9
May

Summer Co-Ops – What Are They?

by Tiffany in Children

This is the time of year when you are bombarded with all kinds of local summer camp offerings. Summer time isn’t vacation time for many parents and you either have to find ways to keep kids occupied or maybe you just want to occasionally. No parent wants to hear the dreaded “Mom, I’m bored!” from their kids. I am one of those mean moms that tells my kids to get creative and use their imagination if they are bored. I don’t feel as though it is my job to entertain them. Yet, I do want to facilitate some special moments and memories during the summer and summer camps are usually out of our budget, at least for all three kids. The next best option may be a co-op.

What is a co-op, and what does it have to do with child care and/or child entertainment during the summer? A co-op can be various things, from a homeschool organization to a group of people who share similar interests. But we are talking about summer co-ops that will act as child care if you need to work or child entertainment if you just want to give your kids some fun summer experiences. This kind of co-op is basically a conglomeration (or co-operative) of parents who get together and share child care/entertainment duties. It’s very much like a do-it-yourself summer camp!

How Can You Start a Summer Co-op?

First, you’ll want to decide what the co-op is all about. Will it have a theme that changes weekly? Are you going to integrate learning, educational projects, fun activities, or a combination of these? Is there a point besides just babysitting? Other parents might be more inclined to commit if you have a general plan in place for what the co-op will look like. However, it may be off-putting if you have every detail worked out and other parents feel as though they have to follow your blueprint without any input of their own. The best approach is probably a loose outline or idea and a request for ideas and feedback.

Next, you will need to start contacting parents in your area. You can start with close friends, then move into your child’s school directory if possible. Based on a 5-day work week, you will need at least ten families who are willing to commit to once a week care (with at least two adults present at each co-op). Invite parents via email, phone, letter, or whatever works best for you. You can also create a private Facebook group for all involved parties so that you can organize better and stay up to date on planning and schedules.

What Activities Should We Offer?

There are all kinds of activities you can offer during your summer co-op! Because of the favorable weather, outdoor activities are possible. You might find it works best to have a theme for each day (Monday is Art Day, Friday is All About Animals, Wednesday is Water Fun, etc.) Here are some ideas.

* Birds – Bird-watching, crafts, and art projects are just the beginning with bird-oriented activities. You could also visit an aviary, collect feathers, make bird feeders, and go on hikes to watch birds in the wild. A field trip to a farm to look at chickens would be fun, or the kids could do a bird theme scavenger hunt.

* Art – This is a broad and almost endless subject for activities! You can paint outside (try throwing washable balls at a big sheet of paper!) and use the hose to clean off. Create a sidewalk or driveway mural with paints and chalk. You could make your own sidewalk chalk as a project. You could also plan a visit to a museum and create artwork inspired by what you observe. Use colored water to spray-paint the surface of sand in a sandbox, sculpt with clay, and create nature crafts like twig picture frames. There are so many ways you could do art with kids that you could incorporate it into all kinds of other activities.

* Water – Make sure that water play is safe; if some kids can’t swim, a trip to the pool could be disastrous. Instead, have a water day with hoses, sprinklers, wading pools, and, to help out parents, car-washing. If the cost of water is a concern, parents can pool their money to cover the cost of the water use. Alternatively there many localities that have parks with water features and splash areas you could take the kids to visit.

* Picnics – Plan an outdoor meal or cookout, and then include games like Frisbee, hopscotch, badminton, horseshoes, cornhole, and other move-about games.

* Parks – Groups of kids can have a great deal of fun at a state forest or park. You can take them all on a wildflower walk, wading in streams and creeks, or just let them play on the playground equipment and partake in the park’s resources (such as miniature golf, paddle boats, etc.).

If you need or want help with daycare this summer or you just want an affordable summer fun experience for your kids, a co-op may be just what you are looking for.

Further Reading: The Kids Summer Games Book & The Kids’ Summer Handbook

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

1 Comment

23
Apr

All the Money In the World Book Review

by Tiffany in Book Reviews

Over the weekend I did very little to celebrate Earth Day. I planned on doing some gardening but alas it was cold and rainy here in Ohio. I ultimately ended up spending the weekend doing laundry, playing Plants vs Zombies in short spurts, and reading library books while in the comfort of my favorite recliner. I also enjoyed hearty crockpot meals. It was a good weekend.

One of the books I read was All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending. I have read tons of books about personal finance and frugality but I feel as though this book had a lot to offer those who (like me) are sick of the same old regurgitated advice over and over again. I think it also managed to challenge my thinking about money in many ways. You see I am a big David Bach fan. He wrote The Automatic Millionaire among many other books and essentially he talks about giving up those small things that add up (like Lattes) in order to save more over the long term and also making your savings automatic so that you never see much of your money, let alone spend it. After reading his book late last year and putting it into practice I managed to sock away I nice chunk of change. My husband’s 401K went from 2% contributions to 12%, a nice sum also started going from his check into our HSA account and my personal IRA. Amazingly we did not miss the money! I also managed to build up a nice emergency fund and contribute to my IRA from my own income. Woot!

