Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

The Magic of Do-Overs: Coaching Kids to Model Positive Play and Interaction

You know the drill — one minute your children are playing perfectly well together and having a great time, then as soon as you turn around (it seems), they are arguing and shouting. You sigh, exasperated, “when will they ever learn?!”

I have three children, so I get it. That has been me, too. Countless times! It does seem like any pair of them can play well, but enter the third, and it’s all over. “When will they ever learn?!” Here’s the secret: if you don’t teach them, how can they learn? An enormous part of parenting is teaching your children, right? You teach them to color, read, write, how to do puzzles, you name it! So, we also need to teach them how to play together. It seems kind of odd, even as I’m typing this “how to play together”, but it’s true. I like to think of myself as their play coach or even life coach. I coach them, lovingly and respectfully. They learn. And one of my best and now favorite coaching tools is using do-overs. Let me give you an example:

After a while of playing nicely, I hear some angry voices. “You just took that from me!” “It was my turn!” “Don’t take toys!” — Uh-oh. I know where this is headed. I walk over (try to remember to breathe deeply first) and repeat what I hear. “It sounds like you took a toy from her. Is that what happened?” Let them say their version of events and listen to them and repeat them, so they know they are being heard and understood. Then, without judgement, offer them a do-over. If they are very young and need to be reminded of a rule, you should insert this as well and then explain what you mean by a do-over. Even with a young child, you can always ask the event was very polite or respectful of each other. I say, “Let’s have a do-over. Back up, and let’s try this again, using the rules of the house and being polite.” I will say that the first few times I tried this they just looked at me incredulously or if I had just lost my mind. Haha! We got used to it after a while. It has been an absolutely fantastic teaching tool that allows everyone to stay calm and avoids punishment. Our goal here is to simply teach, remember.

You can also use do-overs to teach negotiation skills. If you have just broken up an argument because they each want their own way, for example, you can have them come up with solutions to their problem, after repeating to them what you hear them say, then have them do the scenario over using the newly offered and agreed-upon solution. It can take weeks or even months, but after a while of good, calm, and consistent coaching, you’ll be amazed at how well they can start to work through their problems themselves, especially for children over 5 years of age. For example, yesterday I was letting my children play in some water. Their laughter started to sound like it was turning into some arguing. I just looked up from the bushes I was trimming right next to them and said calmly and politely, “let’s not forget our negotiation tactics if you will find those helpful.” “Ok!” they said, and resumed their fun having worked out their dispute in a friendly way. I felt confident that all of our coaching sessions had worked, and it turned out in this case I was right. If they needed help problem-solving, they definitely would have let me know about it!

Do-overs are a fantastic tool. It might take some trial and error for each of you to figure out how best to accomplish your goals and get the do-overs to work, but you won’t regret the extra effort. I love that I can now just ask them to try their conversation or scenario again, and they usually will, knowing exactly what went wrong. (Of course, with really young children, they will require more of your help.) After some time of being more consistent with the do-over and problem-solving coaching, I am finding that they are able and more willing to work through their issues and come up with solutions much more amicably. Do-overs allow them to practice those skills. Much more often than not now they can all three play together well, having fun and truly enjoying each other. And what’s best? I did it mostly through teaching them: avoiding scolding, punishment, and argument. When I put my proverbial “coach’s cap” on, I more effectively remember that I am their life coach, as well as their mother, and can coach them to work through their sibling quarrels capably, thereby building their relationship with each other and learning to work effectually with peers as an adult.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Sanitize Everything!

