How To Prepare For The First Day of School In 10 Easy Steps

FullSizeRender 5 copyTomorrow is (finally) the first day of school(!) for my kids. I think we’re about the last ones starting school this year, which is only fair since they basically didn’t get out of school last “spring” until the 4th of July. We’ve had a glorious summer and I’m not quite ready to face the reality that’s about to smack me in the face tomorrow morning when I have to actually get kids up and dressed and fed and out the door at a reasonable hour like civilized humans. Ready or not, though, here it comes: the school year beckons.

If you, like me, need a little help getting psyched for the first day of school here is a little guide to whipping your crew into shape:

Step 1: Locate your children
It’s likely you have at least one rogue child at this point in the season, but fear not. In order to locate your children, start with the most obvious places: the blanket fort in your living room, the playhouse in the back yard, in the garage where you keep the popsicle stash in your freezer. If the primary locations come up bust, widen your perimeter: the neighbor’s house, that park down the street, the woods behind your house. If you’re still coming up empty-handed, just take an important phone call or hide in your bathroom and unwrap a candy bar: this is the universal signal to children that it is time to come find Mom, and they will surely be pawing at your door within seconds.

Step 2: Hygiene
This step will meet with much resistance, but it must be done. Carry on, warrior. Yes, we have been taking “pool baths” and using the “nature potty” all summer, but now it is time to re-introduce your children to indoor plumbing. Give your children an actual bath in an actual bathtub with actual soap. Scrub off the sand and the dust and the layers of crusty sunscreen that have been accumulating for the past 90 days. Pick the seaweed and the tree branches out from their hair. For heaven’s sake, trim their talons so they at least resemble human fingernails.

Step 3: Clothing
Your children must wear clothing. No more tiny nudists, we’re going public here. Go to Target or Costco or whatever real clothing store you shop at and buy something that is not a swimsuit and flip flops that your children can wear on their bodies when they re-enter proper society this week. Make sure the clothing you choose is new and exciting so they’ll want to wear it more than that horrendous excuse-for-a-t-shirt that they tie-dyed with you this summer. Also remember that your children are now accustomed to very little–if any–effort in dealing with their wardrobe: limit tedious tidbits such as zippers, buttons, and snaps.

Step 4: Nutrition
Oh my gosh, you guys, we have to quit feeding our kids hot dogs and Cheetos for every meal! I mean, I’m going to keep doing it when they’re at home and everything, but when they’re at school you’ll get nasty notes compelling you to pack “healthy, balanced meals for the benefit of your developing child’s mind and body” if you try to pass that stuff off as lunch. Cut veggies into festive shapes, decorate sandwich bags with little faces and googly eyes, cut napkins into confetti—just do what you’ve got to do to make it look like you’re putting in the effort here.

Step 5: Preventative Care
Schools are basically just giant cesspools of germs. There has never been a time in the history of ever when all children come home healthy from the first week of school. Nope, not gonna happen. What we can do, however, is take a few steps now to prevent the onslaught of disease that is about to return with our kids after their first days back with other living, breathing children. Serve Emergen-C or Airborne in place of their regular juice at breakfast. Bathe them in hand sanitizer. Preemptively shave their heads so the lice don’t want to mess with that. Insist on their wearing of face masks and surgical gloves during all periods of contact with other children. Tell them that a you’ve cast a magic spell on them and now their boogers will taste like brussels sprouts. Line up emergency babysitters for next week when you yourself will inevitably be so sick that you can’t get out of bed.

Step 6: Wake Up
This will be a challenge. Not so much for the kids, of course–they’ve been waking up by 6 AM every day since, well, they were born. No, no, no–the challenge is for YOU. No more laying in bed while the kids watch “just a little TV” in the morning so you can catch up on your beauty rest. No more. Set your alarms and your coffee pots, Mamas: School is coming.

Step 7: Hone Your Homework Skills
Watch a few YouTube videos on new Common Core Math strategies (what on earth is this hocus pocus they teach now, anyway?) and hop on Pinterest for science fair project ideas. It’s always better to stay ahead of the curve so you actually look like you know what you’re talking about when your kid comes to you for homework help. If that doesn’t work, just practice repeating this phrase: “Go ask your Dad.”

