Monday, March 19, 2007

Great Meal Idea!

I just wanted to share this with you all since it is such a great idea. In our MOPS meeting this last week we were discussing menu planning and how to make the most out of your time and money when it comes to cooking. A couple of good ideas were thrown around while we were sharing stories.

I am quite certain that most of the moms, both stay at home and working, are pretty tired and over it by the time dinner rolls around. If you are like me, I labor mostly over figuring out what to cook instead of the actual cooking, but dinner as a family is a very important ritual that I'm not willing to give up.

The first idea is one that will not necessarily save you money, but is fun and will save you time. This is the concept of meal assembly. There are several chains that have sprouted up in the last few years that offer this service. To name a few - Dream Dinners, Let's Dish and Super Suppers. You can go alone, with a group or just swing by and pick up an assembled meal that is fresh and ready to cook when you get home. If you choose to make it an outing with your girlfriends, mom or group, they have the ingredients ready for assembly when you arrive. You can drink some wine, have some conversation and when you are finished - viola! - dinner for a week. It does tend to be more expensive than shopping, chopping and assembling in your own home, but less expensive than eating out with the family. You can also consider splitting the meals with someone.

The other idea that was bandied about was the idea of meal co-op. This is when you and your friend decide to share the cooking responsibilities. She'll cook one night for her family and yours and you'll cook the next night. This is an excellent idea for maybe a couple of nights a week. I think it would work best with those meals that you can cook in bulk, then split. Another idea would be to cook several casseroles in those disposable pans and freeze them for the week.

Really, it's all about trying to give yourself a little break. I'm sure we could all use one - I know I could!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Making Money Online

If you are like the majority of the population, you could always use a little extra money on the side. Have you ever been scrolling through a web page or done a search and found these sites that offer to provide you with a list of survey sites that pay cash? And of course, you can make $5000 a month doing it. They only want $29.95 to provide you with this mysterious list. Wow, that's a pretty good return on your money.

Unfortunately, you can guess what I am going to write next. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. I mean really folks, if there was that kind of opportunity out there, available to anyone in the world who had access to the Internet, don't you think you would have heard about it by now? I can almost guarantee that you would have seen it in some new flash or heard about it from a co-worker or a friend. There may be some people who can make this kind of money, but they are either lying to qualify for all the surveys and studies or they are very well rounded and are part of a highly sought after demographic.

I almost succumbed to this scam myself while trying to find a way to supplement our income as a stay at home mom last spring. I was researching the possibility when I stumbled upon a post on a message board that was adamant about not paying for these lists. She said to come on over to her site and get the lists for free. I am a naturally distrusting person, but I decided to check out this person's site just to see what it was all about.

I found a ton of information about doing surveys, mystery shopping, paid to read programs and pretty much anything that we stay at home moms could think of doing while junior is sleeping. I was very cautious at first and only signed up for a couple of the survey companies after creating a separate yahoo email account to catch all the spam I was expecting. Imagine my surprise when I received not one spam email!

Then, I checked out the message boards and found a wonderfully supportive and trustworthy community, all willing to provide their insight and expertise for us newbies. They were very honest. All said that you wouldn't make a living doing the surveys, but that it was nice to be able to cash out every few months to have a nice dinner out with their spouse or buy a little something with the amazon certificate they received.

This wonderful site is Katie's Hugs. It is operated by one of the most giving people I've run across in quite some time. The site owner's name is Connie and she is an extraordinarily busy mom who has taken the time to share all of the research and experience she has worked for over the last several years. If you are considering doing anything online - blogging, putting together your own site, doing surveys, eBay, paid to read and more - definitely check out her site before you start. You will benefit from the experience of others and have any questions you might have answered honestly and quickly.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What a Kindergartener Needs To Know

You know, I remember taking naps in Kindergarten. Things have changed drastically in what I wistfully call a short period of time. I have 3 young girls, the oldest of which entered public school this year. After two years of preschool and a keen mind, I was surprised to find that the teachers wanted her to be put into the "extended" day program. This program is currently only available in our area as a pilot program. It is kept to a small class of only those children the school feels would "benefit the most" from the extra help.

When I heard from the Assistant Principal the fourth day of school, I really thought she was offering to put my child in a gifted program. She already had a grasp of counting to at least 20, knew the alphabet, all her colors and shapes, could write her name, recognize most of the letters by sight and recognized some of the numbers by sight. I was unexpectedly thrown into an emotional place I had heard of, but had yet to have the pleasure of experiencing. How could they be talking about my child? If I put her into this program, would she be stigmatized throughout her elementary school career?

The best source of information on your particular public school system starts with the school system itself. Contact them and ask for the information on what they will be expected to be familiar with and know at the start of the school year. Most schools will have a publication with this information and some even have it on their websites. Whatever they expect, spend some time during the summer making a game out of the learning experience. The Dollar Store has flashcards you can buy for numbers, letters, shapes and colors. They will almost undoubtedly be expected to know how to follow the rules as well. This is where the preschool experience comes in the handiest.

