Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Kids Summer Reading and Writing Program – Win Cash Prizes! May 29, 2014

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas,motherhood,school — rjlacko @ 7:30 am

School is almost out for summer holidays, and our kids are looking forward to time away from the classroom. Whether your children will be attending camp, enjoying a family vacation, or jumping through a sprinkler in the yard, every child will benefit from building (and maintaining!) reading and writing skills all summer long.

Wigu Publishing, the people bringing the popular When I Grow Up books to classrooms and libraries across the US is launching a national literacy campaign, offering over $3,000 in cash and prizes to kids willing to read or write just 20 minutes a day this summer.

As parents, we have a special opportunity to make reading and writing fun for our kids! We can make our own commitment to read, or take an interest in the books or kids choose, and discuss the stories and characters with them. Need ideas for daily writing? Brainstorm alternative scenes, create a new ending, or even a new character for a favorite book! These discussions can encourage fun short-story writing sessions, spin-off tales from the child’s imagination, or a venture into playwriting or dreaming of what kind of career our kids might choose to pursue one day.

Summer Superstars: Reading AND Writing Makes Kids Shine.

It’s easy to sign up and get started!

Did you know, due to “summer brain drain,” teachers spend an average of 4-6 weeks every fall re-teaching curriculum from the prior school year?  In an effort to combat this and keep kids moving forward all summer long, Wigu Publishing’s Summer Superstars program has committed over $3,000 in cash prizes to incentivize youngsters this summer.

Each week throughout the summer, young readers and writers will win cash prizes and books from the When I Grow Up I Want To Be… children’s book series.

There’s more: The Grand Prize winner will receive a $1,000 donation to the school or library of the child’s choice, and the winner will receive a $250 Amazon gift card.

“As parents, educators, and business leaders, we felt it was critical to create a campaign which inspires children to not only keep reading, but also to write, all summer long,” explains Wigu Publishing Co-Founder Kim Ressler.

With Wigu’s partners across the United States, including the Youth Learning Center in St. Louis, MO, Summer Superstars will reach into communities nationwide to engage youth in reading and writing activities throughout the summer months.

Need more information? Visit www.WhenIGrowUpBooks.com/SummerSuperstars

Wigu Publishing’s When I Grow Up I Want To Be… book series provides informative and fun titles that help children visualize the abundant range of career opportunities that exist for them to be successful and make a positive difference.

Sign up today and win!

Summer Superstars: Reading AND Writing Makes Kids Shine

 

Wigu Summer Superstars info page 300dpi

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Try a Twist on the Advent Calendar Tradition, Free Printable Christmas Stories November 27, 2013

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas,Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 4:21 pm

adventcalendarAs a child, I loved advent calendars. The countdown to Christmas Eve was marked on a calendar sent to me each year by my Auntie Janet. Growing up, I was happy to open a little paper window each day to see what Christmas-inspired image lay behind. She never missed a year, straight through to college.

When I married my husband, he bought a beautiful puzzle version, in the shape of a Christmas tree, with drawers hiding chocolate treats. My children can’t wait to open it year after year. To strengthen the tradition, when my children were born, my mother sewed this  fabric one (see left) with pockets.

So our family displays two calendars each year. Being an obsessed chocoholic, I love treating my children to fine dark chocolate during the holidays. (You can never have too much chocolate in the house!) By age four, my youngest son could tell the difference between a Valrhona and a Scharffen Berger.

But two calendars means too many sweets. Rather than put away one of my beloved calendars, I’ve decided this year to fill my mother’s fabric pocket calendar with miniature scrolls, each printed with a part of a Christmas story.

I collected a series of free short stories from the web, and created a document so that I could cut out each “mini scroll,” marked with the day it is to be read, and roll it and tie it with a ribbon. Each day they’ll receive a new part of a story, until they finish with a little book.

There are three stories in all, followed by two poems.

If you’re interested in trying a new tradition, please feel free to print my Christmas Stories PDF.

**It’s important to note that I altered the stories a bit. Everything I found was ancient–and many of those old Christmas tales have surprisingly tragic endings!  I felt compelled to sweeten them up somewhat, and I did try to make the language easier to understand–but be assured the overall messages remain intact and preserved.  Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

How – and Why – to Instill True Gratitude in Your Kids November 16, 2010

I’m not going to say my five-year-old is ungrateful–I’m not entirely certain he has a complete understanding of the concept, but I also know that he has searched his heart earnestly and decided he would rather live with us than be raised in the Jedi Temple among younglings and padawans. Trust me, I’m flattered by his choice.

Nonetheless, he wants one of every toy he lays eyes upon, and has kicked up quite a fuss in stores when he has not been awarded a toy he deems “rightfully” his.

Worse, he has adopted a habit of leaving a wonderful activity (such as a park outing or birthday party) only to hop in the car and demand to go immediately somewhere else equally as fun. Eerg! How about, “Thanks, mom! That was fun!”

