Planet Fassa Creates a Book that Engages Kids

I might be able to adequately evaluate a product or a book, providing my readers with some insights into why I like it, but when it comes to books for kids, the best way to find out whether or not the book is worth its salt is to hand it to my kids.

That’s just what I did with “Where In the World Am I? Fassa’s 52 Weeks of Fun!” from Planet Fassa.

Anika is participating in Book-It this year and is dedicated to reading not just 20 minutes 5 days a week but at least 20 minutes every single day of the month. Including holidays. With her reading time at hand, I asked her if she’d take a look at “Where In the World Am I?” and let me know what she thought.

20 minutes went by. Then 30. Then 45.

That alone makes the book worth it, because Dave and I rarely get 45 full minutes of uninterrupted evening time to enjoy a conversation or show together. Ever. Right there, the book would probably earn the endorsement of this desperate mom whose kids are at that awkward “we’re too old to need a sitter but young enough we’ll kill each other if you leave us alone” stage.

But then, when Anika DID come out, book in hand, to excitedly show me how, when you get to page 10 you have to flip to page 27 to see this great picture (that you can color yourself!) and read page 28 and THEN go back to page 10, I was sold.

The book is created to encourage kids to interact, pay attention, read, and think. It engages them to be thoughtful. Anika is 9 and loved it, but my 11-year old thought the weekly activities would be fun to do and younger kids would be just as enamored. When they say it is a book for kids from 3-93, I believe it.

“Where In the World Am I?” was so engaging for Anika that she read the entire book in one sitting and wanted to start again. When I explained to her that flip side of the book had weekly activities that she could do, her first remark was, “When will volume 2 be out? This is awesome!” Luckily, there are many volumes available from Planet Fassa. Visit their bookshelf to learn more.

That it comes from a company dedicated to helping parents raise healthy, happy kids and provides 52 weeks of fun for a very reasonable price, I’d highly recommend it. And, according to Amazon, if you request 2-day shipping (free for Prime members) it’s not too late to add this to your Christmas list.

Planet Fassa provided me with a copy of this book so that I could offer my honest review. You can read my full FTC disclosure here.

When Holidays and Birthdays Compete

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

When your birthday falls close to a major holiday often times your birthday theme seems pre-selected for life, and there is no guarantee that you’ll ever have more than family around to celebrate with you. From what I’ve heard from friends, no one knows this better than a December baby whether they were born on the first, thirty-first, or anywhere in between. I can sort of relate, though some would like to brush my comparison aside.

I was born on July 3, just five minutes shy of being a bicentennial baby. Red, white, and blue with American flags all over does not excite me, though I do love the fireworks. Sadly, most of my birthdays were spent with just my family as most people vacation at that time. I never had one of those big parties with a mountain of gifts. Either my friends were away on vacation with their families or I was on vacation with mine. I got used to the family birthday, even while secretly dreaming of those friend filled parties. I did get a few, but mostly my birthday was spent with family.

Now that I am a mother I try to make sure my kids have fun birthdays, even though most of them are family celebrations. My son is another July baby, but he’s still too young to really care.  My daughter, however, is a December baby who has already gotten to that age where she’s been to a few big birthday parties, and has realized that her birthday is nothing like them.

When I was pregnant all I heard was how her birthdays would be overshadowed by Christmas forever, and how she’d always get shafted on gifts. I really didn’t like hearing that jaded, patronizing comment because celebrating happy events isn’t about the gifts. Having my birthday overshadowed by the Fourth of July taught me a few things, and I made a promise to my little girl before she even came into this world that her birthday would never be Christmas themed unless she requested it. I have made a concerted effort every year to make her birthday distinct and special, while emphasizing the importance of celebration over gifts.

At first I tried not putting up the Christmas tree until after her birthday, but that didn’t work well for us. Now our solution is to put up the tree in the library, and decorate the living room for her birthday. We decorate the Sunday before her birthday and leave the decorations up until the following Sunday so she has a whole week of seeing the theme of her choice. We make a special breakfast and have cake. Whenever possible we have her party the weekend before, but that can be difficult to coordinate with others because many of the people we know have family gatherings all throughout the month.

