Friday, September 19, 2014

Remembering my Grandma on her birthday....

I never imagined my life without you, in all of my existence I never fathomed the idea of you not being there to guide me, to laugh with me, to bless me or to simply have a Scrabble afternoon where we would discuss valid acronyms or two letter words that would skew our game just that much... you were fun, Grandma... you were so awesome to be around and something as simple as holding your hand could comfort me to no end on any given day. 
I always looked forward to that time of the day when I could come visit you and sit next to you in your room; whether we were having a trivial conversation about how much I hated my job or a serious discussion about how to raise my daughters, every word that you uttered was full of wisdom and love and that is something I will never forget. 
Your hands were soft, so was your hair; I never told you how much I loved hugging you and holding your cold hands....why were your hands cold all the time? I always found that so strange but also so cool about you... you would squeeze my hand tightly every time I went to kiss you good-bye, like you never wanted me to leave... and oh Grandma.. how I wish I could feel that squeeze one more time! I will never forget that last hand squeeze on the day you died; you were so aware of what was happening and I am sure you were terrified but you still managed to tell me how much you loved me and how much you would miss me... oh Grandma.. how painful it is not to have you around, especially on this day...
You would have been 86 today; we would be celebrating and singing a loud "Happy Birthday" song, you would be holding my hand, I would be enjoying you and loving you like I did every single day of my life and we would be eating cake... you loved cake and I loved your sweet tooth... I loved everything about you my dear Grandma!
Today my world feels a little sadder and life is a whole lot emptier but somehow I know that you are celebrating BIG today and all the angels are throwing you the party you deserve.  I know you wouldn't like to know that it took so much of me to write this post and that I can barely see what I'm typing because of the tears that fog my eyes, gosh my eyes are literally hurts so much Grandma!
We will release tons of balloons to the sky today, in your name and in the name of every wonderful moment that we were blessed to spend with you.  Please smile for us, Grandma and know that you are ever present in our lives and in every single thing we do. 
I love you and miss you forever!

The following are two pictures of my Grandma celebrating her 80th birthday; full of life and love.  I am sure the mariachis are playing for her today and her soul is joyful and grateful just like it was in this picture!  This day is for you, Grandma! Happy Birthday!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Raising Appreciative Kids

As a mother, I believe it is my responsibility to give my children everything they need; I give them food, clothes, school supplies and MUCH more... I perceive them as happy and content children whose needs and wants are always met and I, in turn, feel satisfied for doing a "good" job... but am I REALLY doing a good job?  I know my children are content...but are they APPRECIATIVE? Do they really understand what things are worth?  Do they grasp how LUCKY they really are to have what they have?....furthermore.. am I giving them TOO much?
We live in such a wasteful society, where we take everything for granted and nothing holds true value... iPhone 6 coming out?  Yes!  $749?  Who cares!  I still have a perfectly good 5s but I GOTTA have the new cooler looking model... When did it that train of thought become our norm?
I was at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru the other day and my order had two drinks, the guy put the two cups in a carton cup holder and before I even touched it I gently told him I didn't need it since my car has a cup holder; he quickly said "ok" and proceded to trash a perfectly good cup holder without hesitation.  A similar thing happened to me at a Greek food place when I asked for a water cup and when the girl grabbed two by mistake, she simply tossed the other one in the trash.  Now, some people might argue that "procedure policies" require this sort of behavior, but I find it very sad to think that it's OK to just waste things for no reason.... I could come up with a ton of similar stories that convey the exact same message...but for practical purposes I won't do that....
So the problem lies with the fact that this unappreciative society is where our children are growing up; to them it's normal to throw perfectly good things in the trash, it's acceptable to want newer things just "because" and they have a constant expectation of having more; it's like they are genetically programmed to never be fully satisfied and to feel like there's always something missing.  Our children are growing up believing that they are entitled to millions of toys, never-ending entertainment and endless "things" that really never teach them anything and never fill the emotional voids that are part of life; we aren't teaching our kids to be appreciative because we live a constant state of "excess", we aren't promoting positive emotions and we certainly aren't nurturing caring feelings.
So how can we raise appreciative kids?  What are some of the basic concepts that can help our children become rich in feelings and emotions rather than rich in needless possessions? Can we do this collectively as a society?  Can we change the negative spiral effect that we are part of?
I have compiled a list of things that can contribute in changing these negative patterns of self-absorption and materialism into positive appreciation and a desire to focus on intangible things.
Here are some of my observations:

