Homemade Birthday Cakes

We’ve had some serious fun making B-day cakes over the years for the kiddos.  They haven’t always turned out quite the way they were imagined, but they were always delicious and always loved.  I think homemade B-day cakes are yummier, less expensive and a lot more personal than the store bought ones.  They might not always look better, but they are like an extra “I love you” to the birthday person.  Here are some of my homemade beauties and not so beauties of the past.


This number 1 cake was for my little boy when he turned 1.  It was super easy to make by just cutting up a 13×9 inch cake into the necessary shapes, laying it out, then frosting and decorating it.  The other kids helped with the sprinkles and eating the leftover cake scraps.


This puppy dog cake was made with 2 round cakes.  One for the face, and the other for the ears and collar.  We used Whoppers for the eyes and nose, and jelly beans for the collar.  You can see how the kids “cleaned” the frosting off the tray with their fingers.  (mmmm…germs)


This Barbie cake was one of my favorites.  It was made by baking the cake in two round bowl shaped pans, then stacked and carved until it looked like it could be the bottom of a dress.  The fun part was jamming the naked Barbie into the cake.  Then we gave her a frosting dress.  It turned out cute, and my daughter loved it.


This truck cake was trickier than it looks.  It was made with one cake baked in a loaf pan, and the other baked in a square or 13×9 pan (sorry, I can’t remember.)  It was then carved to look truckish.  We used donuts for the wheels, and crushed up cookies mixed with chocolate frosting for the dirt and mud.  The grass was green colored coconut, and the windows were blue Airheads, flattened, and cut into window shapes.


This is supposed to be a Gotham City cake.  I baked a couple of cakes, then cut and stacked them to form buildings.  I’m pretty sure there’s some chopsticks in there holding it all together.  Then it was frosted gray.  Using a toothpick, I created some outlines of bricks.  The windows and doors are yellow Starbursts and chocolate bars.  There’s marshmallows for Mr. Freeze, and red and yellow sprinkles for Flash’s fire path.  We topped it off with a Bat Signal made from construction paper, and put all the Imaginext super heroes on the cake.  It’s a little saggy and slopey, but the little boy thought it was totally cool, and his was the only opinion that mattered to me.


This was an ice cream cake that I made in a spring-form pan.  Ice cream cakes are surprisingly easy to make.  I made an Oreo crumb crust, filled it with softened vanilla ice cream, then decorated it with sundae toppings and placed it into the freezer to firm up.  It was delicious and great for a summer birthday when you don’t want to turn on the oven.


I made these when my boy was seriously into Indiana Jones.  If you are unaware, they eat chilled monkey brains in the first movie, so I decided to make monkey brain cakes.  First I baked little round cakes for the heads (I think I baked them in mugs).  Then I frosted them gray.  I used black food coloring to make black coconut for the fur.  Chocolate chips for the eyes and black icing for the face.  The brains are whipped cream with mashed up strawberries.  They looked so weird and gross, that nobody wanted one at first.  Ha ha, success!  They did taste really good though.


This was my birthday pie that my kids and husband made.  (okay, okay, I helped.)  They did a really good job, especially considering they didn’t cheat and use store-bought pie crust.  Aren’t I lucky?  Although not a cake, it still counts as a birthday cake in my opinion.

There have been many more than this over the years (hello, 4 kids), but these are the ones that I could find pictures of.  Ugh, so lazy and disorganized.  Someday I’ll get it together.


Cute Candy Valentines

I made these sweet valentines for my kids last year using chocolate candies and scrap book paper.  Scrap book paper can be found at your local craft stores.  You can buy it in stacks of about 200 sheets for about 10 bucks!  There are many different patterns in each stack.  It is our go-to paper for all card making and other crafts.

These valentines were easy and fun to make.  Just cut out cute shapes of your paper, and glue them on the way you want.  Add chocolate candies to embellish your design.  I used chocolate hearts and kisses.



The kids were delighted to get these when they got home from school on Valentines Day.

Some other fun gift ideas for the kiddos on V-day are:

Coupon Books – make your own paper coupons for the kids to “spend”.  You can make them for things like a treat at the store, their choice of dinner night, hugs and kisses (my fav), read a story, trip to the mall (ugh), etc.

Scavenger Hunt – hide clues around the house making sure each clue leads to the next hidden clue.  At the end of the hunt, have the last clue point to the “treasure” (a small box of candy or a valentine gift).

Happy Valentines Day!  Love to you all!

Books to Inspire a Lifetime of Reading

First of all, I have to say that books are way better than any TV show, movie, or video game.  Even for just entertainment value alone, they’re better.  They can transport you to another time and place, even into another life!  They can make you laugh, cry, scared shitless, or fall in love.  They’re portable, pausable, cheap or free (with a library card), free of commercials and advertisements, cordless, and they won’t ask you for your email address.  When you add in all the educational benefits, such as reading and writing skills, improved vocabulary, spelling, grammar, empathy, and depending on the genre, history, geography, sciences, and every other subject known to man,  I would say there’s no question of their worth and importance.

So, how do we get our children to discover this great and wonderful world of literature?

