“what day is it?”

Tv-television-clipart-free-clipart-imagesBesides wondering if it’s a school day or a stay-home day, there’s only one reason I’m asked “what day is it?” It’s usually the wee one (though now he often already knows what day it is because he’s learning these things in Primary) and he’s asking because he wants to know if it’s a screen day.

In our home, the only screen days are Friday and Saturday. It’s not just video games, but it includes TV, too. Five days per week are completely screen free. (And by completely, I mean while the kids are awake because tired parents need their Netflix, amiright?)

On Friday, we have Pizza Friday Family Movie Night religiously. (Like one time I dared to suggest we barbecue instead of pizza and I faced a three-man revolt. Lesson learned.) And the kids often like to play Wii together on Saturdays.

When we first started the screen rules, the kids would make a beeline to the Wii as soon as we got home on Friday and often first-thing in the morning on Saturday. But over time, their feeling of urgency about maximizing screen time has faded. In fact, on a recent Saturday, when the kids had spent all morning colouring, playing Lego and adventuring outside, Mike mentioned quietly, “I kinda feel bad that they’ve forgotten that they can play video games today.”

They admittedly get joy from playing Wii or watching a show, but here’s the thing. The kids are cranky when they’ve had too much screen time. They argue with each other (and us) more, they listen less, they forget their manners more and they’re generally irritable. It took us a long time to realize the cause, but once we did, we made a big change.

It was inspired initially by my brother- and sister-in-law who had a screen-free day for their teens on weekends, which is a pretty big deal when you’re dealing with teens. At the time, we were completely inspired and quickly implemented that in our house.

And you know what happened? Those days became our favourite days. Making a big weekend breakfast became a family affair, we all spent more time together, we did things we wouldn’t normally have experienced and we were all in (relatively) good moods. (I wrote about those first blissful screen-free days here, which was almost two years ago to the day).

We stuck with the one-day-per-week plan for many months, but we started to slack on the rules from time to time and inevitably, our screen-free day went by the wayside. Shortly thereafter, Mike and I were struggling with some of the kids’ behaviours and we had a bit of an ah-ha moment. We quickly did a 180 on our screen laxity and decided to try a more intense method by turning it around to be two screen-allowed days per week.

This is where I need to stop and clarify that our kids can be cranky and pick on each other and lose their manners and forget some of their best virtues on any day and at any time. I’m not, by any means, suggesting that screens are the sole culprit. Also, what works for our family may not work for yours and vice versa, of course.

That said, this really does works for our family. Even the kids see it and feel it now. When we gently suggest that they’ve had enough, they quickly agree rather than getting upset or fighting with us as we hit the power button.

It freaks me out a little, if I’m honest, to know what a hold my screen can have on me, let alone thinking about what kind of impact it has on the kids. I read an article (yes, on a screen) in which they talked to a teen who spends 30% of her day on her phone (we’re not even talking about TV time), which would equate to 9.5 years of her lifetime.

So, with a lifetime of screen time ahead, if we can spend a few more days without screens at this juncture without too much protest, I think we’ll go with that.

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homemade halloween

You’d be wrong if you’re assuming that, for Halloween, Jacob will be Luigi (the taller one) and Isaac will be Mario (the shorter one). It’ll be the other way around. Why? Because we bought thrift-store hats for their DIY costumes and the green one fit the wee one better, so that’s how they decided. The best part of the hats, at $0.99 each on 50% off day, I scored them both for a buck.

When they told me that they’d like to be Mario and Luigi, I thought it’d be they’d be the simplest costumes to make. Overalls, red and green shirts and caps, a little crafty monogramming, gloves and stick-on moustaches. But I soon realized that is no longer 1995 and finding overalls to fit a seven year old is easier said than done. After a few thrift-store stops, I found a pair for Isaac, that are actually size 3T because he really is the wee one, even though he’s nearly five. It took an extra week or two, a few unfruitful Facebook pleas and finally a miracle thrift-shop find to get a pair for J. They’re size 10 so I had to cut about six inches off the legs and for my skinny-jeans-loving kid, we had to pin the legs to make them feel a little less like parachute pants. In the end, it worked out perfectly.

They’re using red and green shirts they already had, just worn backward to hide the patterns. For the best hold on the monogrammed Ls and Ms, I used my hot glue gun with fun foam, which means the parts of these overalls are now permanent costumes and will be put into the costume closet for future dress-up fun. Then, it all came together in a neat little bow when Miss Allie scored the gloves at Party City.

