Tag Archive | Jennifer Ashenfelter

I Gave Up Drinking Soda for Lent

By Jen Ashenfelter

I know drinking soda is not good for me, but Coke Zero or Diet Cherry Pepsi have been my beverages of choice for years. Hi, my name is Jennifer. I’m addicted to soda. I love the bubbles dancing in my mouth…and truth be told, I love the sweet taste and quick rush soda gives me. And it’s diet, so I don’t have to worry about the calories. I know I should drink more water, but how can I give up the flavor?Coke Zero

Challenge Accepted

I decided to give up drinking soda for Lent. There’s greater success in achieving a goal when we are held accountable for our actions. So who better than God to keep me on my toes? I don’t need Mayor Bloomberg to help save me from my own habits, but politics aside, I think he’s got the right idea in limiting the sale of soda to something smaller than the size of a personal keg.

I’m proud to report I was successful—not a drop of Coke Zero or any other soda for 40 days. Not even a sip on Sundays when we’re free to indulge. I wanted to rid myself of the craving so drinking it every Sunday wasn’t going to help me. In addition to breaking the diet-soda habit, I thought it would help me drink more water. I can report that was an “epic fail.” I drank plenty of black coffee and green tea—I’m probably medically dehydrated and low on calcium, but that’s another story. Hey, small steps for big gains—leaving the water drinking situation for another day.

Health Report: Bursting the Bubbles

We’ve all heard how soda is bad for your health. I’m not here to make any judgments on food and drink choices, but understanding my choice to give up soda wouldn’t be complete without some background information. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control on obesity statistics in America, more than 1/3 of American adults are considered obese. Obesity rates among adults and children continue to rise. One contributing factor is the consumption of sugary drinks like soda. Add all the health problems related to obesity when listing the reasons not to drink soda.

Knowing that drinking empty calories causes weight gain, I’d drink diet soda with 0 calories. But weight gain and obesity are not the only health problems related to drinking soda—diet or not. Other health problems include:

  • Osteoporosis – one study
  • Fatty liver and metabolic disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart attacks

Heart disease, diabetes and metabolic disease are not good, but as a woman who drinks more coffee and soda than milk and water, I found osteoporosis the most frightening of the problems.

According to a WebMD report:

Researchers at Tufts University, studying several thousand men and women, found that women who regularly drank cola-based sodas — three or more a day — had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even though researchers controlled for calcium and vitamin D intake…Phosphoric acid, a major component in most sodas, may be to blame, according to lead study author Katherine Tucker, PhD. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral. But if you’re getting a disproportionate amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium you’re getting, that could lead to bone loss.

And let’s not forget reports on the negative effects of artificial sweeteners, sodium consumption and high-fructose corn syrup—but that’s another blog topic entirely. I felt giving up soda was an important goal for me.

The Big Picture

There’s a growing trend in turning to more natural foods instead of highly-processed foods and drinks. As a mother, I want to give my children—and myself—more nutritious meals and snacks, but it’s not always easy. The trend is towards…

  • Drinking milk and water; not juice and soda.
  • Eating lean proteins and whole-grain; not fast food and junk food.
  • Enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables; not sugary treats.

Do as I say, not as I do: Yep, I’m a hypocrite…a fraud. I drink a lot more diet soda than water and milk. I am weak and will scarf down a snack-size bag of chips or handfuls of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish before I consider an apple or raw veggies dipped in hummus. (And I wonder why the jeans feel a little snug or why the kids give me trouble about food choices.) We preach to our kids but how often do we follow our own advice?

I've replaced Coke Zero with a glass of my favorite flavor of seltzer.

I’ve replaced Coke Zero with a glass of my favorite flavor of seltzer.

