5 Super Simple Changes We Made to Improve Our Families Nutrition

As a new mom, I had high hopes for how I was going to give my children the best nutrition possible.  I wanted them to have a diverse palate, eat lots of vegetables and be generally healthy due to eating high quality food.  As with most moms, reality set in rather quickly, and the older they get, the more I understand how little control I have over nutritional content.  I still, however, am a firm believer that quality nutrition can set a foundation for health.  Therefore, I have made very simple changes to our diet to subtly improve our families nutrition.  These changes are easy, and have not been met with (too) much complaining.  Trust me, we still have our fair share of not so great food too.  I try to keep a foundation of nutrition so that there isn’t too much guilt involved when these unhealthy choices present themselves.  I am definitely not a nutritionist, but I continue to research and read about best practices in this area.  With that knowledge, I have made the following simple changes to our families diet.

Sprouted Grain Bread

We have all heard of the benefits of whole grains in our diet.  For a very long time I purchased 100% whole wheat bread, thinking it was the most nutritious option.  Within the past few years, we have switched to sprouted grain bread instead.    Ezekiel Bread is the most well known brand, but I do a lot of shopping at Aldi and they have a brand as well.  According to www.healthline.com, in sprouted bread the grains and legumes have started germinating (or sprouting).  Compare this to 100% whole wheat bread, which is made of refined (processed) grains, and the nutritional content is much better quality.  It is also organic, and contains zero added sugar.  Both bonus points in our house.  

Reality is, however, it does not mean a thing if my family doesn’t eat it.  They will all tell you that it’s not their favorite bread.  I think all of us love a good slice of toasted white bread once in a while.  But, they still eat it.  From morning toast to PB&J, they eat sprouted grain bread most days without complaint.  

Frozen Fruit

 My kids love anything fruit based.  They would probably live off of it if I let them.  Many snack foods are fruit based, and super yummy.  Some family favorites are applesauce, fruit snacks and fruit leather  These types of snacks are now a special treat in my family, while whole fruits are readily accessible.  We always have apples and bananas in our house, but in addition to that our freezer is full of frozen fruit.  During the summer, it’s as local as possible.  During the colder months, it’s store bought.  We always have blueberries, and typically add mixed combinations as well. 

Having these always on hand makes for such an easy healthy snack.  Frozen fruit is absolutely delicious, and often feels like a treat.  Many nights we put a bowl on the table to add to our dinner.  My kids love to eat it plain, or mixed with yogurt.  We will sometimes warm them up to put them on pancakes or waffles.  It is such an easy thing, but reaching for whole fruits, instead of processed alternatives, dramatically improves the quality of food my kids are putting into their bodies.  And it’s delicious too!

Almond Milk

 I’m not going to lie, changing to almond milk was one of the last changes we made.  I never thought I’d be able to convince my family.  Our oldest has always had a bit of a dairy intolerance, but not enough for us to make a major switch.  Then our middle child started to struggle with dairy as well.  My husband and I never drank much milk to begin with, so it was really only our youngest drinking it.  It very quickly started to spoil before we drank it all.  I had already started buying almond milk for my coffee, so I just stopped buying regular milk.  Now, it’s just a staple in our house.  On the rare occasion that we need milk for something, almond milk it is.  

That may not seem like a big jump, but it does hold some nutritional value for us.  First and foremost, unsweetened almond milk has significantly less sugar than cow’s milk.  According to Healthline, unsweetened almond milk has 0 grams of sugar per serving, while cow’s milk typically has 12 g of sugar.  That’s a significant difference!  Unsweetened almond milk also has 40 calories per serving, vs. 80-150 for cow’s milk. Also, there have been a lot of studies showing that dairy can increase inflammation and discomfort, which makes almond milk a nice alternative.

Now, I would be remiss if I claimed that almond milk was the end all and be all in terms of nutrition.  It’s absolutely not perfect.  If we could have more dairy in our house, I would lean more towards whole milk.  Fat plays an important role in our health, specifically our brain health, and is a crucial part of our diet.  Since we felt the need to eliminate dairy, almond milk has been a great alternative for us.  Specifically, the lowered amount of sugar helps me feel confident that it is the right choice for our family.  

Real Vegetables

 Vegetables are not my kids favorite food.  In fact, they avoid them like the plague quite often.  Yet, we serve them with most meals.  Also, we ask that they take at least one bite at every meal.  This is an attempt to continue to expose them and to diversify their palates.  I could easily hide these vegetables on them, and have them increase their vegetable intake in sneaky ways.  Adding kale to smoothies, or broccoli puree to brownies would ensure they are getting the vitamins that they need.  I absolutely do this sometimes, but do not rely on it.

Why, you might ask, wouldn’t I do something so simple to ensure my children are eating their vegetables, instead of fighting with them.  Well, simply, I don’t want them to go off to college without knowing what broccoli is.  It’s entirely possible that they may get more vegetables if I’m feeding it to them via brownies.  But, as with anything, my ultimate goal is to lead them to make their own healthy decisions.  So, if once a night I force them to eat a brussel sprout, eventually brussel sprouts won’t seem so awful. Or, maybe they will (I will never like onions), but at least they know they don’t like them.  I can still put kale in their smoothies, but I believe if they eat kale by itself I’m setting them up for better success in adulthood.

Organic junk food. 