Step 8: First Day Photo Prep
What good is a first day of school if you don’t document it with photographic evidence? Print off your customized first day of school chalkboard-inspired sign for your child to hold in the photos. Have your child practice poses and smiles in front of a mirror so they look cheerful yet natural, as opposed to the freakish half-smile/half-snarl they usually don for non-candid photos. CHARGER YOUR CAMERA AND MAKE SURE THERE IS MEMORY SPACE AVAILABLE. Lots and LOTS of memory space.

Step 9: Review Your Script
What will you say to your children on the momentous occasion when you leave them at the bus stop or their classroom door on the first day of school? I have a dream of what this moment will look like, but somehow my last words always end up being something like “Quit making those tooting sounds NOW!” or “Pencils are not for stabbing”. Review your script beforehand so you can inspire the other parents in the drop-off line.

Step 10: Celebrate!
You did it! You not only kept your children alive all summer, but you have delivered them safely to their teachers on the first day of school. Have a party. Drink some coffee. Drink something sparkling. Cry. Take a nap. Sit in your car in the school parking lot. Go to the grocery store BY YOURSELF. Pat yourself on the back. You did it. Hooray!

And to all of us starting a new school year: may it be a year full of joy and learning!

How To Shop Childrens’ Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

JBF1Two weeks ago something rare happened: it rained in California. Seeing as we are in the middle of Autumn the presence of precipitation should come as no surprise, yet we were all caught off-guard. The toys we’d left strewn about the yard overnight got drenched. The laundry I had on the line got re-washed by nature. And when I went to get David ready for school in the morning, I came to an unfortunate realization: he didn’t have a single pair of shoes that fit him.

After spending all summer barefoot or in sandals, we hadn’t donned a pair of shoes in months. And in those months, my boy’s feet had grown gargantuan. Just like the rest of him. So, then I came to the even more disheartening realization: it was time to buy the boy a new (larger) wardrobe–which would undoubtedly come with a massive price tag to match.

Fact: kids cost money. Oodles and oodles of money, all the time. Any time I can save a bit of that money, I’m all for it. And that, my friends, is why God created children’s consignment sales.

If you’ve never been to a children’s consignment sale, just imagine a massive garage sale taking place inside of a Costco warehouse–full of all the stuff you keep having to buy for your very expensive offpring. Children’s consignment sales are a collection of consignors (aka “moms”) who are selling merchandise (aka the stuff their kids don’t use/have outgrown/just don’t want any more). They sell everything from toys and books to clothes and shoes to baby gear and maternity wear. In short, consignment sales are da bomb.

With two growing boys who DON’T EVEN HAVE SHOES THAT FIT THEM, I have become a bit of a consignment sale shopping expert. You might call me a professional shopper-saver, if you were so inclined. And now, dear friends, I will share my wisdom with you:

How To Shop Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

IMG_9705

Research the sales
Consignment sales tend to happen seasonally, so research your local area for a schedule of sales that will be coming up soon (a quick looky-loo on Google should pull up several results). There are several large consignment sale organizations that franchise around the country, like Just Between Friends and Rhea Lana’s and locally, like Outrageous Outgrowns (California Bay Area) and Jack and Jill (my favorite in the Seattle area). Sign up for the email list on consignment sale websites so you’ll be notified of sale dates and special discounts.

Always visit the sale’s website before you go to the sale so you have accurate information on the sale dates and location. Sometimes you can also print off coupons from the sale’s website for free or discounted parking or admission.

Selling vs. shopping
If you have baby and/or kid stuff that you want to sell, sign up to be a consignor. As a consignor you’ll make money off every item you sell and get special privileges like shopping the sale before the public. If you don’t have anything to sell you can always attend the event as a shopper.

