Friday, November 6, 2009

Flylady's Crisis Cleaning 101

I am such a huge fan of Flylady! I even used to drive around with a license plate that read FLYLADI, but I got rid of it after having to explain too often that no, I am NOT a pilot! My best friend has a license plate frame that reads, "Have You Done Your 27-Fling Boogie Today?" Love it! If you don't know what that means, you must log on to Flylady's amazing website to learn all about her system:

While you're there, check out the FlyShop for some very cool cleaning tools. The Royal Rags in a Bag are fabulous microfiber cleaning cloths and I can't imagine life without my Rubba Scrubba! For my birthday this year I am asking for a FlyShop shopping spree because I want to order the Rubba Sweepa and the new toilet brush. I also need to replace my trusty Flylady stainless steel water bottle that went MIA over the summer. I know, odd presents for a birthday, but I don't care!

I promised in today's column to provide a link to her iTunes audio version of the Crisi Cleaning routine. Being a computer whiz is not one of the items on my resume, so you'll have to forgive me for not being able to post a direct link to the Crisis Cleaning program. However, I will explain how to find it on iTunes:

1. Make sure you have iTunes downloaded properly.
2. Log in to your iTunes account.
3. Click on Search Store (not your personal library).
4. Type "Flylady" into the search box.
5. When the options for Flylady items opens,select Flylady Tools.
6. The next page will show all the links to audio routines that I will mention here, including the Crisis Cleaning I discussed in the column.

The audio versions of the routines are such a cool tool, and they are completely free. I have them on my iPod and I turn them on when I want to really whip things into shape quickly. A favorite of mine is a 15 minute pep-talk from Flylady that gets you moving or cleaning for just 15 amazing, productive minutes. I play it daily. Look for Focus Makes Me Fabulous under the Flylady Tools on iTunes.

Flylady also walks you through the Weekly Home Blessing Hour and really gets you moving and cleaning for one hour in this audio guide, also free through iTunes. I use this off and on; usually my WHBH happens in bits and pieces and not one solid hour of work. Look for Weekly Home Blessing Hour under the same Flylady Tools option on iTunes.

Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to follow my blog and check back weekly! I will always include a link to my columns, and this blog gives me a chance to post a few more pictures and provide links to the cool stuff I love to write about! Happy cleaning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Whip up a batch of fun!

I am all about good, cheap family fun. Outings with coupons, homemade playthings and anything that gets the kids excited and involved without clearing out my bank account get a thumbs-up from me. I grew up like that. My sisters and I made life-sized paper dolls and spent hours coloring them in and making joints at the arms and legs with brads. We sewed dresses we designed patterns for by lying on large sheets of paper and tracing our forms. The afternoons always flew by when we were planning a make-shift neighborhood parade or creating a skit for our parents in the backyard. I don’t think we ever spent much money, but we had a fabulous time!
Lots of affordable family fun can happen in the kitchen. My little sister would spend afternoons making the kind of special “cakes” that can only result from an imaginative 3 year old having unlimited access to every spice and flavoring in the pantry. My parents would enthusiastically bake up her mysterious creations and everyone would take a taste. Though it made us feel like contestants on “Fear Factor,” we always managed to choke down a bite, smile and nod. Fun memories for all of us!
I have yet to be that brave and let my kids loose in the kitchen, but we still manage to have a good time. They love to bake cookies, color Easter eggs and make up fun recipes like homemade play dough. Our favorite in the one that requires the use of Kool-Aid packets (see recipe below) because the color variations are endless and the dough smells so good! Watch out for colored hands, though.
The following recipes are wonderful because making them is part of the fun and they cost only pennies to produce. The cooking processes need to be supervised, but the majority of each of these recipes can have hands-on kid involvement. So pick up a few supplies and have a blast this weekend making some colorful, yummy-smelling sticky stuff with your favorite little people . . .
• Cinnamon Apple Clay
1 cup applesauce
1 cup flour
1 cup cinnamon
1/2 cup white school glue
Food coloring
Mix together in a bowl and add food coloring. Refrigerate for a few hours until the clay is firm.

