Some people still think of yoga as some strange mystical practice involving impossible flexibility and lots of chanting. In reality, yoga is a fun, relaxing method of getting in shape and letting go of your stress. In fact, I don't even realize how tense my body is until I come out of a yoga class feeling loose, refreshed and relaxed.

While I think it's best to take a class to learn the basic positions, there are a lot of good yoga videos for beginners. Just remember that you should work within your own comfort zone. Never push yourself to do something you are not ready to do. And yoga should never be painful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Find time to exercise every day

This week I'm going to focus on exercise as a great stress buster. Whether it's taking the kids on a walk or going to the gym, jogging in place or doing sit-ups, find time to exercise for at least 15 minutes every day this week. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel.

I know some days it's harder than others to get yourself going. Plus, we all lead such busy lives. But just taking a few minutes to do something for your well-being can really make a difference in your life. I know whenever I drag myself to the gym I walk out feeling great - and I could swear I'm at least two inches taller. The benefit that exercise has on my posture is worth the effort alone!

So get moving today and have some fun.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't Forget to Have Fun!

We're well into the summer and it seems that life is busier than ever. Many households have two parents working full time and kids enrolled in summer school, followed by after school care. Not that different from the rest of the year. But summer is supposed to be different.

Make some time this summer to go camping. If you don't have the gear or can't devote an entire weekend, pack a picnic lunch and get up to the mountains or over to that lake. Spend a day hiking or relaxing while you listen to that unique sound the wind makes when it blows through the trees.

Take in a ball game. Nothing is quite the same as listening to the crack of a wooden bat as the crowd cheers for the home team. Can't get to a big league park? Support your local minor league team. Even the single A games are pretty impressive to watch. And the antics of the mascots make the breaks between innings as entertaining as the game itself.

Get to the beach if you can. It's a wonderful way to spend a day. The sound of the waves rolling in is soothing and I never cease to be amazed by the sheer power of the ocean. Feel the warmth of the sand under your feet and the cool refreshing splash of the salt water as a big wave catches you by surprise.
Have a great summer!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to Listen to Your Kids

When I think about it, most of the misunderstandings and frustrations I have experienced have arisen from a lack of communication. Either I've misinterpreted what the other person was saying, or I haven't really listened in the first place.

Effective communication is one of the most important tools in your relationship with your child. It can help you avoid unnecessary conflicts and worries. But how do you communicate effectively? One way is to practice active listening.

Active listening requires not only that you listen to what the other person is saying, but you must also ask for clarification so you are certain you understand exactly what he is saying. You do this by repeating his message back to him in a question.

For example, "Do you mean that you don't want to go to the movie today or that you don't want to see that movie ever?"

Try active listening today. Ask a question to see if you really understand what's being said to you or if you're jumping to conclusions and not really listening at all. Remember, effective communication makes your life easier and less stressful, so work on perfecting this most important skill.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Conflicting Signals

Today I attended the Parent Orientation at my son's college. While it was very informative and very well-organized, it was also very - well - scary!

After hearing the general presentations on how to help our child transition into adulthood and to watch out for the two most common causes of academic problems - stress and lack of sleep - the representative for the architecture program dropped a bombshell.

During the five year program, students are expected to work seven days a week (in order to complete group projects on the weekends) and they will frequently need to pull all-nighters to keep up with their work. When I asked her if these students had procrastinated, she said no. The workload is simply that difficult and demanding. They also have a dropout rate of 30-40% after the first year and 10-20% after the second.

Having always urged our children to find a balance in their lives, this was a bit hard to swallow. But I'll keep an open mind. We'll see how things go. Maybe she was exaggerating; maybe he'll rise to the challenge and thrive on the work. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Keeping It All Straight and Stress-Free

Every home with children needs an information center - some sort of system for keeping track of all the appointments, lessons, practices, etc.

At our house, we have a combination white board/bulletin board where we keep track of everyone's whereabouts. The bulletin board holds fliers, permission slips and anything else we need to keep track of. The white board has a line for every day of the week, Sunday through Saturday, listing all the events for that week. I use a different colored marker for each person, so one quick glance tells me where everyone is. Next to the white board I keep a calendar and the boys' sports schedules for a quick reference.

