Category Archives: Tuesday Tips

Tuesday Tips: How To Lobby Effectively

These are my notes from a presentation Jon Kyl made in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 21, 2009.  This is a great time to review all his advice again – it’s time to light up the wires!

Notes from Jon Kyl’s speech on How to Lobby Effectively – by Krystyna Robles-Bowman
You may share this post with credit back to our blog – thank you!

Always be very well prepared

It is our constitutional right to “petition” our government

Lobbying for a cause you believe in is not the same as being “A Lobbyist”

  1. Lobbying is essential for the good functioning of government

It instructs your “employees”, i.e., elected members of Congress, on your positions

Although you may disagree with them, if you treat them with respect you will get a better response

  1. Elected officials work for you, whether they act like it or not. Some are arrogant; some believe that you are their employer.



Lobbying has two phases

  1. Planning
  2. Execution


Goal:  Effectuate ideas through the political process

More good people will be in politics if you get involved


You do not have to make a campaign contribution to be heard

No soliciting/ suggestion of soliciting to your representative on public property


If you can get involved, it will help to get your voice heard


At the state level, four – five determined people can get a person elected

Best way to get your point of view represented is to get people with your viewpoint elected to office.


General ideas for lobbying at the federal and state levels


  1. Planning

What is the problem you are dealing with?

What are possible solutions?

What are your goals?  Understand EXACTLY what you want to accomplish

Do you have the right solution for the goal?

What are we really trying to achieve here?

What are likely alternatives for a solution?


  1. Execution – New Legislation

Decide on a campaign strategy

Make two lists: Assets/Liabilities & Opportunities/Problems





Assets                                                             Liabilities

What will it cost?                                             List the other side’s strengths & weaknesses

How will we raise the money?

Where can we get donors?

How many people do we have?

Who do we know – volunteers/media

Do we have key friends in the legislature?

How will they receive our argument?


Understand the lay of the land before you start the campaign

If you have an organization: Who can you use from within?  Who can you ally with?  How do you reach out to media for the outside game?


2a. Execution – Lobby a Bill

It’s generally easier to stop than to start a bill


Congressional Level                                                    State Level

When is Congressperson home?                                 Understand the rhythm of the body

Who are their key staffers?                                          -What is the schedule?

When are the staffers around?                                     -How do I get to see my rep?

Who do I talk to if I want a personal mtg?


For either the national or state rep:

  • Learn who to talk to – sometimes a staffer is better informed since they have specialties
  • Make friends with the assistants who run the schedules


Federal Level:

  • See your rep in AZ if at all possible
  • You can see a staff member – they are smart people, too
  • Will meet with people and associations from AZ in DC, but most of the time there is spent doing the business of Congress in meetings most of the day
  • Call office – make appointment with scheduler
  • Tell scheduler you are representing (cause), meet with rep for (time) about (cause), we urge a (vote) on bill (bill you are calling about)
  • Better if you meet with staff first
  • Common sense is your biggest friend when talking to office – BE NICE!
  • Staffers work hard – be nice and take the right approach
  • Be prepared – think about what you want to say in advance
  • Get to the point – assume and act as if you only had five minutes to communicate
  • Have clear reasons, be concise, don’t take more than 20 minutes of their time


If you have an opposite viewpoint:

  • If you have an opposite viewpoint than your rep, plan on crafting an argument that is twice as strong – you are trying to change their vote
  • Make it personal
  • Put a face on your position

If you have an opposite viewpoint (con’t):

  • Express your concerns about the bill


General rules for lobbying:

  • Be more prepared than the person to whom you are speaking

– Compare notes with other people involved in the issue

– Ask them what they have heard, be aware of what message is already out there

– Adjust your message accordingly

  • Think about and anticipate any objections – MAKE SURE YOU FACT CHECK
  • Be honest about the opposition, “The other side will tell you (x) – here is what we think about that…”
  • Have a very specific “Ask” – what is the outcome you are looking for


Always follow up

  • “How soon can we hear from you about (issue/outcome)?
  • Follow up on the answer they give you, “When can I call you about that?”
  • “Is there any other information we can provide?”