• Homemade Silly Putty
2 cups white school glue
1 cup liquid starch (find it in the laundry aisle)
Mix together and set aside until dry. Store in an airtight container.

•Gooey Slime
1 cup room temperature water
1 cup white school glue
Food coloring
1 1/3 cups warm water
4 tablespoons Borax laundry booster
Mix together room temperature water, glue, and food coloring in a medium bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, mix together warm water and Borax until completely dissolved.
Next, slowly pour the glue mixture into the second bowl with the Borax solution, but do not mix them together.
Roll the glue-mix around in the Borax solution (around four or five times). Then lift the glue mix out of the Borax solution. Knead for two to three minutes.
Store the slime in an airtight container or zippered plastic bag.

• Biggest, Best Bubbles Ever
1 part Joy or Dawn regular dish soap
10 parts distilled water
¼ parts glycerin (find it at the drug store) or White Karo Syrup
Try making a bubble wand from a wire hanger for giant bubbles!

• Kool-Aid Play Dough
2 ½ cups flour
½ cup salt
2 packages unsweetened powdered Kool-Aid drink mix
2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix flour, salt, Kool-Aid and oil until blended. Add boiling water and mix with a spoon until cool enough to knead. Knead until color is blended (expect colored hands!) Add more flour if consistency is too thin. Store in an airtight bag in the refrigerator.
Get out your cookie cutter collection and some plastic knives to make shapes!
These recipes and more information, photos and links for my column are all available on my blog: Feel free to stop by and drop me a note about what you’d like to read about in the future. Know of something great I should eat/do/see? Let me know and I will check it out!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Handbag Organization Tips for Busy Moms

Earlier this week, I found myself in the middle of Costco with a broken nail, and all I wanted at that moment was a nail file. Luckily, my mother was there with her makeup bag and the ancient little metal nail file she has carried my entire life. It occurred to me that I really should have a nail file in my purse all the time. Actually, there are a lot of little things I really should have with me wherever I go – and I don’t. My purse is more likely to be full of action figures and doll brushes than anything useful in an emergency.
We all know that woman who has anything you might need tucked away in the dark recesses of a substantial shoulder bag. I have been studying these women and I have decided they usually fall into one of two categories: The MacGyver and The Mary Poppins.
My dear friend, Kelly, is a MacGyver. Just like the '80s TV hero who was always prepared to whip up a life-saving device, Kelly carries a purse that has her ready for anything and everything. If I ever encounter that popular board game question about which one item I would choose to take with me to a deserted island, I don’t even stop to think because my answer is always the same: Kelly’s purse! I am confident that a family of four could survive quite comfortably for an extended weekend out of the contents of that bag. She carries snacks, scissors, a first aid kit and enough beauty supplies to rival my collection at home.
On the other side of the coin (purse) is Mary Poppins; this type is known for carrying items ranging from amazing to inexplicable. My friend, Melodie, is a typical Mary Poppins and the wonders of her purse never cease to amaze. I will never forget my request for a pair of scissors that resulted in her pulling out the longest, sharpest set of sewing shears I have ever seen. A mention of a headache yields a pharmacy of every over-the-counter pain reliever known to man. She always wins that “What’s In Your Purse” baby shower game, hands down.
I have been doing this mom thing for seven years now and I decided it is finally time for me to have a big girl purse that is less of a portable toy box and more of a logical collection of useful items. I am tired of relying on others for little necessities when I am out and about, and I want to be that go-to girl that can help others out in a pinch with a much-needed safety pin or band-aid.
I want to find a balance between the MacGyver and the Mary Poppins; just enough to get by, but not so much that I develop bulging biceps just from hauling my bag around.
Inside the Butler Bag Hybrid - Olive Martini Inside Hybrid Butler Bag
At first, I thought I needed a new purse, so I went online to research the latest and greatest organizational bags. At, I stared, drooling, at the gorgeous leather purses with interior compartments that had a place for everything. But then I sobered up when I saw the prices. I’ve decided to ask Santa for one this year but, until then, I needed to find an economical way to tote necessary items around as neatly as possible.
I also needed to decide what was necessary and what was just too much. I started a list of what I thought were must-haves for the kids and me on a daily basis. When I got to the end, I realized I was either going to need to start dragging an Army duffle bag behind me on a wheeled cart, or I was going to have to cut down the list considerably. Perhaps the solar blankets and emergency rations could go in the trunk of the car? Maybe a change of clothes for my 7 year old was a little too much? Basically, I was clueless as to what items really deserved to take up real estate in a moderate-sized handbag.
As I usually do when faced with a domestic situation in which I feel clueless, I turned to my vast collection of household hints and organizational books. I thumbed through a few before discovering the gold mine in Emily Barnes’ “Simply Organized.” She devoted an entire chapter to purse organization and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Basically, she recommends using several small zippered bags to carry all the little things that would usually end up in a jumbled heap at the bottom of the purse. Instead, the little bags can be quickly removed when it is time to change purses, and she always knows where to find a pen or a stick of gum.
She listed the contents of her little bags and I was fascinated. I never thought to carry my own tea bag with me, but I am usually disappointed in restaurants’ selections, so that is a perfect solution! A tiny sewing kit, a collapsible cup and a tape measure are also items I never would have considered, but each would be great to have at the right moment.
Soon after filling my purse with several carefully packed little bags, I headed out with the kids to run some errands. Much like the feeling I had when I left a training course with my brand new CPR certification, ready and looking for anyone who needed my help, my purse and I were prepared for any hangnail or runny nose that crossed our path.
I was so proud of myself when I had disinfecting wipes for the shopping cart handle and my very own pen to whip out at the bank. Of course, I no longer had a militia of plastic Army guys to amuse my son while we waited in line, so I dug around for something to distract him. He wasn’t intrigued with my idea of filing his nails as entertainment, so perhaps I need to toss a few toys back into my bag for old time’s sake.

