Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Death of a Gorilla and the Lesson We Aren't Learning

It's everywhere—all over the news and social media—Harambe, a silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, was killed in order to save the life of a child who had managed to get into his habitat. I have watched the videos and read a few articles, and while it is so very sad that a beautiful and endangered animal had to lose its life, it is clear to me that it was absolutely necessary.

Do you know why the story is blowing up? It's because the people of the internet are outraged. They are outraged that an animal was killed, which is understandable. They are outraged that this child was able to get into the gorilla habitat, which is also understandable. And they are outraged that the mother of the child would allow such a thing.


What mother in her right mind would actually allow her 3-year-old child (maybe he was 4) to climb into the enclosure of a wild animal who is unpredictable and stronger than 10 human men?

And that's just it. There are comments on the internet that claim this poor mother wasn't in her right mind and thought it would be a great idea for him to do that. There are other comments that say that she even encouraged him to climb in, hoping that the gorilla would kill him. Still others that say the mother and/or the child should have been shot in the stead of the gorilla.

There are other, tamer, comments that say she was a just plain terrible mother, the child should have been on a leash, she clearly wasn't watching him, and that she should be investigated by child protective services immediately. In fact, there is actually a petition going around that has tens of thousands of signatures on it asking for such an investigation into this mother's poor parenting.

Again, really?

According to the people of the internet, the lesson to be learned here is this:

Good mothers are perfectly attentive and never lose track of their children.

At first, I thought the same. I judged this woman a little bit for losing track of her child in a public place. I judged her for not noticing that her child had climbed into a gorilla habitat. And I may have even blamed her for the death of Harambe.

But only for a minute.

Because I would hope that I am a good mother. And guess what? I have lost my children more than once. Sophia especially has a skill for disappearing when I turn my head for a split second. And she would have been the kid trying to get inside with the animals if she were to get away from me at the zoo. (This is why I made her wear a leash backpack when she was younger.)

Yes, I have lost my kids in public places. And I know that many, many of my friends—friends I consider to be excellent and attentive mothers—have also lost their children.

In my case, I have always found them pretty quickly. Thankfully no harm has come to them in the few minutes they were out of my supervision, but I was always scared and frantic while looking for them. Kids are fast and they are small! In public places where there are many people, it is easy for them to disappear in the blink of an eye.

Good mothers are attentive. But that is not the lesson we should be learning from the death of this gorilla.

Good mothers are attentive, but they are also human.

I am human. You are human. The mother of the child who escaped at the zoo is human.

I don't actually think it is possible for a human mother to have her eyes on her child at all times, do you? A mother whose child has escaped her watch does not deserve to be piled on in this manner. She does not deserve to be judged, criticized, or threatened. Believe me, she is beating herself up plenty for losing track of him! What she needs is kindness and compassion extended to her.

And that is the lesson that I think we aren't learning, but should.

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.

This is a quote from the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. It's a quote that has stuck with me since I read it. Many of the internet commenters may be right. They are right that the mom should have watched her son more closely. And they are right that it is very sad that at animal had to lose its life.

But if that "rightness" equals unkindness and hateful words? Stop. Don't write that comment. Choose kind. And if you can't be kind, if you can't somehow extend mercy and compassion, the kindest thing you can do is to say nothing at all.

Isn't that what your mother taught you, after all? The human mother that probably lost track of you once or twice while shopping or at a public event?

Bottom line: this could have happened to anyone. I am just lucky that when my children have escaped out from under my watch that they didn't fall into a gorilla habitat.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Choose Kind.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

11 Cool Gifts for Dad

Dads are notoriously difficult to buy for. I know my dad would always just say, "I don't need anything—you kids being kind to one another is a good enough gift for me!" when we asked him what he wanted for any occasion. While that's nice, it's not particularly helpful for those of us who actually want to buy dad gifts on Father's Day or his birthday!

Cool gift ideas for dads. Find a great gift for Father's Day that Dad will love! #overstuffedlife

As it turns out, The Maestro is almost as difficult to buy for as my own dad. It doesn't help that his birthday and Father's Day are so close together that they often fall on the same day! Every June I'm always scrambling to come up with something that I think he will love from me and the girls.

Below are a few things that we've scored a home run on for The Maestro, and a couple things I know he'd really like. I know that my dad would appreciate most of these things, too!

Gift ideas for dads. Find a cool gift your dad will love. #overstuffedlife

11 Cool Gifts for Dad 

(affiliate links)

**Note** For many of these I have not linked to one specific item, but rather the category page on Amazon. This way you can see what is available, as many of these things come in a wide variety of prices and types.

