Fun & Easy Ways to Promote Wellness In Your Family

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #NatureMadeFamily #CollectiveBias

How are you doing? How is your family doing?

Be honest, when you read that did you assume the fake, “Good, thanks. How are you?” smile and response you give the cashier? It’s easy to be so busy and frantic that we don’t realize that we’re really NOT doing that good, after all.

So how are you really doing?  How is your families wellness, their sense of well-being? Are you living healthy, fulfilling lives? When is the last time you smiled and laughed together? Today’s post is all about encouraging you to get those important moments into your life in fun and easy ways every day.

Fun & Easy Ways to Promote Wellness In Your Family

Play Together

This is one of the easiest and best ways to promote family wellness. It often gets lost in the cracks of homework, meals, and running here and there and everywhere though. When you’re focusing on wellness you don’t want it to feel like a burden, a chore, or just something to check off your to-do list.

It’s a recurring theme around here that we’re all busy. To make sure that playing together happens, you just have to get a tiny bit creative. I found things that were already in my routine and figured out how I could tweak them into play time together. Now when I take the kids to the park, instead of scrolling on my phone I jump in and play tag with them. After school we do a quick stop and walk to the pond and bring bread to feed the turtles and ducks. While I’m waiting for dinner to cook I put on our favorite music and we throw an impromptu dance party. When we have that awkward 10 minutes before we need to head out the door, we sneak in a few rounds of a card game.

When you think about it for just a bit, it’s easy to find some play time, and it benefits everyone in your family!

Unwind Together

Are you going constantly from the time you wake up far too early till the time your head hits the pillow? How would you describe putting your kids to bed? It is peaceful, or more like a war zone?

I can’t over stress how important just having a few hours to unwind each night is. Now, I understand that this can’t happen every night this time of year. But at least 3 nights out of the 5 weeknights you have, should allow you to have this unwind time.

I’ve built in a nice, solid chunk of time for us to unwind as a family and get ready for bed. First I have the kids take care of all their bedtime routine essentials. You know, baths, and brushing teeth and hair and all that good stuff. I also make sure we don’t forget one very important thing: Nature Made® Kids First® Vitamins!

When you get too busy another important wellness item that can get neglected is making sure you’re taking the vitamins and supplements you need. With a chunk of time dedicated to bedtime routine and unwind time together each day, you can be sure this no longer gets neglected. I recently re-stocked up on Nature Made® products for me and the kids at Target! I love stocking up on all our essentials before the holiday rush happens in earnest. Kids First® Gummies are for children 4 years older and up and you can see they have the great price point of $9.99. They’re the easy way for kids to take supplements and perfect to start the family on a healthy, tasty routine.

Another great reason to buy them right now is you can receive 30% off all Nature Made® products with Cartwheel, while supplies last!

After all the bedtime essentials are taken care of it’s time for the unwinding fun! Most nights the kids either get dedicated play time alone with me for 5 minutes, or I help them clean up their rooms if it needs it. Then I read out loud with them from a chapter book. This time also includes talking and sharing with each other. It’s amazing how much they’ll open up at the end of the day!

The kids aren’t the only ones who need unwind time, though! I make sure I also have plenty of downtime each evening. For me, this includes time hanging out with the hubby and usually reading a good book. I also make sure that my night time routine also includes Nature Made® Multi for Her + Omega-3 Adult Gummies or Nature Made® Hair Skin and Nails Adult Gummies. The Nature Made® Multi for Her + Omega-3 Adult Gummies are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, D3, and E, as well as key B vitamins (folic acid, biotin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12), and important minerals such as chromium and zinc.

I can always tell the difference when we have that crucial time to unwind and take care of ourselves, and when we don’t. Try looking at things you can let go of to see if it makes a big difference in your wellness, too!

Participate in the Complaint Flip Challenge Together

The amount of information and connection of the age that we live in is one thing that I’m continually thankful for! However, it can also become negative and overwhelming. It all depends on how and what we choose to focus in on, to let into our brains, and allow to take camp and dwell there.

I’m especially bad about this, and so I’ve learned to become very selective on what I allow myself to focus on, and what we as a family focus our time around. We’re way too busy to be having a bunch of sad, bad, or especially drama filled thoughts floating around up there. We need room for the good, the purposeful, and the creative!

The only way to get into this habit is to work on catching yourself when you’re not focusing on the good and “flipping” it. I’ve mentioned on social media that the past few weeks have been especially trying for us. Lots of bad crazy unexpectedly thrown into the other crazy of this season (isn’t that how it always works?!). To help ease the stress and stay focused on the good as things come up I take action, or I “flip” them in my thinking. If it’s something big and sad instead of dwelling on it I think of one tangible thing I can do to help. For example: donate to the areas that need relief, or bring a meal to a friend who just had surgery. Then, knowing I’ve done what I can, I can move on.

For things that happen to me that I can’t do this on, this is where the “flip” mentality comes in. Instead of focusing on the complaint, I find at least one blessing in the bad, or that the bad brings to mind. For example, say moths decide to overtake our pantry. Then the exterminator needs to come out to come kill them. In order for him to do that I have to move *all* of the food out of the pantry, wipe it down, and throw a lot away. Instead of focusing on all the complaints, I find the good. Two good things here are I’m thankful that we have a pantry full of food, in a country where pest control is relatively inexpensive and uncomplicated.