Small bags for purse organization

These suggestions are from Emily Barnes’ “Simply Organized” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997). Note: bags should be zippered and preferably see-through for easier access.
• Makeup Bag 1: lipstick, blush, comb, small brush, mirror, telephone change.
• Makeup Bag 2: breath mints, gum, cough drops, small perfume, hand cream, nail clippers, small scissors, tissues, nail file, matches.
• Small Bag 1: business cards, wet wipes, tea bag, sugar substitute, pain reliever, small calculator, mini sewing kit, hand sanitizer.
• Small Bag 2: mini first aid kit, collapsible cup, tape measure, spot remover, feminine protection, toothbrush, dental floss.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flylady 101

I have a love/hate relationship with cleaning. I love the end result but the actual labor involved is not exactly high on my list of fun things to do. Still, my emotions and state of mind seem to be intimately connected to the level of tidiness of my house. A messy house makes me feel messy and disorganized inside, but when the sink is free of dirty dishes and the toys are all put away, I feel a sense of peace I cannot find anywhere else. For these reasons, I once surveyed our first apartment and, in desperation, typed “my house is a mess” into an Internet search engine. That led me to a website that forever changed how I feel about cleaning:

Flylady is actually a North Carolina woman named Marla Cilley who devised her own plan years ago to get organized and conquer the depression caused by the state of her house. She came up with simple strategies that help her followers, called Flybabies, gain peace in their homes. However, Flylady’s approach to housekeeping is anything but typical, and some of her assignments sound down-right ridiculous. I was very skeptical when I read her initial instructions to go and empty out my sink, pile any dirty dishes to the side, and then scour and polish my sink to a brilliant shine. I grumbled the entire time. Then I stepped back, looked at my beautiful shiny sink, and understood why she gave me such a strange task: it was just the sense of accomplishment I needed to kick-start myself into action!

