Categories
Healthy Eating Recipe Corner

Tips for Planning Meals with a Busy Schedule

Figuring out what to make can be the toughest part of putting a meal together. As a busy mom, you have a hard enough time getting everyone together for a meal, and then you don’t even know what to cook on any given night. 

This can often lead you to choose something quick and easy or you may find that you are eating the same meals repeatedly. The best solution to this problem is to start meal planning, and to look into other convenient options, like having kids meals delivered. With a little bit of planning, you can add some variety to your meals and take some of the stress out of putting them together.

If you’re not into the idea of sitting down once a week and making a formal meal plan, that is okay – you can use the following tips to help streamline the meal planning process.

Set a Time Limit

If you let meal planning take too long, it will become unmanageable. Set aside ten minutes a week to come up with seven dinner ideas. Make quick decisions about what to eat on different days and stick to your choices. If you don’t feel like planning the whole week of dinners at once, you could just give yourself a few minutes in the morning to pick a dinner idea for later that night. When you know what you are making beforehand, it will save you time and cut down on the stress that comes with preparing dinner.

Get Help from the Family

There is no reason to think that you have to make all of the decisions yourself. Get your partner and the kids involved in choosing dinners. If you assign everyone a night to pick the dinner they want to have, it will make the task easier for you. You can even set a rule that doesn’t allow anyone to pick the same meal two weeks in a row. 

Save Recipes that Work Well

Keep track of all of the recipes that work well in your meal plan. You might save some because they offer a meal that the whole family likes. In other cases, it might be a recipe that is quick and easy for the nights where you have less time. If you save all of the best recipes in one place, it will also make for a handy reference when you are trying to plan meals.

Make Extra

With some meals or food items, making extra can save time. Some meals can be frozen and then reheated as leftovers if you make twice as much the first time you cook. For basic staples like rice and pasta, you could also cook twice as much and use the leftover with a different meal later in the week. By cooking extra, you can cut down on some of the work. This is also a way to plan two nights of dinner at the same time.

Try Themed Meals

Everyone has heard of taco Tuesdays, but there are plenty of themed dinner ideas that can make your meal planning easier. You could plan a pizza night, a pasta night, or you could even do breakfast for dinner. It’s not the theme that matters –the idea is to narrow the options for that night and make it easier to pick a meal. You could even pick one night of the week that is a themed night and change the theme from week to week.

The main point to remember is that meal planning doesn’t need to be as stressful as it may seem. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll save a lot of time, no matter how busy your schedule is.

Categories
Making Memories Sponsored Content

Paperless Post Makes Celebrating Easier

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

This weekend was my 30th class reunion. I couldn’t attend, living across the country from where I graduated and having too many things going on to manage the 12 hours of driving and flying required to get there.

Also this weekend, my granddaughter went to a birthday party. There was face painting and cake and so much fun. She’s 3 and at the beginning of a long age of wonder and fun with birthdays.

Photos Keep Us Connected

In both instances, phones played a big role in making the events fun. In the case of my reunion, I was able to enjoy it vicariously thanks to all my friends who took pictures throughout the weekend and shared them in our Facebook group. It was almost like I was there – except that I could laugh at all the bald heads.

At the birthday party my grandaughter attended, they had a background set up for photo ops for the birthday girl and all her friends. There again, even though I was not there, I had the opportunity to experience the special moment through instant photos.

Embracing the Digital Age

Everyone complains about people being glued to their phones, but I love the opportunity it gives us to share. I have family and friends all over the world, and as much as I love to travel, I can’t be everywhere – but my photos can. I’m closer to my friends and family who are physically far away because we’re able to share this way.

More than Just Photos

When my child graduated from high school this year, I didn’t have to pay exorbitant postage costs or even buy the boring graduation announcements. I created the announcement online, customized with photos and information about their future. It gave me a lot more control and the ability to send it to people I knew would want it without paying international postage fees or having to track down mailing addresses I didn’t have.