Challenge your family for one week to try and put this into practice. You might take a few minutes at a meal, on the way home from school, or after homework to share what you’re having troubles with currently and practice doing this together. Don’t nag or push. After all, this is to promote togetherness and refocusing our thoughts. Keep it should be low pressure and fun! Do this every so often when you feel that your family could benefit from it.

It’s amazing how much better our lives become, simply when we switch how we choose to look at them.

Hopefully, by adding in these fun, easy ways your family will feel a whole new sense of wellness every day! Do you have any ways that you add happiness and wellness into your life? I’m always up for amazing ideas! Leave me a comment and let me know! Also, don’t forget to stock up and save 30% off all Nature Made® products with Cartwheel, while supplies last!

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease

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Tips To Make Laundry Quicker & Easier

Legalese Disclosure Nonsense: The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free

Mt. Washmore

When I first heard this description of what we as moms tackle in regards to laundry I just had to laugh. At times it definitely feels like I’m tackling Mt. Washmore. As I love to work smarter, not harder I’ve come up with some tips and tricks that help make laundry a whole lot faster and easier, and today I’m sharing them with you!

Tip 1: Condense Your Loads

Figure out what you can wash together safely and easily! For me I personally have 3 loads I always do– Dark Towels, Jeans, and Dark Underwear & Socks all go in one load–this is my load that always get washed in hot water and a super scrubbing mode! Load #2 is all my light colored items of every shape and size. Load #3 is my darks & reds of any other kind. With just these 3 categories I can easily wash all our clothes in a way that will make them last a long time but also combines similar enough items to give me just a few big loads (but that’s getting into a future tip)

Tip 2: Sort As You Go

If you have a laundry room with space this is an amazing trick! As I mentioned I do 3 loads so I have 3 small, foldable baskets without lids located in our laundry room. For my kids instead of having them throw their dirty clothes into a hamper, I have the bring it straight into the laundry room and put it in the right basket. Our master bath/closet is further away and where our dirty clothes end up, so I have a small basket for us, but every few days I take it into the laundry room and sort it out quickly. This means once it’s laundry day you’re ready to go!

Tip 3: Do It All

I know some people who do their laundry all week long, but I’ve found for me personally this wastes a lot of time. I always try to get a head start on my laundry on the weekend, or start Monday morning. Since I only have the 3 loads I can do all those large loads over 2 or 3 days, , and then have all my laundry done for the week no matter how busy I am. This is a huge time saver for me and it feels great to know I’m “done” with laundry until the next week!

Tip 4: Get A New Machine With Better Features & Energy Saving

Do you have a clunker that’s as old as the hills and as energy efficient as a huge, black cloud billowing machine? An upgraded washer and dryer will save you time, energy, and money! And right now at Best Buy, you can get new ENERGY STAR®  certified electronics and appliances that include these features:

  • Better for you – ENERGY STAR certified clothes washers and dryers save energy, which means that you will save on energy bills. Save $490 over the lifetime of an ENERGY STAR certified clothes washer and even more with an ENERGY STAR washer/dryer pair. Many are also equipped with advanced features that make cleaning and drying easier and more effective.
  • Better for the environment – Saving energy means that ENERGY STAR certified washers and dryers help protect the climate, which means that your kids and the planet will benefit for years to come. Clothes dryers that have earned the ENERGY STAR use approximately 20% less energy than standard models.
  • Better for your clothes – ENERGY STAR clothes washers use a variety of sophisticated cleaning methods that are gentler on your clothes, while ENERGY STAR clothes dryers use less heat and sensor drying which reduces wear and tear on clothes from over-drying.

To learn more about ENERGY STAR you can check out this fun video here, or read this great article here!

What are your tips and tricks for making laundry faster and easier? I’d love to hear them!

Easy Ways To Sneak Adventure Into Your Family’s Life

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BornToShred #ShredTheDay #CollectiveBias

There are a couple of quotes that I love, that I feel so strongly about it’s like I came up with them (or, rather, could have if I’d been so clever). You’ve heard me say them before, and chances are you’ll hear me say them again. But they’re Just. That. Good.

Collect Memories, Not Things

&

Not All Who Wander Are Lost ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Life is the sum of the experiences we have, and the people that we share them with. As a busy-crazy parent, though, it’s all too easy to lose sight of that in the million-mile long to-do list. Especially during this time of year, it’s far too easy to lose our sense of adventure and playfulness and focus on the urgent instead of the important. So today I want to really encourage you to block out some time for some adventure! There’s another new quote I just came across that I love, too:

We were born to play. We were born to move. We were born to laugh and to seek adventures both big and small. We were born to live a full, flavorful live. We were Born to Shred. ~ Shredded Wheat Cereal

I love this!! It so embodies the life I want to live and give my family.

However, as you recently saw when I shared how I rock this back to life season, I’m as crazy busy as everyone else! I don’t have the time, money, or energy for going to Europe or Skydiving at the moment. There are plenty of ways to fill your life with adventures that you can easily sneak into even your busy crazy weeks! So today I’ll be sharing them with you, plus giving you practical tips for how to make sure they actually happen.

But first…

I just *couldn’t* be an adventuring mom of nearly 10 years without throwing in some tips and tricks on how to make your adventure go smoothly!! After all, while chaotic adventures are still adventures, they don’t exactly make for the sweetest memories.