1. "Behind Every Good Kid is a Great Dad" photo frame  Sometimes we think that dads aren't very sentimental, but that's just not true. My husband and my dad both love having photos of their kids and grandkids around, and both of them would love this frame filled with a great photo of their favorite children.

2. Bluetooth Speaker  These are so nice for listening to music or podcasts or audio books from a phone! Dads can use it while working in the garage or the office and will actually be able to hear whatever they are listening to. The Maestro has this one, and uses it on a daily basis for listening to music and General Conference talks while he works—usually while cooking in the kitchen. For its tiny size and low price, it's pretty powerful. (I admit I use it while The Maestro isn't home to listen to my podcasts on a regular basis, too!)

3. Laser Rangefinder  The Maestro is a big golfer, and June is when he starts golfing for the season, so Father's Day is when we often give him golfing things. He has his eye on this cool rangefinder that tells you how far away the hole is from the ball. Pretty cool!

4. "World's Coolest Dad" apron  The Maestro loves cooking and grilling, and aprons are a necessity.

5. Weber's Way to Grill Cookbook  This is The Maestro's favorite grilling cookbook and he uses it all the time. In the summers he can generally be found in the backyard grilling something just about every evening, so he has plenty of opportunities for trying new recipes and techniques.

6. Nose and Ear Hair Trimmer  I know it sounds silly, but I have purchased so many of these things for both The Maestro and my own dad. They love them. The brand I had been buying seemed to fall apart too easily, so I finally found this one and it has lasted a couple years now. It's pretty darn inexpensive, too!

7. Magnetic Wristband  If the dad you're buying for is handy, he might love a magnetic wristband! It's perfect for picking up dropped nails and screws, or just for holding on to them while working on a project.

8. Cuisinart Grilling Set  There are all kinds of great grilling sets available, but having the right tools for grilling is not an option! The Maestro uses all of his!

9. Golf putter  Even if your dad isn't much of a golfer, getting him a putter and a few balls that he can practice putting with is something he'll probably still enjoy. If you're feeling particularly generous, I bet he'd also love his own practice putting green!

10. Bluetooth Meat Thermometer  This is a pretty awesome gadget that will allow you to keep track of the meat temperature without opening the grill or smoker. It just transmits the information via bluetooth to your phone! So cool!

11. Leatherman  This is another tool that both my dad and husband cannot live without. If your dad doesn't already have one, I highly recommend that you get one, and get one that has lots of tools on it. The Maestro uses his on a nearly daily basis to fix various things or help the girls do something or other. I'm amazed at how versatile it is, and he rarely needs to dig out the tool box for a more specific tool.

Hopefully this list was able to give you a few great ideas for Father's Day! Happy shopping!

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Daughter Was Bullied by Her Best Friend—10 Warning Signs Your Child's Friend is Toxic

About halfway through the 5th grade my daughter Chloe changed somewhat drastically. She went from the cute, happy, One Direction obsessed girl I loved to an unhappy girl who didn't really know who she was.

As her mother, I worried greatly about the sudden change in her. I didn't know if it was hormonal or if something else was going on, but soon enough, I began to suspect that the friendship of a girl in Chloe's class was the root of the problem.

Once school was out, the two girls didn't spend any time together and I gradually got my happy girl mostly back. She still communicated often with this friend (let's call her Tiffany) via text and other social media, but they never saw each other in person. When I realized how much happier Chloe was not seeing her every day, I became sure that this was what you'd call a toxic friendship.

Then Chloe began middle school and unfortunately Tiffany was in her same class rotation. They renewed their friendship and I watched Chloe spiral back down into the angry and withdrawn state she had been in at the end of her 5th grade year. I talked with her often about Tiffany and the things that were happening, but it only made Chloe more mad and more withdrawn, so I knew I had to tread carefully.

This went on through all of 6th grade, and while I had many long talks with Chloe and prayed for her harder than I ever had, I continued to watch my bright child be beaten down by Tiffany. She lost her self-confidence. She lost her individuality. She no longer enjoyed the things she has loved for her entire life. She treated her family unkindly. She was just plain unhappy.

And I hated to watch it.

Child's best friend is actually a bully | Child has toxic friendship | bully prevention | my child is being bullied by a friend | cyberbullying | warning signs of bullying | negative friendship | how to get rid of a toxic friend

Towards the end of the school year last year, some things happened that concerned The Maestro and me so greatly that we spoke with the school counselor about them. We also spoke with Chloe and insisted that she pull back from the friendship for once and for all.

Chloe actually seemed relieved when we put our foot down completely, and when school was out for the summer she finally opened up to me. All of her feelings and experiences concerning Tiffany came out in a big, emotional deluge and we could finally start to help her heal from the literal trauma she had been through for the last year and a half.