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all aspects of life globally. Everything. It has affected us in different ways, perhaps, but one thing we all have in common is that we have felt the change, to be sure. I try to look for little silver linings in everything that affects me. It helps me to stay positive and focused on the good, not the bad. One positive aspect of this new way of life in my own pandemic experience is cleanliness. I am a bit of a clean freak, I’ll admit, especially before having children. I have three children now, so things aren’t always going to stay perfectly clean all the time — that’s impossible, and I’ve made peace with that. But, the novel virus, and the fact that two members of my beloved household suffer from asthma and are therefore high-risk, have allowed my inner clean freak to break forth and shine! While it does raise my anxiety a bit to have to be so extra cautious not to allow the virus enter my house, it is extremely important. My answer to this? Sanitize everything that comes in. Yes, everything.

I watched a video by Dr. Jeffery VanWingen on how to unpack groceries. In it, he has you imagine that everything you bring in has glitter on it, and you need to avoid spreading that glitter around your house at all costs. We all know how glitter gets on everything, right?! The thought of this virus being like glitter is a little alarming. So, here is what I do to help keep that “glitter” out of my house.

1. Groceries. When one of us comes back from the store, we take a disinfecting wipe or disinfecting spray and wipe down all of the items that come in before we put them away. (My fridge smells like Lysol, by the way.) I spray fresh produce with vinegar and let it sit then rinse it before I put it away. I know there is the worry about produce going bad more quickly by doing that, but if you can get them dry before they go back into the fridge they ought to be ok. We’ve not had a problem. Also, we put the paper bags in our recycling and then sanitize the floor they were sitting on. **Don’t have disinfecting spray? You can put bleach water in a heavy-duty spray bottle and use it (remember: it’s still bleach, so be careful and wear cleaning gloves!) or use vinegar in a spray bottle and let it sit about 10 minutes.

2. Bottoms of our shoes. When I come in from having gone to the store, I spray the bottoms of my shoes with disinfecting spray and then take them off. There are all kinds of nasty things you can carry into your house from the bottoms of your shoes. We live around geese, too, so it gets a little gross when you think about it! Sanitize those shoe bottoms.

3. Wash hands. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but wash your hands obsessively, especially when coming in from being out. Try not to touch your face.

4. Inside of car. Because my husband doesn’t wear gloves when going out, I disinfect the inside of the car when he gets home. I know that he is constantly disinfecting his hands when he must go out, but it never hurts just to make sure everything that gets touched in the car is sanitized as well.

5. Deliveries and mail. All deliveries and mail get sanitized when coming in. I spray down the box or envelope, get out the item I’ve ordered or that came in, sanitize the item, recycle the packaging, sanitize the floor, then sanitize the scissors. It’s definitely a lot more work, and yep, it’s a bit obnoxious, but I do it to ensure we are not spreading anything around the house unknowingly. Mail no longer gets put on a table. It goes on the floor or in a box.

6. Everything you can touch in the house. Ok, yes I know this is a catch-all, but it’s equally important. I will do random trips around the house sanitizing controls, light switches, door knobs, banisters, handles, everything. When I bleach bathrooms, I also wipe down the walls with bleach. (Check a small area first before you do this!!! I’ve had great luck with Behr eggshell finishes doing well against being wiped by bleach water.)

I know that I sound a bit obsessive, but it’s more than just about protecting my high-risk loved ones at home, it’s about protecting my neighbors and those I’m around as well. We will get through this. We will get to fully enjoy life again. In the meantime, let’s protect as many people as we possibly can, so we all can see each other on the other side of this pandemic. Sanitize everything. Wash your hands. And know that you are being someone’s guardian angel.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Picking My Life Back Up One Step at a Time

Unknowns. Leaving without Goodbyes. Cancelled Work. Isolation. Empty Shelves. Rationing. Depression. Parenting. Practicing. Moving Forward.

Corona virus (COVID-19) has left its mark on my house, as it has for millions of households around the world. I attended my last live performance right before our state was to go in a quasi-isolation, schools and universities closed. Life upended. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students, one of whom this semester was our last together. We picked up and left, Skype our only means of seeing each other and teaching. I was devastated. I love my job, and I love my students. This was a tough transition for me, not only for its abruptness, but also for the lack of live human interaction, of laughing, playing together, just being. And when all my performance work was cancelled and my lost income mounting, I only too easily slipped into a world of dark cloudy days, wondering when (if?) the fog and dreariness would lift. Was I facing depression?