To lobby a member out of state:

  1. Find someone in that state who is involved in a similar organization
  2. Advocate and generate noise among all state reps – they will go to the member in question and say we can’t stand with you


If it’s really important to see the member:

  • The staff is trained to handle it – they will want to do it in member’s place
  • Insist on a meeting: “Well then, when can we meet them?
  • They won’t like it, so do it nicely
  • Be professional and courteous with staff


Alternate ways to communicate (if not in person)

  • Can be very effective
  • Keep it short, upbeat and constructive
  • Email: Great for short ideas, individually conveyed thought
  • Phone: Shows momentum and numbers. Light up the phones if it’s something important to you!
  • Fax: Quickest way to deliver a letter. Snail mail takes longer because every piece of mail has to be inspected due to possible eco-terrorist threats, i.e., anthrax.


Parting thought

  • Don’t lobby at social/political events. Remember that there are lots of people to visit and see when they are in their home state, be considerate of their time
  • Citizen lobbyist – different rules than registered lobbyist regarding “buying coffee” and where they can meet


Bottom line:  Being persuasive is pretty much all the same:  Let common sense prevail, PREPARE, STAY POSITIVE, BE CONSTRUCTIVE

Date Night Playdate

Today’s post was inspired by the answer I got when I asked a friend, “Is there anything else you want to do before your baby comes?”

Date Night Playdate
Parenting is many things. Couples who are committed to a healthy relationship know that time together to nurture that relationship is an integral part of the long-term viability of the partnership.
So what to do when time and/or finances might be tight?? Here is an idea: Date Night Playdate!!
How it works:
We probably all have 1-2 families we trust with our children. Talk to them about this and see what you can work out.
First of all, you have to make sure they are willing to trade childcare for date nights.
Things you might want to hash out:
Who provides the snacks? Does the host provide meals or do you pot-luck? Is it a sleepover or just an afternoon or night out? Are your parenting principles in alignment (Time-outs? Time-ins? etc.)? I am going to guess they probably are if you would leave your children in their trust – check for your own peace of mind if necessary.
Then, agree to trade at least one time. You might pot-luck for dinner and then one set of parents goes out on the town (or home for kid-free time!) while the other set of parents entertain. Then you switch next week/month/year…however it works out for your crew.
Some families may do better with a drop-n-go to minimize separation anxiety. And some trades might include 2-3 families so that four sets of eyes are watching the kiddos; and then all grown-ups get a little adult conversation, too.
Before you leave, clearly state that the adults in charge have permission to correct behavior if necessary, and that you will be back to get them at “xx:xx” time. Tell them you hope that they will have so much fun on their playdate, and then hit then hit the road. (If your children are time-driven, by all means pick them up on time, barring extenuating circumstances.)
Then go out – or go home!! Whatever suits your budget. You can make a nice meal together and rent a movie for a fraction of the cost of dinner at a restaurant and a movie at the theater. Or go for a walk…ride bikes…play at the park…those are free! Maybe you want to get some grocery shopping done without little hands to watch. Whatever works for you and that gives you time to check in and share affection with your partner – plan it and then do it!!
I would love to hear what works for you and what kind of creative date nights you come up with. Or maybe you are already doing this and have some encouragement to share. Please leave a comment with your thoughts – can’t wait to read what you have to say!!
Here are three different idea lists for “date nights in” and/or “date nights on a budget” – enjoy!!
10 ideas via mom365
10 ideas via the bump
Cheap Ideas via Valley Parents

Preschool Playdate: Make A Friend

Theme: Make A Friend Day
Date: February 11, 2016

— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme: Friendship and Making Friends
— Storytime
— Unsquiggle activity: Modeling Puppet Center


AH – thank you Frozen fever…and zulilly!! We got a few of the books on super-secret sale, and this one was perfect for today’s theme.  In the book, it shows several of the different friendships that happen in the movie, and there is even a page where two of the characters get along sometimes, and other times they do not.  It was a great point to emphasize in another activity we enjoyed for this theme.IMG_9745


We continue with our “sound box” theme.  Here are all the different things the children found that started with the letter “F”:
fabric, fan, fire truck, fish, flower, french fires, fried egg, fur



This was a counting and/or matching game. I made a concerted effort to represent children of all colors in these cards.  An article I read recently has made me more mindful about the images I am presenting to the children.  So I prepared these cards showing children participating in all different kinds of play, making friends and being friends.