Sink shining is the first of Flylady’s Baby Steps, and once that sink is sparkling, it is time to talk about shoes. Lace-up shoes, that is! Tying on shoes first thing in the morning puts me into work-mode and I am ready to tackle my day. If the trash needs to go out, I am ready to walk outside and take care of it. If an emergency arises, I am ready to run out the door. Some people have a problem with this shoe rule because they do not wear shoes in the house. I used to be one of them, and I still make the kids take theirs off at the door, but mine stay on so I am ready for anything. Why lace-up shoes? Because they can’t be kicked off easily and that makes me less likely to slip them off and slack off on my routines.

Routines are the nuts and bolts of Flylady’s program, and it all starts with the Evening Routine. Before bed, Flylady assigns a few simple tasks that make sure that the next morning will be peaceful and organized, even if everyone wakes up late and has to rush to get ready. Clothes for the next day are laid out for each family member, lunches are packed before bed, and some Flybabies even set the table for breakfast after the supper dishes are done! I haven’t gotten to that point myself, but the one Evening Routine item we never neglect is loading up a spot by the front door with the backpacks, library books, and other necessities for the day ahead. We call this spot our Launch Pad because we load up and launch off from there every morning!

The Morning Routine is just as important, and gets every day off to a great start. I start mine the moment I wake up in the morning and try to get it done by the time we leave for school. Every Flybaby’s Morning Routine is different, but all of them include making the bed, getting dressed completely (lace up those shoes!), and having breakfast. My routine has me scoop out the litter box every morning, and with three cats in the house, that is a necessity! My favorite part of the Morning Routine is the swish-and-swipe: a one-minute wipe down of bathroom sinks, counters and toilet. The toilet bowl also gets a swipe with the bowl brush and Flylady suggests using a few drops of soap or shampoo that is taking up cabinet space. Soap is soap! It is the elbow grease that makes the difference.

Flybabies are encouraged to only keep things in their homes that they use and love. A regular mission that Flybabies receive in their daily emails is to grab a trash bag and do a 27 Fling Boogie. Another crazy name, but it’s a great way to rid your house of excess clutter by getting rid of 27 things at a time. It’s amazing to realize what I can do without when I focus on finding 27 pieces of trash or 27 items for a thrift store donation.

The most important lesson I have learned during the past decade of doing things Flylady’s way is that 15 minutes is an amazing amount of time. I joke that I live and die by my timer because I set it many times throughout the day to help me focus on my work or to limit my computer time. When I am overwhelmed by the condition of the house, I know that if I can just focus my efforts for 15 minutes, I will definitely be able to make a noticeable difference. It’s not so much time that I lose interest, and it is just long enough to make a dent and get that sense of accomplishment. Flylady says that 15 minutes “puts a big measure of peace on you,” and she’s right. That peace is contagious and sets the tone for our homes. As a friend said in a toast at our wedding: “Happy wife, happy life!”

Top Ten Things I Have Learned From Flylady
1) I can do anything for 15 minutes!
2) A load of laundry a day keeps Mt. Washmore under control. Nothing says “love” like a drawer full of clean underwear.
3) Having clothes laid out and lunches packed the night before makes us ready for anything.
4) Never leave a room empty-handed because there is always something that can be put away.
5) My family doesn’t need, use or love half the toys and clothes they own, so out they go!
6) Knowing what’s for dinner by 10 am means healthier meals and less expense.
7) Doing Flylady’s “swish-and-swipe” routine in the bathrooms means they are always fresh and clean.
8) Housework done incorrectly still blesses my family!
9) Making sure my house is only “15 minutes worth of messy” means we can be ready to welcome unexpected company with little effort.
10) You can’t clean clutter! It needs to be tossed out, and then keeping house is much easier.

My Morning Routine
Shower and dress
Shoes and make-up
Swish and Swipe bathroom
Make bed
Start a load of laundry
Empty dishwasher
Eat breakfast
Scoop litter box

My Evening Routine
Make Cole's lunch
Put all necessary items on Launch Pad
Lay out next day's clothes
Check calendar!
Wash up supper dishes
Shine sink
Do a quick sweep around the house for clutter
Wash face, brush and floss
Go to bed at a decent hour

Friday, September 11, 2009

Suppertime Solutions

We still laugh about a standing dinnertime tradition when I was growing up. Mom would do the cooking and the serving and the washing up, but it was up to us to pour our own drinks. More often than not, only one of us would go to all the “trouble” it took to pour a drink, so hearing “please pass the corn…and the milk” was not uncommon. Mom would shrug but wouldn’t share the iced tea she poured for herself! If we girls wanted to drink from the same glass, oh well. The important thing was that we sat around that old kitchen table together nearly every night while I was growing up. I didn’t realize how many memories we made there until I had my own family.

