Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Summer of Pinterest: Toy-Filled Ice Block

By Rachael --

This summer, we've been combing Pinterest for fun, inexpensive activities to keep the kids busy while they're out of school. My daughters tried a cool experiment this week when the temperature outside soared into the 90s. I froze lots of small toys in a plastic tub, then dumped the ice block on the grass in the back yard and let the girls work on getting the toys out. 

On some of the blogs I looked at, moms filled their blocks with ocean-themed toys like fish. I simply raided the play room and tossed all sorts of toys into our ice block -- small Disney characters and plastic Strawberry Shortcake dolls, pieces of play food, bouncy rubber balls, plastic insects, and a My Little Pony Happy Meal toy. When freezing everything, it may help to work in layers, freezing a small amount of toys and water at a time so everything doesn't float to the top and freeze in one spot. You can add extra fun by putting a few drops of food coloring into the water, too. 

You'll want to give your children various tools to excavate their toys. One mom gave her son a small hammer among other things. I played it super safe by only giving my daughters a plastic spatula and small plastic shovel. They also used small sticks found in the yard. You also can use a salt shaker or cups of water to help melt the ice. 

My two-year-old enjoyed this activity for a few minutes, but it thoroughly engaged my 6-year-old. We left the ice block in the yard all afternoon and she worked on it in spurts, excavating what she could and coming back later to work more after the ice had melted a little. Both girls loved seeing what types of toys were stuck in the ice and marveled about how they were going to get them out, wondering which items would come free first. The best part was that this project didn't require a trip to the store for special materials. We love free summer entertainment!

Have any good summer boredom busters? Share your ideas with us! 

Rachael is associate editor for Mumbling Mommy. She previously worked as a newspaper editor and has a bachelor's degree in English and writing from Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Help Kids (and Parents) Adjust to Preschool

By Lori --

Preschool benefits children in a lot of ways. It’s a perfect place to interact with peers and improve social skills. It’s where kids learn life lessons like how to share and follow directions. Of course, it is also one way to help prepare kids for kindergarten and the years that follow.

However, preschool is also accompanied with some emotions, both for parents and children. A young kid spending hours in a new environment with teachers and other kids he does not know can cause anxiety. Parents may have a hard time dropping their baby off and have mixed emotions about preschool in general.

However, the time comes when preschool is the next step in many children’s lives. Here are some ways your child can get ready for preschool

Ease your child’s worries before the school year begins.
Before the first day of class, talk to your child about going to preschool. Introduce him to activities that will take place in the classroom such as coloring with paper and crayons (which he has probably already done several times). 

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons
Read a book about a child’s first day of school. Point out the experiences the character has and explain that your child will probably have similar experiences when he or she goes to school. Make sure to encourage your child to ask you questions. 

Visit your child’s classroom prior to the start of school. It will be great for your child to see the building and his classroom, as well as meet the teacher. Make sure your child familiarizes himself with the classroom by exploring. You can also take time to ask the teacher a little more about the schedule so you can implement some activities before sending your child to school. Knowing how the week will be structured may help prepare your child for what is to come.

Always make sure you stay calm and assured so your child will feel confident. Children are smart and they will pick up on nonverbal cues and will notice if you seem worried or guilty. So while it’s essential to prepare for school, don’t place too much emphasis on the change.

Tips to handle the first day of school.
My son in the parking lot
on the first day of preschool.
When you and your child walk into the classroom, calmly reintroduce your child to the teacher. This will help your child feel reassured and confident that he will be safe and happy at school. As difficult as it may be, you need to step back and give the teacher the chance begin to form a relationship with your child.

If your child cries or clings to you as you try to exit the classroom, do not get mad at him. Showing anger may further upset your child. If you have been in this situation before, you know how very difficult it is to leave your child when he is scared or sad. Give your child a loving goodbye and reassure him you will be back soon, and then promptly leave. It is true that most children do well after the parents leave.