If only that had been the end! Once Tiffany figured out that Chloe was cutting ties with her, the cyber-bullying began in earnest. I have never been so angry in my entire life than I was when these texts and Instagram messages were coming in. We blocked her number and social media accounts, but Tiffany kept creating new Instagram accounts for the express purpose of saying horrible things to my daughter.

Because it was summertime, we ended up having to go to the local police about the Instagram bullying before it finally stopped. I never imagined that my husband and I would find ourselves in a police station over things said to our daughter on social media by a 12-year-old girl. But there we were.

As a mom, I have felt partly responsible for the whole mess because I wasn't prepared to deal with such a friendship. It took me several months before I even realized that this friendship was the reason my daughter was so unhappy! I often wonder what might have been different if I had been able to nip things in the bud sooner, but if nothing else I have learned some great lessons myself.

Now I know exactly what to look for in a friendship. I know what the warning signs are and in the future I will be much better prepared to deal with a situation like this. I'm sharing them here in the hopes that I can help other parents recognize the signs of a toxic friendship between kids.

Want to remember these warning signs? Download the checklist by entering your email into the form below. If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

10 Signs Your Child Is In a Toxic Friendship

1. They refuse to spend time at your house

I had Chloe invite Tiffany over so many times. Every time she said no way, but you can come to my house. I actually did not allow Chloe to go over to her house until the very end of the whole saga, and I only did it then because they had to do a school project together. I thought it was totally weird that a friend would adamantly refuse to visit our home, but as it turns out, that itself is a pretty big warning sign of a toxic and controlling friendship.

2. They don't allow your child to have other friends

Despite what my story above may lead you to believe, Tiffany wasn't actually Chloe's best friend. Chloe had another friend who has been her bestie for many years—she just didn't happen to be in the same class as Chloe for both 5th and 6th grades. Thank goodness for her, or I think things would have been a lot worse.

Tiffany wasn't having any of that, though. She routinely inserted herself into Chloe's other friendships and would make it difficult for Chloe to talk to anyone else at school. She excluded Chloe's other friends. She texted Chloe on a regular basis to ask her who her best friend was, and if she dared say someone else's name, she would become very angry with Chloe and make her feel really bad. She also had other girls text Chloe to ask her who her best friend was.

3. They pressure your child to do things she doesn't want to do

Not only did Tiffany pressure Chloe into saying she was her best friend, she pressured her to do many things she didn't really want to do. Chloe has a strong sense of right and wrong, so when she refused to do something, Tiffany would make fun of her.

signs of a toxic friend | toxic friendship in kids | bullying | how to know your child is being bullied | cyberbully | bully

4. They speak poorly of your family

Tiffany had nothing nice to say about Chloe's family. When Chloe finally talked to me about everything she had been holding in, the one thing that made her cry the most was when she told me the things Tiffany had said about me and my other daughters. Even worse, apparently Tiffany's parents also made fun of me. I don't know if that is actually true (despite trying multiple times I had never actually met her parents), but she told Chloe these things in order to hurt her, and it worked.

5. They make fun of your child—to her face!

Tiffany made fun of the way Chloe dressed, the things she liked, her other friends, her family. You name it, she made fun of it. Chloe tried so hard to be stoic about all of it, but of course it hurt her deeply.

6. Your child feels she has to please the friend at all costs

I don't think Chloe realized how much she was doing this, but from my vantage point it was a lot of "Tiffany said I have to..." and "I need to do _____ for Tiffany." Chloe would also get extremely worried if she could not do something that Tiffany wanted her to do. Probably because she would get in trouble somehow later!

7. Your child changes her behavior significantly

Not only did Chloe become angry and withdrawn and just plain not herself, she changed other things. Things like the way she dressed, for instance. When she started 5th grade, she loved dressing up really girlie and cute, but when she started hanging out with Tiffany she began to only wear sports t-shirts and athletic wear. Because that is what Tiffany wore. Tiffany didn't like One Direction, so Chloe stopped liking them.

For the first day of school, Chloe wore some red polka-dotted jeans that she loved, put a flower in her hair, and was excited about her One Direction bag. On the last day of school, most of the girls dress up at my kids' elementary school. Chloe was a graduating 5th grader and absolutely refused to dress up that day because of Tiffany. Those sweats and t-shirt were the nicest thing I could get her to wear—and that was quite a bit dressier than what she usually wore at that point, so I didn't push her.

