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Tips

May 09, 2021

Cast Away the Clutter!

I love my husband dearly, but I have to admit that we have certain subjects where we don’t see eye to eye. The storage room off the garage, for example. I’ve (almost) stopped nagging him about the fact that it should be condemned and I’ve (almost) resigned myself to just not opening the door.

I want to take an entire Saturday and tackle this monster. Randy takes one look and wants to immediately grab the T.V. remote. But there’s middle ground here — and hope — according to the organizing experts I consulted. Like the old advice about eating an elephant, you just have to do these things one bite at a time.

Start with small, well-defined tasks and don’t get sidetracked, suggests Kim Taylor, owner of The 25th Hour in Manhattan Beach, California. If it's a closet, just organize the closet, not the entire room. If it's catching up on phone calls, make them all at once — and don’t start filing recipes or rearranging furniture half-way through the task. (OK, so Randy and I can start by clearing the old paint cans out of the metal cabinet in the storage room and taking them to the hazardous-waste drop-off station. Baby steps…)

Here are some terrific resources to help us tackle that stack of mail on the dining-room table, that pile of outgrown clothes in our kids’ closets — and even a storage room filled with who-the-heck-knows-what:

°    At flylady.net, professional organizer Marla Cilley knows what it’s like to suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). She’ll take you —  with her own brand of homespun humor — through the process of organizing and cleaning your home. She also has some fun organizing tools, including her book, Sink Reflections (Bantam; $14.95 plus shipping), available on her site.

°    Visit getorganizednow.com for great tips and to subscribe to professional organizer Maria Gracia’s free e-mail newsletter. (I save her newsletters in an e-mail folder for quick reference. Her holiday tips alone will make your life easier.) Gracia’s monthly checklists will help you stay on top of seasonal tasks around the house, such as putting up storm windows, cleaning gutters and getting the family car ready for hot- or cold-weather driving. Her book, Finally Organized, Finally Free For The Home, is available in print ($24.95 + shipping) or in a digital PDF version ($19.95) at the website.

°    The National Association of Professional Organizers can help you locate an organizer in your area. Just enter your ZIP code here.

Check out these other great tips from Gracia, Cilley, Taylor and Jeannie VandeWeg, a professional organizer and owner of All Squared Away Organizing in Sebastopol, California:

°    Stop keeping things “just in case.” Do you really need all those hair clips and those old issues of Newsweek? With the exception of certain seasonal or formal clothing, seasonal sports equipment, etc., if you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it.   

°    Double up. Double-hanging closet rods quickly expand the available space for young children’s smaller clothes — and make them more reachable. Add hanging baskets and boxes for socks, hair accessories, etc. Clear, plastic hanging shoe holders are great for holding accessories.

°    Grab your label maker. Large plastic containers with multiple pull-out drawers are inexpensive and great for storing loads of small toys and doo-dads. For younger kids, attach photos of dolls, Legos, etc. to the drawers to show where items belong.

°    Create a “wall-of-fame” bulletin board for kids’ artwork and stories. Every week, add new artwork and store favorite older pieces in a notebook with sheet protectors. Send the rest to family and friends. Kids can help address the envelopes. A fun added touch: Current offers kid-friendly address labels at great prices: www.currentlabels.com.

°    Designate a “morning-launch-pad” spot. Here’s where everyone places backpacks, keys, cell phones, DVDs to be returned, gym bag, outgoing mail, etc. It can be a large basket by the front door, a bench with a cubbyhole for each family member, etc.

°    Create an emergency station. The utility closet is a great place to store flashlights, candles, matches, batteries and a fire extinguisher. Keep the smaller supplies in a covered box and mount the fire extinguisher on the wall.

°    Too many toys? At the start of each new season, rotate younger children’s toys to keep them fresh and interesting. Donate gently used clothes and toys to a donation center or children’s shelter. Let your child help choose the items and help deliver them.

°    Create “kid-paper central.” Purchase a magnetic, vertical file holder with a section for each child. Attach it to the fridge and remind kids to put all school papers in their file each day. If space permits, different-colored 9-x-12-inch “in” baskets on the kitchen counter work well, too. In the summer, use the files for notices from camp, swim team or other kids’ programs.

°    Make bathroom sharing easier. Assign a favorite color for each child, and use colored baskets to separate combs, brushes, etc. This system works with everything from toothbrushes to towels.

°    Reduce morning bathroom traffic. Stagger wake-up and/or shower times and set up a separate area (with a small vanity table, mirror, etc.) in the bedroom for styling hair and applying make-up.

°    Color-code the family calendar. Choose a calendar with big squares and place it in a busy family area, like the kitchen. Attach different-colored pens (one color for each family member) with string or dental floss. Each person can see their activities at a glance — and the family carpool organizer can see what each day’s schedule holds.

°    Save the date. Stash birthday-party invitations, tickets for the school play and other date-related items in a tickler file by date or in a wall calendar containing a pocket for each month.

°    Switch to online bill paying. Many banks now offer this service at no extra charge. You’ll save time, postage and headaches. And at tax time, you can print out a record of all deductible expenses. (We’ve been doing this for two years now, and I’ll never go back!)

