Traditions Aren’t Just for Holidays

20140430_120015Every family has their own traditions, especially on the holidays. Hot chocolate on Christmas eve, the Memorial Day wiffle ball tournament, even knowing who gets the wishbone at Thanksgiving dinner….these are all special and cherished moments.  But you shouldn’t just reserve traditions only for the holidays.Traditions can also be daily moments that bring your family closer together.

[Tweet “#Traditions can be daily moments that bring your family closer together. #parenting”]

Even with our hectic schedules we always make our time spent together as a family a priority and dinner is a great way to make that happen. Do we spend every night gathered around a dining room table? No, but we enjoy our favorite shows together and still have a great time. We also have a goodnight ritual with the kids, which consists only of talking about our favorite part of the day while cuddling together. So simple, yet so incredibly special.

Traditions don’t have to be a big production, and they can be flexible. As Parker and Anika get older, our nightly talks may become a little different and that’s ok. Especially with blended families, flexibility about traditions helps everyone feel a part of the family. The goal is to just spend time together, and you don’t need the excuse of a holiday to make that happen.

Lead Your Own Life – and Let Your Kids Do the Same

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

cross country moveIf you haven’t guessed yet, we are pretty comfortable with change and upheaval. We have taught our children to confidently live their own lives, and we’ve done so through example. If there was something we wanted, we went for it. Of course, it was always within reason and the understanding that our children are our priority. But that doesn’t mean we forgot our own passions.

We made the decision to make our fourth cross-country move to Utah, which has been a great move for us. We are closer to my sister and other beloved family and we love the area. We are even a little bit closer to Derek, who is in Texas . On the other hand, we are much farther from Kira, who is in New York and will be relocating to Virginia.

Yes, Dave and I are sad that we aren’t closer to our oldest children. But we were never meant to be landlocked. We raised our children to embrace different paths and they are doing just that. Not only that, but we are pursuing our own dreams as individuals and not just as parents. Parker and Anika swear that they’ll live with us forever, but we doubt those feelings will last. And although we love Utah, it’s most likely not our last stop.

We’re proud of Derek for joining the Army and choosing a life that was right for him even if it took him away from us. We’re proud of Kira for moving to New York City on her own to pursue her dreams and to continue chasing those dreams wherever they take her. Just because there are miles between all of us doesn’t mean we’re not still a close-knit family who celebrates each others’ adventures. And we’re glad our kids have learned from us that you’re never too old to start a new adventure.

We can’t base our lives on those of our children. Our doors are always open for our children and the plane ticket is paid for when they say the word (until they’re fully employed at least). Sure, it would be nice to be close to everyone, but someone would be limited. Where’s the adventure in that?

Surviving Summer Break

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

summerSummer is in full swing. Now that the kids will be home, you’ll have many more opportunities for quality family time, which is great. However, it’s ok to admit if you felt an inward groan at the thought of summer vacation. What are you supposed to do with hyper children all summer long?

Last year, our summer was filled with a cross-country move and settling in to a new home and life. The year before, we took a month long road trip, which certainly took up most of our summer, but not everyone has the luxury to take their work on the road. It’s more likely that a family vacation will consist of a week or two, which will hopefully result in some great family bonding. But then the rest of the summer becomes an endless assault of “I’m bored.”

You wouldn’t be the first or last parent to kick your child out the door and tell them to get some fresh air, within safe boundaries of course. Having accessible libraries and recreation areas nearby doesn’t hurt either. Take the time at the end of the school year to connect with your children’s friends and parents to set up get-togethers as well, which gives you peace of mind that they are somewhere safe but also out of your hair.

We’ve signed up for ixl.com for the summer so that our daughter can brush up on her math skills, since she will be skipping sixth grade and jumping head first into middle school. And our son has summer homework for his coming AP History and honors English courses. He’s also signed up at open2study.com to take an online anthropology class this summer. (Yes, our kids are geeks).