I call it “supper,” and I put up with the teasing from my California-native friends. In my family, it isn’t dinner unless it’s Sunday at the dining room table or it is eaten out at a nice restaurant. Call it what you will, the evening meal is precious family time at our house. It is also the time of day that I find myself running low on energy, and if I haven’t planned in advance, we’re all in trouble. Part of my morning routine is to know what’s for supper by 10 am. That gives me time to thaw the meat (or make the reservations).

My friend Betty Williams is Canyon Lake’s resident expert on solving dinnertime dilemmas (or ‘suppertime stalemates’ for us Midwestern girls?). Her website offers fresh and easy ideas that are realistic and kid-friendly. Betty is a busy mom of three who found herself often staring blankly into the fridge at 5 pm (oh, have I been there!), and decided to do something about it. Encouragement from friends led to the start of her website, and she currently offers 6 and 12 month subscriptions that provide yummy, family-friendly recipes. Many clients keep their subscriptions for a year or two while they learn the ropes, then feel inspired and prepared to go solo. “My menus get them jumpstarted. It’s a ministry for me because I can help people do what I had trouble doing on my own,” says Betty.

Here are some of Betty’s tips for planning fast, healthy and affordable family meals:
• Do your prep work early. Even cutting up onions the night before saves you a step.
• Plan your meals around the store’s “loss leaders” (those low priced items retailers advertise to lure shoppers in).
• Check out cookbooks and those pricy cooking magazines from the library for free.
• Whip up a salad bar at home and offer an assortment of toppings like dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, shredded cheese, green onions, and croutons (Betty says these are worth their weight in gold when it comes to getting kids to eat salad!).
• Have friends over for a cooking party where everyone chips in ingredients for lasagna or a casserole. It’s a fun get-together and everyone goes home with a low-cost dinner.
My favorite weapon in the battle to preserve the family dinner hour is my slow cooker. A few minutes of chopping and prep work and I’m done. It is such a boost for me to know it will be ready when we are, and it makes the house smell great all day. If I power up the bread machine, I have a dynamic dinnertime duo (or a ‘super suppertime set’?). One of our family favorites is simple and easy: a 3 pound pork shoulder trimmed of extra fat goes into the slow cooker with ¼ cup apple cider vinegar. Cook on low for 6 hours and then shred with two forks, mix in some barbeque sauce, and serve on rolls.

I suspect that I might have a cookbook addiction. If the words “fast,” “easy,” or “simple” are in the title, it will end up on my bookshelf. I own both of my grandmothers’ extensive recipe collections, so this fascination with recipes is clearly a genetic problem in our family. I read cookbooks like novels, I dog-ear pages I want to remember, and then only the tried-and-true recipes get recorded by hand in the personal cookbook I hope to pass on to my own granddaughter someday. Lately, I have become obsessed with sneaking pureed vegetables into my family’s food, and Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious is my handbook. So far, my family has been relatively accepting of the fact that my chocolate chip cookies will most likely contain chickpeas and the spaghetti sauce will usually be laced with a generous amount of pureed carrots.

I dream of that Normal Rockwell image of the family dinner hour, but it never goes that smoothly at my house. I doubt that smiling, apron-clad mom drove the carpool, made the PTA meeting, sat through 90 minutes of soccer practice, and still had time to whip up that turkey she serves so proudly! Still, I dream, and I try because something special happens when my family sits down to dinner together and the conversation begins to flow. It connects us after a long day and it’s the perfect time to share the little things that happened while we were apart. Besides, getting the kids talking distracts them from the spinach I slipped into the brownies. As one of my favorite cookbook authors says, “That’s a good thing!”

