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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.

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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 Making Memories

Managing Three Generations Under One Roof

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

We have a much busier household than I ever imagined at this point. I assumed all my children being moved out, aside from my youngest at 15, with Dave and I wondering how to spend our time and what we would cook for three people instead of seven. Life had other ideas. It’s a good thing that we have a large house, because this is who is currently residing here: myself and my husband, Dave, our oldest daughter, her husband, my one-year-old granddaughter, my youngest son, and my youngest daughter. Needless to say, things get a little hectic in our three-generation household.

How do we juggle it all?

The most important part in navigating a three-generation household is to make sure that every voice is heard. It can be easy to get caught in the shuffle, and each one of us has had to compromise to make sure that everyone has what they need. Dave has one of the most difficult tasks, as he manages the kitchen and the very picky tastes of all who live here. Nonetheless, everyone has a meal that they can enjoy, and this is one of the rare times in the day that we all cram into the same space. Family time is valued, and we do try to sit down for a family movie when schedules allow.

We also prioritize individual time and space. It’s essential that we respect each other’s needs and wants, and with so many voices, it can be necessary to get away from it all. It’s not unusual for everyone to disappear into their own rooms, which is why family time is so important.

Everyone contributes.

With seven different schedules, it isn’t easy coordinating bathroom time, appointments, events, and more. We work together to support each other, whether that means my son-in-law picks up my daughter from school or Dave and I watching our granddaughter. Chores alternate between people and everyone cleans up after themselves.

There are so many benefits.

Despite the craziness of it all, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been lucky enough to get daily time with my first granddaughter, and she has the doting attention from several different adults that she adores. Dave and I are able to help our oldest daughter accomplish what her family needs, and she and her husband are around to keep the household standing when Dave and I want to take a mini-vacation.

A three-generation household is not easy, but this house is so full of love and laughter. I get more moments with my older children than I thought I would have, and I’m in no hurry to have an empty nest. There will come a time when our household is empty, and I will always cherish it being at maximum capacity, despite the stressful moments.

Categories
Stepparenting

Stepmoms: Just Be There with an Open Heart

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

It was heartbreaking for me watching our older kids wait for phone calls that never came, visits that never materialized, and relationships that never happened with their biological mother. I wanted nothing more than to magically go back in time and make them my own biologically. It was difficult to cope with, because in my head, they were my kids. Yet here was pain I couldn’t take away.

For whatever reason, not every biological parent expresses an interest in being a part of their children’s lives. It’s not a decision I can even pretend to understand, and it is one I still get angry about whenever I think of the pain our kids endured because of that choice.

For children, it is a devastating experience, creating feelings of guilt and low self-esteem. As a stepmom, you can’t help but feel powerless yourself.

There are definitely challenges with being a stepparent, especially when it comes to custody and visitation. Most of the stepmoms I talk to struggle more with the frustration of negotiating where children will go when and with whom they will spend precious moments. It can be stressful for all involved as you play tug-of-war.

In our case, we never really had to play that game. Instead, we were often spending holidays and birthdays doing our best to soothe aching hearts when their bio mom chose not to be involved or simply forgot. (How can you forget your child’s birthday?)

But I did learn that a stepmom cannot simply exist as a replacement. The best thing you can do is be supportive and assure your stepkids that they are loved — and that they are not responsible for the choices the adults make.

As a stepmom, what you can do is focus on making your relationship with your stepkids stronger, and with time and effort, you will be able to create something very special. Don’t try to replace the previous parent.  You can’t do it. But you can make your own space in your step children’s hearts.

Categories
Love

Blood Doesn’t Equal Family

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Think of the first five people that you would call in an emergency. Are they blood relatives? If they’re not, do you consider them to be part of your family? Family is not just about who you are tied to biologically.

Blood may be thicker, but your body is still made up of 70% water. You can’t live without either substance, and the makeup of your family probably isn’t much different. Unfortunately, there is still a misconception that biological ties are stronger than others. Family may be blood, but those who are not biologically related can still be family.

There is no clear definition anymore of what a family is, particularly with the way things are changing. Same-sex marriages are becoming legalized all over the country; high divorce and remarriage rates produce blended families. Adoption is common for all types of couples. And this isn’t even counting the “aunts” and “uncles” who aren’t really related but still an integral piece of the family unit.

I have learned firsthand that a family consists of those who care about and support you.Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean blood relatives. Many of the people who are my family share no blood connection to me whatsoever, including two of my sons and one of my daughters, my brother-in-law, and some dear friends who are as close to me as my own siblings.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and blood ties are optional.

Categories
Crafts with Kids

5 Arts And Crafts To Keep Your Kids Busy This Summer

It’s nearly the summer holidays, a time for kids and parents to share some quality bonding time and discover new activities together. Six weeks can be a long time, though, and parents can sometimes be short of ideas on how to keep both themselves and their children entertained for such a lengthy period.