Many preschools start with a daily ritual like circle time or coloring time. Preschoolers respond well to familiar activities and succeed with predictability. Remember to try to stay consistent in your morning routine prior to preschool drop off, too. You can also send along something special for your child to help him calm down. A small blanket or stuffed animal in your child’s backpack is a good idea, or you can put a stamp or a sticker on your child’s arm (where it won’t get washed off) where he or she can easily see it and feel more brave. It is essential to find ways to ease your preschooler's fears.

While the transition to preschool is tough on children, remember that it’s usually hardest on the parents. Keep in mind ways to help make the transition a smooth one and remember that it is okay if your child has a hard time at first. He will learn to love school and make new friends in no time!

Do you have any tips to prepare your child (or yourself as the parent) for preschool?

Lori is a work-at-home mom living in Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis. She is mom to two children ages 3 1/2 and 2 and enjoys watching them grow. Lori also enjoys taking walks, shopping, spending time with her husband and kids, reading, decorating, amateur photography and traveling. Leave her a comment below or e-mail her at mumblingmommy@mumblingmommy.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Camping is Good for the Soul, Even if I Don’t Always Like It

I grew up in a family that enjoys camping. I married a man who likes camping. Every year we gather to camp and have a family reunion. I can’t decide whether I like camping. I love the outdoors and exploring the world, but if money were not an issue, my ideal vacation might include a cabin with modern conveniences nestled in the woods. I could enjoy all nature has to offer, but I could take a shower, sleep in a regular bed, and easily prepare meals. Alas, my family does not have unlimited funds, so we camp in a tent. My kids love it. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I tolerate it. Sometimes I look forward to going home, but I continue to camp. Here's why: 

Camping is work, especially with young kids. You lay your baby on the ground to change diapers. You stoop to get in and out of your tent. You follow the kids to make sure they don’t dash into the woods or rub themselves with three-leaved plants. There’s no easy access to soap and a sink after you’ve handled raw meat you’re grilling for dinner. You hike to use the bathroom. After hiking to the bath house, you may discover you left your toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products or towels for your shower back at your camp site.

Showering presents special challenges with young kids. I have two choices. I can have my two daughters shower together while I stand to the side of the stall and dodge the daddy long legs on the cinder block wall and assist in hair rinsing. I’m usually damp by the end. Sometimes I throw privacy to the wind and all three of us crowd in the shower and clean up in one fell swoop. I call it a shower party. 

Camping requires a lot of stuff. Camping requires so much stuff it may not all fit in your car. Packing and keeping track of it all isn't easy, bringing me back to my first point about how camping is work. We bought a rooftop carrier for our Subaru Outback and still have to be judicious about how we pack. 

There are overnight bags or suitcases; air mattresses or cots, blankets or sleeping bags and pillows for our whole family (you would not believe how much space minimal blankets and pillows for four people take up); coolers for perishable food as well as boxes or bags of shelf-stable food; water coolers or bottles; marshmallow roasters, camp stoves, portable grills, matches and lighters; lawn chairs; tents; bug spray; sunscreen; lanterns; towels for showering and swimming; and toys for the kids. You may or may not have room for luxuries like bikes or a canopy tent to set up over your picnic table, unless you own a giant SUV or fifth wheel or have no children. 

Camping is unpredictable. You can’t control the weather or what kinds of neighbors you’ll have. I’ve been rained on, half frozen, and once woke in the night to a flooded tent. I’ve had to put up with loud neighbors at night. This summer two middle-aged men who camped across the road from us played classic rock all day. That music is fine in the proper setting, but I don’t understand why people immerse themselves in nature and then play loud music so they can’t actually hear the sounds of nature … and others around them can’t either. We avoid some trouble by not camping during holidays when the crowds swarm and drunk rednecks crawl out from under rocks. I’ll never again camp during the Fourth of July.