So my daughter is growing up with her birthday seemingly competing with a major holiday–the major-ist, one could argue. For her red and green are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have a celebration that is about her arrival into our family. That is what we think about birthdays, and that is how we celebrate them. Maybe it is all about family, but we still make a great big fuss with decorations and cake.


I Am My Mother’s Daughter

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Me with my Mama

I loved my mom, and these almost six years without her have only served to make me realize how integral she was to my life. But, as a teen and young adult, we were as capable of butting heads as we were of being close friends.

For so many years, I tried hard not to be like my mom. She was a stay at home mom, so I wanted to be an international business person. She was a marvelous cook, so I refused to ever learn how. She really knew how to clean house, so during my early 20s I pretty much didn’t.

It wasn’t until I started raising kids that I realized how truly amazing my mom really was. Having kids is hard, time-consuming, and often a series of extremely selfless acts. It changes your body, your emotions, your priorities.

It wasn’t until I had teenagers in the house that I realized what it was like to be on the receiving end of teen know-it-all attitude, to feel my worth diminished in the eyes of one who has been recently empowered with the knowledge of the universe.

And it wasn’t until I had adult children making their own decisions about their lives that I realized how difficult it is to step back and let them make their own mistakes and discover who they are.

I only wish my mom was still here, not only so I could apologize for the asinine b.s. I pulled as a teenager and the ridiculous know-it-all attitude I carried through my young adulthood, but so that she could see how well her efforts, sacrifice, and sheer determination to keep being there because she loved me even when she didn’t like me very much.

I know she wondered and worried if I would ever get it together or settle in and enjoy life. I know she would be proud of who I’ve become and the amazing people her grandchildren are becoming.

I spent so much time fighting being like her…only to realize that it is from her that I learned to be a mom and a woman.

Thank goodness, I am my mother’s daughter.

Broken Ornaments Better Than Broken Hearts

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Opening Christmas presents might be what the kids look forward to the most, but it’s decorating the tree together that builds memories that last.

If you celebrate Christmas, it’s likely your kids are already bouncing off the walls with excitement, counting down the days to Christmas morning when they get to tear into their packages. The anticipation is often more exciting than the day itself (which is why our family goes to see a movie on Christmas day now, to give us something to do when all the excitement is over).

Leading up to Christmas, though, is when you can build the most memorable moments with your kids. Whether you put up one tree or you’re crazy enough to do several (like we are) letting the kids help with the decorating can give them lasting memories about the holidays.

This only works, though, if you can chill out about broken ornaments and tree perfection.

Unfortunately, when Dave and I shared our first Christmas together back in 1997 when Derek was 10 and the twins were 7, I wasn’t so good at that. I’d never really been around kids, and suddenly there were three of them underfoot.

While Dave and the kids had always had the tradition of going out and picking the perfect live tree and loading it with Hallmark and homemade ornaments, I had amassed a collection of glass treasures that were carefully placed on a white fake tree every year.

What a collision!

Rather than any of us give up our trees, we did both, one for the living room and one for the family room.

Kira especially wanted so much to help me with the fancy tree…and I’m afraid that first year I was more worried about ornaments breaking than a little girl’s heart. What a jerk I was, worried about some silly glass ball breaking instead of creating special memories.

It took me a couple of years to really chill out and realize that the ornaments could – and would – be easily replaced. Luckily, the kids were quite forgiving, and now, putting up the trees (the first of them starting the weekend of Thanksgiving, then more throughout December) is something we all look forward to sharing.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle or request a review copy.

Loving Your Body Means Dressing for You

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Being hip and trendy, wearing the latest fashions and always being in style can feel great – if you’re a fashion model with a stick-thin body wearing a size 2. For the rest of us, fashion is an attainable goal, but is best achieved by putting our own body into the equation.  Admit it – we’ve all seen the girl or woman wearing the low-rise, hip-hugging jeans and a short shirt and thought, “I would never show that part of my body!”  Usually, it only takes seeing one stretch-marked or flabby belly to remind us that our own elastic, high waist pants and long stretchy shirts aren’t really that bad.