Parenting during this time of strain and uncertainty has also taken its toll. The strain of seeing empty grocery shelves and wondering how long food will be this scarce and having to ration food in the house is real and unnerving. The realization of lost income is scary. And when parents are stressed, kids can feel it. They get stressed too. During times like these, “cabin fever” also takes on a whole new meaning. They are even advised not to go on playgrounds! Kids act out when they are stressed. I felt like my neat little world was unraveling!

I had to take action. I had to pick up the pieces of what work was left to me, my teaching, and I had to get control over my own emotions, so I can still be the teacher and the parent that I want to be. If for no other reason, than to model how to be for my children in times of global stress. I made myself keep practicing. Knowing the positive effects of endorphins and sunshine, I forced myself to keep exercising and to get outside in my yard as much as possible. I have my kids go outside as much as possible. When they ask to play in the rain, I let them play in rain. Why not? Outside time is crucial for mental and physical well-being, and they need to get that extra energy out. The forced isolation has also given us plenty of opportunities (more than plenty!) to teach my children how to communicate effectively and politely to each other — how to best solve differences with each other. And you know what? It’s working. We have far fewer arguments as they are learning to compromise and solve problems together. The next thing we are working on pitching in a bit more around the house, since we are all always home and all contributing to the mess. We’re getting there… baby steps. As we have been through a few successful days of online teaching and gaining some control of our schedules back, I feel less uneasy and unsure, and the children are more themselves again.

I feel like I went through a kind of grief cycle. I was paying attention to the news, of course, and naturally I knew it would eventually effect us in the U.S. at some point, but the magnitude and the scope of the pandemic was overwhelming. I wanted to fight against having to leave the university, but there was no choice. I wanted to fight against home-schooling while schools are closed, but there was no choice. I wanted to believe that there would still be food on the shelves when I went to the store to pick up some regular groceries, but there was none. (Well, there was still some frozen okra.) I wanted to cry, but what would it help? By putting one foot in front other the other, so to speak, I slowly walked myself out of my slump and got on with life: keeping up with my practicing, keeping up with my exercising, keeping up with teaching to my best ability, keeping up with good parenting. Just as we all do. Just as we all have to. Baby steps.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Turned Dinnertime into a Fun World of Imagination

Big admission here: dinners at home were getting pretty dull or even frustrating. Some days we would just eat and leave. Other days the kids would talk or even begin to play, but then they would forget to eat! Mostly, it became an exasperating affair of start-and-stop chit-chat and interruptions to settle arguments, or just trying to get the kids to even stay at the table. Forget any real conversation and family time! We do have a no-phone, no-books-at-the-table rule at our house, but I kept catching my husband grabbing for his phone, and consequently because, “well, Daddy’s on his phone so I can read my book”, my daughter would immediately grab whatever reading material was nearest to her and start reading, completely ignoring everyone. Ugh! Dinner is supposed to be a respite from the day; a time to enjoy a meal together and each other’s company. But, it just wasn’t, and honestly, I was getting pretty sad and disappointed over it.

So, my daughter and I brainstormed some ways of having a more interesting and engaging dinnertime routine. Our answer? Conversation starters! Here’s what I mean. Most evenings, I would have my daughter sit down for a few minutes before dinner and write out on little bits of paper things that would be fun to talk about: What would be your favorite/ultimate dessert? What would be your perfect day? What mythological creature is your favorite and why? Favorite roller coaster? What do you like the most about [insert anything]? You get the idea. We fold the papers in half, then set them in the middle of the table. Once everyone is ready to eat, one-by-one we each take a paper, read what it says, answer it, then pass that question around for everyone else to answer.