The children could count and match to the corresponding numbered card, and also with the foam number.  The cards can also be used as a “memory” game, matching the correct number of children together.


Foam numbers by ALEX
Activity inspired by Preschool Plan-It

This was a fun one!! I covered our Discovery Table in butcher paper and laid out a grid, some ink, and a magnifying glass.  Each Sweet Pea that wanted to could leave their fingerprint.  Then the other Sweet Peas could take turns looking at each other’s fingerprints under the magnifying glass.  I had to move this table into more sunlight so that the kiddos could see some detail.


Activity inspired by Preschool Plan-It

Here is another activity we did: Puppet Show!! I printed up little cards of different scenarios that might come up, when it would be good to try to use words to work things out.  The Sweet Peas each got to pick a puppet and a scenario card with them to help model respectful behavior.


ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
This was a little crazy to execute, and absolutely worth it when everyone got to take one home!! I tried to keep it simply by only putting out two colors of ink that were pretty similar.  This “circle of friends” will be a keepsake to treasure when we pull out old artwork and reflect on how much our Sweet Peas have grown.


Activity inspired by Preschool Plan-It

We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.

Preschool Playdate: Hungry Caterpillar

Theme: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Play date: February 4, 2016

— Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers)
— Discussion of theme: intro to 5 signs the sweet peas could use during storytime
— Storytime: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
— Unsquiggle activity: butterfly life cycle


One of our students knows ASL and she and her daughter were kind enough to lead story time.  Before we started, they taught the group 5 signs that we used throughout the story.  We’ll check in to see if they remember what they learned when we start this week’s story time.


Our “unsquiggle” activity today had the children act out the life cycle of the butterfly.  I used three different instruments to represent different segments:

  • Knocked on a rhythm stick: caterpillar breaking out of it’s egg
  • Scraped the rhythm stick: caterpillar crawling around looking for food and making it’s pupa
  • Silence: caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis to transform and change shapes.
  • Tambourine: Butterfly breaking out of the pupa and flying out in the garden

To add to the activity, we asked the parents to bring a pillowcase and a scarf.  The Sweet Peas climbed into their pillowcases (scarf tucked in at the bottom) and were very still inside their “pupa”.  As they came out, they used their scarves as their wings, and then fluttered around the room.

This unsquiggle activity was a combination of an activity suggested in The Mailbox
Superbook, and one from THIS blog that offered Hungry Caterpillar lesson ideas.

Sound Box: We used the letter “C” this week.  It’s a tough letter since it doesn’t always have the soft sound.  In the future, we will use the letter “K” next to it reinforce the sound we are looking for.  Most of the things on the tray had the hard “c” sound, the others were placed on there to be the “no” items.

Our “C” items: Can, Card, Cat, Car, Clip,Clothespin, Comb, Cow, Crown



Level 1: Taking inspiration from all the food mentioned in the story, we had the children roll the dice and then “feed” the caterpillar with the number of items that matched the number they rolled.

Level 2: Have the children sort the food into groups. We did fruits, vegetables, breads, desserts, and dairy.



This week we had an activity that provided an opportunity to work on motor skills.
Gross motor skills: hole punching
Fine motor skills: stringing the leaves they punched on a string.

Once the sweet peas were done with their leaves, they could glue them on the “tree’.



ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
This was a craft idea I picked up at a story time at the mall.  Other ways to celebrate this story are to make thumbprint caterpillars with red and green ink.  We also printed out an activity sheet from The Mailbox Superbook for the Sweet Peas to add to the story.  The page asks them to draw other food the caterpillar tried to eat into the caterpillar’s tummy.


We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.

Preschool Playdate: Dragons

Playdate: January 14, 2016
Inspiration: Appreciate A Dragon Day

— Welcome song in English (emphasizes printed name recognition as Sweet Peas find their card in a line-up and place it on our Name Ledge)
Welcome song in Spanish (reinforces names as Sweet Peas sing to their peers) Skipped this week since we got a late start…everybody had to get back in the habit of getting out of the house on Thursdays 🙂
— Discussion of theme: Other animals with scales
— Storytime: Puff the Magic Dragon
— Unsquiggle activity: not necessary since they squiggled through storytime!!
Poem/Song before we break for Centers



I read selections from this book to the Sweet Peas. Everyone was so excited to see friends they hadn’t seen since December (the Peas+Pods – lol) that it was hard to get everyone settled.  Instead of reading the whole book, which is an illustrated version of the song (repetition of chorus every other page!), I read the pages that told the story of Puff’s friendship with Jackie Piper, Jack growing up, and Puff making a new friend.  I used the finger puppets to add interest to the storytelling.