You read that right, my kids totally eat junk food.  I try to limit it, but the reality is I don’t have much control sometimes.  If I am buying junk food for any reason, I often try to purchase organic.  I will not pretend that I’m perfect at this, but it’s always a goal that I strive for.  According to Karalynn Call, certified nutritionist, our food has dramatically changed since the 90’s.  The organic processed food that we eat today, is essentially the same non-organic food we ate in the 90’s.  Since the 1990’s, some things have changed.  Specifically glysophate, a weed killer, has been sprayed on the corn used for our food.  This food has been genetically modified to withstand glyphsate.  Unfortunately, this is not just limited to corn, but also includes oats and grains.  Processed food in 2021 includes a significant amount of artificial sweeteners, which according to Karalynn, was not the case prior to the mid 90’s.  Essentially, when you buy organic today, you are saying no to all of this extra crud.  

Therefore, for the most part, if I’m buying cereal or chips or something relatively junky, I try to purchase the organic version to avoid these challenges.  It does not mean that this junk food is healthy.  Junk food is junk food, but by buying organic, I’m trying to make choices to avoid the extra crap that was not in my junk food growing up.  For more information from Karalynne Call, follow her on instagram @just.ingredients.

On the whole, I am confident that my children receive enough nutrition through food to create that healthy foundation that I strive for.  That being said, tonight both children ate two snack bags of (non organic) Doritos.  Many nights my daughter eats ketchup (but it’s organic!) for dinner.  The key, as with everything, is to let go of the idea that we can be perfect.  The more you learn, the better you do, and the better you do the more you learn.  In the end, any attempt to improve your child’s (and your own!) nutrition, is a step in the right direction for their health.  

3 Ways to Make the Pandemic Holiday Season Not Suck

Wow, it’s been awhile my friends. In fact, it’s been eight months and three days since my last blog post. That’s nuts, but it’s also a pandemic folks. Writing has always been super therapeutic for me, but the last eight months have needed more than therapy. For much of it, I was trying to work from home, teach my five year old, and parent him and my two year old. By myself, as my husband is essential. It was full on survival mode.

Summer hit, and things felt a little better, but still not normal. In September we returned to in person school, but that was different too. At the time of writing this, we are remote again. Funny enough, for the first time in eight months, I have a weird sense of normalcy. Things are far from normal, but it feels like a new normal. Not an amazing new normal, as there is still a lot of craziness out there, but normal enough for me to find my writing voice again. With that voice, I’m bringing more normalcy by writing about one of my favorite times of the year. It’s holiday time!! And even though the holidays may look different than any holiday we’ve done before, I’m going to share three ways we plan to make them totally not suck.

Sticking With Old Traditions

I’m huge on family traditions. I’m also a wannabe minimalist, so I find ways to make them inexpensive, and experience based. A few of my favorites, that are definitely pandemic friendly, are below.

1.) Acts of Kindness

Every December 1st we put out jars with each of my kids names on them. I put slips of paper in each jar with acts of kindness on them, and they each draw one slip a night until Christmas.

Some acts are really simple. Examples might be, tell a family member that you love them, or read a book to a younger sibling. Some may be more complicated. Our favorites in the past have been to fill carts at Aldi with quarters, or bringing cookies to the fire department or police department. This year we will probably use some clorox wipes on the quarters, and deliver store bought cookies. The intent is still the same, but with some safety precautions in place. The best part is, that you can do whatever works for your family! The link below shows some other great examples.

http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/100-acts-kindness-kids

2.) Christmas Eve Box

Each year on Christmas Eve our three children open up a special box. Inside, they find matching pajamas, a new Christmas movie, candy, hot chocolate, popcorn and an ornament. Each of them receives a personal ornament, highlighting something special from their year. Previous ornaments have highlighted trips to Disney, favorite characters or favorite activities. We hang the ornaments on the tree, get a great picture in the matching pj’s, and finish the night with the Christmas movie. The matching pajamas also make great pictures for Christmas morning. Etsy is a great place to find unique ornaments, while supporting individuals instead of large corporations.

http://www.etsy.com

3.) Picking Out the Perfect Tree

For some unknown reason, when we moved into our home, we started the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree. We go to a fairly secluded farm nearby, hike out to the trees and find the perfect one. It’s always a fun little game, and our oldest always seems to find the perfect tree. The kids take turns cutting, and ride back on the tarp that drags the tree. It’s silly, fun and definitely a wonderful tradition. With masks added this year, we intend to keep it up.

4.) Tree Trimming and Christmas Music

When we get the tree home, we set it up in the living room, warm up the hot chocolate and start the Christmas music. My husband has some vintage Christmas records that he adores, and we play them while we decorate. Each family member has ornaments from years past that they hang, and then we have a pile of family ornaments that we do together. Ornaments are our go to souvenir when we travel, so it’s the perfect way to bring back old memories. We often finish up with a Christmas movie, and at least half of us fall asleep.

Starting New Traditions

Yes, some of our old traditions are still feasible, 2020 is definitely not going to allow for all of our family traditions. What better opportunity, though, to make new traditions? 2020 provides the perfect excuse to reinvent the holidays.

1.) Personalized Santa Snacks Placemat

I can’t believe I have never seen these before, but this year I discovered Santa mats. They are so darn cute, and can be used year after year. They bring a certain charm to your milk and cookies, and can definitely become a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. I’m so excited to start this tradition with my kiddos, so excited in fact that I made my own for them. A link to my Etsy store for the one I made is below. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, there are many variations out there to get this fun tradition started.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/counselingmommashop

2.) Watching As Many Christmas Movies As Humanly Possible

Okay, in reality, I kind of started this tradition last year. But now I’m all in. A Christmas movie every night? Why not? Three on a Saturday? Who cares?