I have to admit, there’s some sort of break, or stepping stone that is or was missing between Mommy reading picture books to the little ones, and the point when they would seek out books that they actually like and have the skill to read to themselves.  I don’t know if my kids just didn’t like the type of stories available in the early reader books, or if they just didn’t have the reading skills necessary yet to truly enjoy them.  When reading is frustrating and feels like a chore, it’s hard to love books.

Step one is finding a book that your kid will like.  This is probably the hardest step for most parents and kids.  I realized that just because I liked reading it when I was their age, doesn’t mean that they will get into it.  But I’ll share with you my childhood favorites along with the ones that my older kids really enjoyed.

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls-Wilder –  My mom got me the set, and I think I read them all in 3rd grade.  I liked these books because they were easy to read, and I loved learning about the way people lived back in the pioneer days.

 Charlotte’s Web & Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White – Beautifully written, adorably fun books personifying animals that appeal to young readers.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Just an amazing story with characters your kids will become best friends with.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis –  Awesome adventure books for boys and girls.  These books opened my eyes to the possibility of a fantasy world.  By the time I was done reading these, I remember wanting to marry C.S Lewis so he could tell me stories all night long.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I have wonderful memories reading these books with my mom.  We would take turn reading chapters as we laid side by side in her big cosy bed.  I know she loved these books as much as I did, maybe even more!

Warriors by Erin Hunter – Autumn’s first favorite books.  She would spend hours reading these books which was amazing to me after years of struggling to get her to do her daily reading requirement for school.  These books are really good though.  I read a few of them myself, and they remind me of Native American tribes, but they’re cats!  Very cool idea.  No wonder they’re so popular with both boys and girls.

Maximum Ride by James Patterson – Gabby’s first favorite books.  She started reading these in 5th grade and couldn’t wait for he next one to come out so she could read it in one day!  These books are full of action and the characters are mysterious, powerful and hilariously rude.  Great books for teens and pre-teens.

This short list is only a few of the great books that are out there for reluctant readers to get started on.  When your child finds out how awesome reading can be, they will be readers for life.  So once you’ve gotten all the good books you and your kids picked out, they have to actually make time to read them.  There are so many more entertaining distractions now a days then there were when I was a kid.  (And I’m only 36!)

One of the ways my parents got me to want to read was with a bedtime rule.  This was before most kids had TVs in their bedrooms, so it was probably a little easier for them.  But we had to go to bed at 9 o’clock, and we were allowed to read ’till 10.  Since we weren’t that tired yet at 9, and there was nothing else to do, we read.  Though I would usually keep reading till I fell asleep, and probably strained my eyes too much trying to read in the dark after my parents told me “lights out”.  It might be a little harder these days for us to get our kids to turn off all devices and pick up a book, but if we stick to our guns and make it a rule, it will work.  Someday your kids will thank you for it.

Another way to help your young reader enjoy the books they want to read but might be getting stuck on, is to read with them.  I know it’s easier said than done, and I don’t know how my mom found time to do it with us 4 kids.  It is my goal this year to schedule 30 min. a day to read with my 10 yr old.  She hasn’t found her love of books yet.  She likes some of them, but she’s not in love.  When you know, you know.  Since she isn’t very motivated to find her true love, Momma’s gonna have to but in and help her.

Then, look out little boy… you’re next!  Ha ha ha!  (Too creepy?  Yeah, I think I went a little too far there.  Sorry about that.)

So, what are your family’s favorite books for all the young readers out there searching for something great?

Best Toys List

I wanted to write a post about the best toys we’ve ever had or those of you looking for some good ideas for Christmas presents.  These are toys that have have stood the test of time, and are the most played with and the most enjoyed by all my kids.  They aren’t the newest, and most high-tech toys, but I think they’re the ones that no kid should grow up without.

  • #1 Toy Kitchen– Our kitchen is the best, most played with toy we have.  We got our play kitchen back in 2002.  It’s a little beat up, and has needed some tightening of the screws from time to time, but considering the amount of use we’ve gotten out of it, it’s still in pretty good condition.  My kids play house, store, or restaurant with it, they pretend to cook, and make us delicious meals.  They even make food out of play-doh, and pretend to bake it in their kitchen.  Add a cash register (another good toy to have), and your kids will be entertained with imaginative play for hours.

Play Kitchen    Open Kitchen    Boy with Kichen

We got ours from Target about 10 years ago, I believe it’s a Melissa and Doug toy.  If you’re looking for something similar, here’s what I would recommend: Melissa and Doug Cook’s Corner Wooden Kitchen, or Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen
Cook's Corner Wooden Play Kitchen
                        Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen

  • #2 Building Blocks- Legos, Mega Blocks, wooden blocks, etc.  They’re all fun.  We started out with wooden blocks and some Mega Blocks when the kids were little.  As they got older, Grandma bought them a big bin of Legos (just watch out for little pieces if you have babies boppin’ around).  Since then, we’ve added some Lego building sets over the years, and now have a pretty big assortment.  Most of the Lego sets started off being built according to the directions, and were fun to play with.  As they fell apart, they’ve been used to build other things.  Watch The Lego Movie, then you’ll feel better about that.  By the way, I have to mention the Lego movies and video games are fantastic too and enjoyable for the whole family.

