Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Screen Time Tips with Netflix Canada #StreamTeam

We are off to a great start this year for school since both boys have THE best teachers in the school! All except for a horrible incident, we are enjoying the new school year and getting back in the daily grind of early mornings, packing lunches (grrrr), homework routines and busy weekends in the ice rink.  

Off to a great start this year!
One issue we wanted to keep in check was TV and electronic (video game) time. Keeping screen time to a minimum is tough as the days get longer, the kids need to unwind and relax after school and the weather starts to get chilly, so we have started to institute some clear rules to keep a great balance in our house. Starting back to school meant a shift in so many of our routines, so adding a few new rules about this, was easy on all of us!

Here are some of our new Back to School Screen Time Rules;

1.  No TV in the mornings.  
Mornings are a rush and the kids weren't focusing on their tasks, so we decided that TV was one more distraction we didn't need. The kids don't seem to miss it at all and in fact, we are less rushed, have a chance to chat about what we're looking forward to for the day and we aren't panicked to make the bus at 8:10!

2.  Set the example.
Paul used to love to watch the sports updates each mornings or turn on the game after work.  It was so automatic.  Now we set the PVR if it's an important game and limit our own TV time for after the kids are in bed!  It's a great time to start a new series like "Call the Midwife" or watch newly released films like "12 Years a Slave" on Netflix!

3.  Homework first.
Right after school the boys get a snack and I empty their lunch bags (yuck).  Right away, we keep the momentum of learning, by getting right into homework.  Heading into the 5th week of school, I'm pleased to say that most nights, it's not a battle, but an expected part of the day. They know that free time starts AFTER their homework is completed.

4.  Setting reading times.
As important as limited screen time is setting reading times. Ty could read all day, but Jayden needs a little push. Knowing that he has to read at least 10 minutes is now becoming a part of our day. 

5.  Enjoy the screens together.
The boys LOVE it if I can play their video games with them, watch their favourite TV shows or have a family movie night! Everyone needs a little downtime, so grabbing a blanket and watching a show with my favourite people is a perfect way to end the day!

6. Keep weekends flexible.
We have a crazy weekend schedule with both boys in hockey, so with all the ice time and exercise, weekends are a time to be flexible on screen time.  If we notice they have been on their devices or watching TV too much, we might choose to limit it, but mostly weekends are for everyone to do the things they love!

7.  Get each kid their own Netflix profile.
No more fighting over what they each want to watch and also the guarantee that the show they were each watching can be started in the EXACT same spot, is the perfect way to enjoy Netflix. When bedtime hits, they can stop their show and know that it will be ready for them after homework the next day.  Tip:  Be sure to add it as a "kids" account to limited what they have access to!

With the start of a new school year, there are also lots of opportunities for learning, here are some examples for the Big Kids in your house!

Have a great school year! 
 
      


     
7. Turbo
8. Shrek


Disclosure: Yay! I am part of the Netflix stream team (#StreamTeam) and have received product and a subscription to Netflix in exchange for writing monthly posts.  Already a huge Netflix fan, this is a pretty sweet deal! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

When your child is the target of racism at school

It happened.  I was hopeful that it wouldn't but realistic enough to know that one day, my boys would be told by someone that they couldn't do something because they were black. Even in our beautiful multicultural school and community, racism exists and my son was a target.

The other day in class, Jayden's friends were playing "brothers" (no clue what that is and neither did he) and two of his friends said of course he could play with them, while the fourth kid told him that he couldn't play "because he was black". Without a call from the teacher, I only had Jayden's story to go on, but I wrote her a note to ask for more information.  Her message back was that "it was being monitored" and she had discussed it with the boys.  Was that enough?  Had the other parents been called?  I was pretty sure they weren't.  Was this a classroom issue or one that both parents should have been privy to?  If I were that little boy's parents, I would be VERY interested in the chance to make sure my son was given the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson in equality. It seemed like this issue was not treated with the seriousness that I felt it should be.

photo credit: Presstv.ir

Race, colour, difference and even prejudice are topics in our house and it's amazing how instantly, my sweet seven year old knew that what his friend said, was racism. He told his friend it was wrong to say that and it hurt his feelings.  I'm so proud that he stood up for himself and that he worked to solve the issue with his friend, but would any real changes have been made in the classroom?

Jayden knows what racism means, we've talked about it often.  We have visited the place where Martin Luther King said his 'I Have a Dream" speech. The one where the vision of black and white kids playing together WAS the dream.  The vision of a better world, where kids looked beyond colour.  We've seen photos of white and "coloured" water fountains and we celebrate Black History Month where we can talk about civil rights, how far the world has come and how far it obviously still needs to go. We often talk about what racism truly means. If someone mentions that you have brown skin, that's okay, because for kids it's like noticing blond hair and blue eyes.  But if that colour of hair, eyes or skin means you don't get to do something, get left out or you are treated differently, that's racism.  It's fairly simple and our kids are so clear about how they want to be treated. On that day in the class room, Jayden was not treated fairly, solely based on the colour of his beautiful skin.