Creating Invitations and Announcements Online

I recently discovered Paperless Post, and they invited me to try their service by giving me credits to use on their website. Paperless Post offers already-designed or custom-made invitations, announcements, and flyers as well as invitation and guest management. You just choose or upload a design, add your guest list, and click send.

Here’s how it works (from their website):

CHOOSE THE PERFECT DESIGN
Find a free or premium invitation that’s perfect for your event.

START SPREADING THE NEWS
Add your event’s details, make or import a guest list, and send with a click.

PLAN FOR A CROWD
Track RSVPs and keep in touch with guests on the go.

You can personalize the designs with your own photos and backgrounds and edit the text, too.

Any event you can imagine – both personally and professionally – can be handled with Paperless Post: birthdays, baby showers, dinner parties, wedding invites, save the date reminders, conferences and events, anniversaries, and graduations.

And, because they’re digital, you can add exciting touches like animation.

Categories
Making Memories Travel

Sharing Quebec and History

14 years ago when I went with my Alfred University French class on a spring break trip to Quebec City and Montreal, arriving in Quebec City was a magical experience. It was like being transported to old world Europe. I’d been to Europe on my honeymoon, but Quebec was magical for me. My ancestors had helped to found the area; two of my ancestors were Filles du Roi (women from France selected by the king to help settle the province and grow the population), and my 5x-great- grandfather Nicolas Roussin, was one of the 20 founding colonists of L’Ange Gardien, a small village north of Quebec City that was settled in 1603.

So coming to Quebec was like coming home.

Today, I finally had the opportunity to share the experience with my kids and husband. We wandered the old port area, talked about how much snow was still there despite it being April, listened to the church bells ring out, and ate at a lovely bistro with a view of the Chateau de Frotenac and the statue of Champlain.

It was so much fun to share with my family. I realized that my ancestors were made of heartier stock than I am, to be able to live and survive in such a snowy, cold climate.

We spent the afternoon sharing a movie, cooked dinner in, and enjoyed the time together.

Tomorrow, we head to Montreal,  our home away from home.

Categories
Making Memories Travel

Perfect Imperfection

I am in Quebec City, a place I have not been for 14 years, since taking a trip with my French class. It was quite significant that I was able to go on that trip, as a non-traditional student with five kids at home. It remains one of the best memories of my time at Alfred University.

It was that same trip where I fell in love with Montreal, and I’ve taken my family back to that city a dozen times or more. But Quebec City is a longer drive from home – 9 hours – so we’ve never come up. The one time we came close, when I was off traipsing through graveyards buried in snow to find my ancestors, we couldn’t figure out how to get in.

So I’m here. In an AirBnB in a quiet neighborhood in Quebec City, the heart of Europe in North America.

And from yesterday’s tears comes today’s near-perfection. The drive was uneventful and quite lovely. We’d stayed in Watertown the night before so that today’s drive would be more manageable, so we were only 5-1/2 hours on the road.

We listened to great music. We talked. We dozed (not Dave, who was driving). We stopped for lunch and discovered a fun little place in Drummondville called Scores that has the best chicken sandwiches.  You could feel the tension draining from all of us.

We navigated into the city with no trouble and found our place and parking with no trouble. After getting settled in we discovered that the IGA was just 490 meters away, so we walked over, bought some ice, cheese, croissants, chocolatines, and of course, some Quebon (the best chocolate milk in the world). As we were walking back to the place, we decided it would be more fun to eat in, so Dave and Anika walked back, grabbed the sausages we’d been salivating over, some salad, and a still-warm baguette.

We sat together at the table, talking about anything and everything. It was a perfect moment, one I will cherish.

After dinner, we listened to music and played SkipBo. And we talked more.

This is one of those rare days where everything felt right. I went to bed happy, hoping this is sign of things to come on this adventure.

Categories
Family Love Resolving Conflict

Family

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

My notion of what defines family has changed over time. When I was growing up, my family was big and glorious and messy and wonderful. I grew up surrounded by 16 aunts and uncles, 6 great aunts and uncles, 3 sets of grandparents, and 2 great grandmothers. I was the oldest child in my family, the first grandchild on both sides, and for 5 years, the only grandchild. That exploded to 25 or more cousins (it’s hard to keep track). Huge. Family.

