How to Battle Back-to-School Busy

For my family, the long, lazy days of summer are anything but boring. We stay busy during these warm months, camping and traveling and working on yard projects to say the least.

But compared to the controlled chaos of the school year, summer can seem downright chill. At least, as a family, we’re all on the same page in June, July, and August. Or in the same car. Or even in the same room. That’s not how it is goes once school starts up again. Come September, we all scatter off in different directions from morning until night, and it requires some major tactical planning for us all to stay connected and on track with each other.

File_000 (10)Let me tell you about the recent horrible, no good, very bad semester when I nearly lost my mind and learned a valuable lesson about maintaining my family’s busy schedules. It was early spring, when you just naturally want to be more active after a winter’s hibernation, and neither of my teens were driving yet. My son was dual enrolled at the local community college, with an odd mix of early morning and late night classes. He was also taking a driver’s ed course, volunteering at the food bank AND the library, working on his Eagle Scout project, and tutoring part-time. Meanwhile, my daughter was appearing in two separate theater productions, crewing for a third, involved with three afterschool clubs, volunteering at the library, taking voice and dance lessons, selling Girl Scout cookies, and had recently begun a regular workout schedule at the gym. On top of all that, believe it or not, my wife and I actually had our own work and leisure activities. The hectic and erratic nature of our four schedules was not new, but the sheer number of people, places, and things I had to keep track of was at an unprecedented level for me. It came as a surprise, but luckily I had habits and resources in place to help me settle in, even if it did scare me for a few weeks.

Surviving the busy work and school schedules of your family members takes some simple strategizing. I’ve found that a mixture of old and new technologies can bring everyone together so that nobody feels left out or lost.

Whiteboard
A centrally-located dry erase whiteboard is a must. If you don’t have one of these, of any size, on the wall of your kitchen, you’re missing out on an extremely effective means of family communication. We’ve been through several, some featuring a weekly or monthly calendar, some with attached bulletin board and magnets. In the end, a simple large blank white board with 2 or 3 different colored ink pens does the job perfectly, whether it’s for daily reminders or ongoing shopping lists. The board gives every member of your family pause to read or write a message that is important for all to see.

Calendar
A family calendar is also a must-have item for the wall of your house, if only to serve as a reminder that the days and weeks ahead are going to be busy ones. We use Google Calendar on our phones far more often to plan and coordinate events, but the old-fashioned paper calendar is an important back-up. Also, you get monthly pictures of kittens or Disney princesses.

Going Digital
The old-fashioned techniques still work well, but you absolutely have to bring your entire family into the digital age in order to stay connected these days. And that means everybody gets a smartphone. Sorry, there’s no debate about this. If you have a school-aged child involved in multiple extracurricular activities, and you want to remain sane, get them a phone for voice, messaging, and a synced calendar.

My family has a simple set-up. We each have our own Google account for email, calendar, and online storage. Each of our calendars is synced to the others and color-coordinated, so it only takes a glance to see where everyone is and what they should be doing. We also agreed to use one messaging service, iMessage, for family communication. My teens use other services, like Snapchat, to talk with their friends. Last, we use a locator app, Find My Friends, to find each other on a map. This comes in handy when my daughter is wondering how close I am to picking her up, but I can’t text while I’m driving to let her know.

Smartphones
For several years now, practically everything involving the management of the family schedule has gone through our phones. It’s one aspect of the omnipresent screen that I heartily welcome. Of course, one thing that isn’t so welcome is the huge wireless bill when you have a family of four constantly texting, emailing, locating, and communicating with each other all day long.

If a family-sized wireless bill is stopping you from getting everyone’s schedules sorted, there’s good news from Straight Talk Wireless. They offer easy, inexpensive, family-friendly phone plans. Just in time for school, Straight Talk has added more high-speed data to its unlimited $45 and $55 plans. Now you can get unlimited talk, text and the first 8GB of high-speed data then 2G* for $45 or bump it up to 12GB of high-speed data then 2G* for $55. There’s a reason that Straight Talk Wireless is the nation’s leading no-contract wireless carrier. They simply offer the best phones on the best networks for less. There are no contracts, no credit checks, and no mystery fees.