This has proved to be a game-changer! Suddenly, we were laughing together about our ideas, or reminiscing on a perfect day. We would discuss our made-up events or just smile at the prospect of whatever crazy invention or scheme someone just laid out. We were enjoying each other! We were engaged in conversation. We were getting to know each other even better each evening. It was incredible! It has really become something that I look forward to. So, despite how challenging raising my kids can be at times, watching them open up their creativity and explore their imagination has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the day. We turned an often irksome time into some really fun memories that I can look back on and smile for years to come!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Turning Life into Teaching Moments

It happens to every parent. You work hard to raise your children with a certain set of values, to choose right over wrong and good over, well, not-so-good. So, when I found out that my child, in an attempt to seem “cool” and “tough,” had made the not-so-good choice, I was disappointed and sad. I frankly questioned everything, forcing my brain to race back in time and try to sort out what I did “wrong.” How, after all of these years of coaching and training and explaining, how did he chose the wrong way to go in this situation? He knew the right thing to do, yet he stubbornly went for the puffed-chest, tough-guy route. Ugh.

On the drive home — yes, the principal called while I was teaching and in-between lessons (perfect.) — I had time to think, which was probably a really good thing. I wanted him to understand the seriousness of his decision and to go through, AGAIN, what would have been a better response to that situation and why what he did was so wrong. My other two children found out what had happened. While I was trying to keep it just between us, it did lend me an opportunity to discuss similar situations with them and how they should handle themselves in those moments. Because it had hit so close to home, I think they took it more seriously than maybe they would have otherwise. It was just the very next week when my youngest found himself in just a situation as I had described to them. When his teacher came out at pick-up time to tell me about it, she praised him on doing the right thing, making the right decision! So, what had started out as a pretty ugly circumstance, ended up as a powerful teaching tool with predicted success.

Really, every moment can be a teaching moment. Good times can be a teaching moment: “Isn’t this fun when we compromise and work together?!” Frustrating times can be a teaching moment: “You were really frustrated by this project, but you persevered and look at this great result!” (Two nights ago’s conversation.) Sad times can be a teaching moment: “I’m sorry your toy broke. What can we do differently when you want something your friend has?” (Last night’s conversation.) Proud times can be a teaching moment: “You worked so hard during your basketball season and really improved!” I think the more we can use these kinds of motivating words and teach from all angles of life, the good times and bad, we do so much for our children.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

The 4 Ways I Keep Myself Balanced

Between teaching at a university, playing in an orchestra, taking on freelance work, blogging, and being the mother of three active children, life gets a little hectic. And by “a little” I mean a lot. (Did I mention I am trying to continue building my French fluency, as well??) I love everything that I do, so I certainly don’t want to give anything up, but that means that I have to be on top of my time and organization. So, how DO I juggle it make it work? Here are the 4 ways I keep myself balanced and focused.

1. Prioritize. I set morning, afternoon, and evening goals for myself. My mornings that I don’t teach are almost always exclusively set aside for working out and practicing. It’s all that I do. I avoid setting appointments for this time block. It is sacred space and jealously guarded for that particular purpose. My afternoons are slated for grocery shopping (if needed), laundry, blogging, and/or cleaning. If I can arrange it the night before, I do try to use the grocery store’s pick-up service, where they will do the shopping for you. I definitely recommend this! It’s such a time-saver. If I don’t have rehearsals or a concert, my evenings are devoted to family: either taxiing kids around, making dinner, having special time, you name it. Prioritize your blocks of time, and stick to it!

2. Do your work in small chunks of time. Occasionally, life will throw you some wrenches in your plan. Your kids are home sick, or school has been cancelled due to weather, or you are called away unavoidably. Whatever the issue, stay calm and stay flexible. When I find I’m suddenly home with kids during the school day, I try to work in small chunks of time, grabbing 30-minute practice sessions here and there as I am able. It does interfere with my “block scheduling” as described above, but I find that it is much more efficacious to stay flexible and do work as I can manage it, while still being available to my children at home. Children are much more agreeable to their parents working in small batches of time, as opposed to all day, if they know their needs are going to be met sooner rather than much later. It works well for everyone.

