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Family Holidays

If you don’t have Christmas in your heart, you will never find it under the tree!

I start each morning with daily inspirations. I follow several motivational pages on facebook, and Instagram. This morning one popped up that read, “If you don’t have Christmas in your heart, you will never find it under the tree.”
This spoke to me, as just last night my husband and I had a discussion about the commercialization of Christmas. He was telling me about an interview he saw yesterday with someone from the music industry saying that classic Christmas songs have been ruined as they are OVER featured and OVER played on so many commercials – buy, buy, buy. He went on to say that the true spirit of Christmas has been lost
So it brought me to thinking….why do I love Christmas? Because I do. Some visit my home at Christmas and think I am a bit crazy. I’m OCD about my lights on my tree. (I may have 3,000 on it this year.) I set up a Dickens Village that my mother in law has gifted to me over the last 24 years. I set up my Manger with Angels and all. Basically, everywhere you look there’s a little hint of Christmas. Christmas makes me happy. But to me, Christmas is not about receiving – it’s about giving. We have simplified things over the years. With large families on both sides – we do drawings rather than buying for everyone. So each cousin has a special cousin to gift them with something meaningful instead of just buying to buy. My boys, now a bit older (14 and 16) get one meaningful gift from Santa” and a few small items in the stocking. In years past, I would stay up all night to decorate my tree the day I brought it home and always on the 1st of December. Today, it’s the 15th – my tree has been up since 12/1 but I’m done with the pressure and rush to have it finished and work on it a little each day. Right now, it’s just the lights. My Dickens Village is ½ done and Christmas cards were sent yesterday – I actually feel ahead of the game on that one. I am taking IN the Moments. Getting together with business partners I am blessed to call friends. Holiday lunch with girlfriends yesterday – all driving far, because it matters. Celebrating family, our religion. The true meaning of Christmas. And I am happier. I’m not stressed, I am at peace. So SLOW DOWN, enjoy the season – here’s a few tips that help me – and I truly believe if you have Christmas in your heart, you don’t need anything under the tree.

Tips for having Christmas in your Heart:

1. Stay out of the malls – everyone is in a rush and surprisingly not many in a good mood
2. Shop on line – so much more simple or better yet, make the gift yourself
3. Surround yourself with friends and family
4. Give back to the community – we adopt a family through Church and host Marines who have no place to go
5. Take some deep breaths, slow down and enjoy the season
6. Plan your 2018 goals and find an accountability partner(s) that’s on the same page as you
7. Sing a little, dance a little, pray a lot
8. Find what brings YOU Joy this season and make it a priority
9. Give yourself grace – it doesn’t have to be done today!
10. Get a budget and stick with it – it’s not about how much you spend it’s about the thinking that went into the gift

Back to School Children Family

Quick Tips for Back to School Shopping

My daughters are heading into kindergarten and 3rd grade next month and I just opened their classroom supply list – WOW, it’s a long one!  I don’t even remember having a backpack in kindergarten, yet she will be showing up with 24 “Ticonderoga Wood-Cased #2 yellow pencils” (because any old #2 pencils just won’t do), 2 boxes of 16 large washable crayons, 2 boxes of 24 small crayons, 4 pink erasers, 4 large glue sticks, 1 box of Kleenex, 2 containers of disinfectant wipes, 1 spiral notebook, 1 pair of blunt scissors, 1 nap mat, 1 blanket, 1 change of clothes, 1 box of sight words, and a partridge in a pear tree…oh wait, no partridge, got a little carried away, but you get the idea.  And that’s just for the kindergartener!  I’ll spare you the 3rd grade list, as it’s even longer.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate our school and have a great love for our teachers, but it’s time to tackle the list and ensure the best possible deals!

I’m a frugal momma, and that’s just supplies, so let’s get started

Don’t leave home, Amazon Prime day might be long gone but the competition isn’t

Economists have stated that Amazon Prime day actually surpassed 2016’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which is forcing many stores like Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot to offer deeper discounts and free shipping when you spend over a certain amount to remain competitive.  This year I picked up spiral notebooks from Staples online for as low as 19 cents and boxes of crayons for 50 cents – for that price you might want to add a few extras and save for next year by keeping a bin with a small inventory of school supplies.  I sat at the computer and tackled both class lists in under 30 minutes with  Save time, save money, avoid the impulse spending and the stress of finding a parking spot – online shopping for the win!

