Staycations: Big City Exploring

Exploring a nearby city can be a great, less expensive alternative to a weekend getaway. A day away from home, however, can be a catastrophe without some planning. Whether you’re flying in to an unknown city or just catching the bus to your local town, there are certain items no explorer should leave home without. The most important item is sunscreen. If you plan to spend more than 30 minutes outside, pack a bottle of the stuff and plan to reapply throughout the day. If you’re going to be rubbing sun lotion in – and for any number of sticky reasons – also pack a box of baby wipes.

You’ll be walking a lot, so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. If you’ll be in a rainy city or in inclement weather, an extra pair of socks in the bag is a good idea. Wear comfortable clothing and dress in layers, so you can adapt to changing temperatures throughout the day. Don’t forget a jacket and an umbrella.

Not only will you appreciate having the free hands, but wearing a fanny pack can protect your money and credit cards from being stolen as you walk through busy and perhaps unfamiliar streets. Use the fanny pack to store cash, credit cards and lip balm. Stow the rest of your explorer gear in a back pack.

Little explorers should have a map and compass. Most cities have maps you can print from your home computer. You can buy inexpensive compasses for your school-age child and let them help guide the exploration. If you are bringing along little kids, don’t forget the stroller. Bottles of water, sandwich baggies stocked with pretzels and other snacks and a camera, and you’re ready to explore!


Managing Discipline in Blended Families

Discipline can be difficult in a blended family. Children are used to whatever style of discipline their parents have employed. When you introduce a new authority figure into the mix, it can cause frustration, misunderstanding, and downright rebellion.

Especially difficult to balance is how you treat step kids versus how you treat your birth children. It is a rare person who is capable of absolute equality. We are, by nature, inclined to believe and protect our own.

This becomes exceedingly difficult when it is the children (a biological child and a stepchild) who are fighting with each other and you are forced to intervene. The step child will be expecting the worst – and your biological child will be expecting you to take their side. How do you balance it?

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.


Frugal Living

Charity Weekends

Around the holidays, local soup kitchens and other charitable organizations are inundated with volunteers. Families want to do something special to help others for the holidays; corporations encourage their employees to get involved. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, awareness of problems and a willingness to help increase, but when the holidays are over the needs of your community don’t disappear. It’s a great opportunity to teach your children that volunteering and donating time is a lifestyle not just a holiday tradition.

The great part about volunteering is that it is a very family-friendly activity and the needs in your community are so varied that it is easy to find some way to help that allows you to use your skills and talents – or perhaps working in an area of interest you and your family might have. For example, if you have members of your family who have been touched by cancer, there are several organizations who would love your help. The American Cancer Society hosts the annual Relay for Life, an overnight family event that raises awareness and funds for cancer research.

Nursing homes and hospices are always seeking volunteers of all ages. Younger kids can decorate cards and pictures for residents while older members of the family can provide respite for caretakers or become caretakers themselves. Food banks and soup kitchens need help year-round sorting food and serving meals.

Other family-friendly community activities can be things you do on your own with your family, like taking a trash bag and cleaning up a park or playground, or things you organize, like a local blanket or coat drive. The need is there; you don’t have to wait for a holiday or an organization to direct you. Just pick a weekend, include your kids, and make a difference. With luck, it will become a regular habit!


Adult Stepchildren

As much difficulty as women seem to have with stepchildren, adult stepchildren seem to cause even more stress and strife. Whether it’s dads who are having a difficult time shifting priorities, adult kids who seem to be manipulating or interfering, or a number of other frustrations, adult stepchildren seem to present special challenges in blended family relationships.

I am in the position of being both a step mom to adult stepchildren and, more recently, an adult stepchild. Because I raised my stepchildren from the time they were young, as adults, we don’t have as many challenges as we might have had I inherited them when they were older. However, there are still times when their dad and I still struggle over entitlements.

When our oldest daughter graduated from high school, the plan was that she would be leaving after the summer to attend school. Mid-summer, she changed her mind and decided to stay home and go to community college. My husband and I had different levels of expectation about the contributions an 18-year old adult should make to the household, given that we were still supporting her while she attended college. It sometimes causes grief for us – right or wrong, it’s hard for me not to want to shift our priority (i.e., our budget) to the younger kids. Is it because they are my birth kids? While that might play some role in it, the way I see it, it’s their turn. When the other kids were little, we took them on trips and to movies and spent money on sports and activities they were interested in. Shouldn’t we be able to do the same for the younger kids now that they are of the age where their interests are growing?