8. They get pleasure out of playing cruel jokes on your child

I will not go into details here, but suffice it to say the things that I contacted the counselor about were cruel jokes Tiffany played on my child that were deeply concerning to me and my husband as parents. But they affected our Chloe in a very negative way, too.

9. They get angry at your child on a regular basis

Half the time, Tiffany was just mad at Chloe for silly reasons. It tied poor Chloe up in knots. She is the type of person who lights up a room and wants everyone around her to be happy, but her talent for that didn't seem to work on Tiffany. But whenever I told Chloe that maybe a friend who treated her like that wasn't a very good friend, I would get in trouble with Chloe.

10. Your once happy child is angry and withdrawn

The worst thing for me was being deprived of my child for more than a year. My Chloe is happy and fun and bright and always has been. But for this time I rarely got her to smile for pictures (if she even agreed to take one), she was mad at me and her dad and sisters all the time, and she withdrew into her room to text Tiffany an awful lot.

A few weeks after the whole situation was resolved, we were riding in the car together and she was really excited about something. She was back to her happy and bubbly self. She looked at me, honestly confused, and said, "Why am I acting like this?"

I told her she was just acting like Chloe and that I'd missed that.

"I like being Chloe," was her response after thinking a while. "I'm glad Chloe is back, too."

Thankfully, Tiffany transferred to another school for 7th grade. I'm not sure what would have happened if she had stayed at the same school as Chloe, but I'm glad I never had to find out. Chloe has been herself this 7th grade year, and what's more, she has learned some really important lessons about friendship and is so much more mature because of it.

I just wish it didn't have to be such a difficult lesson to learn.

Looking for more resources to help your kids with their friendship troubles?

Try these books (affiliate links):

A Smart Girl's Guide to Friendship Troubles (great for your daughters to read--we own it, and my girls have all benefited from it)

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping your daughter survive cliques, gossip, boyfriends, and the new realities of girl world

Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four steps to bully-proof girls in the early grades

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping our boys cope with schoolyard power, locker room tests, girlfriends, and the new rules of boy world

Related: 16 Things Your Teenage Daughter Needs to Hear From You

Whether or not your teen daughter (or teen son!) has a toxic friend, talking to them is different than it was when they were smaller.

Related: How I Finally Found a Way to Limit Screen Time Without Being the Bad Guy

This experience with Tiffany prompted me to set some real big limits on phone use and other screens. I did not want her to have 24/7 access to my daughter.

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

5 Things You Must Do Before You Can Organize Your Life

Running a home and a family is not for the faint of heart, and I suspect that I'm not the only mom out there who struggles to stay organized. Interestingly enough, the things I have learned about organization as a mom don't really look like organization at first glance. I've realized that to be organized in the sense of having a clean home that runs smoothly, certain things must first be in place.

These five tricks keep me in an organized mindset, and then the rest falls into place much more easily. The real trick is to make sure I am actually doing these five things, and that's the part I'm not always so awesome at!

If you want to organize your life, make sure you have these 5 things in place first.

1. Use a Paper Planner

For me, this is imperative. I remember things better when I write them down, plus it's just much easier to keep my life and the lives of my family organized in a paper planner. Also, when I'm making appointments I'm usually talking on my phone, so it doesn't seem like the most convenient thing to keep my schedule in my phone. A paper planner is simply more visual and helps me keep my thoughts, tasks, and my schedule straight.

This is what works for me. If I want to be organized—everything must be written down in paper form.

My favorite planner is this one: Mom on the Go planner

Find the planner that's best for you here: Great big planner review

2. Take Care of Yourself First

You know how when you're on a plane and they teach you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others in the event of an emergency? It's an analogy that is used often, but it's because it's true. Do not fall into the mom trap of taking care of everyone else before you take care of yourself. I fully admit that I'm not so great at this one, but on the days when I make a concerted effort to take care of my needs first, I get a lot more done for everyone else, too.

One caveat about self care: Make sure you differentiate between what you actually need and what you think you need. Find more information about this here: The truth about self-care

3. Have Family Council Often

If your kids are tiny, make sure you and your spouse are meeting together often to discuss the household, the kids, the schedule, and the budget. Knowing you're on the same page goes a long way towards having an organized household.

When the kids are old enough, include them in the family councils and have them at least weekly. To read some of the things we include in our family meetings, click here: How to hold an effective family council meeting.

I recently discovered this awesome book to keep track of your family councils. Get it here: Family Council Journal

4. Get Rid of Distractions

This is a huge one for me. Notifications dinging on my phone and computer and phone calls are the biggest offenders. When I need to be focused on something—cleaning, writing, helping kids with homework—I get a lot more done if I put my phone on do not disturb. I can always call people back, check email and texts, and look at Facebook when I am finished with the more important stuff. It will be there waiting for me.