Timing your visit
Sales typically happen over a weekend and last 2-4 days. If you have specific items you want to buy, or if you are particular about the types and quality of the products you buy, you’ll want to go on the first day of the sale while the inventory is fresh. If you want to save even more money, visit on the last day of the sale when the remaining items are typically sold at half-off. Or, if you’re really serious about this whole consignment sale thing, you could always visit twice: once on the first day of the sale and again on the last day of the sale to pick up some bargains.

Try to arrive at the sale early in the day. Like when they open. Or, better yet, before they open. Think of it practice for Black Friday. These things get packed, and fast. The earlier you can get in and out, the better off you’ll be. Otherwise, aim for lunch or dinner time so you can take advantage of the lull when most shoppers go home to eat.

Set your expectations
This is not Nordstrom’s–heck, this is not even Nordstrom Rack. You are buying used kids stuff. And if you have kids, you know what kids do to their stuff. They beat up their toys, they spill juice on their shirts, they draw with Sharpie’s on their furniture. Consignment sales are full of bargains–if you’re willing to compromise. The nicer and newer the condition of the item, the more expensive it will be. If you’re willing to put up with a few bent pages in a book or a dress that has obviously been off the rack since last season, then you’ll be grand. If you’re expecting perfection, sales may not be for you (but please give me your contact info so we can get in touch when you’re ready to offload your kids’ gear…).

To kid or not to kid
Consignment sales are for kids, but they are not FOR kids. Yes, you buy kid stuff at the sale. No, you should not bring your kid to the sale. Why? Because it’s a Costco warehouse-sized kids garage sale. There are toys and books and bouncy things and all sorts of other temptations everywhere you look. Your children will whine about literally every item in the sale. All 20,000 items. And you will get so fed up that you will just throw up your hands and say WHATEVER and get in line so you can check out and get the heck out of there. And then you will realize, as you are trying to find the end of the line that snakes around the Costco-sized-kids-garage-sale that there is not back of the line. The back of the line is in Mexico. Or Canada. Or whatever country is furthest away from where you are right now. And then you will finally get to the front of the line and you will wonder was it all worth it. (I brought my kids with me to a sale last week)

Have a shopping game plan
If there is something special that you know you want to get, make a beeline for that section as soon as you arrive. Big-ticket items like cribs, strollers and rockers can go faster than a toddler’s temper. Seasonal items like Halloween costumes, outdoor gear, and fancy Easter clothes also get picked over quickly, so grab yours before they’re gone.

Plan for the future
Since sales typically only happen a few times a year, think ahead to what you might need in the months between now and the next sale. Will your child be moving up a size soon? Will the seasons change so you’ll need more seasonal clothing? Will your baby become a crawler/walker/toddler and require different types of toys or gear? Do you have birthdays or Christmas coming up that you want to buy gifts for? Take advantage of the bargains now so you won’t have to break the bank in a month or two.

Bring cash
Some sales create special (shorter) check-out lines for people who are paying with cash. With the average consignment sale check-out line lasting about an hour, bringing cash has saved me countless hours of line-waiting.

Bring the right gear
Bring these things with you to the sale. Just because I said so.
-wagon, empty stroller or shopping trolley (like the ones you see little old ladies bring on the bus) so you have somewhere to put all the cool stuff you find at the sale
-baby carrier–Sometimes you just have to bring the baby with you. With a baby in tow, it will usually be easier to put your baby in a carrier and have your hands and (now empty) stroller available for shopping.
-shopping bags–most sales do not offer you a way to cart your stuff home. Bring your own.
-snacks and water–this shopping is serious business (especially if you find yourself stuck at the end of a 2-hour check-out line)
-cash (see above)
-empty back seat and/or car trunk–you may go to the sale for one thing, but we all know how that’s going to end…

 Happy shopping, and happy saving!

DIY Custom Children’s Books

IMG_6554

As a former classroom teacher, I know the power of reading with children. It is not a surprise, then, that reading is an important part of our daily routine. I’m always seeking out new reading material to keep my little guys engaged–something to keep the reading game fresh and interesting for them. Their favorite books, however, do not feature any characters you’ve ever heard of.  They aren’t books about a cat in a hat or a mouse you take to school (although they love those ones, too). No, their favorite books feature their favorite people: themselves!

