Thursday, March 29, 2012

10 Sips for the Weekend: 10 ways to run a home like a business

Some decades ago there was a big difference between the home environment and the work environment. Home was the place were cookies were baked, clothes hand washed and floors mopped. Work was where the new technology was arriving, new knowledge produced, automation happening. But the coins have flipped. With one cell phone a person is able to multitask what an entire office did in the past. And there is a machine for everything inside the home: coffee maker, robot vacuuming, automatic plant watering. To the point where lots of  people don't know anymore how to make popcorn without a machine or a microwave package!

Who said you can't have both? For sale here
While the gadgets built for our help may overwhelm us when in huge quantities, or when the final goal of simplifying is forgotten, the possibilities that technology brought to the common household would take the breath away of any science fiction writer two hundred years ago! There are no more excuses for me complaining that my finance planning is a mess, or that there is nothing for dinner because I never got around it. These days, there are even apps for nursing moms to know when to nurse their babies, in case the baby is not screaming his own alert! So it is time for me to start running my home as a business, as the tools are mostly free and the knowledge is wide spread on the Internet.

So here are a few tools to start your own home business!

  1. Iphone: I am not an Apple worshiper, but I have to agree that the Iphone has been improving my homemaking skills. I don't even need to use my brain anymore, I can add to the calendar everything that needs to be remembered and schedule alerts so I can use my brain for more important things like playing Angry Birds! (in fact I have not installed Angry Birds in my phone as I am trying to keep it looking as boring as possible so it won't attract little hands!)
  2. Skype: We have video conferences all the time here at home. With the grandparents living far away, my kids can show them every week how they have been improving their noise making skills. I don't even bother to position the camera at me anymore, as the grand kids jumping around bring much more joy to them than my messy hair in a ponytail!
  3. Menu Planning: Luke's school provides him with breakfast, lunch and a snack everyday and at the beginning of the month they send me the menu. No wonder Luke likes their food better! There is never a repetition or leftovers in the menu! At first I thought that to hide the school menu would make me forget about my own need for organizing one, but after a while I realized that if his school can come up with a menu that is nutritious and does not break the government, then maybe I can come up with one too! So I have started to use an app called PepperPlate. I am still learning the tricks but life is much easier when the entire month is planned. And if you don't want to plan every single meal you can just plan that Mondays are grain, Tuesdays Chickens or something like this to make the process goes smother. 
  4. Finances: I have started to work with Mint again to organize our finances. The program is so easy to use that pretty soon they will come up with a version that all you have to do will be to type your name and they will plan everything for you. No more excuses for financial mess!
  5. Household products: In some areas technology has brought the past back. I can search the Internet on how to make my own cleaning products for cheaper and then I can start producing them from the comfort of my home! Did you know that all that you need to clean almost everything in your house is one part of water mixed with one part of white vinegar? Check at this website for more cheap alternatives to household products.
  6. Pictures organizing: There are many programs out there to help you organize your pictures and share them with your family and friends. Facebook helps a lot of people to do that but you can use more private ones like Picasa.
  7. Books organizing: In an age where every tree counts, some books can easily be read virtually. And they can be stored without taking any space in your shelves! Shelfari by Amazon lets you create virtual shelves of books and share recommendations with other readers. 
  8. Remodeling Planning: Thinking about adding some new furniture? Or bringing a few walls down? There are virtual room tools that let your play around with the furniture to find the solution for your space. Ikea offers one for free too. And there is even a landscaping planner
  9. Pantry Inventory: If every supermarket and store does it, why not me? Lost boxes on the back of the cabinets, expired bags of food under a shelf, not anymore! Think Fresher can help you with that! This past week, before I realized that there was a program just for that, I decided to make an inventory of all our food and to place all the things that are going to expire in the next months or that are already expired by a few months in one shelf and to plan the meals for next month using these products.
  10. Donations: Every company knows that if they don't donate some money for a cause, the government is going to take it. So if only for that reason, consider making donations part of your household business. It is not just money that can be donated, but goods, clothes, furniture, skills and time. 
Well, hope your business have a great launch!! Have a great weekend!!

The wheels on the train go round and round...

Luke never cared for cars, trucks or trains. He was in love from day one with letters. Inside books, as puzzles, lined up on the floor, as the ABC's song. The alphabet soup was always a success at the table! So I started to get used with the idea that maybe I had something to do with it. That I had been successful in instilling, early in his life, the love for the written word. What a wonderful parenting skill I must have!! Then along came Mark...