3. Manage your time well. This seems an obvious one, right? Let me explain. On the days I am home (not teaching at the university) I decide what I am better able to accomplish while the children are at school, and what items are still manageable when they are home. For example, if I need to run errands, be on the computer for a while, practice, — work that needs my attention to be absolutely on the task at-hand — I work hard to finish those while the children are at school. Other tasks like laundry, dishes, a quick check at email, and the like, where I can have my attention diverted for a bit to help with the children if needed, those I save for after the children return home from school. I want to make sure they know that I am always available, and they can have my attention immediately if necessary, but I am realistic enough to know that they don’t want me hovering over them constantly and can continue with whatever I was doing previously.

4. Meditate. I can’t stress this one enough. Find time to meditate. Lately I have switched to meditating at night, which has greatly helped my sleep (I have blogged about it earlier), but there are definitely merits to meditating during the day. Meditating greatly reduces stress and anxiety, as it helps to put space between your mind and your day-to-day worries. It helps you to focus on the here-and-now and puts your body at ease. This is great for helping you to stay balanced and focused during your day. The more you practice mediation, the easier it gets to calm your mind and ease your body, so you can continue on with your day in a more relaxed and focused way.

This is just a small snapshot of how I stay balanced and focused as a busy working mom. Yes, my house may not always be perfectly tidy. Quite the contrary at times!! There is no hiding the fact that I have three busy and active kids running around. But, to me, an overly tidy house is not what is always important. Maintaining my professional level of playing, raising good kids in a loving and nurturing way, and keeping my relationship with my family and work healthy are important to me. I hope I have given you, my lovely readers, some good ideas to help you find that balance that works for you. What are some things you do to stay balanced? I want to hear about it!

Posted in Parenting

Laughter is The Best Medicine

My little guy has been getting a bit bored lately. We live in a cold-winter climate, so going outdoors isn’t always an option, and it’s cloudy and wet more days than not. Also, he’s not as involved as my other two children are in after-school activities, and his favorite spring sport hasn’t started back up yet. He does entertain himself well with Minecraft and Geometry Dash online, but as soon as his allotted screen time is up, well, you know the drill: Mom! There’s nothing to do!! Of course, I give the usual list-making of all the games we can play and toys he can build with, but as I am saying this, I can see that he is crossing his arms and plopping himself moodily on the couch (read: gearing up for a “power struggle”). Uh oh. Here we go.

That day, I decided to try something different than my usual tactics to avoid or work around these kinds of power struggles — that dogged, “I’m going to say no to everything you suggest” attitude. I had just read earlier that laughing helps increase oxytocin (bonding hormone) and reduce anxiety and stress (Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham). I wanted to put some of what I had read into practice and see if it actually worked — to see if laughter could make a child go from being grumpy about his screen time ending to his normal happy, relatively compliant self. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous that he would just tell me to stop and then his mood would be worse. I do love our special time, which I have blogged about before, but when these kinds of moods strike — and we all know what I’m talking about! — it just feels rather forced. Still, I wanted to give it a try.

He looked up at me while sitting on the couch with his sweet but pouty face, and his arms crossed and eyes narrowed, and I looked back at him. But then I smiled, and I said, “look at this new bump on the couch [meaning him]! I’m going to sit on it and see if it’s soft!” As I turned to “sit” on him (gently, of course), he immediately started laughing and pushing me away, during which I said, “Oh wow! This couch grew legs and arms!” And we started laughing hysterically from then on! He immediately started suggesting other things we could do, like riding horses (I was the horse), and flying, with him on my feet in the air. We had so much fun. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time! It was one of our best special times together, and all of his previous grumpiness and defiance melted away.

