Category: blended families

Food pantry

The Locust Have Landed

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

We have a joke in our house about the locust descending. It’s whenever four boys sit down for a meal. I haven’t even settled my napkin in my lap and the serving dishes only contain crumbs. The girls and my husband and I sort of sit there in shock, wondering what happened.

But we’ve learned quickly. If you don’t grab your food first—and possibly keep one eye open during the blessing—there won’t be anything left. We’ve even resorted to hiding food in our room. I’ve heard of other folks doing this, so I don’t feel entirely crazy. But if we don’t dole out the chips a few days at a time, there won’t be any left for school lunches. If we don’t hide the Costco-sized cereal boxes in our bedroom closet, there’s no cereal in the house after two days. So now we put cereal in the cupboard on Wednesday and Saturday and there’s no more until the next distribution day.

I don’t know if locust have hygiene issues. But in our house this is the other big issue. Unless we prompt, remind, cajole, and threaten, the boys would never take a shower, brush their teeth, or change their clothes.

Normally I’m a big believer in natural consequences. You forget your lunch, you go hungry for a day kind of thing. So in this case the natural consequence would be that their peers would comment on their smell, the boys wouldn’t like it and would take showers. Apparently their peers don’t bathe either.

I can’t stand the smell long enough for the natural consequences to take place. This summer we had dirty sheets, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, and dirty boys all confined in the basement. I thought I was going to need a clothespin on my nose every time I went down there to do the laundry. In fact I’ve spent a significant amount of time on Pinterest finding natural, homemade air fresheners that won’t aggravate my allergies. Though I’m willing to risk it if the concoction will battle the smell.

At this stage in their lives, it’s hard to remember them as cute babies or toddlers with kissable cheeks and adorable toes. And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to imagine them maturing enough to become husbands and fathers. But because of—or in spite of—our faithful parenting, they do eventually become less locust-like and more human. They become aware of other people. All of our lessons on serving and responsibility finally take root and produce fruit.

So during the locust years, we keep doing what we’ve been doing: stay on our knees in prayer for wisdom and safety, recognize the uniqueness of each child, and capitalize on the moments to have fun.

And hide your Hershey’s Kisses in your nightstand.

Shadows holding hands

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 3

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Our first two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) discussed getting and cooking food, activities that take up a large part of our over-stretched calendars and budgets. But today we’re talking about you.

As moms, we’re so busy taking care of our families that we routinely put ourselves last on the list. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout. So here are three areas you need to nurture if you want to avoid that.

Time for yourself

I hear you saying, “What’s that? I never have that.” True. You have to make time for yourself. Get out your calendar and block off time for yourself. Whether it’s to do a hobby you love, work out, read, or just be where no one is calling your name. You cannot serve your family out of an empty well. You have got to take time to refill your well.

Time with your spouse

For those of you who are married, I you have to have time alone with your spouse. Regular date nights will feed your marriage. Someday all those little birds will fly the nest. It would be nice to still know the person you’re married to when it’s just the two of you.

Dates don’t have to be expensive. A cup of coffee, an ice cream, a walk all count as dates. What matters is that the two of you have time to connect. A strong marriage reassures your children and gives them comfort and security.

Time with God

Being a mom to boys is exhausting and difficult, fun and crazy. They are quite different creatures from girls. Being a mom to girls brings its own challenges with emotions and identity. We need to regularly go to God with our hopes, fears, dreams, and questions. He is their Maker. He gave them to us. And He loves them more than we do. Let Him refresh your soul and guide you in raising your children.

Hopefully, you’ve found a few useful ideas to try out during this series. Raising young men and women is an adventure, and we need all the help we can get from each other!

 

 

 

Cutting green onions

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 2

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

What’s for dinner?

Has that become a curse word in your house? In Part 1 we talked about grocery shopping, something that’s a huge part of our schedules as moms of teens. But once you get the food, you have to do something with it. You have to prepare it, cook it, and actually make meals out of it.