One Step at a Time

For me, it’s all about making small changes that will become healthy habits, so that’s why I decided it was time to tackle my soda addiction. Here are my personal observations of my very unscientific study:

  • I can survive without drinking soda—and don’t really want to drink it now. (I drank a diet Coke with lunch the other day because I didn’t want the calories of regular iced tea and didn’t find much satisfaction at the bottom of the straw. Lesson learned.)
  • If you give up (diet) soda because of the artificial sweeteners, then it’s almost impossible to find alternatives—except water and flavored seltzer—which do not contain them…or lots of calories.
  • Eliminating soda from my diet but adding jelly beans is dumb—for all the sugar and chemicals, might as well drink the soda.
  • Start water addiction. Flavored seltzer is great if you crave the bubbles. And with the hotter months ahead, ice-cold water will taste much better.
  • Flavored seltzers should be added to beverage dispensing machines and bottles stocked in refrigerated cases. Sure, plain water is usually offered at restaurants, but I just explained that I need to work on my water addiction.
  • Buy honey, mint or lemons and teabags to make fresh iced tea.
  • Wine and spirits do not count as appropriate alternatives regardless of their finer, pure qualities.
  • Everything in moderation!

What habit have you changed for the better? Are you a soda or water drinker?

For more information about the impact of drinking soda on your health, check out these links:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/soda-obesity-diabetes-ban-_n_2862064.html#slide=779339

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/08/31/first-of-its-kind-cdc-report-breaks-down-soda-statistics/

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Lessons We Learn from Our Children

By Jen Ashenfelter

Our children are amazing. Their accomplishments are inspiring. Their achievements in the classroom, on the playing field, in a performance, or out in the community make us proud parents.

These days—compared to when I think back to my years in school—the parenting trend is to involve our children in a multitude of sports and activities as well as nurture a well-rounded honor student. Whether you subscribe to the tiger-parenting philosophy or your approach is less hands-on, as parents it’s our responsibility to prepare our children for the future.

Sometimes our children’s efforts are self-driven because they are naturally competitive, thrive on the positive feedback, or simply enjoy what they are doing.

Sometimes it’s not that easy. As parents, we cheer them on, share our wisdom gained from years of experience, dish out advice—wanted or not—or basically lay down the law to motivate and challenge them to do better.

My youngest and I had a nice conversation recently which made me smile and got me thinking. To set the background, students can choose a musical instrument in fifth grade; he decided to play the trumpet. Having never expressed an interest in playing an instrument before, we had many in-depth discussions about his decision and the resulting commitment. He didn’t waiver in his decision. The trumpet was rented and the lessons began.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

If we quit too soon, we may never know our potential.

Many times I could be heard saying, “I want to hear you practicing that trumpet.” By the time Christmas break was over, he got off the bus one afternoon and announced he wanted to quit playing the trumpet because “everyone” was allowed to quit, and he felt it was taking up too much time.

(What? The kid has nothing but time. And who is everyone? Wait, I don’t care about everyone; they are not my responsibility. Would you jump off a bridge if everyone was doing it? You gotta love the everyone argument; I’ve used it myself back in the day. And then it bubbled up and spilled out of my mouth, that voice of a mother…)

My response was a firm “No” with a reminder about the commitment he agreed to for the school year, and I expected him to do the work as required by the teacher to earn a good grade. I knew he was frustrated over the time and practice it took to sound good. Who wants to sound like a dying cow in public? The fear of failure and public humiliation can be paralyzing—just quit before it reaches that point. But that was the end of the conversation and we began to hear him practice more often during the last month.

Our recent chat:

C: I’m going to work on getting 140 minutes of trumpet practice this week. If I practice for 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday, that’s 60 plus 80 minutes during the week…that’s 80 + 60 = 140. (Students are expected to practice 80 to 100 minutes a week.)

Me: Ok, that’s great! Do you think you are getting better with all this practice?

C: I think so, but I still have trouble with the high notes.

Me: Maybe you should devote a few minutes of each practice to just the high notes?

C: Yes. On the weekends, I could do 15 minutes on the high notes and 15 minutes on the songs.

Me: Sounds like a good plan to me. See how it works out. (huge smile, fist pump when he left the room)

By simply not letting him quit and challenging him to honor his commitment and push through the frustration, something grabbed hold. It was his decision how to handle the situation. I’m proud of him.

At that moment I realized a few things. As adults, who challenges us? How many times do we give up on something new because there’s no one above our authority to encourage us to push on? What can we learn from the accomplishments of our children when we challenge them to do better?

Sometimes it’s what we teach our children and what they teach us in return!