I also shared the book pictured below with the moms in attendance as a suggestion for bedtime reading.  “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannet is the delightful story of an ingenious little boy, an old cat, and the quest to find a dragon.  The little boy follows the cat’s instructions to rescue a dragon, that then carries the boy off to new adventures. Jungle animals are introduced in each chapter, and the boy applies creative problem solving to get him one step closer to rescuing the dragon, chapter by chapter.  There is a hilarious rescue scene at the end. All of our children have enjoyed this book.


My favorite part of this center was finding a dragon font HERE.  It’s a free download…since we are a preschool group I kept it simple.  I am guessing we will find many more applications for this font going forward!

Activity 1: Unscramble
I had both upper-case and lower-case magnets available for the Sweet Peas.  They had to organize the letters to spell out, “dragon”.  Since the print-out is tucked into a page protector, they could also use a dry-erase marker to trace the upper-case letters on the page.


Activity Two: Trace or Outline
I used puffy sticker letters for a sensory experience. The Sweet Peas could start by tracing the uppercase letters with their finger tips.  I added the beans to the table so that they could work on their fine-motor skills, so helpful to help them hold a pencil or other writing/drawing instruments.



Can you tell I was puffy-sticker inspired today??  The cards were printed with dragons that alternated designs between the odd and even numbers.  I also added green dots to each card so that they children can start seeing the odd/even concept.  Finally, we added the puffy foam sticker numbers to the back of the cards so the kiddos could do more tracing.  I also added the “dragon’s treasure” for the Sweet Peas to use as counters.  Lots of ways to enjoy this Math Center today!

Activity 1: Identify the numbers

Activity 2: Order the number cards

Activity 3: Explore odd and even: point out the cards that show each set and ask the child to tell you what is different about the dots on the odd cards (always one dot left over) and the even cards (all dots are matched).

Activity 4: Trace the foam numbers

Activity 5: Use the “dragon treasure” to count out the amount to match the number on a card



Activity 1: Scale match
This built on the discussion of the theme.  I printed out images of animals with scales.  It let us talk about familiar animals (crocodile, snake, fish, chameleon) and introduce a couple of new ones (pangolin, tuatara).  I printed a matching set of cards with the scales magnified.  The Sweet Peas had to match the animal with it’s scales.


Activity 2:
Sensory Play: These are dragons we have collected through the years, plus Toob knights.  These could be buried and found, sorted, counted, arranged into epic battles…lots of ways to play with these.

What always fascinates me about the sensory table is that Sweet Peas of all ages enjoy digging in and playing with the rice and whatever is buried in it that week.  The toddler guests and my upper elementary helpers are equally entertained whenever we do a sensory activity like this!!


ARTS & CRAFTS ~ Make & Take
Taking inspiration from the Ed Emberley fingerprint books, here are some of the dragons the Sweet Peas and their imaginative Mama Pods created:


I also laid out this Melissa & Doug dragon vs. knight puzzle for the children to enjoy as they waited their turn or they were finished with all the activities:


We finish our Preschool Playdate with a sharing time: each child that wants to share gets to say what (s)he enjoyed the most about the morning.  We close with a good-bye song where children are welcome to give hugs.  It helps to set a formal end to the time together so that parents have a clear reason to insist that it’s time to go if they have somewhere to be afterwards.

Join us again next week when we share the activities we use to celebrate the birthday of A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

Making Meaningful Moments


Our family is transitioning to a new work situation for Daddy Bruss. While he is still mostly working from home, most of that time is spent on the phone so the Sweet Peas can’t pop in to see him as is their habit. His office has quickly gone from an open-door to a closed-door situation. He has also stopped eating lunch with us…and there may be some travel coming up this year.

They are already starting to feel like they are not seeing him enough. So, one evening when he was gone for dinner, the Sweet Peas and I had a good conversation about why this new situation was going to be a long-term benefit for our family, and how to make the time we do see Daddy Bruss more meaningful.