Fuel Up! Whatever you’re into, fuel it with Post® Shredded Wheat! Hanger is a true thing (at least in this family) and making sure that everyone is well fed before heading out for the day not only saves you money, it also ensures that you’ll be able to tackle your adventure!

Shredded Wheat has just come out with 3 delicious new Frosted flavors which are Mixed Berry, Cinnamon Roll, and S’mores Bites! Not only are these perfect for breakfast, but they also make great on-the-go adventure snacks! One of my kids all-time favorite snacks to bring along is dry cereal in a baggie, and these delicious combos are perfect for that!

Extra Awesome? Right now you can take advantage of this great iBotta offer for Shredded Wheat cereal at Walmart and earn $3 cash back! Just click on the picture to get all the details!

Once you’re fueled up for the day, bag some extra for a snack, bring along drinks, make sure your car is all set, and head out on one of these Easy Adventures!

*Explore Every Local Park In Your Hometown

Most cities have a website with a Parks Directory. Search for yours or even find it by looking up the map views of your hometown online. Then visit each park at least once with your family! Parks are my favorite spot for easy week day adventures. Especially here in Texas they usually are so much more than just playgrounds and can include fishing ponds with ducks and turtles, hiking paths, sports fields, and more! Often parks will have special events that happen in them, so search these up too for a chance to find out about concerts, movies, and yearly events that happen there.

*Visit Your Closest National or State Park, or Nature Preserves

These are gorgeous gems that often tourists will travel for days (or in the case of National Parks, the world) to see. The crazy thing is that I’ve often found that the locals have never visited these spots, or only gone a handful of times. Pick one of these and make a day trip on a weekend! These also often have websites completely dedicated to all there is to do, see, and participate in them. In Wyoming, my parents live just a day trip away from all of all the above, and they even include the wide variety of desert regions to the gorgeous mountains lakes and streams!

*Check Out A Locally Owned Store You’ve Never Visited On the Town Square

How many locally owned stores do you have in your town? Even (and especially) in itty-bitty towns there are Mom and Pop Stores, Local Bakeries, and Thrift Stores. Hit up your main town square which usually includes a beautiful mix of old buildings and these shops and poke into places you’ve never been! You might even discover little, hidden treasures like we did when we stumbled across a little free library in our town square.

*Go Painted Rock Hunting & Hiding

While traditional rock hunting has always been loads of fun, there’s a new twist to this classic past time that’s popping up everywhere! People are painting rocks, then hiding them for others to find. Anyone can join in on the fun, and you can easily find or start a group for your hometown using Facebook!

*Learn A New Skill As a Family–like Archery or Taekwondo

Pick a hobby or skill that every member of your family can participate in, and then do it! This can be as simple as searching for videos on how to do a few simple moves or steps of a skill, or you can get dedicated and sign up the entire family to learn together! Active skills are great, but this could also be something like finding a group video game to do together or completing a DIY project.

Want to remember these plus even more ideas? Here’s a printable for you as a way to get inspired to sneak adventure into your life!

Want to make sure this actually happens? Take out your calendar now! Pick 4 of the easiest and put them on your schedule, one a week. Now, pick one of the bigger adventures and put it down for one weekend in the coming month. Then repeat! I promise that if you carve out the time you won’t regret it! The rich experiences and new memories will make you feel alive and encourage you as it draws you closer together as a family. Every state and hometown has its own unique hidden treasures, and I’ve found you’ll love and appreciate where you live so much more when you take a few minutes to go adventuring to them and discover new ones along the way!

Don’t forget to Fuel Up With Your Favorite New Shredded Wheat Flavor before and on the go! Looking for even more amazing and inspiring ideas? Check out all the great ones on Pinterest Here!

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Creative Solutions To Teaching & Rewarding Your Older Kids

Legalese Disclosure Nonsense: I’m being compensated to share this fun, interesting new option for rewarding your kids with you today!

 

It’s clear by many different posts that I’ve shared with you why I think that having your kids help around the house is so beneficial. I’ve shared our system with you, and how it’s evolved through the years. We’re still using the method where the kids work to earn money or screen time. This is perfect for the ages they’re at, but as Amber gets older at a lightning speed, I’ve been thinking towards the future.

So when I first heard about BusyKid I thought it was a super intriguing idea! It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of millennials are not invested in the stock market.  I agree that the stock market has always felt super intimating to me. Although I have an IRA I’ve never actively participated in purchasing stock. I love this easy way to introduce your kids to it, and how it opens up their options for the money they earn. I thought my readers with older kids would especially appreciate learning about this new and innovative option!

Also, did you know that right now in the US, only 7 states require high school students to pass a basic finance test in order to graduate, and it’s possible depending on where you live, that your child would never spend one hour talking about this important topic before being on their own. This means as parents we need to make sure our kids are equipped with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed.

For a limited time, 2 kids of each new family will receive a free $10 stock.  BusyKid wants kids to learn how to invest so they decided to give them their first experience in dealing with the stock market. Also, right now you can enroll the entire family for $14.95 a year and get first 30 days free.

So what exactly is BusyKid and how does it work? Here’s some information from the company:

Think of BusyKid as your child’s first job with direct deposit. Your child can earn, save, share, spend and invest a weekly allowance. By using BusyKid regularly from a young age, your children can start building a routine they can use when it’s time for them to be living on their own.