Camping is dirty and buggy. My clothes are perpetually dirty when we camp. The front of my shorts take a beating when I pick up toddlers with muddy shoes after the previous night’s rain. Dirt and wet leaves get tracked in our tent and we get a few dirty footprints on our beds. I could require that everyone take tennis shoes off before entering the tent, but I refer back to my point about how camping is work. I’ll take dirt over helping multiple young children put shoes on and off repeatedly. 

Then there are the bugs. We recently camped at a Missouri state park with friends. One afternoon I heard bloodcurdling screams issuing from the bath house and ran to find out what was wrong. A tearful young girl explained she had an eight-legged visitor in her stall. I sort of sympathized with her. The daddy long legs that congregate each night under our tent’s rain fly still creep me out.

Despite the inconveniences and creepy crawlies, I am becoming convinced that people who camp are better for it. Especially kids who grow up camping. Posh vacations – on the beach, at resorts or on cruise ships – are nice and certainly not bad things, but they don’t build character like camping does. Camping with my family helps develop valuable traits and abilities.

Camping promotes resourcefulness and flexibility. Camping is an opportunity to learn to roll with life’s punches. If it’s raining on the day you planned to go hiking, you can decide whether to don ponchos and hit the trails anyway, or perhaps spend a dry day in the wildlife observation room at the nature center. Other challenges include figuring out how to set up a tent, managing encounters with local wildlife like raccoons, keeping your food supply out of reach of animals, drying out a leaky tent and wet bedding, managing extremely hot or cool weather, starting a campfire, preparing food without a full kitchen, and not having easy access to a bathroom just a few feet away. 

It’s obvious looking at wealthy celebrities that people who have it easy don’t always turn out to be happy or well-adjusted people. The inconveniences and the things I dislike about camping are exactly why the experience really is good. Kids who camp learn basic survival skills and healthy ways to deal with challenges.

Camping encourages minimalism. This goes back to one of my earlier remarks about how much gear camping requires. Whenever we camp, we know our packing space is limited so we only bring the necessities. Only as many clothes as we can wear. Just a few toys for the kids. 

It’s also a time to slow down our daily pace and not over schedule ourselves. We are entertained by simple things like hiking, canoeing, splashing on the creek bank, making fairy houses out of dirt and sticks at the campsite, or gazing at a nighttime sky full of stars. 

In addition, camping is a time to be minimalist about appearance. I leave what little makeup I wear at home. I don’t worry about slightly dirty or messy hair. It’s a healthy example for my daughters in today’s ultra-girlie girl culture that’s obsessed with pink frills and all things princess.

Camping teaches understanding and appreciation of nature. I still don’t like spiders, but I’ve become more tolerant as long as we have the rain fly between us. I love learning about our beautiful and complex universe, and I love passing that knowledge down to my daughters. This summer we hiked in a canyon along a shallow creek, getting our feet wet and climbing among rocks. My oldest was thrilled to catch a few toads outside the campground bath house, and we saw snakes when we joined friends on a fishing expedition. We attended a nature center presentation on constellations. My daughter also learned about moths and butterflies and is beginning to identify various songbirds, trees, and the ever-infamous poison ivy.

Itchy plants aside, we live in an amazing world. Unless I come across a large sum of money and can afford to rent wilderness vacation cabins, I will continue to camp as long as my family enjoys it. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in our world, and hopefully my children will be better citizens of our world for having camped.

Do you participate in activities you don’t always enjoy for the sake of your family? Leave us a comment! 

 Rachael is associate editor for Mumbling Mommy. She previously worked as a newspaper editor and has a bachelor's degree in English and writing from Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

4 Reasons Our Family Vacation Didn't Suck

A guest post by Jill Robbins of Ripped Jeans and Bifocals --
There seems to be lots of internet whining about how vacationing with kids is different from a spa getaway for two. Shocking, right?      
I read lots of “doom and gloom vacationing with kids sucks out loud” articles after we’d shelled out money for (nonrefundable) tickets to Greece for my family of 5. (Before you form a mental picture of us as jet set rock stars, just stop.  We live outside London.  Going to Greece is about as sexy as flying from Atlanta to Orlando). We wear sweaters in July; we gotta do what we gotta do to get some vitamin D.    