Through the course of the conversation, they came up with the idea of creating a “Daddy Fun Jar”. Instead of rushing through clean up after dinner to watch their favorite streaming episodes, the Sweet Peas all agreed they would rather do something fun with their dad. (Screen time after dinner is a habit that formed from convenience; I cannot say I am sorry to see it go by the wayside.)

They came up with several ideas of fun things to do with their dad after dinnertime. And, they got to experience what “brainstorm” means! It was so neat to hear their ideas and have them peek over my shoulder to make sure I was getting everything written down. It also afforded us the opportunity to talk about the ideas and get consensus…team-building 101!

I intentionally did not make the jars or the cards “pretty” or “fancy” because I know I see things on social media, and then I don’t do them because it’s intimidating to try and get it “perfect”.   I am sure that this could be done with a fancy printable label and beautifully printed and laminated cards…mine are old address labels from an obsolete printer and index cards from the dollar store, taped over with packing tape so that they don’t bleed or smudge when they are inevitably handled by messy hands, or if they land on a wet counter!

Here are the ideas they came up with:


I labeled two jars from our stash: one is “This Week” and the other is “Next Week”. We pick from the “THIS” jar on a nightly basis, and then we drop it in the “NEXT” jar so that we have an opportunity to run through all the cards once as we empty the “THIS” jar. Once all the activities have been enjoyed and transferred over to the “NEXT” jar, we will switch over the lids and the fun starts all over again.



The Sweet Peas have had so much fun doing one fun thing a day with their dad. They have had the opportunity to hear some of his childhood stories and have conversations with their dad.  These meaningful moments wouldn’t have happened if they were playing in their rooms or camped out with their electronic devices.

It has actually become the highlight of the weekdays.  I had a hard time convincing them that  we didn’t really “need” to do a jar card on the weekends when we had spent the whole day with him.

If your family does something like this, I would love to read what kinds of activities your Sweet Peas think of to do with a parent that they see less of throughout the day. Leave me a comment with your ideas!

Tuesday Tip: Household Help

Ah, the new year!! Lots of promise and commitment to home organization….ring a bell?  I am so encouraged by this new season of having four capable children that I am jumping on the home organization bandwagon lifestyle this year.

The idea for this started brewing when I saw my friend’s system for having her children help with chores around the house. She made hers super-fancy: typed out the chores, pasted them on colorful cardstock, laminated the cards…I am not very ambitious in that regard…I just wanted something that I could use for our Sweet Peas.

Daunted by the idea sitting down and coming up with a chore list, I did nothing.  Then along came a tweet yesterday, with a link to THESE amazing home organization charts from

I printed out the “Daily Cleaning Checklist” thinking that this would be a good list for my jobs to do after I finished homeschooling for the day…and then lightbulb!! Here was a good working list to start with for the chore rewards I had been wanting to do!!

So I sat down with my index cards from the Dollar Tree, a sharpie, and started writing.  I did not use all of them for the children…there are some that I want to do (sort mail) and some that are part of the daily chores they already do as part of helping out because we are a family (making the bed, clearing up after meal times).  I did put a couple of kitchen items in there so that the Sweet Peas would have incentive to really clean other areas in the kitchen after they had finished with the dishes in the sink.  And quite frankly, since little hands are typically helping with meal preparation (read: things get spilled), the kitchen floor can use a good sweep after every mealtime.

I started by making 15 cards so that each of my five homeschoolers can pick out three chores a day.  The expectation is that they will do their chores before our school day ends at 3:00 pm.  When they are finished, they hand me their cards, I check their work, and then record their daily “pay” in my planner as long as everything is satisfactory, or they get a chance to re-do it with or without my help as the case may be.  At the end of the week, they get to collect their “wages”.

And…I was so excited by our first day results yesterday!! I love having the house tidy, I love having the Sweet Peas help, and they are so excited to be earning spending money!  Puma and Busy Bee are saving up for their Europe trip, the boys want to save for Pokeman cards, and Otter just likes the idea of having money.

I hope that you are blessed by the handy charts as I have been.  I was also inspired by the chart on 31 days of decluttering.  After experiencing the loss of family members, and seeing all the work that goes into closing down their homes; and just the waste of energy and time trying to filter through all the accumulated possessions of our lives, I really want to get on top of this in 2016. I adjusted the 31 day chart for a year, and then every day THIS year, I will start paring down what we have.  I am looking forward to releasing the things that we do not use for someone else to enjoy who might actually enjoy them rather then letting them sit in a closet or drawer or box for another year.