Mark couldn't care less for letters, he hates to sit down to listen to stories, and sees books as page turner machines. Letters are just meant to be used as objects to load trucks and trains, and why to say any words when you can gesture all your needs? I guess my parenting skills did not have anything to do with Luke's love for letters, after all!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

10 Sips for the Weekend: 10 New Year's Parenting Resolutions Checked!

These trees were the last ones around here to loose their leaves last Winter and one of the first ones to bloom this Spring
I am not a great planner in the sense of sitting down and writing my goals. However, there is always a hidden to do list in the back of my mind, ready to be pulled out, with achievements that I wish to reach. Unfortunately, when the goals are not written, it is hard to go back and check them off, they just fade away.

It is Spring Season in full swing around Hoboken, even though it is just March, and seeing so many flowers bloom worries me that the year has started in fast speed and may just accelerate from now on. As if awaken by the Spring energy sparkled in the air, that motivates us to start Spring Cleaning Activities, I decided to take care of a few New Year's Parenting Resolutions written in my neurons.

Many of them happened during these past weeks, while others in the past months, but I am so happy to look back and realize that even in this chaotic daily life of parenting, there are always opportunities for improvement!

  1. Dinner is the last meal: as I described in my last post, I sat down with Luke to let him know that he is old enough to understand that dinner is our last meal of the day and after that, no more snacks are allowed (unless of course we are on vacations or visiting someone). He can eat as much or as little as he wishes at dinner, but he has to try everything being served. The dinner experience went somewhat from stressful to enjoyable and he is in fact eating as much as before!
  2. Pacifier: This week I told Mark that his pacifier now is only to be used while he sleeps inside his crib. So every morning I ask him to give me the pacifier when he comes out of the crib. Some mornings he cries, some mornings he just looks sad to see the pacifier go, but he always gives it to me. Five minutes later, he does not even remember it anymore.
  3. Bottles: Poor Mark, he is the target of my resolutions! This week the bottles were retired, without any complains to my surprise! Mark can use his sip cup, or drink with a straw from a regular cup.
  4. Walk or Scoot to School: We have a double stroller but to push both kids all the way to school was quite a workout, so now Luke has two options: he can walk or he can use his scooter. I know that it is a long way for him, about 10 blocks each way, but plenty of kids his age around here do it, so there are no excuses. Energy, he got plenty!
  5. Reward App: I installed the iRewardChart app on my cell phone and it has been a hit! Luke loves to sit down with me at the end of the day and check his chores off, as he adds stars that can be traded with treats (mainly he only wants to use his stars to have ice-cream, so very easy for me!) We have also added things like sharing, no whining, and other behavior points so he can focus on ways to earn stars during the day by improving his behavior. 
  6. Self Dressing: Luke has been improving a lot in his self dressing skills and I hope that by the end of the year he will be able to tie his shoes!
  7. Being Thankful: Every night before Luke goes to bed we pray together and I encourage him to say a few things that he is thankful for.
  8. Love for Music: I moved an old CD player to the boys room and placed all of their CDs inside a box. I know that they may get some scratches, but now they can change the CD, forward the song, and more important, just have music cheering the room as they play.
  9. Teeth Care: Luke has some problems with his front teeth enamel that require more care, so we have been brushing his teeth more often and after anything sweet. Mark loves having his teeth brushed and he is always asking me to do it. Probably all that he wants is to eat more toothpaste!
  10. Monthly Menu Planning: I find that to cook food from scratch everyday can be very stressful if there is no good planning, and yet home cooked meals are cheaper and healthier for the kids. So this past month I decided to make an entire month worth of meal planning. I chose my recipes mostly from this website because I know that everything there tastes good and uses lots of fresh ingredients. I have to say that I probably spent half in grocery bills and did not feel any desire to order take outs as the recipes are so yummy and fulfilling. With less time in the kitchen I can spend more time outside with the kids enjoying the nice weather.
Have a beautiful weekend!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book review: Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

When I picked up this book, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, I was mainly interested in how to help Luke become a better eater. I am happy that he is one step ahead from kids that only survive on a list of 5 to 6 foods, but he has never been in love with the entire dinner experience as much as Mark. 

To watch Mark eat is a pleasure in itself. He takes each bite with gusto, holds the fork like a grown up and usually cleans up the plate. I can picture him in the future holding a wooden spoon as he stirs exotic ingredients inside a bubbling pot, surrounded by friends eager to taste his creations.

Bringing up Bebe compares cultural differences about raising kids in France versus in America, and how french kids seems to be more polite in social gatherings and able to sit down for four course meals. Hence my curiosity to read the book.

While I don't agree with parts of the french culture, the book is an easy read and a great window to a different culture. And when it comes to food, I have to agree that the french are probably in the right path. In France, meal time is seen as a very important part of life, and the food enjoyed as an experience, not just nutrients and calories packed in a plate.

So following some of the ideas in the book I decided to institute a few changes in our house. First, I am trying to have only four daily time frames when the kids are allowed to eat. Breakfast, lunch, snack time, and dinner. No more snacks just for the sake of chewing on something, or kids staring inside the fridge just because they are bored.