Trying to figure out what to have for dinner at four o’clock is a recipe for frustration and fast food. I know for me, when I don’t know what to cook and don’t have the energy or think about it, my default is to order out. If you’re trying to save money (kids are so expensive!) then that can be a budget buster. Thinking ahead about meals and doing some planning will save your sanity and budget. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Plan in advance

Planning and cooking in advance is one of the best solutions. Several places like, Emeals, have prepared menu plans you can purchase. Most are fairly inexpensive, have options for specialized diets and family size, and give you a grocery list. You’ll more than save what you spend on these plans by not running out for fast food because there’s nothing to eat.

When you choose one of these plans, look for sample menus. You’ll want the recipes to be easy to make without a lot of ingredients. They shouldn’t take too much time (generally under 30 minutes). The meals should generally fit into your family members’ tastes. And there should be a good variety so you don’t get bored.

What I like about having a weekly menu with recipes is that I post them on the refrigerator. Everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I can even get my children to start helping prep dinner because they know right where to look for all of the information. This also works if your husband gets home before you (or generally does the cooking) or if you have someone helping out in your house. Everyone can be on the same page.

Cooking in advance

Another one of my favorite cooking survival skills is cooking in advance. Pinterest has tons of recipes. I love the Occasional Cook by Cyndy Salzmann, but there are other resources. This may seem overwhelming at first but the rewards far outweigh the work. There’s something very satisfying about a freezer full of meals that only need to be pulled out and warmed up. It’s also great if you want to deliver a meal to a sick friend or someone with a new baby. You have meals already made and ready to go.

I eased into this. I started by making 7 meals, then 14, and finally 21. 21 meals aren’t that much more work than 7, and it’s so worth the effort.

My game plan usually looks like this. I find a day or two when I can shop and cook. I shop on day one, first looking at what I already have in the freezer, then hitting Costco because the large quantities will work really well in this situation. Finally, I go to my local grocery store. Back at home, I put on whatever needs to cook for a long time: stock, marinara sauce, meat.

The next day I follow the plan to start making the meals. While you’re out shopping, buy something for yourself for lunch. You’re not going to want to make a lunch in the middle of cooking.

Finally, I type up a list of the meals I made, the cooking and prep instructions for each meal, and any side dishes that go with them. I print this out and put it on the freezer or fridge. Then I can cross off each meal as we eat it, and I have a great idea of what I have left

When I do this, I make twenty-one meals in about seven hours. It’s tiring, but satisfying to be able to pull something out of the freezer and not have to cook for a month. Try doing it with a friend to make it more fun.

Use your slow cooker

This seems almost too simple to list, but I know I overlook it a lot. In the winter time it’s great to have something warm and yummy for dinner. But in the summer it can also be great if you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen. Pinterest, of course, has a ton of Crock Pot recipes. Many subscription meal plans include regular slow cooker meals.

Make your own meal plan

Another great option is to pick the top 15 or so meals that your family enjoys and you eat regularly. You can write out a standard shopping list based on those ingredients and then rotate through those meals every few weeks. This works great if you have picky eaters that only like a few things.

Get your kids to help

Sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort when you can just do it faster yourself. Your kids might not want to help. Or they may find that they really like cooking. Either way, you’re teaching your children valuable skills. Being able to make even a simple meal will make their diet—when they are on their own—consist of something beyond cereal, PopTarts, and pizza.

Plus, boys are more likely to talk when they are doing an activity. There’s a good chance you’ll learn more about their lives if you can get them to help in the kitchen. When my stepchildren come over for dinner, I leave the kitchen so they can have time cooking—and talking—with their dad.

We continue with one more part to this series on survival skills with the ultimate survival skill: time for yourself!

 

Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.