Want more inspiration?  Here are some charts that show age-appropriate life-skills, kitchen skills, and chores from 30 Handmade Days:

Holiday Gifting Ideas

Four Easy-Peasy DIY gifts for children by children

As we enter the season of gifting, I have been searching for gifts that can be made from items that are up-cycled from things around the house, or that easily made from inexpensive parts from the craft store. I chose to share these four from the gagillion ideas on the internet because children can help make these gifts.  We made all of the gifts pictured below, and *all* the Sweet Peas were able to help either prep them, or assemble them with supervision.

Here are my top four finds that we will be sharing this season:

Shape crayons
This is my favorite idea – how genius to make something out of all the broken crayons that the children do not like to use when they color.

Find the tutorial HERE

We got our molds for $.99 at IKEA. Be aware that once you use them to make crayons you will probably not be able to use them for anything else. I thought about lining them with olive oil to protect the silicone a little bit, however, since it was my first time making crayons I didn’t want to run the risk of ruining the gifts we were making.

We used our curious chef kitchen knives so the Sweet Peas could help break down the crayons. Puma and Charger helped cut the crayons, and Charger and Otter created the color blends by filling the molds.

Hand Kites

IMG_0119 (1) IMG_0122

This is an idea that we got from our preschool curriculum. It consists of wrapping long ribbons around rings.  I couldn’t find the wooden rings I wanted in time to order them for our party on Sunday, so I used metal rings, and rings I made out of gold pipe cleaners. Ordering information for 3” wooden rings HERE and 3” metal rings HERE.

I am a bit of a ribbon fiend, so I broke into my ribbon stash to make the hand kites we gave away at our Open House on Sunday.  To make ours, I used five cuts of 1-yard ribbons to make each hand kite.  I folded the ribbon in half and put it behind the ring.  The fold made a loop, and then we threaded the ends through the loop and pulled tight.  Some were Christmas themed and others were made from my favorite color: pink!!

The 3” ring is big enough so that it *is not* a choking hazard, and it is big enough to be worn around a wrist or an ankle. We have used them to dance along with music, wave to make different shapes, or playing follow the leader with different arm movements.  When made with the wooden rings, they naturally become a teether for curious little mouths.

The Sweet Peas were able to help cut the ribbon, and they helped create the ribbon combinations.  They could also help loop the ribbon around the ring – Puma has made these several times when we use them in our preschool playdates.

Hair Bows


Alligator or Hair Clips ~ Beauty supply or big box store
Bows: make your own, or buy some bows from the wedding section at the craft store.

This becomes a little more economical if you can purchase the bows with a coupon from the newspaper or the Internet. The silk flowers we used for the bows pictured above were 50% off for the holidays – yeah!  Puma helped put these together with a glue gun – we had a lot of fun chatting it up while we were making the bows.

Toy Car with Possibility


This is so clever!! All children seem to have a toy car around, so adding to their collection along with a roll of tape to create a roadway is genius!!


Find a printable card to go along with the car and the masking tape HERE from My Sister’s Suitcase. It’s a fun rhyme that explains how the car and the tape go together 🙂


Image Source: My Sister’s Suitcase – please visit their blog for the free printable!

The Sweet Peas can get involved from selecting the cars, cutting out the instructions, putting the gift pack together, to tying it all together with a ribbon since most of them are tying simple bows since they know how to tie their shoes.  Is the bow going to be as perfect as yours? Probably not…however, they have the pleasure of telling their friends, “I made this for you”. That is priceless.

I hope this gives you some easy and inexpensive ideas so that your children can gift to all the friends on their list.  We handed out the first three gifts pictured today at our holiday open house – they were all well-received.  We will be making the car/tape combos to have on hand if we have other opportunities to exchange gifts this season.

Happy holidays to all of you!!  We have a two more play dates to share with you this year, and then we will be taking a computer break until we start blogging again in 2016. Wishing you and yours a blessed holiday season <3 <3 <3

Tuesday Tip: Favorite Mac+Cheese Recipe

I love it when our Sweet Peas get involved in the kitchen and meal planning.  Night Owl’s reading skills have exploded over the last few months. I found myself sitting with him at the kitchen table on Saturday night, reading through Catherine McCord’s Weelicious cookbook, definitely one of our favorites.