  • To challenge ourselves as much as we challenge them
  • To choose how we will handle a challenge and create a plan to rise above it
  • To put our best effort into everything we do
  • To manage our time wisely
  • To push through the difficult moments—we are stronger than we think
  • To learn from failures and try again
  • To practice, practice…and practice some more—success takes patience and hard work; striving for perfection shouldn’t be the goal
  • To determine when it is the right time to change direction
  • To take pride in a job well done and celebrate success

Do you set the same expectations for yourself as you do for your children? Do you feel you set expectations for your children higher than you do for yourself? What can you learn from their efforts and accomplishments? Next time you are struggling with a challenge, listen to your own advice—or call your mother—and see what happens next!

Roses are Red, Boys Don’t Want Flowers

By Jen Ashenfelter

I think guys have it easy on Valentine’s Day. I will gladly accept a wide variety of gifts–roses, jewelry, stuffed animals, sexy PJs, perfume…. I could go on. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe most gals would agree with me that those are acceptable gift choices. I’m easy to please–it’s the fun things, the simple things that really make this girl happy. (My hubby never disappoints.)

I remember several Valentine’s Days when my father walked through the door at the end of the day with a red foil-wrapped, heart-shaped box filled with chocolates…just for me. (My little sister received her own box.) I couldn’t even tell you what my mother got from Dad because I was just so over-the-moon about my own box of fancy chocolates.

Many years later, along came my sons Nick and Chris. I wasn’t used to thinking of Valentine’s Day gifts for boys. When they were younger it was much easier—stuffed animals were good. As the tween years approached, stuffed animals became unacceptable (and quite honestly, we were overrun by these fuzzy creatures).

Candy is universally accepted, except with one son having allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. Look at the ingredients on those heart-shaped boxes—a box full of disappointment for my youngest. What’s a mother to do?

With that said, my husband and I didn’t want to set a precedent for giving gifts more appropriate for a birthday or Christmas. However, I wanted to give the boys something special.

Here are a few ideas—which don’t require a holiday spending account—for a fun gift to give your special boy.

Toy sets – Add a train or track set to a Thomas the Train collection. The small LEGO kits include a variety of vehicles and mini figures to go with any larger set. Celebrate your future car enthusiast by adding more Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to the collection.

Books – It’s a day to celebrate love so why not instill a love of reading with a new book.

Movies – There’s always another Disney or Pixar movie to own, as well as adding to a series collection: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Iron Man, Batman…the list goes on depending on interest and age. If you don’t get out to the movie theaters often, consider a family dinner and movie date…or a gift card to the movie theater.

Music – A tween or teen can never have enough downloaded music and games so iTunes gift cards are perfect.

Art – Crayola, need I say more? Feed their love of art by adding a new piece to their creative supplies—stickers, colored pencils, stencils, finger paints or chalk. For older kids, sign them up for a photography class or spend an afternoon together at a local museum.

Exercise – An afternoon of rock climbing, hiking, biking, skiing, tubing, ice skating, bowling—you get the picture.chocolate covered strawberries

Food – What’s that saying: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? With two growing boys in this household, food is never turned away. I’ve never been a fan of going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, so I’m perfectly happy to make a favorite dinner we all enjoy, set a nice table and sit down together. To top it off, our dessert tradition has always been chocolate-covered strawberries!

I might stray from our tradition this year for something equally scrumptious: Oreo Truffles. I discovered these tasty gems when a coworker brought a batch into the office before Christmas. I can’t wait for Christmas 2013 so I’m making them now. (I could make them at any time but that would be too easy; it’s safer for my waistline if they are only made for special occasions.)

Something tells me I may be the last one in America to discover Oreo truffles but in case I’m not, here’s the recipe. Happy Valentine’s Day and show the little men in your life how much you love them with a special surprise. Enjoy…

Kraft Foods Oreo Truffles

Easy-OREO-Truffles-52162

Photo Credit: Kraft Foods

36 OREO Cookies, finely crushed, divided

1 pkg (8 oz) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened

16 oz BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted

Make It

  • RESERVE 1/4 cup cookie crumbs. Mix cream cheese and remaining cookie crumbs until blended.
  • SHAPE into 48 (1-inch) balls. Dip in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs.
  • REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm.

Kraft Kitchens Tips

How to Melt Chocolate

Place unwrapped chocolate in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on HIGH 2-1/2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted, stirring every 30 sec.