Overall, it seems all parents  have thrown up their hands at some point in frustration, but husband-and-wife authors  David and Andrea Reiser say, “Yes, it is possible to refocus our children’s attention and values,” in their new book Letters from Home: A Wake-up Call For Success and Wealth (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4706379-2-0, $27.95, http://www.ReiserMedia.com).

“And at the center of the values we teach ought to be a profound sense of gratitude—for where we live, for the rights and privileges we have here, for family and friends—not to mention the many material blessings most kids have.”

Yes, teaching your kids to say “thank you” is important, but truly instilling a sense of gratitude in them is another matter entirely.  “Gratitude is an attitude of deep appreciation and thankfulness for the kindnesses and benefits you perceive yourself as receiving,” David explains.

Written in the form of letters to the authors’ four sons, the book explores 15 basic American virtues that built our country and that foster individual and familial success.   If you’re ready to start growing an attitude of gratitude in your own household, read on for additional reasons why gratitude is good, and for tips on how to establish it in your own family.

WHY INSTILL GRATITUDE? Gratitude is good for you! Believe it or not, gratitude is good for you on a very basic level. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent, and can also cause individuals to live happier, more satisfied lives and enjoy increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy, and optimism.

Gratitude grants perspective—even in kids. When you take into account the sheer amount of opportunities, privileges, and material possessions most kids enjoy through no effort of their own, it’s easy to see why many of them feel entitled. After all, they’re used to getting a great deal without knowing or caring where it comes from. However, practicing gratitude underscores the fact that all of those toys and lessons and creature comforts don’t just pop out of thin air. “When your children specifically articulate that the things they own and the opportunities they have come from someone other than themselves, they’ll develop a healthy understanding of how interdependent we all are on one another…and they’ll be more inclined to treat others with genuine respect,” explains Andrea.

Gratitude improves relationships. Who would you rather work with: a colleague who freely acknowledges and appreciates your contributions, or a colleague who takes your efforts for granted with—at most—a perfunctory grunt of thanks? It’s a simple principle: gratitude fosters stronger, more positive, and more genuine relationships.

Gratitude counteracts the “gimmes.” “Fundamentally, gratitude is all about being aware of who or what makes positive aspects of your life possible, and acknowledging that,” Andrea explains. “When your kids learn to think like that, they’ll be much less likely to make mindless, self-centered demands. Plus, they’ll appreciate what they have, and their happiness won’t be based as heavily on material things.”

HOW TO INSTILL GRATITUDE

Don’t just count your blessings—name them. Have a minute of thanks at the same time each day—you and your kids can each name a few things you’re thankful for. Whether the list includes a favorite toy, a good grade, or a hug from Grandma, this tradition will start the day off in a positive frame of mind.  David suggests, “If you have older kids, encourage them to keep a gratitude journal and write down a few things they were thankful for each day before going to bed.”

Be a grateful parent. As most parents know, the way you treat your kids affects their development much more than the rules you set. When it comes to gratitude, tell your kids why you’re grateful to have them….and do it often.  “It goes without saying that you love your kids, and that you’re thankful beyond words for their love, their smiles, their hugs, and so much more,” David says. “When you tell them those things, their self-esteem will be boosted for the right reasons (not because they have the latest smartphone or because they’re dressed fashionably). Plus, your example will show them that gratitude extends well beyond material things.”

Don’t shower them with too much stuff. This dilutes the “gratitude” impulse. Remember, all things in moderation…including your kids’ stuff.  “If you buy your daughter whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, she won’t value or respect her belongings,” Andrea points out. “After all, there’s plenty more where everything else came from! And what’s more, she’ll grow up believing that getting what she wants is her due.”  When your child wants something, make him pitch in. (Don’t be the sole provider.) If your child receives an allowance (or, for older kids, has a job), think twice before letting him pocket every last penny. If he wants a new video game, bike, or even to go on a trip with friends, ask him to help save for those things himself.  “Depending on the amount of your child’s weekly allowance or how much he makes mowing lawns on the side, you may still end up footing a majority of the bill yourself,” David admits. “And that’s okay—after all, you are the parent. The point is, though, that your children will be active participants in working toward what they want. When they understand the real value of a dollar, they’ll be more likely to appreciate what you and others do for them.”

Keep a stack of thank-you cards on hand. Insist that your kids use them often. By and large, sending out thank-you notes is one of those arts that seems to be dying. Don’t let that be the case in your house. Send out regular thank-you notes—definitely when your child receives a gift, but also to teachers at the end of the school year, for example, and to Little League coaches and ballet teachers. “Make sure your child is the one composing and hand-writing the notes, not you,” Andrea clarifies. “However, realize that parents need to set the example by modeling writing formal thank-you notes on a variety of occasions.”