Avoid the trendy gear

Disney’s Descendants has been running rampant through our house this summer, but I just wouldn’t give in to the Evie and Mal matching backpack and lunch box.  Once the next best thing comes along, my girls will be begging for an upgrade, which will only result in wasted cash.  Amazon has some great deals on backpacks with many options to choose from.  Once again, why leave home!

Shop affordable

Old Navy and Kohl’s have become my go-to stores for back to school clothes of solid quality and price.  Great coupons and sales are readily available whether your kiddos are in uniforms or create their own look.  And if you see an item you bought in the last 14 days on sale later, you can get the difference refunded with a receipt only.  Kohl’s offers a very generous return policy.

Plan your lunches based on weekly grocery circulars 

Check your weekly grocery circulars for the best prices on veggies and produce.  Even organic options can be found on sale.

Go Green

The Container Store offers lunch-time essentials containers for as low as $5.99 (Colorful Klip-It Lunch Cube-to-Go – that can be reused all year long.  At that price, you may want to pick up two sets per kid to avoid the stress of washing them nightly.

On to another school year we go moms, we’re almost there – hang in there as you get through these last weeks of summer!

Family joy Mommy Maintenance

Mommy Maintenance

Halleluiah, today my body, mind and spirit were cheering as it was finally the day I had scheduled myself to get an hour long deep tissue massage! And truth be told this massage was long overdue as I sat stiffly in the waiting room chair thinking, “Why do I always let myself get to this point and why do I run myself down to the point my body starts to revolt against me?”

I literally had knots in my back and shoulder blades the size of silver dollars which finally had created a ripple effect on up to my neck muscles to the point where I was having difficulty turning my neck and head. It was yesterday the headaches and fatigue made their way into this picture after one of the longest and more stressful weekends of work I had worked in a while. The exhaustion and pain finally set in to the point all I could do was lay down and rest while my kids (age 2 & 4) napped. And napping is not something I do. Hardly Ever.

But today, after my massage, even in the pain of getting those silver dollars worked out of my upper back and neck for a whole hour, I reveled in the quiet. I reveled in the way my body finally relaxed and released tensions and toxins in that time, enough that when I got up to leave I felt refreshed and I could turn my neck and return home to my family feeling so much better than when I left the house for my appointment. Taking care of me is what allows me to best take care of my family and ultimately be the mom I want to be.

And this, my friends, is what Mommy Maintenance is all about.
Mommy Maintenance is giving yourself permission to step into the mindset that it is okay and important and vital to take care of our health and set aside special time to do something that makes us feel good, healthy, beautiful and refreshed of body, mind and spirit, so that we can in turn be our best self for ourselves and our families.

So, for all you mommy’s out there running on “E” just like me. Here’s some great Mommy Maintenance ideas to give a try. (And yes, after this blog I’ll be printing these tips out for me and my, “Type A, driven, pleasing personality, run on coffee self”, to be working on daily too.)

1. Schedule a Deep Tissue Massage or Spa Time
Today I brought with me a pure essential oil soothing muscle blend of Blue Heat, Frankincense, and Lemongrass for the massage therapist to use & my muscles are thanking me already.

2. Exercise On A Regular Basis – Find what activity feeds your soul.
I have found that yoga has been one of the best restorative and strengthening activities that has rejuvenated my spirit and it can be done with minimal equipment and minimal expense.

3. Rest- Take a nap and go to bed early
Here’s a great article put out recently by the CDC on sleep called “Are You Getting Enough Sleep.”

4. Journal

5. Read A Book In Your Favorite Quiet Place while indulging in some dark chocolate and your favorite cup of coffee or fancy tea.

6. Give Yourself A Mani/Pedi with a happy, bright color.

7. Sit Outside And Watch The Sunrise Or Sunset.

8. Soak In The Bathtub with some lavender essential oil infused epsom salts to calm and relax and decrease inflammation in your body.

9. Sign Up To Take A Class To Learn A New Skill such as painting, pottery, jewelry making, dance, guitar or some skill you’ve always wanted to try.