How to Easily Dip Truffles

To easily coat truffles with the melted chocolate, add truffles, in batches, to bowl of melted chocolate. Use 2 forks to roll truffles in chocolate until evenly coated. Remove truffles with forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. Place truffles on prepared baking sheet; let stand until firm.

How to Store

Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Working Mothers Unite, Look at the Positives

By Jen Ashenfelter

Some decisions are based on a want. Do I want to be a stay-at-home or a working mother? Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter—maybe going to work is a financial need. I’ve experienced all three.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother so I stopped working after my first son was born. Eventually our financial situation changed, so I needed to be a working mother. For many years I really enjoyed my job in real estate—until it started consuming the time I wanted to give my family. A career in real estate cost me more than I was making; once again, I made the decision to get off the merry-go-round and be a stay-at-home mother. I loved it—time for the kids, the household and myself—to sip coffee or have lunch with friends, read books, attend a class and take on some freelance writing projects.

My days at home weren't quite as glamorous and dramatic as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a second job.

My days at home weren’t quite as dramatic and well-paying as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a different job.

However, I figured my days of living like one of the Housewives were quickly nearing the final episode, especially since I was not getting compensated for this reality show where “getting nickeled and dimed” actually costs Jacksons and Bens in this economy. With college tuition looming large over the horizon, going back to work was part of my long-range plan but the bank account couldn’t wait that long.Whether you want to work or you need to work, well, it’s still work. However, there are advantages to being a working mother. Here’s my spin on what can be gained—besides money in the checking account—from being a working mother.

It’s my paid vacation

I didn’t want to leave my toddler and infant every other weekend when I started working at the real estate office. I didn’t want to be away several nights a week when I worked at the tax preparation office from January through April. As fun as those jobs ended up being, they were a need and not a want. There were plenty of responsibilities in the job descriptions but there were also no diapers, no endless questions, no bickering, no whining and no SpongeBob! All that and a paycheck too—put your hands in the air and give me woot woot?! There’s no downside when you look at the bright side. Discover the positives when you have to work and create some fun.

Dust off the jewelry and heels

Being at home with two boys left little opportunity to dress up, but I’m still a girl at heart. Wearing sweatpants and sneakers are comfortable and convenient for kicking around the house, but some days I was a prime target for a style ambush where obnoxious TV hosts go through your closet and drawers and heave every piece of clothing you own into a giant garbage bag. I’m all for casual, cozy clothing, but I have a new appreciation for business attire. Buy a new outfit and blow the dust off the jewelry and heels, then add some mascara and lip gloss—the feeling is amazing!

Break the OCD housecleaning habit

My name is Jennifer. I’m a clean freak. What’s that on the floor…why are there crumbs on the counter? I don’t care what your house looks like; I care what my house looks like…a lot. If that makes me a little OCD, then I guess I’m guilty as charged. However, I’m learning to deal with my obsession, but only because I have to! Sadly, I don’t have as much free time to dust and scrub and vacuum anymore. So to all you clean-home haters, forgive me. I’m a changed woman and I want to be a part of your club.

Give the kids something to do

Ok, I’m not completely cured of my clean-house obsession. Isn’t that why we have children so that eventually they can take over all the chores? (No need to call Social Services—my two are definitely old enough…and it’s about time too.) The boys are learning that their clean clothes and a bathroom that doesn’t feel like a public restroom don’t just happen. There’s just not enough time in my day to do it all. Working has made me realize that they live here too and the free ride is over. This working woman may not be awarded Mother-of-the-Year for making the boys do more housework, but some day my daughters-in-law will thank me.

When I'm belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

When I’m belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

In the car, you are a ROCK STAR           

Whether it is five minutes or one hour, embrace the commute. The time and space belong to you! It could be the quietest time of your day or the loudest. Personally, I prefer the daily rock concert. I don’t sing in the shower—someone in the house might hear me, and I’m fairly sure my American Idol audition would produce goose bumps—more of the fear-inducing than the awe-inspiring kind. But in the car—with the speakers thumping—I am Kelly Clarkson…no, Carrie Underwood…wait, a little Jennifer Hudson. Ok, in reality maybe more like William Hung, but it’s my moment on the stage. Rock on!