I am looking forward to using this trick a lot more often. It does come with a caveat: if the child isn’t having it, if he isn’t playing along or the situation starts to deteriorate, then you’ll obviously need to turn to another tool in your parenting toolbox. But, I am going to use this as much as I can. What a fun way to turn a mood around! Next time you see that little rain cloud start to follow your little ones around, try some silliness and laughter to chase away the clouds. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

Carb-heavy vs. Low-carb, Plant-heavy: Does it make a difference in how I feel?

The holiday season for us is a time for family gatherings, games, fun, and food. Lots of carb-heavy food. You know what I mean: mashed potatoes, casseroles, bread stuffing, and, of course, dessert. I will admit, after Thanksgiving I tend to just throw up my hands and eat whatever I have on-hand, which is usually leftovers of the rich, heavy nosh, or whatever simply sounds good. You probably don’t have to guess what sounds good on cloudy, chilly late-autumn, early-winter days: comfort food! After all, I felt like I earned it. I spent the whole year exercising regularly, eating incredibly healthy, and maintaining my healthy weight and slim figure. So, yes, I indulged. Every day. And here’s what I learned: except for that first day, it wasn’t as much fun and liberating as I thought it would be.  Hear me out.

As the leftovers started pouring into the house after our first couple rounds of family Thanksgivings and the days were getting cold, the thought of my kale smoothies and salads stopped sounding appetizing (ok, kale smoothies don’t always sound appetizing. I get it!). I just went with the flow and ate what I wanted. But after a week or more of that, my body started feeling out-of-sorts. I felt weighed down, with less energy. Honestly, my body felt compromised. The sugar from the desserts was giving me headaches! While it was interesting, at first, to change up my diet, my body wasn’t having it. I started craving fresh, green food again, so I went out and bought lettuce and some greens from the farmers market. Since Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day was coming, along with all of the parties and more extended family dinners that go with it, I decided to try to eat more salads on the off days. While it helped to ward off some of the extra weight I knew I was going to gain, it wasn’t enough to help me feel like myself again, especially given the heavy but delicious holiday meals I was all too happy to indulge myself with the next day.

Fast-forward to the second week of January. I am back into my regular healthy eating and working routine, I feel great again! I previously posted about my lower-carb diet (here), and now I realize why it works so well for me. I just feel light and healthy. I can really feel the nutrients from my fresh veggies and lean veggie proteins doing their work nourishing my body, and, in turn, my workouts are more effective, and I feel sharper and happier. While I am a firm believer in moderating one’s diet and “treating” yourself occasionally, I am more fully convinced that a veg-heavy, lower-carb diet is a great way to nourish the body and live healthier and happier! And, by making this a part of my lifestyle, I am showing my children healthy eating habits, as well. No, they aren’t convinced about kale yet (they’ll get there!), but they do eat their veggies now and, therefore, stand a greater chance of enjoying healthy eating into adulthood. While I didn’t set out to do a carb-heavy vs. low-carb, plant-based diet challenge intentionally, I am so glad I did! It was definitely an eye-opener. So, eat your veggies. Your body and your children will thank you for it!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Uncategorized

International Travel with Kids

When my husband and I moved back to the United States from living in England, we vowed that we would be back one day. That “one day” turned out to take a lot longer than we had anticipated. (Funny how having 3 babies within 46 months will do that!) But, we finally made it back just over a year ago, with all three kids in-tow. Never thought about taking kids overseas? If your children are in elementary school or older, it’s easier than you might think, and the educational value of the trip (not to mention all the eye-popping wonder and excitement) makes it so worth it. I’ll break down how we made it all work.

1. Flight miles. The very first step is to get a good flight miles card — one that earns at least 1.5x miles, but preferably 2x miles. The best flight-miles cards will come with annual fees, but your first free flight more than pays for that instantly. Don’t forget to pay in-full every month, so you don’t incur interest charges! We took our time collecting our miles, so we were able to fly our family of 5 out for not much out-of-pocket.