Earn Your Stock – Let your children earn money to invest by completing chores around the house. By using BusyKid, your children can automatically turn their allowance into investments. In addition to the stock option, you can also use BusyKid to make direct donations to several charities, to transfer funds to bank accounts.

There’s also the option to Add a BusyKid Spend Card (rechargeable Debit Card) for just $5 per year. The BusyKid Spend Card allows your child to spend allowance in-stores or online, or transfer fund to other bank accounts.

I love how these options set up an account that mimics the real world while still letting the parent be in charge of a completely customized system!

To get the whole scoop on this innovative new system visit their website here!

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5 Ways To Power Through Your Crazy Week

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, INC., The Coca-Cola Company, and Conagra Brands all opinions are mine alone. #PowerfullySmart #CollectiveBias

Life. Is. Busy.

I know, I know. It’s a recurring theme around here lately. But seriously, this time of year is SO BUSY for me, and I know it is for you, too! For a while, I was just really struggling to keep up the energy and drive that I needed to tackle this season (literally and figuratively).

The first thing I did was to get organized and come up with a schedule to keep things on track and from slipping through the cracks. I recently shared that with you in my How To Rock Your Back To Life post. All the organization in the world, though, doesn’t do you a bit of good if you’re so exhausted you can’t get through it, or so distracted that you can’t focus.

So today I’m sharing with you things I’m doing in my life to be able to Power Through My Busy Week and actually manage to accomplish half of that list!

Get Enough Rest

Again, I know, I know. You’ve heard this one a million times, and chances are you might even laugh at it. Like, HOW is it possible to get enough rest? This one has always been super challenging for me, too. For one, I’m a night person so living in a morning person world now that the kids are in school is not pleasant. Also, I’m one of those “lucky” people who truly does need 8-9 hours of good sleep or their whole world is out of joint.

These are the things that have really helped me be able to get the rest I need. Some you’ve heard before, and others are a little non-conventional, but hopefully, they’ll get your mind going on how YOU can get the rest you need. As you’ll see you can tweak your routine according to your personality. The more you know about yourself the more you’ll be able to make it work. For example, extroverts and introverts both need time alone each day–but for opposite reasons!

  • Early Bedtimes For Kids – So a lifesaver for me is that my kids have early bedtimes. Even at ages 7 & 9, they’re both still in bed with doors shut at 7:30 almost every night. Then they can stay up reading or cleaning/organizing their rooms until 8, which is lights out. They’re both extroverts, like me, so this time alone helps them to get tired and shut down their brains for the night. Which plays right into the next step
  • Intentionally Wind Down— When my kids go down for the night is also when I stop working. I shut down my email and my social media and I “mush” for the night. This is so helpful. As I mentioned I’m an extrovert and a night person. In order for me not to be jazzed and my brain not to be whirling into the middle of the night, I have to intentionally shut it down. Plus I think there really is something to that screen light keeping you awake theory (look it up if you’re curious). Cuddling up in a comfy room, with dim lights, and a good book makes it possible for me to pass out easily at a decent time every night!
  • Sleep In — Yepp. You read that right. While there are a ton of articles on the merits of waking up early, I’ve found it’s best for me if I hit that snooze. My kids actually are up *before* I am. *gasps*. But, as I mentioned, they’re the ones who have to be up, dressed, and ready for the day early on. All I need to do is be up in time to make sure they’re good to go, haven’t forgotten anything, and drive them to drop off. It’s amazing what this extra 20 minutes of light snooze does for me each morning. It gives my inner not-a-morning-person a chance to ease into the day–while still in my cozy bed.

Power Up With Your Food

I hate breakfast. I wish I didn’t and I know how (supposedly) it’s the most important, but usually, I skim by with just a little of something like Greek Yogurt. I think it’s that whole “not a morning person” thing still. Because I go lightly on breakfast, though, it means I need a delicious, filling, and smart meal to help me power through the rest of my busy day. I also need something convenient and quick. Since I work from home I don’t want to spend a lot of time whipping up a meal during my precious little lunch break.

Que Healthy Choice® Power Bowls and smartwater. This dynamic duo is the perfect answer to lunch!

First off, let’s talk hydration. Because, really, it should go without saying, but I will anyway. There’s absolutely no way to power through your busy week if you’re not staying hydrated with water! Personally drinking water is one thing that I’ve always been really good at. I love it and it loves me! I know so many of my readers have trouble drinking water, though, so I’d love to introduce you to smartwater. It comes in this gorgeous, sleek packaging and is vapor-distilled for purity, inspired by the clouds, with just the right amount of electrolytes for a uniquely clean taste. If you don’t drink enough water because of disliking how it tastes, you need to purchase this brand! I love the size of the bottle, too. For someone who chugs water all day, this is the just-right amount for lunch or when I’m out and about!

And now for the food! For me, food has to taste delicious, or I just don’t want it. However, I know I need power for my days so I’m trying to be more intentional about what I’m putting in my body. That’s why I was attracted to Healthy Choice® Power Bowls. They are food with purpose that insist that every ingredient matters. They’re also made with an intentional balance of vegetables, proteins, and whole grains to fuel your lifestyle. They come in a variety of bold, fun flavors:

  • Adobo Chicken Bowl
  • Cuban-Inspired Pork Bowl
  • Chicken Sausage And Barley Bowl (my favorite!! I just love the flavor combination in this one, soooo tasty and filling!)
  • Korean-Inspired Beef Bowl

You can find both these products at Walmart! And right now you can even Earn .75 cash back when you purchase Healthy Choice® Power Bowls at Walmart (any variety – any size) through iBotta!