ST_WIRELESS_LOGOWalk into any Walmart store, or visit StraightTalk.com, for more information and ways to save on your family phone plan. You can set your family up with the latest smartphones if you want, including the Samsung Galaxy S8. Maybe start your younger kids out with something simpler, but don’t leave them out of the family connectivity. Get them used to communicating their activities now, and it will pay dividends later, especially during the teen years when kids seem to have trouble sharing much of anything.

As a parent, it’s extremely satisfying to watch your children pursue their interests, even if it seems like they’re going in a dozen different directions at once. An important part of childhood is trying things out, learning what works and what doesn’t, and developing confidence in favored pursuits. And an important part of parenthood is keeping track of it all. With a few simple techniques, you can save yourself a lot of stress and confusion in dealing with your family’s comings and goings. Most importantly, keep your family members connected with a reliable phone plan, like the ones offered by Straight Talk Wireless. There is no better way to stay in touch and on schedule.

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I have partnered with Life of Dad and Straight Talk Wireless for this post.

*At 2G speeds, the functionality of some data applications, such as streaming audio or video may be affected. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at StraightTalk.com.

Why Am I So Tired?

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“Why am I so tired?”

That’s a question I hear a lot. From friends, family, strangers. But mostly from myself.

It’s a rhetorical question, of course, because I know why I’m tired.

It’s called being a parent.

I remember a time when I never thought about sleep. When I could stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning, then get up at 6am and head to work with a focused mind and enough energy to get me through my day.

Then came children. And worries. Lots of them. And they only multiply over the years (the worries, but sometimes the kids too).

Now that my kids are teens, one of my biggest worries is whether they get enough sleep, as sleep deprivation is a huge danger to the developing brain of a teenager. Each morning I ask them if they slept well, and each night I remind them to go to bed early, turn off phones, and give their brains a chance to recharge.

I’m like the airline passenger who ignores the flight attendant’s instructions to “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.”

I keep forgetting to worry about my own sleep. And yet, that question persists.

“Why am I so tired?”

You can imagine how happy I was when Beautyrest sent me their Sleeptracker monitor to help me collect data about my sleeping habits, so that I can make some positive changes to my daily routine in the hopes of improving my role as a parent.

It’s really difficult to be good at anything when you’re sleep deprived. Even though my teens don’t need as much of my attention as when they were younger, one of them still relies on me for driving her to the myriad of activities she’s involved with seemingly every single day of the week.

Driving while tired is a recipe for disaster, so I was quick to set up the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor on my bed. The installation was simple. You place the sensor between your mattress and box frame and it magically monitors your movements, breathing, and heart rate through the night. The product actually comes with two sensors, one for each side of the bed if you share it with a partner. The sensors connect to a small processor that can sit on the floor, and then each night’s data is streamed to a smartphone app that you can download for free.

That’s not magic. Just amazing science and technology to improve your life.

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It’s an extremely well-designed product, much better than the invasive wearable sleep monitors that I’ve seen in the past. The Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor measures things like how long it takes to fall asleep, the various sleep cycles, body movement, and heart rate. It then makes suggestions on simple changes you can make to your routine to feel better rested.

The key, really, is to understand how you are sleeping, so rather than ask, “Why am I so tired?” you can instead ask, “What am I going to do about it?”

After only a week of using the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor, I was already feeling more refreshed because of the personalized coaching that the Sleeptracker app offers each day based around my sleep habits.

Something as simple as letting the product change your wakeup time by 15 minutes through the Smart Alarm feature can make a world of difference in how you feel for the rest of the day. I’m hopeful that continuing to monitor my sleep, and following through on making changes, will give me the energy and focus I need for on my parenting journey. #ISleepTo be a better dad.

Learn more about the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor on their website. Or follow them on Facebook. Don’t wait to get it for yourself, so you can stop asking that question, “Why am I so tired?” Even with everything a parent needs to worry about, there’s no reason you should be losing sleep.

I have partnered with Life of Dad and Beautyrest for this campaign, but my opinions are my own.