As I grew up, I collected a few friends – friends like my first best friend. We met when I was 4 and 44(!) years later, we’re still friends. I met others through school that I’ve known since 5th grade who are still friends. And when I turned 18 and moved out, I stayed connected to my family but also began making my first adult friends – many of whom are still a big part of my life. I learned that friends – the people you choose to have in your life – can be just as much a part of your family as the people you’re related to by blood.

Family Is More than Genealogy

Over the past few years, thanks in part to the political disaster we’re living through, I’ve lost many family members. Sure, my mom passed away, and so did my favorite great-uncle and all but one grandparent. But the loss I’ve experienced has been more devastating because it’s like someone filled in details that had always been smoothed out for me. I realized that many people I had been close had hate-filled hearts or deep-seated racism built into their DNA – and no matter how many times we tried to “discuss” it, the conversations ended with me being called an idiot, or me being told that I was “too hung up” on what was happening, or me being told I needed to just shut up and deal with it because “the voters had spoken.” I was even accused of having a hand in hastening the death of someone because I caused so much stress with my political views.

(My views aren’t really all that extreme – I believe in better healthcare (minus the profit motive), criminal justice reform, gun reform and consistent gun laws nationwide, legalized pot with amnesty for anyone convicted on pot possession charges, and student loan debt reform).

The hate and vitriol became extreme enough that I decided to remove it by unfriending/unfollowing people on social media. Apparently, if you unfriend a family member on Facebook, you’ve literally deleted them from your life. But when people share things like photos of Michelle Obama being compared to an ape, or call for all welfare recipients to be rounded up and summarily removed, or the nasty conversation of immigrant “filth” reaches my ears (my son-in-law is an immigrant) that’s something I’m ok without being exposed to – and even more ok that my kids aren’t exposed to it.

Redefining Family

Family isn’t always just the people we were born to; it’s the people we collect – the ones who lift us up, support us, respect us, and care for us. The ones who stick around even when we aren’t doing something for them that they need. The ones who love us the way we are and not for what they think they can force us to be. The ones who want us in their lives. The ones who don’t have hate and harm in their hearts. If those people don’t share DNA, that’s ok with me.

So my kids are growing up in a smaller, tighter circle.  It’s still a great big, full of love, three-generation family. I wish things were different. I wish I had a relationship with the people in my family. But I also know that protecting myself – and my kids – from unbridled hate, judgment, and gaslighting is a necessary thing in today’s world.

Categories
Family Home and Hearth Kid Safety

Family Safety

Recently, a home burned down in our community and left a family homeless and without any of their belongings. It’s heartbreaking when something like that happens, and I am always grateful for the volunteer fire department in our village for their rapid response and extraordinary efforts. They often save lives even in times when they cannot save structures. It made me realize how important it is to have an emergency plan.

Every emergency plan should start with prevention.

  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors every six months. If you have 10-year smoke detectors, as we’re required to in New York, test them every six months to make sure they work.
  • Make sure entries and exits to your home are accessible and functional (including windows).
  • Install a CO2/Carbon Monoxide detector.
  • Have fire extinguishers in logical places – the kitchen, near your fireplace, in your basement or garage.

Designate a Meeting Place

In the chaos of a fire or other emergency, your family may get separated. Designate a meeting place ahead of time where you’ll all agree to meet. We’ve designated our neighbor’s home, which is across the street from us and a safe space for us in time of emergency. The Red Cross actually suggests having two meeting places – one for outside of your home in case of a fire, and one outside of your neighborhood in case it’s an emergency that prevents you from getting to your home.

Establish the Escape Route

There are eight people in our home, on two floors covering more than 2400 square feet. We have three exits in three different parts of the house and two access points to the basement, from which there are another two exits to the outside. Knowing where each person should go depending on where the fire is or what the emergency is can be daunting – but if you don’t think about it when your head is clear and focused, you’ll be scrambling during an emergency.

Plan Your Communications

Who would you need to tell you are safe? How would you communicate with each other? Do your kids understand what they need to do in an emergency? What if they are home alone?