Some people use chalk boards, poster boards, monthly, weekly or daily schedules. Find a method that works for you and stick with it. That way you won't miss out on any important events, and your life will feel more organized and far less stressful.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Easy, Nutrious, Stress-Free Dinners for You and Your Kids

I find that when I plan out my meals ahead of time, I have a much greater chance of providing my family with a healthy, nutritious meal than when I just "wing" it. If I have something planned out, I can start preparing the meal early in the day, even if it's just to gather the ingredients together. When it's time to begin cooking, I can get the job done in a relaxed and organized manner.

On the other hand, if I wait too long to get started even thinking about dinner, only to find that I don't have all the ingredients I need or the recipe takes longer than I thought it would, then it's all too easy to give up and opt for fast food.

Try this. Next weekend, plan out a week's worth of meals and shop for everything you will need. Place the menu for the week on the fridge where everyone can see it. (Hint: The kids will complain less about Tuesday's dinner if they realize you're having their favorite on Wednesday.) Try out some slow cooker recipes that can be prepared in the morning. Try a few one-dish dinners as well. For some more ideas about healthy, easy-to-prepare meals, visit my friend Mary's sight at

Bon Appetit!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

This is a great holiday, filled with fun, good times and good food. However, please keep in mind that children need extra supervision today. If you have access to fireworks you know the dangers involved, so you must be extra diligent. However, did you realize that pets, frightened by the sound of the fireworks, can behave in unexpected ways?

Last year, my good friend bent down to try to calm her brother's dog. Normally sweet and gentle, he suddenly attacked her and she wound up in the emergency room receiving over 30 stitches in her face. She was lucky - a year later, you can hardly tell anything happened to her face. It was completely unexpected and in 12 years this dog had never exhibited any aggressive behavior. So be careful around animals tonight and watch your small children closely.

Have a safe and sane 4th!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Identify Your Time Wasters

If you feel stressed much of the time and are always falling behind, certain that you'll never get caught up, one simple way to attack this problem is to identify your time wasters.

Television is a big one for most people. Have you ever watched someone walk through a room where a T.V. is on? Before you know it, that person has stopped and is drawn to the television, mesmorized by its content, even if it's a program they've seen a hundred times before. T.V. has a certain attraction for most of us (and our kids too) and it's easy to spend hours wasting time that could be used doing something productive.

You don't have to give up T.V. entirely, just schedule your favorite programs into your day and stick to your schedule. No channel surfing for two hours! Even better, get down on the floor and do some leg lifts and crunches while you watch T.V. Get your kids to join you. Burn those calories from dinner while you relax.

If T.V. isn't your biggest time waster, then take a minute and think about what is. Maybe you like to read the paper cover-to-cover every day. That can take awhile. Try skimming it for the most pertinent articles and catch up on your reading on the weekends. What other habits are wasting your time? Do you chat on the phone more than you need to? Do you spend too much time planning projects rather than just jumping in and getting them done?

Whatever your biggest time waster is, try to identify it today and make the changes that will give you more free time to get to the important things in your life. Eliminate whatever is keeping you from accomplishing all that you wish to and soon you will see the difference it makes in your life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stress-Free Communication with your Kids

When your kids are little, they can't wait to share every bit of news they have with you - often in excruciating detail. As they grow up, they become less likely to share their thoughts and details about their lives. A case in point: "So, what did you do in school today?" The familiar response: "Nothing."

Sometimes, the best way to get your kids to open up to you is to play a game with them or to sit down beside them and work on a puzzle together or color pictures together. Any activity that allows you to just chat with each other in a non-threatening way beats an interrogation any day. And when you're standing over them asking all kinds of questions about their day, it can seem like an interrogation to them. Instead, while you're playing catch, coloring, changing a doll's clothes, share something that happened in your day. Pretty soon they'll be chattering away, letting you know what's going on in their world, who's still friends with whom, who got a time out from the teacher, etc.

Even when there isn't much to tell, you can still work or play, side by side, enjoying a companionable silence. You're spending time together, and your child knows you're there, ready to listen to them if they need to talk.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Never Too Old

You're never too old to learn something new. If you read yesterday's post, you know that we went camping this weekend. When we checked into the campground, we were warned about mountain lions and told that the bees were plentiful as well. However, we were also given a tarantula warning. That was a new one for me, and the very first night I happened upon a group of excited children who had spotted a tarantula. Unfortunately for the tarantula, it had also been spotted by a tarantula hawk, a type of large wasp that stings its prey and ....well, the rest is too graphic for this website. But, if you have a child who is interested in insects or spiders, you may want to find out more about tarantula hawks. Just remember - nature isn't always pretty!