10. Get A New Hair Style, Color Or Just A Refreshed Haircut.

11. Sit Back And Watch Your Favorite T.V. Show Or Movie without any distractions.

12. Go To The Beach Or Near Any Body Of Water, as this is an energy booster.

13. Say “No” to things that are draining your energy.

14. Do Absolutely Nothing for 10 minutes or an hour or for a day as far as household chores are concerned and allow yourself to just be present in the moment with yourself, your family and count the blessings around you.

Life is good. Motherhood is great, but Motherhood is no cakewalk and I am walking it out one day at a time and learning to give myself and others more grace in this fast-paced life I lead and say “Yes” to more Mommy Maintenance and “Yes” to a healthier, happier me and family! I hope you will too!


Jara Johnson
(Wife, Mother, Marketing Educator, Medical Technologist, Singer/Songwriter, Wearer of Many Hats)

Family summer health summer wellness

6 Summer Health Tips For Families

Summer is here—dust off your grill, haul out those coolers, and brace yourself for getting into your swimsuit! It’s time for some relaxation and fun in the sun.

Summertime with the family can be one of the best times of the year, but as moms we know that there’s often added stress when kids are involved. The suffocating summer heat can melt our brains a little—making us forget to take the necessary health precautions to fully enjoy the summer outdoors.

Keep these 6 simple tips in mind to help you get the most out of your summer excursions while keeping the whole family healthy!

1. Stay Hydrated

During the summer, our bodies lose more water than normal through sweat. While this keeps us cool, it’s also very dehydrating.

To stay well hydrated, we should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day. If your kids are younger, they may need to drink less—check out this handy table to make sure they’re hitting their daily water targets!

Kids aren’t always the biggest fans of drinking water when there are tasty, sugar-filled alternatives like soda and lemonade. Try jazzing up their water by throwing in some fruit slices—or freeze some home-made popsicles with low sugar content. Low sugar and lots of water will keep them healthy and you sane!

2. Keep Sunscreen on Hand at ALL Times

During the summer, nearly all your activities will be outdoors in that lovely sunshine. Even if you religiously apply sunscreen before heading outside, do you remember to reapply regularly? That’s the key to avoiding sunburns!

The sooner you teach your kids healthy sun habits, the better. Remember that each time our skin tans or burns, it gets damaged. That’s why “Sunscreen plenty and often” is the motto at our house!

You’ll get the best protection from sunscreen SPF 30 or higher.

3. Stay Active

Especially if you’ve spent the winter cooped up indoors, summer is a great time to get active again! Enjoy it—even if your “summer body” isn’t what you’d like it to be.

Swimming, beach volleyball, outdoor games, and hiking are all great ways to ensure that you and your family get exercise while having fun outdoors. Staying fit is essential for all ages and comes with a multitude of health benefits.

4. Practice Water Safety

Speaking of swimming, water safety can be a lifesaver—literally! According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the main cause of injury or death among children ages 1-4.

Don’t let that scare you away from the water, though! Use this summer to teach your kids water safety. Take them to the local pool to brush up on their swimming skills, or enroll them in swim lessons at a nearby rec center. And why not practice your own swimming skills while you’re at it?

Have a pool at home? Install a fence around it for safety and always supervise children around the water!

5. Prevent Bug Bites

Along with the heat come all sorts of insects—and with them, diseases. Protect your family and keep them itch-free with a non-toxic insect repellant, especially if you’ll be outdoors for an extended period. Keeping some calamine lotion in the car is also handy in case you do run into any mosquitos.

Summer is also a great time to ensure that your home is insect-free. Double check your family—especially the furry members of the group—for fleas and ticks after spending time outdoors, and use an appropriate flea and tick prevention product on your pets to keep the bugs off.

6. Practice Food Safety

In the warm summer months, food tends to go bad quickly. Store any leftovers in the freezer—don’t leave them out overnight—in order to prevent food poisoning.

If you’re packing food for a picnic or fun day at the lake, make sure to throw plenty of ice packs in the cooler to keep the food fresh. Don’t let your snacks sit out in the sun while you play—they could easily spoil or attract ants.

Be Prepared So You Can Focus on the Fun!

Summertime is all about fun in the sun with your family. Keep these tips in mind to be prepared for summer excursions, and you’ll set the whole family up for a great time!

Family family outdoor activities happiness

11 Fun Outdoor Activities to Entertain Your Kids

Now that summer’s almost here, it’s time to put away the iPad and enjoy the great outdoors with our kids!