Establishing, discussing, and practicing your families evacuation and emergency plan is essential. To help you develop your emergency plan, visit these helpful resources:

Red Cross

FEMA (PDF)

DHS

Ready.Gov

Categories
Family

I Don’t Want a Dog but We’ll End Up with One Anyway

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I’m not a dog person. Gasp, the horror, I must be a serial killer. I know. I’m just not a fan, especially when I’m also raising small children. There is enough poop and puke in my life that I really don’t need nonhuman sources of it. I have plenty of nighttime wake-ups to keep me busy, and I don’t need a dog asking to go for a walk when I’m already juggling snack time and toddler meltdowns.

And I’ll be real with you, it’s not that I don’t like dogs. All inconveniences aside, I’m sure people love them and enjoy them with all the benefits of a snuggly and loyal pup. Unfortunately, there are no benefits to me. I have nothing against dogs, I just don’t want to pet them. I have no interest in dog kisses or snuggles. I’m not interested in playing fetch or going for runs together. I’m super awkward, and even if I attempt to pet a dog, it’s not the petting they dream of. You, man’s best friend, are simply another chore on my list.

Regardless, I’ll end up with a dog anyway.

Sigh.

The reason? My kids.

My husband can’t wait until the day I finally agree to having a dog. We simply aren’t settled enough in our lives to take on yet another responsibility, but he talks about it all the time. What dog he wants, all the games they’ll play, everything the kids will be able to do with their dog as they grow up…

It all sounds so hallmark channel and cute, and I’m going to hate every second of it.

Except for when my children are delighted at the animal. My daughter craves dogs. We cross streets and parks and playgrounds to get to dogs. From a very young age I’ve had to teach her how to approach strangers and ask if she can pet their dog. Most are incredibly polite and thrilled to talk about their beloved pet.

It’s not a world I’m a part of, and I suppose that’s ok. The dog will not be sleeping in my bed, I can tell you that much, but I’m crossing my fingers that the animal will grow on me. Maybe the right dog will melt my frozen heart. Even if it does, I’ve already made it clear I’m not on pooper scooper duty. I’ve cleaned up plenty of human poop, thanks.

If you’ve got any advice to loving an animal you’ve never wanted, feel free to shoot it my way. I’ll need all the help I can get.

Categories
Crafts with Kids Family

Winter Hacks to Keep Summer Loving Children Sane

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

My kid has the winter blues hard. She’s desperate to be outdoors, running free through any weather. If it’s above 40 degrees (which is my tolerance level, not hers) I take her outside. Unfortunately, we’re in the thick of winter where we are lucky to get above freezing. I am NOT about to hit the playground or go for a walk.

So what to do? My child is bouncing off the walls and I’m being literal here. She is launching herself off any platform she can create and getting really creative with how she maneuvers and propels her toddler body. Balls are bouncing through the hallway and she’s playing soccer in my bedroom. Squashing her spirit is both depressing and impossible, so we’ve had to burn her energy other ways. These are the winter hacks that are getting us through the cold months:

Bowling.

You can purchase indoor bowling kits, but it’s easy enough to craft your own. My child is having way too much fun with some empty drink containers and one of her own balls. I showed her how to line them up at one end of the hallway and roll the ball down to knock them over, and she was occupied for at least an hour. Once she got bored with bowling, her imagination allowed the containers to further her indoor play.

Cotton balls and tape.

Stay with me here. I actually read this one some sort of teacher site, but it’s genius. I stretched some packing tape across a doorway and handed my toddler some cotton balls to throw at it. This kept her entertained for DAYS. It’s the simple things that bring the most joy.

Exercise.

This is good for both you and your kids. Get them involved in a daily workout that everyone can participate in. It gives them an excuse to jump around like maniacs indoors (gasp) but with a purpose. My daughter looks forward to our workouts every day now, and it keeps me motivated to stay on the fitness wagon.

Snack attack.