Another thing to do when you’re eating is to **Just Eat**

This is a tough one. When your schedule gets so completely jam-packed it’s possible to want to over-task every single second. I’ve found that this ends up in a very frazzled, tired, and stressed out me! Even if you’re making these for on the go, find a spot, sit down, and actually just *enjoy* eating and drinking. It only takes a few moments and just the act of taking a break and enjoying your food makes a huge difference in giving you power and energy for your day!

Create a Stress-Free Space

This is another big one! When you get overly busy is also when those things that *can* slip through the cracks, do. Often this means that workspaces get super chaotic looking and cluttered. For me, clutter absolutely adds stress into my life. I find it much harder to focus and concentrate when working in an untidy space (although usually, I don’t even consciously realize that’s what’s going on). This also applies to my first step, as well. If your master bedroom looks like a storage room instead of a restful oasis, chances are it’s adding to your exhaustion. Clear the clutter, add in some items that bring you joy, and get back to being productive! Wondering how on earth you can find the time to do this with your current workload? Read on!

Find Your Sweet Spot

In my post on organization, I mentioned how using timers can be huge for helping increase focus and productivity. Learning how and when you work best can make or break this system. For example, I’ve found that when I’m working at the computer I’ll be super focused….and then “all of a sudden” I’ll find myself rabbit trailing down a sea of mindless social media scrolling, stray post clicking, or thinking about the million other to-dos.

By using my timers I’ve found that my brain can focus and work hard for 30-45 minutes. At this point, I start to get distracted by everything. So now I set my timer for 30-45 minutes depending on my daily schedule. Then after that, I reset my timer for 10-15 minutes to do something that breaks me away from whatever I’ve been focused on. Usually, I try to make this something when I get up and move around. So these time chunks are where you’d work in de-cluttering your work area! It’s amazing how much you can get done in 10-15 minutes when you’re motivated. Since I work from home this is the block of time that I do my laundry and other housework in. It takes the time that my brain would automatically be zoning out in and works in active, productive activities. I find once I’m back it’s so much easier to refocus!

Move Your Body

When your life gets busy crazy it’s soooo easy to also let being active slip to the wayside. Again, this is one of the worst things you can do since it’s a great source of energy! I’ve found that during this time of life I just have to get super creative with *how* I’m sneaking exercise into my routine. As you know for a long while I worked on our treadmill once the kids were in bed each night. Over the past half a year, however, for several reasons that just wasn’t working well any longer. Then I came up with a great idea.

When my kids worked out, I joined them! At first, this looked like me playing with them on the playground. When I ran us by after school, instead of scrolling on my phone while they played tag, I joined in! This was a great “work smarter not harder” move as it combined quality time with them and moving for me.

This summer they joined our local martial arts school. For months I’ve sat and watched them while I played on my computer a few times a week. Then I realized that with the group discount rate my husband and I could both join in for just a little bit extra each month. Last week I officially started and we’re all loving it! Our local school combines kid and adults, so we’re all out there together. Again, a super win for working smarter not harder.

Chances are good you have active kids, too. When they’re active find a way to move *your* body as well. That might be playing with them, or walking around the track, or going out for a jog during that time. It’ll look different for us all, but it doesn’t have to be hard!

Have any amazing tips I missed? I’m always looking for more ways to power through my own oh-so-crazy days!  Leave me a comment letting me know and don’t forget to use the iBotta offer on your next trip to Walmart!

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How Books Changed Our Lives–One Family’s Literacy Journey

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser.  All opinions are mine alone.  #MyLiteracyStory #DGMyStoryEntry #CollectiveBias

We all know reading is important. If you can read, you can learn about the things that fascinate you and experience far-off places you long to visit and see life through the eyes of someone who is different from you, all within the pages of a book.  As a homeschooling mom, every day of my week centers around reading with my children and encouraging them to appreciate and love reading.  For the last 5 years we’ve been using the Charlotte Mason method for our home school, which focuses mainly on learning through reading great literature.  All those hours we’ve spent immersed in great books have shaped us so much as individuals and as a family.  My kids haven’t just learned history and science and grammar.  They’ve learned empathy and compassion and courage, and that “normal” doesn’t mean “exactly like me.” Reading has a way of changing us for the better, and it’s a joy that everyone should be able to experience.

That’s why I’m so excited to share with you about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and how they’re making the dream of reading a reality for so many people. Since it began, the Foundation has awarded more than $140 million to nonprofit organizations and schools that have helped over 9 million people improve their literacy and education. That’s a lot of good!  You can learn more about this literacy initiative and also enter the #DGMyStory sweepstakes to win a $50 Dollar General gift card (nice!) by clicking here and sharing your own personal literacy story with the hashtag #DGMyStoryEntry.

And now I can support a cause that’s really important to me by buying the cereals my family loves anyway, because Kellogg’s® is a proud sponsor of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation! Head over to your local Dollar General to pick up some Kellogg’s cereals. I found several varieties on an end cap in the food section and grabbed a few because we really like our cereal around here.

