Fun summer activities to keep kids busy

Do you remember summers as a child? You probably were bored at some point during the summer, right? Like maybe by day three. I’m sure we all were bored at various times. Honestly, it’s okay to be a little bored and to have to come up with ideas on your own. It’s healthy.

But now you have children of your own and you are already dreading the “I’m soooo bored,” melodies coming from the mouths of babes, as per every summer ritual.

We know that you have lots of experiences to draw from and plenty of ideas, but it can be hard to remember them all when put on the spot by a whiny wee one. Well, we’ve got your back. Here is a list of fun summer activities for you and your family to enjoy. Read to the bottom for a longer, downloadable list to pin to your refrigerator. (I told you we had your back.)

1. Build sandcastles. If you don’t have a beach or bay you can drive to, bring the sand home. Many homebuilder businesses such as Home Depot or Lowes sell bags of sand.

2. Go swimming. Even if you don’t have a pool in your backyard lots of cities have community pools, or maybe your friends have a pool or visit a YMCA. Swimming is an excellent way for kids to get their daily exercise in with the added bonus of getting them plum tuckered out for a great nights sleep.

3. Paddleboarding. What, you haven’t been on a paddleboard yet? It’s awesome. Try it on a lake, lagoon or bay for beginners. It is a great work out, easy to learn, affordable, and perfect for a wide range of ages.

4. Photography. If you put a camera in a child’s hands they will be entertained for hours. Take them on a nature walk or hike and show them how to use extra features such as zoom (it’s fun to take a close up of a bug) and record mode. Bring another camera along and take pictures of your little ones taking pictures; they’ll love it and you’ll have memories saved.

5. Trampoline. If you have space in your backyard trampolines can be hours and days and weeks of fun. I do recommend you use one with a netting to keep your kids from becoming test pilots and flying off onto the not so soft outer reaches. No room for one, no problem. Trampoline parks are becoming all the rage right now and it is likely that there is one in your town or at least a nearby town.

Want more ideas to keep the kids busy or entertained this summer? Why not ask them? Hand them a piece of paper and have them make a list of things they would like to do. And…you could download our printable list of summer  activities here. Summer Fun Activities

Have other great summer fun ideas? Feel free to share in the comments and help spread happiness.

Where to look for approved babysitters

You’re getting stressed and need a break,

but you don’t have a babysitter, let alone an “approved” sitter, so where do you look? What, you didn’t know you needed to have an approved sitter to watch your foster children? Well, yes. Talk to your social worker about your state and county’s regulations. Here in California, sitters need to be over 18 and background checked before they watch the little ones.

It’s the same rule that applies to anyone who lives in your home who is over 18 – background checked. It’s all for the safety and well being of the children. You aren’t able to use the neighbor’s 15-year-old daughter, despite the fact that she babysat your kids for the last two years and you’ve known her forever. She is considered a child herself, despite what she thinks.

So where do you find a babysitter who fits the bill? Here are some suggestions:

  • a local gym – ask the workers in the childcare area if they are interested
  • a local elementary school – the workers in the after-school program may be game
  • a college – the child development students who work in the on-campus preschool
  • your foster agency – ask the receptionist if they keep a list of approved sitters
  • other foster parents – get to know other foster parents and offer to take turns with the kids or ask for the name/ number of their babysitter, if they’ll share
  • friends – if you have friends who love kids, offer to pay for the Lifescan if they are interested
  • online – try sites such as http://www.care.com  and post an ad for a sitter including requirements

There you have it, a list of places to find babysitters over the age of 18 and “approved”. If they already work with kids, they should have been fingerprinted and background checked, but you can ask to be sure.

Have some other suggestions on where to find approved babysitters? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Thanks for reading and have a peaceful evening.

 

15 food hacks to get your kids to eat more vegies

 

Part of being a good parent and foster parent is making sure that not only we eat healthy (being good role models), but that our young ones eat healthy too. Easier said than done, I know. Not everyone likes vegetables, raw or cooked.

So I put together a free download that you can save, in case you are needing some new ideas on getting your crew to eat healthier. After all, lifelong health habits start at an early age, but it’s never too late to start.