  • Encourage basic manners: teaching your kids to say "please" and "thank you" goes a long way.  When you teach basic manners, you are building a foundation of appreciation and you are enabling your child to value other people's emotions by showing respect at all times. 
  • Teach them the concept of money: kids NEED to know how much things cost and consequently they should understand the process involved in making money. We can't raise kids who are oblivious about the fact that money does not come out of a black hole and that parents need to work hard in order to obtain the money that goes towards purchasing everything they have.  Allowances and money management lessons are great approaches. 
  • Expose them to the needs of the world: making a child aware of the needs in the rest of the world allows him to understand his place in society and it helps in making him more considerate of others and be more appreciative of what he has. We were at church the other day and the priest brought up and astounding fact: "In places like Haiti, $100 can feed a family of 4 for a WHOLE YEAR". Can you think about the last time you spent $100 on a special birthday dinner?  I can!  I'm sure more than one person will answer yes to this question.
  • Give them responsibility: a child is more likely to understand the value of hard work when he has to perform some sort of duty, whether it's a small chore at home or some other type of "work; it is highly advisable to get children engaged in some sort of contributing routine.  When you give a task to a child, you change the focus from what they can GET to what they can GIVE and that makes for a very positive change. 
  • Do not engage in consumerism: Consumerism is one of the worst ailments of our society; it encourages the acquisition of goods and services in greater amounts that are needed. When parents live a life of over-consumption, a child is more likely to model such behavior and interpret it as acceptable; this then become a cycle that is hard to break so it's best to never start it.  Stick to NEEDS vs. WANTS!
  • Do not give into the "gimmes": when we give children more than they need, we are creating an expectation of "get-get-get" and we are weakening their character by placing excessive value on things rather than on developing strong relationships with the people around them. So as hard as it may be, parents need to stop encouraging the notion of effortless rewards and vane possessions. 
  • Encourage children to become "givers": you may be surprised how much children enjoy giving and parents should always encourage children to find pleasure in sharing and helping others.  A toy drive around the holidays or a canned food donation will go a long way in teaching this lesson.  When we promote a "giving" attitude, we are more likely to raise children that appreciate what they get, no matter how little it may be.  
These are only a few of the things that will help parents in raising more appreciative kids.  We must always remember that the change starts with us parents and that we are raising tomorrow's leaders.  Let's keep making the world a better place by teaching our kids the value of people, emotions and feelings and by helping them understand their place in society.  We need to appreciate our world in order for the world to appreciate us!

Happy blogging!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Doc McStuffins: School of Medicine": DVD release & giveaway

**Update: This Giveaway has been closed! A winner has been randomly selected and her prize has been shipped! Thank you for participating and please check back for upcoming giveaways!**

It's time for a check up!
Last week we visited Disney's Hollywood Studios and spent some time with the Doc; we saw the Disney Jr show, which is still one of Gaby's favorites even though she's not a "baby" anymore.
The Doc McStuffins show features some of the most adorable characters and stories; I really enjoy the little songs and all of the episodes where she treats the toys and nurses them back to health.

The latest Doc McStuffins DVD is being released on Sept 9th; it features the "School of Medicine" episode along with 5 other bonus episodes where the adorable Doc does her thing, cures the toys and saves the day.  My kids particularly enjoyed this DVD and it is a great addition to their collection.

In honor of this release, I am hosting a special giveaway, where one lucky reader will receive a copy of the new Doc McStuffins DVD with the special "School of Medicine" episode.  Even though the DVD is geared to younger children, anyone can enter for a chance to win!

All you need to do is either comment below or on the FB post and I will contact the lucky winner within the next few days.  The DVD will be mailed to the winner within a week!  Good luck and happy blogging! :)

"Live Your Dream" campaign

I was recently approached by a representative from Kabbage, a small business loans company that helps people achieve their goals and dreams every day, making for a better future, inviting me to participate in the "Live Your Dream" campaign.
Well.. believe it or not, I face a big challenge when it comes to talking about myself.  While I do like to share my ideas and write about parenting and such, I can never come up with specific things to say about ME!  I spent countless hours writing about my kids and their friends, our trips and adventures, parenting tips and a bunch of other stuff that fill this blog's archive, but when someone asks me "what are YOUR dreams?", I find myself often doing some serious soul searching and then I get nothing.  Now, I'm not saying I DON'T HAVE dreams, of course I do.. I want to travel the world, I want to help the poor, save stray animals and so on and I'm sure I could write A LOT about each one of those, however, I decided to give my readers a chance to participate in this wonderful campaign.
A few weeks ago, I posted an invitation on my Facebook page inviting people to submit essays about their dreams and the response was overwhelming and so gratifying... I really enjoye getting so many notes and emails about people's dreams and for a moment, I traveled in time seeing all those dreams coming true.. how wonderful!
So.. with those people's permission, I will now post some excerpts about dreams and plans from some of my readers:

"I am a single mom and I have a career that I am good at but that isn't enough. I want it all! I want to travel and see the world. I want my kids to have every experience and chatter at the dinner table about "the time we did/saw...". my goals and dreams are to teach my children the value of hard work and aspiration. My goal is to raise two men that value hard work and encourage each other to never give up. My goals aren't just for me but for them. My dreams are for my kids to see they aren't another stereotype from a broken home but that I have made the best of the situation and don't get discouraged. You can reach all of your goals if you are determined and work hard, whether it's thousands of dollars spent for a piece of paper or an iron man helmet, you reached your goal!"- Megan B.  (Virginia Beach, VA)

"Presently, my dream is living in a rustic cottage or airy apartment with simple furniture, near the ocean. A small laid back community without the traffic and madness of the big city, somewhere where I can breath the ocean air, feel the sand in my toes and develop my two hobbies into a small business that will bring a small income and lots of pleasure. I am exhausted physically and mentally and have come to think that reaching a simple goal  is more difficult in todays society than the materialistic dreams of: having a home, a fine car, jewels, money and status. Some how a simple life seems to go against the grain of today's world, it feels like struggling madly to get free from a sticky and giant cobweb!"- Clarissa B.  (Miami, FL)

"I want to create a Rescue for cats. I'd like to work with local shelters and be able to save kittens and older cats by finding them homes around the country.  I believe that as much as shelters want to help, they don't have the resources necessary to keep all cats healthy.  I would like to register my rescue and create a 501(c)3 and grow my project little by little...but I need A LOT of money for that!"- Julie F. (Hollywood, FL)

"I am the owner of a Montessori school in Florida.  I love to see all children learning and growing and strongly believe that Montessori is an amazing philosophy.  My dream is to grow my school by building additional classrooms and expanding the property.  Having this school has taught me so much and my dream is to be one of the best institutions out there"- Martyna B. (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

"My dream is to develop a call center that provides support in the technology.  I currently work in the technology field and through my work I have learned about the many challenges people face when implementing new technology; I have realized that so many people miss out on technology because they don't know about it or because they can't find the support necessary to apply what they know or learn more.  My call center would be a great option for big or small companies looking to outsource this service through a smaller partner"- Ignacio P. (Pembroke Pines, FL)

"I would like to materialize one of my inventions.  A few years ago, I came up with a product idea that would simplify the way in which people dispose of their garbage.  Even though I can't talk about product specifics, I believe if I had an investor or money to fund my project, this could revolutionize the industry. So, in short, my dream is to be able to fund my invention and see how it does in the market"- Henny C. (Pembroke Pines, FL)

"My wife is a great artist and she has developed an amazing skill that consists of making drawings out of sand; she has created amazing masterpieces with simple materials and I am always in awe with her artistic abilities.  She is great with children so my dream is to rent or buy a small space where she can teach children to draw with sand.  I envision her having a little art school where kids can attend after school and learn about this wonderful art form that my wife is so good at"- Renato C. (Barcelona, Spain)

I received so many responses for this campaign and I was really overwhelmed with all the positivism from my readers.  Hearing about people's dreams somehow made this experience SO MUCH BETTER than if I had decided to write about my own.  This experience has taught me that there is so much more to people than what we see; that we all have so many different dreams and plans and we all have to work hard at it to achieve what's on our hearts and minds.
This campaign has also inspired me to think harder not only about what I want but about how to execute those plans and make them my reality!

Happy Blogging..and Happy dreaming!!  :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mommy tips: Managing the "school artwork" overload....

