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December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas from the Sena Family!

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a Happy 2008!
Kathy, Randy and Matt

December 11, 2021

Holiday Pig-Out Alert!

As a health and parenting writer, I cover women's health issues frequently. Here's one in an occasional series of posts on health tips for busy moms. — Kathy

It’s the holidays — and we’re all being tempted with fat-loaded dinners and butter cookies. Of course, we want to celebrate a bit. But health experts remind us to keep our eye on the long haul. How much do we really want to pay — in weight gain, potential health problems and just plain sluggishness — for our holiday cheer?

It’s about balance, our experts say, noting that we don’t need to make a Herculean effort. Even moderate changes in what we put in our mouths, and how much we shake a leg, can really add up this holiday season. But there are some simple psychological reasons why so many of us dig in our heels when it comes to building healthy habits. And during the holidays, it’s even tougher to get motivated. Here are some of the most common pitfalls, along with some suggestions for hoisting ourselves over the healthy-holiday hurdles:

°    IGNORING YOUR QUIRKS. So you can’t stand the thought of exercising after a busy day? Well then. Might as well give up, grab some eggnog and rent a few videos, right?

Try this: Work around your likes and dislikes, suggests Lynn Fischer, an author of more than 20 healthy cookbooks who hates to exercise at night. “I work out at 6 a.m.,” she says. “By 7:30, I’m home and I’ve already accomplished the toughest part of my day.” And because she has a sweet tooth, Fischer doesn’t deny herself the occasional holiday goodie, because it helps her say no to other temptations. “But I don’t make it a habit,” she says.

°    FEELING DEPRESSED. Depression occurs, for many people, during the holiday season. “When you’re depressed, exercise is the best medicine, and it has no side effects,” says Scotts Valley, California fitness-motivation consultant Ron Useldinger. But if you’re not feeling good about yourself, it’s tough to get motivated to exercise or eat healthfully. Is depression tied to decreased fitness? “Absolutely,” he says. “If your body isn’t rested, properly fed and exercised, you will feel the effects emotionally.”

Try this: Bundle up and go for a winter walk. The first few times you may have to just trust the experts who say exercise really is good medicine. But have faith. You should start to feel better fairly quickly, says Useldinger. Try to look at those walks as a gift to your well-being. Of course, if your feelings of depression continue, you’ll want to talk with your doctor.

°    BECOMING A REBEL. This is a tough one, because it’s hard to recognize it in ourselves. After all, you love yourself, and exercise is good for you, right? But have you ever heard this little voice in your head? "I have wrap packages. I have to send out all these cards. I have to decorate the house. And now they’re telling me I HAVE TO eat right and exercise, or else something horrible will happen to me? Oh yeah? I think I'll go flop on the couch, watch ‘Survivor’ reruns and have a big slab of fudge. So there.” “It's as if these healthy things become just more pieces of work that we have to do, says Robert Ochs, M.S., LCSW, a Los Angeles exercise physiologist and psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients’ exercise-related issues.

Try this: Make your choices the reward, not the torture. “People have to find things in their life that are soothing,” says Ochs. “None of us can do well if we're just going from chore to chore.” Especially in the early stages of a health-behavior change, try tying the change to a reward, he suggests. Allow yourself a massage after a certain number of workouts. Or exercise while chatting with a friend, reading or listening to music. “Now the new behavior becomes associated with something more pleasurable, and you probably won't dread it,” says Ochs. “Maybe you’ll even look forward to it.”

°    TAKING AN ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH. It’s easy to get psyched and start off with great intentions, only to over-do it and quit on day three. “We know that the three biggest days for exercising are January 2, 3 and 4, and then it drops off quickly,” says Useldinger.

Try this: Get the jump on the new year now by making small changes. Then you will be in the groove come January and not so inclined to over-do it — and then drop out. “Your new behavior cannot be so punishing that you give up, so start with baby steps,” suggests Ochs. “One little change at a time.”

After you make fitness a habit, “the exercise itself becomes the thing you look forward to when you have all those other chores to do,” says Ochs. Pretty soon, stepping away from your holiday to-do list and stepping outside for that blood-pumping daily stroll might just become your favorite part of the holidays.