We struggle with identity in our house. Our boys are brown a beautiful blend of their parents but are they white?  Black?  Being biracial, actually means that you are seen as black in the world- that's the truth. When you aren't white, you are black.  Just look at Obama.  The first "black" president, even though he is also of mixed race.

Our world often makes no sense to me and to our boys, sometimes.  But we try to create an environment where our kids can be honest, talk about race openly, embrace and celebrate it. I can only hope that Jayden's new teacher can also see this opportunity as a chance to talk about diversity, different types of families, seeing people for who they are and not their skin colour and ultimately encourage acceptance and inclusion for all the kids.

 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Weeknight Meals Made Easy with Longos PLUS $100 Gift Card Giveaway!

What's the worst time of day during the week?  Is it around 4pm after homework and before the evening's activities when you realize that you forgot to take out the chicken from the freezer, the kids are starving and you have to race out of the house to swimming, dance or hockey?  Yup...making weeknight meals that are healthy, affordable, easy and a hit with my boys is a huge challenge for me.

I was really lucky to be asked to try Longo’s "Shop Once, Eat All Week" menu by their food expert, Emily Richards.  She has come up with recipes for 5 meals under $100 that will make feeding the family easier and affordable as our busy schedules start to get even crazier.

I had never done a "batch cook" before but I LOVED making the week's meals on a Sunday afternoon. Grocery Gateway delivered $100 worth of groceries from Longo's and we reviewed the menu, recipes and ingredients.  Even Ty pitched in (picked some great meal-making music to listen to) and it really went quickly and easily!  Who knew that cooking all afternoon could be so much fun!  

By modifying a few ingredients (like no spinach, beans or mushrooms), I followed Longo's simple instructions and planned our whole week of meals.  Some were prepped, some frozen and some split for two meals- super easy and the kids where excited to hear what was "on the menu" for the week!  We really loved the tilapia, roasted cauliflower and meatloaf patties, but the family fave was the amazing Chicken Chili with real chicken breast, not ground chicken like I've made before.  What a great and hearty meal with some delicious toppings and a side salad on a very busy weeknight!  Here's the menu below, and a fabulous contest so that YOU can have as easy a week of meals as I had!  

Enjoy and Good Luck!

Kids loved the meals each night, but Chicken Chili was the biggest hit!


Chicken Chili
PREP 10 min COOK 40 min SERVES 6

1 pkg Longo’s Sliced Mushrooms (we didn't use them)
1 pkg boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 to 3)
2 tsp Longo’s Montreal Steak Spice
1 can Longo's Petite Cut Tomatoes with Garlic and Olive Oil
1 tbsp Longo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1 cup Western Family Exquisita Mild Salsa
1/4 cup white wine or chicken broth
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (we eliminated beans)

SPREAD mushrooms in the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish, place chicken breasts on top.

SPRINKLE steak spice over chicken and spread the tomatoes over top.

BAKE in preheated 400°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes until chicken reaches 170°F internal
temperature and is no longer pink inside. Let cool.

CHOP chicken and stir into baking dish.

HEAT oil in saucepan over medium heat and cook onion, stir in garlic. Add chili powder and
stir for 30 seconds then stir in salsa, white wine and parsley. Add chicken mixture; stir in
kidney beans. Let cool completely.

PACK in container and freeze for a quick weeknight dinner served with salad.

Top with cheese and crushed tortilla chips.


Want to Win a $100 Gift Card to Longo's so that you can "Shop Once, Eat all Week"?  Enter this contest!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow Longo's Markets on Twitter and Facebook and try Grocery Gateway to save time and money with delivery right to your home!
Longo’s Markets are in the Greater Toronto area – see website for store locations
Random winner will be selected October 13th, 2014.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Year Without You: 10 ways to celebrate the birthday of someone who has died

I really love being the one that people come to for advice on how to honour someone they love, when they have died. While it can be difficult to relive our moments struggling with the same questions, it's comforting to know that I might be able to help another family think of a special way to honour the birthday of someone they miss. 

This year, on September 21st, it will be our boys' 7th birthday.  Four years since we all celebrated together. As I wrap my head around another year without Zack, I'm overwhelmed with memories of what it was like leading up to the arrival of our twins.  The joy I felt being pregnant, the excitement as were about to meet them and then the way the world changed just after Zack arrived. This year, Jayden will be opening presents, sharing cake with his friends and enjoying family time but how do we mark the day for Zackie?  How to we hide our sadness and grief from our happy birthday boy?  The question haunts me every September, as I find the perfectly appropriate way to acknowledge the day for Zack while not taking away from Jayden's celebration.  Certainly a unique and almost impossible feat but we've managed to do it for 3 years.