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The King of Soup Lives in Idaho

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Here in Idaho, to quote George Harrison, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. An above average amount of snow and ice has my family feeling the cabin fever. We want to get out of the house, and yet it’s not always so easy, so we tend to want to stay in. It’s a very real winter paradox.

One thing we miss about being snowed in for so many months is a fun family night out at one of our favorite local steakhouses. That cozy comfort food always tastes great on these dark winter days. I’ve always struggled to recreate that atmosphere at home, to serve up a juicy steak, loaded baked potato, grilled vegetables, and fresh tasty soup laid out on a table decorated with fancy cloth napkins, flickering candles, and the good silverware.

I’m not alone in this. A recent survey showed that an overwhelming 92% of parents wish it were easier for them to recreate the steakhouse experience in the comfort of their own home, and at a dramatically reduced cost. So, you can imagine how happy I was to be contacted by my very own state’s premier provider of potato products, Idahoan® Foods, to talk about their brand new line of Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups.

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These restaurant-quality soups are made with real Idaho® red potatoes and red potato skins. Believe me, we here in Idaho take our potatoes quite seriously, so I checked. We won’t stand for any of those puny tubers from Washington or Wisconsin. Our Famous Idaho Potatoes are considered royalty, so you can consider any soup made from them as the #KingofSoup.

After a successful steakhouse dinner with these premium soups from Idahoan® Foods, I can rightfully declare that they are, in fact, the #KingofSoup. My kids have even started calling me the #KingofSoup. But only because I told them they had to, or they wouldn’t get more soup.

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There are four flavors: Creamy Potato, Loaded Potato, Cheddar Broccoli, and Three Cheese Chipotle. My kids love them all. These soups are so easy to make. You simply add water to the package, heat it up on the stove, and within five minutes you’re serving a delicious, nutritious soup to your grateful family. Add steak, veggies, bread, and those fancy napkins, and you’ve transformed your dining room into an expensive steakhouse.

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So, let the snow pile up while we sit safely inside sipping our potato soup. I can be the #KingofSoup until spring at least. After that, I’ll still serve my kids Idahoan® Foods Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups, but they’ll probably be back to calling me “Dad” by then.

Check out all of the premium product offerings from Idahoan® Foods’ premium products at Idahoan.com and follow @IdahoanFoods on social media.

Idaho Dad has been compensated for this review/post, and all opinions are entirely mine. It’s really good soup, so go get some!

Superhero Days

Being a dad is tough work. There are down days and bland days. Every now and then, however, you get to have superhero days.

A superhero day starts off like any other, but then a situation or opportunity arises where you have to call upon every dad skill you know, and some you didn’t even know you possess.

You’ve been there. Maybe you crawled up a play place slide to rescue your stuck toddler, or you drove to seven different stores to get materials for a school project due the next day, or you made pancakes for dinner.

Superhero days are actually kind of mundane to most folks. To your kids, however, there’s nothing more amazing than a father who is willing to step up to do the things that need doing.

And what a great reminder of dads as superheroes than the new Marvel Collection from Cross Pens.

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These top quality pens feature the most prominent icons in the Marvel Universe: Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man. They’re perfect for those days when your to-do list is extra long. Seeing this cool pen in my hand as I cross chores off my list is a great reminder that I have it within me to be a superhero to my kids. Check them out here.

It doesn’t take much to be a superhero dad. Be present, be patient, and do what needs to be done. Your kids will look at you like you’re Captain America.

Thanks to Cross Pens for partnering with me for this post.

Eat Your Worries

It’s been a long time since a stuffed animal has impressed me, and that’s going back at least 5 years when my daughter went through a significant Webkinz phase.

But the cutest little creature recently showed up on my doorstep.

Worry EaterHis name is Flint. He’s missing an eye, has crooked horns and stubby feet, and sports a zipper for a mouth.

And he’s here to eat your worries.

Flint is one of the Worry Eaters, the colorful family of cuddly creatures that can help a child express their fears and concerns in a playful way.