Our family vacation did not actually suck, though.  Here’s 4 reasons why:

I had low expectations

My goal for our vacation was: It’s not gonna suck.

The bar was low.  I had zero illusions of reconnecting with hubs, returning refreshed or any such bullshit.  Low expectations allowed me to focus on important stuff like not losing my kids (for more than 10 minutes, who’s perfect); and to not have the divorce talk when we got home.

I’m relaxing with a glass of wine post vacay.  All kids are accounted for and hubs and I are still speaking.  Barely, but there’s been no mention of the “C” word (by that I mean COUCH).   

Travel wardrobes are overrated

I traveled light & didn't buy crap

If you are flying, repeat these three little words:  carry. on. only.

It can be done.  When traveling by car, you can pack more crap, depending on your family and vehicle size.  Can does not mean should, people.

Just because you have room in your trunk does not mean you need to cram in the jumbo basket of Legos, a dozen naked Barbies, 3 tubs of Clorox wipes and enough food rations to sustain your family through natural disaster. 

When packing, the following things are your friends:
  • Mix and match
  • Prints that hide ketchup, throw-up and Merlot (this is why I heart Lily Pulitzer)
  • Tide pens
  • Travel sized toiletries

I go pretty minimal with toiletry packing, especially during summer.  I’m as high-maintenance as they come, but it simplifies things if I don’t spend a ton of time primping when living with 4 other peeps in a teeny tiny hotel room. 
In my makeup bag:  Hair elastic, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, lip gloss and flask of vodka

This is all you need.  A good ponytail, shiny lips and a buzz are enough to make anyone feel pulled together, right?    

In the event of unforeseen spillage, rinse clothes out in the sink (shampoo works fine, take a small baggie of detergent if you must).  It will be clean enough. 

Don’t bring back crap.  Just don’t.  This may be a difficult habit to break if you already indulge your darlings with whatever souvenirs grab their attention.  Kids don’t need Sponge Bob water wings or that giant Minion balloon.  I’ll own up to indulging my kids with thrice daily ice cream on vacation (which does require reconditioning when we get home) but less crap simplifies things. Simple is easy. Say it with me. 

I appreciated the small blessings

Vacationing with small children is freakin’ stressful.  Sometimes the universe will throw you a bone.  Learn to recognize this and savor it. For instance:
  • The waitress who escorted my boys to pick out their own straws (why this was a big deal, I don’t know, but it was) allowing me to have exactly 73 blissful seconds alone with my coffee while hubs and daughter filled their plates at the all-you-can-eat trough buffet (don’t you love those?). So what, she could have been a child abductor, but I went with my gut and enjoyed my sliver of quiet.    
  • The TSA (or whatever passes for TSA in Greece) dude who expedited our family through security.  Sometimes, there are perks to having two kids howling in stereo.  Someone heard my mental “for the love of Jesus” and made things happen.  Whether the TSA dude was telepathic or this was actually Jesus intervening, not sure.  But definitely learn to appreciate the small stuff. 

I was able to "Let it Go"

Accept up front that something will go wrong.  Like this:
  • Having 30 minutes to eat breakfast and meet the tour bus and discovering your kid chucked his only pair of shoes off the fifth floor balcony in your hotel room, just because.    

Breathe, channel your inner Queen Elsa and let that shit go.  And don’t forget the vodka from your toiletry kit.  Happy travels! 