 

Fresh veggies

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 1

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

When your kids were little, they needed you for every little thing. Feeding, clothing, changing diapers, toting them from place to place. I remember thinking that things would be easier when they got older and didn’t need me so much.

They still need me. But in a different way. While I don’t have to spoon feed them anymore, I still spend a lot of time in the car running them around for school activities, sports, hang out times with friends, and—because I have two special needs kids—lots of doctor appointments.

Because I’m naturally a planner, organizer, and project manager by trade, I’ve developed a few survival skills for moms to survive those crazy years. Some you may already know about, some might not work for you at all. But the more we share with each other what’s working for us, the more we help each other out.

Groceries

Moms of teen boys often feel they need to take out a small loan before going grocery shopping. The kids eat a lot and often. In our house, we call them locust (see this post ). Once upon a time, I used the grocery lists like the Grocery Game and Savings Angel to figure out what to buy when and what coupons to use. If you haven’t used them before (or something similar in your area) they are worth checking out to see if they will work for you. Most of them have trial periods.

The idea is that grocery stores work on 12-week cycles. You stock up on what you need during the low prices (combined with coupons when possible) then you make your weekly meals out of what you already have on hand. It’s a great way to save money, particularly on things like paper goods, cleaning products, and toiletries. But it does take time. Additionally, if you don’t buy a lot of prepared or packaged foods, coupons won’t be as valuable to you.

If time is really crunched for you Amazon’s Subscribe and Save and Prime Pantry programs might be for you. With Subscribe and Save, you pick out your items from their Subscribe and Save shop. You get a delivery once a month, pay no shipping, and save 15% on your total order if you have more than 5 items. This is great for supplies like toilet paper and dog food that you need monthly. The prices can be comparable to grocery stores or even warehouse stores, so check the prices. You get an email several days before your order is locked in and you can make changes to it. Then it’s delivered to your door. I get about 50% of my groceries this way.

For fresh food, companies like Door to Door Organics (parts of New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Missouri)and Zaycon Foods (nationwide) can be good sources for produce and meat if they are in your area. Door to Door Organics will deliver a box of fresh fruits and veggies every other week, plus other groceries you might like to add to your order. You will pay more than the grocery store, but many people like the option to choose local farmers, organic produce, and community sponsored agriculture.

Zaycon uses the buying power of its members to make large purchases from local farms. They deliver to a local, central location where you pick up your order. Prices are usually better than what you can get in the store. But you need to have freezer room for the large orders and usually it’s several months between orders.

Another way to get fresh veggies into your family without having to go to the grocery store is through Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) boxes (go here to find them near you) and produce co-ops like Bountiful Baskets. With CSAs you buy a “share” of a farm from a local farmer and each week they provide you with a box of produce. Produce co-ops buy seasonal produce in bulk and distribute it to their members on a regular basis. Both options provide fresh produce for your families and support local farmers, usually at a savings to you.

Bulk shopping

Most people know the advantages of shopping at places like Costco and Sam’s Club. You can get large quantities at lower prices. For things you use a lot of or go through quickly, this is a good option. But check prices. They aren’t always better than the grocery store. And if something goes bad before you can use it up then it’s not a deal. You also have to have room to store extras (closet, garage, basement, under your bed).

Share the load

If you have friends in the same boat as you, consider sharing the load with them by buying in bulk together. Or start a co-op with several families. Door to Door Organics and Bountiful Baskets work particularly well with co-ops.

Most of these tips require a little prep time, but they will save you in the long run. Realize, too, that your sanity is a valuable commodity. IF something makes your life easier, it can be worth the cost.

Stay tuned. Part 2 talks about what to do with all this food now that you have it!

 

Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.

Boy on zipline

The Joy of Raising Boys

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Boys are just different. I’m reminded of this frequently in a house dominated by boys. I grew up with brothers, but over the years the boys have done things that just make me shake my head. So far, that hasn’t stopped in their teen years.