Isabel’s Simply Delicious Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

½ lb. sliced bacon, diced
1 chicken cut up (or 4 lbs. chicken legs and thighs)
½ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
8 oz. small white mushrooms
1 cup frozen small white (pearl) onions, thawed
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a slow cooker. Pour off all but a light coating of fat from the skillet. Add the chicken and brown over medium-high heat; transfer to slow cooker. Pour the wine into the skillet, scraping up any browned bits and add to the slow cooker. Add mushrooms, onions, garlic, rosemary, and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 hours or high for 3. Transfer the chicken, bacon, and veggies to a platter and keep warm. Pour the sauce from the slow cooker into a small saucepan. Combine the water and cornstarch and stir into saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Friday, September 4, 2009

All About MOPS!

The 2009-2010 MOPS Leadership Team at Canyon Lake Community Church

When my son Cole was born, my best friend told me to find a MOPS group. Mother of Preschoolers? I thought. But my son isn’t in preschool yet! Turns out MOPS is for moms of children from birth to 5 years old and there was a group right in Canyon Lake I could check out.
My mother was not as excited as I was about my first MOPS meeting. She had attended a similar sort of group 20 years ago and all she could remember was a lecture from a minister about modesty and warnings that children should be seen and not heard. Mention of MOPS got an understandable eye-roll from Mom, but I wanted to see for myself.
I remember walking into the gym at Canyon Lake Community Church for my first MOPS meeting. I didn’t know anyone in the room except my son! The room was packed with women milling around a breakfast buffet or sitting at one of the many tables. The air was filled with laughter, the occasional baby’s cry, and the smell of hot coffee. I checked in with a greeter and found my assigned group. My first thought when I saw all the laughing, chattering women at the table was that I was a stranger crashing a party. I held my son a little closer and scanned around for the nearest exit. Then they spotted me and before I knew it, I was being hugged and welcomed and introduced around the table. Within minutes, I was seated and had a plate of breakfast in front of me, some grandmotherly-type at the table was holding my baby, and I was relaxed and smiling. That was 7 years ago.
Since then, we welcomed baby Riley Rose and moved two times, but I stayed with my MOPS group. I look forward to those Tuesday mornings when I can leave my kids in the care of some sweet church ladies, go enjoy some adult conversation, and have a meal during which I don’t have to cut up anyone’s food but my own! I love to sit back and hear guest speakers talk about topics I care about. I absolutely love the craft projects even though I usually spill the paint or burn myself with the hot glue gun. The conversation at the table gets very real and honest when we are all focused on painting a picture frame or threading beads. There is no pressure to make eye contact and we just open up and share.
It’s all about the relationships. I started MOPS feeling isolated with only a handful of friends who had kids and understood how different life is once you’ve had a baby. Now I have a circle of incredibly kind, smart and funny moms to call my own, and I cannot imagine life without these women. When Riley Rose was born, they brought my family dinner every night for two weeks. When my father-in law died, the cards and calls poured in. I always had someone to call when tantrums or potty-training were getting the best of me. Being a mom is hard work, and a support system like MOPS makes all the difference in the world.
I am going to look back on the Mommy Years and smile because of MOPS. I will always remember a group of us donning matching choir robes and entertaining the room with “My God,” from the movie “Sister Act.” The Mom’s Night Out when we spent the evening on a wild scavenger hunt around town will never be forgotten, and the memories of some of our crazier table discussions will always make me laugh. Until MOPS, I never knew that moms could be great caregivers and excellent wives and still be crazy chicks. Lucky for me, this ain’t my mama’s MOPS group!
I am really looking forward to the start of my 7th year in MOPS this month. I will be a table leader this year and our leadership team has planned some fun and exciting events. I am looking forward to that first day of MOPS so I can catch up with friends I haven’t seen all summer, though I am nervous about the song and dance number I got roped into for the morning’s entertainment! Most importantly, I am going to keep an eye out for that new mom holding her baby, nervously surveying the room and trying to decide if she should stay or bolt for the door. I am going to welcome her into the group, get her a cup of coffee, and introduce her to the MOPS experience I wish every mom could have.
MOPS at Canyon Lake Community Church is currently accepting new registration. The group meets on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month from 9-11:30 am. Please call Sheila Lowe for more information: 301-9642.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Making Childhood Magical