2. Backpack it. Yes, you read that correctly: backpack it. Why? Portability. We travelled all throughout England, from the southern coast up to the north using trains. There is a lot of walking involved, too, and there is nothing worse than lugging huge suitcases on and off trains and down old streets with uneven brick or pavement. Each person was responsible for his or her own backpack, and it was simple. We had each child bring their school backpacks, and we packed them with 3 changes of clothes only. Don’t fret, we had a way to wash our clothes (more on that below). The front pocket of each backpack held some mechanical pencils and their journal. Bringing journals was a great way to have them chronicle their experience while we were on a train or back at the flat, plus they liked to use them to draw in or play games. The grown-up backpacks carried our own clothes, of course, but they also carried our documents (only when we needed them) and a portable phone charger. The portable charger was essential, since I was using Google Maps and other GPS apps on my phone, along with my camera, all of which ate my battery. I kept my phone plugged into my charger in my backpack, which has a USB port, so I was never low on battery; I recharged the portable charger at night. Save buying your toiletries for when you get to your destination, and carry them in your shopping bag back to where you are staying. Just like at home!

3. Airbnb. If you want to keep costs down, I highly recommend using Airbnb, or another similar site. (We actually used HomeAway for most of our stay, which was a mistake, so I can’t recommend them for international travel.) I totally understand if you are skittish, and want to stay at hotels: they are predictable, offer loads of services, and you can always talk to a live person. But, if you want to keep costs down, I have to recommend arranging your lodging in a flat online. You usually can get the entire flat or apartment to yourself, so there is more privacy, you can feel like a local, you can cook your meals (saves a lot of money!), it can give you and your kids a feeling of having a home-away-from-home, and you can do your laundry at night. That last one was key for us! We specifically booked places that had en-suite laundry facilities, so we just did our laundry when we were in for the night. That helped to keep our packing light and portable.

4. Do your research at home, and try to buy as many of your experiences and train tickets online as possible before you leave. For example, we knew that while we were in London, we wanted to visit certain sites and take a ride on the London Eye. It is a giant time-saver to just sort out your trip itinerary and then book your experiences online before you leave. This helps you avoid long lines and frustration once you are there, and saves your kids from getting too cranky and frustrated themselves. Another thing to remember is that many museums are free or free-with-donation, so definitely seek those out, and be sure to plan for museums designed specifically for kids, which are great fun and educational! Also, if you are moving from city to city or country to country using trains, many offer ticket sales online. I would highly recommend you take advantage of this and order your tickets before you leave. Once you have your itinerary set, complete with your transportation and experiences details, save those on all of the devices you are taking with you (as a backup), and save all of your sales confirmation emails, and back those up as well. Finally, don’t forget to purchase a SIM card for your phone, if needed, so you can make local calls.

5. Locate playgrounds and take time for breaks. This was another biggie for us! I dubbed our trip to the UK a “Tour of Her Majesty’s Playgrounds.” Kids are kids no matter the circumstances, and they want to play. They need unstructured play to help them unwind and be themselves. So, you will do everyone a giant favor by using a maps app or Siri or Google to help you locate playgrounds near where you are. Even just 10-15 minutes of play will go a long way towards keeping your kids happy during your trip and less fussy. Another helpful tip is to make sure you take some breaks, too. We usually stopped for afternoon tea in a café and let them have juice and a snack. This gave everyone a chance to slow down, take in the experience, and recharge. Honestly, trying out all of the different cafés became one of the highlights of the trip for our kids!

Taking kids with you on international trips can be an amazing adventure and a sure way to create special moments they will never forget. By taking your time with saving flight miles, doing careful research, and doing a lot of planning ahead of time, you can have a great trip that is packed with fun, and have some restful moments, too! We already have another international trip in the works, and I can’t wait! What kind of exciting travel adventures would you love to give to your children?

