Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Simple (maybe gross) Lunch Tip

There is so much information out there about school lunches - so many ideas about how to pack, tools to use, what to put in them.  It is a lot to take in ...

Both Jasmine and Jade prefer packed lunches.  Actually, Jade has NEVER eaten a school lunch, and Jasmine has purchased 3 in her 6 years of school.  I am sure it because I pack the most amazing lunches ever!  Right?  I am going with that ...

Despite my clear amazing-ness for making great lunches, I don't like doing it.  The girls have gone through phases and have packed their own, but it just seems to work out better for us if I do it - several reasons.  So here is my big tip for making the whole lunch packing process easier on me:  I only touch the lunch box
ONCE a day!

Yep, that's it.  In the morning, I pack it and hand it off.  The girls put it in it's place after school and I don't touch it.  My theory: why mess with the dirty stuff after school, and then pack it back up in the morning.  I just empty it out and pack it in one "session".  Are you cringing - I have been told that is nasty, but even if there are leftovers, nothing really gets gross in that short of a time.

What do I use?  I have a couple sets of the Ziplock divided containers (they don't leak - love that!) and the 10 oz Thermos jars for hot meals. And we have several sporks.

So, what do you think of my single tip - nasty or genius?



Monday, February 9, 2015

Little Things Long Remembered

On our show with Susan Newman, we talk about lots of little things that make a big difference.  When you think of your own childhood, do you remember some of them? Check out these special ideas from the book AND listen to Little Things Long Remembered.  You (and your family) will be happy you did!
Establishing Ties  Create a gesture that your child knows means “I love you.” Perhaps it’s your hand on your heart, your arms folded, or placing one finger on your cheek.
Five Minutes More or Less  Start a story: “A boy named Jack had a fun family.” Alternate one-sentence additions: one child adds the next sentence and another child continues the story. And so it goes for the car ride, at the dinner table, or while waiting anywhere.
Half an Hour to an Hour or So  Once every few weeks put fresh flowers on the table, light dinner candles, and take a moment to express gratitude that you are a family.
Weekend Fun  Invite a surprise person—an old family friend, a relative, or one of your child’s friends—to dinner and keep it a secret until he or she walks in the door.
When You Travel  While you are out of town lend your child something—a pen, a hat, gloves, or your favorite mug or cup—that you use frequently but will not need while you are gone. Also - pillow, t-shirt (to sleep in).
Sick Days  An attractive tray makes the food more appetizing. Use a bright-colored napkin, dishes you don’t use; Prepare foods differently.
Happy Holidays  Turn a holiday meal into a celebration by purchasing theme-decorated paper napkins and plates.
Memorable Birthdays  Write a short letter to your children each year on their birthdays. For younger children, record milestones and progress; for older children, mention accomplishments or include family highlights of the year.
Little Things Long Remembered  On occasion, announce “Rule Break” and make an exception to a standing rule: “Rule Break: Tonight you can sleep on the couch,” or, “Rule Break: I will walk the dog so you can watch TV.”
What "little thing" will you do today?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Kids Can Do: Restaurants (and Other Places)

Our Kids Can Do means easy.  And quick.  And fun.  And inexpensive.


We all need help in traffic.  At school pick up with a younger sibling in the car.  At the doctor's office.  At the airport.  During travel time.  And especially at restaurants.  Here's a few easy ideas for the youngest to the oldest:

Hiding Game
Set out three paper cups in a row and hide a "something" under one of the cups.  Move the cups around in a sneaky-fast- crazy fashion.  Ask the children to guess which cup the "whatever" is under.  For example, you can use a penny or a jelly / butter thingy.  Or you can hide under sugar packets too! (You'll find something in your purse!)

Tic-Tac-Toe Time

Well, this is a classic.  Use straws for the grid and sugar packets for the game pieces.  Who doesn't love a little Tic-Tac-Toe.  If you don't do this, they will build towers with small jelly containers and you will spend your time picking them off the floor.