When I forget to do this, I find myself breaking focus for every little ding on my phone and so many of them are totally unimportant! Just turn them off!

I recently discovered a way to limit my children's time on certain apps and websites. Now I use it to limit my own time on Facebook, which is the biggest distraction for me. Learn more about it here: Circle with Disney: What it is and Why We Use It

5. Learn to Say No

This goes right along with getting rid of distractions. I have had a bad habit of always saying yes to everything, even if it doesn't serve me or my family and causes me great stress. It's pretty impossible to stay organized when you simply have too much on your plate.

In the last few years, I have finally learned that it is totally okay to say no, and I have figured out how to do it graciously. I have gone from being a frazzled mom with way too much going on to one who is able to focus on the things that are most important to me.

I like to call these five steps PRE-organizing. It's really about getting rid of the clutter in your life and learning to take care of yourself so you can be in a place to truly live in an organized manner. Being busy may be the cross all moms have to bear, but we can bear it well by being ready for true organization!

Want to be a more organized mom? Keep it all together better and be finally GET ORGANIZED by doing these five things FIRST.

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What If Changing the Way You Dress Could Make You a Better Mom?

Motherhood was a big change for me. One of the things I struggled with most after having babies was finding myself and really understanding who Lara was underneath this new layer of "mom." I had gone from being a fairly confident and talented college graduate who was newly married and enjoying life to a sick pregnant woman who could barely move off the couch each day. Once Bria arrived, I was in a sleep deprived fog and completely unsure of my skills when it came to taking care of the new little being I had just brought into the world. That confident and talented part of me was pretty much gone.

As Bria grew older, and as I added two more daughters to my family, I didn't necessarily grow more confident about my ability to be a mother. And while I started finding more of the woman I had once been before children, I had become depressed.

I used to love dressing up. I've always liked to look nice and put together, and my style was always a little on the dressy side. I felt good that way. I felt like me. But if I showed up to a mommy play group dressed how I felt most comfortable, all the other moms would pepper me with questions about the way I was dressed. Consequently, I started buying clothing that would help me fit in with the other moms. I felt sloppy and drab in it, and it depressed me even more.

I didn't realize how much the clothing I was wearing affected me, of course. But I did realize I was unhappy and I blamed it on having lost part of myself to my children.

Feeling better and knowing who YOU are can actually make you a better mom. Dressing your truth is a way to do that. #overstuffedlife

About four years ago, I noticed some of my friends on Facebook talking about a system called Dressing Your Truth®. My curiosity was piqued, but I mostly observed them for a little while. One day, though, I decided to look into it further and that was the start of a life-changing experience for me.

You can read about some of the ways changing my wardrobe changed my life, but I was surprised at how much it changed the way I parent, too!

1. I understand myself better

Dressing Your Truth is based on an Energy Profiling system that categorizes people into four different Energy Types. Understanding how a Type 4 moves, thinks, and feels has helped me to parent more true to my nature. In other words, I am less likely to compare myself to the other moms out there and I know it's okay to just be me. 

For instance, I have always lamented the fact that I am not a fun mom. I simply don't care about having fun, and tend to be more serious. I have now learned that I can be a "fun" mom in my own way. Besides, I strongly believe that our children were given to us for a reason, and the strengths that we have as mothers will serve them better than if we try to be something we're not as parents.

2. My children understand me better

One of the reasons Dressing Your Truth is so wonderful is that people—your children included—get clues about who you are based on how you look. I recently had the experience of getting my hair cut by a gal who had a pink mohawk, tattoos, and lots of piercings. Because of the way she looked, I expected her to be a bit edgy, loud, and maybe a little rebellious. I was surprised to find that she wasn't like that at all and was a much more sensitive and gentle person. For me, that experience really solidified the principles between not only knowing your Energy Type, but dressing for your Energy Type.

Whether they realize it or not, my kids better know what to expect from me because of the way I am dressing!

3. I understand my children better

While not directly related to the way I dress, because of Dressing Your Truth I am able to understand Energy Profiling now. I know the Energy Types of my children, and that helps me know how to parent them in a way that honors their nature. Lucky for me, I have three children and each of them are a different Energy Type. Even luckier? Not one of them is a Type 4℠ like me! Knowing their Energy Types saves me from a lot of frustration!

Want to see before and after shots of me?

This is a photo of me taken circa 2007. Hanging out with other moms made me feel like I couldn't dress the way my own beauty sixth sense was telling me to. I started wearing a lot of brown and gray and not doing much with my make-up. I turned in the bold lipstick I had always worn for something much more understated.

