Category Archives: Parenting Tips

Mommy Files: Fun Food Friday

The first #funfoodFriday was a raging success! Fruity Banana Smoothies from Pillsbury's Kids Cookbook

Week 1: Fruity Banana Smoothie

In an effort to introduce our Kung Fu Panda to new foods, we began a new weekly activity, Fun Food Friday. Each week, he and I make and/or try a new healthy food or snack. So far, it’s had an incredibly good record.

On Week 1, we made Fruity Banana Smoothies from the Pillsbury Kids Cookbook. This was such a hit that we’ve made it several times since then, as well. Since I am currently dairy-free, we made it with cultured coconut milk instead of yogurt and used dark chocolate chips.

KFP says the Crunchy Almond Cookies we made were "crunchy & chewy." (Fenster's "1000 Gluten-Free Recipes") #funfoodFriday

Week 2: Crunchy Almond Cookies

The second week, we made gluten-free Crunchy Almond Cookies from 1000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster. I had to make a few substitutions to eliminate the dairy, but they turned out really well. KFP enjoyed it, eating half a cookie and then asking to put the other half away for later!

Week 3: Shake-It Salad

On Week 3, I learned that it wasn’t always going to be so easy. We tried the Shake-It Salad from the Pillsbury Kids Cookbook. KFP was excited about helping me make the salad, by shaking up the ingredients inside a plastic container, he wasn’t as enthusiastic about eating it. He picked out a few shreds of carrot to eat and rejected the rest. Apparently, even with salad dressing liberally applied (via the shake-it method), it wasn’t enough to appeal to him.

Homemade Apple sauce was a big hit for #FunFoodFriday

Week 4: Home-made Applesauce

I was inspired for Week 4’s food by KFP’s reaction to eating some homemade applesauce at our new favorite restaurant, The Avenue Delicatessen in Lansdowne. Taking the advice of the owner, who loved our project of getting our little guy to make and try new foods, we used a variety of apples. I made double the recipe from The All-New All-Purpose Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. Thanks to remembering to sprinkle cinnamon on top, he readily ate up most of his portion.

Week 5: Gluten-Free Banana Bread

Week 5’s dish was inspired by the fact that KFP recently rediscovered a love for bananas. He also loves bread, so I suggested we make banana bread together. Since I am also gluten-free (since discovering last year that my body is much happier without it), we made Jill and Stella’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread from a fabulous site that includes lots of child-friendly recipes. I used dairy-free margarine instead of butter and Xylitol instead of sugar. He had a lot of fun mashing up the bananas and helping me stir. The ultimate result was tasty, but without taking a nibble, KFP declared that it was neither bananas nor bread and he didn’t want it! Well, they can’t all be successes, I suppose.

We are doing the Great Green Experiment for #FunFoodFriday

Week 6: Great Green Experiment

The following week, Week 6, we started a series of “color experiments,” where we try foods of one color each week and mark down which ones we like. I got the idea from a blog post shared with me by a friend about how the blogger got her children to love green foods. Naturally, we started out with green foods. We tried peppers, celery, cucumbers, avocado, grapes and snow peas. He marked a smiley face for everything but the avocados (which he barely even nibbled). Since then, he has requested snow peas and peppers, and I’ve been very happy to comply.

The Great Red Experiment results: 6 red foods tries, 6 smiley faces! #FunFoodFriday

Week 7: Great Red Experiment

Last week, Week 7, we continued the color experiment series with the Great Red Experiment, which I thought would be perfect for Valentine’s Day. This time, the results were even more promising: he gave smiles to all six foods. We tried beets, apples, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and tomatoes. I intend to keep these charts so that, if we offer the same foods again and he doesn’t want to eat them, we can show him what he said about them when he tried it before. We wrote down adjectives as well as having him mark whether he liked it. My favorite adjective of his for these foods? “Yum.”