We managed to find a comfortable compromise that worked for us. Our adult children are still expected to do certain things around the house to contribute, and while they are free to live their lives, it is not without some very restrictive rules about how that impacts the younger kids who still have to stay on a regular schedule, get up and go to school, and have routines. Our daughter was welcome to stay out late with her friends, but she wasn’t able to bring them home to hang out at our house until 3am. She could come and go as she pleased, but she had to keep her bathroom and bedroom presentable. We stopped planning meals around her schedule; we were happy when she was there to share, but okay if she wasn’t. We expected the common courtesy from her of letting us know when she wasn’t going to be home for a night and how we get get in touch if we needed to. It worked.

If only it was that easy for me as an adult stepchild! My dad remarried shortly after my mom died. I was still grieving; I felt like he was moving too fast; I was unable to see through my personal pain that he needed to do what was right for him. Because we got off on the wrong foot, my “stepmother” and I haven’t built a very strong relationship. In fact, I was probably one of those adult stepchildren new wives complain about – I told my dad I thought he was making a mistake, I didn’t want to go to the wedding, I resisted their relationship at every turn. I had more than my share of mean thoughts. Over time, I’ve realized that my stepmom is actually a very sweet lady, she makes my dad happy, she does thoughtful things for our family, and she is a good person.

When it comes right down to it, I love my husband – and I love his children whom I’ve been privileged to raise.  When it comes right down to it, I love my dad – and his new wife makes him happy and that’s really all I want for him. I wish there was an easy answer, but as both a stepmother to adult stepchildren and as an adult stepchild, the only thing that really works is time, patience, and communication.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

Crafts with Kids

Make Mother’s Day Special with a Coupon Book

Mother’s Day is coming, and this craft is a great solution for kids who want to give a gift that will keep giving throughout the year. There’s nothing easier and more personal than creating a coupon book. While this project isn’t as easy for the preschooler group to do on their own, with your help coupons like “one free hug” and “pick up my toys” will bring countless smiles to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Moms can even make coupon books for their kids offering to read a book, play a game, or share special time with the kids.

To begin, cut regular sheets of paper into thirds. Cut cardstock slightly larger than the coupons to use for the front and back covers. Use markers to decorate the cover and design your coupons. Be sure to include a statement like “This coupon entitles the bearer to…” at the top of each coupon and an expiration date like “never” or “100 years from now” in the bottom corner. When the coupons are finished, place them between the cardboard covers and staple the pages together. Older kids can give coupon books to grandparents with coupons offering to do yard work, run errands or spend time. Others will appreciate coupons for free babysitting or housecleaning.

When you’re thinking about what kinds of coupons to offer, have your children think about all the nice things the recipient does for them. A Father’s Day coupon book can be filled with coupons of things the kids can do that they typically see dad do, like take out the trash or shovel the snow. Not only will your kids think about the things that other people in their lives do that touch them, but your kids will gain a real sense of accomplishment when they realize how much they can do to make someone happy or give them a break.

Crafts with Kids

Frugal Gifts: Picture Frames

There are not many relatives who don’t enjoy receiving updated photos of the youngest generation, but you can make it even more special by working with your child to create a personalized, homemade frame for the picture. You can keep the project simple by heating up the glue gun, using an old cardboard box for the base and using items from your craft supplies (or junk drawer or toy box) that you already have on hand.

You’ll want to choose the picture before beginning so that you know what size frame to make. Whatever size picture you choose, cut out a piece of cardboard that give you one to two inches of border around the picture. This cardboard will be the base to which you glue the picture. You may want to paint or color the cardboard.

Once your picture is glued in the center of the cardboard backing, you can turn your child loose with their creativity. Do you have an old puzzle with missing pieces? Use the remaining pieces to glue around the picture to frame it. The same can be done with scraps of fabric, buttons, beads or even coins. Just glue the decoration of your choice in overlapping layers around the picture until you achieve the look you want.

Don’t be afraid to be creative; if the gift is for someone with a special hobby or interest, capture that interest with the way you decorate the frame. Use fishing gear for the fisherman in your life or acrylic fingernails and mini bottles of polish for your beautician aunt. Tap into the creative side of your boys by letting them create a frame with dinosaurs, insects or toy cars glued around the picture. No matter how you decorate it, a personalized picture frame is guaranteed to bring a smile.

Crafts with Kids

Spring into Spring with a Easy to Make Wreaths

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

If you’re one of those people who have a hard time putting away all the Christmas decorations because it’s so much fun to have the color and delight of the season, let Spring give you a new reason to decorate!