I often stop to wonder what it is about their childhoods that my children will remember when they are grown. Some days it is a struggle just to get to school before the bell rings: breakfast is toast and juice in the car seat on the way, and I have promised more than once that no one will notice if your socks don’t match. I would love for my children to remember me as really having it all together, but life gets in the way of my best laid plans, and I am usually still in my pajamas during those early morning car trips to school. Then there are days when things go reasonably well and I have a moment or two to invest in making something special happen to make my kids smile. It’s usually something small and easy, but it comes from my heart.

I’ve discovered that creating everyday magic for kids starts with taking cues from them and playing along. My three year old is entirely convinced that she is capable of turning around three times and disappearing. My son thinks he can say a magic word and change the radio station in the car (shhhh……there is a “magic button” on my steering wheel!). Both kids believe that Daddy can pull quarters out of their ears and remove his own thumb with a swipe of his hand. Sometimes the magic even seems to work. It’s cute that as we’re arriving at Costco, my son claps his hands twice to make a parking space appear. So why is it that my luck is better if he is there to do the magic clapping?

A little magic and mystery can make the mundane routines of life a little more interesting. Around our house it is important for bedrooms to be tidy because we never know when The House Fairy might stop by! The House Fairy visits children’s rooms and makes sure they are neat and clean. If they are, she leaves a small gift, a note, and a tell-tale sprinkling of sparkly fairy dust from her wand. If a bedroom is messy, she leaves a warning note and promises to return. Should the room be found in disarray a second time, her assistant, The Crabby Elf, has been known to take a toy away for a week. We cheer when a surprise appears on a bedroom dresser while we are having dinner. We shake our heads sadly when The Crabby Elf has had reason to confiscate a toy. This little bit of magic makes me less of the bad guy and more of their ally in the fight against bedroom clutter. Please visit to learn more.

Visit The House Fairy at

I surveyed my girlfriends, and here are some simple ideas to sprinkle a little everyday magic into children’s lives:
• Bathtub tints make the water any color of the rainbow (find them next to the bubble bath). Toss them in when the kids aren’t looking!
• After the kids are in bed, decorate the house for a made-up holiday, like Purple Day, and serve a themed breakfast and dress everyone accordingly.
• Celebrate their half-birthdays with a surprise.
• Sprinkle invisible Giggle Powder on a grumpy child’s food.
• Give veggies cool names like “X-ray Vision Carrots.”
• Point in the distance and announce a sighting of The Easter Bunny, Santa or a flying superhero, just as he disappeared over the horizon.

My friend Wendy, a teacher turned stay-at-home mom, is a genius at creating and nurturing childhood magic. She loves to throw simple parties in honor of favorite books or movies. She went all out for The Jungle Book and surrounded the family room with all the house plants and stuffed animals she could find. The movie Ratatouille was celebrated with kitchen utensils strung up like garland, and they had ratatouille for dinner. I love moms like Wendy who inspire me to be more and do more!

Looking back on my own childhood, I realize that the magic came easily to my parents. I mean, not many families get to live on an enchanted little farm in central Ohio! Giants used to dine on an aging wooden structure out in the woods, and the barn held an old locked safe that was most likely full of pirate treasure. We even caught glowing fairies in jars on summer nights, though we would have to explain to visitors that they were not fireflies.

My parents really had it easy. I have to invent this stuff for my own kids!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Geocaching is High Tech, Low Cost Family Fun

Would you believe there are dozens of secret, hidden treasures right around your own hometown? Granted, some contain only the odd coin or tiny toy, but each is hidden to give treasure hunters, like my family, a little adventure right in our own backyards. It is called geocaching, and it has become a world-wide game of hide-and-seek for people of all ages. Using GPS coordinates found on, my family and I have found ourselves exploring parts of town we’ve never seen, and the sense of adventure we experience does not cost a dime!