Different isn’t bad. We need the balance of how girls look at the world versus how boys do. But, being a girl, boys sometimes mystify me. Looking back, here are a few examples of things that I found, well, unexpected.

Boys have a protective instinct

For some reason, Christmas brings out the battle spirit. Maybe it’s the miniature figurines on the tree and in the décor that reminds my son of a small village that needs to be protected from attack. I don’t know. But the juxtaposition has had me chuckling a few years.

One year, either Bionicles or Transformers or maybe both (I never could keep all of those warring toys straight), were possibly fighting in, or attacking, or defending my Christmas village. The image of these sweet, snow-capped Victorian ceramic houses being surrounded by creatures out of the space age struck me as something only a boy would do.

When he was four, my son found a different use for the Christmas tree. It was the perfect cover for covert operations. When I caught him low-crawling under it he said, “I gotta shoot the bad guys,” while using the camel from the nativity scene as a weapon.

“There’s no bad guys in the Christmas tree,” I tell him. “They’re not allowed. It’s against the rules.”

He seemed to buy this, and he and his deadly camel headed upstairs to the playroom. A few minutes later, he came back downstairs and two of the wise men were engaged in mortal combat.

I’m glad this was the PlayMobile nativity instead of the porcelain one on the mantel. And somehow, I’m thinking the Advent readings we’d been doing weren’t quite hitting home.

Boys have a unique perspective on what can be considered a gift

One day when I picked up the kids from daycare, I told them their Christmas present was in the back. I was joking; I had just gotten the snow tires put on the truck. My son looked around. “Where?”

“The tires.”

“Cool. We get four tire swings?”

If you can climb on it, over it, or under it, it’s something you can play with and therefore is a gift. What a great way to look at the world.

Boys have a sense of adventure

My kids are not morning people. So when they are home on school breaks I try to get most of my writing done in the morning before they’re fully awake. Sometimes, for my son with Asperger’s, this isn’t until he’s been out of bed for three hours.

One morning when he was still quite young—I was almost finished with my word count for the day—when he came to me. “Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Finish your breakfast on the table.”

He came back two minutes later, jam smeared on his cute little cheeks. “I want a snack.”

“Give me fifteen minutes. I’m almost done.” I was in the middle of a scene. The words were flowing. I didn’t want to be interrupted.

He ran off. With my mom ears, I heard him climb on the kitchen counter. “Get down,” I called.

“I’m making a sammich.”

Great. I imagined the mess. “Get down. I’ll be there in a minute.”

I heard the sound of the toaster lever plunging, followed shortly after by the scent of smoke. I leaped out of my chair and around the corner. Smoke billowed out of the kitchen. My son climbed off the counter, rubbing his eyes. “I was making a sammich.”

Smoke poured out of the toaster but no flames. I unplugged it and carried it out back, tossing it on the patio. Some days I wish the adventure of raising boys didn’t involve my kitchen. Or smoke.

Another time, we were driving to church at night while it was snowing. I don’t like to drive in the snow at night because no matter what direction the snow is actually blowing, it looks like it’s coming right at you while you’re driving. I find this mesmerizing and distracting.

My son said it looked like we were driving through hyperspace. Which is pretty close to what it does looks like.

When we walked through the parking lot and the light caught the flakes, my daughter said it looked like stars were falling.

Walking through falling stars, driving through hyperspace . . . there are worse ways to spend your time.

Hug your boys (even if they protest). Remember the good times. And celebrate the differences. Even if they do make you shake your head.

 

The Power of Words

by Jennifer Vander Klipp

It may seem like a long time ago (if you look at how big—and dare I say, smelly—your teen’s feet have gotten compared to those kissable baby toes) that your teenager was a toddler, but I bet you remember what his first word was. Sometimes it’s mama or dada or the dog’s name or a favorite toy or food. But we eagerly awaited that first word. Even my autistic son, who often considers words unnecessary, still communicated to us.