IMG_8145

I started making storybooks for David when he was a baby. As I was sorting through the thousands of photos that we had of him up to that point, I came to the realization that most of those photos would never be seen by anyone. They would remain locked on my computer hard drive forever, never to be printed or put to any actual use.  I happened to have a voucher that I needed to use for a photo book, and the idea for a customized storybook was born.

To make the storybooks, I just order a photo book online that I have customized with photos and text. For inspiration, I use other books or basic concepts to write out a story that goes along with the photos I have selected. It’s quite simple, and the books have already become family keepsakes.

Here are a few tips for getting started on making your own customized storybooks:

  • I make all of my books using online photobook services. Shop around for photo book deals. By looking for bargains I can usually get the price of a book down to about $10 with shipping included–that’s cheaper than just about any new children’s book you can find in a book store! Group discount sites like GrouponLiving Social, and Amazon Local offer up photo book vouchers quite regularly. Also try visiting the photo book sites directly as they often run promotions on their website or on through their subscription mailing lists (some of my favorites are PicabooShutterfly, and Mixbook).
  • Try following a pattern that you find in another book your child enjoys. One of David’s favorite books I’ve made for him is called David’s Busy Day based on the book Lulu’s Busy Day by Caroline Uff.IMG_6553
  • If you really want to let your creative juices flow, make up a story adventure that features your child and some of their favorite things.
  • Older children can compose their own stories and you can work on the computer together to build their book. Make sure to include a dedication and an “About the Author” page!
  • You can also base your book on a concept that you want your child to practice: ABC’s, counting, opposites, rhyming words, feelings, animals, shapes, etc.IMG_6555photo (14)
  • Instead of using photos, try using your child’s artwork as the illustrations (just scan or snap a photo of their drawing or painting and upload it onto your computer).
  • Make a special folder on your computer for photos that you think you might like to use in a book. Every time you download photos from your camera, add to the folder any new photos that you like and build it up over time.
  • Enjoy the process and the product–hopefully these books will become treasures that you can look back on for years to come!

From our family to yours: happy reading!

IMG_6552

10 Tips For Eating Out At A Restaurant With A Toddler

IMG_2161

My husband and I love trying new restaurants. We enjoy spending hours upon hours conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine. We used to go out all the time, back when it was–you know–just the two of us.

Now we have two little boys and, quite honestly, going out to eat has lost a lot of its charm. Instead of conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine, it’s more like we’re covered in plates of pasta and listening to our kids whine. Difficult as it is to bring the wild banshees–er, children–out to a restaurant, it can still be a rewarding experience. Dining out allows children to experience new foods, develop their dining etiquette, and (let’s not forget) give mom a break from cooking dinner.

With a 2 1/2-year old and a 10-month old baby we’ve developed some tried-and-true strategies for getting through (and even enjoying!) our meals out. Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Choose where you’re going ahead of time. Make a reservation and review the menu online before you arrive so you can order as soon as you’re seated. Minimal waiting time with a squirrely child = a very good thing.
  2. Choose a family-friendly restaurant. You’ll know you’re in the right place if there are ample high chairs, paper place mats with crayons, easy-to-wipe-up flooring, and kids climbing on the booths. Bonus points if there are balloons available.
  3. Don’t go out to eat with your toddler during peak dining times. Try to hit the early bird special so you’re able to order, get your food, and get out of there quickly.
  4. Feed your child a snack before you go to the restaurant, and bring along extras to eat while you’re waiting for your meals to arrive. Even if you don’t end up eating your snack stash, you’ll be glad you had it if it’s taking an extra-long time for the kitchen to get your order out.
  5. Consider splitting a meal with your toddler rather than ordering him his own. I find that my son is usually so excited by the whole restaurant experience that he doesn’t eat as much when we’re out. Then I get bummed that I wasted $6 on a meal that he barely even touched (Hey, that $6 would have been better spent on a margarita for me!).
  6. Bring along your own entertainment. Books, crayons, Play-doh, and a magna doodle usually work well for us.
  7. Opt for a booth if you’re given the option. I find that they are easier to contain children in than chairs. Another good option is to sit outside where the kids can move around a bit more freely (and where messes are a bit easier to clean up).
  8. Tip your server well. Chances are, you are not the easiest table she’s had tonight. Maybe if you treat the staff well they’ll even invite you back some day!
  9. Bring along some back-up. This may be a great opportunity to invite Grandma and Grandpa out for a nice dinner–especially if they enjoy walking around a restaurant with a squirmy 2-year old so you can finish your entree while it’s still warm.
  10. Bring your patience! Dining out with a toddler is no walk in the park, but hopefully you’ll all make it through the meal in one piece.