Lego Bin    Legos    Boy with Legos

Here are the Lego Bucket and Wooden Block Set that I would recommend getting started with:


  • #3 Wooden Train Track

We got our first wooden train set from Grandma when our oldest child was little.  Grandma got it for her because all of her kids liked theirs so much.  It wasn’t something our little girl had asked for, but when she saw it, her eyes lit up, and she played with it daily for hours at a time.  We’ve added some more tracks and trains over the years which has been easy since it seems they’re all universal and fit pretty well with each other. It’s not only fun to set up, but the kids have to use their sense of ingenuity to figure out how to put the pieces together to make it work.  Once it’s all set up, they can play and pretend the train is making deliveries and what not.  Add their building blocks to the mix, and they can set up a whole town!

Train Set    Kids Train Set    Train

Here’s one I found on Amazon that looks pretty good:

  • #4 Schleich Animals

Schleich animals are awesome!  They’re durable, educational, very realistic looking, and offer some great imaginative adventures to be had.  We started our collection when our little horse-loving girls wanted some toy horses to play with.  They had a few Breyer horses, which are also nice, but the Schleich line has so many more animal choices.  After a few birthdays and Christmasses, we had a decent size collection.  These animals are one thing my kids still haven’t out grown.  They love to dump out the bin, and organize the animals into groups, then they set them up, and play!  They have all different animals from all over the world, even mythical ones like unicorns, fairies, and dragons.

Schleick Horses 100_0862 100_0868


We’ve had different doll houses and even barns over the years.  Some things we’ve had to get rid of when we’ve moved due to space.  Right now we have this Barbie house.  It has it’s pros and cons, but in general, doll houses are lots of fun.  I would suggest getting one that’s big enough to fit dolls the size of Barbies, since they’re such a popular toy, if you have girls.  My little boy has the Imaginext Bat Cave, which is basically like a dollhouse for Batman and his other guys.  They’re fun to set up, and my kids play little scenarios inside and out of their houses/playsets.


If I had it to do over again, I would probably get one like this KidKraft Sparkle Mansion.  It looks huge, and it costs less than what I paid for our Barbie one:

  • #6 Keyboard

Keyboards are great for little kids because they don’t have to know how to play it to make some beautiful music.  As they get older, they can learn the notes and once they learn how to read music, they can play actual songs on it.  Most keyboards also have buttons that play prerecorded songs and drum beats.  They also have buttons that change the sounds of the music to sound like all different kinds of instruments.  My kids like to jam out on it and dance to the music.  It’s a great way to introduce music to your children’s lives at a young age, and they are so proud of themselves when they can show off the songs they’ve made.  I’ve always wanted a piano in the house, but never had the space or money for one.  Keyboards are a great alternative, and relatively inexpensive depending on what you’re looking for.

Keyboard    Boy Playing Keyboard    Keyboarding

This 54 Keys Keyboard Electronic Digital Piano looks like it would be good for kids to play on, and not too expensive:

This year, I’d like to get the kids one of those easels with the paper on one side, and chalkboard on the other. I’m thinking about getting this one from Melissa and Doug:


Any recommendations?

What are some of the great toys your family has enjoyed playing with?

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to teach your kids the value of feeling gratitude for what they have.  I know when I think about the things in my life that I’m thankful for, I get a sense of peace and happiness.  I want my kids to feel this way too.  Instead of always focusing on what we don’t have, or what we want,  it feels so good to be reminded of what we already have.  Sometimes, your kids may even remind you of some things you didn’t even realize you’ve been taking for granted.

Thankful Sign

To get the whole family focusing on the things we’re thankful for, I wrote “We’re Thankful For…” on our dry erase board, and left it blank.  It wasn’t long before it was filled up with words and phrases written by my kids.  Some of the things they wrote were silly and weird like “Coco’s wiener” (our dog, Coco is a girl, and therefore doesn’t have a wiener, but she does have an outie belly button that apparently my kids are thankful for), but they also wrote some nice things like home and family.  Regardless of what they actually wrote, at least I got my kids thinking about what they’re thankful for.


If you don’t have a dry erase board, you can use a poster board or make a really cute bulletin board with little note tags like the one I found here on rageagainsttheminivan.com:

DIY Thanksgiving “Gratitude Board”

Another cute idea is to make a Thanksgiving Tree.  You can use sticks and branches to make a little “tree” for hanging paper leaves with things that you’re thankful for written on them like this one:

thankful tree

Bring Awareness of the Less Fortunate

Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own lives, that we’re simply unaware of those that suffer daily from lack of the basic necessities of life like clean water, food and shelter.  A good way to bring awareness to our kids, and spark the desire to help others is to show them pictures and movies of the children growing up without the things that most people take for granted. By actually seeing the way less fortunate people live will help our children appreciate what they have.  Just be aware that some videos and pictures could be very disturbing, so make sure you watch them first, and decide whether or not they are appropriate for your little viewers.  I liked this one called  The Bedrooms of Children Around the World from a book by James Mollison:

Give Thanks by Giving Back

Encourage your kids to volunteer their time and help donate to the less fortunate.  With Christmas approaching, it’s a great time to teach children that it is better to give than to receive.  There are so many great charities out there for kids to get involved in.  My kid’s schools are frequently asking for donations for food banks, health related charities, and even a playground fund.  Your little ones can help out by visiting nursing homes or animal shelters.  Little kids love to drop change into the Salvation Army bell ringer’s kettle outside the stores.  Lots of families like to volunteer annually at soup kitchens, and/or homeless shelters.  I grew up in a very religious household where we were always volunteering at places like The Ronald McDonald House, and a farm where we helped harvest food for the needy, and I really enjoyed the feeling that I got from helping others.