December 02, 2021

Elf Yourself!

Have you and your family tried this yet? Go to for a fun, free holiday promotion from OfficeMax.

Upload up to four photos to the ElfYourself site to see your own head on a dancing elf’s body, then send the link to friends.

You can even add a personalized voice message. Just use the code provided, record your voice over the phone and within seconds, you'll hear your message, delivered from one of your elves.

Click here to see the my family's elf e-card. Then make your own!

December 01, 2021

10 Ways to Make Holiday Thank You Notes Fun

It’s that time of year again, when a nagging thought stirs the minds of moms everywhere: Did the kids write their thank you notes yet?

And no, you’re not the only mom on the block who puts her foot down and declares “You can’t play with that toy until you write the thank you note!”

Try these tips to make this holiday task a lot more fun.

°    Start a tradition. “Trace your child’s hand on construction paper and cut it out to make a thank you card,” suggests Stacy DeBroff, founder of Be sure to include the date. Family and friends will look forward to watching the note increase in size each year.

°    Help younger kids get creative.
Purchase colorful note paper, pens, glitter, stickers and stamps and help little ones make their own cards. Their original works of art will be treasured by the recipient as much as the scribbled “Thanks for the Barbie doll, Aunt Jennifer!” will be. Or visit, where your child’s drawing can be made into a set of 20 note cards.

°        Make movie magic.
Videotape your child saying “thanks” and talking about the gift. Then download the tape to your computer and burn a CD to send, suggests Jennifer Bogda Lomeli, the mother of a 12-year-old son who loves to create these. (No CD burner on your computer? No problem. Just bring the tape to your local photo shop and they’ll create the CD for you.)

°    Go high-tech. Let older kids use computer software to design and write their own notes, suggests etiquette expert Sharon Naylor. “Using software such as PrintingPress ($29.99) gives them tons of graphics ideas, fonts — even the ability to create their own monograms,” says Naylor.

°    Create a reminder sheet. Elaine Fantle Shimberg, mother of five grown children and author of Blending Families (Berkley Books) swears by the “rule sheet” that served as a reminder for her kids when writing thank you notes:
1.    Say thank you for the gift and mention it by name.
2.    Mention what you’re going to do with the gift.
3.    Write something about what you’re doing in school, sports or other activities.

°    Think of the recipient. “I want to motivate my girls to write meaningful notes,” says mom Eve Curran. “When we receive thank you notes from other people, I put them on our table so everyone can look at them during mealtime. I often read them and we talk about what we sent and what the person said,” she adds. “I hope this process will remind them, when they are writing, what it is like to be the recipient. Hopefully that will encourage them to put a little extra effort into their notes.”
°    Make it personal — even when the gift isn’t.
When her 16-year-old son received all cash gifts one year (not that he complained!), Sue Poremba suggested he send a note that focused on the people giving the gift, not on the cash itself. With that advice as a guideline, “he wrote the notes in no time,” she says. Of course, when receiving cash or gift cards (an increasingly popular option once kids turn 10 or so) kids also should be sure to mention how they plan to spend the gift.

°    Play show and tell. Ask younger children to draw a big heart on construction paper. Write “Thank You!” in bold letters next to it. Take a picture of your child holding the construction- paper “card” in front of her, and then write a quick note, right on the photo (Example: “Thanks so much for the adorable stuffed bunny. Amy loves it!”) with a photo-marker pen (available at scrapbooking and crafts stores). Let older kids create their own photo shoot, including the recipient holding or using the gift, suggests mom Kay Day. “When my girls were younger, they’d take special pictures and include one in each thank you note,” she says. “Part of the fun for them was getting all dressed up.”

°     Embellish a little. “My 14-year-old daughter’s English teacher taught the class to embellish a bit when writing thank you notes; to say something like ‘Thank you for the pretty top. I plan on wearing it to the Rolling Stones concert with my mom,’” says Melanie Shepherd. “We gave the teacher a knitted scarf for Christmas, and her thank you note mentioned how she enjoyed wearing it while on vacation in Texas because it was so cold. What a great example to set for the kids!”

°    Remember the address labels. My son’s enthusiasm for writing thank you notes increased when he received his own set of baseball-themed address labels. Current and Colorful Images offer inexpensive labels with kid-friendly themes.

