Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Packing a Healthier Lunchbox

720. That's the approximate number of lunches I pack per school year, give or take a few for pizza at school and forgotten lunch boxes.  And I think I've got a pretty efficient routine, provide the kids a good variety and a healthy balance - it's all right here in my post, What's In the Lunchbox. I mean - preparing 720 meals that have to fit into a small box, staying hot/cold, without melting, growing salmonella, spilling, or smelling crazy in the school cafeteria takes a little effort.

Recently, my oldest daughter has decided that she wants to eat healthier. Good thing. (She's not terribly unhealthy and is relatively athletic, but we can all do better.)  In her new eating habits, she's been evaluating what she packs for breakfast, lunch, and after school snack (she has a long school day.)  And told me I needed to get healthier options for their lunches.

What? I paid little attention to her because - well, because what did she know? I've been packing these 720 lunches for years.

Then one day, I looked at one of the lunches. There was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a mandarin orange fruit cup, a juice box, and cookies for a snack.  This follows my lunchbox formula... kinda.

But the problem wasn't really with the lunchbox formula, but each component and all of that combined. Maybe jelly, a packaged fruit cup, juice, and cookies were fine on their own, but all together that was a lot of sugar - even without reading the label.  Maybe I could do something fresher, too.

I went to the grocery store to do my lunch shopping and I'll be replacing some of my lunchbox ingredients to make them a little more healthier.
  • Instead of packaged fruit cups: fresh fruit - grapes, oranges, pears, berries. Also carrot sticks.
  • Instead of juice boxes: milk (individual boxes) and water (in reusable water bottles)
  • Instead of cookies all the time: I will do cookies sometimes (balance, moderation, all that good stuff) but also popcorn.
So my "formula" will stay the same, but with the fresher, less sugary options, lunch should be more balanced and healthier.

Share any ideas on making your kid's (or your own) lunchbox healthy.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This Self-ie Thing is Going Too Far

I’ll admit that back in the day, I used to take pictures of myself with my SLR camera. Arms stretched out front, big smile….then wait until the film got developed to see how much of my big head got cut off and how much background was or was not included. Or, if I wanted to be fancy, I could set the timer and run in front of the camera and try to get settled before the shutter released.  Then wait until the film got developed to see whether I made it into the frame or was even in focus. It was called a “self-portrait” then, but I guess that was too long a word, and a process, to really catch on.

Fast forward to digital cameras and camera phones and the self-ie thing has become an artform of its own. Some people are pretty good at it and share interesting photos that their idoling public, or at least friends, want to see. But some? Some have taken the self-ie thing too far. And they need to stop.

“Getting my praise on” Self-ie. Are you going to praise God or walk the runway? I know, we all like to look good going to our houses of worship, I'm the first to plan my outfit around the hat I want to wear. But be content with the “you sure do look nice today” compliment from your fellow parishioners. Or at least just tag your picture as your “Sunday outfit,” don’t try to make it some religious calling.

Sweaty Self-ie. We know, you workout. We get it because we see your FitBit step count, runwithme mileage post, your recipe for fat-reducing water and all of the pictures of you before, during and after every sweat inducing movement. And really, you don't look cute. None of us really do in the midst of a good workout. Crossing the finish line at the Iron Man? Yup, we’ll “like” that. You running a mile and doing a set of push-ups at the gym? Not so much.

Traveling but No Scenery Self-ie. This is the picture of you standing there at some glorious wonderful place but we can't even see the glorious wonderful place because your big head is in the way.  You claim you are in Paris or Fiji or Egypt, but really you could be standing in your own backyard for all we can tell.

Stopped at a Red Light Self-ie. Why? Do you happen to catch a glimpse of yourself in the rearview mirror and think “dang! I look good! Let me capture this moment for my adoring fans.”  But this is not as bad as the not stopped at a red light, driving down the street self-ie. Please stop.

The Making Out Self-ie. You and your beau, or beau-for-the-minute, all over each other? Yeah, don’t need to nor want to see that. Get a room. Turn off the camera.  (Yeah, I know some folks actually get famous by not turning off the camera, but, is that what you're going for?)