Jill Robbins blogs about post adoption life and random mom topics at Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.  She has been a featured poster on BlogHer and Bloggy Moms and is a 3-time recipient of the “Meanest Mom Ever” award.  She loves wine, running and Lily Pulitzer (not all at once), picking up after all the sloppy males in her household and pointing out the fashion mistakes of others.  Her most recent accomplishment is learning to Tweet - follow her on Twitter @JillinIL. 

Interested in guest posting on Mumbling Mommy? Send your post idea to katie@mumblingmommy.com.

Follow Mumbling Mommy on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Other posts you may enjoy:

Thoughts on our first family vacation

Miles between Us: Raising a Family Far from Grandparents 

Five Tips for Flying with a Baby 

Keep Your Sanity when Traveling with Kids 

Stack of suitcases:

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

4 Reasons Potty Training is Hard (For Parents)

By Katie --

Ah, potty training. The one developmental milestone that parents wish they could just skip in favor of something less gross, less frustrating and less "why is this happening to me?" inducing. One day your child sits nicely to use her potty numerous times, and the next she runs screaming from the room at the mere suggestion of sitting on it. I'm in the midst of potty training my youngest child and all of the reasons it is so tough are coming flooding back (no pun intended). Potty training is hard for parents -- and here's why:   

Old habits die hard. After 2+ years of diaper duty, what's a little more time? We can change diapers quickly, and on the go. Potty training is tough when you are away from home for too long, particularly if your child has not moved up to the big toilet yet. It's easier to just slap an overnight diaper on her butt and plan to change it in another 4 or 5 hours than to step away from socialization to try to get her to potty (please just potty!) in an unfamiliar place. Diapers are easier, and quicker. Switching from the diapering mentality to the longsuffering parent who is able to camp out for an hour at a time at any bathroom location takes some doing on the part of mom and dad. Which brings me to my next point...

We don't like to sit still. If you are a parent of a child who is potty-training age, when was the last time you really ever sat down (when your child was awake)? Potty training requires long periods of time of just sitting. Sitting on bathroom floors, staring at the stains on your cabinets and wondering why you don't clean those more often, knowing that if you were to leave the room for just 30 seconds to get a cleaning rag your child would inevitably stand up and pee on the bathroom rug. Sitting in living rooms, little potties positioned in front of the TV while you watch half hour after half hour of bad children's programming, hoping that your child will forget to contract his or her "hold it" muscles because of the lively distractions on the screens. Potty training is a time commitment, for many days, weeks or even months at a time and it takes patience -- from child and parents.

We hate messes. Toddlers certainly have their own brand of messiness, but the newborn days of constantly streaming bodily fluids from both ends are in the past. Well, at least until you start potty training. In order for toddlers to actually realize the discomfort of peeing on themselves, a few accidents are necessary (there are some schools of thought that say you can potty train completely accident-free... I disagree). So they need to walk around with no bottoms on, and then pee on their feet on the kitchen floor to understand that to avoid that, they need to get to their potty next time. When they start wearing underwear, and have a pee or poop accident in their favorite Frozen or Spider-man pair, they shed a few tears and determine to keep their best characters clean next time. As parents, it is difficult to let that happen -- to let messes happen. We spend A LOT of energy avoiding such messes but they are a necessity of potty training. We need to let go, and let our kids do the same in order to learn.

Potty training is not linear. Most of our babies' milestones up to the potty training point have had distinct benchmarks. Smiling. Rolling over. Crawling. Taking first steps. Saying first words. Starting on solid foods. Sleeping through the night. Once our kids have done most of these things once, they are quickly pros at them. Potty training is different. One successful attempt in the potty chair does not mean that your child is now toilet trained. It just means that your child used the potty chair one time successfully. For each two steps forward, there seems to be a step backward. This can be especially frustrating for parents who just want to mark this milestone off the list and stop spending out-to-eat money on Pampers. Even a child who seems to be completely potty trained may have a week of accidents (happened with my oldest when she was three) or regression. We want a start date and an end point and potty training doesn't afford either.
In the end, our kids will all learn to use the toilet on their own and it won't take three cups of juice, five stories and the promise of jelly beans after a successful tinkle to get them to do it. In the meantime, hang in there parents. Potty training is not for the faint of heart.
What was your biggest frustration with potty training? What eventually worked with your child?
      Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