Kids have been back in school for almost two weeks and the "school artwork" overload has already started. Every Friday, the infamous "blue folder" comes loaded with a bunch of "cute" (and some not so cute!) drawings, tests, papers, projects, etc... you get the point...I think my fridge cannot take any more pins and magnets to hold the art masterpieces my rascals have created...even the cats have found new toys in the papers that are low on the art display! ;)
So...because I'm not an overly sentimental mother who is attached to every little paper my child lays hands on, I started doing intense research as to how I can throw away get rid of all these projects without feeling guilty.  Let's face it, there's only so many storage bins my garage can handle and I'll probably never look at those again; most of those bins have their fate written all over them, that being "you're out on the next move!"; at least that's the case in our family.
My husband has always claimed he is a "minimalist" and time and time again he has proven this to be true by throwing away unopened boxes and bins that have sat in the attic or the garage without ever even being thought of.  I think somehow his "minimalistic" approach to life has rubbed off on me and I have come to the conclusion that some things just make clutter and have made it a point to de-clutter my life and my living space itself.
I acknowledge there will be many parents who will disagree with me on this one, but I am also sure that many will silently agree with my thoughts on the school project overload that many of us experience.  If you have a pre-schooler or an elementary aged child, I am sure you are familiar with many of these projects that probably make up half your home gallery collection.  Here are some of the most popular, just to name a few: name made out of pasta noodles, hand stamp with eyes and mouth painted on it, pipe cleaner butterfly, any animal made with clothespins, a tree made with little balls of tissue paper, leaf prints, etc.. I'm sure there are so many more and I could probably blog all night if I kept thinking about this list...
So, back to my point... I already said I'm not OVERLY sentimental, but I am after all SOMEWHAT sentimental and that is why I love Artkive, a cute little smartphone app that provides a "clutter free way to save and enjoy my child's artwork".  With this app, not only am I able to save pictures of my kids' school projects, but I can also arrange them by grade, age, year, etc and I can even share "artkives" with friends and family members.  The app is so wonderful that it even offers the option of creating books with your kid's art collection, so for those parents who don't want to entirely do away with the tangible stuff, you can have a book printed with your favorite projects. I just love it so much, even my kids love it...they come home and say "mom, take a picture of this one and put it on the Artkive" and they are now the ones who get rid of the clutter without remorse.  Also, keep in mind that because you're actually uploading the images of your kid's work, the pictures do not take up memory on your phone or tablet.

I strongly recommend this *free* app to all those moms who are looking to organize their kids' artwork in a more modern and technological fashion. I have loved this find so much that I wanted to share it with some of my fellow moms!

Happy blogging! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to School Week: Shoes, backpacks and such...

Today's post will not be about psychological advice or behavior analysis, but rather about some practical aspects of school.  By practical I mean shoes, backpacks and such because getting the kids physically and aesthetically ready for school is just as important as the other stuff! :)
So many parents are lucky to be able to send their kids to school in a set uniform; and I say lucky because I personally LOVE uniforms but if you don't, that's ok too... there are styles for all tastes.. right?
My girls' school is rather strict when it comes to uniforms including shoes, socks, etc and I'm ok with that but I would be lying if I said I didn't spend hours researching about shoes, backpacks and such! And because I always like to share the wealth of knowledge I acquire from countless hours on the internet, I want to talk about what shoes and backpacks have worked best for us!
(Disclaimer: NONE of these companies PAY me anything to post about them, nor do I own stock so every recommendation comes from the heart and it is not financially motivated at all!)

Shoes: Most schools suggest that girls wear Mary Jane style shoes; some ask for black and some ask for blue.  Despite the general belief that "Stride Rites" are durable shoes, I will say that the quality of such brand has disappointed me terribly throughout the years, so I present to you the Ked Ella Mary Jane Sneaker, which is an awesome shoe made out of leather that features a white rubber non-marking sole; this shoe is pretty, durable and affordable.  It also comes in other colors and it is one of the best finds I have ever come across.  The down side?  It only goes up to size 12 for toddlers so this is not an option for older kids..... These shoes can be found on Amazon and several other websites. 

Then there are the Cienta shoes, which are European made canvas style Mary Janes that come in many different colors.  These do come in larger sizes so they are perfect for older kids.  Olivia has had these for the past two years and claims they are the most "comfortable shoes ever!" They feature an inner removable sole which can be washed or changed if desired.  These are super affordable and perfect for uniforms or play clothes... I LOVE these! They can also be purchased on Amazon, Zappos and several other websites.