This week, we were supposed to do the Great Orange Experiment with peach, cantaloupe, tangerine, mango, orange pepper and sweet potato. Unfortunately, I probably started it too late in the day, after we’d already done an involving activity (“painting” with frozen ice cubes that had food coloring mixed in). All he did was eat the cantaloupe (which he already knew he liked) and refuse the rest. I wrapped up his tray and put it away, so that hopefully we can try it again tomorrow when he’s in a better mood.

All told, the Fun Food Fridays have turned out to be a great way to make trying new foods less imposing. And yes, even fun.

I am competing in the Baby Steps video contest about early childhood education. Winning the audience prize would help pay for my son’s preschool tuition for the rest of the year. To vote for me, please go to the voting page and view my video (which should make you smile). To vote, you will then close the video window and click the box at the upper right-hand corner of the preview box for my video. Selecting LIKE for the page does NOT count as a vote for me.

In case that’s confusing, I’ve also uploaded an image that shows you exactly where to click:

Image of voting page with arrow

Thanks in advance! Every vote helps!

Mommy Files: Enriching His World

KFP's fingerpaint train. #art
Can you see the train?

This afternoon, KFP and I made homemade fingerpaints and painted: me an abstract outdoor scene, him an exuberant, minimalist train.

I felt good about it for two reasons: one, I am finally recovered enough from my cold to do something besides sit on the couch while my head spins; second, I got to cross something off the “Kingergarten Here I Come Calendar” we’ve been following. I like crossing things off.

We picked up the calendar for free at the local public library (although you can also order them online). They’re designed for preschoolers, ages 3 through 5, with activities that relate to literacy, basic math principles, safety, hygiene, scientific principles and other essential skills. Each month there are 16-20 activities to cross off, ranging from simple craft projects to things to point out to your child (such as taking a walk and looking for signs of autumn). Each month also suggests four to five books, which I added to a Google doc and have been getting from the local library system.

Some of the activities are challenging and more involved (such as today’s activity of making and using fingerpaints) while others are much easier (such as looking through a magazine for people and figuring out what expressions are on their faces).

I’ve been pleased with how many of the activities have been ones I’m already doing: such as giving him an option of choosing between two acceptable choices for things like what shirt to wear or what book to read next. His response to most of the new activities has been so enthusiastic that I get excited about them, as well. Some things have become new favorite activities, such as acting out stories with puppets and stuffed animals.

He may still be a couple years away from kindergarten, but with these activities, combined with his preschool, I predict he will definitely be ready when the time comes.

He's painting a train, he says.
KFP creates his minimalist train.

Mommy Files: It’s Time to Speak Out about the ‘G’ Word

Wait a minute. Did she just say my son looked gay?

That’s what ran through my mind after a comment from an elderly acquaintance. I was dressing my 3-year-old son in his Navy blue pea coat after a Thanksgiving luncheon at the YMCA. On his head I placed the red and black fleece hat that covers his ears, topped with a tassel made of fleece strips. That’s when the woman said, about his winter get-up, “If I’d put that on my sons, they would have told me ‘That looks gay, Mom’.” Perhaps noticing the stunned look on my face, she quickly added, “I like that coat, and the hat, too.”

I just answered, “They shouldn’t talk like that.”

She was in her 70s, and explained that her sons were in their 50s now, as if that made it OK. Yes, they’d grown up decades before the advent of sensitivity to lesbian and gay issues, but I still don’t buy that as an excuse. My parents don’t talk that way, and they both turned 70 this year. They learned to respect other people. It might sound harsh, but I believe this woman has herself to blame for her son’s attitudes. Children learn what they hear. More importantly, they learn from silence, just as much as from what’s spoken.

This incident came on top of another disturbing incident. A classmate from my water aerobics class told me her grandson, who is just starting school, complained to his mother that the other boys called him a “Tinkerbell” because he speaks proper English. Who is teaching these kids that it’s all right to call people who are different “gay”? And why isn’t anyone telling them it’s not OK?