I’m usually fairly strict about screens with my kids. I want them playing outside or using their imagination. Honestly, though, what could be better when you are snowed in during a pandemic than snuggling in front of a Christmas movie? Plus, there is always a happy ending! It sounds like the perfect recipe for a pandemic Christmas. The more Christmas movies the better this year!

Shop Local

I’m not going to pretend to be a saint here and act like every single gift I am buying this year is local. I am trying to be more intentional about supporting people over corporations, though. When I think of shopping local, I include Etsy in my thought process. The majority of people with Etsy shops are small business owners trying to stay afloat. Amazon, Walmart and Target have enough money. Small businesses have been hit hard this year, and need your money more than ever. I have highlighted some Etsy shops below that I’ve either recently bought some great items from.

We Are Earth Goods

This shop specializes in Natural Home Products. Their products are super reasonably priced, great quality, and ship really fast. I recently bought some linen bags to store face masks in, and I absolutely love them.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/WellEarthGoods

Easy Elderberry

This shop sells pre-made packets with everything that you need to make Elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup is a great addition to your wellness regime. It has great immune booster properties, and I plan to add some wellness baskets as gifts this holiday season.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/EasyElderberry

Kyle and Ivy Shop

I just bought the CUTEST hooded blankets from this shop for my youngest two children. I was looking for throw blankets just for them, and found these great ones with hoods. I just know that they will be snuggled up with them all winter. As I was browsing their shop I also noticed some great t-shirts, and unicorn wear for the young ones.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/KyleAndIvyShop

So, yes, this holiday season will be different. Many people have suffered, especially financially or with effects from COVID-19. But, our kids can still have a holiday. They will react to your reactions, and it can be okay because you will make it okay. That is what we do as parents, after all. Happy holidays all!

Five Things You Can Do To Help Your Family During a Coronavirus Related School/Work Closing

Coronavirus has officially struck the US. Schools are closing, people who can are moving to work from home.  There are so many big emotions involved in this, and I recognize how challenging this can be in so many ways.  There are so many things to talk about, but I’d like share things that you can do and implement in your family to help this time run smoothly. 

1.) Answer Their Questions, But No More than That

Kids listen.  More than you know.  They pick up on our anxieties, and they hear conversations even if we think they aren’t listening.  If they are asking questions, answer them succinctly and in a developmentally appropriate way.  As grown ups we tend to over talk when we are anxious.  Be mindful of simply answering the questions they are asking, and don’t give them more information than what they are asking for.  This is exactly how we handle sex talks in our house.  When you ask me a question, I answer it.  If you ask another, I answer that one too. If you don’t, then I take it as a sign that you have gotten all of the information that you are ready for.  This works with all kinds of hard conversations. 

Kids want to know that you will be open and honest with them, but they also want to have a place with you that can be free of worry and anxiety.  Intentionally keep conversations about what’s going on in the world until after bedtime, or when they aren’t around. This allows them to still have the space to be kids.  

2.) Keep Up With Structure and Routine 

Kids crave structure and routine.  When things feel different and uncertain, it helps them feel comfortable and safe.  Make a routine and structure for your family while you are home together.  It’s completely okay if this routine is a little more lax than their typical school day, it’s impossible to keep up with something like that.  It should, however, still include a bedtime and time to work on academics.  We often have a loose schedule that we follow during the summer, so I have modified that idea for our family and will be including the following:

Independent Play-screens okay 

I make it clear when they have independent time if it will be screens on or off

Independent Play-screens off

Academic Work Time

Sometimes this will be working on the stuff that was sent home from school, and sometimes this will mean fun science experiments, baking or exploring virtual places online.  It also might mean art, music or fun reading lessons.  I’m hoping to find a balance between the work sent home, and fun projects.  We are lucky to have awesome teachers who I know have/will provide us with some guidance. 

Daily Chores/Picking Up

If we are all stuck in the house together, things are going to get messy pretty quickly.  Each kid will have a chore that they are expected to complete daily, and their will be a dedicated time to complete this and to help pick up. 

Outdoor Time

I’m hoping that the weather cooperates and this gets to be the bulk of our schedule.  This is a great opportunity for us to take a step back and reconnect with each other and the world around us.  We are fortunate enough to have four acres of land to explore.  Even if you are not that lucky, get outside.  Go for a walk, blow bubbles, use sidewalk chalk.  Get connected to the world, as it’s a powerful tool for self care.  

Self-Care Time

We talk about self care a lot in our family, and I want to intentionally schedule it into our day.  Time to just relax and do things that make us happy.  Sometimes that might mean doing Cosmic Kids Yoga, or playing on the swing set.  Sometimes that might mean doing our favorite things separate from each other.  Whatever we need to do to stay centered.

Meals and Bedtime

Kids love to help, and during the summer each kid is in charge of dinner once a week.  Obviously the level of “in charge” varies by age, but this is a rule I plan to implement as well.  We will have to get creative, as I hope to avoid the grocery stores right now, but any way I can get them involved, I will.  

Also, I very much recommend sticking to a bedtime.  Kids need a lot of sleep, and will be much easier to have around if they continue to get a good night sleep.  I don’t think anybody needs to be waking up to an alarm clock right now, but it will be helpful to stick to a semi normal sleep schedule.  This will also make the transition back to school a little easier as well. 