A geocache is a waterproof container of any size that is filled with a paper log on which geocachers record their names and date of discovery. Some are so tiny as to only accommodate a tiny rolled paper log, but some are large enough to hold coins, toys, and other tiny items. It is always okay to take a piece of “swag” as long as something of equal value is left in its place. We are fond of leaving coupons for free sandwiches at a local restaurant, and my son delights in taking a marble or foreign coin in exchange. These ordinary items take on new significance when he has hiked and hunted to find them!

We started geocaching without the aid of a hand-held GPS unit, using only the Google Earth map provided for free on Using the hybrid map, which shows the actual image of the landscape combined with street names, we were able to locate our first cache near a local fire station. Each cache on the website contains instructions and clues, and this one led us off of the sidewalk, down into the bushes, and directly to a small, green plastic tube concealed between some bushes and a large rock. Contained inside was the log and a small pencil, and we marveled at the fact that we were nearly the 40th party to sign the log since it was placed over 5 years ago!

Geocaching has its rules. “Cache in, trash out” is the motto, and cachers are encouraged to leave no trace of their hunt, as well as remove debris and trash during their adventures. I have friends who compete to bring back the most trash on their caching trips, and they even take pictures of the bags of garbage, rusty car fenders, and cigarette butts they collect!

Another rule of geocaching is to hunt as discreetly as possible, so as not to draw the attention of the non-geocaching public, referred to as Muggles (from Harry Potter fame). On a recent geocaching adventure, my 7 year old son and I were exploring a quiet neighborhood park, looking for a well-hidden geocache. A man on a nearby park bench had not noticed us, so we felt comfortable grabbing the cache when I finally noticed it nestled in a bush. We excitedly huddled together to open the 4 oz-size metal can without drawing attention to ourselves. To our great surprise, lifting the lid caused a large spring-loaded cloth snake to leap up into the air. So much for being discreet! The joke was on us.

Some caches are more difficult to find than others. The website rates each one according to terrain and difficulty to find. Quick and easy finds are often in magnetic cases concealed in the metal bases of lamp posts. We have found them hanging from trees, stuck to the bottom of newspaper racks, and even uncovered one at the back of a fillet sink at the end of a certain pier at the coast. Some caches are identified as more difficult to find and hunters are advised to bring a TOTT (Tool of the Trade), which can range from a ladder to reach the top of a road sign, to a flashlight to see down a dark tunnel. So far, our family has stuck to the easier terrain, but we have still have lots of fun.

We recently purchased a kid-friendly handheld GPS unit for our son’s birthday, and with its 250,000 preprogrammed geocaches, we can amuse ourselves during car trips by checking to see if there are any nearby caches when we stop for gas or travel to another town to visit friends. Recently at a playdate in a neighboring town, we were excited to press the search button and find a hidden cache just 1000 feet from our friends’ driveway. The children huddled around the GPS unit and counted down as the device walked them directly to the hiding spot, which was under the community mailbox.

After we find a cache, we open it up to inspect the contents and locate the paper log. We sign our names and the date of discovery, carefully pack everything back into the container, take a picture for the scrapbook, and replace the cache for the next party of cachers. When we get home, we go to the website and officially record our find. To date, we have found nearly 20. We have been unable to find 7 that we searched for; a certain local shopping center’s fire pit supposedly conceals one we search for every time we go for ice cream!

Geocaching provided us with some local, low-cost adventure during a summer in which we opted to stay close to home and save money. Every cache provides that thrill of the hunt, and my kids love the secrecy element of caching. Even my three year old gets a kick out of scouting around park benches and doorframes! We are planning to place our own cache soon, and are still debating what prize to place inside for the First to Find (FTF). My son thinks a $100 bill would be great, but we are leaning toward a $25 gift card! Nevertheless, placing our own cache will be just one more way to expand the joy that geocaching has brought into our lives: a sense of community with other cachers, a greater knowledge of local landmarks, and some fun summer memories I hope my children will always treasure.