 

Total out-of-pocket expense: ~$10
Difficulty: Easy
Satisfaction mom feels with these super easy homemade costumes: Priceless

friday favourites

The best cookies ever: I have made countless chocolate chip cookie recipes over the years. Easily dozens, maybe hundreds. I bake more or less weekly and I try new recipes constantly. (I did a six-recipe quest in 2010 on my old blog actually. Here are the results: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6, in case you want to journey back). Suffice it to say, I’ve been at this for a while.

Well, I’m very happy to tell you that my search is over. For real. THIS is the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. Pure and simple. I’ve made it several times over the past month or two and they’ve turned out perfectly each time. There’s a special trick though and since we’re friends, I will tell you. Rather than the full amount of chocolate chips, I use half chocolate and half salted caramel chips. You’re welcome.

If this doesn’t make your Friday happy, I don’t know what will.

the expense of it all

Life is expensive. I ramble about inflation and taxes and cost of living in general, but you all already know what it is, what it means and how it can influence your day-to-day existence. I also know that I’m not the only one who checks to see if gas is going up or down in order to strategically plan my trip to the pump.

A recent online conversation with friends and fellow bloggers turned to the cost of kids’ footwear (my friend Heather wrote about it here). Kids’ boots and shoes are expensive and kids are hard on equipment — sneakers barely last a season, rubber boots leak, feet grow out of one size and into another in a blink. I have learned, like Heather has, that it doesn’t pay to cheap out on these items because you’ll only be on the hunt again before you know it.

I’m a super saver. Always has been. It’s in my blood. Yesterday, my mum texted me to say that she’d found a gift for me that was regularly $100 and she only paid $7. For real. I don’t even think I care what the gift is — I’m more excited by the deal. And we are the kind of people that leave both price stickers on when we wrap our gifts — it’s a badge of honour and we’re quick to congratulate each other on these achievements.

On this train of thought, I decided to jot a list of some of my favourite money-saving tips.

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Stock up: Our kids are invited to birthday parties regularly, so if I had to go out and spend $20+ for each kid, I’d have to start skimping on groceries. So I keep my eye out everywhere I go for great items for cheap. I watch for clearance sales and stickers on items featuring the kids’ favourite characters, popular book titles, fun T-shirts in the appropriate sizes, etc. then I hide them away in a tote in the bottom of my closet. I can either gift these items to my own kids when occasions arise, or I can let them choose from my tickle trunk of items when they are invited to attend a friends’ party. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t cheap out on gifts. The value is always generous, but the out-of- pocket cost doesn’t have to be.

Flyers & price matching: The stocking up logic works for food as well, as long as you’re only buying the items that you really use. If you buy six jars of Nutella because it’s only $1, but your family doesn’t really eat Nutella, then you’ve wasted $6, even if it is only $6. I comb the flyers (the paper versions because I’m analog like that) each week and cross reference the sales with my grocery list (advanced meal planning and list making is key). Then I go to my Reebee app and click on the items I want from each flyer, which puts it on a list. I then use that list to price match, ensuring I get the best price for the items I need.  The best is when an item is on your list, it’s on sale and you have a coupon. I don’t coupon as vigorously as I have in the past, but I do grab any I see that relate specifically to my family’s favourite product, but I only use them if I’ve compared prices and am sure I’m getting the best deal.

Thrift and DIY: It helps that I’m crafty and I love to DIY, but if I can make it myself, that’s what I’m going to do. You don’t have to be Martha for this, you just need a free account to a little site I like to call Pinterest. The kids are being Mario and Luigi for Halloween and while the details are still to come in a future post, I’ll tell you that my out-of-pocket cost for both costumes was significantly cheaper than the $40-$50 (each!) costumes we saw in a seasonal Halloween store. Part of the savings on our handmade costumes was thrift shopping. I’m signed up to receive emails from local thrift stores, like Value Village, and I only go on sale days. That may sound cheap, but if I’m buying something pre-owned as it is, I want it for the cheapest price possible.

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Do you have some go-to money saving strategies? Jump over to Mama’s Manuscript on Facebook and leave your ideas in the comments. 

Jacob turns (turned) 7

I just realized that I lapsed in posting about Jacob’s birthday. The kid turned seven and my mind is still boggled at how that’s even possible. I remember thinking when turned five that it was insane – that he was half-way to double digits. Now he’s nearly three-quarters of the way to 10 and it makes me feel like fainting. Every year goes by faster than the last. Which is maybe part of the reason that I’m a month late writing about his epic birthday party.

We decided to let Jacob have an out-of-home party this year – the first in his seven years. I’m crafty and love to host themed parties and we’ve always felt it unnecessary to spend the extra money on hosting scores of kids for the celebrations. When he turned six, he was allowed to invite six friends to our house for a Ninja Turtle event. I made themed snacks, painted DIY turtle shells for his guests, Mike crafted a pin-the-mask-on-the-turtle game and we stuffed fun goodie bags.