On that note, please strongly consider removing devices from kids room at night.  Charge them in your room, so that they temptation to sneak them is lower.  Kids do not have the ability to put the screen away and go to sleep.  They do not have the ability to not check the new messages or their social media if they wake up at 2 am.  Many adults struggle with this, and adolescent brains are not fully developed.  Do them a favor and take the screens away at night, so they can sleep peacefully without the distraction.  

3.) Take a Break

Let’s be real.  This is going to be challenging.  Especially if you are also trying to work from home.  Make sure you get a break.  Maybe it’s tag teaming with your partner so you aren’t the one who is “on” all of the time.  Maybe it’s a nightly walk by yourself, or a half hour scheduled in of “you” time.  Not only will you need this for your own sanity, it is a wonderful model to your kids on how to take care of yourself. 

4.) It’s Okay if There is More Screen Time, but Limits are Good

Listen folks, the screen time is going to increase.  There are going to be days where it saves you from losing it.  That’s okay.  But be mindful that it doesn’t become your baby-sitter all day.  Too much time on screens creates cranky, snarky, miserable kids.  Nobody wants to be stuck at home with that.  So be mindful of creating other opportunities for them, or even better watch as they create their own, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you need to lower your standards a smidge on this one. 

By the way.  It is completely okay to set limits on ANY device that comes into your home, whether it was purchased by you or issued by somebody else. 

5.) Stay Connected

We are so lucky to live in an era that allows us to socially distance ourselves, but still stay connected to our friends and family.  Encourage FaceTiming and connecting with friends and family.  Encourage virtual conversations (although always helpful if they are monitored!) so that your kids still feel connected to their friends. Do the same for yourself.  Reach out to your friends and family regularly, and stay connected.  This will help us all stay grounded and connected as we progress through this new and scary time.  

I fully recognize that many of these suggestions assume that there is a level of financial stability and support within your home.  This “social distancing” is going to be devastating financially and emotionally for members of our communities.  If you have the means to support members of your community in any way, this is the time to do it.  Buy gift cards online to local businesses, continue to pay daycare providers or other helpers and ask people in the service industry how you can help them.  If you don’t have the means, and need to stick to a strict budget, then do that.  Reach out to people instead, and see if they have a need that you can fulfill.  Even if we need to stick to our own homes, we still have the ability to come together and support each other through this challenging time. 

Renaming and Embracing January

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If you work in the world of education you dread the month of March. It is the longest, darkest, hardest month. Every year. Any one in education knows this. The month of January, however, can be equally has challenging, but it is not typically as expected as March. If we can learn to expect the challenges, and embrace January, we can learn to thrive in it instead of surviving it.

It has taken me 5 years to figure out that each and every January is pure and utter chaos. I’m not sure what it is. We think students are all hyped up for the holidays. We returned refreshed and rejuvenated, and then it starts.

I can’t put my finger on what happens. Last year I thought it was the weather. This year, however, it has been beautiful. It’s not just the students though. It’s all of us. Life seems to kick me in the ass each January. It’s probably kicking the students asses too, and we just can’t see past out own stuff to see it.

It’s probably a combination of things. There is something to be said about the post holiday let down. For me it’s about dealing with all of the stuff I put off until after break. Sometimes it can be really hard balancing real life and work life. Before the holidays I think real life tends to infringe on work life. There is only so much time in the day and as many times that work infringes on real life, the opposite is true as well.

So I put things off until I can refocus my brain, thinking January will provide peace, time and energy. Unfortunately, that never seems to be the case. When January comes along, the honeymoon is over. Students are sick of each other. Staff is sick of the same issues same issues day in and day out. And the days are dark….really dark. And cold.

It’s hard, and it sneaks up on all of us. We are used to the Christmas highs and lows, but January is supposed to be about starting anew. Well I’m just going to say it…it’s a farce. January sucks and we all know it. So let’s rename it.

Maybe Darkvember? Or Colduary? How about Countingthedaystospringuary? Okay maybe that’s too much. But in all reality, I think we need to pay attention to the misery that can happen, and embrace January for what it is, and look forward to brighter days.

February is also dark and cold, but it holds some promise. The days are getting longer, and I start seeing daylight when I get out of practice. This February has been an anomaly and the weather has been beautiful, which is helpful. In the education world, it often means a break, which is very much welcomed and needed. It also means it’s almost March, which means it’s almost spring!

So here’s to renaming and embracing January. In other words, recognizing it for what it is and looking forward to February and beyond. Thank you for existing February, if only because you are closer to March.

Mindfulness Strategies for Kids Everyday Lives

Mindfulness is definitely one of those trending words right now. If you only have a small connection to education or parenting you have probably heard this term, and are potentially wondering why it’s such a big word right now. Often times these trending words hit their high point, and then fall away as quickly as they came. Only to be replaced by the next new hot topic in parenting or education.

At the surface level mindfulness has the potential of being another gone by the wayside idea. I would argue, however, that it actually has more staying power than one may think. Reason being, it has already survived for thousands of years. It has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, and has a deep history in these two religions. It is deeply grounded in Eastern culture, and the Western world seems to be just recently catching up.

In addition to its rich history, mindfulness is much more than a mental health trend. It is a lifestyle and a mindset. There are pieces of it that can be practiced on their own, with potential positive results, but it works best when it is adopted as a lifestyle. Embedding pieces of mindfulness can start from toddlerhood, which can lay the foundation for future practice and balance in one’s life.