I knew this game but wanted a photo - found this on Repeat Crafter Me blog.
Silly Stories or Best Part of the Day
As Ellie says, "tell me best thing."  That means - what was the best part of your day so far?  Dad always has to add -- "how can you make tomorrow better?"  We love to connect with our kids in this fashion.  You can always start a silly story too.  Go around the table and everyone adds a piece to the story.  Ellie's always, always start ... "Once in the deep dark woods, there was a girl ..."  (Because the deep dark woods always makes for a fun setting.)

LCR

Know that dice game?  We love it because it fits in your purse.  It's cheap and fun - and you can find it at Amazon.


I Spy. 
Another classic you can forget about.  The little ones like this best.  Choose an object at the table or within view of your table / car and using the phrase “I spy with my little eye, something that is ___”.  Use shapes or colors or other descriptive words as your clues.  

Crayon Cookies  

Restaurant crayons suck.  Make your own crayon cookies.  Peel paper off stubs of old crayons.  Preheat oven to 350 then turn off.  Sort crayon stubs by color or combine 2-3 colors to make a pretty cookie.  Place in muffin tins (only 1/2 full).  Place in oven.  When wax is almost melted (it will still be chunky), remove from oven and let cool.  If they don't release easily, put in freezer for a while.  Then pry out.  Colors are fun coordinated and swirled!  Put them in a zipper baggy and carry them in your purse.

Lace Cards  

For younger kids, make your own easy lace cards.  Keep a set in the pouch behind your driver's seat.  You will need:  Cereal boxes or cardboard, a torn picture book page with a large, simple picture, glue, scissors, shoestring for lacing, and a hole punch.  Cut the cereal box front or back out. Select a page from an old picture book and glue it onto the cardboard.  Smooth out any air bubbles.  Allow plenty of time for the card to completely dry.  After the card is dry, trim around the edges.  Punch holes to outline pictures on the card, approximately one inch to two inches apart.  Just look - your kids can practice their fine motor skills (while waiting for the time to pass) as they weave a shoestring in and out of the holes. Hee!

Grab Game Pieces.  Grab a handful of cards from a boxed game at home that you never play ... Pictionary.  Trivial Pursuit.  Would You Rather.  Brain teasers.  You know they're getting dusty anyway.  


Games with NO Pieces

You can always make up your own game like "20 Questions".  One person thinks of a person, place, or thing that all the other players will know.  The others have to ask questions to discover what the first player is thinking and it must be answered with a yes or no.  "Does she had brown hair?" or "Is it smaller than an apple?"  

What about "Two Truths and One Lie"?  (Does that have a real name?  Or is that the name?)  This one is a good way (and a quite interesting way) to learn more about mom or grandpa!  What?  Grandma used to wear red high heels?!?!?!    As the name denotes, players take turns telling two truths and one lie, while the others try to figure out what's true and what's not.  Google for the full rules if need be ....


A Game with Paper

Tell me you didn't forget about Hangman.  Pen + Paper = Easy.  If you're a bit rusty, Google that one too!


Logo Quiz Game
Phone Apps. Of Course
Your phone is right there.  In your pocket.  On the table.  So is your husband's.  And your kids have their phone attached to them.  So I will leave you with my new favorite: The Logo Quiz.  We see a boatload of logos a day - but do we really pay attention?  Look it up!  By the way, you don't have to find the games all by yourself.  The kids will tell you what they like to play, and the whole family can join in!  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Hey V&J! What's New, You Ask?

What have been up to lately?  Ahhhh, just having fun with new guests and learning some useful stuff!

This is us. We love our job!
We went on a date with The Dating Advice Girl.  Erin dished out helpful hints for conversation faux pas, awkward follow-ups and other embarrassing moments.

We became less of a broken record (do our kids even know what the means anyway?) and more in control of bedtimes, homework headaches, clean rooms and other frequent kid arguments that make us insane.  (Gosh, we love Betsy.)

We both became Copykats with Stephanie Manley. Funny that Jen made a copy of Panera's Broccoli Cheddar Soup on the day we recorded the show and Vicky made it the day we released the show.  (Yeah, it's that good.)

We learned what to say (and more importantly, what not to say): when a friend loses a pet, or when your tween has a friendship issue, or when you're a bit concerned about your child's health and weight.

Also, we made tiny changes to our eating habits for big (and slim) results.  We've become more organized (right away, as in today) with 5 easy tips.   We started thinking about retirement (well, geez, some of us are procrastinators and can't help it!)  And we got a better handle on our credit cards (we suck at that too!)

