Creating Family Traditions

My son frosting his dad’s birthday cake that he practically made by himself, while my daughter looks on and sneaks in a few sugary licks.

While I was growing up, there were certain things I could always count on. Birthdays meant my huge extended family gathering together for a celebration. Saturdays signified long reading sessions with mom and brother. Every Sunday, my mom spent hours in the kitchen making us a special brunch, which we happily polished off in minutes. And Santa and the Tooth fairy could always be counted on to visit.

Contrary to popular belief, family traditions don’t have to be age-old, elaborate or planned. By repeating things you enjoy doing with the ones you love, you automatically create comforting rituals.

Although my husband and I live oceans away from our parents and extended family, I think we are still rich in little rituals, which all of us eagerly look forward to. Some of our traditions are borrowed, while the rest are created by us.

Here are some of our traditions:

Birthday cakes are homemade with the kids assisting. My grandmother taught me how to bake, and I am passing it on to my kids.

We celebrate our wedding anniversary at Red Lobster every year. The restaurant has a special meaning for us from our dating days.

Dinners are always eaten together at the dining table. It is our special time to catch up with each other. We borrowed this tradition from my husband’s side of the family.

My husband reads to the kids almost every single night.

On most Saturday mornings, we head to the gym, then to lunch and then somewhere else fun.

Saturday nights also mean putting the kids to bed on time and enjoying “date night” with my husband.

Every winter, my husband and my son play Christmas carols and decorate our Christmas tree. They also take the tree down together after the first of the New Year.

On Christmas Eve, after the kids are tucked in, my husband and I enjoy a drink and wrap presents from ‘Santa.’

My kids enroll in the summer reading program at the library every year.

We play soccer in the spring and take swimming lessons in the summer.

What are some of your family traditions?

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Of Obstinate Viruses and Anxious Parents

Parenting, most everyone would agree, has its share of challenges. For me, the toughest parts of raising a four-year-old and a toddler aren’t the sleepless nights or the tantrums. Those are a piece of cake compared to helplessly watching my children battle through their illnesses.

At the start of the summer vacation, just two weeks ago, my four-year-old son, my toddler and I enthusiastically left the house at 8:30 a.m. each day. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves by frequenting the gym, the library, the park and the mall.

I thought it was the perfect way to spend the summer break before we embarked on our six-week-long vacation to India.

But things went downhill fast. My daughter developed a fever, and as it happens with most siblings, my son caught it, too. While my baby girl recovered in three days, my son’s viral infection became progressively worse.

His fever spiked every couple of hours, and he couldn’t keep his medications down. Seven days later, there still seemed to be no relief in sight. As I thrust my son into the shower, yet again, in a desperate bid to lower his temperature, I couldn’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes.

Although I always hoped to be a pillar of strength for my children, I found myself failing miserably.

A little later, as I held my little boy on my lap and sung him his favorite lullaby, it dawned on me that there were parents and children who faced far worse.

Suddenly, I was grateful that we were only dealing with an obstinate virus infection.

My newfound optimism and gratitude carried me through our middle-of-the-night E.R. visit, and I actually managed to cheer up my brave boy through all the poking and the prodding at the hospital.

Yesterday, I only gave my little boy his medication thrice, and he actually managed to regain part of his appetite. He is on his way to recovery, as are my husband and I.

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Quick, Healthy Smoothies

Whipped up in minutes, healthy smoothies can be enjoyed by kids and adults

Strawberry banana smoothie

I recently discovered the joy of nutritious smoothies that can be whipped up in minutes, making it a perfect breakfast or snack for people on the go.

Even my fussy kids slurp up their smoothies with gusto.

Healthy smoothies are also beneficial for those who would like to lose weight because the concoctions leave you feeling full for hours.

But experimenting with smoothies is fun, too. Usually smoothies contain a combination of fruit, vegetables, milk and/or yogurt. For an extra boost, you can add peanut butter, wheat germ, oatmeal and ground flax seeds to your drink.

If you are not on the smoothie bandwagon already, give these a try:

Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie

Although I am not a huge banana fan, this smoothie is one of my favorites. I adapted the recipe from fellow blogger, PushDumpFatButton. The peanut butter in the smoothie cuts out the overt banana taste, and the concoction ends up tasting like a rich dessert.