Next to a chicken finger recipe he wants to try, we found THIS gem of a recipe. At it’s most basic, it’s a four-ingredient dish, and it doesn’t require any extra prep* outside of measuring the ingredients.

What’s to love:

  • It’s easy to make gluten-free and vegetarian by substituting ingredients
  • It takes 35 minutes from start to finish
  • Easy clean-up: the rice cooker container + 3 measuring cups
  • It’s a crowd pleaser!
  • A child can prep it by themselves and proudly tell the family, “I made dinner!”

How we made it work for our family:

  • We used gluten-free pasta – the Trader Joe’s penne pasta held up really well and also reheated well
  • We used a vegetable broth instead of the beef broth called for in the recipe
  • We cut the salt
  • We subbed whole milk for rice milk
  • We did actually use a real shredded cheese mix from Costco 🙂

Night Owl and I made it on Saturday evening, and served it with a side of 4-bean chili (another fave Weelicious recipe HERE) that I defrosted from the freezer. YUM!!!

I decided to try it again on Sunday to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  Yes, it’s a legitimate win!! We are adding this to our roster of regulars.

As a bonus, I was able to steam broccoli to serve on the side in the steamer portion of the rice cooker while the mac+cheese recipe was cooking. It didn’t get overly cooked since there is not a lot of water to convert to steam in the cooking process – most of it was absorbed by the pasta in the cooker.

I hope you and your Sweet Peas will enjoy this recipe as much as we did! Leave me a comment and let me know if you try it, and if you made any adjustments that worked for your family!

*P.S. We usually make our own vegetable broth…if you make your own broth, then that would be a prep step! Since I was too impatient to defrost a freezer bag of veggie broth, we used store-bought this time.  Next time we make this, I will pull a bag of broth out of the freezer in the morning 🙂

Making Love a Priority

Here is a little “happy family” tip that will hopefully help you as much as it has helped me.  It”s a visual tool that has really helped me connect with each of my children and my husband on a daily basis.

It was an idea born from my “Mommy Day Off” while Otter was having all her tantrums. I realized that all the other Sweet Peas were acting out because it was the way to grab my attention away from the other child acting out. Talk about C.H.A.O.S.

This is my least favorite scenario:  my children are acting out, and I get frustrated and yell because I am tired or have too much on my plate, and then I feel guilty because I was Crazy Mommy, and they are scared because they felt aggression…that is a circle I definitely want to avoid.

When the Sweet Peas and my husband receive love in their “language”, they are acknowledged, honored, and then everything things to run more smoothly.  So what I did was print out a visual reminder of the 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. I put the chart up on the inside of my medicine cabinet so I could look at it every day while I brushed my teeth. I hoped it would remind me to connect with them daily.

It helped – kind of. At least I was looking at it every day and trying to meet everyone in their love language(s).

I did one little thing two weeks ago that has made a huge difference.  I color-coded it!! I used our dry erase markers and marked the chart so that not only am I reviewing the love languages, I am checking in every day with who needs to hear/feel/see what they respond to every day!! Duh! How did it take me four months to figure that little piece out?

Well, at least it did finally occur to me to make the adjustment…and it has helped immensely. Now it works like a checklist.  Everytime I wash my hands, I look at the chart to see who needs what, and I ask myself if I have I met them in their love language yet that day. If not, then they are next and I can check in with them before moving along my daily “to-do” list.

By making sure that my family is receiving love the way they feel loved every day, we are all operating from a much more peaceful place.  My biggest “button” (another topic all together that I will write about some other time) is “Love and Connection” – if all the relationships in my circle are tended and healthy, then I am at peace and feeling fulfilled.

Here is my chart.  I was a bad girl and just did a “copy/paste” of the emblems from the 5 Love Languages website, hence the grainy picture I am sharing because this is for informational purposes only!

Love Languages Chart

I am not sure how you will choose to create yours – there are probably lots of ways to make this much more fabulous! I would love to see what you come up with if you think this is something that will help you create a more peaceful home.  You can email me your creation: sweetpeafamilies{at}gmail{dot}com.