Most importantly, set aside some time to spend with your kids. Summer vacations are precious and they will whip right by you. Before you know it the school year will start again. These moments together will be what you and your children remember.

5o Ways to Declutter Your Life

simplicityOver the last several years, Dave and I have been focusing on simplifying our lives. From not buying stuff just to buy it to using what we have until it actually wears completely out to just enjoying each moment for the moment, we’re trying. Here’s 50 things we’re doing. I hope you’ll share more ideas with us!

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Get rid of Shoes and Clothes if:

  1. You haven’t worn it in the last 12 months
  2. You haven’t ever worn it but think you might someday
  3. You are keeping it because it might fit again someday
  4. You spent a lot of money on it, and even though you’re never going to wear it, you feel better not getting rid of it
  5. There are stains, holes, rips, tears, snags, etc.
  6. It’s outdated or out of style

Get rid of books if:

  1. You can get the book digitally
  2. You’ve already read the book
  3. You will never read the book
  4. The book has enough dust on it you can leave a fingerprint
  5. It’s a cookbook and you can look up the recipe online (or, like me, you don’t cook)

[Tweet “Out of clutter, find simplicity. – Albert Einstein.”]

Get rid of magazines and cancel subscriptions if:

  1. You haven’t read last month’s issue when this month arrives
  2. You have a stack of magazines you haven’t read
  3. You have boxes of magazines you store “just in case”
  4. You think the magazine will someday be valuable enough to sell
  5. You can get the subscription digitally

Get rid of home décor if:

  1. You don’t remember where you got it
  2. It has no intrinsic value
  3. It has no emotional value
  4. It has enough dust on it you can leave a fingerprint in it
  5. It no longer works with your current home fashion
  6. You don’t like it

Pay down debt by:

  1. Sleeping on it before making big purchases
  2. Paying more than the minimum payment on all credit accounts
  3. Not buying it – you don’t need it anyway
  4. Focusing on a single card to pay off (high interest or high balance), then using the money you save from that payment for the next card
  5. Not buying it if you don’t have the cash to pay for it
  6. Consolidating debt and closing credit cards

Reduce your monthly spending by:

  1. Skipping the morning latte and taking a cup of coffee with you to work
  2. Packing lunch instead of eating out
  3. Skipping the monthly trip to the hair salon and do it yourself
  4. Mani-pedis at home rather than at the salon
  5. Skipping the new outfit you think you need but really don’t; when you do buy, choose classic pieces that will last
  6. Using coupons at the grocery store
  7. Checking for discounts on purchases before checking out (my sister regularly saves 10-15% on purchases at department stores simply by checking her for coupons and sales offers while she’s in line to check out)
  8. Taking advantage of member benefits that give you discounts: AAA, AARP, American Legion, and others all offer travel, insurance, prescription, and other discounts that can save you money
  9. Renegotiating your monthly payments on everything. Our insurance company just tried to raise our rates on our car insurance (we don’t drive to work, put less than 10,000 miles on the car each year) by more than 20%. We called around, found similar coverage for less than we were paying before the increase and switched immediately.

Build savings by:

  1. Taking your extra change at the end of each week and put it in a change bucket in your closet
  2. Taking a set amount per week in cash and putting it in an envelope earmarked for whatever you’re saving for
  3. Paying down debt so that you have more disposable income to tuck away
  4. Maximizing employer-matched retirements
  5. Putting money in a Christmas account so that when the holidays come, you have cash to spend instead of credit
  6. Putting the money aside in a special account (or secret hiding place) every time you resist buying something you might otherwise have purchased.

Learn to embrace frugality by:

  1. Growing your own veggies and herbs
  2. Mowing your lawn with a push mower that doesn’t require gas, oil, or expensive maintenance
  3. Reusing and repurposing rather than throwing out
  4. Repairing rather than replacing
  5. Making do with what you have and being grateful for it
  6. Sharing what you do have with others; trade and barter rather than buy new
  7. Planning errands so that you make less trips and use less fuel

I’m inspired daily by Becoming Minimalist. If you’re looking to do more than just save a few dollars every month and really want to begin changing your mindset, start there.