Set a good example. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. The values your children espouse as their lives proceed aren’t those that you nag them into learning, but the ones they see you living out. “Every day, there are numerous opportunities for you to model gratitude to your children,” David instructs. “For example, thank the waitress who delivers your food, the cashier who rings you up at the grocery store, and the teller at the bank who cashes your check. When your kids see you expressing thanks, they’ll do so too.”

Ask your kids to give back. The old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” has stuck around for a reason. It really does feel great to help someone else out. Depending on their ages, encourage your kids to rake leaves for an elderly neighbor, say, or volunteer at a nursing home a few hours a week. “You might even make service a family activity,” Andrea suggests. “When your kids give their time and energy to help others, they’ll be less likely to take things like health, home, and family for granted—plus, selfless service tends to dilute selfishness in kids and adults alike.”

Insist on politeness and respect all around. When your kids treat other people with dignity and respect, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the ways in which those folks contribute to and improve their own lives. They’ll be less likely to take assistance and kindness for granted, and more likely to value it as much as it deserves.  “Specifically, it’s important for parents to model to their children the importance of treating all people with respect,” David clarifies.

Find the silver lining. We’re all tempted to see the glass half-empty from time to time…and kids are no exception. When you hear your child complaining or griping about something, try to find a response that looks on the bright side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason—it’s about perspective more than circumstance.  “Often, kids and adults alike are more unhappy than they need to be because they’re overlooking positives for which they should be grateful,” points out David.

Andrea concludes, “We truly are a nation built on gratitude—think about the scores of immigrants who have come here over the years, bursting with thankfulness for the chance to start a new, free life. “Your own children are probably being raised in vastly different circumstances, but it’s still important that they carry on a legacy of gratitude. Start taking steps to instill this important attitude in your family today, and we all just might wake up to a more pleasant tomorrow.”

David and Andrea Reiser are proud to contribute 100 percent of royalties and other income from the publication of the book by supporting three personally meaningful charities in the following proportion: 50 percent to Share Our Strength (www.strength.org), 40 percent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (www.mskcc.org), and 10 percent to FORCE (www.facingourrisk.org). For more information, please visit http://www.ReiserMedia.com.

 

Creative Alternatives for Wasteful Wrapping Paper = A Greener Holiday! November 10, 2010

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas — rjlacko @ 11:45 am
Tags: , , , , ,

If visions of shredded wrapping paper are taking over the sugar plums that should be dancing in your head this time of year, it might be time to put down the wrapping paper and plastic bows in favor of greener options.

Harmful dyes, excess paper waste and plastic ribbons that animals eventually get a hold of are just a few of the holiday wrapping culprits. According to The Recycling Consortium, the U.K. alone uses 32 square miles of Christmas wrapping paper each year—enough to cover Manhattan and have 9 square miles to spare!

Green living expert Cara Smusiak, contributing writer on www.NaturallySavvy.com, has a great list of 5 quick and easy options for cutting down on wrapping paper this holiday season.

Box it up
Hat boxes, fabric-wrapped storage boxes and photo boxes are great for “wrapping” gifts for any occasion, but are great options for winter holidays. They can be used for storage later on and they stand up to a few flurries better than paper. Add some fabric ribbon tied in a bow and you have a lovely package.

Basket case
Pile a bunch of small items into a banana leaf or wicker basket, and finish off with fabric ribbon secured with an ornament or a broach picked up from a second-hand store.

Textile
Wrap gifts in fabric remnants. You can pick up remnants at most fabric stores, often at 50 to 66 percent off the regular price. Fold the fabric around the gift and secure with raffia or a fabric ribbon, or sew a simple sac to hold anything from an iPod to a bottle of wine.

The Old World
Use out-of-date maps to wrap gifts you’re giving to travel lovers. It’s a great way to reuse a paper item before it hits the recycling bin. Secure with raffia or butcher’s twine.

Jar head
Use a glass container or large mason jar for giving homemade treats. If you’re sharing your favorite recipe, layer the dry ingredients in the jar, and attach the recipe to the jar with a ribbon.

If you truly can’t resist the urge to tear away at a paper-wrapped gift, look for recycled wrapping paper. (Just say no to foils and sparkles.) And be sure to use every last scrap!

 

Easy, low-cost tips for improving your tween or teen’s health April 26, 2010

It wasn’t too long ago when health concerns such high blood pressure leading to heart problems were issues only middle-aged or elderly Americans faced. Increasingly, tweens and teens are struggling with health problems that, left unchecked, will only worsen as they age. Here are three tips garnered from the study. It is important to note that in every case, success was highest when the adoloscent was open to the techniques, and the family/parents offered a positive or supportive environment. However, the techniques would benefit all family members, especially busy parents, so total family participation would be ideal.