Eat on, my friends, eat on!

BBQ-Week Menu and How To Make Your Own Pizza On The Grill

A strange phenomenon happened this week here in Seattle. Our usual gray clouds and cool temperatures were replaced with this wonderful warm shining orb in the sky: the sun. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 70’s for the next week or so, which basically means that everyone in the Pacific Northwest is freaking out. People are already calling in “sick” to work and children are gleefully jumping into the frigid Puget Sound waters. The parkas have come off and we’re ready to celebrate.

When we get these nice warm days in Seattle I like to spend as much time outside as possible. You really never know when your next chance to get Vitamin-D in a form other than “pill” will be. So, I decided to organize our entire menu this week around using our BBQ Grill–I won’t even have to go inside to cook! At the end of the post, I’ve also included a little “how-to” for making pizza on your grill. Happy BBQ’ing–at least until the rain returns next week.

Monday- Burgers
Tuesday- (no grilling tonight since we’ll be at our Bible study)
Wednesday- Grilled Chicken Kebabs
Thursday- Bratwurst, Roasted Potatoes and Garlic (done in a tin foil pouch on the grill), Grilled Asparagus
Friday- BBQ’d Pizza (instructions below)
Saturday- Honey-Citrus Marinated Pork Chops and Fire-Roasted Peppers
Sunday- Mother’s Day = my day off of cooking!

How To Make Your Own Pizza On The Grill:

how-to-grill-pizza-d

  1. Preheat half of your grill on high heat and half on low heat.
  2. Make your dough and sauce. Or cheat, and buy them. I like Trader Joe’s pizza dough–it’s only about $1.50 per dough and it tastes just as good as any dough that I’ve ever made.
  3. Roll out your dough on a flat surface until it’s your desired thickness (a lightly oiled upside down cookie sheet or a lightly floured cutting board work well).
  4. Put the dough directly on the grill grates (use the hot section for this)
  5. Use tongs to gently rotate the dough for 2-3 minutes until the bottom side is browned and the dough holds its shape.
  6. Move the dough to the cooler section of the grill and flip it over. Put sauce, cheese, and toppings on your pizza.
  7. Return your pizza to the hot side of the grill and let your pizza cook until the cheese is melted and your dough is cooked through, about 3-5 more minutes.

* We like to use a pizza stone instead of putting the dough directly on the grill. If you use a stone, just leave the stone in the grill while it is preheating and assemble your pizza directly on the stone. You do not need to flip the dough, just cook your pizza until everything is cooked through, 5-7 minutes.

Traveling With Bebe, Part 3: Getting Through The Airport

Az Dec 2012 - 0080

Yesterday I showed you how I pack for a trip. Today, we get to go on the trip–hooray! I love traveling, but I have to admit it–traveling with kids can be a bit challenging. I used to look forward to the plane ride when I’d get 3 hours all to myself to catch up on reading all of those celebrity magazines that I only read when I’m at an airport. Now, I get to spend travel time anxiously anticipating my child’s every potential need and/or desire before they realize it and throw a temper tantrum at 30,000 feet. Or, I get to spend 3 hours bouncing a baby up and down the aisles as I get nasty stares from that old man who wants to leave his foot dangling out in the walkway right where I can trip over it. Yes, traveling with kids is exhausting and it tests your will as a parent, but in the end it’s always worth the effort. And, there are things you can do to make things go more smoothly for everyone. Today we’ll focus on getting through the airport so you can actually make your flight!