Go ahead and pack up the green and red … this spring project is all pastels. It’s so simple even your toddlers can help you, and it won’t cost much at all. To start, cut a piece of cardboard (a leftover Christmas box will work) into large circles. Cut a center circle out to form a wreath. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round.

Spring Wreath

Paint the cardboard any pastel color and let it dry (moms can do this part ahead of time if little ones will be helping assemble the wreaths). Using foam cutouts of flowers or, my favorite, silk flowers from an old arrangement, begin gluing your decorations around the cardboard. Make one layer, then begin again and make additional layers until you achieve the effect you’d like. Allow to dry.

Use a ribbon to make a hanger for your wreath. You can either tie the ribbon around the top of the wreath or punch a hole in the top and thread the ribbon through. Tie the ribbon in a loop and knot to make a hanger.

These wreaths are simple and quick enough to make many in one sitting. Give them out to friends and family; give them to your children’s teachers. You can even let your kids hang one in their bedroom! This project can be adapted to the major holidays: Valentines Day (replace the flowers with hearts), St. Patrick’s Day (replace the flowers with Shamrocks), Easter (replace the flowers with bunnies) … you get the idea.

The point is to have fun, give your kids something creative to do, and give your front door a fresh and welcoming look for Spring.


Mom’s Legacy

It’s almost Mother’s Day again. These years, Mother’s Day is very different for us. Our mom, Linda, died in 2006 after a long battle against cancer. Mother’s Day 2006 we could barely force ourselves to acknowledge the day because we were still grieving so terribly. The past years have been easier, but never without their moments of longing for just one more afternoon with mom. We’ve spent the beginning of each of the past three Mother’s Days at the cemetery, spending a moment connecting with mom by leaving flowers at her grave and telling her how much we miss her.  Now, Tiana is in Utah and I’m in New York – 2,500 miles away from where she was laid to rest.  We’ve realized over the last few years, though, that mom is with us all the time…and we owe her a debt of gratitude for the success we’ve had as moms and as stepmoms.

When mom was 11, her parents split up. This was in 1961, when divorce was not common. Technically, our grandpa took off, leaving our grandma with four kids, of whom our mom was the oldest. The youngest, our uncle, was only six weeks old.  Our grandma didn’t have any money, and our mom lived in poverty. After a time, she also got a step dad and a new sister (shortly after her 16th birthday), along with a long-distance move that left her spending her senior year in a high school full of strangers. She knew all about being a stepkid, about what it felt like to have a parent abandon her, and about how lost and lonely you can feel when your family disintegrates.

When I got married, not only did mom welcome my stepkids with the open, loving arms of a grandmother (Nana, the kids all called her) but she took a particular interest in trying to fill them up with love to wash away the pain they had experienced from having a parent choose a life away from them. As Tiana and I added kids of our own, she cherished them in ways that have left a lasting impression on all of her grandkids, all of whom remember her with joy and happy memories.

When I was first learning to be a stepmom, it was our mom who helped me do better. When I was exasperated because Dave and I couldn’t get a babysitter and get any time alone, she reminded me how much the kids needed to feel like I wanted them there. When I was frustrated because I felt like an outsider, she helped me understand what it must be like for the kids to have a stranger suddenly living with them. When I felt like my stepdaughter was trying to undermine my authority, she helped me realize how terrified Kira must have been to have her mom gone and only her dad to cling to.

When Tiana was having her babies, our mom was at her side. When her marriage fell apart, mom helped her deal with having four kids under 7 years old on her own. Whenever either of us needed advice, mom was the one we turned to first. With her gone, we rely on each other. I share with Tiana what I’ve learned about being a stepmom. We share memories of her and strive to honor her.

Our mom died because her heart gave out. The chemotherapy treatment was too much for her heart to handle. But we always think about how much her heart gave in the time she was with us…how she helped me open my heart and transform a little group of virtual strangers into a strong and loving family, how even my youngest daughter, who was only four when Mom died, still sings the songs she learned from Nana and still remembers cuddling with her, how each of us have inherited some of her strengths. She may be gone, but her gift of love lives on in us, in our children, and in the many people whose lives she touched.

It is in her spirit and memory that we have started MomsGetReal™.com … we want to share with others the joy that comes from motherhood – and share the laughter, tears, frustrations, and tear-your-hair-out moments that happen along the way. We hope you’ll join us.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (Nana). We love you and miss you so very much.