This initiative is a great example of the fact that every day, Kellogg employees work together to fulfill their vision of enriching and delighting the world through foods and brands that matter.   Hover over the image below to be a part of this great initiative and start conveniently shopping right now for Kellogg’s timeless cereals, including Rice Krispies®, Froot Loops®, Frosted Flakes®, and my family’s favorite, Frosted Mini-Wheats®!

Check out the literacy stories featured on select Kellogg’s cereal boxes and be inspired by the encouraging stories people have shared.  We’ve all been on some sort of journey that relates to reading, and sharing our stories with each other has a way of connecting us.

Each of my children has unique strengths, interests, struggles, and abilities, so it makes sense that each one would learn to read in a different way and at a different pace.   Today I’m going to share about my experiences in teaching three very different kids to read and how we have all grown as a result of reading.

Let me introduce you to my 10-year-old.  Sweet, helpful, conscientious, thoughtful…a typical firstborn child.  Teaching her to read should have been a joy.  She was eager to please and willing to learn anything I wanted to teach her.  Unfortunately for her, we had friends whose 3-year-old was doing a reading program and already knew more than my almost-kindergartener.  My daughter could recognize letters and knew many of the sounds (which, in hindsight, was absolutely fine), but comparison had me in its clutches and in my mind we were suddenly way behind.  I got the same online program that our friends were using and she started official reading lessons.  While my daughter caught on quickly and was soon able to read short words, it wasn’t a joy for either of us.  She didn’t love reading, and that broke my literature-loving heart.

So I did some serious soul searching and realized I was burdening both of us with an unspoken pressure to measure up to a ridiculous and unnecessary standard.  Did I want her to learn to read early just to keep up with someone?   No! I wanted her to learn to read in a way that made reading enjoyable.  So I took the pressure off and went back to the things that make reading fun–books!  I started simply reading lots of books to her again for the sheer pleasure of it.  Reading became fun again. When she started kindergarten and it was time to pick up reading lessons again, it was a breeze.  This time I had the ultimate goal in sight–cultivating a love of reading.  We tried some traditional methods, like flash cards and early readers, and some hands-on activities using things like Easter eggs and popsicle sticks.  But no matter what approach I used this time, her reading improved rapidly because now there was no pressure and she could learn for the joy of it!

Then came my son.  Energetic, creative, stubborn, wild and wiggly…he didn’t have the time or inclination to sit and learn anything in the “normal” way.  Luckily I had learned my lesson already and was determined not to make learning to read a chore for him.  So I spent hours just reading books to him and my girls.  When I read biographies or mythology or poetry to his older sister for her lessons, he sat at our feet building creations with Legos.  He seemed completely engrossed in what he was doing, but he was quietly listening to every word.  He would exclaim over a surprising turn of events in the story or ask a question about why the characters did a certain thing and I realized he was really interested in hearing these stories.  And as he sat there playing with his favorite toys, he was unwittingly learning.  His vocabulary grew, his grasp of language improved, and his love for literature blossomed.

This composed the entirety of his kindergarten reading “curriculum.”  The next year I wanted him to really start reading so we started working on some phonics and sight words.  He didn’t enjoy this at all, so we took it REALLY slowly and only spent a few minutes a day on it.  He couldn’t handle more than about 5 minutes at a time and would melt down if I tried to go any longer.  (We’ve since discovered that he struggles with anxiety and ADHD, making traditional learning incredibly overwhelming and frustrating for him.)  I got discouraged and started to wonder if he would ever learn to read at all.  But I was determined to let him learn at his own pace and in a way that would foster a love of reading.  So I just kept reading lots of books aloud, and he kept listening.  We also found some audiobooks at the library, which we put on to help him settle down at night and fall asleep.  He loved these so much that he started listening to audiobooks anytime he was in his room building with Legos (yep, it’s still his favorite pasttime.)  He was being exposed to hours of literature every day and couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  I was tempted so many times to push him to catch up to where I thought a typical first-grader should be, but I reminded myself over and over to just let him love literature until he was ready to read it.

Now he is in 2nd grade and he just read his first chapter book, which he finished in two days.  On his own.  With no prompting.  I almost cried.  Only a few months ago, I could hardly get him to read a few sentences without becoming overwhelmed.  Occasionally he gets stuck on a word, but his vocabulary is so extensive from all those books he’s been soaking up for the last few years that he can almost always figure out what something says without help.

After these two polar opposite experiences with teaching my first two kids to read, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my youngest.  Fun-loving, bright, chatty, intelligent, cuddly, compassionate…this little 4-year-old is very much her own person.  I was expecting to start teaching her to read when she starts kindergarten next year.   Boy, was I wrong!  Right around her 4th birthday she started asking me to teach her to read.

We were part of a home school co-op and she was in the kindergarten class for lack of a better option.  We really joined the co-op for the sake of her big sister and brother, and she was pretty much just along for the ride (or so I thought).   I honestly didn’t expect her to learn much academically because she was only 3.  She quietly listened every Friday as her teacher introduced a new letter, and one day it just clicked for her that each letter makes a sound.  After that, she wanted to read her letter cards every day, so we read those five cards over and over, and the next week she got a new one, and then came cards with two or three letters on them…and still she couldn’t get enough.