Service doesn’t have to be organized.  Raking leaves or shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor is just as helpful and important.  You can take walks around the neighborhood and pick up litter as you go.  Extend an invitation for Thanksgiving dinner to someone you know who might be all alone this holiday.  Have your kids use their imaginations and brainstorm their own service projects to help others.  Just make sure they’re age appropriate for your little givers.

What are some of the ways your family remembers to give thanks?

Happy Thanksgiving, from our family to yours!

Old Movies Your Kids Should See

Looking for some good movies to watch with your kids?  Here’s a list of our favorite old movies.  There’s something about sharing the old classics that we grew up watching, that makes them even more enjoyable seeing them again through the eyes of our children.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

–  The Wizard of Oz is definitely one of our favorites.  It’s full of amazing characters, has an exciting story, and the songs are wonderfully catchy.  The Wizard of Oz is about a young girl, named Dorothy, who gets caught in a tornado with her dog , Toto.  They end up landing in the magical land of Oz.  While she’s there, she meets some friends who help her in her quest to find the Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard is supposed to be able to get her back home and grant her friends the gifts that they desire.  After defeating a pretty scary wicked witch, they find out The Wizard is a fraud.  Dorothy eventually makes it back home learning that the power to get what she wanted was with her all along, and that there’s no place like home.

Dumbo (1941)

–  Dumbo is an adorable story that your kids will love.  It has some pretty sad parts in it, but also some silly ones.  Your little kids probably wont notice this, but my older kids thought it was weird that Dumbo gets drunk.  Oh, well, Dumbo is about a cute little circus elephant who is constantly ridiculed because of his huge ears.  When his mother tries to stick up for him, she is locked up and considered dangerous.  Dumbo is all alone until he meets Timothy Q. Mouse who quickly becomes his friend.  The mouse feels sorry for Dumbo and convinces him that his ears are a blessing.  Dumbo has to truly believe in himself to triumph in the end.  “The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.“- Walt Disney

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

–  It’s a Wonderful Life is an uplifting movie that your older kids will like.  The younger kids might not understand what’s going on, and there’s not many attention-grabbing events in it to keep them entertained.  But, it’s a great movie to watch with the family, especially at Christmas time.  George Bailey is a nice guy who has always put others needs before his own.  When everything in his life seems to be going wrong, and he thinks he’s a failure, he contemplates suicide.  He decideds that everyone he loves would be better off if he had never been alive.  But the prayers of his loved ones result in an angel named Clarence coming to earth to help George, with the promise of earning his wings.  He shows George what things would have been like if he had never been born.  The town is horrible and the ones George loves are either dead, ruined, or miserable.  He realizes that he has touched many people in a positive way and that life is wonderful.

 Old Yeller (1954)

–  This movie brings me to tears every time we watch it.  It’s about two boys and their mother, who live on a farm (the father leaves to go on a cattle drive).  The older brother, Travis, is trying his best to do everything his father would want him to do, and the younger brother, Arliss, is busy playing in the mud and capturing little creatures.  When a big yellow lab shows up on their land, little Arliss is ecstatic, and wants to keep him.  Travis thinks the dog is trouble, and tries to get rid of him.  After Old Yeller proves himself worthy, Travis and he become good friends.  Old Yeller saves their lives more than once, and then tragically becomes infected with rabies.  The ending is sad, but after their father comes home, he helps Travis put things in perspective, and Travis learns that he should remember the good times he had with Old Yeller, and that his life is better off having known him.

Pollyanna (1960)

– This movie was one of my daughter, Gabby’s, favorites when she was only 3 years old.  Having watched it again, recently, I think it’s kind of weird for a 3 year old to like it so much.  It starts out kind of slow, with subtle changes in the attitudes of the people Pollyanna comes in contact with.  Pollyanna is a little girl who’s parents have died, and she comes to live with her rich Aunt Polly.  Pollyanna is super nice to everyone and soon the whole town loves her.  She plays the glad game, and teaches it to all her friends.  The movie picks up at the end with the excitement of the town fair. After the fair, Pollyanna gets hurt pretty badly and loses her positive attitude.  Aunt Polly, who was kind of mean to her in the beginning,  realizes how precious Pollyanna really is and gets everyone help to cheer her up again.  I like it, because it teaches about the power of kindness and positive thinking.