Arriving At The Airport
Always allow a bit of extra time when you’re traveling with kids. It will take you longer to physically move through the airport with little ones and all of their accompanying “stuff”. Plus, you’ll want some extra time to feed, do diaper changes, and run off some energy before your flight. I always bring a small stroller with me, even for my toddler who can walk, because sometimes it’s just easier (or necessary) to strap a kid in and run to your gate. I also try to check in for my flight and print our boarding passes before I arrive at the airport. As long as we’re not checking any bags, this allows us to go straight to security when we arrive–this gives us one less line to wait in and a few more minutes to get where we need to be by the time we need to be there.

Getting Through Security
Getting through airport security with a baby is a bit like competing in a triathlon: it requires training, endurance, speed, and the ability to perform a number of ridiculous tasks. I’ve got this down to a bit of a science now. I always bring baby’s car seat and stroller with me to the gate because you can check them there for free. Plus, if there happens to be an empty seat on your flight, they’ll let you bring the car seat ON the plane so you can let baby have his own seat next to you for free (this will give you empty arms and your baby will have a chance to take a nap in his own space. Glorious.).

The trickiest part of going through the airport with little ones is security because you have to put EVERYTHING through the metal detector (including strollers and car seats, baby not included). Here’s what I do for the baby: I bring a snap-and-go stroller with my “personal item” (a diaper bag) stored underneath it and the car seat snapped on top. When I flew by myself, I decided not to check a bag so I brought a nice rolling suitcase that I could drag behind me. I put the baby in the Ergo carrier as soon as I got out of the car so I could walk through security and not have to jostle him out of the car seat there (I have never had a problem leaving him in the Ergo through the security section, but maybe some airports will make you take baby out for further inspection. Perhaps junior is carrying a samurai sword under his onesie–you just never know).

Once at the security checkpoint, look for a family line. Some airports take pity on parents lugging children through the airport and they give you a little star treatment with a special, shorter line. Kind of like a fast pass at Disney–but instead of flying on Dumbo at the end, you get to walk through the magical metal detector.

Now, get a whole stack of those bins that you’re supposed to empty your pockets into. Excuse yourself to the impatient lady standing behind you, and take over the floor. If you plan on carrying baby through the metal detector in your arms, lay down a blanket or your jacket and set her down in one of the bins so she doesn’t roll away as you’re getting everything ready. Put the diaper bag in one bin. Put your liquids and any other questionable materials in another bin (by the way, if you’re traveling with a baby you are allowed a certain amount of liquid formula or breast milk through security, and I think even some water for you to drink as a mom. Check with your airline or the TSA website for more details). Put your shoes (I hope you’re wearing slip-ons or flip-flops, because good luck untying your shoes with a baby already strapped to your chest!), jacket, loose change, watch, etc. in another bin. Fold up the stroller and put it upside down on the conveyor belt. Make sure the handle is all the way down on your car seat (it won’t fit through the “security tunnel” if it’s not just right) and put it on the conveyor belt. Put your suitcase and all of your bins on the conveyor belt. *Make sure you got your baby out of that bin if you haven’t already!* Run back and forth like a mad-man trying to push all 30 of your items through the conveyor belt so you don’t cause a back-up. Hold baby, and walk calmly through the metal detector–no need to alarm anyone at this point. Yay, you did it! Now, go retrieve your pile of items that have already started spilling onto the floor on the other side of the conveyor belt and start putting everything back together again. Whew!

At The Gate
After you get through security, the rest is pretty easy. Get to your gate a bit early and check to see if they have any empty seats so you can bring your car seat on with you. This will make a world of difference, so it’s always worth checking once you’re there.

If you have a crawler or a toddler, encourage him to run/jump/climb/dance down the hallways–whatever it takes to burn some energy before the long flight ahead. Get a snack or a meal. Change diapers and use the potty yourself–bathroom runs and diaper changes mid-flight are difficult at best. Basically, do anything now that you’re not going to be able to do once you’re on the plane.

We’re almost to the good part now: actually flying to your destination. Check back tomorrow for my tips on flying with your little one!