This photo was taken sometime in 2013, about six months after I had begun dressing my truth. I no longer worry that other moms think I'm too dressy or wear too much lipstick. I feel good, and that is what matters!

I am so thankful for the Energy Profiling system—it really has made me a better mom! If you're interested in finding out your own Energy Type and start Dressing Your Truth, click here: FREE Energy Profiling and Dressing Your Truth Course.

Once you have figured out what your own Energy Type is, make sure to check out the DYT Style Kit. It will give you all the tools you need while you are shopping for clothes to make sure you are truly dressing for your own personal truth. I love everything about this system and it very literally has changed my life! 

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.

Friday, May 06, 2016

9 Screen-free Activities to Do With Your Kids

I'm all about limiting the screen time at my house. While I think that a little bit of screen time is absolutely fine—even beneficial—I do believe that too much screen time can be detrimental in many ways.

During the school year it's fairly easy to keep the electronics usage down because the girls have plenty to keep them busy. Homework, practice, lessons, and other extra-curricular activities naturally make it harder for them to sit on the couch drooling over their iPods all day.

But the summer is a totally different story, and summer is almost here.

I feel it is my job as a parent to not only limit the time spent in front of screens, but to give them other options that they will enjoy. Here is a list of some of my favorite screen-free activities for summer (or any time of year, really!)

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Looking for alternatives to video games or computer time? Try these fun screen-free activities! #overstuffedlife

Screen-free Activities to do With Your Kids

1. Puzzles

During the summer we always have a nice 1,000 piece puzzle in process.  It's nice because if the kids have hit their screen-time limits and are feeling bored, they can always walk over to the dining room table and work on the puzzle for a while.

Thrift stores are an excellent resource for puzzles since they are such a one and done sort of item. I especially love the Ravensburger 1,000 piece puzzles, and find them at thrift stores pretty regularly. We've done this Norwegian Fjord puzzle (pictured above) and I have this one all ready to go for this summer.

2. Arts & Crafts Projects

My kids love doing creative projects, but they don't always know what to do. I try to keep lots of general craft supplies on hand like craft foam, buttons, and plenty of glue but they still don't always know what they want to do with it. I try to troll Pinterest for fun projects that my girls will like and point them in the right direction and then work with them on the craft if they would like me to help.

Also, I just recently discovered the Kiwi Crate boxes, and they have a Doodle Crate available that my girls will love. I'm going to have a few on hand this summer for some fun projects to do together.

Look at all of the Kiwi Crate options here: Kiwi Crate Creative Boxes

3. Science Projects

This isn't something I have done a lot of with my girls, but I would like to be better about it. Science fair time is excruciating because they don't think it's very fun and I really want to change that. I am thinking that doing science projects for the fun of it during the summer will go a long way toward changing their attitudes about the scientific process. I'd really like to get to the point where when they ask a question about something that we can turn it into a science project to answer the question. Time to start really listening to their questions!

Kiwi Crate also offers a box called Tinker Crate which offers some great scientific and building projects for kids.

4. Read Around the World

I'm a huge advocate of summer reading, but sometimes telling the kids to just go read a book receives a lot of push back and complaining. I read out loud to them as much as I can, but even that gets old.

This summer I want to do a project to see how many states and countries we can "read" as a family. So every time someone reads a book (whether by themselves or one I read to them), we will keep track of where it takes place and put a pin on our reading map. I'm hoping the idea will get my girls more motivated to take time to read.

5. Get in the Car and Explore

We have a ton of local gems—small day hikes, beaches, fun rock shops, museums etc.—and I bet you do, too! It's easy to never see half of the great things around the place you live because you don't feel the urgency. If everyone is bored one day, get in the car and go see something new! Chances are you'll learn something new, too.

6. Write a Story Together

My youngest daughter absolutely loves to write, so I'm thinking about her for this activity. I want to help her outline a story and then help her get it all written so we can print it out and then she can illustrate it. What a fun project for summer that will also keep her writing and thinking chops fresh for school.

7. Teach Them How to Cook Their Favorite Recipes

Do your kids have a favorite meal that you make? Teach them to make it themselves. My girls love my chicken enchiladas, so I'm going to teach them how to make them this summer. We will spend time together, they will learn a new skill, and maybe I can assign them to make dinner every couple of weeks to boot.

8. Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

We did this a few times last summer and had a great time. You can print out my scavenger hunt list here: Nature Scavenger Hunt. You can also easily come up with your own ideas. You can focus on creative photography, too, and teach them all of the ways to improve their photo composition as they find the items on the list.