Mary Poppins (1964)

–  Mary Poppins is a fun movie with great songs and dance numbers.  Mary Poppins is a nanny with magic powers who comes to the Bank’s residence at the request of the children, Jane and Michael, who really just want someone to love and care for them.  While she’s there, they have fun adventures, but the whole time she’s teaching them all these lessons.  The parents, who were too busy with their own lives before, learn that their children are growing up fast, and they should be spending more time with them before it’s too late.  It all works out in the end, and they all go fly kites.  This movie is really full of all kinds of important life lessons that both kids and parents will pick up on.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

–  The original movie is much better than the newer one called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my opinion.  It’s about a poor little boy named Charlie Bucket who wins a golden ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.  There, Charlie meets the other winners who are all spoiled little brats.  They all go through the crazy factory guided by the strange Willy Wonka.  Each child is disposed of according to their misconducts except Charlie.  Charlie has the chance to sabotage Mr. Wonka, and get some much needed money for his family, but he decides to do the right thing.  In the end, Charlie is rewarded for all his good deeds, and his family never needs to worry about money again.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. is a story about an alien who gets left behind on Earth, and the little boy who finds him.  The little boy, Elliot, becomes friends with the alien and they start to communicate.  His brother and sister help him hide E.T. and keep him a secret.  E.T. makes a device to contact his alien friends, but soon he gets very sick.  Because of the connection Elliot shares with E.T., Elliot becomes sick too.  All the kids help E.T. escape the task force that is out searching for him, and help him return to his home planet.  The lesson here is that we should help each other, no matter how different we are.

The Goonies (1985)

–  The Goonies is a great adventure story about a group of kids who go hunting for lost pirate treasure.  It’s one the whole family will love although, it does have a few swear words in it.  I actually caught my little boy quoting the movie and had to explain why he can’t say certain words.  No big deal though, this movie is worth it.  So, the Goonies (Mikey, Brand, Mouth, Data, Andy, Steph, and Chunk) find this secret treasure map, and decide to find the treasure and use it to save their homes from being demolished.  They enter this hidden cave, and follow the map, past booby traps left by One-Eyed Willy the pirate.  The whole time they are being chased by a creepy family of criminals called the Fratellis.  One of the Fratelli brothers is Sloth, a huge, disfigured, scary looking guy who was kept as a prisoner in the Fratelli’s basement.  Sloth is cool though, and becomes friends with Chunk.  He decides to help the Goonies at the end, and they are able to save their homes.  The Goonies never give up, and never say die.

What’s your family’s favorite old movie?

10 Healthy Foods for Picky Kids

Getting kids to eat healthy isn’t easy.  I don’t know about your family, but most of the so called “Kid Friendly Recipes”  out there are full of stuff my kids wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  Never mind the fact that they consist of things mixed together.  My kids freak out if their foods are just touching on their plates.  If your kids are as picky as mine, rest assured, there are ways to make sure your kids are getting the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to grow up healthy.  Here’s a list of healthy foods that most kids will eat happily.

1.  Apples- Cut them into slices, chips, or chunks.  Dip them in peanut butter or caramel sauce.   Eat them as apple sauce sprinkled with cinnamon.  There are lots of ways to get your kids to eat apples.  Apples contain antioxidants (disease-fighting compounds) and water-soluble fiber (pectin).  Studies have shown that apples’ amazing combination of polyphenols (phytonutrients) and pectins are what make them so beneficial.  Apples can help protect your kids from cardiovascular diseases as well as asthma and lung cancer.  They also help regulate blood sugar and help prevent cancer (especially colon and breast cancer).  Other benefits include the prevention of  several age-related health problems, including macular degeneration of the eye and neurodegenerative problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s clear we should all be eating more of this delicious fruit.  The wise old phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” has some truth to it after all.

2.  Sweet Potatoes-  Try them roasted, baked, pureed, or mashed.  Most kids like sweet potatoes ’cause they’re sweet,  but their natural sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream, helping to ensure a balanced and regular source of energy, without the blood sugar spikes linked to fatigue and weight gain. Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates and potassium which helps regulate heartbeat and nerve signals.  They contain iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B6, as well as carotenoids.  These vitamins and minerals are known to prevent cancer, help build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin, and teeth, and play an important role in our energy levels, and moods. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of magnesium necessary for healthy artery, blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function, yet experts estimate that approximately 80 percent of the population in North America may be deficient in this important mineral.

3.  Chicken-  Chicken is delicious, nutritious, versatile, and inexpensive.  Kids will love it roasted and sliced, as homemade nuggets, and made into soup.  Chicken is a one of the best foods for growing children.  Protein is key to the human diet, especially for kids, because the body uses it to create new cells and maintain or repair existing cells.  It also contains amino acids that helps children to grow taller and stronger. Chicken is also a good source of niacin , which aids in metabolism; vitamin B6, important to immune system and blood sugar level maintenance; biotin , which helps cell growth; and vitamin B12, which is involved in nerve cell and red blood cell maintenance. Chicken also contains iron for oxygen transport and cell growth and zinc for immune system functioning and DNA synthesis.