And if your son had an older sister, you might have discovered like we did that she often spoke for her brother and told us what he needed. However it happened, we valued that communication with our children.

When our children are young we spend a lot of time telling them what to do and what not to do. It’s not surprising that many toddlers’ first word is No! They hear it all the time!

As our boys grow into teenagers and young men, our words need to change to reflect this growth. Our words need to be less about directing and more about coaching. Less about what to do and more about how to do it.

Proverbs 18:21 tell us the power of life and death is in the tongue. I think we as parents know this in an intellectual way, but unless we’re intentional about it, our day-to-day words may not reflect this value.

Considering teen boys don’t converse in much more than grunts, here are three tips that can help you connect with your boys in a way that reflects their growing independence.

  1. Praise what makes them unique

With four boys in the house, it’s easy to lump them all together. But God made each one of them uniquely and with a purpose. I try to notice and acknowledge these differences by saying things like: “That’s cool! I never would have thought of doing that. I love how your mind works.” Or I name a specific attribute about them that I appreciate. On occasion that has opened the door to further conversation about something that boy is really interested in or how he came to that conclusion. Even if no great conversational moment happens, their eyes light up and their shoulders straighten when someone notices them as a unique individual.

  1. Use activity to communicate

My youngest stepson isn’t as athletically inclined as his older brothers, but he loves to play basketball. So my husband takes every opportunity to shoot hoops with him. Far more words flow during a game of Horse than they would while sitting around the dinner table. Throw a ball around, work on a house project, wash the car…boys are far more likely to talk when they are physically engaged.

  1. Ask their input

As parents, we get in the habit of telling our kids what they’re going to do and what’s going to happen. But as our kids get older, it’s good to find opportunities to let them make choices. Things like what movie to get, what to have for dinner (with their help making it!), a family activity, or a vacation spot. You always have ultimate veto power, but I find the kids come up with things far simpler and down to earth than I would have thought. Teaching them that their voice and opinions matter and have value (even if you don’t end up using their suggestion) lays the foundation for making good decisions when they are out on their own.

Speak life into your boys. Encourage them. Praise their uniqueness. Challenge them to find their God-given passion. There aren’t too many more years until our opportunities to influence them on a day-to-day basis will be gone. But our words will have a lasting impact on them.

Even if all we get is a grunt in return.

We’re Not Blended, We’re Pureed

Combine:
One widowed mom with two sons.
One widowed dad with one son.
Blend for twenty second until right consistency.
But hit the wrong button, and this family is not blended–we’re pureed!

So the question is, do you say it pure-AYED or pure-EED? I say it the first way but when I listened to Diana’s radio interview on the book everyone was saying it the latter way. Must be a geographical thing.

But I digress.

I’m so excited to finally hold this book in my hands. It’s not my baby, but it’s the next best thing. I’ve watched this book from it’s very first inception, through its edits, and cover designs, and finally, its production.

This book addresses a huge need out there for the growing number of blended families that find out it’s not quite as easy as the Brady Bunch made it look and wonder how to navigate the minefield of problems blended families must face. Diana’s practical experience, combined with co-writer Marty’s professional experience, makes this book the perfect blend of ideas, wisdom, comfort, and hope for blended families.

Over 30 million children live with a stepparent in a blended family. Although each family has its unique set of circumstances, everyone faces similar challenges. This book asks if two families can ever learn to cohabitate in peace. With the help of God, the answer is yes.

Perfect for those who feel like they’ve turned into fairy-tale wicked stepparents, dating couples, newlyweds, pastors, and counselors. This book is a compilation of real-life experiences held together with humor and peppered with informative commentary.

Learn:
The pros and cons of changing your children’s last names
How to deal with sibling rivalries
What to do when siblings try to play parents against each other
Why in-laws may resist accepting you or your children
Practical advice on discipline

Buy it here:

Get more info here (including a super cute book trailer you have to watch).

Read the first chapter here.

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