One of my favorite winter activities is eating, and my child enjoys it as well. When we are really bored and in need of something to do, we break out the recipe book. Anything in your cupboard can become a snack activity. Make a mix of different cereals and raisins or build shapes and houses with pretzels and peanut butter. Toss some cinnamon and sugar on some apples. Bake cookies if you’re feeling adventurous, because that also means the oven is on. Extra toasty.

My child definitely gets stir crazy in the winter, and honestly, so do I. Simple activities like these (especially when I hate crafting) keep everyone in the house sane. Not every day is an outdoor play day, but you can make the most of the indoor life

Categories
Frugal Living Money Matters

How I Can Easily Compare My Student Loans to Unicorns

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything as magical as my student loans. I blink and the amount I owe raises a few cents. The amount of money floats around somewhere in an “owed” statement, collecting interest and dust. The more I think about my student loans, the more I realize how much they are like unicorns.

  1. I’ve never seen the amount of money that I paid for tuition.

I’ve also never seen a unicorn. I hear they’re out there, but pictures of narwhals are as close as I get. I owe a ridiculous amount, but since the total student loan debt is over one trillion dollars, I’m comforted by knowing I’m not the only one.

  1. I physically don’t possess the amount of money I now owe for tuition.

And I probably never will. The same way that I will, sadly, never ride a unicorn. However, I’m still more likely to ride a unicorn than to afford my monthly payment. Now that would be magical.

  1. The amount I owe significantly increases every year thanks to magic called “interest.”

According to folklore, unicorns can fly and I’m thinking they get their magic from the student loan offices. There must be some untapped source of power available to those that can afford to pay their student loans, and I’m assuming these people also hoard their knowledge of unicorns.

  1. I keep being told opportunities exist if I just keep looking.

If I just keep believing, maybe a unicorn will ascend from the heavens and fly me far away from my student loan debt. Or, at the very least, deliver a job offer that will make the money I spent on my student loans worth the trouble. I might as well have spent my time throwing coins at a fountain.

  1. My loan company keeps reassuring me that I’ll pay my loans off before I die.

The chances of me seeing a unicorn before I die are so slim, but still more likely than returning all the money I owe the federal government for my education.

I’m a big fan of all things unicorn, glitter, and rainbows, but no sparkle can brighten the dull of my student loans. From one mom to the next, I have no idea how I’ll convince my kids to go to college. They might as well start chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, because their chances of being debt-free aren’t fantastic. Unless they marry rich. Then they can afford the student loans and the unicorn.

Categories
Crafts with Kids Parenting

Fun Printable Christmas Games for the Family

What’s the best way to keep your child occupied while you finish up last minute Christmas preparations? Christmas games, of course! Because school is out and it’s cold outside, children often get a little rowdy during this time of year. There’s not a good outlet for their energy, and running around the house isn’t ideal.

That’s why we teamed up with The Zebra to share these awesome Christmas games. From picture to listening to writing activities, these family Christmas games are good for all ages. Adults or older kids can work with the little ones while having fun themselves!

With Christmas Decoration I-Spy Bingo, your kids will love spying iconic holiday decorations as you cruise down the road. Make an event out of it by inviting your friends and family along to play in their cars. You can even make it a competition to see which car has the most “Bingos,” or five in a row.

Test your knowledge of famous songs for the season with the Christmas Song Lyric Challenge. This printable features fill-in-the-blank song lyrics for all of the holiday songs we know and love. Someone will have to act as a scribe for the young children who can’t write yet. This activity is great for all ages, and everyone will enjoy the funny lyrics that kids hear.

Divide your family up into teams to see who can get the most correct answers on the Christmas Picture Puzzle. This game incorporates holiday motifs and other symbols and objects in a puzzle that may test your IQ. The sounds of each symbol come together to make an entirely new word or phrase!

‘Tis the season of cheer, so why not use these free printables for some wholesome family time? Remember not to play them all at once! You’ll want to make sure they last throughout all of the holidays. If there’s ever a lull in the activities, you know what to do!

Download the PDFs below:

Christmas Decoration I-Spy Bingo

Christmas Song Lyric Challenge

Christmas Picture Puzzle