Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Swear Jar

My family and I have been suffering from potty mouth lately. My teenage son was the worst (I include frick and fricken as swearing), but my husband and I were pretty bad, too.

A few days before Thanksgiving, we decided that we needed to do something about it. We agreed that each of us would put $1 into a jar on the kitchen counter each time we swore. We're running this program on the honor system. At the end of the month, we divide the money between the 4 of us. The first 10 days were the worst. We had almost $30 in the jar by the end of November.

I'm embarrassed to say that I had to put a $5 bill in last Sunday after a rant, but overall, I think the plan is working. I noticed that we have been cleaning up our language. If nothing else, it has certainly raised our awareness of how often we swear.

We've been extending the system lately to include some other bad verbal habits. My daughter is working on not saying "Huh?" in response to every comment, and my teenage son is working on not addressing my husband and I as "Dude."

Maybe we'll work on "like" next...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Maintaining my weight

I was overweight for several years, up until the summer between my freshman and sophmore year in college. I made a decision then to get my weight under control and to keep it there - not by dieting, but by adopting better eating habits in general. I'm in my 40's now and have been happy with my weight for the last 20 years. Here are tips that have worked for me (and my family):

1. Don't rely on willpower alone.
I don't buy ice cream, chips, or candy at the grocery store. Having those items in the house means I have to make the decision not to eat those things several times every day. By making the decision not to buy these items at the grocery store, I only have to have willpower once a week.

2. Have treats occasionally.
While I don't keep ice cream at home, my family and I go out for ice cream cones most Monday evenings. It's a family tradition that lets us spend some time together, it's something to look forward to, and I get my favorite treat. One scoop of any flavor I want. If I go out to dinner or to someone's home, I have dessert if I feel like it. If I crave something sweet, I have a tootsie pop. They're only 60 calories and I can make one last at least 5 minutes.

3. Be realistic about snacking.
I know I like to snack, so I eat smaller, healthier lunches. At 3 in the afternoon, I can have a little snack without guilt. Sometimes a few pretzels or almonds, carrot sticks, fruit, or even a cookie is just what I need.

4. Stay hydrated.
I drink all day. I have one cup of caffeinated coffee each morning, then I drink lots of decaf tea and water all day. I like Diet Coke, but I limit that to once a day as well. Drinking makes me feel full and warm drinks bring comfort. I don't drink alcohol often, but I do like the occasional glass of wine. If I have a drink, I skip dessert.

5. Take responsibility for your choices.
I don't specifically count calories, but I do read labels and try to be aware of calories and fat. I make trade-offs when I decide what to eat. If I'm really in the mood for french fries, I have some, but I don't pair them with a cheeseburger. Instead, I order the baked chicken breast for the entree. I choose pretzels over potato chips. I choose steamed veggies over rice. I never eat sweets or carbs that taste just so-so. If I'm going to ingest the calories, I want them to taste really great.

This is actually my worst area. I go for walks, play Wii Fit, and occasionally ride my bike, but I'm really not as active as I should be. I'm still working on this one...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Live theater - a forgotten joy

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing a play, Around the World in 80 Days, with my family. To be honest, the main reason we went was that my 9th grader had an assignment from his Drama class that required him to see a live performance and write a review.

Sitting in the theater watching that play, I realized that I hadn't been to a play or any other professional production in years.(I don't think my kids' school band concerts count!) I'd forgotten how creative live theater can be. With 5 people and a single, simple set, this play transported us by train and ship to several cities around the world. It was wonderful! It was so much more engaging than the typical movie or television show. It required us to use our imaginations. My kids and I really enjoyed the show.

Before the show, the Director of the theater came out and implored the audience to make donations to keep the theater going and to support their arts education program for local schools. It was sad. I couldn't imagine Steven Spielberg standing up in the front of a movie theater and begging for donations to help him make his next movie.

Have Americans forgotten the joy of live theater?