It can, however, be quite intimidating for anybody to incorporate mindfulness in their life. Adults can struggle figuring out how to do this themselves, much less finding ways to make it a meaningful part of our children’s lives. My goal in writing this is to share with you simple, low stress ways, that we have found to incorporate mindfulness strategies into our children’s everyday lives.

Morning Moments

This is a new practice for us this year, and I am truly enjoying it. Mornings can be a STRUGGLE, especially during the week. I am on my own with the two youngest most mornings, and I can easily get worked into a frenzy. When thinking of ways for our morning time to improve, I immediately turned to more connection. If our time together is all about me being stressed, getting frustrated with my kids and pushing them to get ready, we are all going to feel disconnected and discombobulated. If my goal is to have my family feel loved and connected, then I needed to make it a priority.

So, with that in mind, we started a new morning practice. When wake up time comes, the three of us snuggle up on the couch. We all take a big deep breath and hug on each other. Then, I ask each kid who they want to send kind wishes to today. An important component of mindfulness is being intentional. I’m also working on empathy with them, so we take a moment to intentionally send kind thoughts to people in our life that we love. We then hug on each other one more time, and then move on with our morning.

Highs and Lows

We use dinner as an important learning opportunity. We eat together most nights, which is great for connection in and of itself. When our middle child was three (now five) we introduced our nightly routine. We would go around the table and ask each other the same questions each night. It started as follows:

What was something good that happened today?
What was something not so good?
How did you help somebody today?

As the years have gone by this has morphed a bit. Children have added suggestions, or I have wanted to add a new focus area. Right now, in addition to the three listed above, we also ask:

We will also, at times, add, “What are you thankful for?” We don’t do this one every time, as I feel as though it may lose its meaning. Therefore, we sprinkle it in every once and awhile.

In addition to mindfulness, these dinner conversations also practice listening skills, turn taking, and incorporate self-awareness, growth mindset, interpersonal interactions and empathy.

Bedtime Routine

Each night our kids follow the same routine, which ends with a song. They each get their own song, same one since birth, and we sing it together. This may not seem like a huge mindful activity at face value, but we make it into a practice moment. I model taking deep breaths, and comment on how my body feels before and after we sing. If I notice that they are having a hard time settling, we talk about noticing how their body feels, and things that we can do to settle our bodies down for the night. It’s a great time to connect, and we all look forward to it.

Managing Screen Time

There are so many debates regarding screen time, and I’ll be the first person to admit that sometimes my kids have more than I would like. We do, as a practice, have consistent limits regarding screens. One reason being is that we want our children to practice interacting with the world around them. For example, we say no to screens for car rides (unless it’s a trip) and in restaurants. This allows us and them to practice noticing the world around them. Again, I model, and then we have more conversations and interact more as a family, instead of all looking at screens.

In our mind, mindfulness starts with a solid foundation. If the foundational skills that we try to teach through these activities are an integral part of my children’s lives, then we can expand on this with more mindfulness skills as they grow. These are simple strategies, and are not the only strategies that we have embedded into our lives to help us, and our children, set the foundation for a happy centered life. So, go for it! Pick a strategy you read above, and leave me a comment letting me know how you incorporated it into your routine!

My Favorite Podcasts and Why

I’ll admit it, I am a bit of a newbie to the world of podcasts.  I can’t remember what exactly got me started being interested in them, but I know I was a bit late to the game.  I do know that I started listening about two years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one of my favorite was the first one.  

I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks, and in this stage of life much prefer listening to reading.  I like that I can continue to move and do things, while I “read”.  I struggle to sit down and read a book these days, and much prefer to listen while accomplishing something else.  Entering the world of podcasts felt like the world of audio listening opened up even more for me.  With podcasts, the story doesn’t end.  A new episode airs regularly, and since I pick the podcast it is most likely on a topic that I enjoy.  Once I realized how mesmerizing, and perfect for my personality podcasts are, I quickly developed a list of my favorite go-to’s.

The Mom Hour

If you are a mom and haven’t discovered this podcast yet, I strongly recommend stopping what you are doing and go subscribe right now.  Meagan and Sarah are moms to kids ranging from young school aged to grown.  They are knowledgable in all phases of mommy hood, and hilarious to boot.  They have funny stories, advice and in-depth conversation on all things mom.  They also have regular guest spots and interviews with some truly remarkable women.  

Typically you will get a couple of episodes a week, some as quick as 20 minutes, and others lasting up to an hour. If you want more than that you can always follow The Mom Hour on Instagram and join the Listener Group on Facebook. 

Big Life Kids Podcast

This one is more about my kids than me, but I absolutely love the messages my children learn from this podcast.

The Big Life Kids Podcast is designed to pair with the Big Life Kids Journal.  If you are unfamiliar with the journal, I strongly recommend checking it out for your children.  My own are still a little young for it, but I use it regularly with my students at work.  Through self-reflection students learn how to be resilient, self-aware, and to develop a growth mindset.  

The podcast can be listened to in conjunction with the journal, or as a stand-alone.  Right now we are listening to it by itself, with the idea to do it with the journal when they are a little bit older.  We travel with Leo and Zara around the world in the Believemobile and listen as they work through challenges, and learn important lessons about character.  They also do a great job of incorporating real life listener stories to reinforce the lessons that they are trying to teach. 