Hopefully the information will put some of you at ease who are about to embark on the public school journey or are experiencing something similar with their child. We decided that it could only benefit our daughter even though we did not believe that she was really behind in any way. I could go into all the reasons why, but they will only sound exactly like what they are - a parent who loves their child and believes that she is capable of anything. Besides, she is now scoring above grade average in most of the areas they assess at her age.

I do still have the fear that her first grade teacher may be aware of her participation in the program and this will color his or her judgement in some way. Teachers are human too and assessments are somewhat subjective at this stage. Whatever will be, will be at this point. Her confidence has certainly come a long way. I am not sorry that she has been part of the program. Only time will tell if it was the right decision. But, that's really the challenging part of parenting, isn't it? Plant the seeds and see what grows.

Daddy Date Night

If your family is anything like ours, Daddy works so much during the week that things pile up for him to do during the minimal time he has off. This leaves little time for him to interact and bond with his girls. This makes him grumpy and frustrated as our children are young and, as you know, they grow up too fast.

Our solution has been to dedicate one night every week, ours is Saturday, to just hanging out as a family. We call this wonderful evening "Daddy date night". All week the girls ask if tonight is Daddy date night. They get very excited about it; so excited that occasionally we have a Mommy date night too. Since our girls are only 1,4 and 5 right now, Saturdays usually involve a kids movie, popcorn, pillows and blankets all over the living room floor and all the lights out for that movie theater experience.

We all get something out of this evening and it brings us closer together as a family. For me, I get to forget about cooking dinner. If we're a little tight on funds, everyone gets frozen pizza or a frozen lasagna. Something easy to fix and easy to clean up after. Daddy gets his time with the girls and the girls are secure in the knowledge that even if Daddy doesn't have time right now for them, he has set aside a night just for them.

I highly recommend setting aside time for something like this. It takes very little planning, is pretty cheap for the entertainment department and brings endless rewards in the hugs and kisses your children will undoubtedly bestow upon you.

Hmmmmm...I think we'll try a treasure hunt this week with some goodies from the dollar store. Happy date night to all!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Preschool - Is My Child Ready?

Well, it's about that time. You are ready for your little one to begin learning a little independence and want to reclaim a little of your sanity time (what's that?). But, is he or she ready? It is inevitable to ask yourself if you are pushing too hard too soon. I think the real answer lies with the person who provides the most care for your child. Since you are the one reading this, you are most likely that person.

There are some questions that can help you answer your do I or don't I dilemma. First, has your child ever been in someone else's care? Most people may find this a crazy question, but my first never stayed with anyone but my mother until she went to preschool. How has the child handled that separation? Did he or she throw a fit, cry or simply say "bye, Mommy"? Obviously, the child that is waving goodbye and can't wait to be rid of your company will probably do well in a preschool environment. But, in my opinion, even the ones throwing a fit and crying can be more than ready.

The biggest question that you will need to answer is this - are you comfortable with whom and where you are leaving your child? Are you alright leaving your child sobbing your name while you slink around the corner? That sounds awful, doesn't it? That it what it feels like though. Prepare yourself. Do you know that you are leaving them in capable hands and that they will stop crying and start engaging within a few minutes? My first waved goodbye and sailed into the classroom. My second would cry for the first 10 minutes and I felt like the worst of mothers for leaving her in that condition. There were a few mornings I would be crying right along with her. But, I would come back about 15 minutes later and listen at the door. She was always playing and laughing with the other children by then.

There are several options available to parents today for preschool. There is a strong emphasis on early learning and most schools expect your child to be able to write their names, know their shapes, colors, numbers and alphabet before ever stepping foot into a public school. There are church preschools, Montessori and institutional preschools. They all have different philosophies on how they want to teach your children. Remember how the movies used to joke about the competition to get into a good preschool? Well, that isn't just for the wealthy anymore.

Ask yourself what it is you want your child to learn and what are you planning to focus on for their future education. Will you be homeschooling, sending them to private school or enrolling them in the public schools? For the most part, I believe that preschool is what Kindergarten used to be for us old folks - learning socialization. They need to learn to follow rules and how to handle themselves with other children in the same stage of development as themselves. I once called a preschool to inquire about their program and was told that there would be an $85 fee for textbooks as they would be learning Spanish and Science. Come on guys! This was for my 3 year old! Instead, she went to a wonderful church preschool where there were only 8 children and a retired teacher and assistant for her class.

This particular setting may cause some people to be a little nervous about the religious affiliation. Each church preschool will set there own parameters about the religious content of their studies. I personally have not stepped foot into a church for 20 years and was a little concerned about judgement at first. What I found were a lot of moms like myself, none of whom attended that particular church and all were interested in one thing - what was best for their children. Please don't cut this less expensive option out just because it is affiliated with religion.

I would definitely recommend putting your child into preschool prior to entering public school, if that is your intention. This will allow them to develop some independence and will help them adapt better in the public school setting. They'll know how to listen and follow the rules, what to do if Johnny takes his lunch or Betty pushes her down. It is really optional at 3, but I have seen programs for 2 1/2 year olds too. I am not an expert, but I believe in helping my children in any way that I can. I have found that our preschool experience has been an extremely positive one. I hope that yours is too!