I remember being a camp counselor at a summer camp affiliated with the United Church of Christ back in the 1980s. Some campers seemed to think that calling something you didn’t like — or someone who was different — “gay” was absolutely acceptable. After all, it wasn’t considered swearing and it wasn’t regarded as being as offensive as a variety of other epithets. Long before the current growth in awareness about the topic, I used to pull kids aside and tell them that it was not appropriate to call other kids that name, that it was hurtful because it singled them out for being different. I also added that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, if you are, and that using the word as an insult implies that it is a bad thing.

I don’t know if I made any difference in those kids’ lives, but I hope I did. I know how impressionable I was when I was younger, and I know how much it impacted me when adults called me to task for my language or behavior. I’d love to think that my words made them think about, and better yet, change their behavior, and maybe even pass along what they’d learned. 

If we want kids to stop insulting each other using the term “gay,” we’ve got to come off the sidelines.  We can’t excuse it by saying “boys will be boys.” That means speaking out, whether it’s your kids or someone else’s. I firmly believe that, and I have been practicing that tactic for many years now.

We will never be able to stop kids from teasing each other or calling each other names. But if we all speak out against this particularly virulent kind of name calling, hopefully we can make it as unacceptable to call someone the “G” word as to call someone the “N” word.

Let’s take a stand and change the language on the playground.

KFP flies "like the birds" on a swing.
My son flies “like the birds” on a swing

Celebrity-Inspired Celebrations for Real-Life Moms

I am pleased to introduce my first guest blogger. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while: to provide new perspectives. Arianna Pierce is an energetic writer and mom with some terrific ideas, which she shares on her blog, Arianna Knows Best. I hope you enjoy her post.

Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey and children in royal gear

Nick Cannon, wife Mariah Carey and
their kids in royal regalia at Disneyland

If your life is anything like mine, summers are probably far from a vacation. Lately, with rising temperatures and bored kids to entertain, all I’ve wanted to do is jet off to an island and find some peace and quiet. However, since I’m not rich enough to be a jet setter, my girlfriends and I have decided that this summer, we are going to figure out how to live the luxurious life right here at home, using our favorite celebrities as inspiration!

Celebrity summer: Sailing to St. Tropez on a Yacht

St. Tropez is known as a hot spot for celebrity sightings. Fans of this gorgeous coastal town include Rihanna, Leonardo Dicaprio, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, among many others. Leo was recently seen arriving by a chartered private jet and boarding his private yacht with a large group of supermodels.

Reality summer: Sailing at the Lake

We may not be able to make it to St. Tropez, but my girlfriends and I can certainly strap life vests on our kids and spend a day on the water! If you don’t own a boat, check out your local waterfront, as many offer sailboat, kayak and canoe rentals. Pack up a few sand toys to keep the fun going during breaks from the waves on shore.

Celebrity summer: Partying at the MTV Video Music Awards

The Video Music Awards are a huge event, bringing out the best and worst in all of our favorite celebrities. Whether we are talking about Britney’s not so innocent striptease or Lady Gaga’s meat dress, the Video Music Awards always leave the viewers wanting more and gossip magazines with something to discuss.

Reality summer: Organizing Your Own Award Show Party

None of us are likely to ever make an appearance on MTV, but we can still host our own award show parties at home. You can ask your guests to dress like their favorite artists and have a karaoke jam based on all your favorite award show performances. Then, at the end of the night, have everyone vote for their favorite artists and hand out prizes, such as iTunes gift cards or funky colored headphones to the winners. Funny acceptance speeches are required!

Celebrity summer: Shutting Down Disneyland for an Anniversary

When Mariah Carey and husband Nick Cannon celebrate their love, they follow one simple motto: Go big or go home! After they renewed their vows, the pair took over Disneyland for the day, shutting it down to the general public and ensuring that their family would get the royal treatment!

Reality summer: Booking an Evening at a Great Local Restaurant

Unfortunately, when my family goes to Disneyland, we have to wait in line just like everyone else. However, it seems much more realistic to scrape together enough cash to book a private room at a restaurant for a special occasion. Not only does this allow you to celebrate in private, but many restaurants will also offer you a custom menu, discounts on drinks and even a special cake, just for you!