Part of my strategy was to give up those small luxuries and divert that cash to savings. I don’t drink lattes though; my “latte” was my Greek yogurt habit and my love of going to the movies. I gave those up and only ended up feeling deprived and grumpy. Then our savings started to dwindle as we approached the cold weather months. Expenses go up for us that time of year and my husband’s work hours get cut due to lack of seasonal business. That time of year it is typical for him to have weeks at a time off and unpaid. When we came out on the other side of that drought I decided that if that daily yogurt and weekly movie made me happy then I should have them. Most of our money was being saved before we ever touched it and from me taking on extra work projects. That $50 a month spent on stuff I love was not a hardship on us. So I decided to put them back in the budget even if they did represent my “latte factor”.

In All the Money in the World the author, Laura Vanderkam, takes on the notion that money CAN buy happiness and she also disagrees with the idea of giving up those small luxuries that make us happy in daily life. She also thinks that by simply making different choices we can have more of those small luxuries. One of the best examples of this idea in her book is that of the $5300 or so spent on diamond engagement rings on average. She gives several examples of how that money could be spent on things that say “I Love You” and will bring happiness to the couple in daily life… such as date nights every Friday, bouquets of flowers once a month for years, etc. I absolutely loved her ideas on how we can make different choices with our money and that those small choices can bring us lots of happier moments in life. Another idea of hers that I loved was the concept of creating a best weekend ever on occasion and giving yourself $200 to execute it. I planned mine out in my head…

Friday night – Sushi bar, a movie, a margarita (with hubby)
Saturday – One of those local food tours I have been dying to try, Jeni’s Ice Cream, a museum (alone)
Sunday – The zoo or botanical gardens with the kids and steaks on the grill for dinner

I love this idea because it would be just as good as a mini vacation or getaway and yet the cost would be so much less. I know we have a hard time saving for the grand vacations we want and ultimately they would probably be as stressful as they are fun but a grand weekend I could do, easily. We can also do grand weekends that revolve around kiddie stuff.

Okay, so how else do you raise money for these small luxuries? In general most financial books advise you to give them up in pursuit of something bigger, like that Disney vacation or a fully funded IRA. This book doesn’t encourage you to raid your retirement fund or defund it. Rather it encourages you to make more money in creative ways. While some might feel that this is too simplistic, this is actually the route I instinctively took when I decided I wanted a bigger savings and bigger retirement account. When I want more, I work more. I do not decide to eat crap food that there are coupons for, cancel my Netflix, or do without my daily yogurt so I can save money. That ends up being pennies in comparison to taking on a few extra projects and bringing in lump sums of cash.

This past month I decided I wanted to pull the trigger and buy the iPad3 I have been wanting. Instead of seeing what money I could free up or save I went with the option of making that money over and above what I usually make. Doing it that way makes me feel better about spending that kind of money ($600) on myself. I ended up doing it actually with an ample amount to spare but made the colossal mistake of telling my husband I had my iPad money. Suddenly I found myself in an argument for why that money would be better spent by tacking it on to his overtime pay and buying a new-used vehicle instead. I will admit that the argument has merit but I still feel deflated about the iPad. :( I have my doubts that my iPad fund will get paid back as he says. Yet if I had gotten that iPad I would be energized and feel like taking on more work to fund the next thing we wanted…I see so much logic in the reasoning found in this book.

I also liked the advice to think about what you do with a $50,000 windfall or what you would change if you had unlimited money. Personally I would buy a hybrid vehicle, get a 3 bedroom house but stay under 1200ish square feet, hire a house cleaner, and arrange to have sitters more often so I can do date night every two weeks. I would also increase my food budget so we could get the cleanest, greenest, organic, and all around most nourishing food we possibly could. That is about it for my wants and I don’t even need to be rich to have all that. Okay, okay I would also like to take a year or two to travel around Europe and Asia.

If you are looking for better ways to use what you have and you like having your ideas about money challenged, this is a good book to read.