Bon appetite. Click on link below for downloadable version.

15 food hacks  

15 Food Hacks to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegies

  1. Green Hulk smoothies – (or your child’s favorite green character, be it Kermit or Ninja Turtles) Add raw (washed) fresh spinach to a fruit smoothie. Here’s one of our recipes: frozen bite-size pieces of banana, sliced peaches, strawberries, spinach and coconut water. The frozen banana gives it an ice cream shake feel. The coco water is more hydrating with fewer calories than milk or yogurt. The fruit disguises the taste of spinach. Proportion the fruit servings to your taste.

  2. Vegie tails – Using raw vegies such as celery, carrot sticks, radishes, grape tomatoes fashion critters to sit on their plates (use toothpicks to hold it all together). You can use peanut butter and raisins for the eyes as an extra touch.

  3. Ispy broccoli-not. – Steam broccoli or cauliflower and puree; add it to spaghetti sauce and they’ll never be the wiser, but will be healthier.

  4. Brownie gems – Again using steamed and pureed broccoli, but this time you can add it to brownies. The chocolate will mask the vegie flavor, as long as you aren’t adding 5 cups.

  5. Christmas trees – Sometimes renaming an undesired food has a desirable effect. Broccoli becomes a Christmas tree with a pile of snow (ranch dressing) to dip it in. My son didn’t like waffles (go figure) until I started calling them wrinkled pancakes. As adults now, I don’t think they’d eat anything called “wrinkled.” My kids still laugh at all the weird things I did to their food.

  6. The curious case of killer cupcakes – Instead of making traditional white cupcakes, make zucchini cakes. Use a zucchini bread recipe, pour into cupcake tins and lower the cook time. Filled with zuch’s and carrots it’s a much healthier choice, but with the looks of a cupcake, kids still think they are getting a treat. And they are.

  7. Broccoli or cauliflower rice – This straight up is the easiest. Trader Joe’s sells bags of these two vegies that look and taste like rice but are pure vegetable. There may be other stores that sell this as well, but we happen to buy ours at TJ’s.

  8. Vegie balls – Cook and puree carrots and add them to your turkey burgers or meatballs.

  9. Spaghetti squash – If you haven’t tried this yet you are missing out. Slice open a spaghetti squash, literally that’s what it’s called, and place face down in a baking dish with a little water and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes (depending on size). Once out, let cool a bit then use a fork to scrape the “meat”. It will come out stringy looking like spaghetti noodles. Add your favorite pasta sauce and voila. A no carb, high nutrient meal.

  10. It’za pizza – Thinly slice your vegies of choice to your own homemade pizza, cover with sauce or cheese to hide the vegies. Zucchini, peppers, and mushrooms are all great pizza toppings.

  11. Appetizers – Before you are even thinking about dinner, the kids start asking for food, so why not put out a tray of vegies and a little dip. I put out a variety so they won’t get tired of eating the same ones all the time. Celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, snap peas, and olives are all part of our appetizer tray. Also, we keep a ziplock bag of cut vegies in the fridge and the kids know if they are ever hungry before any meal they are free to eat all the vegies they want.

  12. Soup or stew – Sometimes it’s as simple as serving it in a liquid that changes their perception of what they are eating, so why not make vegie soup or stew.

  13. Create-a-face – This may sound odd, but let them “play” with their food. Place a variety of vegies – shredded lettuce, grape tomatoes halved, sliced olives, strings of celery, shredded carrots, a little dressing etc. and let them make funny faces on their plate using the foods. When done they eat.

  14. Grow your own – Face it, kids love to get dirty, so why not let them help plant a garden (it doesn’t have to be big). They are more likely to want to eat the vegetables they grow themselves out of pride if nothing more.

    15. Let them choose – Take your kids to the store and let them choose which vegetables to have for dinner. Not                   only do they enjoy being included in the decision-making process, but they feel empowered by making-choices             which helps their self-esteem. A win-win-win.

Remember to empower your children and include them in the process: letting them pick out which vegies to eat, having them help cook, growing their own food; they all have added benefits other than just vegetables. Kids grow up before you know it, enjoy your time together, and help them learn life skills all at the same time. You’ll all be healthier for it.