Luckily, fashion these days is less about a style and more about your style.  Today, there are more plus-size models, more designers out there who design styles for typical bodies and more flexibility in style all around.  Even better, fashion is ever-changing and very circular, so odds are you’ll look more in style wearing what looks good on you than being the girl with the belly baggage.

Dress to Fit

Chances are, even if you wore a size 2 in high school, you don’t any more.  Hips, babies and stress make it less likely that your super-model body is still as super, and while staying fit and active is always a good choice, beating yourself up for not meeting super-model standards doesn’t help.

What does? Making sure you wear clothes that fit your body.  Don’t worry about the number on the tag – wear the size that fits your body.  That might mean you buy dress pants in one size, jeans in another, and skirts in yet another.  It might even mean two different colors of the same style fit differently.  The point is, don’t buy it if it isn’t a good fit.

It’s important to remember when buying clothes (I know what I am talking about; I have an entire closet of clothes I don’t wear ever) to try things on before you buy them.  Stand in front of the mirror and critique the way you look.  Try sitting down in the pants or skirt to make sure you like it as much when you’re scrunched in the middle as you do when you’re standing up and sucking it in.  If you have misgivings in the store, don’t buy.

Less is More

A simple wardrobe of quality items will take you a lot further than a truckload of trendy clothes you can’t wear comfortably.  It’s not all about the fit; it’s about personality and attitude, too.  Choose items that compliment you.

Make sure you have a good foundation wardrobe: a black dress, a pair of black dress pants, and black flats will pretty much carry you.  Spend more on one pair of jeans that fits great and provides the comfort/features you need rather than buying three pairs that all look horrible.

Once you have the basics, you can build your wardrobe with specific, high-quality items that mix and match.  The idea is to buy some high-quality stuff for the long haul and then each year you can supplement and update your wardrobe with trendy items of the season that compliment your body.

Color Counts

While it is important to have some standard blacks, grays and blues, don’t forget color. It can’t be just any color though; you need to choose colors that work for you.  It’s easy to do: stand in front of a mirror in a well-lit room and hold different colors in front of you.  You will see dramatic differences depending on what color brings out what features in your face.  You’ll soon find colors that are truly complimentary to your skin tone and your eye color – and you’ll find certain colors you absolutely ought never to have in your closet.

By having a basic-color standard wardrobe, the other way you can add color is with accessories.  Shoes, purses, jewelry and scarves all add touches to your outfits to make you look put together.

All About You

Unless you are a fashion model and need to wear designer clothing every day to keep up the part, it’s ok to not be trendy.  Find styles that work for you.  If you have a big stomach, wear longer shirts that compliment your shape.  If you have really wide thighs, make sure your pants aren’t to tight across the thighs or wear a nice skirt that smooths out your lines.  Great cleavage?  Showing it off is fine when you’re out dancing but might not be when you’re in the office with your colleagues.

Choose clothes that make you feel confident and suit your personality. Who knows? You may end up being the trend setter instead of the trend follower.

Bad Teachers

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

With five kids, three cross-country moves, and 10 different addresses, we’ve experienced the best and the worst of the public school system. We have come close to homeschooling on a number of occasions, but let’s get real  – I didn’t have the patience to teach my kids to ride bikes without heartburn; how could I teach them to multiply fractions?!

We found the perfect school, and chose quite specifically to place ourselves back in our little village of Bath, New York when we had the chance. Small school or not, we’ve never had an overall better experience than the Bath School District for our children.

The worst? Reno, Nevada – great place when I attended as a child, but a nightmare when we lived there with our kids. But we’ll save that for another rant.

This rant is more about how one bad apple may not spoil the whole bunch but can certainly leave a bad taste!

My son has Asperger’s. He learns differently, he faces different challenges, and he struggles at times to do what seems to come so naturally to other kids his age. His teachers and school counselor are amazing. They work with him, they tolerate his lack of organization and thrill at his ability to learn facts that others find too difficult. His English teacher even plays Beatles music (Parker likes the Beatles A LOT)  in class and does a whole unit on the Beatles as a way to engage the kids in learning English that lets them have fun.

More than that, they put up with us – the overbearing, totally involved, micro-managing, uber-questioning and demanding parents.