Spring Fun with the Family

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

IMG_0454We moved to Utah last year, and one of the most wonderful experiences of living in this state is the Spring weather. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and makes it perfect for family outings and activities.

Here are 3 ideas to help your family spring into Summer!

1.  Zoo!

The zoo is a wonderful place to head in the spring and early summer. It’s warm enough for the animals to be out, without it being too hot. The Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake recently opened the first portion of the new African Savannah; it is a magnificent sight to walk through the gates and see the lions. This time of year is the perfect time to see new babies at the zoo, too.

2.  Explore the Outdoors

Whether it’s a walk on a trail or a drive up to the mountains, the roads are clear and the snow is gone. It’s a perfect time to explore your area – maybe even time for a staycation!

3.  Grill, Baby, Grill!

While we tend to use our grill all year long (even when it’s freezing cold and there’s snow on the ground) there is just something about being able to be out on the porch without being in a parka that makes it a lot more fun. Our favorites: Dave’s “famous” burgers or salmon steaks.

Do you have a favorite Spring family fun ideas to share? Stop by our Facebook page and let us know!

 

 

 

A-Tisket, A-Tasket: How to Make a Bargain Basket

We’re always looking for frugal ways to enjoy the holidays, so we asked Ashley McCann, PushPenny’s expert on running a home on a budget, to give us some ideas we can put into action for Easter. Enjoy!

MomsGetReal Contributor Ashley McCann

Spring is here and that means Easter is on the way. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the last minute and being forced to choose from overpriced, picked-through items in the specialty aisle of a convenience store the night before the big day. The Easter bunny can be on a budget and still put together a bountiful basket without breaking the bank, with a few practical and heartfelt homemade ideas to help celebrate the holiday.

The foundation

Get creative with container choices and enjoy long-term use with something like a beach bucket, a hard-sided lunch box, a decorative storage container, a flower pot, a popcorn bucket, or a small wicker laundry hamper. Your Easter basket certainly doesn’t have to be a basket, and doing something different can set the stage for a fun theme or more interesting presentation. Consider containers that may make life easier and see if you can incorporate those ideas.

The filler

Don’t waste your money on that annoying plastic grass; you’ll regret it when you’re vacuuming. Trust me, I know. Use inexpensive tissue or crumpled solid colored paper to prop Easter basket items up. This is more about eliminating a mess than about cost, but they are equally important in creating an enjoyable holiday. I’m just trying to help you out here, from one mom to another! But if you don’t mind the potential mess, you could run some colored paper through a shredder for do-it-yourself Easter grass.

The fun

Of course, the real cost and effort usually comes from what fills the basket, but you can save money and still make it fun by going homemade. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the thought if you’re not so crafty.

Here are a few easy ideas for the Easter bunny to bring, and you can always fill in the blank spots with items found in the dollar aisle:

playdohPlay Dough: Let kids use their imagination with this safe-to-ingest clay that’s so inexpensive that you won’t even mind when your child mashes all of the colors into one big brownish glob. It will be colorful and pretty in the basket, though. Mix together ½ cup of salt, ½ cup of water, and 1 cup of flour. Knead in food coloring until you reach the desired hue and store in plastic eggs, baby food jars or small plastic food storage containers with decorative labels.

Sidewalk chalk: Spring means more sunshine and time spent outdoors so let your kids make a more colorful world with egg-shaped sidewalk chalk. Mix 1 cup Plaster of Paris (available at craft stores), ¾ cup of water, and Tempera paint for color, and mix. Wipe inside of plastic egg halves with petroleum jelly and pour mixture inside. Allow it to dry halfway before reattaching egg halves, and then set aside to dry fully. Once you remove the chalk from the mold, let it harden for 24 hours before use. Wrap in cellophane and tie it with a ribbon or put the chalk in a small egg carton.