  • Meditation
  • Walking with a pedometer
  • Life skills coaching/ learning better problem-solving skills

Dr. Vernon Barnes, who has studied the impact of meditation on cardiovascular health for more than a decade at the Medical College of Georgia’s Georgia Prevention Institute has documented the improved stress reactivity in adolescents with high and normal blood pressures as well as lower blood pressures in inner-city adolescents who meditate twice daily. He adds that a positive attitude and family environment increases the effectiveness.

Meditation also sharpens the mind for education. “When you come to school with a stressed mind, you can’t do as well,” Dr. Barnes said. “The benefit of calming your mind is preparing it to learn.” A review of school records showed meditating adolescents miss fewer days and generally behave better, he added.

Another study showed that the blood pressure of students in a high school-based walking program decreased after just 16 weeks compared with non-participating peers. Dr. Barnes said an inexpensive pedometer is an incentive to move.

“It all works together, which makes sense,” he said, looking at the impact of the techniques over just a few months. “If you could maintain that decrease into your adult years, it may decrease cardiovascular disease risk,” Dr. Barnes said.

Researchers also reported reductions in anger and anxiety after a dozen, 50-minute Williams LifeSkills workshops helped adolescents learn to analyze a situation before responding, to listen and empathize or even stand firm when necessary. Psychosocial factors such as anger are known to contribute to a wide range of health problems including elevated blood pressures and heart disease in adulthood.

What does your family do to alleviate stress?

 

Jane Goodall’s 9 tips for family fun on Earth Day! April 21, 2010

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute‘s global environmental and humanitarian youth program featuring service projects, youth-led campaigns and an interactive website offering earth-friendly activities, is empowering kids and families worldwide to care for the planet.

Roots & Shoots (in conjunction with Toys R Us) have developed the following list of free and low-cost activities to help families appreciate the outdoors this Earth Day.

  • Jump! Whether you call it skipping rope or jump roping, it’s a great activity to improve strength and fitness and can be performed on grass or pavement.
  • Retreat to the Beach. Instead of driving to the beach, recreate a piece of the coast’s serene atmosphere with a sandbox in the yard.
  • Be Farm and Garden Fresh. Get to know your local farmer and enlist the kids to join you at the local farmers’ markets. Better yet, plant your own garden that everyone can care for and enjoy all season long.
  • Let’s Go Fly a Kite! Show the kids how to soar into a colorful sky with only the force of nature to power your kite. A centuries-old activity, kite flying can be enjoyed at any age—with a little wind, of course!
  • Give Back. Gather the family for a volunteer day dedicated to beautifying the earth. Many communities have organizations that champion environmental protection and regularly organize events like stream and trail clean-ups.
  • Be Bubbly! Invite the neighbors to create bubble wands out of objects found around the house like straws, pipe cleaners, strawberry baskets and coat hangers. Take the kids outside and have your own bubble party!
  • Take a Hike. Locate a nature trail near you and take the kids on a woodsy adventure. Hiking is a group activity that provides great exercise and hands-on experiences with the natural world.
  • Start a Kickball Game. All it takes is a rubber playground ball, make-shift bases and some friends to start a kickball game. Create a neighborhood tournament and coach the kids though innings of bouncing fun.
  • Catch and Release. Butterflies are some of nature’s most beautiful creatures, although they aren’t easy to observe when they flutter in the sky. Using an insect or butterfly net, capture them and show the kids how to appreciate their beauty up close. Then let them loose.
 

Shop likes always–your fave stores will donate to YOUR favorite green charity! April 9, 2010

Whether you’re buying diapers or groceries, school supplies or Mother’s Day gifts, you can (without spending anything extra) give money to the “green” nonprofit of your choice! GoodShop.com is an online shopping mall that donates up to 30% of every purchase at more than 1,400 (including Amazon, Target, Diapers.com, Gap, Staples, and Expedia among others) to your family’s favorite “green’ cause.

In addition, the site lists hundreds of coupons and deals including free shipping offers, percentages off, buy-one-get-one deals, and money back on future orders.  For example: get 15% orders at The Children’s Place, save $10 on your first order at Diapers.com, free shipping on orders over $50 at Target, or save $10 at Drugstore.com

Here’s how it works:

1) Go to www.GoodShop.com

2) Designate your favorite charity

3) Enter the store where you want to shop and get a list of the coupons

4) Shop as you normally would and a percentage of what you spend goes back to your cause

GoodShop is a great way to help families integrate helping the environment into their daily habits and routines (and save money while they’re at it!). It’s a no-brainer!

For more info: Parents can also encourage children to use the search engine GoodSearch.com which donates about a penny per search to their child’s favorite “green” charity (such as Conservation International, the NRDC, Heal the Bay, the Nature Conservancy or one of the 89,000+ others!). Use GoodSearch just as you would use any other search engine, get quality Yahoo! search results, and watch the donations add up!