At first I thought maybe it was the expense or the planning involved, but then I realized that it's not as expensive as a live sports event and it doesn't take any more advanced planning. In my case, I think I had just forgotten about theater as an entertainment option.

I think I may give my family tickets to a future play for Christmas. It's a gift of time together, and it will help us remember this simple pleasure.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fire safety - one simple habit change

Tonight as my husband was making dinner, the smoke detector in the kitchen went off again. My son, my daughter, and I were all upstairs busy with a variety of activities. We all trooped down to the kitchen to investigate.

A year ago, my kids and I would have ignored the smoke alarm, assuming that this was just another case of someone burning food. (Yes, this happens fairly frequently at my house.) Over the last several months, I've been on a mission to retrain my family to always react when the smoke alarm goes off. At minimum, we all need to go to the source of the alarm and verify that there's no real issue.

I think this would be a good habit for everyone to develop and one that parents need to teach their children. When you hear a smoke detector or fire alarm going off... you need to stop what you're doing and get out (or at least investigate the issue if it's at home).

In the case of an actual fire, we've got an agreed on meeting place. Everyone needs to gather at our mailbox by the curb. That way we can quickly determine if anyone's been left inside. It's important to review fire safety with your kids on a regular basis, so they remember what to do in an emergency.

Anyone have any other tips for helping kids be fire safe?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paying it forward

Blogger Colleen Gleason is holding a Pay it Forward contest this holiday season.

To participate, you just need to do something kind, unexpected, and unnecessary for someone else between now and December 19th.

It can be as simple as letting the person behind you in line go ahead of you, grabbing the door for the woman struggling with the stroller, donating blood, or taking a plate of cookies to a neighbor. If you just keep your eyes open for opportunities, plenty will present themselves.

You can enter more than once, so take every opportunity to do that little something extra for someone else. Who knows, it could become a wonderful habit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaching your teen about charity and poverty

My kids have everything they need and almost everything they want. This has made gift giving a big challenge and has led to a sense of entitlement that really bothers me.

Last week, a co-worker told me about the Kiva gift certificate program. You can give your teen a Kiva gift certificate in an amount as small as $25 that will let your teen choose an entrepeneur in a developing country and make a micro-loan to that person. Your teen can then follow the progress of this entrepreneur online over the course of the loan (usually 6 to 12 months). This teaches your teen about the situation in developing countries, what it takes to start a business, and the power of one person to make a difference.

At the end of the loan period, your teen can get his money back or loan it out again to support a new entrepeneur.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tips for Eco-Friendly Holidays

According to the Use-Less-Stuff Report, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the period between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Check out my slide show for lots of ideas to have a greener holiday this year, from gifts to shopping to decorating.

You can buy energy-saving LED lights on Amazon:

100 Mini White / Clear LED Holiday Lights

100 Multi Color C5 LED Holiday Lights

Add a comment to share your ideas for new eco-friendly holiday traditions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The best gift ever

Whatever holiday you celebrate, you can give a truly amazing gift this year.  Consider donating blood.  It costs you less than an hour of time, and it can make the difference between life and death for someone else.  

Two of my brothers have been in serious accidents. Both received blood donated by strangers.   I can never thank those people, but I can pass it on by donating blood myself, which I do regularly now.

The Red Cross  makes it easy to find a place near you to donate.    

This will fill you with holiday spirit like no trip to the mall ever will.

Environmentally-friendly gift wrap

I like beautifully wrapped packages as much as the next person, but it seems to me that wrapping-paper is an outmoded tradition in this age of protecting the environment and conserving resources.

I spent one evening this week turning 2 yards of holiday fabric into a dozen re-usable fabric gift bags to use this Christmas.  Total cost for fabric and ribbon, about $6.00, or about 50 cents a bag.  I figure if I make a bunch of bags this year, I'll be set for years.  

The eartheasy site has good instructions for making fabric gift bags.  I chose opaque fabric and didn't bother with the lining.  You can buy fabric gift bags on the web, but they're a little pricey.  