Children are able to write or draw their worry and place it into Flint’s wide zippered mouth, so he can munch on it for awhile. It’s a great way to start a discussion with your kids about the things that are weighing on their mind. Even parents can get in on the act by sharing a worry or two and letting the Worry Eater hold on to it for awhile.

No matter how big or small the worry, it’s good to acknowledge that a problem exists. Giving their worry to a Worry Eater, and then sharing it with a parent or caregiver, is the first step that kids can take toward resolving conflicts and developing healthy coping skills.

Introduced by The Haywire Group, the Worry Eaters come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, guaranteed to be cute, cuddly, and very hungry. There are nearly two dozen to choose from, with names like Biff, Polli, Flamm, Saggo, and Pomm.

And choose you will, if you win my Worry Eater Giveaway!

Use the widget below to enter in several different ways. The winner will get to pick their very own Worry Eater to bring home. See the entire family of them here. All Worry Eaters are washable, either by hand or on machine gentle cycle, and made with quality soft velour. They don’t just eat worries, but they’re also pretty good snugglers.

No matter how big or small the worries, they are all important in the life of a child. Parents can help kids learn to manage stress and tackle everyday problems with ease using Worry Eaters as a tool.

Enter now, and I’ll pick a winner in about a week!

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Worry Eater Family

Baseball History for Kids

Babe Ruth

Opening day is less than three weeks away.

April 3rd is that glorious spring day when the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd gives hope to fans of every team that this will be their year.

The sights and sounds that give rise to that eternal hope have been ingrained in the American experience since 1845, when Alexander Cartwright laid down the first set of rules for the modern game of baseball.

For me, the great thing about baseball is the way kids pick up the essentials of the sport and learn to play it.

The game is simple. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, run!

Baseball may remain a relatively simple game, but the history of it has been anything but.

Baseball History for KidsRichard Panchyk’s new book, Baseball History for Kids offers a fascinating look at baseball’s complex and fascinating transformation into a professional sport that is now played all over the world. The author takes young readers through key eras and events of the game with engaging descriptions, highlighted by firsthand interviews with more than 175 greats of the game.

It’s a fun book to read, with loads of photos and interesting sidebar stories. The author makes frequent comparisons between the past and present, such as the fact that facial hair on players was unheard of for most of the 20th century. Or how today’s minimum major league salary is one hundred times higher than it was in the 1950s. Or that during the “dead ball era,” the 1902 National League home run champion had just six homers, all of them inside-the-park.

But the biggest kick you and your kids will get out of this book will be the 19 hands-on activities peppered throughout each chapter. They’re an engaging way for you to introduce the game of baseball to your children. Sit down and build a miniature version of your favorite stadium, or cook up some homemade Cracker Jack. Hold a contest to see who can throw a ball the farthest or the closest to a target. Teach your kids to keep score and to throw a palm ball.

This book is packed with fun activities to share with your kids. In fact, it’s going to be as much fun for you as it will be for them. You’ll easily pass along your love for baseball, while also sparking an interest in the history of our country. This book can be a gateway to further learning about World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the growth of the American West.

Thanks to the good folks at Chicago Review Press, I just happen to have a copy of Baseball History for Kids to give away to one of my readers. Use the widget below, and I’ll pick a winner next week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Selfie For My House

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We’ve lived in our house for over a decade now.

That’s ten years of raising a couple of kids and making incredible memories, while at the same time not really paying much attention to the health of the house in which it all happened.

So, I downloaded this free app for my phone, called HomeSelfe, that lets you easily evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. It’s like taking a selfie, but no stick involved.

Using it is simple.

After downloading the free app and setting up a brief profile, HomeSelfe walks you through each area of your house, from basement to attic, asking you questions about such things as insulation, appliances, light bulbs, and windows.

The process literally takes minutes.

When you’re done, HomeSelfe gives you a report on the overall energy needs of your home. It provides simple solutions, and makes recommendations for more complex fixes. It also tells you about rebates that might be available in your state or city. This type of energy audit normally costs hundreds of dollars, but it’s free with the HomeSelfe app.