So, what do you think? When you need or want more money do you find all the ways you can scrimp and save or do you go looking for “new” money?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

3 Comments

15
Feb

Staying Healthy and Boosting Immunity After Valentine’s Day

by Tiffany in Green Holidays, Healthy Eating

Love heart sweet on candy bobbles

Leading up to Valentine’s Day you are likely to read articles about gift ideas, ways to make it magical, or perhaps what candy and chocolate is the most ethical and healthy. You don’t typically see articles about what to do if your kids came home from school with a metric ton of candy and sweets and you don’t actually have the heart to confiscate it. That would be me. I don’t buy any Valentine’s candy his time of year. Not a single piece for me or the kids. When we have to send the kids to school with Valentine’s we either make our own cards or go with ones that have little toys, bookmarks, or pencils instead of candy. But it is understood that when they come home from school they are going to have a paper bag full of Valentine’s Day booty. Since they don’t get candy very often I don’t worry so much about it, but then again I don’t dismiss it either.

Valentine’s candy is actually pretty bad for our children’s health. That is the just the truth of it. It is loaded with immune suppressing sugar and other junk ingredients like artificial dyes and additives. Consuming all that candy is literally putting their immune systems under a form of attack and during a time when they are already vulnerable… few sunlight hours available, activity can dwindle, and cold and flu bugs are going around like party favors.

If you want to get creative and trade the candy for money or other treats go right ahead. That actually worked with my youngest son this year. My daughter would not be swayed. Rather than let it bug me I just decided that it is a grand opportunity to teach my kids how to take care of their bodies after they have had a lapse in judgement. Giving them insight into how their body works when we eat junk and how we can nurture ourselves in the aftermath is just as important in my mind as teaching them about healthy eating. They need to know how to heal themselves when their healthy habits take a detour.

You might decide to try and ration the candy so they don’t go crazy and eat it all at once but that is actually not a good idea. Let them eat up all the candy. It just extends the immune suppressing abilities of all that junk so it’s best to get it gone and start the healing. Whatever they don’t eat that afternoon/evening might even magically disappear. Give me the rest of that candy and I will take you to a movie on Saturday morning, deal?

Here are some other ways that we give our family an immunity boost after gorging on candy. These tips work for Valentine’s Day or any candy centric holiday (ie Halloween and Easter).

Broth – Once that candy is gone we go into a week long spree of nourishing, nutrient dense, broth based soups that are heavy on the veggies, garlic, onions, and ginger. My dutch oven get a mighty workout all week long.

Hydration – The drink of choice after Valentine’s is good old fashioned water and I make sure it is alkaline as well. No natural juice, smoothies, or sweetened teas right now, just water.

Fermented Cod Liver Oil – Very nutrient dense and helps boost immunity and sleep. This brand is especially good because it is fermented, unheated, and it retains the natural vitamins and enzymes that are destroyed in the processing of many other brands.

Garlic - It has strong antiviral and antibacterial properties and can help ward of illness. I will often use an entire bulb in our soups after we have had excessive candy exposure.

No White Stuff or Grains - Sugar is one of the white things to be avoided but also white rice and flour. Make pancakes with coconut flour or give them a cereal of just chopped almonds, pecans, pine nuts, and shredded coconut. It is especially important not to eat any white stuff after a candy binge but grains just convert to sugar in the body too so it is best to avoid them.

Ginger – Ginger warms you up so fast you think you might be having a hot flash. That is of course why it works so well. It raises your body temperature and fights off viruses and prevents them from replicating. It is also anti-inflammatory and it supports our immune system.

Elderberry – This amazing herb is an anti-viral and it helps to fight viruses by warming your body temperature. It also has strong antioxidant properties that boost the immune system. You can make your own or you can buy it in the form of Sambucol.

Exercise – Take the kids out for evening walks, dance while you do chores, and go on some weekend hikes. Exercise boosts immune function.

Whole Foods Vitamins – Give your kids vitamins sourced from whole foods (ala apples, mango, etc), not one with synthetic ingredients.

Plenty of Rest – After an event like Valentine’s Day we send the kids to bed earlier so they can get plenty of rest… their little bodies need it. All week long they are required to hit the sack an hour earlier than usual and this gives their immune system a chance to recover from the shock of all that sugar.

How will you keep your kids healthy after Valentine’s Day?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

9 Comments

3
Dec

Canvas Prints for Memorable Gift Giving

by Tiffany in Green Holidays

When it comes to extended family my fave gifts to give this time of year are ones that incorporate photos of my kids. I have done mugs with the kids photos several times and even calendars with new photos of my darlings each month. This, I hear, makes it more tolerable to get by without seeing their cute faces in person every day. I am fortunate that I am not totally heinous in the picture taking department, and that I have a decent camera, because I have lots of good shots to choose from. This year will follow the same path as previous ones. I have already ordered the annual calendars, the mugs, and a new one for this year is big canvas prints of some of my fave shots.

Easy Canvas Prints saved me some dough by sending me a 16×20 canvas wrapped print of my choosing and that fits into my gift giving “plan” quite nicely. I knew immediately what photo I wanted to see mounted on canvas… a Fall photo of my youngest kiddo that I have fallen in love with.