If you have old fabric or even old sheets around the house, you can even make fabric gift bags without purchasing new fabric.  

Not only are these wrapping paper alternatives good for the environment, they're faster and easier than using wrapping paper. Perfect for when kids need to wrap presents. You just pop the item in the bag and tie the ribbon. No scissors, no tape.

Other ideas for gift wrapping without waste:  
  • re-use old cookie and candy tins
  • give a gift wrapped in a re-usable cloth shopping bag (Ikea has some great ones) 
  • save and re-use the gift-bags and boxes you receive
Anyone else out there have ideas for gift wrap alternatives?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tired of CSI _________ ?

If you like crime drama, but you're tired of CSI, here are a few other options that I like:

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service
Stars Mark Harmon

Stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz

Both of these shows can be a little graphic with the body parts, so beware if you have young kids. If you want to catch up on old episodes, they're available on Netflix.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Easy Halloween celebration

Looking for an easy way to celebrate Halloween with your neighbors?   
Here's an idea:  Host a pumpkin carving party during the week before Halloween.   
You can order pizzas and make it BYOB.  Each family brings their own pumpkins to carve and takes them home after the party. There's no need to even tidy up your house if you hold the event in your yard or garage. Just be sure to provide plenty of garbage cans, carving tools, and a place for folks to wash their hands. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sarah Palin doesn't represent me

I'm horrified by the idea that there are women in the US whose views are represented by Sarah Palin.  I love the idea of a woman in the White House, just not that woman.  I want the first female president in the US (and make no mistake, there's a good chance that could happen if McCain is elected) to be an educated, well-rounded  role model that young girls could admire, rather than someone whose policies they'd need to fear.  

Check out her answer to how she gets the information to form her political views.  Apparently she couldn't even think of the name of a reputable newspaper.  

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fostering art appreciation

You can help foster your child's enjoyment of art and museums.  Here's what worked for my family.

When my kids were little, we set a pattern of taking them to museums and exhibits of various kinds. We started with the local children's discovery museum, airplane and train museums, the natural history museum, and science and technology museums.  We also regularly visited zoos and aquariums.  Hands-on museums were the best when they were in the 3-7 range.

As my kids got older, we started branching out into art museums, historical exhibits, and other cultural events.  To keep their interest, I found that it helps to create a little paper handout for them to fill out. I bring a clipboard and a pencil from home for them. For an art museum, the handout may include things like this:
  • What piece of art do you like most and why?
  • What is your least favorite piece of art and why?
  • What's the oldest piece of art you can find? Who created it and when?
  • Find a piece of art made from multiple materials. What's it made of? Do you like it?
  • Is there a piece that you don't think should qualify as "art"? Why?
When my kids finish the handout, I give them each a dollar or two to spend in the museum store.  This keeps them engaged and rewards them for participating.  On the way home, we talk about their answers. It gets them to think about what they're seeing and form opinions about it. And, they think it's fun. Kind of like a treasure hunt.

My kids are 12 and 14 now, and they both love to go to museums. They each have different preferences in art and like different types of museums and exhibits.  

Many museums are free for one or two days each month, so check around if you're on a tight budget.  

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Modeling responsibility

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to model responsibility to my tween daughter the other day when I scraped the bumper of another car while trying to parallel park. I dutifully wrote out a note with my name and contact information to leave on the windshield of the other car, and I took pictures of the damage to my car and the other car with a camera I happened to have in the trunk.

While this event pretty much ruined my day, I look back on it now, a few days later, and realize I was given a great opportunity to model responsibility and accountability to my daughter. I'm sure that watching me take responsibility for a mistake I had made was more powerful than any abstract conversation would be. Of course, having the follow up conversation is also good.