And more important, surround yourself with really smart and creative people

What’s the saying…too much of a good thing is too much…or something like that? It’s true! Most days I enjoyed being at home with my boys. I loved watching them play and learn and grow. It was fun for them but not always fun for me. It was all about Legos and Matchbox cars and tool sets and playing in the dirt—don’t get me wrong, they are all very cool things. But some days I longed for a mountain of Barbie dolls with fabulous outfits and little shoes. Or I wanted to just sit and read a book. Try reading any Harry Potter book at 5 minute intervals with 10,000 interruptions—not going to happen. Let’s just say that exercising my mind, finding adult conversation, and keeping my writing skills fresh were challenging at times.

Now that the boys are in school, working part time allows me to concentrate on learning and growing too. Never stop learning. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more creative than you, but who are encouraging and patient. Don’t feel intimidated. It feels great being part of a team, to be working with people who are really passionate about what they do, and accomplishing positive things every day. Our children receive our wisdom, guidance and encouragement to learn and grow. Even as adults, why can we not give that to ourselves?

If you’re a working mother, what do you feel you’ve gained by going to work? How do you make your time at work fun and rewarding?  

 

Having a Child with Food Allergies

My youngest has food allergies but that doesn’t stop us from eating well.

By Jen Ashenfelter

Having a child with food allergies can be overwhelming at first, but there are resources and support organizations available to make life easier. My youngest son Christopher, who just turned 11, has food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs which were diagnosed after he turned one year old. Let me begin by saying, fortunately, he has never experienced a severe reaction that required emergency medical attention. He developed slight wheezing and a bright red bottom covered with hives after eating a piece of bread with a thin spread of peanut butter. And so our adventure with specialists, allergy testing and strict food avoidance began.

A look at some food allergy facts and figures, and symptoms

According to information posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy is an abnormal reaction by the immune system to a food protein which results in an immediate release of chemicals such as histamine. Mild to severe symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Hives, rash or eczema
  • Itching, tingling in the mouth
  • Swelling, including the tongue and throat
  • Abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing, wheezing and/or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction that can cause multiple, simultaneous symptoms including swelling of the tongue and throat, and difficulty breathing. This reaction can result in death.

Always seek immediate medical attention if you believe your child is experiencing an adverse reaction to a food, and consult with your pediatrician about finding a specialist to handle further testing for food allergies.

It is estimated that at least 15 million people in the United States have food allergies. About 4–6% of children under 18 have food allergies, with more boys than girls developing them. And these numbers seem to be rising each year. 90% of all reactions are caused by just eight different foods. The top food allergens include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts including walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and macadamia
  • Fish
  • Shellfish including shrimp, crab and lobster
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

Eggless pancakes taste just as good as those made with eggs.

The glass is ½ full

Everyone’s experience with food allergies is going to be very different depending on which foods have to be eliminated from the diet and the level of sensitivity. Some children can experience a severe reaction to peanut dust in the air and others may only experience a reaction when the food is ingested. Honestly, it was very scary and frustrating for me as a mother at first. But that was 10 years ago. Ok, it will never “be easy” for a mother dealing with a new allergy, yet I think the resources and support have improved over the years. It helps to remain positive, proactive and open to working with people who are not familiar with food allergies.

For us, Christopher’s food allergies are manageable. Baking a birthday cake, holiday cookies and other special treats can be challenging, but I’ve found recipes that don’t include egg and nuts. (I’ll share a few of these recipes with my next post.) Halloween and Easter were tricky at first, but we’ve learned how to handle it positively. Luckily he’s grown up with these food allergies, so he’s used to the dietary restrictions and the taste of alternative recipes. He doesn’t know any differently, and the rest of the family made the transition without too much pain. We have an Epi-Pen on hand in case of an anaphylactic reaction, and his elementary school has procedures in place to handle students with food allergies including a peanut-free table in the cafeteria.

A little education goes a long way in creating a positive experience

I think the bigger challenge is educating Christopher and those around us about his food allergies, as well as making others feel comfortable about it. You cannot expect that everyone will automatically understand or cater to the child’s specific needs. In my opinion, handling the situation requires a delicate balance. Above all, you have to make sure your child is safe. Next, being prepared is important—a little homework goes a long way in creating a positive experience for everyone.  And always, in age appropriate stages, teach your child about their food allergy and how to protect himself.

