Family Reading – Pick a book, any book

Reading together as a family is such a great bonding experience. Whether it is a small book or a long, multi-chapter book, it is a great way to engage your kids in conversation. And if your kids are anything like mine, they will thoroughly impress you with their insight.

In our family, we have been reading “Wonder” as a family. I have twin 10-year-olds and a 6-year-old. I don’t feel like it is too far above my 6-year-olds’ head, and it is a great book for teaching a valuable life lesson – being kind.

The story is about a boy, Auggie, with facial deformities. He has entered a school setting for the first time as a fifth-grader and as you can expect, some kids are terribly unkind to him.

I can’t give away the ending, as we’re still reading it, but I love hearing my kids tell me about how the story makes them feel. And how it reminds them to be kind to everyone, not just those who look how you think they should.

We are very excited they are making this book into a movie and can’t wait to watch it together in November.

If you don’t want to read something so “deep” with your kids, that’s okay too. But even a Dr. Seuss book can spark a conversation. And I can guarantee your kids will love the personal time as they cuddle with you to read along and check out the great pictures (if your book has them).

Don’t let the holidays get you down – Tips for managing your holiday spending

With the holidays just around the corner, many people are starting to shop for their families. This can be very daunting, especially if you don’t have a set budget to stick to.

We found these tips from extremely helpful!

1. Decide how much you can spend. Holiday money must come from your current disposable income. If you plan to spend money you don’t have, prepare for a credit card bill that could take months — or even years — to repay. If you spend that $807 on a credit card with an 18 percent annual percentage rate (APR), and you pay the typical minimum payment, it will take you 45 months, and you’ll pay an extra $305 in interest, according to our credit card payoff calculator.)

Ideally, you’ve saved some holiday money. If not, cut back on extras such as movies, dinners out or coffee drinks until the holidays are over. There are always things in a budget you can trim back.

2. Budget for everything. There are a lot of things people don’t think about. Gifts, the cost of shopping (gas, parking), decorations, food and drink for parties, greeting cards, postage for cards and out-of-town gifts, travel expenses, holiday-related apparel and charitable contributions should all be in the budget.

3. Make a complete gift list with the entire family present. The list should include everyone — relatives and friends, piano teachers and mail carriers — who must be acknowledged during the holiday season. And don’t forget the office gift exchange.

4. Decide who’s getting what. For each person, set a firm “no more than” purchase price for that gift. Be realistic: $50 might be enough for a terrycloth bathrobe from Sears, but not for triple-ply cashmere.

If disposable income is tight, designate half the list as “card-only people” and specifying “make or bake” gifts — cookies, pumpkin bread, handmade ornaments — for 40 percent of the remaining recipients. Such from-the-heart gifts are welcome, especially if children make them.

5. Set expectations with family members, especially children. If gifts will be minimal, advises telling children now, to bring their expectations in line and absolve parents of gift-giving guilt. Now is also the time to discuss reasonable and economically feasible gift-giving tactics with family and friends, such as grab bags, name exchanges or skipping gifts altogether.

6. Start shopping early. Late November and December bring sales, but they also bring crowds and pressure to get shopping (and wrapping and mailing) done.

Donna Thomas-Rodgers, a leadership consultant who lives in Birmingham, Alabama., expects to finish her shopping well before “Black Friday,” the Friday after Thanksgiving, the day the winter holidays traditionally begin. Thomas-Rodgers is shopping now and getting bargains. “Right now, so many items are on sale and nobody’s really thinking about it,” she says. One example: She bought her daughter a new bedspread, originally $50, for $19.97 at Target.

To stay within her $1,000 holiday budget, Thomas-Rodgers signs up for e-mail alerts from retailers to get a heads-up on big sales. She saves money and time and reduces stress by not wrapping gifts. And seven years ago, when her daughter was born on Dec. 12, she stopped giving gifts to family members. “I told them, I’m a parent now and my daughter is my priority,'” Thomas-Rodgers recalls. “They understood.”