Yeah, we've been busy.  But we're keeping in simple.  Really - at the same time?  It's possible when you tune into What Really Matters.  Stay in the loop and join the FUN via Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, Stitcher or with our newsletter


Thursday, January 15, 2015

CopyKat: Our Famous Ask-a-Chef Survey

We've mastered the grill and made simple meals with 5 ingredients or less. We've gone decadent with desserts and prepped for holiday baking.  We've cooked bikini-style and southern-style.  We've prepped quick meals with less stress, under $10, and in our slow-cookers.  All of this and much more on our popular Ask-a-Chef Series.  AND NOW, WE'VE BECOME COPYKATS!  Part of the fun is giving our guests a cooking survey ... kinda like a sneak peek into their kitchen, a feel for their favorite books, tools and foods.  Meet Stephanie Manley, creator of CopyKat.com.  

(And you simply MUST listen to our interview with her:  Ask-a-Chef: CopyKat!)


1. What is your favorite cookbook?  The one I turn to the most is the 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking.  I like this one the best, at this time there were fewer store bought products that were being used, and there was a lot more scratch cooking.   Since I try to break down recipes, this type of cookbook is the most helpful to me.   I have many other favorites depending upon what I want to cook.   I love David Lebovitz's cookbook, The Perfect Scoop for it's chocolate ice cream recipe.

2. What is your favorite cooking tool?  My favorite cooking cool is a good kitchen knife.  It's not glamorous, but it does the job in so many ways.   

3. What is your signature dish or specialty?  My signature dish is Alfredo sauce, I feel like I have demonstrated this one so many times, and I still like to eat the sauce.  It is basic, and it can have you eating a meal in less time than it takes to go eat take out food. 

4. What is your favorite cooking website?  My favorite cooking site... Honestly, this is a difficult question to answer.  I like so many websites.  I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest.  I like to see what is trending, and what real people are enjoying at the moment.  I have other websites like SimplyRecipes, or Kalyn's Kitchen, or the Perfect Pantry.  It really depends on what I want at that moment.

5. Name one food item that is a staple in your fridge or pantry.  The one food staple in my refrigerator, always, is some yard eggs.  My mother has chickens for eggs, and I adore these eggs.  They taste so much better than store-bought eggs.  They are rich and flavorful, and you can turn eggs into so many different dishes. 

Be sure to listen to our show with Stephanie for more:  Ask-a-Chef: CopyKat.



Get it on CopyKat.com!

Feel free to help a fellow cook out by emailing us or commenting right here about your kitchen favorites.  Bon Appetite!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Phone Contract. Really?

So, I am sure that many of you have heard of Janell Burly Hofmann.  She was giving her son an iPhone for Christmas and wanted to be VERY clear about the rules and expectations - an iPhone Contract.  You can find her and the contract on her website here:  janellburleyhofmann.com

I have talked to many people about Janell's phone contract and it seems that many feel like this is over the top.  I (Jen) had no idea I would feel so strongly about it, but I do.

Backstory:  My girls have been sharing a phone since summer since they were "on their own" frequently while I was coaching my dive team.  I had minimal apps on it (no YouTube or Safari and such) and I feel like they were very responsible with it - all good.  Then, our schedules changed once school started, and I started
coaching more, so we decided to upgrade and hand down our phones so each girl could have one when they were on their own.  This happened at a much younger age than I originally planned for (the girls are in 5th and 6th grade), but we talked about it a lot, and Jeff and I worked together on how we were going to introduce this.  We felt good about our decision, so we did it!

I adapted Janell's contract to suit our needs and was SO SURPRISED at our family discussion.  We are a close and honest family, and talk about anything.  (Anything!)  But sometimes we assume that our kids know things, or understand things, that we would consider common sense.  In reality, they don't - they don't have our life experience, and frankly, growing up now, with technology, changes the rules.  After each point during our contract discussion, we answered any questions they had and made sure they COMPLETELY understood what each point truly meant.  It was honest and eye-opening.  It was a wonderful teaching moment and family conversation.