Cinemas can only screen so many summer blockbusters whilst the thrill-a-minute world of theme parks and other activities are few and far between. Holidays abroad can be refreshing whilst a day at the beach can be equally as relaxing.

But the most thrilling thing a child can make use of is their imagination. A summer of arts and crafts not only helps their minds grow and complement their creative confidence, they’re also the perfect way for families to bond together as creative ideas freely flow.

Whether experienced crafters or people just entering the medium, we’ve come up with a list of five arts and crafts activities that will guarantee a great time, entertain and educate all at the same time!

Crafting CD’s and DVDs

Craft CD’s and DVDs are a fantastic family companion for those with a creative outlook. There are a huge range of craft CD’s and DVDs out there for people to create something inspiring with papercraft whilst having fun, whether it’s entering the exciting world of Beatrix Potter or bringing Humphrey’s Corner to life.

Papercrafting kits

Papercrafting is one of the most exciting and creative craft activities around and will keep children occupied for hours while they create their own fantasies and let their imaginations run wild. Papercraft kits from brands such as Hunkydory, Camden Town, Party Paws and many others offer a thrilling way for kids to explore their creative talents with only the finest materials and tools.

Decoupage

As fun as creating something with papercraft is the art of decoupage is another element entirely and can complement creative ideas with a huge range of materials. Combining the right accessories with stylish die cuts is the perfect way to add flair and glamour to new and existing creations. 3D kits are also available for those that really want to push their creative vision.

Embossing

Paper embossing can be a truly magical and inspiring creative activity for children and adults alike. The right eBosser will be able to work with most dies and embossing folders and will be able to cut multiple layers. Eye-catching raised paper patterns and designs can make for incredible birthday cards, invitations or just to make truly stunning pieces of artwork.

Die cutting

Die cutting with paper can produce some seriously creative results and is a fantastic way to create labels, signs, characters and a host of other splendid visual treats. Children can spend their summer creating phenomenal designs with a great range of brilliant die cutting machines on offer. From quilling to borders and more, kids are sure to push their creative boundaries with their own die cutting craft set.

Categories
Making Memories

Your Little One Deserves an Adventurous Birthday Party!

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Adventure is out there! If your kid loves the great outdoors, look no further than a backyard-sleepover birthday party. Let the cool, crisp air be your backdrop for the perfect outdoor party.

You can find some outdoor birthday party supplies from Shindigz or other online retail stores. Use the following tips to help create the perfect party for your child.

Make it a Movie Night Under the Stars

Pottery Barn has a simple tutorial online on how to make your own movie screen. All you need are two thick, white queen-size sheets, two large poles(one 1.5 feet diameter by 10 feet long and one 3 foot diameter by 10 foot long) and some rope with two different thicknesses.

  • Start with two queen-size ironed-flat sheets. Sew them together with white thread so the long sides are joined, creating a tube.
  • Insert the 1.5-inch-diameter pole and let the fabric hang down.
  • Attach the thicker rope to the ends of the top pole so that it can be attached to a tree or something sturdy. Once attached to a tree, slide the thicker pole through the tube created by the sewn sheets so that it creates a weight at the bottom of the screen.
  • Attach the thinner rope to the ends of the bottom pole. Insert two tent stakes directly beneath the bottom corners of the screen, tie the thinner rope to both of the tent stakes and pull tight. This will secure the screen.

Once you set up your screen, all you need is a projector and voila! You have a completed an outdoor theater. A few simple drinks, snacks and outdoor seating are all you need to enjoy the movie. For the seating, try chairs, air mattresses, plush cushions or large pillows.

Pop on a fun outdoor movie like “A Bug’s Life,” “The Jungle Book,”UP ” or “Surf’s Up.”

Sleep Under a Canopy Tent

Make it more comfortable for the little kiddos by supplying and plenty of blankets. Air mattresses are great because they will support the kids’ backs much better than sleeping bags on the ground. You can attach blankets, tarps or curtains to the sides of the tent to help make the space more enclosed. For a fun, outdoorsy atmosphere, place logs and small lanterns around the space, just in case they want to tell bedtime stories with creepy hand shadows.

Make a Treasure Hunt

Ahoy, mateys! For a fun birthday game, make a pirate-themed scavenger hunt. Divide the kids in teams of two or three and give each squad its own set of clues they will follow to find buried treasure, gold and prizes. This will be an action-packed game filled with fun, excitement and mystery. If some of the kids are having trouble, offer clues to help them along the way.

Another activity to consider is panning for gold. Use assorted rocks and minerals and hide them throughout the yard. This gives the kids a chance to find and learn about precious gems. Parents magazine suggests gathering an inexpensive stash of turquoise, malachite, copper, quartz and other colorful gems at the craft store. Have a shadow box for each guest so they can glue all the gems they find inside to have as keepsakes.