Crazy Crayons: Gather up all of the hopelessly dull and broken crayons you have lurking in the corners of the craft box, remove the paper labels, grate or chop them into pea-sized pieces, combine different colors and bake in a mini muffin tin or candy mold at 150 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool before popping the crayons from the mold and packaging them together prettily for your petite Picasso.

tweetiesCandy Krispie nest: For a sweet treat that also looks lovely, use Rice Krispie treats, candy Peeps and M&Ms or jelly beans to create a cute little love nest. Melt one 10-ounce bag of marshmallows and 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave for about a minute and a half and then stir in 6 cups of Rise Krispies cereal. Push the warm mixture into small, pre-greased bowls or a muffin tin to create a nest shape and add candy Peep chicks and eggs to complete this adorable tasty treat.

The Finishing Touches
Go the extra mile by letting the Easter Bunny make his or her own simple traditions. I always knew my mother was not the bunny because my baskets were shrink-wrapped (and I didn’t know she had the capability to do that with just a blow dryer and a basket bag). Whether it’s a fancy bow or scavenger hunt clues leading to the basket, doing something small but special can help create memories that last a life time.

Easter doesn’t have to be expensive! With a little time, effort, and planning you can create a beautiful basket on a budget that any bunny would be proud to present. So hop to it!

 

Planning a “Green” Eco-Friendly Wedding

Are you planning a green wedding? Green weddings are becoming a huge trend, allowing couples to maintain their commitment to the environment by having an ecologically responsible wedding. Green weddings are planning in consideration of how each factor – invitations, beverages, food, location, and flowers – will impact the environment.

With the average wedding costing more than $25,000, going “green” for your wedding can save you plenty of green along the way. Here are some ways to green up your wedding.

Wedding Food

One of the best ways to go green at your wedding with food is to choose locally grown, organic products to serve. From organic greens to range-fed chicken, you can offer food choices that make a difference. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that organic food tends to be pricier than non-organic, so shop CSAs and Farmer’s markets to save extra money, or limit your menu choices to make it feasible.

The Wedding Cake

If you have ideas about how to make a wedding cake that tastes good while still being good for the environment, you’ll have to let me know. But you can choose to support a local bakery or chef rather than a chain store, and you can opt for a smaller cake (a lot of it ends up going to waste anyway).

The Wedding Invitations

Your wedding invitations provide an easy area to save money and be good to the environment. Printing your invitations at home on recycled paper allows you to minimize the impact, and if you skip the response cards and ask people to RSVP electronically, you eliminate much of the paper. Alternatively, you can create your invitation online and send out virtual invitations.

The Wedding Dress

While we may have grown up thinking that we have to spend $1,000 or more on an heirloom dress that we then carefully store for 30 years in the hopes that our daughters will wear the dress, it just doesn’t happen. Rent a dress or buy a used one to save money, or choose a dress made of hemp, cotton or silk with no synthetic materials or dyes used.

Wedding Favors

There are a number of different wedding favor options that are environmentally friendly while still creating a lasting memory for your guests. From organic jellies to handmade jewelry to beeswax candles, you can choose wonderful

Wedding Flowers

green wedding ideas - recycled flowersWhen choosing wedding flowers, you can save money and be environmentally friendly by choosing to work with a florist who uses recycled flowers and foliage for bouquets. You can create inexpensive and memorable centerpieces with live plants that your guests can take home.

The Wedding Transportation

There can be a huge environmental impact to destination weddings or even having a large number of out-of-town guests, so arranging to provide group transportation using hybrid vehicles can be helpful. Arrange to have your guests stay near the wedding location to reduce the impact, too. Instead of departing your wedding in a limo, consider a horse-drawn carriage instead.

Wedding Location

Green weddings are often held in natural environments, such as botanical gardens or nature preserves, or even in their own back yards. This reduces how many decorations you need. Hosting the wedding and reception at the same location can also minimize transportation requirements for everyone and allow your guests to spend more time with you. Choose a venue that already embraces eco-friendly practices, such as solar energy and recycled water and trash, or even offer to connect you with other green-friendly vendors. Some eco-friendly venues even donate a portion of your fee to supporting environmental causes.