When you look at that list, it’s easy to see that it wasn’t really an inexpensive affair. By the time you purchase extra groceries and treats, art and craft supplies, and all of extras that go into making the occasion special, the bill is comparable to any outside options at the pool or the movie theatre or the bowling alley. Plus, it’s important to place a value on your time – the pre-party clean up, the planning (time spent on Pinterest), the cooking, the post-party recovery. It’s a lot.

When I started to look into the local party options, the comic book store’s option seemed ideal for our video-game loving kid. He’d get to play games with his friends that we don’t have at home with Rock Band on Xbox, an original Nintendo on a floor-model TV (Duck Hunt!), an arcade game with 60 retro games like Space Invaders and Pac Man and amazing board games like Twister, Battleship and Perfection. In short, it was an amazing party for ‘90s kids like us to live vicariously through our kids. In addition to oodles of entertainment, the party included a decorated party space, takeout pizzas (with lots of leftovers that we got to take home), a specially made cake by a local baker (he picked a Pikachu cake and we got to keep those leftovers, too), staff to help facilitate all of the games AND goodie bags for 10 guests. It cost $189. We walked in at 1 p.m. and walked out at 3 p.m. when the proprietor insisted that we not worry about cleaning up. Talk about happy parents. And just look at these smiling faces!

It was a perfect way to celebrate our three-quarters-to-10 big man.

And don’t forget to check out Cape & Cowl Comics & Collectibles. Jay’s the best!

 

three little words


Not only did the big one let me smooch him on the lips this morning at the bus stop (something he hasn’t let me do since starting Grade 2), but he left me this note, hidden among the empty containers in his lunchbox.

Do you have any idea how many love notes I’ve put in this kid’s lunch over the years? Today, I didn’t even write a note, I just packed a napkin. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I have written him a note yet this school year. Maybe his resistance to bus stop kisses made me think, however subconsciously, that he was getting a little old for his Mama. 

But with three little words, he told me that this isn’t the case at all. And tomorrow, he’ll get two bus stop kisses.

marriage monday: the shoe game

14107617_10153879309261033_3157235520014336580_oWe attended a family wedding recently at which they played the shoe game. If you’re not familiar, the bride and groom sit back to back and each hold one of their own shoes and one of their partners’. Then they’re asked a series of questions to see if their opinions match or differ (by raising the appropriate shoe). It’s inevitably pretty funny.

Whether for better or for worse, Mike and I thought this could be an entertaining game to play with the kids (we didn’t play the game at our own wedding). We asked them questions about us and let them answer either mum or dad.

Who’s the better cook? Mama

Who smells the best? Mama

Who’s the better singer? Mama (at this point, I think Mike started to get offended)

Who’s the better driver? Daddy

Who yells the most? “Jacob” (Isaac’s answer); Jacob said “Daddy” (but then qualified it as “who yells the loudest” … then they changed their answer and said I yell the most. I don’t think I like this contest).

Who’s the tallest? Mama/Dada. They’re right. It’s a tie.

Who’s the silliest? Dada (this one shocked us both)

Who’s the best snuggler? Mama (Isaac); Dada (Jacob)

Who does the most chores? Mama (true story)

Who talks the most? OH MAMA! (that’s a direct quote)

Who’s better at video games? Holy, Daddy for sure!

Who is messier? Jacob says neither. “Adults are not messy really because they clean up their own messes.” Isaac says “definitely me!”

Who spends the most time on their phone? Mommm. Then they added Dad in, too. We are both a little guilty.

Who’s better at sports? Jacob said “Daddy” and Isaac said “Jacob.” (I’m not sure he completely understood the concept of the game). Jacob then revised his answer and voted for himself. Then a competitive conversation ensued and I’m not sure if dad or Jacob came out victorious in the end. There may be a tie-breaker game of H-O-R-S-E happening on the playground after school.

Who laughs the most? Jacob said “Mommy” and Isaac said “Me.”

Who’s the loudest? We all agreed in unison: “Isaac!” (this just became a family-wide game)

Who tells the best jokes? Jacob says “Jacob.” (And then laughed at himself)

Who’s the biggest Schuler (are you unfamiliar with what a schuler is? then you’re going to need to click here)? Jacob says “Isaac,” Isaac says “Dada.”

Who’s smartest? Jacob says “Daddy is smartest because he’s a teacher,” and Dad says “I think Mommy’s the smartest because she always beats me at Jeopardy.” Fact.

Who’s the stinkiest? Jacob! (even Jacob said Jacob)

Whether we agree or disagree, we realized that none of us are perfect and that it’s also pretty entertaining to poke some good-natured fun at each other.