A food allergy can be a life-threatening situation so it’s important for family and friends to understand the situation before you arrive. It’s best to ask questions and discuss food choices before arriving at someone’s home. I’ve always found it helpful to either bring safe foods for Christopher to eat so our hosts would not have to worry or to politely suggest foods and products to serve or avoid. I also suggest calling a restaurant you plan on attending to discuss how the foods your child may choose are prepared or to preview a list of ingredients. I can honestly say that we’ve never had a bad experience where someone was unreceptive to my questions or requests…and when in doubt, always err on the side of caution.

The following are some helpful links that provide more information about food allergies:

The latest food allergy facts and statistics:

http://www.foodallergy.org/page/facts-and-stats

Vital information about food allergies in school settings:

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/foodallergies/index.htm

Information from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/food-allergies.aspx

Tips from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: 

http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/food-allergy.aspx

Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of-the Year)

By Jen Ashenfelter 

There are a lot of distractions for children today: Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, iPod, iPad, cell phones, Angry Birds and, oh yeah, that old favorite, the television. It’s hard to believe but when I grew up—not only did I walk to school uphill both ways…I’m not kidding—video games were played on an Atari system, the phone was tethered to the wall, a television was controlled by two legs and five fingers, and an apple was something you ate with lunch. Consider me ancient.

If the scientists and experts thought television and video games were bad for the healthy development of children back then, what’s a parent to do today? Times and technology may have changed but the answer remains the same: Turn it all off. Keep it off. It’s that easy. Ok, well sometimes it’s not that easy but we’ll get to that later. 

Long, long ago…

During the school year, I was not allowed to watch television during the week. Friday evening through Sunday evening was it—Love Boat, American Bandstand and the Sunday Disney movie totally rocked. And we never owned an Atari—a game of Monopoly could last 1 ½ days if we played it right. A focus on homework and school activities were my responsibility and high grades were expected.

I hated the rule. I will never win a contest about 80’s TV trivia, but I’m happy to report that I survived, graduated ranked 12th in my class, used the “therapy fund” to pay for college, and today I’m a fairly well-adjusted adult.

The circle of life goes on…

Yes, the most hated, evil rule ever devised in the history of parenting lives on—in my house. But it’s bigger and more evil than ever before: the weekday ban not only includes TV but all gaming systems of any size, type or style. Same reasons. Same expectations. Hopefully the same results—so far, so good.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy. My two boys are very good at reasoning and, in some cases, argument and debate. Future lawyers, perhaps. However, I prefer a more scientific approach to the laws of rule bending. When the well-read ‘A’ student asks for slight change, the experiment begins. When the quiz, test and project grades start to drop, or an inch becomes a mile, the experiment ends and the theory is successfully proven.

And it’s not always perfect. The real work begins on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when both boys have to be pried away from sets and systems for a seat at the dining room table or an extended break outside for sunshine, fresh air and, oh yeah, actual physical, sweat-inducing exercise.

I will never win a Mother of the Year contest either.  

All kidding and “mean, strict mommy” stuff aside…

There are plenty of studies and reports available that provide serious statistics for why time spent in front of the television, gaming devices and other electronic toys should be limited. As well, there are plenty of resources—including our family oriented blog posts chock full of great ideas and first-hand experiences—that suggest better ways for young minds and bodies to spend their free time.

May I also suggest reading this linked post from the Becoming Minimalist blog.  Eye-opening statistics! You’ve got the resources, now it’s time to create the plan. Here are a few ideas:

Set rules and expectations early. If you have preschool aged children, then now is the time to set the rules. As the years progress, they won’t know any differently. Setting a new rule with older children will be more challenging—be strong.

Define your rule and any exceptions. For us, it’s basic: No television or gaming systems Mondays – Thursdays during the school year but they’re allowed Friday after school through Sunday evening.

Be consistent. There are always exceptions and small battles to be fought, but the boys know where I stand and what the absolute limit is.