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Other posts on potty training:
Potty training boot camp -- will it work?
Getting prepared to potty train

Photo sources:

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Littleheartsbook.com - bored mom

Katie Parsons

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How my Toddler Won the Hair Lottery

By Rachael --

I stood outside the neighborhood elementary school, waiting to pick up my oldest daughter from kindergarten. My 2 ½-year-old daughter was buckled into the stroller next to me. It was a humid afternoon, and Abby’s brown curly hair was more springy than usual. 

Another mom waiting nearby smiled at Abby and nodded at me, “Where’d she get those curls?”

I gave my usual response that evokes a laugh: “Not from my side of the family.”


I come from a long line of women with straight hair. Everyone in my immediate family has stick straight, fine hair. We envy girls with curls.

Throughout my life, the women in my family have sympathized with each other over our straight hair. And we have tried to do something about it. I got my first spiral perm at age 10, back in the early 90s when spiral perms were popular. I continued to get spiral perms every so often until just before I graduated from college, which was probably long past the time they were in style. If I didn’t have a perm, I tried to work magic with curling irons and hot rollers. My mom also has gotten her share of body perms, and when my sister was a kid she once rocked a perm my mom gave her with a home kit.

Curly haired sister, straight-haired sister.
My oldest daughter, Megan, inherited my hair. These days, we both look good with smart bob haircuts between chin and shoulder length. I often take the curling iron to the ends of Megan’s hair to give it a neat, flipped-under look. When people say Megan is my mini me, I wonder if it’s mostly our similar hairstyles.

My second daughter won the hair lottery. I always figured my chances were slim that I would ever give birth to a curly haired child. Abby got some help with genetics from the other side of the family tree. While my husband has straight hair, his mother has curly hair. So does my husband’s youngest brother. I always knew my husband was a good catch, and the fact that he carries a propensity for curly hair in the recesses of his genetic makeup further proves it.

We didn’t immediately know Abby’s hair was curly. She was about nine months old and sporting a thick cap of dark, short hair on her head when I noticed that the ends of her hair curled out slightly. I pointed it out to my mother. “She might have a little bit of a wave,” my mom said, but she sounded like she didn’t want to be too hopeful.

Abby sporting her "prom do."

Abby’s hair continued to grow, and by the time her first birthday came it was evident she had not inherited my hair. It’s gotten curlier as it’s grown in, and I have begun to learn how to care for hair that is very different from mine. I never brush Abby’s hair, which would only make it frizzy. I use a wide-toothed pick to detangle it, and I usually spray on a little water or children’s detangler to wet it and help define the curls. On some mornings, all I do is finger comb it. Abby looks especially good when I pull her hair up into a high ponytail with shorter wispy curls framing her face. My husband calls it her “prom hairdo.”

My mother-in law has given me some tips about curly hair, too. “You can always tell what season it is by how curly her hair is,” she told me. Abby’s hair tends to be straighter in dry winter air, but it gets really springy during the summer when humidity is higher. A few minutes out in the humidity and my carefully styled hair goes flat while Abby’s hair instantly looks fantastic.

It’s human nature to envy what we don’t have. Someday, Abby may long for straight locks like her sister’s, but I will always be enamored with her curls.

Did your children inherit desirable traits that didn’t come from your side of the family tree? 

Rachael is associate editor for Mumbling Mommy. She previously worked as a newspaper editor and has a bachelor's degree in English and writing from Indiana Wesleyan University. When she’s not busy with her husband and two daughters, you’ll find her gardening, cooking, singing with ladies from church, or reading Charlotte Bronte novels. You can contact her by e-mailing Rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

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