9. Make Vision Boards Together

We made some vision boards for the whole year, but summer is a great time to set new goals. You can see how we did ours by clicking here: Make Vision Boards With Your Kids.

I know limiting screen time can be difficult. I think it's one of the hardest things I've done as a parent! It's hard to police it and it's hard to always be there with alternatives, too. Circle With Disney is something that has helped me so much in this area! You can read more about my experience with Circle here:

How I Finally Limited Screen Time Without Being the Bad Guy

Circle With Disney: How it Works, How We Use It, and Why It's Worth It

This little device has changed my life as a mom, I'm not even kidding. I LOVE how easy it is to police screen time now, which gives me more time and energy to do fun things with my kids!

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

You Don't Have to Do Motherhood Alone

I am not ashamed to say that I couldn't "do motherhood" all by myself. In the 16 years that I have been a mother, I have had a support system of angels who have helped me and for which I am incredibly grateful.

Motherhood doesn't have to be lonely. It takes a village—who is in yours? #overstuffedlife

I'm thankful for my husband. We are on this parenting journey together and he is truly my partner. He supports and lifts me when I feel like I am failing. He loves our daughters as fiercely as I do, and we make an excellent team.

I'm thankful for my own mother, who gives me advice. She has helped me financially so I could afford to give my kids more opportunities while my husband was still in graduate school. In the relatively small amount of time that we lived close to her, she was always willing to help watch my babies while I taught voice lessons. And even now, when we live thousands of miles apart, she FaceTimes my children regularly. Sophia loves to FaceTime Mamah while she is cleaning her room so Mamah (who is a cleaning genius), can "help" her.

I am thankful for the many friends who have been there for me. I think often of the many, many women who helped me with my children when I was bedridden during pregnancies. The many friends who would show up unannounced to do my dishes or bring a meal because they knew I couldn't do it. The friends who carpool with me for dance lessons or who trade babysitting with me because I can't be 3 places at one time.

I'm also so thankful to my friends for just having conversations with me about our parenting challenges. I don't feel alone when I talk to them—I know we're all in the trenches together and that none of us has this mom thing down perfectly!

I'm thankful to the church leaders and teachers who have helped teach my children the gospel. I'm thankful for their righteous examples, and I'm so glad that my girls look up to their Primary and Young Women leaders.

I'm thankful for school teachers that have taught my children math and science. If it were left up to me to teach math and science, my children would be woefully ignorant in those areas. I'm thankful for the teachers who have helped my children learn to be hardworkers, and for the teachers who have instilled in them a love of music or reading or chess.

Most of all, I'm thankful for the divine help that I am given on this motherhood journey. For the whisperings of the Holy Spirit to give me guidance and to help me understand what my children need most. For a loving Father in Heaven who hears my daily prayers regarding the welfare of my daughters and who gives me patience and helps me to learn vital lessons through mothering them.

I know that the ultimate responsibility to raise my children belongs to me and my husband, but I am so thankful for the proverbial village that is here to help us. We don't rely on that village to raise our children for us, but it is nice to have someone to turn to when we need a little extra help.

I love this painting by Annie Henry depicting a mother and her child, but with an army of angels behind her. We don't have to do motherhood alone, and I love the reminder in the painting that we are surrounded by angels—both mortal and immortal—who buoy us up in our journey as mothers.

Giveaway ended 5/17--thanks for entering!

Want to win a framed print of A Mother's Lullaby? Use the form below to enter! (If you are on a mobile device, just click on the giveaway link.)

Thank you to LDSBookstore.com for sponsoring this giveaway!

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Mother's Day Celebration—Let's Celebrate Motherhood!

2016 mother's day celebration! Come enter to win some great prizes that will help make your motherhood journey easier. #overstuffedlife

When I first started writing this blog 11 years ago (!), I was the mother of two little girls (Sophia came a little more than a year later) and felt very overwhelmed. My life was so full that it felt unmanageable and I often had no idea how to be the best mom I could be while still trying to keep my home clean, the dishes done, and myself showered.

Eleven years later, I'm the mother of three daughters—and two of them are already teenagers. I don't necessarily feel any more experienced than I did when they were small because mothering teens is completely different from mothering toddlers. I still struggle to keep my house clean, there are still dirty dishes in my sink, and sometimes the thought of taking a shower stresses me out because I don't have time!

And even though I'm often overwhelmed, I still love being a mother. I love my children fiercely, and I have a love/hate relationship with watching them grow older. I love to see them learn new things and develop their talents and personalities, but man, I sure do miss my babies!