After the Wedding

Rather than throw rice, have your guests throw biodegradable options, such as freeze dried flower petals. Bird seed is also a great option.

Do you have ideas or products to help people have greener weddings? Let us know!

How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Newly Single Friends

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Let’s face it: With all the hype around Valentine’s Day, being newly single around this time is no walk in the park. Everywhere you look, from TV commercials to Target, everything is plastered with cheesy red and pink hearts as a reminder of the big day ahead (along with a reminder for singles that they’re a party of one).

valentines dayIf you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship this year but you have a friend who just went through a tough breakup, you know that she may be dreading this impending holiday of love.

Be a good, supportive friend and lend her a hand. After all, she probably has done the same for you. Come up with a sensitive solution that includes your newly single friend (and maybe others!), all while embracing that special time with your sweetheart. Here are a couple of ideas.

Valentine Surprises

The joy of unlimited candy and watching as your shoe box filling to the top were among the things that made Valentine’s Day so much fun as a kid. Relive that excitement by sending Valentines and a surprise to your dearest friends. If your closest friends live nearby, create a small gift basket with the following goodies that you can make or buy in bulk:

  • homemade cookies
  • chocolate truffles
  • gourmet coffee
  • cute coffee mug

Leave the baskets on their doorsteps, either bright and early for a Valentine’s morning surprise, or in the afternoon to find as they come home from work. If you simply don’t have the time to assemble the baskets yourself, look online and check out the Valentine’s Day gifts on FTD.com.

For those who live out of town, bake your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and mail a fresh batch their way to sweeten their day from afar. Wrap them up nicely, and tie on your Valentine with a big red ribbon and bow.

Host a Party

Restaurants will be jam-packed with couples on Valentine’s Day so why not host a party at your place for couples and singles alike? Start by creating your guest list and purchase some printable invitations on Etsy, which you can personalize and print at home or take to a nearby Kinko’s. Start early so that your eager friends don’t make their dinner reservations before they hear word of your big celebration. Note on the invitation that all attendees should bring their favorite sweet treat to the party, so that there will be plenty of delectable goodies to go around. As a host, provide a selection of appetizers and finger foods, and shift your focus to the music and decorations. Select some cheesy 80s love songs to play in the background, and have a movie playing in the background such as “Lady and the Tramp.” Set out a few board game stations, and a cocktail table, and enjoy the company as everyone celebrates love and friendship together.

The Bruce Family Fruit Salad Recipe

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHoliday traditions can involve a lot of things, but in our family, many of them center around special food dishes. I can count on being asked to make enchilada casserole any time Kira comes to visit, and Derek is a sucker for our special pigs in a blanket recipe. One of our favorite recipes that we serve at Thanksgiving is fruit salad, but when our older kids couldn’t make it home for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, we realized we’d need to make sure it hit the table at Christmas when they’d both be home.

Kira hadn’t even been off the plane for 24 hours when she asked if we’d be making her fruit salad since she missed it at Thanksgiving.

Since we all love it so much, here’s the recipe (eating fruit around the holidays will help you feel less guilty about all of your other indulgences, right?)

Bruce Family Fruit Salad

3 apples
2 bananas
seedless red grapes
one can of chunk pineapple – save the juice for the dressing
small can mandarin oranges, drained
bag of mini marshmallows
for dressing:
1 tbsp. flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 c butter or margarine, softened
2 egg yolks, beaten
juice from the pineapple

Heat pineapple juice in a double boiler. Blend flour and sugar and add to juice. Add margarine and egg yolks. Cool in fridge. While the dressing is cooling in the fridge, cut apples into bite-size chunks, slice bananas, and cut grapes in half. Mix the fruit in a large bowl, adding the well-drained oranges and pineapples. When the dressing is thoroughly cooled, gently stir into the fruit. Add two cups of mini marshmallows, mixing them in gently.

 

What’s your favorite holiday recipe?