So much so, that even if your child has had a phone for awhile, I would recommend a contract as a discussion starter and to emphasize the potential power that they have in their pockets.  It just might be a deterrent to a hard learned lesson.  

Thank you so much to Janell for being the brave one!  Our adapted contract is pasted below and you can find Janell's at her website and follow her on Facebook for more. 

iPhone agreement


You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. You are a good and responsible girl and you deserve this responsibility. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. We hope that you understand it is our job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young lady that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership. We love you and look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.  :)
1. It is our phone. We bought it. We paid for it. I are loaning it to you. Aren’t we the greatest?
2. We will always know the password.
3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”. Not ever.
4. Your phone will be placed in the charging home and shut off each night and turned on again in the morning. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
5. Have a conversation in person with the people you text. It’s a life skill. 
6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.
7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.
8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

7 Days of Holiday Trivia!

If you have never wondered about where it all came from ... the tree, caroling, lights, candy canes, poinsettias, mistletoes and cards ... then here you go!  Share the holiday fun and enjoy your time with loved ones!  Happy Holidays!
The History of the Christmas Tree:  In the 7th century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God.  Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak.  By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.  Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
The History of Christmas Caroling:  Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles (The word carol originally meant to dance to something). The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.

The History of Christmas Lights:  The tradition of using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to at least the middle of the XVIIth century. However, it took two centuries for the tradition to become widely established first in Germany and soon spreading to Eastern Europe.  Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candleholders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used.  In 1882, the first Christmas tree was lit by the use of electricity. Edward Johnson lighted up a Christmas tree in New York City with eighty small electric light bulbs. (Edward Johnson created the first string of electric Christmas lights that were then mass produced around 1890.) By 1900, department stores started using the new Christmas lights for their Christmas displays.  Johnson later became vice-president of Edison's electric company.  Albert Sadacca was fifteen in 1917, when he first got the idea to make safety Christmas lights for Christmas trees. A tragic fire in New York City involving Christmas tree candles inspired Albert to invent electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family sold ornamental novelty items including novelty lights. Albert adapted some of the products into safe electric lights for Christmas trees. The first year only one hundred strings of white lights sold. The second year Sadacca used brightly colored bulbs and a multi-million dollar business took-off. 
The History of Candy Canes:  There are many legends surrounding the candy cane. Many of them depict the candy cane as a secret symbol for Christianity used during the times when Christian were living under more oppressive circumstances. It was said that the cane was shaped like a "J" for Jesus. The red-and-white stripes represented Christ's blood and purity. The three red stripes symbolized the Holy Trinity. The hardness of the candy represented the Church's foundation on solid rock and the peppermint flavor represented the use of hyssop, an herb referred to in the Old Testament.  According to folklore, in 1670, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, wishing to remedy the noise caused by children in his church on Christmas Eve, asked a local candy maker for some sweet sticks for them.  In order to justify the practice of giving candy to children during worship services, he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top of each stick, which would help children remember the shepherds who paid visit to infant Jesus.  In addition, he used the white colour of the converted sticks to teach children about the Christian belief in the sinless life of Jesus.

The History of the Poinsettia:  The poinsettia, a member of the Euphorbia family and native to Mexico, is the number 1 potted plant sold in the United States. And, that’s over a very small 6 week window!  It is thought that Franciscan monks were the first to begin using poinsettias at the holidays to decorate nativity scenes in Taxco, Mexico. They are named for the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett who brought attention to it. National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on December 12.  By the way, it is a myth that they are poisonous ... but, don’t go eating them anyway!  A 50 lb. child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to suffer any harmful effects.  However, they should be kept away from pets, who can become ill after eating the leaves.





The History of Mistletoe:  From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was once considered to protect against poison and ward off evil spirits, including preventing the entrance of witches. But let’s get to the kissing part. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility.  In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up. Later, at Christmas time (during the eighteenth-century) a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained un-kissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year.  In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry.  Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life.
The world's first commercially produced Christmas card, designed
by 
John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843.




