Back to School Tips & Helps

1608AlaskaParent It’s back to school time and the parenting magazines have plenty of good tips, information and inspiration for parents this month. I’ve rounded up some of my contributions to August issues that I think will make back to school better for you and your family.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your child’s academic performance this school year, you should check these out:

Help Improve Your Child’s Memory gives you 4 methods you can use with your child to improve his skill at memorization. They’re simple and sensible enough for any parent to put to work.

Exercise Smarts for Teen Brains offers strategies that teens can use to maximize the proven benefits of physical activity on brain performance. Have your teen try them out!

Studies say that families ought to sit down to dinner together, but how do you get the conversation rolling once you’re at the table? If your kids are anything like mine, they’re probably expert at giving one-word answers to questions about school, 1608PittsburghParenttheir day and what’s up with them and their friends. 21 Questions to Jump-Start Conversation gives you alternatives to “how was your day” that can enliven your dinnertime chats this school year. Like this one: “what part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”

Fall sports are ramping up, which means football for the boys and girls’ basketball – two sports known for concussion-producing collisions. Lest you think a concussion is merely a bump to the head followed by a headache, read the essay I wrote following the 9-month ordeal my daughter went through with post-concussion syndrome: Heartbreaking Moments for the Mother of a Concussed Teen.

My girls go back to school today. It’s the last First Day of School for me with my high school senior. I’ll be spending the day trying not to be weepy or sentimental. How about you?

Little Free Libraries, Bucket List Cooking & More

Before July is over, I wanted to share with you some of my articles from this month’s parenting magazines (plus highlight a bucket list-related interview I did).

1607RochesterGVHave the mailbox-type buildings with books in them been popping up around your town? They’re called Little Free Libraries and we built one to share our love of books with our neighborhood last summer as one of our bucket list pursuits. My article about the process, “Shh! How to Create Your Own Little Free Library,” appears in this month’s issue of Rochester & Geneses Valley Parent.

1607FPEdAppsThinking of downloading some apps for an upcoming road trip and want to pack in some educational value while you’re at it? Fredericksburg Parent features my “Best Educational Apps” in their July issue.

1607MauiFamilyIf you’ve taken a beach shot that looked washed out, or had shadows darken the faces of people in your vacation pics you know that summer photos can be tricky. I rounded up a few tips on the subject for Maui Family in my piece, “Capturing Summer’s Moments.”

Also, just last week I was featured in an interview over on the women’s travel site, Pink Pangea. There I talk about my bucket list adventures in taking a Tuscan cooking class in Florence, Italy. Check it out!


CoursePromoImageWant to bring your family closer by creating family bucket lists? I can teach you how. Check out my book in e-book or paperback or take my online course, now only $15!

Teach Your Children Well: Skills Goals

Teach your children wellWhen I was young my parents bought a piano – not because they were eager to play (Mom played some), but because they had a goal. And it wasn’t the goal you would expect. They didn’t desire for their children to become master pianists. Instead, the goal was simply for all of us to learn how to read music. We had to take lessons long enough to have learned to play with both hands – treble and bass clef – with decent proficiency. After that it was up to us to decide whether we continued.

Their desire to impart that skill made an impression on me. It made me conscious as a parent about what skills I wanted to invest in seeing my children master, that might fall outside the scope of an academic environment or basic life skills. Reading music is one. Downhill skiing is another – in spite of the fact that we live in a very flat part of the country (after all, it’s a sport you can enjoy into adulthood that is much easier to master at a younger age). Basic hand and machine sewing is a third.

This summer my husband had yet another specific skill on his radar for sharing with our youngest daughter: water skiing. A few summers ago, to her dad’s delight, Bethany, our 17-year-old, became confident at water skiing. But then Katherine, who is much more cautious, decided it wasn’t her thing at all and refused to try. Which left Evelyn. After years of daredevil tubing (“look, no hands!” she’d mouth at me while waving wildly as her tube bounced over the boat’s wake), it made sense that water skiing would suit her. She is ready to give it a go. So Mike has made a priority of finding a time where the two of them can get out on his parents’ boat (along with my sister-in-law & brother-in-law, to drive or spot) so she can learn to ski. That is his summer bucket list goal for Evelyn.

Have you ever thought about what skills you want your children to master that might take extra planning and effort? What knowledge or ability could serve them well in life? Are you proficient at something that others marvel over, that you could teach your kids? Or is there a skill you wish you had gained as a kid, but didn’t and don’t want your kids to miss out on? Consider keeping a list of these skills goals and actively providing opportunities for your kids to learn them.


Want to bring your family closer by creating family bucket lists? I can teach you how. Check out my book in e-book or paperback or take my online course, now only $15!

Are You Ever Jealous of Your Kids?