One more thing… Be sure to make thank-you-note writing a family affair and take this time to sit with your kids and write your own notes, too. Don’t forget the holiday music, cookies and cocoa!

November 28, 2021

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

I'm happy to welcome guest blogger Leah Ingram today. Leah is a magazine journalist and author as well as a blogger on The Lean Green Family. Be sure to check out her blog!

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It shouldn't come as any surprise that this year is going to be the greenest Christmas (and Hanukkah) of all time--at least for the folks on my "nice" list. My mission in nearly everything I do and buy this holiday season is to have green in mind, which hopefully won't cost me a lot of green.

For starters I'm still searching the Internet for the best recycled paper holiday cards. (If you know of a website, please let me know.) Hallmark stores sell recycled paper greetings, but only in single cards, not the boxed kind for the holidays, though you can order (PRODUCT) RED recycled cards for the holidays from Worse-case scenario: I print my family newsletter on recycled paper, send it in a recycled envelope, and skip the cards altogether (though I don't think my family newsletter will go over well with my clients).

As far as holiday wrapping goes, I don't plan to use it this year. Instead, I'm going to hit my local Wal-Mart this week, and stock up on their $1 reusable bags that say "Paper or Plastic? Neither" (pictured at left). These bags will become my default packaging for holiday gifts.

With regard to the gifts, I'm going for items in the simplest packaging, such as CDs, DVDs and video games, which come in containers that double as storage vessels. Also, I found some cool recycled rubber doormats on which are right in my price range. And, as I'd blogged earlier, I am doing the lion's share of my shopping via the Internet to save fuel (though the family and I did spend this past Sunday at the mall, and we will be one of those crazies up at 5:00 a.m. and in line on black Friday).

Continue reading "Dreaming of a Green Christmas" »

November 27, 2021

Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts

Tired of giving apple stationery, apple earrings and “#1 teacher” sweatshirts to your children’s teachers every holiday season? Imagine how the teachers feel! Here are some parent- and teacher-tested gift ideas that will really make the grade.

°    Think Outside The Classroom. “I like giving something that conveys that you know the teacher is human, too — not just a teacher,” says Las Vegas, Nevada mom Joy Hall. Think sports memorabilia (if you know the teacher’s favorite team), an addition to a favorite collection of bears, dolls, snow globes… The list can be endless if you or your child just happen to listen up when the teacher mentions favorite hobbies and activities.

°    Consider a Gift For the Classroom. As school budgets are increasingly cut, teachers are often asked to supply certain classroom items. So when her child was in kindergarten, Dorothy Foltz-Gray of Knoxville, Tennessee asked what classroom game the kids needed. “The teacher responded as if I were a saint!” she says. Another time, she gave a monetary gift, again to be used for classroom supplies. Jennifer Vena of Manhattan Beach, California gives goody bags full of classroom supplies — dry-erase markers, paper clips, post-its, overhead markers, etc. With many teachers spending their own money on these items, this is a welcome gift.

°    Make it Personal. “Have your child make something that shows how much the teacher is appreciated,” suggests Hall. Including a photo is a wonderful touch, she adds, and it will help the teacher to remember your child when she looks at the gift in years to come. A personal letter of appreciation, along with a drawing from your child, is something many teachers say they read over and over again — and keep forever.

Continue reading "Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts" »

November 25, 2021

Holiday Family Photo Tips: Part 2

Yesterday, we talked about ways to include yourself in your family's holiday photos. But of course — let’s admit it — much of the time you’ll still be the one taking those family photos. And in her gem of a book, Mom’s Little Book of Photo Tips, author Lisa Bearnson offers the non-technical photography ideas we've all been looking for. The suggestions here can be used right away, with any camera. Just thumbing through the book got my creative juices flowing. Here are some tips to get you started (and they'll work both at the holidays and all year long):

°    Get great group shots. To add symmetry to your shot, try having your group pop up over a fence or peek out from behind a big tree. Or give everyone something similar (and fun) to wear, such as sports gear, pajamas or Santa hats. Another nice look: Have your subjects wear the same fabric and color, such a blue denim with white shirts.