Turning 3. Their last birthday together.
Just last week a new Twitter friend (connected through the loss of our children) was approaching the first time she would celebrate her daughter's birthday since her death.  What could she do?  How could she acknowledge the day?  What were some ideas to do something in her daughter's memory?  I shared some of the ways we have celebrated Zack's birthday over the 3 years since he's been gone.  

Here are 10 ways to acknowledge, remember and celebrate the birthday (or death anniversary) of someone who has died;

1.  Send Balloon Messages:  Nothing says a birthday like balloons.  Especially when there are kids involved, balloons are the symbol of a birthday.  We love to take a Sharpie marker and write personal messages to Zack and then sing "Happy Birthday" as we send the messages (and balloons) to Heaven. We often leave an Elmo balloon at the grave on that day.


2.  Do what they loved:  Did you loved one have a favourite movie?  Watch it.  My Twitter friend watched "Rio" for her sweet daughter.  Did they love to eat at a special family restaurant?  Eat there.  Did they love a particular game or activity?  Do it.  We love to blow bubbles for Zack, as it was one of his favourite things.  It reminds us of the memories of family time spent blowing bubbles for him and watching his infectious smile and laugh as we tried to pop them.

3.  Visit their grave:  It seems obvious, but some people find the grave site a sad place to visit.  In our family, we have cried and laughed there.  We've had cake on the grass for our first birthday without him and we've let off balloons singing "Happy Birthday" beside his gravestone.  Our sweet friend, visited Zackie this week and made us realize that he is missed and remembered by so many others.  If you have a friend or family member who is missing someone they love, you might want to make that same visit so they know that person has not been forgotten.  It will mean more than you could ever imagine.




4.  Be with Family:  The most important thing after Zack died, was to just be with family on those tough days.  Take the day off of work, plan a special day out of the house or just host a small and causal day together with family or friends (make it Pot Luck, as you don't need the stress of hosting a dinner). Sometimes just being together is the best way to honour someone who is missed.

5.  Make something special:  Photobooks, artwork and even online videos are all amazing ways to share memories and celebrate the life of someone you lost.  I love to make photobooks for the boys and even videos or slideshows about our memories with Zack. It gives our family a moment to reflect on those days, cry if we need to, laugh about silly times and even share stories together. Write a blog post if you are a blogger, write a letter and tuck it away somewhere special or write a poem about your thoughts.  Sometimes we make treats, Elmo candy pops, the pudding he loved and I have even made Elmo cupcakes with the boys.




6.  Buy Something Special:  I love this new wall art that we bought at HomeSense.  Could it be more perfect?  There are really beautiful frames, artwork, printed pillows and even decorative pieces that might remind you of your loved one.  Was it their favourite quote, colour or a photo from a place they always talked about?  Buy yourself a birthday gift to celebrate a birthday of someone in heaven.




7.  Go away:  Our first birthday without Zack was painful and overwhelming.  We talked it over as a family and decided that we just couldn't throw a party that year.  We decided to take a trip to Great Wolf Lodge with my parents, my sister and brother-in-laws families!  It was just what we needed to be kind to ourselves, reflect on the day, have some fun and take our minds off of the immense sadness.


8.  Donate to a Cause that Matters:  Did you loved one die of cancer, MS, ALS, a Stroke or other disease?  Even a small donation in the name of someone you lost is an amazing way to celebrate their life and honour their birthday.  We are about to walk 20km for Zack's Dream Team in support of SickKids and I love that it happens the week after Zack and Jayden's birthday!  Our donation and our commitment to walk together is just one simple way to teach our boys about giving back, but also spend time with families who have been in our shoes.  We love the chance to donate money to SickKids on Jayden and Zack's birthday, but most we love to make a difference in the lives of so many other kids.

9.  Light a Candle or Leave a Chair at the Table:  One small act of remembrance is  perfect if the other ideas are just too painful.  Leave an extra chair at the table for the day, keep a candle burning or leave out something special to them or move a treasured photo to the main area in the house.  An unspoken guesture is often all that you have in you for the first year and that's okay.

10. Do nothing: It's okay to just do nothing.  It's okay to let the day slide by with no fanfare, special ceremony or acknowledgement.  Give yourself permission to stay private and alone with your thoughts and not worry about making any extra effort if it's just too hard.  

Above all....be kind to yourself.  Do what your heart will allow and nothing more.  Don't be concerned for what others may think, but what will help you mourn, remember and treasure the memories.