4.  Blueberries- My kids love blueberries.  We eat them like candy all summer long, while they’re fresh and relatively inexpensive.  During the off season, I sometimes buy frozen blueberries and make smoothies or just mix them into plain or vanilla yogurt.  They’re also a great addition to pancakes and baked goods. With flavors that range from mildly sweet (cultivated) to tart and tangy (wild), blueberries are nutritional stars bursting with nutrition and flavor while being very low in calories.  Blueberries are rich in fiber, and are ranked as one of the highest in antioxidants and phytonutrients. (Especially organic blueberries, if you can afford them.)  Antioxidants combat free radicals and boost the immune system.  Blueberries have been shown to improve nervous system and general brain health as well as improving memory.  They’re also good for your eyes and actually help protect the human eye from damage by sunlight and oxidative stress.

5.  Yogurt-  Smooth, creamy, and delicious.  Yogurt should be one of your child’s first foods.  Most babies can start eating plain, unsweetened, pasteurized, whole-milk yogurt after they start eating solids – at around 6 months. Plain Greek yogurt is fine too (and the more live cultures, the better for your baby’s stomach).  Your kids will love it blended in smoothies,or just mixed with some fruit and sweetened with a little honey, when they’re older, for some additional health benefits.  You can also replace some if the oil with yogurt in your favorite muffin recipes.  Your yogurt eaters will also get a dose of animal protein (about 9 grams per 6-ounce serving), plus several other nutrients found in dairy foods, like calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium. Besides being a great source of calcium and vitamin D, yogurt may help lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.  Tummy troubles?  The probiotics (beneficial bacteria) in some yogurts balance the microflora in their gut, which can aid with digestion as well as keeping them regular.

6.  Eggs-  Scrambled, over-easy, hard-boiled, poached or made into an omelet.  Eggs are cheap, easy, versatile, and can be added to pretty much any combo of meat and veggies to make a complete meal.  My kids love them just scrambled or fried. (Remember, they don’t like their foods mixed.)  Eggs are a great source of nutrition for kids because of their high quality proteins and amino acids which are essential when kids are forming new muscle tissue as they grow.  Whole eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet, containing a little bit of almost every nutrient we need like vitamin A, Folate, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B12, vitamin B2, phosphorus and Selenium.   A single egg contains 100 mg of choline which is used to build cell membranes.  Egg consumption consistently leads to elevated levels of HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, which is linked to a reduced risk of many diseases like heart disease and stroke.  Omega-3 enriched and/or pastured eggs are even healthier, containing even more vitamin A and E and  omega-3s which lower triglycerides.

7.  Oats-  A steaming bowl of oatmeal is so good on a chilly morning. Sprinkle it with some cinnamon to help regulate blood sugar, or cocoa powder for even more health benefits. Research shows that kids who eat oatmeal are better able to concentrate and pay attention in school.  Kids love snacking on granola bars and oatmeal cookies. Make your own to control the amount of sugar consumption.  Fiber-rich whole grains, like oats, digest slowly, providing kids with a steady stream of energy.  Oats are not only good for your heart, and gluten free, but also reduce the risk of asthma in children.  The beta glucans in oats boost defenses of the immune system against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.  Eating oats can also keep your kids feeling fuller, longer.  so, you’ll hear less of  that “Mommy, I’m hungry,” stuff.

8.  Almonds-  I know not every kid likes almonds and some might be allergic, but since they’re so nutritious, and my kids like them so much, I wanted to include them on this list.  Nuts are full of healthy fats, which kids need for growth and development, as well as for heart health.  Almonds are also rich in nutrients, including magnesium, vitamin E, iron, calcium, fiber, and riboflavin.   Almonds have more fiber than any other tree nut.  Almonds help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and could help you live longer and lower a your risk of death from heart disease and cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

9.  Spinach-  My kids like to eat raw baby spinach leaves.  Since they don’t like salad, that works for me.  They will also eat it steamed with butter and a little salt.  There are a million other ways to enjoy this super healthy vegetable, but these are the only ways my kids will eat it.  Sometimes you have to pick your battles.  Anyway, spinach is so good for them because it’s full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  It is a good source of vitamins A, B2, C and K, and also contains magnesium, manganese, folate, iron, calcium and potassium.  Spinach combats cancers  like breast, prostate and skin. Spinach has been shown to also increase muscle efficiency.  No wonder Popeye drank it from a can?

10.  Tomatoes-  The only way my kids will eat tomatoes, is in tomato sauce and ketchup.  Even though we had a million tomatoes from our garden this year, my kids hate the taste of raw tomatoes.  Whether they eat them raw or made into a sauce, they’re still healthy.  Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C and folic acid. Tomatoes contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, including alpha-lipoic acid, lycopene, choline, folic acid, beta-carotene and lutein.  They help reduce the risk of heart disease, support bone health, and have anti-cancer benefits.  So rest assured, when your kids are eating a big plate of spaghetti, or even some pizza, they’re getting their vitamins.  Just don’t skip the sauce!