Second, I decided to encourage Luke to participate more in the cooking process so that he can enjoy food starting with its preparation. On our first try we cooked together, sat down at the table and had pumpkin quesadillas adapted from this recipe. Luke usually does not enjoy eating pumpkin, but as we started to eat, instead of the usual dialogue of "Eat your food" and "I don't like it", we talked about how the pumpkin is so hard when harvested and yet after we cooked it, turned out to be soft and delicious. How the onions and garlic we added transferred their taste to the pumpkin and we went as far as talking about the people that invented quesadillas, that spoke Spanish like Dora, the explorer.

By the time we had finished our talk, the kids were almost done with the food in their plate. And then instead of focusing on trying to make them finish the food, I calmly told them that dinner would be our last meal of the day, and that they were free to leave the table if they wanted, but there would be no more food available until next day at breakfast. Luke decided he was done (and he had in fact eaten a lot of food), and took his plate to the kitchen. Hope this is our turning point!

Maybe I should start learning how to cook crepes and bake baguettes, and my kids would never again ask for pizza!

Au revoir!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

10 Sips for the Weekend: 10 things to teach my children about happiness

Happiness. That is the word of the day. Everywhere. Magazines, TV, internet, books, billboards, packaging. Everywhere is the promise. If you have this, if you follow this, if you buy that, then... you will be happy.

Luke is always asking me for something, a toy he wants to buy, a snack at the store, a video to watch, a place to go, and he shows very strong signs that if he just gets that, then he will be happy. Sometimes I start to believe that maybe that is true, if I just get that for him.... so I give in just to find a few minutes later that no, there is something else down the list to happiness that it is still missing! Silly Luke, always wanting more! But, wait a minute, what about me? 

I heard someone say that marketing teaches people to act like children. Are you hungry? Eat. Are you bored? Get entertainment fast! Are you feeling down? Go shopping! And then, a few minutes later, just like Luke, we are all wanting something else. 

In one of his books, Philip Yancey said that the happiest people he ever met were not the famous ones he interviewed as a journalist. The happiest ones he ever met were the ones helping sick people in a colony for leprosy in India. Have you ever seen the ad anywhere? Spend a happy week of your vacation helping lepers in India!?? Me neither.

Beth Moore once said "Oddly, the most freeing thing we can ever do is to abdicate the throne of our own miniature kingdoms." Like the ring, in the Lord of Rings, you want it so much that it starts to destroy you. And Beth also said "Whatever God is urging you to clear away cannot begin to be compared to what He ultimately wants to bring you."!

So while I still have a lot to learn about happiness, there are a few things that I can teach my boys about happiness:
  1. the more you give, the more you become
  2. the more you learn to wait, the more you will appreciate,
  3. because the goal is what you became, not what you get
  4. hard work is not a curse, it is a privilege
  5. rules are there to protect you
  6. humbleness is not a weakness
  7. don't do to others what you don't want it done to you
  8. the world does not revolve around you,
  9. and yet God loves you
  10. "God surpasses our dreams when we reach past our personal plans and agendas to grab the hand of Christ and walk the path he chose for us. He is obligated to keep us dissatisfied until we come to him and his plan for complete satisfaction." (Beth Moore, Breaking Free)
Have a happy weekend!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Roller Coaster Parenting

Doesn't it feels sometimes that parenting is like riding a roller coaster? One minute my boys are having so much fun playing together and laughing out loud with joy, and the next minute a crisis boils up when one pulls a toy away from the other. Suddenly, there is crying, complaining and corporal fight. What am I supposed to do?

As much as the boys learn from each other, I learn from them. And in the past days I have been trying to remember that the most important lesson of all is to enjoy the ride. Is the roller coaster up? Enjoy the fun! Is the roller coaster down? Use the crisis as an opportunity to teach them something. Easier said than done, but much easier done if my emotions don't get in the way.

A few years ago I read a book that still talks to me called Screamfree Parenting. It basically tells you that the only emotions you are able to control are yours, and controlling them (versus screaming like a lunatic!), allows you to focus on the problem and to deal with it without "losing it". Besides, you can become an example to the children on how to deal with problems in a calm and reasoned way.

To look into the big picture also helps. To see that moment of crisis not as a bump on the way, but as a great opportunity to teach them about sharing, about respecting each other, about loving with their actions. Because at the end is not about me, if I am being annoyed by kids crying in the other room. It is about embracing parenting as a beautiful full time job.

I read somewhere that when Michelangelo was asked how did he carve David from one block of marble, he answered that he looked at that block of marble and saw David, and then he just carved away everything that was not David.

Isn't parenting a lot like that? Carving our children with love to show the person they are meant to be!