Categories
Family Let's Talk

The Polar Express Comes to Life this Holiday Season

All Aboard! The Polar Express comes to life this holiday season as the Saratoga & North Creek Railway rolls out of the station bound for the “North Pole!” Come early and climb aboard with your family to cozy-up and enjoy our festively-decorated vintage train cars. Dancing chefs deliver hot chocolate and a cookie to each guest to savor while music from the Polar Express movie plays en route to the North Pole. Make sure to have your tickets handy, because your conductor will be by shortly to punch each child’s ticket. Before arriving at the North Pole, the iconic book, The Polar Express is read as your Chef turns the pages to share the beautiful illustrations in the original book.

With the station far away, The Polar Express magically arrives at the outskirts of Santa’s North Pole village, where Santa Claus himself and his elves joyously welcome the train! As you stay comfortably settled and warm in your seat, Santa and his helper elf board the train! During the return trip, Santa will greet each child with his signature holiday spirit and the first gift of Christmas: a bell cut from his sleigh. It is said that only children and those who still believe can actually hear the bell ring. Join in the singing as your Chef or Conductor lead Christmas caroling on the 30-minute return trip. For those wanting the magic to last or to do a little Christmas shopping, visit our gift shop in the station for special Polar Express gifts and merchandise. Oh, one last thing, children are encouraged to wear their PJ’s; adults who still believe have been known to wear them, too! So, are you coming? All Aboard!

All Aboard the Polar Express is coming to the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, visit http://www.adirondackrr.com/adkrr/polar-express-utica/ or call 877-726-7245 to climb aboard.

Categories
Let's Talk Travel

MomsGetReal Roadtrip Day 21 – Monkey Butts and Mojitos

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

There is a golden rule when traveling that I forgot: charge the damn camera the night before the big outing to the zoo.

I didn’t.

We got about 14 steps inside and my camera informed me that my battery was exhausted. My $400, specially bought for this trip, 42x optical zoom camera that I bragged to my sister was better than her 26x optical zoom camera from the same maker. Except she was the one laughing all the way through the zoo as I said, “Please, sissy…you will share pictures, right?”

Love you, sissy! Thank you! (She did share, and more than that, showed what an amazing photographer she is.)

But this was the Oregon Zoo, and with or without a camera, it is amazing. The layout of the zoo is perfect, so that you can start at one point and walk around from one section to the next without a lot of backtracking. This is important when you’re herding your own group of wild animals. It’s completely wheelchair accessible, too, with the exception of a couple spots.

The fun of this zoo for me was that the last time I was there, Parker was 18 months old and Anika wasn’t yet born, so neither of them remembered it. Seeing their fascination with the animals and the fun they had sharing it with their cousins made the experience exceptional. Realizing that my sister is even more obsessed with animal watching than I am was hilarious. Reminiscing about going to the Boise Zoo (a fairly pathetic example of a zoo, but at one time with a display of Spider Monkeys that couldn’t be beat) with our mother, who would whoop and holler until the monkeys were in a frenzy, wondering if she was singularly responsible for the glass windows that were later installed to protect the viewers from monkey-poo. The monkeys here were just as entertaining, as well as slightly disgusting.

It was a fabulous day, made more special by sharing it with people we love spending time with. Utah is calling to us (my job is portable; Dave is a teacher still looking for work so the onus is upon us to do the moving).

We ended the night with a much-needed grown up night out, back at BJs for another delicious dinner and some watermelon mojitos that really hit the spot.

A perfect day.

Categories
Family Let's Talk Travel

MomsGetReal Roadtrip Day 16: Friday the 13th is Good Luck

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I typically do not like Friday the 13th, having inherited a bit of my mother’s superstitious nature. But this Friday the 13th was good luck from start to finish. Not only did Dave and the kids and I enjoy playing tourists in Newport (we went to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Wax Museum and wandered the Bayfront) but my dad and his wife (whom I had not seen for three years) and my sister and her family (whom I had not seen in a week – since we were at their house in Utah) arrived in Newport for a mini family reunion.

Having all of us together was pretty fabulous. Tiana’s in-laws came as well and we invaded Mo’s (famous along the Oregon Coast) for a fabulous dinner. If you ever get to go to Mo’s, you should definitely try the fish & chips (it comes with a cup of chowder and a huge hunk of sourdough bread). If you’re looking for lighter fare, they make a Caesar salad with Alaskan salmon that is to die for.

But it wasn’t about the food, as great as it was. It was about the 15 of us sitting there, laughing and visiting and having a great time. It was watching my kids with their cousins (and watching the cousins beg their Uncle Dave to let us move to Utah so that we could be closer all the time). It was about family.