I created some hands-on activities to help her recognize upper-and lower-case letters and practice letter sounds and even make words from loose letters.  For this one I simply wrote letters on paper, laminated it, and had her fill in each letter with Froot Loops and Frosted Mini Wheats.  Bonus: She got to eat them for her snack when she was done.


For her all of this is fun and exciting, and if she gets discouraged or frustrated at any point we put it away until another time, because I want her to continue to see reading as a joyful experience and not a chore.

I can’t take any credit for this early interest in reading.  Maybe it was her co-op teacher, maybe it was seeing her older siblings reading, maybe it was hearing so many hundreds of books read aloud.  Whatever it was, I’m not complaining!

The one common element in each one of my kids’ reading journeys was hearing lots of great books read aloud.  It’s also the reason they love books!   So I want to share with you a list of read-alouds that I highly recommend for elementary-aged kids.  These are all wonderful to read with the family or listen to together in audiobook form.  Some kids will want to read these themselves and that’s great too!

  1.  The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
    • I know this is actually a series of books but every one of them is absolutely worth reading.  They’re beautifully written and filled with adventure and imagination.  The characters are so easy to relate to, and every character struggles through something at one time or another.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund, one of the four siblings, starts off mean-spirited and cynical and ends up betraying his family.  In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, cousin Eustace is petty and cowardly and appears to have no positive qualities at all. But these characters that struggle with selfishness, fear, pride, and other issues that are common to humanity experience undeserved redemption and they’re forever changed.  My son deals with lots of anger and he often lashes out verbally and physically when he’s frustrated.  He knows he shouldn’t and is always repentant afterwards but he can’t seem to stop himself when he’s angry.  For him to see these characters, who don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever, completely transformed into people who can put others first and choose what’s right gives him hope for his own life.  These books also have a way of infusing us with a sense of purpose and greatness beyond the smallness of our day to day lives.  There are a thousand reasons to read the Narnia books, but that would probably be an entire post 🙂 These are definitely more suitable for elementary age and up.
  2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
    • This book is only a few years old but someday it will probably be considered a classic because it’s that good.  It’s about 10-year-old  August Pullman, who had multiple surgeries for a medical defect and is left with a severe facial deformity.  The story follows his journey of entering public school, being rejected and ridiculed by some, and finding acceptance and friendship with others who see past his appearance and appreciate him for who he is.  This one sparked some great conversations with all my kids about giving everyone a chance to be known for who they are and not judging people by their appearances.  Several sections of the book are written from the perspective of different characters, and we even felt bad for Julian (the bully) because we got to see into his life.  All of my kids developed a new level of empathy and compassion for people who are obviously suffering, but they also realized that everyone’s story involves some kind of sadness or diffuculty.  I strongly recommend this book for the whole family.  The audio version is great because the voices are done by different people and it’s even easier to connect with each character.
  3. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
    • This one is definitely a classic.  Set in the Swiss Alps, this book transports you to a place where life is beautifully simple, yet rich.  Kids growing up in today’s world don’t always think about the simple pleasures in life, but Heidi makes all of us, children and adults alike, long to run with goats in a field of wildflowers and watch a glorious mountaintop sunset and have toasted cheese and milk for supper.  This book somehow had a calming effect on my son.  Every time I started reading it he settled down and listened.  We all laughed at Peter the goatherd and his jealous antics.  Heidi’s determination, optimism, and genuine concern for others are an example for us all, particularly kids who struggle in those areas.  The contrasts between her life on the mountain and our modern lives make us want to slow down and enjoy the little things in life rather than always wanting to add more to the busyness.
  4. Ramona the Pest (and all the other Ramona books) by Beverly Cleary
    • There’s a reason most of us read these books as kids.  Beverly Cleary weaves so much humor into these stories about an ordinary girl and her everyday life.   She writes what kids often think, making Ramona such a relatable character that kids can’t help but empathize with her many mishaps and fiascoes.  The way she thinks people see her is exactly the way a lot of kids think of themselves–as bothersome, or not smart enough, or not as pretty as someone else–and realizing they’re not alone in feeling this way can be a huge relief.  My son specifically identifies with Ramona because he’s often the one getting in trouble or causing a problem without intending to.  He sometimes thinks of himself as the “bad” one just like Ramona, but she’s the heroine of the whole collection in spite of (or maybe because of) her tendency to make a mess of things.  Sometimes just knowing there are other people (or characters) out there who share our struggles makes us feel understood, and that’s a tremendous relief for kids who are a little different.  I love Ramona for making so many kids feel this way 🙂
  5. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
    • We just finished this book.  Every time I started to put it down my kids begged me to keep reading just a little longer.  Teenager Sam Gribley runs away from his over-crowded New York City apartment to make a life for himself in the Catskill mountains.  I was a little skeptical of this one because I didn’t want to sensationalize the idea of running away. But Sam isn’t running away to escape his family–he simply believes he can make a great life for himself on his family’s old property in the wilderness. He reads many books and prepares himself extensively before he goes on this mission. His experiences are fascinating and fun for kids and adults alike, and he makes all of us want to get out and enjoy nature.

Because my kids have grown so much through exposure to great characters in well-written books, I’m incredibly passionate about literacy.  The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is celebrating over 20 years of helping individuals learn to read, prepare for their high school equivalency, or learn English.  Just think of all those lives that have been forever changed because they were given an opportunity to better themselves.   Kellogg’s is committed to providing 3 billion Better Days through 2025 through initiatives that feed people and their potential.  So have a bowl of Frosted Flakes or Froot Loops in honor of all the good these two companies are doing!