7. Check your emotions at the store door. “Gift-giving deals with emotion, and emotion and spending don’t go hand in hand,” says Ornella Grosz, the Atlanta-based author of “Moneylicious: A Financial Clue for Generation Y.” To keep the feelings out of shopping, Grosz suggests keeping a list of other financial obligations — credit card debt, car payments, mortgage payments — on a slip of paper in your wallet. When tempted to overspend, remind yourself of what you owe.

Grosz also suggests shopping when pressed for time; less time in a store usually means fewer purchases. Shopping with a trusted friend who will firmly guide you away from the sale tables, and shopping with cash only can also help curb impulse purchases.

8. Work sales, don’t let them work you. If a gift on your list is on sale, buy it. If it’s not, “you’re buying stuff not on the list and you’ll go over budget,” says Joseph Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, a San Antonio-based financial services firm.

9. Keep track of spending. “Cash is king,” Montanaro says. “It’s very easy to stretch the budget with credit cards.” He and others suggest “the envelope trick,” giving each household member her or his holiday budget in cash, in an envelope: When the money’s gone, it’s gone.

If you use credit cards for convenience, hold a weekly reckoning with yourself, your spouse and your credit card receipts to make sure nobody’s going overboard.

Montanaro suggests paying off holiday credit card debt quickly, in three months if possible. Yes, you’ll still pay interest, but it won’t be egregious. Consider the following: paid off over three months, $750 on a credit card with 18 percent interest will cost a total of $772.60. (Use the payoff calculator to calculate your own scenarios.)

Your best bet: Pay it off in one lump sum. “Don’t handicap yourself as you go into the new year,” Montanaro says. “It’s all about putting yourself in the position to be financially successful.”

Back to School!

We can’t believe summer vacation is so close to coming to an end! Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

As we head back to school, we can’t help but think of those who will be heading to school for the first time – the Kindergarteners. Here at FamilyCEO, one of our family members is heading to Kindergarten this year. (We also have a very shy First grader in the family that could use a reminder that school isn’t so bad!)

We found these tips at and wanted to share with those of you who have little ones that could use them.

Starting school can be a difficult time for children. Every child is hesitant to go somewhere new and see people she’s never met before. Here are some helpful ways to prepare your child for her first day of school:

1. Let your child know what his schedule will be like. Tell him what time school begins and ends each day.

2. Ask your child about her feelings — both the excitement and the concerns — about starting school.

3. Visit the school with your child to see his new classroom and meet his new teacher before school officially starts.

4. Point out the positive aspects of starting school. It will be fun and she can make new friends.

5. Let your child know that all kids are nervous about the first day of school.
6. Leave a note in your child’s lunchbox that will remind him you’re thinking of him while he’s at school.

7. Reassure your child that if any problems arise at school, you will be there to help resolve them.

8. Try to have your child meet a classmate before the first day of school so she will already have a friend when school starts.

9. Arrange for your child to walk to school or ride together on the bus with another kid in the neighborhood.

10. Find out about after-school activities that your child can join. Will there be a back-to-school party? Can she join a sports team?

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5-12, by Edward L. Schor (Bantam, 1999)

Summer Salads

In our family, we love cool, refreshing salads in the summer. And because each family member has different likes and dislikes, we like to try a variety to find family favorites.

We found this link to 100+ summer salads, and thought we would give a bunch of them a try.

Our favorites are: Chinese Chicken Mandarin Salad (2), Buffalo Chicken Potato Salad (15) – it’s a touch on the spicier side, Dorito Taco Salad (39) – this one was a hit with the kids, Strawberry Balsamic Pasta Salad (63),  and Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry Avocado Spinach Salad (104).

We’d love to hear from you if you give some of these a try. Let us know your favorites in the comments!

Shifting Focus – 9 ways to stay more engaged with your kids

We’ve all been there. We just need to answer one more email, or look at one more document, or we want that moment of silence and relaxation on the couch before we tackle dinner and the daily chores. What we often forget, is that our children just spent the day away from us and they want our attention too.

In our family, we try to all take a mandatory timeout from electronics and spend some time focusing on each other, but even that can fail to happen if we aren’t vigilant. We found this blog, offering 9 tips for staying engaged with your kids and we use the regularly. We hope at least one of these tips will resonate with your family too.