Are you ever jealous of your kids? Where you wish you could be doing what they’re doing? Or could have seen what they’re seeing when you were the same age? Do you look back with regret on opportunities you passed up in your youth and do everything in your power to make sure your kids don’t miss out on the same, all the while still secretly wishing you had the chance to do it yourself?

Are You Ever JealousFor the most part, these are rhetorical questions because I think any middle- or upper-class parent today (and often many with more modest means) experiences jealousy toward their kids’ experiences at some time or another. I know I do.

Just this week I felt a twang of jealousy as I took my twelve-year-old to her first day of Chinese language immersion. I love learning new languages. As a kid, whenever I would hear the nasal tones of spoken French, the rasping gutturals of German, or sonorous up-and-downs of Mandarin, I wished I could speak another tongue. At the park when new kids came along, my best friend and I would pretend in vain to be anything other than the Midwestern born-and-bred girls that we were  by garbling nonsense to one another. But what we hoped would sound like gibberish to them ended up also being gibberish between the two of us.

If only I’d been able to take Chinese language immersion back then… except that in actuality I only lasted through a few months of French in sixth grade. I wasn’t ready for language learning at that age. Not only that, but I did study Spanish from high school through college. While I’m not so adept at speaking it any more, my comprehension of Spanish largely remains. I also studied Russian for several years after college, including six weeks of language study in Moscow. I became fairly proficient in it before letting it lapse (there aren’t many Russian speakers in our corner of Chicagoland). And most recently, I had taught myself basic Italian using Duolingo and Rosetta Stone.

What do I have to be jealous of?

Those thoughts went through my mind as I drove away from dropping my daughter off at class. As quickly as it arose, my jealousy disappeared. But had I not been acting on my desire to learn another language all along and had I not gained those great experiences for myself, the jealousy would have lingered. In fact, as I stopped to consider why I was even the slightest bit jealous, I realized that I need to keep at my language learning. Because that jealousy was telling me that I’m not done with my passion for learning foreign languages. I need to add “learn a fifth language” to my bucket list. Or at least “become more fluent in a foreign language.”

The next time you find yourself feeling jealous of your child, listen to what that reaction is trying to tell you. It’s probably speaking to you of a bucket list desire that you have left unfulfilled. Follow that cue until you’ve isolated what it is that you should add to your bucket list.

Because once you do not only will your jealousy disappear, you’ll also be able to enjoy watching your child’s adventure unfold in a way that best suits them. You’ll find that when you put your own bucket list dreams in motion, you’ll free your child from having to live them out for you while you look on with jealous interest.

Photo by Vashishtha Jogi on Unsplash



The Appeal of ‘Just Once’

The Appeal of Just OnceA handful of years ago, when my daughters were preschool- and elementary-aged, I surprised them with a Valentine’s Tea. I set out my china, made tiny cucumber sandwiches cut in the shape of hearts, baked cookies, and brewed up some hot tea. When they arrived home at the end of the school day, instead of after school snacks, we sat in the living room and enjoyed afternoon tea.

They drank daintily, holding pinkies high in the air, sipping gingerly. They munched on sandwiches and chattered about their school day, being careful to place their teacups on saucers and wiped at their mouths with the cloth napkins I’d set out.

It didn’t take a lot for me to put on this special holiday tea for them. A bit of baking and sandwich making. It was a pure delight to me, something I’d been wanting to do with my girls since the first of them was born. And the effect was marvelous. They ate it up, literally and figuratively. I’d loved them by spoiling them with something different that Valentine’s Day.

We haven’t had a Valentine’s Tea since then. My girls still talk about it – it is probably one of their most memorable Valentine’s celebrations. And that actually is the point of it. It’s memorable because it happened just once. I had wanted to do it for them. I did it. We enjoyed it. And now it is a fond memory.

As Valentine’s Day approaches this year, I see where more moms could use a “just once” bucket list approach to treating their kids to something special. Because many of us get worked up about creating a great experience that we will repeat year after year. Which makes no Valentine’s celebration memorable. And it wears us out.

Many of us get worked up about creating a great experience that we will repeat year after year. Which makes no Valentine’s memorable. – Tweet This

So as you contemplate what you will do to love on your children this February 14th, consider this: what would you do if it was only “just once”? Is there a special way of celebrating you have wanted to do for a while, but haven’t (like my Valentine’s Tea)? Then ask yourself whether this is the year for it or not. Recognize that your children do not know about all the wonderful ideas you have that you may not execute. If you don’t have any “just once” Valentine ideas, then give yourself a break. Going overboard does not make you any more loving, nor will your children feel any less loved if you do not.

And if last year you made a terrific display of affection for your kids, release yourself from the need for a repeat performance. Let it stand on its own and relish the memory. Relax and stop beating yourself up over what you don’t do. Show yourself some love this Valentine’s. Even if it’s just once.

Ever done something amazing for your kids one time, never to repeat it? Or have you been wanting to do something special for them “just once,” but haven’t yet? Share your story in the comments.