Be a Better Parent

In this journey of parenthood, we might ask ourselves if we’re doing the right things, or if we’re totally screwing up our kids.  Are we giving our children enough attention, or too much?  Are we making the best decisions for them?  Are we giving them too much freedom, or not enough?  Are we giving them too many responsibilities, or not enough?  We all want the best for our kids, and want them to turn out to be happy, productive, secure, and healthy adults.

The answers to these questions aren’t in this blog.  If you truly want to be better parents, stop reading this right now.  Get off your computer, tablet, or phone.  Turn off whatever device your kid is currently playing or viewing.  Spend time interacting with your child.  Get to know them better.  You will find the answers to your questions and so much more.

Ask them Questions–  Really listen to them, offer your own personal advice.  Tell them stories of your own childhood.  You must create that personal bond with your child.  Reading parenting tips on the internet can’t do that for you.

Spend Time Together–  Do things with your children to create long lasting memories.  It doesn’t have to be anything major, like a camping trip.  Play board games, card games, tell jokes, read books.  Too busy?  Have them help you make dinner, even the youngest child can stir something.

Teach Them–  Even in the Google age, kids don’t know, and probably aren’t Googling, the important things they need to know about.  Teach them how to live.  Part of this is leading by example.  But some things about how the world works are still a mystery to them.  Things like how to apply for a job, how to know when you’re in love, how to open a bank account, how to rent their first apartment or choose a college are not taught to them in school.  It’s your job as a parent, to teach these things.  Obviously these lessons are not for toddlers, but there are other life lessons that they could be taught.  How to make a friend, how to entertain themselves, how to use the potty, etc.  When you’re giving your kids knowledge, you’re giving them a gift.  Your giving them confidence.  They now know that they can come to you with any question, and if you don’t know either, you can Google it together!

Get Involved at School–  You might not be able to volunteer as a room parent, but make it a point to get to know their teachers.  Attend Open House and parent-teacher conferences.  Have them invite their school friends over, and talk to them.  Make sure your kids are doing their homework.  Help them study for tests.  Ask them about what they’re learning in school.  They might even be able to teach you something!

Plan for the Future–  Make lists with your child.  Plan their next birthday party, a family fun day, a trip, a garden, even something simple like dinners for the week, anything that will engage them in the activity.  You’ll learn that they have great ideas of their own.  They will learn that you value them and their ideas.  Ask them what they want to be when they grow up.  Tell them the steps that can be taken now, so that they can reach their goals for the future.

Follow Through–  Make all your planning become a reality.  By doing this, you’re building their trust.  Get them involved in the whole process.  The invitations, the shopping, the searching, and the preparing.   It will give you even more time to spend with them, and strengthen that bond.

When you truly know your child, and they know you, you will have all the answers you need.

Punishing with Sentences

Hitting them is just wrong.

Yelling does’t work.

When your kids are little, and they misbehave, Time-outs are great.  They remove your child from the situation, give them time to cool off, and hopefully think about what they did wrong.  Then you come and talk to them, and can reinforce what the proper behavior should have been in that situation.  But, time-outs can get tedious, and once your kids stop resenting you for putting them on time-out, they are probably just sitting there daydreaming about something else completely.  Over the past 16 years, I’ve discovered a better way to punish.

Writing sentences works.

As soon as your child is old enough to hold a pencil or even one of those jumbo crayons, you can have them write sentences.  It’s like a time-out, but with a little kick.  Instead of having your kid sit there, and stare at the wall, you sit them down at the table with paper and a pencil.  Depending on their age, you be the judge of how many sentences they are required to write before they can get up and be on their merry way.  As a general rule of thumb, I usually have them write as many sentences as years they have been on the earth.  If they’re 4, they write 4 sentences, if they’re 7, they write 7 and so on until they’re about 10.  If they’re still having behavioral issues by the time they’re 10, you need to kick it up a notch and start having them write double what their age is.  This is just because by the time they’re 10, in my opinion, they should know better.

“What do I have them write,” you say?  Well, you have them write “I will not” and then whatever it was that they did wrong.  My favorite is “I will not tell my mom I hate her.”  Aren’t they so sweet sometimes?  I have had to add that one to the other sentence they were already writing because I don’t put up with that kind of crap.  But “I hate you” sometimes slips out as soon as they realize that you’re serious, and they’re going to be sitting there for a while writing sentences.

The reason I like this form of punishment is because it works!  It kills many birds with one stone.  I already mentioned that it serves as a kind of time out.  It also keeps them focused on the unwanted behavior that they have demonstrated and helps them remember not to do it again.  Another thing it does, is it helps them improve their handwriting.  If they try to scribble it down really fast, just to get the punishment over with, they have to do it again.  Obviously if they’re too little to write neatly, because they’re still learning how to print, then it’s not going to be pretty.  You know what your child is capable of, don’t accept anything less that their own personal best work.  When my kids were too young to know how to make their letters, I would write a sentence for them to copy and said it out loud as I was writing it, so they would know what they were writing and how to write it.  That goes for 3rd and 4th graders who are learning cursive.