Motherhood takes so much out of each of us. So much of what we do every minute of every hour of every day is for our children. But I've learned that we really only have them for a short while, even though some days feel like an eternity. I've recently been lamenting the fact that I only have two years before Bria graduates from high school and leaves for college. Bittersweet, as I watch her grow into a lovely young adult but just wish I could kiss her chubby little baby face just one more time.

Great. Now I've started crying. I told you motherhood takes a lot out of us!

I want to celebrate motherhood with you, my readers—some of whom have been with me for all 11 years of this crazy blogging thing! I have set up some really wonderful giveaways of some of my favorite things that have helped me along this path of motherhood.

I'll be linking to each giveaway on this post, so make sure to bookmark it and come back often! If you are on my mailing list, I'll be sending out email about the giveaways, as well.

I hope each of you has a very happy Mothers Day. And I hope you are all spoiled rotten.

You deserve it.

Mother's Day Celebration Giveaways

Framed print of A Mother's Lullaby by Annie Henry from LDSBookstore.com (ended)

A Circle With Disney Device to help you limit and monitor your kids' screen time activities (ended)

Dressing Your Truth Course to help you feel better about yourself and, in the process, understand your children better (ended)

A Mom on the Go Planner to help you stay organized (ended)

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Monday, May 02, 2016

May 2016 Visiting Teaching Printable

Choosing which quote to feature this month was really difficult, you guys! I always love General Conference so much and so many different little sound bites inspire me greatly. That's why, in the end, I chose to highlight Elder Holland's talk for my May 2016 visiting teaching message.

Elder Holland's talk is titled "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You" and was the closing talk to April's General Conference. It's precisely because I love General Conference so much that I loved his talk. I am always inspired, uplifted, and ready to do better by the Sunday afternoon session.

But then tomorrow shows up and I still have to do dishes and laundry and go to work and I still live in a mortal body that is prone to grumpiness and anger. And I get discouraged. Elder Holland helped me to realize that this is all exactly how it works for everyone, and it's exactly why we have General Conference twice a year and attend church every single week. It's all too easy for tomorrow to take away from us what we feel today.

May 2016 Visiting Teaching printable handout. Taken from Elder Holland's General Conference talk. #overstuffedlife

The quote I chose for my visiting teaching printable this month is "May a loving Father in Heaven bless us tomorrow to remember how we felt today."

It reminds me of Alma's question: "And now behold, I say unto you my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (Alma 5:26)

I love the idea that we can continue to remember those feelings from the Spirit if we pray for them. And I love even more the idea that we should not be discouraged because we don't progress as quickly as we would like.

In the words of Elder Holland: "Keep loving. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever."

I also made some General Conference bookmarks to help me in my own "remembering how I felt today" as I study each talk during the next several months. You can download your own bookmarks here: April  2016 General Conference Study Bookmarks.

To download:

Enter your email into the form below and the printable will be sent directly to your inbox. If you are on a mobile device click here to see the form.

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

April 2016 General Conference Study Bookmarks

I always have really good intentions to study the conference talks before the next General Conference rolls around. I rarely succeed, though, and it's mostly just because I don't really have anything keeping me accountable.

So, I decided to change that this time around. When our General Conference editions of the Ensign arrived (we always get two—one for me, one for The Maestro), I had the thought that I could make a bookmark to keep track of which talks I have read and studied. Seeing a visual reminder and being able to cross things off a list is highly motivating for me!

Looking for April 2017 bookmarks? Click here: April 2017 General Conference Bookmark

If you're looking for a way to keep track of the General Conference talks you've studied, try this printable bookmark! #overstuffedlife

The bookmark is two-sided. The printable is created in such a way that if you print it on one side of your cardstock and then turn it over and print it again, it will match up perfectly. You will just have to make sure that you understand exactly how the paper needs to be loaded into your printer—every printer is totally different and some of them are more complicated in the paper loading than others!

For each sheet of paper, you'll have two bookmarks.

I printed out my bookmarks and then laminated them. I recently purchased my very own laminator, so I'm always looking for excuses to use it! (I bought this one: Scotch Thermal Laminator.)

I also punched a hole in the cardstock before I laminated, and then punched through the laminate as well so I could add some ribbon. Because bookmarks need to have ribbon, don't you think? I mean, if you don't think so, you don't have to add ribbon. But I thought so.

Another nice perk of the laminating is that I can use a dry erase marker to keep track of the talks I study. You could even use a Sharpie, since it's not likely I'll use the bookmark again.

I printed one for me and one for The Maestro. Maybe it will even motivate us to study the talks a little bit together! Either way, I'm really excited to get to studying these talks for the next several months!

To download:

Enter your email address in the form below. If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

The printable will be sent straight to your email inbox.


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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.