And don’t forget to go tell your own literacy story here and enter the #DGMyStory Sweepstakes with the hashtag #DGMy StoryEntry for a chance to win a $50 Dollar General gift card!

Chicken Mushroom Rice Recipe & The Story of Thomas

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #NutrishFureverHome #CollectiveBias

Before I get into our story, I want to make sure you know about this great chance to win big and do good!

Enter this sweepstakes for a chance to win $25,000 and other prizes! Register your purchase at www.nutrishfureverhome.com

The Grand Prize is $25,000 and a one-year supply of Nutrish® dry dog food or one year worth of Nutrish® dry cat. And there’s also 3 First Prizes: $5,000 and a one-year supply of Nutrish® dry dog food or one year worth of Nutrish® dry cat.

Entering is easy, too! Purchase any Nutrish®-only product during the Sweepstakes Period, then visit www.nutrishfureverhome.com and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the registration.

Our family had always dreamed of owning a dog. Once my husband got out of the Coast Guard, that dream became a reality and we were so thrilled for 3 happy years. Then, right after we moved into our new home when he graduated college, a horrible, tragic incident struck and we were left grieving, scarred, and without a dog.

I swore because of the pain and the trauma, I’d never, ever want another dog again.

Just like the cliche goes, though, time heals all wounds and this past summer, one year later, my heart had started to ache for a sweet, furry friend once more. After talking about it we decided to look around at all the local shelters, wanting to adopt our next dog. Of course, we were all thinking about a puppy, and when we walked into the shelter that day it was to look at some pups I’d seen online.

I let the staff know that we were looking for a sweet, mild, low maintenance kind of dog. “Oh!” She told me, “You just *have* to meet Thomas!”

We walked past the cages of wriggling, frenzied, barking bodies. And there, in his kennel, sat Thomas. As calm and quiet and happy as could be. As soon as he came out to us Amber looked and me and said, “Oh mom. This is OUR DOG.” I wasn’t convinced and told her that surely we wanted to look at those puppies.

We looked around the entire shelter but just keep coming back to Thomas. After I began to play with and pet him, I became more and more convinced. It became perfectly clear that this ridiculously adorable little mutt had adopted us.

Indeed, 3-year-old Thomas was OUR dog!

He was at the shelter because his owner had passed away, and he kept getting passed over because of his age, and because of his one “peg leg”. A back leg got broken when he was a tiny puppy and wasn’t set right–so now it’s permanently straight. He has no idea about this, and runs and jumps and plays just like any other puppy. He really was so perfect for us, and now a few months later I can’t imagine life without his sweet smiling little face! We have helped him find his Furever Home™ and he has brought so much joy and healing to our hearts and lives!

I’m not the only one with a soft spot for shelter pets! Rachael Ray™ Nutrish®  Furever Home™ Helps Shelter Pets Find The Home They Deserve. In fact, this month October 2017, your support will help Rachael Ray Nutrish donate $250,000 to benefit shelter pets. Rachael’s Rescue® was created for all of the forgotten pets – the ones who might not have someone who loves them as much as they deserve. A portion of proceeds from each sale of Nutrish is donated to The Rachael Ray Foundation, which helps animals in need through Rachael’s Rescue. Through September 2017, Rachael’s Rescue has donated more than $21 million dollars to pet charities and other organizations that do good for animals.

I picked up my bag of Rachael Ray™ Nutrish® Dog Food at my local Dollar General. I love it when I can do good by purchasing something we already need, and the chance to win a sweepstakes on top of all that is just the icing on the dog treat, so to say.

All Nutrish dry dog and cat food is natural with added vitamins & minerals, and wholesome, delicious ingredients.

In fact the Chicken, Brown Rice, and Veggies Nutrish recipe that I purchased Thomas looked like such a delicious recipe combination that it inspired me to pull together a human version for us as a family to enjoy while Thomas noshed on his Nutrish dinner!

Chicken Mushroom Rice Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Kickin’ Chicken Seasoning
  • Italian Seasoning
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Cup Chopped Mushrooms
  • 1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
  • 1/2 Cup Butter
  • Brown Rice

Squeeze the juice of one lemon over Chicken Breasts.

Season Chicken Breasts with Kickin’ Chicken & Italian Seasoning to taste. For ours, I just sprinkled the tops with Kickin’ Chicken spices, and then once they were chopped up I added 2 TBSP of Italian Seasoning. I wanted the Italian seasoning to be the primary flavoring, but the Kickin’ Chicken flavoring gave it that added depth and zing.

Cut Chicken into Bite-Sized Pieces, then Chop Mushrooms and Red Onion into small pieces.

Prepare Brown Rice according to package directions.

While the rice is cooking, in a skillet melt butter (you can also do 1/2 butter and 1/2 olive oil, but I love how butter caramelizes the mushrooms & the onions) and add in Chicken. Cook until white throughout. Add in Onion and Mushrooms and cook until they melt down and caramelize.

Serve the Chicken mixture over top of the Brown Rice.

This meal is absolutely perfect for a busy week day dinner, and quick and easy to pull together! Which is just perfect for a family filled with activities and pets to love on!

Do you have a shelter pet story? I’d love to hear it! Also, don’t forget to Enter the Sweepstakes!

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