So, look for those opportunities to model the behavior you want from your children, whether it's giving back the extra change when the cashier gives you too much, holding the door for the woman struggling with the stroller, or apologizing when you're wrong. Your kids are watching.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Smart charitable giving

How do you decide which charities to donate to? You don't want to donate your hard-earned money to a charity that spends 30% of it's revenue on fund-raising and 20% on executive salaries. You want to make sure your money is going to the cause you're trying to support.

I like the Charity Navigator website. They have analyzed over 5,000 charities and provided ratings based on things like % of money spent on fund-raising and administrative costs. They also let you search on charities based on categories, like animals or the environment, so you can find a charity that matches your interests.

Using Charity Navigator with your child is a good opportunity to teach about charitable giving and decision making. Let your child find and donate to a charity that matches his or her interests. Talk about your charitable giving philosophy and practices, and help your child develop a philosophy of his or her own.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Does your employer support the environment?

I'm very lucky to work at a company that cares about environmental sustainability. They demonstrate this with programs for commute alternatives, recycling, reducing paper waste, saving energy, etc. If your company doesn't have a sustainability program yet, maybe you can help start one. These types of programs can improve employee morale and contribute to a healthier bottom line.
You can start small. What happens to all the soda cans and plastic water bottles from your work? If they're going into the regular trash, talk to your facilities group about a recycling program.
I'd love to hear from others about ideas for a sustainable work place.

Stop the junk mail

With the holidays coming up, you can expect your mailbox to start filling up with catalogs. Some retailers will send you new versions of their catalog weekly starting around Halloween. It's not too late to get off some mailing lists for this year. If you want to help the environment, or you just want less clutter arriving at your home daily, go to http://www.catalogchoice.org/ and indicate the catalogs you no longer want to receive. It takes several weeks for the catalogs to stop coming, but once they do, you'll notice the difference. The nice thing about this system is that YOU choose what you want to stop receiving, so if there's a particular catalog you like, you can continue to receive that one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best family vacation grades 5-7

By far our best family vacation when our kids were in the 10-12 age group was Washington DC. Kids study the American Revolution and the basics of the government system during this time, so you get a nice tie-in with what they're learning in school.

The Smithsonian museums and the monuments are free, and public transportation in the DC area is very convenient, so this can also be a reasonably priced vacation considering all you can do.

The trick is to make sure your hotel is near one of the subway stops and to pack your lunch. While the museums are free, you can easily blow $50 on a mediocre lunch for 4 at the museum cafes.

We combined our Washington DC trip with a side-trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which was also great fun and a learning experience. We participated in a lantern-lit ghost story tour and a mock trial.

My son thanked me for bringing him to DC and said it was his favorite trip ever. A mom just can't ask for more than that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Watch what you want - instantly

I have a new favorite product. My husband bought the Roku to use with Netflix so we can instantly download and watch movies and TV shows. Wow! This is great and worth the cost. The Roku costs about $100 and the instant downloads are free if you already have a Netflix subscription.  I'm betting this will be on a lot of gift lists this holiday season. I wonder if supply will keep up with demand or if this will be like Wii Fit, another of my favorites.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prius vs. Civic Hybrid

My family owns a Prius and a Civic Hybrid. I'm often asked which car I prefer. Overall, I'd have to say the Prius. It's more comfortable and the hatchback gives a lot more options in terms of hauling things around.

That said, I can't stand the Prius' push button starter. We have the bare-bones model so we don't get the benefit of being able to leave the giant square key in the pocket. So, we have the hassle of remembering a non-intuitive start-up and parking sequence, with none of the benefit. I also hate the shifter. I feel like the design of the startup, shift, and park mechanisms were more about being cool and different and less about usability. I've had this car for almost 10 months, and I still have to think about how to start it each time I get in it.

Making "Green" part of your family life

Taking care of the environment is a factor in dozens of little choices every day. Do you make a special trip to the store when you want just one thing? Do you buy bottled water or buy a refillable water bottle? You can engage your children in these choices and help them learn to be green too.