1 1/2 tbsp. peanut butter (I prefer using all-natural peanut butter)

1 medium-sized ripe banana

3 cubes of ice

3/4 cup of skim milk

Blend all the ingredients together and enjoy.

(You can experiment with the consistency of the smoothies by adding or reducing the amount of milk used.)

Avocado Smoothie

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated oils, potassium and Vitamin A. The creamy smoothie tastes like a coconut drink, and it keeps one filled for hours.

1 large ripe avocado

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons honey

Cut and peel avocado. Remove pit from both halves, blend with milk  and honey.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

1 ripe banana

1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries

Few cubes of ice

1 1/2 cups of milk

Blend ingredients together and enjoy.

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Free from the Excessive Television Trap

Sid the Science Kid and the rest of his crew.

“You must cut down on your child’s screen time,” I remember uttering enthusiastically at the hundreds of parent-teacher conferences, I conducted. As a teacher, I was well aware of the hazards of children spending excessive time watching television and playing video games.

To read about the detrimental effects of too much television on kids, see: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html#

And as s a new parent, I intended to keep my son away from the lure of television. My son’s pediatrician further strengthened my view by informing us that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no television until the age of two. I, myself, turned on the television only after my son went to bed.

Our daily routine involved going through at least ten books. In addition, I worked with my little boy on his colors, numbers, shapes and letters. I also took him for soccer and swimming lessons.

Not wanting to be too rigid, after the age of two, I introduced my kid to 30 minutes of educational cartoons. He learned about the concepts of estimation, elasticity and measurement from Sid the Science Kid. Moderation works, I thought.

But things changed drastically after the birth of my daughter. Unable to devote the same quantity of time to my son, I succumbed to propping him up in front of the television set for longer periods, so I could peacefully squeeze in a shower or get a few minutes of shut- eye while my baby slept.

However, even the world of educational cartoons proved to be more enticing than I expected. Getting him to leave the house became a challenge because he didn’t want to miss his television shows. Desiring to limit his television time, I enrolled him in pre-school.

But even taking him to pre-school was challenging because he would want to watch his cartoons prior to leaving!

When my daughter was a few months old, and I finally managed to get a handle on my new life with two young kids, I began to mitigate my son’s television time.

Melissa and Doug’s Solar System Puzzle

To this end, I took the kids to places like the park, the library, and the gym.  I also began working with my son again. Since he enjoyed reading, I introduced him to books on CD. He loved listening to audio stories, which added to his already strong vocabulary. I also beefed up his puzzle collection.

Gradually, he began to realize that there were far more interesting things in the world to explore rather than just sitting in front of the television set.

Although limiting my son’s screen time took longer than I imagined, I finally managed to decrease his television time to no more than an hour after he finished his reading and math work.

Recently, the kid enthusiastically gave up his allocated television hour to work on his 48-piece Solar System puzzle. And I heaved a sigh of relief!

For more information on how to reduce your child’s screen time, see:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/reduce-screen-time/tips-to-reduce-screen-time.htm

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Mealtime Battles

Even the flower-shaped, open-faced peanut butter sandwich failed to impress.

I enjoy practically every moment of my extended hiatus from the work world, except for mealtimes with my kids. Mealtimes and the battles that ensue make me want to head for the hills, or at the very least run back to my career.

Both my kids hardly eat. “Go down, go down,” my toddler repeats insistently after a few bites. After all, dragging a child-sized chair all over the place to explore things that are out of reach is far more entertaining than something as mundane as eating lunch! My four-year-old is also ever-ready to hop off his chair to attend to more pressing matters, like perfecting his latest invention, leaving me fretting about their calorie intake.

I don’t need a psychologist to tell me my fixation with their eating and drinking stems from the fact that my son was diagnosed with “failure to thrive,” when he was less than a week old.

My memories of the first several months of my son’s life hardly include relaxing and holding him, or feeling his warmth and inhaling his sweet baby smell.

Instead, I remember nursing, pumping, supplementing, and anxiously counting the number of diapers he wet and soiled amidst the haze of those sleepless nights. I also remember coaxing him to drink one more ounce of his milk, so that he’d weigh a little more at his dreaded well-baby checkup.

In fact, the impact and the guilt associated with those three powerful words, “failure to thrive” continued to haunt me when I gave birth to my daughter, almost three years later.