This beauty….

was turned into this…

The photo of the print is a bit dark. I hate using a flash when taking pics of Christmas lights because it drowns them out. It came out lovely though. The ordering process was quick and painless and the shipping was fast. Perfect!

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

1 Comment

1
Nov

Staying Healthy and Boosting Immunity AFTER Halloween

by Tiffany in Health & Healing

Much of the information you find about staying healthy around Halloween addresses what you can do beforehand… aka keep kids away from the candy. You see advice to have the Great Pumpkin come and trade the candy for books and toys or you forgo trick or treating and make healthier treats yourself. That is actually great advice. Halloween candy is actually terribly bad for your kid’s health. Those are just the facts. It is loaded with immune suppressing sugar and other junkie ingredients like artificial dyes. Consuming all that candy is literally putting their immune systems under attack and during a time when they are already vulnerable… allergy season, fewer sunlight hours, and cold and flu bugs rearing their ugly heads.

But avoiding the candy is not always possible because they could get it at school or from other kids. It also sets up the concept of forbidden fruit. I would rather teach my kids to avoid it when they can but also teach them how to take care of their bodies after they have had a lapse in judgement. Giving them insight into how their body works when we eat junk and how we can nurture ourselves in the aftermath is just as important in my mind as teaching them about healthy eating. After all, I know I shouldn’t drink much alcohol or eat those candy cane flavored chocolates that abound this time of year, but I do. Instead of beating myself up when I want the bad I have to learn how to balance it with the good and take care of myself when my healthy habits take a detour.

It helps that we don’t allow too much candy to make its way home. We give the kids small buckets or lunch bags (much smaller than typical treat bags) and when they are filled, we go home. Doing it this way mitigates some of the damage hopefully. The second thing we usually do after Halloween is tell the kids to eat up the candy. No, we don’t let them eat 5 pieces each day and extend the immune suppressing abilities of all that junk. It’s best to get it gone and start the healing. My kids typically don’t eat all of it that night so the next day most of it magically disappears (works for younger kids) or I buy them out. Give me the rest of that candy and I will take you to a movie, deal?

Here are some other ways that we give our family an immunity boost after gorging on candy. These tips work for Halloween or any candy centric holiday (ie Valentines and Easter).

Broth – Once that candy is gone we go into a week long spree of nourishing, broth based soups that are heavy on the veggies, garlic, onions, and ginger. My crock pot and my dutch oven get used daily for at least a week.

Hydration – The drink of choice after Halloween is good old fashioned water and I make sure it is alkaline as well. No natural juice or sweetened teas right now, just water.

Fermented Drinks – After a week of mostly water we reintroduce fermented drinks like water kefir and dairy kefir, which enhance immunity with their live cultures. We mostly make our own but their are also some good ones from Lifeway. Their Pumpkin Spice and Cranberry Crème Brulee are a good way to mix kefir with holiday cheer.

Garlic - It has strong antiviral and antibacterial properties and can help ward of illness. I will often use an entire bulb in our soups after we have had excessive candy exposure.

No White Stuff- Sugar is one of the white things to be avoided but also white rice and flour. This week my hubby made pancakes with coconut flour and quinoa flour and he also made an apple pie with quinoa flour. We have gotten in the habit of using substitutes in our baking and cooking but it can be especially important not to eat any more of the white stuff after a candy binge.

Ginger – Ginger warms you up so fast you think you might be having a hot flash. That is of course why it works so well. It raises your body temperature and fights off viruses and prevents them from replicating. It is also anti-inflammatory and it supports our immune system.

Elderberry – This amazing herb is an anti-viral and it helps to fight viruses by warming your body temperature. It also has strong antioxidant properties that boost the immune system. You can make your own or you can buy it in the form of Sambucol.

If your reduced immunity does contribute to a cold, it’s most important to stay hydrated. Plain filtered water and sodium-light broths and may help reduce congestion.

Exercise – Mom and Dad go the gym but the kiddos need an extra dose of exercise after all that candy to. This is easily accomplished with neighborhood walks (most evenings for a couple weeks) and hiking at our nearby park system on the weekends. Exercise really boosts our immune system.

Plenty of Rest – After an event like Halloween we send the kids to bed earlier so they can get plenty of rest… their little bodies need it. All week long they are required to hit the sack an hour earlier than usual and this gives their immune system a chance to recover from the shock of all that sugar. Just wake a kid up for school the day after Halloween and see how much the extra rest was needed. A child after a sugar binge can be downright terrifying.

How will you keep your kids healthy AFTER Halloween?

Related: Cold School Remedies for Winter Illness

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

11 Comments