My home’s evaluation came back as Very Good, although there were a number of recommendations for becoming more energy efficient. The app recommended that we:

  • Replace an old refrigerator
  • Install new weather stripping on a back door
  • Turn off electronics when not using them
  • Use more LED and CFL light bulbs
  • Get an annual tune-up on our furnace

It amazes me how much energy we waste in the US. Up to 60% of our energy is wasted each year, by some reports. Imagine if every home owner took the time to figure out all the different parts of their home that could be improved. And with the HomeSelfe app, it’s easy, so there should be no excuses.

The HomeSelfe app is also a great source for energy saving tips, even common sense ones that we don’t always think about, like using lids on your pots when you cook, or setting your thermostat one degree cooler in the winter.

Go and download the HomeSelfe app for your phone. It’s free, no strings attached, no in-app purchases. Take a few minutes to let it evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. You might just end up saving a ton of money on your energy bill.

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of HomeSelfe. All opinions are 100% mine.

Do You Want To Build A Snow Fort?

IMG_5229Do you want to build a snowman?

Well, no, not really.

Actually, my kids would rather build a snow fort.

A huge, awesome, epic snow fort. Big enough to fend off an army of snow goons and abominable snowmen.

Some people view winter as a time to avoid outdoor activities. If they aren’t skiers, then they prefer to curl up next to a warm fire on a comfy couch, hibernating through the cold and snow until spring brings them out into the sun again.

That’s too bad, because winter can be filled with awesome family fun. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, and it can even be right in your own backyard. Getting outside in the snow is a great time to make memories with your kids.

Especially the planning and construction of your very own snow fort.

Call it an igloo, or an ice palace, or a snow fort. Whatever it is, go beyond stacking up some snow, sticking a carrot in it, and calling it Frosty. Hey, building a snowman is fun, too, but an actual structure takes a lot more imagination. And, at the end, it becomes functional.

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My kids and I built this snow fort using a smooth plastic storage box to create blocks of tightly packed snow. We then stacked them up to about 4 feet, making parapets, windows, and secret doors along the way. They improvised as they built, and learned a few lessons about structural integrity. The nice thing about snow, you can change things up any time you want.

After a few hours, the kids had the idea to sleep in the fort that night, which they did, under a pile of quilts and blankets. I stayed out there with them, enjoying the warmth and comfort of our hand-built shelter.

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But as nice as it was, and as tough as I like to think I am, I would not have made it through the night without some help from Fisherman’s Friend, the strongest, most effective throat lozenge on the market. Originally formulated in 1865 for the deep-sea fishermen of Fleetwood, England, these extra strong, extra soothing lozenges are perfect for cough and cold relief. It’s exactly what you need to tough it out during the long winter months, when the cold wind seems to blow right down your throat every time you open your mouth.

I’ll never buy another brand of lozenge when I have a cough or cold. Fisherman’s Friend is the perfect all-natural menthol relief, available in cherry flavor and sugar free formula. They’re perfect for anyone over the age of 2 in need of instant relief of sore throats, coughs and congestion.

Whatever you do during the winter months, make sure you get outside. Build a snow fort! Okay, build a snowman too. Ski, snowshoe, dig tunnels, play disc golf, have a snowball fight. Just get outside and enjoy the snow. Carry a packet of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges and you’ll be tough enough to do anything.

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Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Fisherman’s Friend for this promotion.

The Afterschool Special Snack

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One of the greatest challenges of my years of parenting has been keeping up with my kids’ everchanging interests and moods. Their likes and dislikes seem to vary from week to week.

Especially when it comes to snacks.

Once upon a time, when my son was a toddler, a simple bag of baby carrots would keep him happy in between meals. As he grew older, his tastes became more complicated. And then simple. And then complicated. Continue reading

The Great American Tailgate

Tailgating at football games has always been a fun family activity for us.

27hs6we84mzwthm5rpg3For nearly twenty years, we’ve enjoyed the festivities at my alma mater, the University of Idaho, on sunny fall weekends in the perfect little college town of Moscow, Idaho. I’ve heard that the NFL version of tailgating is a tad more serious and mature, but I’m content hanging out with my fellow family-friendly alumni in the parking lot outside the Kibbie Dome. Continue reading