Bathroom Mirror Self-ie. Why are folks still doing this? I didn't understand why long time ago, but now with cameras on either side of your phone, selfie-sticks (ugh!) and a friend or two - why are folks still taking pics with the toilet and their dirty laundry in the background?

Woke up Like This Self-ie.  You do know that Beyonce doesn’t actually wake up looking like that, right?  We don’t need the pic of you and your beau cuddled up under the sheets. Or you waking up, sleepily gazing into your phone. Unless your makeup girl and hairdresser tiptoe into your room before you open your eyes, just wait.  You can always take your self-ie in the car on the way to the gym.

I know there are plenty more annoying self-ies. Feel free to add to the list! 

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Tips to Have Fun on Your Next Business Trip

I’ve just come back from a business meeting at a beautiful resort in Florida. Whenever we think of conferences at great resorts, we often think “boondoggle.” I even tease my husband when he’s headed out of town for business meetings with this term. But the reality is – there’s often little time to enjoy the property, no matter how beautiful and what great amenities, other than walking from one meeting space to another. Unless you are intentional and plan ahead.

As a mom who rarely gets the kid-free trip away from home, I definitely try to squeeze in a little bit of me-time, around my conference agendas. Conferences aren’t cheap to attend (for the attendees or the host organization), so it doesn’t make good financial sense to pay the fees and not go to the prescribed business sessions. Instead, make the most of the time outside of the agenda.

Grab a few of these tips for the next time you find yourself heading out for a conference away from home.

Arrive early, stay late. When attending conferences, I always plan to arrive before the conference starts, even a day before, if possible, and take the last flight/train home after the conference ends to build in a little free time to enjoy the host city. When I went to my sorority conference in Chicago, this plan gave me lots of hours to bike and wanderthrough the city.

Wake up early. As tempting as it is to sleep in, or as much as possible, instead, wake up early and go out for a run or walk before your business agenda starts.  We had breakfast, followed by a full day of meetings on my recent conference agenda, so I got up early and went for a run around the hotel property. This was my time to myself and the opportunity to get in some exercise to counterbalance the sitting in meetings all day.

Make the most of “lunch on your own.”  Just because the agenda allows a 2-hour lunch break doesn’t mean you have to sit in the hotel and eat for the entire time. Wander outside, grab lunch at a food truck, and explore the city.  Or find that much-raved about restaurant in the city and get over there. Or skip lunch all together (you know you ate a big breakfast) and do something relaxing instead.

Be ready for spontaneous moments.  I know, sounds like an oxymoron, right? But there’s always that session that ends early, an unexpected break for a technical glitch. Keep a book in your bag or loaded on your e-reader and find a corner to catch up on your reading, wander outside for a breath of fresh air, keep cash in your pocket for a scoop from the ice cream shop.

And lastly -
Always pack a swimsuit.  I don’t know of a hotel worth its stars that doesn’t have a swimming pool.  Find the time for a refreshing dip in the pool or even a few laps – wake up early, jump in during a lunch break, or slide in after the day is done.

With a little bit of planning ahead, you can actually enjoy your next business trip. Have fun!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Favorite Back-To-School Supplies

I was that kid who loved a new box of 64 crayons and would organize the box by color. All the greens together, all the reds, those random silver and gold and pewter over in the corner.  I’d gather enough paperbags to cut and fold into crisp book covers for all my textbooks.  Be sure to label everything clearly with my name.

And not much has changed since then.  While my kids are checking off their school supply list of pencils and 3-ring binders and protractors and multi-button graphing calculators, I gather the items I need for back-to-school.  For the things that need to be replaced or added to, this time of year is a great time to pick up my favorite office supplies while they’re on sale for the kids.

4-tab sectioned folder.  There always seems to be some new folders and organized in the aisles at Staples. I found a 4-section folder, perfect for our family, for all my “stuff I need to know about my kids’ activities” folder. Their class schedules (for when I need to make during-school doctor’s appointments), their sports schedules, identification cards for sports associations, class syllabus, list of teachers. Its easy and convenient enough to carry with me to back-to-school night and the rest of the year.