I’m not saying that you and your family need to partake in extreme sports; I am saying that you need to get outdoors. From a simple game in the backyard to a family camping trip, there are quite a few fun outside activities that will not only keep the kids entertained and active, but you too!

You don’t always need to spend a fortune on family fun, but you do need a good imagination and some energy (hello coffee—or sports drink!) to keep up with the kids! Here are 11 fun outdoor activities to enjoy the summer months with your favorite little people:

1. Backyard Camping

No need to go to the woods for a campout—just have one in your backyard! Don’t have a tent? Build a fort outside with old bed sheets and a few cushions.

If building a small fire isn’t an option, heat up some marshmallows in the kitchen—for s’mores of course! Throw in some more camping-type snacks (beef jerky, trail mix, etc.), some ghost stories, and a ball or frisbee to throw around, and you’re good to go!

2. Green Thumbs

This is for all you gardeners out there—get your kids involved in the garden too! It’s not only a fun activity for you and the kids, but it’s also a chance to combine fun and learning.

Give each child some seeds of their own to plant. Teach them how to water and tend to the plant as it grows. This fun activity helps teach kids a sense of responsibility for taking care of other living things (a great first step for that puppy they keep demanding!).

3. Kid-Friendly Paintball

If water balloons and paintball had a baby, this would be it! Fill the balloons with non-toxic, water-soluble paint, wear some old white t-shirts, and let the fun begin! Run around the grass and try to hit each other with as many balloons as possible, all while avoiding getting hit yourself.

Whoever has the least amount of paint on their t-shirt wins! This is the perfect game for some backyard fun or to play at a local park (just be sure to wash down the grass after the game is over).

4. Go Fish!

Fishing is not only fun, it’s an important survival skill. Plus, it teaches your kids to work for their food, helps them learn patience, and allows them to get hands-on with nature (and a little dirty!): putting worms on the hook, taking the fish off the hook, cleaning and filleting their catch—or throwing it back, depending on your own comfort level.

Find a local lake or river where fishing is allowed, and look up the rules for getting a fishing license—usually a simple process. Or if you live seaside and your budget permits, you might even consider taking the family deep sea fishing!

5. Take a Hike

Instead of relying on the tablet to keep your kids occupied, let nature take the lead. If you’re lucky, there should be a nature reserve nearby; if not, you may have to take a drive out of town. Either way, it’s worth it.

You’ll find that there’s plenty along the trail to keep them entertained, and a little physical activity never hurt anybody! Look up the trails ahead of time and choose a hike that meets your family’s comfort level—from a one-mile loop to a mountain hike, there are options for all activity levels! Just remember to stick to the marked trail and allow for plenty of daylight to finish the hike.

6. Slip ‘n Slide—Without Water

Say what?! Water is a precious thing and we shouldn’t waste it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun. Use shaving cream instead! Slipping down the slide will be just as fun (create a simple slip ‘n slide by spreading some plastic sheeting over the grass in your yard).

But don’t just watch—unleash your inner child and join your kids!

7. Play a Sport

Soccer, touch football, tennis, swimming—the list is endless. You and the kids can get some fun exercise (and it’ll tire them out for an early bedtime, fingers crossed!).

8. Have an Archery Tournament

All you need is some paint, a bull’s eye, and the kids’ toy bow and arrows. This activity is great for children’s hand-eye coordination, and hey—parents can show off their archery skills too!

9. Host a Family Olympics

Get the whole family involved and be creative with the sports and activities you include. Pair up with your kids so that each team has an adult and a kid (or three!)—or do kids vs. parents for the ultimate face-off!

10. Arts and Crafts

We could all do with some useful DIY projects now and then. Why not get the kids involved? They could help paint or assemble their playhouse, or even make some useful things for your home. Head out to the arts and crafts supply store for some kid-friendly home decor ideas.

11. Family Cookout

Family barbeques are always fun. Teach the kids some of your favorite family recipes and incorporate some of these outdoor activities into the day—whether it’s in your backyard or on a fun family vacation.

Imagination and Creativity is Where It’s At!

The sky’s the limit when it comes to outdoor activities. With some imagination and creativity, fun can be had by the whole family. Now that the weather is nice, get out there and enjoy some sunshine.

Don’t forget to snap some pictures to capture the moment!

emotional expression Family purposeful play

How Play Facilitates Learning in Children

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” There might be more to this quote than you realize!