For those kids that don't have to wear uniform shoes, I strongly recommend any shoe from Chooze Shoes.  I came across this shop on our recent trip to Panama; they had a huge store at one of the local malls and I simply LOVED what I saw.  These shoes are "mismatched on purpose" and they make for the cutes footwear any kid (and mom!) can have. I really love their designs and I especially like the fact that they are comfortable, durable and washable.  Their website also sells shoes for babies and adults and their Fall collection is to die for.  Please check out their site, I promise you will not be disappointed! :)

Now on the the backpacks!  For years I have heard recommendations about Pottery Barn backpacks but I will be honest and say that I always thought they were pricey compared to other options. This year I decided to give them a try and ordered two personalized navy blue backpacks (our school doesn't allow any other color/design backpack, so navy blue it was!).  I have to say that I absolutely LOVE the quality of these backpacks but I think their dimensions are bad.  I made the mistake of ordering the "small" backpack and it turned out to be TINY!! Almost $80 later, the girls will NOT be using these backpacks for school since nothing fits in there.  So if you do go for the Pottery Barn kind, make sure you get something size Large or even bigger.  Both the "mini" and "small" are useless for school aged kids. 

Another option is the backpack line from Personal Creations, they are absolutely adorable and such great quality too.  This website offers and incredible selection as well as matching lunch boxes, all which could be personalized.  Their customer service is incredible and I strongly recommend all of their school items. 

For moms of girls (and I totally realize that most of my recommendations on this post have been geared towards girls!), I also recommend several Etsy sellers that have the most adorable hair bows and accessories.  I particularly like the following two Etsy shops that offer tons of uniform color bows, some of them even have plaid bows that perfectly matched the girls' uniforms.  Please be sure to visit them on Etsy
And with this post I end my "Back to School" week series.  I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts and advice during these few days and I look forward to posting more fun stuff in the weeks to come.  

Congratulations to all local kids on surviving their first week back and good luck to all those who will be starting in the weeks to come! 

Happy Blogging! ;)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School Week: Talking to your children

On this 4th day of our "Back to School" series, I will talk about conversation starters and creative methods to talk to children.
In my initial post this week, I mentioned how important it is to talk to children in an effort to better understand them and to validate their feelings, but how CAN WE talk to children?  What can we ask that will prompt them to reveal themselves to us?  How can we earn their trust?
Even though talking to children sounds like an easy task, sometimes as parents we are surprised by how difficult it can be to find proper conversation starters and engage children in productive talks.
I often struggle to find ideas that will keep my children interested and deep in conversation.  Let's take the first day of school as an example; I went to pick up my kids from school and naturally the first thing that came out of my mouth was "how was your first day?"...they quickly replied in unison "fine!"...and I said "just fine?" and followed it by another question "what did you on your first day?"...they looked at me and said "nothing!"... I know my children didn't spend 8 hours of their day doing "nothing" but how could I respond to that? The conversation was naturally short and the few things they DID tell me about their day I literally had to pry out of them... not fun!

A few months I came across a great website called "Creative with Kids", it focuses on what they call "joyful parenting for real people"... I REALLY like their concept and my favorite part is a section about "Connecting with Kids" where several activities for prompting kids to communicate are described in depth.  But in addition to their wonderful website, the writers also have several ebooks that are so helpful when it comes to conversing with children; I particularly love one that is called "Conversation Starters: Listening Now so Kids Keep Talking Later"; I have enjoyed reading this little book so much and have been able to have so many fruitful conversations with my children.
So because I loved this book (and website) so much, I have decided to share some of my favorite conversation starters with you.  Here are just a few of the questions I have gathered from the ebook:
  1. Tell me about your friends? What makes them your friends?
  2. When/how will you know that you are a grown up?
  3. If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
  4. What is the most important quality a person can have?
  5. Tell me about someone who is not your friend, why?
  6. What is something that makes you smile?
  7. What is something that makes you worry?
  8. What is the first memory you have?
  9. Ask me something you have always wanted to know.
  10. Name three things about yourself that you like and one that you don’t.
Of course most of these questions can be adjusted to fit your child's age and maturity level and there are TONS more on that little book. 

Also, I strongly recommend the "Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal", which is an amazing 3-year journal that will prompt your kid to answer a daily question for 3 consecutive years; the book has 365 questions (one per day) and it is designed to be a "time capsule" where kids deposit their daily thoughts and can relive them every year by answering the same question on any given day.  It truly is one of the most highlights of our day with the kids! :)

I will end this post by encouraging all parents to TALK WITH their children rather than AT their children. Kids enjoy being heard and understood and daily conversations foster long term communication and healthy relationships.  Also, talking to children during the first week of school is incredibly important to understand their expectations and disposition for a successful school year!