We are grateful and amazed on a regular basis at the team of people that have come together, from special education and school psychologists to school counselors and dedicated teachers to an engaged and compassionate principal and assistant principal, to do everything they can to ensure that not only our son but every child has a positive experience while at school. They do a great job.

But there’s always someone, isn’t there? Some teacher who somehow slipped through the cracks, who has lost the joy in teaching (or never had it), who is there for “the job,” who is a year away from retirement, or who simply doesn’t care about the extraordinary opportunity they have to make a difference in a child’s life.

It’s people like them who make me think tenure has outlasted its usefulness in the school system; people like them who put little dents in our children’s self-esteem with their words and actions, people like them who could (if I ran the world) be quickly replaced with more enthusiastic, compassionate, and competent unemployed teachers if they didn’t have tenure.

Luckily, my kids have a resiliency that I lack when it comes to dealing with these bad apples. Perhaps they have a better sense of the impermanence of the situation than I do.

It makes me all the more grateful for all of the wonderful teachers out there who stay dedicated to the kids, who work for ridiculously low wages, and who keep trying even though the demands on them to be teacher/parent/counselor/law enforcer have only become more difficult.

To all the AMAZING teachers (in Bath and everywhere), thank you for what you do. You are appreciated.


Making Gratitude an Every Day Feeling

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Thanksgiving is over, and with it, all the good happy feelings of gratitude that the day engenders. That one day a year, everyone gets along a little better. We all spend time talking about the things that make us grateful…and then, before the day is even at a close, our focus shifts to how much money we can save buying out retailers before Christmas.

Away goes gratitude, not to be dusted off again until the next Thanksgiving.

But Gratitude is something I think we should all learn to embrace more than just once a year. People who learn to live with gratitude often find themselves more satisfied in their daily lives, with stronger feelings of well-being and self-worth, which dominoes into boosts of confidence and motivation.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have time for deep meditation and reflection on the subject, and being grateful is easier to talk about than to do, but for us, living with gratitude was a habit we started when we realized that our kids never seemed to be satisfied with what they had, even when what they had seemed like an awful lot to us. So, the message started to be, to our kids and to ourselves, “be grateful for what you have.” It was a way to counterbalance the “I wants” and the “thanks for this, now can I have…”

In order to make that work, we had to learn to do the same ourselves. Living with gratitude can become an ingrained habit in your life with a little practice, and it works as both a way to see the happiness already in our lives and as a way to keep us from being tempted into buying something we don’t really need.

How do you learn to live with gratitude?

The first step is to transform negatives to positives. Instead of seeing the worst in any situation, believe that what happens to you happens for a reason, and find the positive in the situation. It’s not always easy, and you may have to mentally coach yourself, but seeing the positive is a great first step toward living with gratitude.

The next step is to make a daily habit out of the Thanksgiving tradition of expressing what you’re thankful for. Start each day being grateful for the things that make your life better – the modern conveniences that allow you to connect with family across the country; the perfect cup of coffee your husband has ready for you every morning, the hugs you get from your kids before they head to school. End the day the same way, with reflection on the parts of the day that brought you joy and made you smile.

Learning to live with gratitude is an exercise that is as important to your mind as a cardio workout is to your heart. Make a conscious effort to recognize every day the things you are grateful to have in your life.

What are you grateful for?

Packing a Safe Lunch for Your Kids

Kyle's Lunch Bag

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

You’ve packed an extra dose of love in your child’s cold lunch, but it’s possible that you’re packing something unintended: food poisoning!

Sending a packed lunch to school with your child is a great way to make sure they’re getting foods that are healthy – ones they’ll actually eat. Familiar foods are often better than the mystery scoop of meat goo served by the school cafeteria, and you can relax knowing they won’t starve their way through the afternoon. Unfortunately, packed lunches can also be a prime source of salmonella, e. coli, botulism and unintended additions.

The best way to make sure the food you send is safe? Pack things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that can safely be stored at room temperature or keep it cold!