The History of Christmas Cards:  Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first Christmas card in London, featuring artwork by John Callcott Horsley.  The hand-colored card was lithographed on stiff, dark cardboard with the message: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”  The Christmas card designed by Horsley provoked controversy in England because it pictured a company of people holding glasses of wine. Putting alcohol and holy Christmas in one picture was deemed offensive.  In 2001 it became world’s most expensive Christmas card when it was sold for $35,800 at auction.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Introducing: The After House


A 300 year old cottage by the sea. 
A single mom and her six year old daughter. 
A vengeful ex-husband. 
A spirit of a 19th century sea captain. 
The living and the dead. 
Coming together to collide on The After House.
By Michael Phillip Cash.


Get it on Amazon.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

HOLIDAY Stuff, Wrapped in 1 BIG Package!


YES, You Can Be ... Holiday Ready!

Happy December everyone!  This month is already bringing a little "Hustle and Bustle" into your life and that can mean one of two things: the energy and excitement of the holidays OR confusion and busy-ness.  We all HOPE for that good energy and excitement (and a more simple holiday), but sometimes things get in the way (i.e., finances, lack of time, family feuds, long to-do lists).  On our podcast, our goal is to learn and grow together, with all the fabulous advice our guests offer.  Here is a collection of BEST holiday secrets to simplify with, so you can have the holiday you want and love!  xoxo Vicky and Jen  


For the Budget-MindedDebt-Proof Your Christmas
Capture extra cash. 4 things kids want. Debt-free rules.

Fake deadlines, block your time, consolidate gifts, and other tricks.

For the Potential Grinch5 Things to NEVER Say This Holiday 
"What can I bring?" or "We can only stay 30 minutes."

For Families EverywhereGetting Along for the Holidays
The STOP technique, when to set aside difference, etc.

For the Kids: Kids Can Do - 12 Days of Christmas
Magic reindeer food, counting chains, edible snowmen and FUN!
12 More Holiday Projects: handmade gifts, unique cards, and decor.

For Holiday Lovers12 Tips YULE Love 
Winter break bucket list, no new recipes, etc.

For the Nutty-Cracker10 Sanity Savers for the Holiday
Bake together. Over-estimate time. Find alternates to gift exchanges. etc.


For the EntertainersHost Holiday Dinners Easier
Clean where it counts. Get creative with small spaces. Enjoy.
Also listen to The Big O: Entertaining.

For a Little Self-CareHoliday Peace (with Your Body)
Indulging with treats. Coping with stress. Spending less.

For the Smart 'n SavvyBe Informed for the Holidays
A series including charities, buying gift cards, and naughty schemes.

For the Busy PeopleCreating Your SLOW Holiday
The grandma filter. Find a yes in the no. Filling the cup first.

For the OrganizersThe Big O - Organize Your Holiday
Minimize stress, meal prep, simple gifts and other organizing tips.

For the Last-Minute GifterThe Big O: Clutter-Free Gifts
Gifts of service. Consumables. Gifts of experiences. And more.

For the Stress-Busters5 Easy Tips for Less Holiday Stress
The attitude adjustment.  Manage your time better.  And of course, delegate.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The ULTIMATE De-clutter Guide: December

It's time for another look at our favorite month-by-month de-cluttering guide from our "Big O" Organizer, Monica Ricci!  We love that it brings us joy, cleanliness, productivity and focus.  (Thanks for keeping us on task Monica!)  And we are so sad it is the LAST ONE of the year!  What?  You say you missed January through November?  Search for "The ULTIMATE De-clutter Guide" on our blog and they will all pop up!  Below you'll find an excerpt from the DECEMBER section!  Happy Holidays!

In fifteen years of business, I’ve never been in a home that didn’t have at least one “junk drawer.” We all have one -- even me -- although I prefer to call mine a utility drawer because it holds all kinds of useful things and never just junk.

Since December can be one of the most hectic months of the year, I gave you a piece of cake project you can accomplish in four easy steps. 

To organize your junk drawer, first empty it out and clean it. 

Second, sort the contents into groups if you can. This is one of those odd spaces that really does hold a random mix of items and that’s okay because it’s the nature of a utility drawer. 

Third, ditch all the silly useless stuff you’re never going to need again. 

Finally, add drawer dividers to make everything you’re keeping visible and easy to find.  Voila! Say goodbye to junk and hello to organization! 


Listen to all of Monica's Big O Series with us - there are 55+ to choose from!