When it comes to our children, “play” isn’t just about fun—it’s also about healthy development. One important aspect of preparing our kids for school is providing them with plenty of opportunities for play and exploration during their toddler and pre-K years. Why? Because it facilitates social, physical, and emotional development—all instrumental areas for children’s growth.

What does this mean for us as moms? Simply put: prioritizing play and appreciating its importance in our kids’ lives. Let’s delve a little deeper into how play facilitates learning in children—and ways to incorporate it into our kids’ routines.

The Importance of Play in Learning

1. Emotional Expression and Social Development

Have you ever spent so much time with your toddler that you’re able to understand what they’re trying to say even if it’s mostly gibberish? While it’s great that you’re so in tune with your child, as they grow it becomes increasingly important for them to be able to communicate with others outside of their family circle. Their social world will continue to expand as they get older, and with that comes the need for them to express their emotions accurately—not only for others to understand them, but for them to understand others as well. So where does play come into this?

Play with siblings or other children exposes your kids to the emotions of others, and teaches them how to express and regulate their own emotions, as well as understand the emotions of others. Play helps children transition from being fully dependent on adults to regulate their emotions (such as comforting when they cry) to being able to regulate their emotions themselves by relating their own feelings to those of other children.

Action step: Day care or preschool are both excellent environments for children to play and interact safely with their peers. However, if you’ve opted to keep your toddlers home in lieu of day care, no need to worry: you can facilitate their healthy social interaction through frequent play dates and age-appropriate activities with other kids like storytimes, trips to the playground, mommy and me classes, Gymboree, etc.

2. Creativity

Imagination is at its purest when we’re children, and it’s easy see this in our own kids—their carefree outlook on life and the way they’re completely fascinated by the simplest of things. A cardboard box can become a car or spaceship, or a broomstick can become a horse. While we as moms may brush this off as kids being kids, our children are actually learning something in the process.

As they become older, kids begin to take up creative activities, and as messy as these projects may be (cleaning up their messes is always a struggle!), they actually learn basic math skills and problem-solving skills through creative play like finger painting, puppet making, dress-up, etc. They begin asking themselves questions like, “If I cut here, will it fit there?” and “Is this enough paint?” As they start translating imagination into something real, their thinking becomes more complex and they apply these skills in other aspects of their lives.

Action step: Look up some DIY art projects to do at home with your kids whenever you have some free time (evenings, weekends, or vacations for you working moms). These can be as simple as drawing with sidewalk chalk on the driveway, or more intricate such as dyeing Easter eggs. Also look for art-themed kids’ activities in your community—many children’s centers and libraries offer such programs for free.

3. Physical Skills

According to a report by Dr. David Whitebread of the University of Cambridge, physical play is related to the development of whole hand-eye and body coordination; and as you already know, it’s vital to building physical strength in children.

But what about “rough” play (chasing, wrestling) that’s often more of a nuisance than anything (because it easily ends in an injury or someone crying)? According to the same report, this type of play facilitates development of both emotional and social skills, as well as understanding. Furthermore, more physically rigorous outdoor play encourages self-regulation, resourcefulness, and independence. When we take the easier route and let our children play on the iPad or watch TV for hours at a time, we’re denying them the chance to develop these critical skills—and remain physically fit.

Action step: This type of play isn’t just for boys! The best way to encourage more rigorous physical activity in your sons and daughters is to model it for them: go to the park and challenge them to a race, or set up a mini soccer game with them. Toddler sports teams are also an excellent way to facilitate this type of play—most communities have different types of organized sports for even the littlest of tikes.

Purposeful Play

Play is an important part of our children’s development. Problem-solving, sharing, negotiation, and self-restraint are just a few of the skills children learn while they play.

As parents and teachers, we shouldn’t try to control or take over playtime, but we should provide additional opportunities for it and help redirect their thinking during regular play. For example, when children are having a “tea party,” rather than continuing to play it with them in the same way, parents can add a new component by saying, “Be careful, the teapot is hot.” Our little ones will then learn that teapots can be hot, and will repeat it to their peers the next time they play. Purposeful play provides a context to learning that children can understand.

The goods news? No need to feel guilty if your little ones are “playing too much.” They’re learning valuable life skills. Remember, it all starts at home!