Arianna is a full-time mom and a fashion-lover, world traveler, animal lover, and family woman extraordinaire. She loves to cook and bake, travel to new places, share great fashion finds, and spend time doing crafts and projects at home with her kids. She’s got a crazy busy life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! Follow her blog at!

Secrets of the Work-at-Home Mom

In an ideal world, I would wait until my husband got home each day to do my work, and he would watch our little Kung Fu Panda while I researched, wrote, and did other career-related tasks. In my world, it doesn’t work this way. Because I do evening transcription work at home, more or less at full-time night shift hours, any writing-related tasks must take place either during the day or on weekends.

While I admit my methods may be far from perfect, I’ve discovered a few things that work for me.

  1. Get out of the house. I try to spend at least a couple hours each day out of the house with KFP. Whether it’s working out at the YMCA while he plays in Child Watch, or attending the weekly Toddler Story Time at the local library, or simply running errands or taking a walk, getting out of the house keeps both of us from getting cabin fever. I often spend time planning articles or working out ideas while we’re out and about, and if the mood strikes me, I can write by dictating into my voice recorder (using Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe it once we get home). The value of this method became more clear to me this past month, when my son and I took turns being sick, which meant staying home. By the end of it, we were both going stir crazy!
  2. Get him involved in an activity. When it’s time to sit down at the keyboard, I make sure there’s something constructive to occupy my little guy. Whether it’s his wooden train set, a coloring book and crayons, or one of his favorite Sprout TV shows, I make sure he has something to do, some water to drink, and if it’s snack time, a snack.Then I sit down on the couch and get to work. Working on the couch, I’ve discovered, is more comfortable for both of us than trying to sit at my office desk. He knows he’s welcome to crawl up next to me and snuggle, if he likes, while Mommy works.
  3. Take “toddler breaks.” Some breaks are built in when working with a little one. Many is the time I interrupted myself in the middle of writing a sentence because my nose told me it was time to change his diaper. In addition, I also try to remember to take breaks to spend a little time with him: reading a book or building a block tower. On the days I don’t go to the gym, I may pause to have a “dance party” with him, as we watch his favorite “Sesame Street” DVD and groove to the silly songs.
  4. Be reasonable about goals. I try to be realistic about my daily goals. If I can write one 500-word article and do a little networking, or if I put together one poetry submission, I consider it a good day. When I have larger projects, I try to break them down into manageable steps to spread over several days. It’s not always possible to avoid overworking myself — I am, after all, still a Virgo and a Type A personality — but my son and I are both happier when my goals are reasonable and achievable.
  5. Stay on task. Admittedly, this is the point that gives me the most trouble. It’s too easy to get distracted by personal e-mails, social networking and Web surfing. But more and more lately, I’ve tried to do a better job of maintaining focus. Since toddlers can be subject to mood swings, I’m learning it’s best to get the important stuff out of the way while he’s being cooperative. Then, if he’s still playing happily (and doesn’t need anything), I can take a few moments to check Facebook or read some friends’ blogs.

These are just a few of the things that work for me. Holly Reisem Hanna has written a very informative blog entry, “10 Ways Work at Home Moms Can Entertain Their Children without Using Technology,” which I recently discovered while searching for Christmas gift ideas to suggest people get me.

I definitely already use creative play toys. In our case, we have a wooden toy train set which provides hours of fun; two different types of building blocks; a flotilla of little construction trucks and other do-it-yourself toys; and a bin full of books my toddler loves to peruse himself. I’m looking into expanding our craft options beyond just crayons, and I’m also going to feed his musical interests with yet another musical toy — a toddler DJ station — to add to his drum set, play guitar, keyboards, shakers and harmonica. The best part of him making his own music is that I can participate by singing along, even while typing away!

What are some other tips you’d share?

KFP colors a monkey in the Hideaway Latte Cafe, Lewisburg.