 

 

A hidden American epidemic: child sex trafficking, aka human trafficking

We live in our American bubble, being all we see is our happy, everyday life. The reality of what goes on in our country, our states, our small towns would burst that bubble, shatter any idea of reality if you/we could see what’s going on in front of our eyes; human trafficking.

I went to a workshop the other day, the topic? Commercial exploitation of children, aka human trafficking, which is modern-day slavery, and a current epidemic.

Did you know, cause I didn’t, that the U.S. is the number one country for human trafficking? I was floored, insulted, dumbfounded and pissed when I learned that statistic. And California is the number one state! When I walked into the class, I thought that China was the capital of the epidemic. Wrong. It’s right here, in our backyard.

Here are some statistics: 

  • There has been more than an 800% increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking in the last 5 years.
  • More than 6,000 children have been recovered by the FBI since 2003.
  • The average life expectancy of a child enslaved is only seven years.
  • There are 750 thousand predators online.
  • 1 out of 3 youth on the street (runaways or kicked out) are at high risk of being approached by a trafficker within 48 hours.
  • The foster system is nationally recognized as a pipeline for commercial sexual exploitation of children.
#awareness #wakeup

What can we do about this horrific problem?

Let’s start by knowing some of the signs (it is recommended we look for a combination of warning signs) of a potential victim:

  • Inappropriate attire for situation or weather.
  • Sudden change in behavior, clothing, possessions.
  • Running away.
  • Tattoos or branding.
  • Gang involvement.
  • Malnourished or ravenous appetite.
  • Truancy.
  • Controlling friend or boyfriend.
  • Burns, scars, unexplainable bruises.
  • Motel room cards, gift cards, large amounts of cash.
  • Seems drugged or disoriented.
  • Fearful, anxious, startles easily, withdrawn, depressed, cries frequently.
  • Won’t (can’t) talk to you or look at you, inconsistent stories, scripted answers.
  • Frequent travels to other cities.
  • Uses common sex industry terms.

Now, what do we do about it? 

Educate yourself about the problem. Look into your local community college Foster & Kinship Programs for free classes. Go to sites such as http://www.polarisproject.org

Advocate for victim policy and protection. Write to your congressman and demand harsher penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes (the people who buy and those who sell.)

Watch for signs, and call for help if you think you spot a child who is being held by a perpetrator. Do not try to rescue the child, leave that to the police.

Stop buying products that exploit or objectify children, that also means no sexy, provocative or revealing clothing for your children.

To see images of missing children (a missing child may be in your neighborhood-know what they look like), visit the website http://www.missingkids.com

Help prevent victimization. Build healthy relationships with your children and foster children. Listen to what they say with their words and their body language.

Spread the word, build awareness, and share articles such as this one.

Hotline numbers and websites

National Human Trafficking Hotline   888-373-7888     http://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children CyberTipline   800-843-5678  800-THE-LOST  http://www.cybertipline.com

There are more people in slavery now than any other time in history! Together we can save these children and put a stop to this epidemic. Do you have any other tips on how to put an end to modern-day slavery? If so, please share. We’d love to hear from you.

How to help youth aging out of the system when you aren’t a parent

boy in nature

How To Help The Youth Who Are Aging Out

 In many states, 18 is the magic number for aging out of the system. Sadly, the youth who leave without families aren’t prepared. Each year, over 20,000 youth age out of the system (also known as aging out) and attempt to begin their new life, on their own, in the real world. It is a disturbingly large number of teens entering adulthood without knowing what to expect.

Many children in foster care return home to a parent, move in with biological family, or into an adoptive home. Unfortunately, many (over 20k thousand) aren’t so lucky. They leave the system without family support, without a family to call their own; reaching 18 years of age isn’t as exciting for them as it is their peers, who all have families to fall back on should they make a bad decision. This can be a frightening experience for foster youth. Some states have the age limit set at 21, the year they are no longer part of the foster system. If all states had the age limit at 21 that would make a tremendous difference to these youth; allowing more time for maturity and life learning lessons within the safety of a foster home.