°     Try black and white. Every baby deserves a roll of black and white film, Bearnson says. It evens out skin tones and gives portraits a timeless feel. When shooting black-and-white film, use natural light and move in close to baby’s face to avoid distracting details. (This photo shows Matthew, now age 11, at one day old.)

°    Look up.
Shooting upward in the outdoors often means you can place your child against a clear winter sky — a beautiful, bright-blue backdrop unhampered by clutter on the ground. Be sure to position your subject to minimize squinty eyes and dark shadows. And try putting your camera on the ground below your child and pressing the shutter. (Don’t bend over the camera, though, or you’ll get in the shot.)

°    Surround your child’s face.
Jumping into a ball pit full of colorful balls, enjoying a bubble bath, making a snow fort... In a child’s life, there are many opportunities for total immersion. When you see your child’s face popping up through a pile of balls, snow or bubbles, grab your camera and get in close. Use a zoom if you have one. And remember, water and snow have reflective properties that brighten photos.

November 24, 2021

Try These Tips For Holiday Family Photo Fun

Ah, it's almost December, when we all want to preserve those special holiday times with our families, whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah or preparing a Kwanza feast. Time for Mom (AKA the Official Family Photographer) to grab the camera! (I love this shot of my sweetie, Randy, taken back when he was two, and I'm so thankful that his mom kept it all these years.)

But will there be any holiday photos of YOU for your family to enjoy years from now? If you’re a mom, I dare you to take this challenge: Write the names of each of your immediate family members on a piece of paper, grab 100 holiday photos from the past few years and count how many times each person appears in them.

“I’ll bet your children are in 90 percent of the photos, your husband in 50 percent, and you — well, you’ll be lucky to be in 10 percent of them,” says Lisa Bearnson, founding editor of Creating Keepsakes scrapbooking magazine and co-author, with Siobhan McGowan, of Mom’s Little Book of Photo Tips (Creating Keepsakes Books).

Let’s admit it: Taking pictures of your kids is great fun, especially at the holidays. But it’s important for you to get in the picture, too. Years from now, your children — and grandchildren — will treasure the photos that show your personality, your love for your family — and all those wacky hair styles from decades past. Here are some tips for keeping yourself in the action during those holiday family-photo shoots.

Continue reading "Try These Tips For Holiday Family Photo Fun" »

November 14, 2021

Putting Heart in Your Family’s Holidays

While the holidays may inspire thoughts of volunteering your family's time to help others, your ever-expanding to-do list may keep you from actually checking the newspaper for volunteer opportunities or picking up the phone. But don’t wait until next year. Right now, there are dozens of kid-friendly volunteer opportunities available — right near your home.

When I visited the Web site for VolunteerMatch, a national non-profit organization, I simply typed in my ZIP code, chose how far I was willing to travel, and found a whopping 192 volunteer opportunities — all within 10 miles of my front door. Volunteers in my home town can read stories to homeless children in a family housing shelter, raise funds for wildlife conservation, deliver hot meals to house-bound seniors, create encouraging cards for people with life-threatening illnesses (something even younger children can help with) and much more.

Continue reading "Putting Heart in Your Family’s Holidays" »

November 12, 2021

Holiday Letters: How to Create One That Won't Get Tossed With the Fruitcake

The holidays officially kick into gear this month, with Thanksgiving just a week away. And that means it’s time to start thinking about holiday newsletters. We’ve all received them – the ones that brag about how Shane (the preschooler) is reading at the second-grade level, Billy got straight As (again), Ashlie got into Harvard and Sam made the law review.

But according to a recent article by Jeffrey Zaslow from “The Wall Street Journal Online,” there’s a risk you take when you send out such an annual family letter: Recipients might gather in small groups to read it aloud and laugh at you.

But don’t let this little tale scare you into sending a card just with “Happy Holidays” scribbled on it. Your family and friends really do want to hear about your family’s news – if you make your newsletter entertaining, says Elaine Floyd, author of “Creating Family Newsletters: 123 Ideas for Sharing Memorable Moments With Family and Friends” (EFG Inc.).

Want some tips for making this year’s newsletter a real keeper? Check out my article in OC Family magazine.

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