Friday, March 9, 2012

10 Sips for the Weekend: 10 Privileges of being a Mom

poster available for sale here

I have been thinking a lot lately about how motherhood changes us and shape us in diverse ways. It is a daily learning, with trials and errors, ups and downs, cuddles and conflicts that brings the best and the worst in all of us. And in the middle of the busy schedule, appointments and to do lists, I find it important sometimes to sit back  and see the whole picture, the purpose behind the parts, the meaning beyond the whys.

Motherhood is hard, but it is worthy. Motherhood hurts, but also heals. Motherhood gives, but receives much more. And in this line of thought I took a few minutes of silence to reflect on 10 Privileges of being a Mom. Here they are:

  1. Being the most important person for someone else, at least when they need something!
  2. Shaping someones life with the goal of helping them to become their best version;
  3. Learning the self-sacrificing side of love;
  4. Learning the practical side of love;
  5. Understanding your own parents better;
  6. Seeing pieces of you in someone's else expressions;
  7. Leaving pieces of you on Earth after you are gone;
  8. Learning to love someone just the way they are, no matter what;
  9. Growing empathy for all mothers in the World;
  10. Participating in the creation of a body for an eternal soul!
What about you? Do you have your own list of privileges to help you focus on the big picture?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Baby Addiction

I believe that every person has deep inside a void space. For some, a little corner inside the heart; for others, a huge hole. In one way or another we try to fill it using different mechanisms.

Some may stuff as much money as they can inside the hole, others try finding perfect romantic love (with crushing burden expectations), others may run after career, power, pleasure, intellectual knowledge. And then there is baby addiction.

I will focus on this last one as it is part of issues related to motherhood, subject of this blog, and also because I once was a researcher investigating a similar subject.

When I was in college I took part in a paid research to interview teenagers that were having their second baby while still teenagers. I remember looking inside their eyes and running through the questions in my form. I felt their pain as some told me they had been abused as children. While others had just had an early start in the baby path. They were all poor girls, receiving free health care, and the question I was trying to answer was Why?

After my interviews, I grouped all the information and found a common profile for the girls. But, more important, reading the information against the Theory of Human Motivation from Maslow it looked like these girls were on an endless climb in the motivation pyramid. Because they had never reached for themselves higher levels of the pyramid as self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others, they did not know how to say no, or to establish limits in their relationship. Besides that, a new baby was always the hope of a new beginning, maybe more love from the boyfriend, maybe more attention, maybe reaching that level they never had. But the baby would grow and the need would still be there, so another baby was needed, or conceived for lack of that level.

Cases like the octo-mom, who wanted babies so much and yet could not care for them, added with a background of deep depression, just comes to show that what was happening with the teenagers can happen with adult women too.

I think that somehow most women have some level of baby addiction as it is inserted in our maternal instinct to love babies and to want to care for them. But when babies are used to fill personal voids, then a danger sets in. The danger of weighting that child with the burden of bringing the fulfillment never achieved otherwise. And nobody, not even the most perfect baby, can meet such unrealistic expectations. So as the baby grows up, a new hope is born, well, maybe next baby...

My personal beliefs tell me that the void is there to be filled by God. A spiritual empty part that requires the right piece of the puzzle. I have to remind myself of that everyday, that the answer is a deeply fulfilling love relationship with the only One that justifies my existence.

Friday, March 2, 2012

10 sips for the weekend: 10 ways to organize legos

Legooos! I will say it again, Legoosss! Which emotions rise up to the sound of the word Legos? Love? Childhood memories. Anxiety? Flashes of rooms covered with Legos. Horror? Flashes of stepping barefoot on sharp little pieces.

If you have boys and if they love Legos, you will probably have mixed feelings towards them. Joy for the amount of peace and quietness that they bring to your life. And anger; as they take over every single corner of your existence!

Deep inside I have this secret little dream, of a Lego-free house, like the ones I see in the home design magazines. But I am afraid that it is too late for that, as once one box of Legos enters a house, only a Lego exterminator (like the ones that deal with bed bugs) could be able of extracting all the pieces that have spread across the furniture!

But maybe there is a way to contain them, decrease their wild spread, so that they still bring the peace and joy so much needed and yet not attempt to run wild and end up inside dark places like the washing machine! Have you ever found a few in there? Me too!

In my search for a solution, I found 10 ways to organize Legos for the well being of all family members!

Everything you need in one place
A simple table with hanging buckets
A cabinet door becomes a Lego table with a bin underneath
Legos organized by colors
Another way to organize by color
Not even in my weirdest dreams I would have thought of a self sorting Legos box!
A train table becomes a Lego table
You can hide the mess after they are done with this one
Create a fort so the Legos can's run away from inside
And if nothing else works you could embrace Legos as your decoration style!
What has been your solution?

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