Make it your lifestyle. It’s the same concept as dieting. To completely deny chocolate cake is to want chocolate cake. So, limit the amount, fill the time with other meaningful activities, remain steadfast, praise the effort, and celebrate the results! Stick with it week after month after year…you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you Mom and Dad! I hated the rule then, but I appreciate its value now. You were right! (Yup, that just happened.…) 

Did you grow up with a limit on television and video games? As a parent, what rules or expectations do you have during the school year? How has it worked for your family? Join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas on this subject.


The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways

Reunion brunch with high school girlfriends.

By Jen Ashenfelter

When I jumped off the career merry-go-round to stay at home with Nick (and Chris a few years later), I had no idea the level of isolation that would follow. My social calendar—once filled with lunch dates or happy hours and weekend outings—was replaced with keeping baby fed, dry and happy 24/7, grabbing a quick shower whenever possible and catching up on household chores over the weekend…wash, rinse, repeat!

Of course there were play dates and an occasional gathering of friends and family, but always with toddlers, toys and training toilets in tow. Uninterrupted conversations among adults were rare and usually focused on kid stuff. But I really couldn’t complain; I was lucky to be a stay-at-home mom with a completely supportive husband. However, something was missing.

Beach weekend with my sister and two childhood best friends–ready for dinner in Atlantic City.

Where was ME?

Enter Oprah. (Besides watching endless episodes of Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, that daytime diva was 60-minutes of being connected to another adult female.) I can’t remember the details, but what I took away from one particular show was the importance of taking care of myself and the benefits of having girlfriends.

Research shows the health benefits women reap by having a network of friends: lower levels of stress and depression, improved mood, lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, delayed memory loss, longer life expectancy.

Equal Opportunity Friend Time: Just for the record, I think it’s important for women and men to have strong friendships and spend time with those people outside of work and family responsibilities.

Organizing free time with good friends is necessary. The health benefits are a plus—use those in your favor when telling the significant other you are headed out for the evening or a weekend away—but, for me, the biggest plus is simply the chance to reclaim me. I become Jen again…not “honey,” “mommy” or “ma’am.”

Newsflash: It’s not selfish to take the time to be you. Recharging is necessary to be a good mother, wife and friend. 

Since that ah-ha moment, in between working from home, managing the household, and driving around town to and from soccer and karate, I love to gather with girlfriends. For me, it started with organizing an afternoon with a close circle of girlfriends at a pottery workshop then dinner together afterwards.

My core group of friends has religiously gathered on the first Thursday evening of every other month at the same gal’s house for the past several years. I spend at least one weekend a year with my sister and two close childhood friends. I’ve reconnected with a group of work colleagues who were good friends before kids and new jobs; organized a reunion brunch with girlfriends from high school; and have gathered friends to enjoy special dinner events at a local teahouse.

Tips & Creative Ideas for Spending Time with Girlfriends:

A fun evening with the gals I used to work with.

  • Start with organizing a simple event with just a few friends—lunch and a special museum exhibit, coffee or cocktails at your house, or hosting an in-home-demonstration show.
  • Organize a gathering around different groups of friends–childhood friends, former coworkers, neighborhood moms or friends with a specific interest such as reading, dancing or photography.
  • If you organize it, they will come—go ahead and pick a date, time and activity and then invite friends. Trying to organize a fun time based on coordinating schedules and interests might prove challenging. It’s ok to be in charge of your gathering and coordinate the overall plans before requesting suggestions for the finer details.
  • Be flexible when organizing regular activities like a book club or game night—not everyone will make it all of the time, that’s ok.
  • When you’re ready to plan a weekend away, keep it simple, small and local like visiting the beach or getting pampered at a hotel spa in town. Organizing a weekend trip takes time, research and patience. Discover new places and activities in your own backyard for starters. Use social media, the internet or hotel concierge for sightseeing ideas/tours and dinner reservations.
  • Whether it’s an afternoon, night or weekend away, minimize cost and travel until you know everyone’s comfort level.
  • Don’t call or text home except maybe once a day. My husband and boys create their own Boys’ Night/Weekend when I’m out with girlfriends. Everyone enjoys their special time…and there’s truth to the saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A special evening at a local wine and tea dinner event.

Do you get together with girlfriends regularly or plan yearly getaways? Tell us about a favorite trip you took recently or share your creative ideas for gathering the girls together.