Sharpies. These are fast becoming my favorite writing instrument because they can write on anything (including your children), they come in every color you could ever want (even neon) and you don’t have to scribble on a corner of paper to get the ink flowing. I use them to write notes, label kids’ stuff, label my stuff, sign books.

Coffee mugs. I tend to drink from the same coffee mugs every morning, part of the morning routine.  The monkey mug is a constant, my sorority mug has been added to the cycle. The cheetah mug is being retired, I’m scared the handle is going to break off mid-sip. And then of course, there’s the to-go coffee mug for those busy mornings. One from Starbucks Madrid is the throw in the purse one - it doesn’t leak – really it doesn’t. I don’t know why they don’t have this model state-side. (Starbucks – are you listening!?)  And I have a pretty Lily Pulitzer one someone gave me as a gift for mornings I want to be fancy.

Google calendar.  I still carry a paper planner – because. But to coordinate all the goings on in our family, and to be able to shoot my husband a calendar item, I rely on Google calendar. I color code our activities and can print out the calendar by day, week, month, or some other unique day-count. The best feature – it sends me reminders by text and/or email of where I’m supposed to be. That’s the one thing my paper calendar can’t do.

Note cards. Who doesn’t love getting a real, hand-written note in the real mailbox? One of my goals is to get better at writing more notes to people, especially since I like buying pretty cards.

Bound journals. I like journals for all my notetaking. From the little 3x5 Moleskine style to the cloth-covered, ledger. I am not hardly ever without at least one in my purse. Because I take notes wherever I go – church, meetings, programs, seminars, book talks – and make lists all the time. As a writer, this allows and encourages me to write wherever I am, whenever I have a few free moments. 

And since adult coloring books seem to be the new thing, and I don't have to share my daughter's Princess books any longer, I think I'll pick up a pick of colored pencils for myself, too.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Getting The Perfect 1st Day of School Picture

If you’ve got kids, you’ve got to post the perfect first day of school picture on Facebook / Twitter/ Instagram/ Periscope.  You’re little sweety waving & smiling as they board the bus. Or blowing you a kiss thru the car window. Hanging up their backpack in the perfectly neat row of cubbies in their new classroom. And then a mom and kid pic – you smiling with your trying to look like you woke up like that make-up on, hair combed and a clean blouse and cute still-summer shorts.

As if the first day of school isn’t stressful enough!

Because this is probably the first day in almost two months that you’ve had to wake up your whole family before 8 am.  And if you are lucky enough to have high schoolers, you’ve had to get up at the break of dawn. Then you had to pack lunches, and realized that since you went to the grocery store last week, the kids ate all the snack bags of chips over the weekend and handed out the juice boxes to their friends at the pool.  And where are all those dang forms, especially the one that proves your kid got his measles shot this summer so they will let him in the school door?

You spent a mortgage payment on back-to-school clothes, but the little one refuses to wear the new outfit you picked out – the identical pink dress or red and blue striped shirt that they wear every year so that it looks so cute in the scrapbook on the “how they are growing” page. Instead, they want to wear their favorite summer movie t-shirts, so your daughter is wearing a Minion t-shirt and overalls with fake black glasses and your son is wearing a Straight Outta Compton t-shirt and jeans and won’t smile.

And they changed what time everyone goes to school this year, pushing it back 15 minutes – just enough to screw up your schedule, but not really enough time to get any sleep that makes a difference – and changed the bus routes, so you actually have to check the bus route schedule this year for the bus your kids have been riding for 6 years to figure out what time its coming.  But what mom worth her coffee puts her kids on the bus on the first day of school, so you’ve got to drive them to the door to prove to everyone that you aren't one of those free-range willy-nilly parents.

But before you load up the kids in the car, you’ve got to fix your hair and swipe on some lipstick and put on a real clothes. You cannot do the in-pajamas drop-off today because you know that other mom in your kid’s class is going to be there in an outfit that matches her kid’s, with a full face of make-up, unchipped manicure and hair fresh from the salon.  She’ll be there with that cute-sy sign she made stealing an idea from Pinterest, a chalkboard with cute-sy lettering announcing the first day of school and the new grade. (She also wrote a funny haiku for her kid’s lunchbox, you’ll hear about that from your little on after school.)