Ask your kids questions to get them thinking about it. "Is it better to use a paper plate and throw it away or use a dish that you're going to have to wash?" "Is it better to use a paper towel or a sponge to clean up a mess?" What are the resources used in each option? If they don't know, can they find the answer on the Internet?

My kids are exceedingly aware of the price of gas. We have two Hybrids (a subject for another post). My kids are always pointing out the big SUVs and trucks on the road as gas guzzlers and talking about how much those families probably pay for each trip. They especially love to point out the 7-passenger cars with just one person in them.

Get your kids to think about the tradeoffs. If it costs us $40 less than that SUV driver to get to the City, we can buy pizza for dinner with the money we saved.

By bringing up green issues and making them a part of my kids everyday conversations, I'm hoping the message is sinking in and that they'll use this heightened awareness in their decisions even when I'm not around.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Great TV for Older Kids?

My kids and I often watch MythBusters together. It's got enough explosions and gross things to keep the kids interested while they learn about science. It's interesting enough for adults to watch, and I often learn things, too.

For action shows, my family enjoys "Eureka", "Chuck", "Reaper", and "Burn Notice".

For reality shows, we like "Deadliest Catch" and "Dirty Jobs".

What other shows are out there that you'd recommend for family viewing at Jr. High and High School ages?

Creating a Will or Living Trust

One way to protect your family and your assets is to create a Will and / or a Living Trust.

The links above offer advice, ideas, and simple tools that you can use to create your own Will or Living Trust - or you can always hire a lawyer.

If you already have a Will and you haven't reviewed it in a while, get it out and go through it again to see if you want to change it based on any new situations in your life. If you revise your Will, be sure to shred and throw away the old one.

Once you have your Will and/or your Living Trust in place, make sure your executor knows exactly where you keep the documents - preferably in a locked, fireproof safe to which the executor has a spare key.

Giving back to society is fun and easy

And, it can even make you smarter. How can this be, you might ask? Check out FreeRice a site where you play a vocabulary game and each time you get the answer right, FreeRice donates rice to the UN World Food Program. The more you play, the more food is donated and the better your vocabulary becomes. It's a win-win-win situation. This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about how to contribute to the greater good.

The game is set up to handle many different levels so even young children can play. As your kids get into this game, you can use it as a jumping off point to brainstorm with them about other ways they might be able to help the less fortunate. If you've never talked about starvation in 3rd world countries, this can help you start that conversation.

What are you doing to make your children more aware of charitable opportunities?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Getting your teens to talk

When you ask your child how his day was, do you get one word answers like "Fine"? Try asking open ended questions such as, "What was the best (or worst) thing that happened to you at school this week?" Instead of "Are you done with your homework?" ask a question like, "What interesting homework assignments or projects do you have coming up?" If you ask an open ended question, you're much more likely to get an answer that can start a conversation.

It also helps to make it a two-way street. Be sure to talk to your kids about what's going on at work or in your life - especially as they get older.

Does anyone else have any conversation starting tricks, especially for tweens and teens?

Monday, September 8, 2008

How safe are you, your family, and your stuff?

I started watching this great show "It Takes a Thief" on Discovery channel a few months ago. It made me realize that with a few quick and easy changes to our routine and our house, we could be a lot more secure. Plus, it's just fun to watch.

Parenting book recommendation

When my kids were 3 and 5, I got "1-2-3 Magic" based on a recommendation from a family counselor. It has been so helpful over the years. My kids are older now and very well behaved. I credit this book for giving me practical advice to help us have a harmonious family life.

If you're interested, you can check it out here:

1-2-3 Magic

Carpool Confusion

I have two children that each belong to multiple carpools and it was driving me crazy trying to keep track of the different schedules. I have been using Google Calendar for the last year or so to organize our carpool schedules and to share them with other parents we carpool with. This has been going pretty well, but it doesn't have very sophisticated notification. A new service I just found seems like it might fit the bill. Check out https://www.dividetheride.com/ if you're looking for a free carpool organizer that notifies you when plans change.