Bacteria growth occurs between 40 and 140 degrees, so the food your kids eat needs to be colder – or hotter – than that. Find out if your child’s classroom has a refrigerator for lunches. If there is a fridge, make sure your child gets their lunch in it every day. If there’s not a fridge, you’ll need to make sure you use a soft-sided insulated lunch bag with ice packs. (A frozen bottle of water works well too).

If you question whether or not the food will still be cold, don’t send it!

Leftovers can make a great next-day lunch from home for your kids, but in addition to being able to keep it cold, you need to have prepared it properly the night before. Meats should be thoroughly cooked, and meals should be cooled down and stored properly.

The biggest culprit that can taint your child’s food can often be their lunch bag. When the lunch bag comes home, use a disposable bleach cloth to wipe it out thoroughly and leave it out to dry (bacteria likes moisture).

Have additional tips to share about safe lunches? Share them with us…

It Must Have Been the Mistletoe …

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Mistletoe is a fun tradition during the holiday season, giving our family excuses to show our love on a regular basis. The first year we lived in our current house, Christmas 2008, we couldn’t decide where to put the Mistletoe, so we hung it on the wall above the sofa in the living room where Dave and I sit most evenings to chat about our day, plan our next topic to tackle on one of our blogs, or share a movie. When Christmas was over, we forgot to pack up the Mistletoe with the rest of the Christmas decorations.

It’s still there.

We decided to leave it up, and it hangs over us like a little love blessing all year long. We don’t necessarily need any excuse for a kiss, but we like the feeling.

The Story behind Mistletoe – From The Holiday Spot

The Mistletoe Magic:

From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper.

Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe was long regarded as both a sexual symbol and the “soul” of the oak. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. The Greeks also thought that it had mystical powers and down through the centuries it became associated with many folklore customs.

In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits.In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire. This was associated with an earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning. The traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.

Kissing under the mistletoe:

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess “life-giving” power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up.

Later, the eighteenth-century English credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry.

Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year’s Day: “Au gui l’An neuf” (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.

Embrace Frugality With a Home Crafted Christmas

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

This year we decided to have a home crafted Christmas. With all the art supplies I have squirreled away, and tons of imagination we are making due with what we have and seeing how far that takes us.

I have always been a crafty collector of stuff. If I saw that some scrap or other was perfectly usable if I could ever think of something to do with it, I hid it in a drawer or box with a bunch of other scraps and nick-knacks. However, I have always been strategic about what I saved and where I put it. Clutter is not something I enjoy, so organization has always been important.

One of the projects my daughter set her heart on was based on the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. Thanks to the holiday music coming out prior to Thanksgiving, she latched on to that song and has been singing it non-stop. She started asking questions about it. After sitting down with the lyrics and doing the math because we are obviously that crazy we figured that if you received every single gift in the song as it is sung you would receive 364 gifts, most of which would either be people or birds. This made us both laugh, but also sparked the idea that if we made all 364 gifts we could decorate the entire tree this year.

Homemade wreath

With all the construction paper, felt, craft foam, Popsicle sticks, fake jewels, scrapbook paper, scissors, tape, glue, markers, crayons, paints, and other things we have stuffed in various places throughout my library and crafting desk we have everything we could possibly need. So far we’ve used Bendaroos to make almost all 40 of our golden rings, though we did find a few plastic gold rings from some wedding scrapbook kit from long ago. We started on our 36 ladies dancing using Popsicle sticks, fake jewels, crafting foam, ribbons, and glue. We have 17 of those made so far. And we have 6 of our 30 French hens made using an old coloring book of farm animals, markers, and some random little plastic favor baskets I found in a box of Easter decorations. And the project continues with us doing a little each day.

We have also already made our Christmas count down chain using strips of green card stock that I had stashed away after some random project I can’t even remember. Not all of the links are in green. My daughter decided that her birthday should be a pink link, and of course we had to do that. We also have two other special links decorated for Yule and Christmas because we celebrate both.

All of our Christmas shopping is done except for the sundry goodies that Santa will be stuffing in stockings and whatever feasting ingredients we’ll be needing for our bountiful means. We’ll also be making all our cards this year because my son likes making hand prints. When you have this much crafting and art supplies just hanging around and kids that claim boredom at random it just makes sense to make the most of both for some holiday fun.