Writing sentences has been the best form of punishment that I’ve been able to come up with.  Usually, after they’ve been punished this way a few times, the very mention of writing sentences will stop your kids from doing what you don’t want them to do.  Their teachers will thank you too.  The image of Bart Simpson scribbling sentences on the chalkboard just popped into my head.  Okay, so maybe sentences didn’t work for Bart, but since your kids aren’t fictional characters, I think you should give it a try.  Good luck!

Getting Kids to Help With Housework

It’s 10:19 on a Saturday morning.  My husband, Gary, just left to open his store and then is off to his brother’s bachelor party to play Airsoft at Buffalo Battleground.  Half of my kids are still sleeping(the teenagers) and the other half are already playing Minecraft on the computer.  I’m thinking about the endless chores that need to be done today and brainstorming ways that I can get my sweet little darlings to get on board with me in my quest to have a semi-clean house.  I’ve learned I have to be realistic and cannot expect my house to ever be completely clean at the same point in time.  My sad little house is feeling neglected and knows that however much we try to clean her, she will always have at least a few dark secrets full of dust, crumbs, random toys and dog hair that probably wont be seen until we move.  But that’s okay with me.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Back to thinking about what’s really important, like what are my tactics going to be to properly motivate these little angels to at least clean their own rooms and maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll do one other chore.  Hmmm, I’ll start with bribery and a “friendly” competition like “Whoever cleans their room first, gets the computer first!” followed by a few threats like “If you don’t start cleaning your room, you’ll be writing sentences about it, and then still have to clean it anyway!.”(more on the sentences thing in a later post).  If that doesn’t work, I guess I’ll have to resort to screaming my head off.  Yeah.  That sounds like a plan.  Here goes…

2 hours later, Gabby’s still working on her room, Autumn and Raquel have “cleaned” their room and are now enjoying some time making their imaginary world on Minecraft, Gary, amazingly, picked up all of his toys with little help from Mom, (there were a lot of toys out too, that have been accumulating all week) and is watching Adventure Time and hanging out with me while I update what we’ve done so far.  I’ve vacuumed and dusted the whole house including the laundry room which is where the littler box is (our kitty, Jessica, likes to kick her litter all over the floor while she “buries” her business),loaded the dishwasher, and started a load of laundry.  So, all in all, pretty good progress.  And all I had to do was the initial “bribe” of computer time.  None of the whining and kicking and screaming which I had anticipated.  Autumn even volunteered to take the dog out!  Have my kids been replaced by obedient aliens?  Is all our hard work finally paying off?  Right now, I don’t have these answers.  I’m just thankful as hell that we have a peaceful, semi-clean home.

Now, I have to admit, I’ve got 4 great kids. My husband and I have put in a lot of time and hard work to train them to obey us. It’s a lot like training a dog (no offense). It takes patience and consistency. Don’t get me wrong, we’re far from perfect. Sometimes they still just don’t want to cooperate. But there are some things you can do (besides screaming your head off) to get your kids to listen to you and get their chores done:

  • We’re a Family Who Loves and Helps Each Other  Have an honest conversation with your kid/s. Explain to them, without raising your voice or talking down to them, the importance of family and everyone working together. Sometimes you have to say something 5 thousand times until it finally sinks in. It doesn’t help the situation, or set a very good example if you lose your patience and start yelling. Explain to them the reasons you want them to do their chores. Like how you’re teaching them to grow up to be responsible adults who know how to take care of their own homes and be able to teach their own kids to do their chores. It might help if they can put themselves in your place and see themselves from your point of view.
  • Work First, Then Play  Use what they want as leverage. Whether it be computer time, a ride to a friends house, or some other fun activity, definitely use it! You’ll be surprised how fast and efficient they can be when properly motivated. Just make sure you check their work before you reward them. We do “inspections” and usually have to call them back over and ask them what they missed and to fix it before they get their reward. This way, I’m hoping, they’ll better be able to recognize the mess themselves so that the next time, they won’t ignore it.
  • Make It Fun Take some advice from Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”  Now start snapping your fingers, and watch as the house cleans itself!  If that doesn’t work, try turning the job into a race.  When your kids are little, you need to help them and show them what to do.  My son and I “race” to clean up his toys, and whoever picks up the most toys, is the winner.  I always let him win, knowing that I’m the real winner with a clean house and good boy as my prizes.  The older kids might not fall for that trick anymore, but you can still make it fun for them.  Try blasting some upbeat music through the house and shake your booties as you clean.
  • Take Away Their Stuff  Sometimes you have to play hardball. In my experience, just the threat of “Okay then, everything that’s not put away, is mine!” If threatening the little darlings doesn’t get them moving, actually get out a garbage bag and start throwing their stuff into it. Okay, let’s say your kid’s a real hard ass. “You can’t make me!” That sort of thing. There’s gotta be something they love whether they left it out or not. Their iPod, phone, TV, whatever. You take that away, problem solved. After all the tears, tell them if they want it back, they have to earn it. Make sure that whatever you have them do to earn it back is harder than the original task that they could have done to avoid this whole mess. Pun intended.

Hopefully these tips can help you. I’m not an expert, just a mother of four, sharing with you what works for me. We’re all in this crazy world together. Any other tips or advice are welcome in the comments section below. Thanks!