Although she gained weight slowly, at each well-baby visit, her pediatrician insisted I feed her more. “She has to have at least 25 oz of milk every day,” her doctor said. My daughter responded by shaking her head and tightly clamping her mouth shut after 18 oz of milk. There was no getting past her closed mouth, and on the rare occasions that I managed to get her to drink more, she would throw up!

At four years and eighteen months respectively, my children have graduated to the 25th percentile in weight. Their doctor finally conceded that their weight could be related to their genes. My mom and I can only be described as petite. My husband is five feet eight inches. Surely, I can’t expect my kids to be huge?

In spite of realizing that we aren’t genetically predisposed to be big, I still spend a bulk of my day cajoling them to drink one more sip of their fluids or eat one more bite of their meals. And while I no longer have to note the amount of liquids they drink, I could give you a pretty accurate figure, anyway.

But my struggles with getting my children to eat remind me of my own childhood. I distinctly recall my dad telling me how happy he felt when he saw me eat. “I feel like the food is going into my tummy,” my dad remarked.

Today, as a mother, I can totally identify with my father’s words. I grew up fine, in spite of my picky eating habits as a child. I suspect my kids will, too.

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Minimize Toy Clutter and Clean-Up Time

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The kids work/toys displayed on shelves for easy access.

The most widely used room in our home is the living room, which functions as the hub of activity for the kids. Keeping my space constraints in mind, I created a low-investment nook for them.

The Montessori Method, which I taught for years, came in handy while fashioning the play/work area for my preschooler and toddler.

According to the Montessori Philosophy, which focuses on fostering independence in children, toys should be grouped together on low shelves rather than toy boxes.

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My toddler putting a puzzle back on the shelf.

The Montessori Method also recommends rotating the toys at regular intervals. Although changing and storing the toys involves a little more work for the parents, the advantages are well worth the effort:

  1. Clutter is minimized.
  2. Clean up is easier and faster.
  3. The kids don’t get bored because their toys are periodically rotated.

My preschooler, peacefully, perusing through a book.

My favorite part of their nook is the sling bookcase that houses just a few books at a time, making it easier for the kids to scan for books. Now, if only I could get my toddler to stop climbing the bookcase.

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At-Home Workouts to Promote Optimism

A recent study, conducted by Gallup, concluded that stay-at-home moms have it tougher in the positivity department than their working counterparts. According to the study, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be depressed than mothers who are employed.

Link: http://www.gallup.com/poll/154685/Stay-Home-Moms-Report-Depression-Sadness-Anger.aspx

But stay-at-home mom or not, everyone could do with a dose of healthy optimism. One of the ways I stay positive is through exercise. In fact, on the days that I don’t workout, I feel less energetic and irritable. Fortunately for me and my family, I get my regular fix of Yoga and Body Pump classes at the gym.

But there are days when going to the gym isn’t an option. Like last week, when my preschooler caught a virus, which forced us to stay home. So, I ended up revisiting my home workout DVD’s.

Here is a list of my favorite at-home workouts:

Walk Away the Pounds Express by Leslie Sansone

I lost all my baby weight, the first time around, with the help of this DVD. The innocuous looking stretchy band that is included with the DVD does amazing things to tone muscle.

The workouts are led by young women, fabulously fit grandmothers and a 70-year-old man. The best part of this easy to follow workout is that you can choose the number of miles you want to walk.

However, the music on the DVD leaves much to be desired. I set Pandora on Katy Perry Radio while working out.

Walk Slim: 5 Really Big Miles by Leslie Sansone’s

This faster-paced DVD has a more contemporary feel to it, and the music is peppier than her previous one.

At this point, I can’t imagine doing the whole five miles, but I pick and choose what I want to do – interval training, strength training, fast mile etc. The steps, again, are easy to follow.

My toddler and preschooler often join me when I use this DVD.

A.M. and P.M Yoga by Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden

The duration of each of these workouts is about 15-20 minutes. The A.M. stretches leave me calm, peaceful, centered and energized. It’s a great way to start the morning.

But they are beginner level workouts, which are not as challenging as my regular yoga class.

I also don’t recommend doing this workout when the kids are around. It’s kind of hard to stretch and relax with a toddler parked on your tummy. I learned that the hard way.

How do you stay positive, healthy and fit when you are stuck indoors?

What are your favorite at-home workouts?

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