**This is an update!** While we were at the airport, it really helped us to find play places where the kids could play a bit while waiting on our boarding. Not all airports have these, but I think more and more are starting to add places where kids can play a bit. I know the award-winning Indianapolis International Airport has a kids spot! Walking around as much as it is possible is helpful, since it helps to keep them busy and active, and when you do have to be near your gate, games and word searches are fantastic ways to help them keep busy. Finally, try not to board immediately if you can help it. Your kiddos already have to sit for a long time on the plane as it is, so adding an additional 20 or 30 minutes when they have to be in their seat is tough for them (although do make sure you take some laps in the aisle from time-to-time when it is safe to do so). Happy travelling!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Stay Ahead When Time is Short (in 3 easy ways)

Let’s face it: there is simply not enough time in a day. How many times have you said that since having children? I have probably said it or thought it 1-2 times per week every week for years. There is so much going on in our lives and in our children’s lives. And while some aspects of life do get easier once your sweet babies are in school during the day, the whirlwind rush of activities once that final bell rings more than makes up for the child-free time beforehand. I find it quite easy to let ongoing projects (mine and theirs) slip in the flurry of activity once they get home, and it doesn’t take long, then, to feel like your drowning in unfinished work. Sound familiar? Below is how I break down our duties and maximize what little time we have.

  1. Make Lists. I love lists! They are simple, you can look quickly at them and know what is next, and best of all, you can cross lines out when you finish with the item. It’s a great feeling! I have always been a list-maker. Recently, I’ve started applying that skill to help keep my middle-school daughter on track with her three projects she has due at the end of this month. We broke down each project into manageable “bites” or tasks that she can accomplish each week leading up to the due date. By doing this, each of the tasks feel less overwhelming and allows her to stay organized and on top of the workload. We keep the list on the fridge, so it’s kept safe, and we can refer to it quickly and easily when we need to. You can easily apply this technique to your own work or responsibilities. Perhaps your own tasks change from day to day like mine often do. I keep a small dry-erase board in my kitchen so I can list my daily or even weekly responsibilities and stay on track.
  2. Use Calendars. Seems obvious, right? Of course most people keep a calendar at home and work. Perhaps you keep another one on your mobile device. Use these to help you stay organized, not just to jot down your doctor visits or upcoming appointments. Yes, I use the calendar on my phone for the aforementioned visits and appointments, etc., but I also use it to remind me of my daily tasks when I’m not at home. I actually find my Google calendar so much more effective at reminders than the reminder app itself! For my children, I put together a separate calendar (simply printed a blank one off the web), and I use that to list when homework and projects are due and when they have quizzes and tests. I stuck it on the fridge, so they can easily see in advance when these items are coming up. I love that I can quickly refer to it and remind them what books to bring home to study that afternoon and what they can expect at school each day. It has completely taken away that feeling of stumbling around in the dark and surprises when it comes to their upcoming events.
  3. Start Early. Finally, look ahead at what may need to be done in the coming month or two months, create a reasonable timetable for accomplishing it week-by-week, and begin working on it as soon as it is possible. For example, since I am a performing musician, I can look at my upcoming performance schedule and begin to work on the most demanding or technical music very early on. So, by the time the concert approaches, I’m a lot less stressed about learning the music. Of course, you can adapt this example to your own working lifestyle or career. Deadlines come sooner than you think, we all know that. By being prepared and ready early, you can avoid the hectic and frantic feeling that often accompanies those deadlines.

Yes, time is really short, and there never seems to be enough of it. We live busy lives and need every second we can get. By using basic organizational tools and a little forethought, we can stay on top of our tasks and help our children stay on top of their responsibilities, too. Not only do these 3 simple ways above save time in the end, they can teach our children about the benefits of organization, as well. It’s a win-win for the whole family and allows us a bit more time at the end of the day for snuggles!