Youth who age out of the system face an array of challenges: emotional, educational, and financial. Who do they turn to for advice, for help? Who can they trust to have their back and not steer them in the wrong direction?

These children have already had a hard life facing neglect, abuse, or abandonment. Statistics show that roughly 50% of foster teens won’t graduate from high school, and only 4% will graduate from college. They may have difficulties learning, trusting adults, or want to get far away from a broken system, thinking they can do better on their own.  Lack of family support, finances, work experience, and life training all make it more complicated and challenging.

Their reality may be bleak, but it doesn’t have to be; you can help.

everyone needs a personal cheerleader

Here are 10 ways you can help youth aging out:

  1. Be a friend (or cheerleader) – engage with them, listen to what they have to say (or ask for), care about their struggles, and help them find solutions.
  2. Be a tutor – if you are skilled in math, science, language or any other required courses offer to help youth who are struggling.
  3. Teach how to prepare healthy, tasty meals on a budget.
  4. Teach money skills and budgeting.
  5. Help them open a checking and savings account.
  6. Develop a scholarship fund or donate to an organization that helps with educational support.
  7. Donate household goods or clothing to local foster agencies.
  8. Donate school supplies to local foster agencies.
  9. If you own a business, offer discounts on services or goods to foster and aged out youth.
  10. If you own a business, hire a youth who is in or aged out of the system and teach them what you know.

Not sure how to go about offering your help and expertise to these vulnerable youth? Start by calling your local foster agencies and speak with the directors. Let them know you want to help and what you have to offer. Most likely, they will ask you to get fingerprinted and background checked in order to be around the children. Don’t take it personally; it’s standard practice.

There you have it, 10 ways to help youth aging out. Do you have other suggestions? We’d love to hear them and spread the word. #everychildmatters

How will you help?

 

15 Ways to Raise Kids on a Budget

 

15 Ways to Raise Kids on a Budget

We can all agree that raising children is expensive! Clothes, toys, sports, music, insurance, hobbies, school activities, driving lessons, dances, and food (the cost of food alone can break those of us with hollow legged kids) and the list goes on.

Whether you are raising your biological children or someone else’s children the cost reaches out to the heavens. Most of us don’t have the finances of Trump, Gates, Buffet or Winfrey, but we still want to provide everything possible for our children.

So how do we do that? For starters, be realistic. You should not have to work three jobs so your child can have the newest Xbox or PlayStation or a new car- that you pay for. You will be doing your children and you a huge favor by not caving into their every desire. Besides, it’s more fun to be around children who appreciate their possessions than their counterparts with their entitled attitudes.

I know a woman who is very kind and gentle. She had her two children much later in life and because of that (that’s her excuse) she wanted to provide everything for her children that they asked for. Big mistake. As her kids got older they asked for more expensive toys and clothes. Their activities cost more money. What did she do? She got a second job. She was wearing herself out physically. After working an eight hour day at her primary job, she changed her clothes and went to work at another job! All so she could supply her children with their wants. And after all that, the kids weren’t even appreciative, not to mention she was rarely even home to see them. Or maybe that was her secret plan all along, hmmm.

The reason I share that story with you is it offers a good example of realism and wants vs needs.

You can take care of your children’s needs and be realistic with the wants all the while balancing family and work.

Here are 15 ways to budget (spend your money wisely) and still provide your children a happy life:

  1. Eat meals at home. Preparing food at home will save you money, be healthier, and will allow for time to discuss the day (as opposed to having to yell over other people’s voices.)
  2. Utilize thrift stores. Most cities have basic thrift stores like Salvation Army, but you may also find specialty stores just for kids or sporting goods or furniture. You’ll find items in like new (sometimes brand new) condition and you’ll pay a fraction of the cost of new.
  3. Take advantage of free. Play at the park, ride bikes, go hiking, fishing, boating, rafting, fly kites, to name a few activities, and in the process, you will create memories to last a lifetime.
  4. Swap. Trade babysitting time with friends so you can still have grown up time without the added expense.
  5. Cut back on the extracurricular activities your kids engage in. Try keeping it to a more fun, less stringent schedule, such as twice a year instead of constant back to back activities. You will all be rewarded with less stress from a harried schedule, saving money (sports are expensive), while still having the benefits of activities.
  6. Rent movies instead of going to the theater. Or maybe your town has a free movie in the park night during the summer. While you’re at it, look into your local theaters, maybe they offer discount days.
  7. Enjoy free entertainment. Does your town host a concert in the park night, a farmers market, free swimming in the city pool?
  8. Groceries. Shop smart, use coupons, buy bulk, and plan your meals so no food goes unused. A survey by the American Chemistry Council reported that the average household throws out $640 worth of food each year. That’s enough to wreak havoc on anyone’s budget.
  9. Shop ahead of time. If a store is having a great sale on clothing items such as socks, underwear, pjs, you get the idea – stock up. You can buy ahead for your kids and save money.
  10. Don’t throw anything away. Save outgrown clothing, shoes, games, books etc. and have a yard sale. If you use plastic bottles or cans, you can recycle them for money; all though, in the long run, you’d save more by purchasing reusable bottles.
  11. No excessive gifts. When Christmas and birthdays come around forego tons of gifts and keep it simple. First of all, the most played with gift is always a box and second, a gift that builds memories will last forever (as in a trip to somewhere fun, like the zoo, or a trampoline park etc.) whereas, toys break or get lost. Create a gift giving budget, be realistic, and stick to it.
  12. Learn to conserve. Teach your kids to conserve water and electricity; minimize toilet paper and paper towel usage. You can invest in cloth napkins and kitchen towels to save money too.
  13. Your local library. Take advantage of the free offerings at your local library, such as movie rentals, cd’s, books of course, and many have children’s activities during the summer. All free.
  14. Take advantage of rewards points. Most stores nowadays offer a free membership program where the members are rewarded. From grocery stores to gas stations to bank cards, they all offer rewards. I know someone who cashed in her rewards points from her bank card and had enough to buy a new Ipad. Not too shabby. As long as you pay off the card every month so you don’t accrue interest, it can be a smart way to cash in on rewards.
  15. Cancel your cable. This alone will save you hundreds every year plus it may improve your health. Instead of sitting on your bums, get up and play. If you’re thinking you need the kids distracted for a while, have them read a book or put in a dvd. Without cable, you’ll find there are many other ways to occupy your time, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t cancel cable years ago.

There you have it, 15 ways to raise kids on a budget. What strategies do you use to save money?

The radio station interview about our new children’s charity

I’ve discovered that the more I share the idea of a children’s charity that helps kids who’ve been abused, the more positive feedback I hear and support I receive.

Case in point, I was invited to be a guest on a local radio show. It was a blast!

My interviewer was Harold Littlejohn, host of the Business Buzz on Kkxx 104.5 Chico, CA and a CPA at http://www.hlittlejohn.com

He let me share my passions and dreams, all though not all of them because we ran out of time. Boy that hour flew by!

We discussed what triggered my love of children in the system, which I shared with you in a previous post. However, I thought it might be nice to list some of the interview highlights here.

Highlights    

Foster families. With over 400,000 children in the system, there is a need for good foster families to take in these children and make a difference in their lives. Even if a child is only in your home for a few months, they will retain the positive memories and experiences. Trust me, you make a difference. There is also a need for respite homes as well. We didn’t discuss this in the interview, but I wish I had. When a family wants to take a vacation out of town they aren’t allowed to take the foster children with them, so respite homes are needed to care for the children short term. This is also a great way for a family to decide if foster parenting is right for them (by being a respite home first.)

Volunteers. No matter where you live, I urge everyone to volunteer for a worthy cause. By doing so, you help make the world a better place. If you are thinking, I don’t know how or I don’t have time, stop; there is always a way you can help. Here are some examples of how you can help our children’s charity (both locally and from far away):

  • Donate usable items in good condition, such as: clothing, shoes, toys, books, blankets, small appliances, small furniture, school supplies or craft supplies. You can even host a neighborhood drive, if you are so inclined.
  • Use your social media to: share, like our posts, pins, and tweets, and spread the word of loving homes needed.
  • Create new pins for us to post on our foster hope for youth Pinterest board.
  • Write an occasional blog post.
  • Write to your politicians demanding reform in the system because it is failing our children. (much more on this in a later post)
  • Donate money or gift cards.
  • Sew children’s capes of all colors and sizes (some will be given to children while others will be part of our fundraising.)
  • In the coming months, we will be looking for volunteers for a variety of local positions, so stay tuned.