1) Say yes way more often than you say no.

Lately, I’ve been trying to say yes as much as possible to these little requests I hear all day. This simple concept really does help me because I know there are times when I really, really must say no. And so when I do have to say no, I’m comforted by the fact that I did say yes the other 9 times.

Yes, I will play with you in your water table.
Yes, I can having a staring contest.
Yes, I want to see you do your new gymnastics trick.

2) Think of creative alternatives for the “no” moments.

If you are busy, maybe you can invite them into what you are doing or come up with a time later when you can intentionally spend time with them. A key example? Folding laundry and letting them help. Now, you are teaching them an important lesson and spending time with them.

3) Put down the phone and look them in the eyes.

This one convicts me. So often this multi-tasking busy mom wants to do three things at once.

And while I probably can physically text, make dinner, hold a child and hear about that big accomplishment at gymnastics class, I often ask myself, “How do I feel when someone else is multi-tasking and I really want their attention?” Not good – I feel hurt… and so do our children. We need to look in their eyes.

4) Teach kids to ask for your attention appropriately.

Yes, our kids need our full attention and love, but they do need to understand the difference between being there for them and being at their beck-and-call. They need to understand that we are busy as mothers and we do have things that need to be done.

If they need me while I am talking to someone, I ask them to gently place their hand on my arm or on my leg to signal that they need me. I respond by placing my hand on their hand to let them know I’ll be right there. Then, when I can finish my thought, I stop what I’m doing, look in their eyes and answer their request.

5) Soften your heart to the request.

There are many moments where I need to give myself a pep talk. Am I trying to do it all? Can that text wait? Can I look up that information later? The answer usually is yes, it can wait and that my job as a mother, teacher, nurturer is far more important.

I often think of these requests as dividends into the child’s “soul/worth” bank account. If I tell myself, “I have the incredible opportunity to add to their bank account right now!”

6) It only takes a few minutes.

These little requests for time often take (at the most) five minutes… and that focused attention on my child can pay in spades for the rest of our day in terms of overall behavior. For example, one thing I’ve noticed is that we all have an easier day when I can take the time to first give my focused attention to my preschooler before I work with the older kids.

7) Pay attention to the cues.

What are they really asking for? What is the real need that they’re trying to fulfill? And how can I best meet that need for them? Sometimes I’ve found that it’s not doing that thing they’re asking me to do. Sometimes I can see that I can best meet that need in another way. As I watch my kids get older, I realize the immeasurably great factor of relationship.
As my boys are starting to flex their independence muscles, I know that they crave my listening ear and time more than ever. And if I want to keep that door open, I need to constantly respond with open arms to their cues that they need me and are wanting to feel loved. I think the biggest trick in parenting is finding out what those cues are for each of our kids, and staying on top of those cues as our children mature through different stages.

There are helpful resources like The 5 Love Languages of Children and others that give us hints into how our kids are wired and how they may be asking to be loved.

However, I think time is the best teacher—time spent together, getting to know each other in every season of life. And speaking of time…

8) Regularly create open pockets of time in your schedule.

Of course this is harder than it sounds. There is just so much to do, and the more kids you have (I have four), the more there is to do! But what I’m suggesting (and constantly aiming to do myself) is that we deliberately leave margin in our family’s schedule so that it really is easier to say yes because we have less places to be.

That may mean saying no to a really great sports activity or outside learning opportunity, and I think that’s OK because we have to remember our ultimate goal: To connect deeply with our kids and to treasure the moments together. Period.

9) Remember that it is a privilege and this opportunity won’t always be there.

The window is short, mamas. It’s hard to believe, but these wonderful children we’re entrusted with won’t always be scurrying near us. And, right now, we have the opportunity in these everyday moments to give our children the solid foundation and confidence that they are loved and valued. That is something that will serve them the rest of their lives!!

Think about your parents… they no longer have you in their home, asking for advice. One day your children will be in the same situation, so spend the time teaching them now.

So let’s stand strong in this battle, fellow busy moms! Let’s pledge to re-focus our priorities and to discover the greater purposes of our mothering. I’ll be right there beside you, figuring it all out moment-by-moment too.