There's just enough time to pour coffee in your car mug, search for the top, get the kids to stand on the front steps and not poke each other.  Try to get a couple good shots of them smiling without making those goofy faces they usually do when you pull out a camera, but they never do when they are taking selfies.  Hurry to school and try to get towards the front of that nightmare of a drop-off circle. And before the teacher on drop-off duty blows her whistle at you, you snap a couple more pictures of the kids in front of the school before they see their friends and you get one last picture of the back of their heads as they run into the school.  Waving from the curb is the PTA President and if you make eye contact for too long, she’s going to ask you to chair the fall festival bake sale or to join the healthy food committee, so you wave, jump back in the car, and knock over your coffee onto your nice clean outfit.

Now to get home, flip through the morning pics, and find that one good picture of your lovely darlings and try to think of something new and catchy to say, but its been too hectic a morning for all that so you’ll just go with “first day of school – when did they get so big – tears” like everyone else.

Whew. Relax. Finish your coffee and clean up breakfast. In six hours, it’ll be time for the “home from the first day of school” picture.

Happy Back-to-School Day!

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

How to Get Thru the Parent Homework (i.e. back-to-school paperwork)

My desk (i.e. kitchen counter) is full of papers and calendars and reminders and notices.  All stuff that has to be read and filled out and returned for school and extra-curricular activities.  With four kids in three different schools (elementary, middle and high school) there’s quite the assortment and very few duplicates.  I’ve piled it all up and will sit with a cup of coffee, my calendars, checkbook (you know that's got to be in there), envelopes, and folders and sort it all out.  It’s all part of the back-to-school parent routine.

For all the forms required for school, a copy machine and/or scanner is one of my favorite tools for trying to keep some order.  I copy everything!
  • Health forms - At your kids' pediatrician appointments, ask for the school required paperwork then, especially the sports clearances, even if you think your child will never play a sport.  Make a copy and send this to school when requested; save the original at home.  This saves the trouble of going back to the pediatrician (and paying for another copy plus a rush fee) when needed.  Its also helpful to have one on hand when I need to know when was their last tetanus shot.
  • Emergency forms - How many times can you write your name, address, and phone number?! If you have kids in the same school with the same forms, fill in the basics – home address, parent phone number, etc. – make copies of the form, then fill in each child’s name, teacher, other personal info on his/her copy.  Make a copy of all of them and file them away, just in case it gets "lost" (middle-schoolers especially are known to lose important papers in their backpacks). 
  • Absent/tardy notes.  I have a pre-printed, fill-in absent/tardy note that I created myself, a version for each child.  Pre-printed is the child’s name, teacher’s name (for the elementary students; blank for the middle-schoolers), my name and contact information.  Then I have a check-off list of why they were absent or late, why they need to be excused early, and a blank for anything else I need to mention.  They are especially handy when we’re running late – who has time to write a note?
Dear Teacher....

And all those checks?  I probably go through a whole checkbook in the month of September - PTA dues, lunch money, early quarter field trips, payments for year-end field trips, sports uniforms, spiritwear.  I know my kids and there's no way that I can hand them a pile of checks and expect that they will get to  the correct person in the correct office.  Each check and accompanying paper goes into its own clearly marked envelope.  

Considering the mountain of paper involved in back-to-school, I do try to recycle and reduce paper uses as much as I can.  A few ways, other than putting all the stuff I don't need in the recycling bin:
  • Make 2-sided copies
  • Print the absent/tardy notes on the backs of unneeded documents (old flyers, notices from school, rough drafts of school assignments)
  • Use those payment envelopes that come with the bills to send checks back to school
  • Write any necessary responses to a note on that same paper, rather than on a separate paper
Sometime during that first week of school, I make a pile for each kid, then paperclip it, put it in an envelope or put it in their homework folder, then wish them a safe journey and assume that they will make it to the appropriate school office.

This post has been updated from a previous post I wrote a few years ago.

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