Businesses can help too. Anything from hosting a drive (toys, clothes, school supplies are just a few ideas), to inviting in a teen intern (even if it’s just for a day), sponsoring a child in the system (over the months the child is in the system, you donate goods, birthday gifts, tickets, cards of encouragement, birthday cards, etc. – becoming a virtual extended family), or offering services such as free hairdo’s for prom. These are just a few examples. I have faith that whatever business you have, there is something to offer a youth in the system to help them enjoy their childhood or be better prepared to handle life after high school.

Why do we want to do this and encourage others to help? Because every child deserves to be wanted, loved and feel worthy.

And, of course, we mentioned that we have our children’s charity page set up on Go Fund Me http://www.gofundme.com/fosteringhope4youth  

I’ve already been asked to be a guest on another local radio show, so stay tuned in as we continue to build better lives for children.

If you have other ideas on how people can help please share. Afterall, it takes a village to raise a child and a community to be a family.

 

 

 

Why we need a new children’s charity

Allow me to share a story with you about why I love children in the foster system and why helping them is my passion; essentially, why we need a new children’s charity.

Twenty years ago, I had a baby store (we sold infant apparel and furniture, not babies)…Wait, let me start over.

It was a dark and stormy night (it really was) when a woman came into my store with three little ones under the age of five. None were wearing coats, or warm clothes for that matter, or shoes. “What are you doing dragging those children out in this freezing weather dressed like that?” I demanded.

“They aren’t my children. I just picked them up from the foster agency. They have nothing. Can you help us?”

My attitude toward this woman immediately shifted. “Of course,” I said.

She walked up to the counter where I stood and set the smallest child down on the counter. She was 18 months old and had been so neglected she didn’t know how to walk, but she could crawl. Across the counter, her bony little knees and hands carried her, all the way to me. Her big blue eyes looked up at me while she raised her arms. This beautiful little baby girl was asking me, a total stranger, to pick her up and love her! I wept.

The kind woman shared her story of caring for children who had been abused and neglected, children in the foster system. All in need of love, stability, food and medical help. Their parents: addicted to drugs, live in filth, neglect their children’s basic needs, or physically and emotionally hurt them.

That night my purpose in life became clear: help these children. No child deserves to be starved, beaten, left alone, locked up, neglected or molested.

Several years later, with three of my own biological children, I became a foster mom. It was the most rewarding and fulfilling time imaginable (along with raising my own babies.) In this time, I had the pleasure to help raise nine children, each one remarkable.

Every child who came through our doors was resilient, strong, smart and loving. They were also scared, anxious, worried, hungry and behind academically.

The preschool age children were already behind their peers.  Not one knew any letters of the alphabet, or numbers or colors or shapes. One child didn’t even know his name, which left me wondering what his parents called him.

Immediately, I saw many needs: preschool, tutoring, parenting classes, youth support systems, free resources for clothing, toys, furniture, school supplies, and more loving families to adopt these lovable little ones. They needed a charity for children.

My first priority was to put the tots in preschool. In case you didn’t know, preschool costs roughly $400-$600 a month, per child. That was out of my budget. So I called Headstart, which is a state-funded preschool. It took two months for someone to call me back and then two more weeks after that for someone to come to our home and do an evaluation. Weeks later…I called them to find out the children qualified (of course they did) for the free preschool, but there was no room. We’d have to wait for an opening. Six months later, still no opening. Nine months later the children moved into another foster home. And guess what? The process had to start all…over…again.

Now several years later, I am embarking on a mission to make a difference. With old friends and new friends at my side to help, I know we will succeed.

Our mission: to help all children experience the joys of childhood.

Our vision: to provide a free preschool (for children in the foster system only) and offer resources to help youth (both in and aged out), succeed in life.

This is our children’s charity – Fostering Hope For Youth.