Didn’t I Just Feed You

I first learned about this awesome podcast through Meagan and Sarah at The Mom Hour.  In Didn’t I Just Feed You professional chefs Meghan Splawn and Stacie Billis discuss real-life food challenges and victories with their families.  

Listening to these two professionals discuss the same challenges that the rest of us have regarding meal prep, kids and cooking for a family is refreshing.  Add in learning tips and tricks of the trade to make the every day food prep easier, and this podcast has become a life saver for me in many ways.  

Meghan and Stacie deliver it all with a sense of humor, and a recognition of reality vs. being in a professional kitchen.  It has become my go to dinner time podcast, as I hope it becomes yours as well.  

NPR Lifekit

If, as a parent, you have not yet subscribed to NPR Lifekit, you need to do so immediately. I was first introduced to this podcast through a co-worker, and I am incredibly thankful.  This is the instruction manual that you have been looking for, and each topic is presented in a fun and engaging manner.  

Every episode tackles a difficult topic in parenting, and walks you through how to handle it with evidence based information and experts on the topic.  In conjunction with the experts from Sesame Street, hosts Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz keep it light while sharing real life stories from their parenting adventures.  

Recent episodes include How to Talk to Your Children About Sex, How to Help a Child Struggling With Anxiety, Kindness Can Be Taught and What Cookie Monster Taught Us About Self-Control.  Episodes are typically released once or twice a month, and are designed to help tackle difficult issues that today’s parents are facing on a daily basis. 

One Bills Live 

Now, this podcast is a complete curveball, and is a specific niche not relatable to everybody.  I am, however, including it, as my reasoning for listening to it is an important lesson to moms and working professionals.

I am a huge Buffalo Bills fan, and hosts Steve Tasker and John Murphy keep me updated on all things Buffalo Bills, with amazing guests and a sense of humor.  Episodes are released every week day, after the show airs on it’s mother radio station WGR 550.  After each episode I feel up to date with all things Buffalo Bills, and a deeper part of the Buffalo Bills community.  

I fully recognize that this is not podcast that is an interest to most working mom’s and mental health professionals.  The lesson here is that it’s important to find something that you enjoy just for you.  This podcast has nothing to do with my life as a mom, or my professional mental health career. This podcast is just for me, and it has become an important part of my self-care routine.  

Honorable Mention-Career Mom

I would be remiss not to include this brand new podcast in my list of favorites.  At the time of this writing host Jenny Elliott has five episodes under her belt, as she takes a deep dive into the issues that Working Mom’s face.  She addresses challenges and joys face on, and hosts conversations with other working mom’s on these topics.  She is off to a great start, and I can’t wait to see where she heads next!  You can find Jenny on Instagram @careermompodcast

Listening to a podcast can become a very low key way to practice self-care.  It does not require the same commitment level as a good book, can be listened to on the go, and you can catch up on your time.  By finding topics that are interesting and engaging to you, you can continue to grow and learn, even if it’s only on your commute to work every day!  Find these podcasts wherever you listen to your podcasts. Leave a comment to let me know what your favorite podcasts are, so I can expand my listening library!! 

5 Simple Self-Care Tips for Working Moms

No matter the age of your children being a mom is hard.  It can feel like a full-time job.  Working full time can also be challenging, and adding the two together can feel impossible on your best days.  I have all the respect in the world for Stay at Home mom’s, I couldn’t do what you do, but my experience as a working mom helped me understand how challenging it is for us to practice self-care. Below you will find simple tips on how you can take care of yourself while balancing this juggling act.

If you are a new mom, recognize that it will take some time for you to be able to take any major steps in your life towards self-care.  In that first year of life, I recommend baby steps and finding small things you can do to find balance. Maybe something as simple as committing to finding time to get outside for five minutes each day, or reading while you are nursing.  Each person’s situation is different, but it is very hard to commit to much of anything that the first year, and that’s okay.  

Drink Enough Water

This means having a water bottle that you love and making it a staple to have with you at all times.  If I have my water bottle next to me, I drink all day long.  If I forget my water bottle, I’m done for.  I have all of the intent in the world to drink water, but work is busy.  Before I know it I’ve gone the whole day without water, and I’m dying of thirst! Keep that water bottle next to you and drink, drink, drink! 

Take a Lunch

This is not easy in my profession, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been working on my profession for ten years, and I only started making this a priority this year.  Even if it’s taking lunch while you pump, take the time to actually eat a meal.  Maybe even with colleagues that you enjoy. 

Find Even the Slightest Amount of Me Time

For me, with kids 13, 5 and 3, this has become some alone time on the weekends.  When the littlest was younger, it was my husband taking full charge when I needed to shower.  I would lock the door and turn the music up.  Even if I returned to pure chaos, I took some time to reset.

Get Outside

Even if that means taking the kids to the playground, or for a walk.  Leave the dirty dishes, forget the laundry for twenty minutes, and go outside.  It is good for your soul.

Move

Sometimes this is the hardest one.  I am not always in a place where I can fit working out comfortably into my life.  I’m not saying find a way to add exercise, I know how overwhelming that can be.  I’m saying find small ways to move every day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park in the farthest parking lot from work.  Take the long way around when going to a meeting.  I have been fortunate enough that my place of work has invested in a standing desk.  If this is an option for you, I strongly recommend it.  

Being a working mom can be incredibly hard, and overwhelming at times.  Follow these tips and you can take baby steps towards making your wellness a priority.  Trust me, it gets easier over time, but if you can only squeeze in baby steps this guide should help.  Mama, you are important, and you can do this!! 

Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for the New Mom


As a new mom, you have a lot on your plate.  Breastfeeding is one of many things that you have never experienced before.  It can be overwhelming, and nerve wracking to figure it all out.  The tips below can help guide you in the right direction when you are struggling, and provide you with amazing resources when you need support. 

1.) Have some patience.  It’s rare that it works perfectly the second your little one arrives.  Don’t freak out.  Have some patience, and don’t expect perfection.  Keep trying and you both will find your groove.  

2.) Ask for help.  If you feel like you aren’t finding your groove, there are a lot of resources available in person and online to provide help.

If you give birth in a hospital, there is most likely a Lactation Consultant on staff.  Take advantage of that while you are there, and ask as many questions as you can.  

When you head home, many Pediatrician’s offices also have Lactation Consultants on staff.  You can make an appointment for you, and they will spend time with you evaluating your babies techniques, and your positions, to determine if simple changes can help you.  

La Leche League meetings are held in cities and towns across the country.  These groups meet regularly to support all things breastfeeding.  You can find a meeting near you at https://www.llli.org

If these options don’t work for you, there are many online supports.  There is literally a Facebook group for any reason one could think of, and there is a plethora for breastfeeding.  Search for exactly what you are looking for, and you are sure to find it.  

Kelly Mom is also a great online resource.  They advertise as providing evidence based resources for breast feeding and parenting.  They offer articles and resources for almost anything you can think of, breast feeding related.  

3.) It will probably hurt.  But it shouldn’t hurt for long.  It may take a little while for you nipples to get used to so much attention,  but pain is typically a sign that things aren’t quite right.  Constant and consistent nipple cream can be helpful with chapping.  Alternating positions, and placing a rolled up washcloth under the breast, are two ways to switch it up a bit.  Even a small adjustment can prevent constant wear and tear on the same spot.  

Some women also have luck with using a nipple shield, which allows the nipple to heal up a bit.  Many lactation consultants recommend using them sparingly, though, because it can cause some confusion for the baby, and be hard to wean them off.  

It’s always best to consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant prior to using these techniques, as everybody’s experience is different, and I am not a medical professional. 

4.) Pump…but not yet.   Pumping can be a lifesaver, but it is a lot of work and can be overwhelming.  Unless medically necessary, new moms should hold off on pumping for at least a month.  In the beginning your primary goal is to bond and connect with your little one.  It takes your body a few weeks to settle into a consistent supply, and for you to figure out what works best for the two of you. 

The first month with your new little one can be extremely overwhelming, and adding figuring out how to pump to that could be too much.  Many new moms find it helpful to wait until they have established a bit of a routine before adding pumping to their repertoire.  

Once you are ready to pump, it can be a game changer.  It allows others to feed the baby, and for you to have a touch more flexibility in your schedule.  

It was recommended to me that I add a pump session in between two typical feedings to start with.  This allowed me to start building a freezer stash for when I returned to work.  This worked for me because I had an ample supply, but it was overwhelming. In these first few months it often felt like I was either nursing or pumping for most of the day, which was a challenge mentally.  It is not for the faint of heart,  but those early hard stages end quickly and typically a routine is established quicker than you expect.  

5.) Set up a nursing spot.  Prior to giving birth fill a basket with high fiber snacks, reading materials and a large water bottle.  A typical nursing session is anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, but they can last for a couple of hours.  During a growth spurt babies can marathon nurse, which can feel like forever.  It’s important to stay hydrated, way more than pre-birth,  and to keep energized with healthy snacks.  Keeping this basket stocked will ensure that you have every thing you need no matter how long the baby decides to nurse.  

Breastfeeding is a commitment, and it takes a lot of strength and patience on behalf of mom and her support system.  Remember, your journey is different than any others, and your commitment to breastfeeding doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.  If you have the supply and the patience, then go for full on breastfeeding for a year or more.  If you don’t, that’s okay too.  Do what feels best for you and your little one, but if that’s breastfeeding, use this guide to help you through it. 

All of the information in this piece is purely from my experience from breast feeding two babies for a year each.  It is not intended as medical advice, and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. 

Step Momming Through the Holidays

I remember thinking as I was growing up about my future family. I was going to be married by 28, and have two children (one boy and one girl) by the age of thirty. Sure it seemed rather fast, but 30 was officially old, so I couldn’t wait until after that. Plus, I was going to travel and go to school, so any earlier than 28 was just absurd.

It’s funny how when we actually reach that nasty “old” age of thirty how old it really isn’t. Looking back at my naïveté is also quite interesting, but minus some minor details I wasn’t too far off. I did get to travel (and hope to continue). I also earned my Masters Degree, which I am very proud of. Then married at 30 (gasp!) and had my first child at 31. I got my baby boy, and all I needed was the girl.

The part that wasn’t part of the plan was that I actually got my girl when I married her father. I think you would be hard pressed to find a young girl or boy who envisions becoming a step parent, especially given the poor reputation that step parents have received. Fortunately, I was blessed with a truly special step daughter. She is kind, caring, compassionate and thoughtful. We have developed a truly special relationship, and I feel as though she is my own. She treats me as a parent, but not her mother. I am her step mother and that in and of itself special role.

All of that being said, being a step mom during the holidays presents its own set of challenges. Like I said, she is my own and I will treat her that way forever. However, I met her when she was five, and I had her brother when she was 8. Holiday traditions were already kind of set. I slowly started my own with her, but now I have so many I want to start with her brother. Elf on the Shelf is a perfect example. We do not do one for many reasons, but one being I couldn’t figure out how to introduce it so late in the game for her. It felt fake, and I didn’t like that. We have started other traditions though, and so far everything seems to be receiving positive reviews, which is great.

Time is also a tricky thing during the holidays. My step daughter splits the holidays between both houses. There are pros and cons for that for her. For us, it can be rewarding and frustrating. I’m sure all families that split time feel the same way. It is great to spend the holidays with her, but disappointing to always be watching the clock. For her siblings (she has a sister at her moms) it means constantly waiting for her to come home. For example, if she is not here on Christmas morning, does that mean her brother has to wait to open his gifts until she gets here? That doesn’t seem fair to him, but having him open them without her doesn’t seem fair to her. We decided that when he gets older we are going to let him open his Santa gifts while he waits, and his other gifts when she gets here. This is a daily challenge, and there are so many more things we need to think about. We want her to feel welcome, as if this is her home, without neglecting her brothers needs at the same time. It is a very tricky balance.

Then there is the topic of scheduling. I am a planner through and through. My husband is not. It is hard enough trying to plan things with him, much less around and another entire family. I completely recognize that others do not plan ahead like I do, but it has been challenging for me to say the least. Luckily, everybody involved tries to be flexible, but it has forced me to let go of some of my control issues, which is good I suppose. That being said, however, this world will be a much better place when everybody agrees to just let me rule the world.

Lastly, my poor step daughter has two very different families. We are purposely frugal, and diy as much as we can. Not many people are like that, and for a kid who does not grow up consistently in that environment it can be confusing at the holidays. She may get the latest electronic at her other house, and a toy her dad made her at our house. Also, everybody has different financial abilities. How do you explain why Santa got one house twice as many gifts as the other house? On that note, everybody handles Santa differently too. I pretty much had a panic attack last year trying to figure out if stockings are supposed to be from Santa or parents. I still don’t know. If it were my kid I would make it up as I go, but with her I don’t know what pre-conceived notions she is coming in with. Luckily, so far so good. As far as I can tell she is still a Santa believer.

All in all, being a step mom has been wonderful. It’s like a hybrid of an aunt, teacher and parent. Some days I enjoy it thoroughly, and others I’m not sure what I got myself into. I suppose it’s not much different from parenting in general in that respect. It’s some what like watching a bad movie. You can often see the potential for things to happen, but often do not have the control or power to intercede. Luckily, I have a husband who trusts me implicitly, and values my opinions. As with anything, though, the holidays have a way of putting a magnifying glass on any difficulties we do have. We try to enter this time with flexibility and understanding. Advocating for our families needs is important, but understanding the importance of her other family is just as important. I’ve learned that every year will be different, and we will just have to make it up as we go, which often results in more fun anyway.

Merry Christmas all, best wishes to you and yours.

**Update! In July of 2017 our family welcomed a new baby, a little girl. This addition has completed our family, and we are truly thankful all of our beautiful children.

Crying it Out, With Wine

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Until about two years ago I had never heard of “Crying it Out.” In fact, if I had to define it I would have gone back to sleepless post break up nights in my mid 20’s. Me, a bottle of wine, oatmeal creme cookies and my dog crying it out together. In fact, I distinctly remember an evening of crying it out in the middle of Colemans…ah but I digress.

Fast forward to (almost) 33 and crying it out has taken on an entirely different meaning. Crying it out essentially means listening to your baby scream bloody murder until he falls asleep. Sounds miserable, doesn’t it? Well it is, but in my world the costs out weigh the benefits. You see, since day one with my precious little man I have been teaching him how to “self soothe”. AKA put himself to sleep. Why? Definitely because I want him to be a strong, independent, confident young man. Yep that’s it.

Or not. The reality is I’m an incredibly selfish human being. Sleep is VERY important to me, and I need a lot of it. If my little man can fall asleep, or back to sleep by himself then I, in turn get more sleep. Trust me, everybody benefits when I get sleep. So I, selfishly, have taught him how to figure with it himself.  At least most of the time.

Luckily, it’s been pretty easy. He caught on quickly, and for most of his life hasn’t had any issues at night. He goes to bed without an issue, and can typically easily go back to sleep if he wakes up in the middle of the night. Up until last week at least.

Cue traveling, illness and teething and all of a sudden he got used to sharing a bed with mommy. CRAP! Now he NEEDS mommy to fall asleep, and certainly can not stay asleep without her. Good for him…bad for mommy. So the last three nights we have been working on getting back into his own bed, resulting in the use of the crying it out method.

Now, in my early 30’s crying it out is so much more unpleasant, but also very rewarding. Hearing your baby scream at the top of his lungs is heartbreaking, but seeing his smiling face at 6 am because he finally got a good nights sleep is amazing. Seeing my happy boy come back from a place of tantrums and sadness is wonderful. So yes, crying it out is controversial, and yes it can be difficult.  In my world though, the benefits are priceless.

So I’ll keep using it when needed. Just like in my mid twenties though, I’ll make sure I have the company of a bottle of wine, cookies and my dog to get me through.

If you are interested in learning more about Crying It Out or Babywise you can find more information here:

https://www.babywisemom.com

**Disclaimer. This post is for entertainment value only, and is not intended to provide parenting advice.