°    Purge old files. Sorting through just 10 files per day makes this task manageable. Shred and recycle unneeded items. And don’t forget computer files. Just 15 minutes spent purging old computer files frees up valuable hard-drive space.

°    Invite the “house fairy” into your home. This most-welcome guest leaves little thank-you notes for kids for a job well done and leaves behind everything from stickers or small treats (for younger kids) to notes telling older kids they’ve earned a movie rental or a music download. (Spouses like to be visited by the house fairy, too...)

°    Create family rewards. After spending the afternoon cleaning the garage, organizing closets or collecting toys for donation, your team deserves a reward. Take everyone for ice cream or rent a movie and snuggle on the couch. Don’t forget the popcorn!

May 07, 2021

Hey Kids, Let's Have a Poetry Jam!

What’s the secret for firing up grade-school kids and making them eager to read and write poetry? Just ask Jill Corcoran, an award-winning poet and mother of three who runs art-music-poetry workshops at elementary schools in Southern California.

“The workshops have been amazing,” says Corcoran. “The kids go from looking at me like I am a space alien, to slowly participating in the workshop, to boldly sharing ideas, to creating poetry with confidence and pride. It’s a fantastic, dizzying writing session that culminates in a coffeehouse-like poetry jam.”

Here are Corcoran’s tips for creating a one-hour workshop that teachers (or parent volunteers) can do in their own classrooms:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop

Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape

1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.

2. Give each student an 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons.

3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel.

4. Give each student a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil and have the students form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.

5.  At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.

6.  The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.

7.  With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)

8.  Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

April 26, 2021

Four Top Tips for a Stronger Marriage

I just love Leo Babauta over at zenhabits.net. I never fail to learn something from his posts, and the discussions over there, in the comments section, are intelligent and thoughtful. Just hanging out there now and then makes me feel better about the world. (And there’s a reason zenhabits.net is one of the most-visited blogs in the world!) Leo has good stuff to say.

In his recent post, “The Seven Deadly Sins in a Relationship,” Leo says "While I can’t claim to be the world’s foremost expert on relationships, I do know that my wife and I have a very strong marriage, and have never been more in love.”

He’s failed at marriage before, he says, “but that’s helped me become better at it. I’ve learned the deadly sins of relationships, and how to recognize them and avoid them.”

A reader, newly married, asked Leo to share his tips on how to make a marriage work. “I wish I had a magic formula, but here’s a simple list of tips,” he says:

    * spend time alone together
    * appreciate each other
    * be intimate often
    * talk and share and give

Sounds good to me. And it’s so simple. But it’s so easy to forget these things, or to get too busy to do them. I think as parents, it's understandable that we focus much of our time and energy on our kids. And that's a good thing. But that relationship between Mom and Dad needs to be the foundation that everything else is built on in the family.

I know from experience that it's easy to get busy and assume that the foundation will just be there when you need it. But without doing what it takes to keep it strong, the walls can start to crumble. So tonight Randy and I are planning a date in the den with a good movie on DVD, a glass of wine and some popcorn — and maybe a little snuggling. (Proof that "dates" can be cheap but fun!)

Head on over to zenhabits.net to read the rest of Leo's post. You'll be glad you did. And thanks, Leo!

P.S. Corey over at The Simple Marriage Project also has a fun post on "How to Create a Passionate Marriage in the Shower." Check it out. Thanks, Corey!

April 24, 2021

Knock Yourself Up (No Man? No Problem!)

As a book reviewer, I've had fun carrying this hot (shocking pink!) little number around town with me this week, reading a few pages during my son's piano lesson, taking it along for a solo lunch at a favorite little Mexican restaurant — and never knowing who might see the cover and wonder...

Of course, like the just-too-funny promos for the new movie "Baby Mama" (about a woman who enlists the help of a surrogate), which opens today, the title Knock Yourself Up (Avery), by Louise Sloan, is meant to be an attention grabber.

But once I cracked the cover, I found solid information and lots of real stories about single women over 30 who are trying to make the right decision on this life-altering issue by doing a lot of research, doing a lot of soul searching and enlisting the support of family and friends. Sloan shares her (touching and often really funny) experiences and those of many others who've decided not to let being single stand in the way of becoming a mom. 

Got questions? The book answers these and a lot more: When do I decide it's time to go it alone? How do I choose the right sperm? Is this fair to the kid? Can I afford to do it? How do I tell my parents? How do I tell my dates? Have I gone totally crazy? Will I ever have sex — or a life — again?

For those who want to discuss these juicy questions with their book club, there's a guide with discussion questions. For even more info, stop by knockyourselfup.com.

While I had a man involved when I got pregnant, I can't say Randy and I exactly did it the old-fashioned way. Having gone through in vitro fertilization, I could relate quite a bit to the tales of hormone injections, blood tests and waaay too many doctor appointments involving transvaginal ultrasound and stirrups. Trust me, nobody goes through all this stuff on a lark.

As "Baby Mama," Knock Yourself Up and my own IFV experience will attest, there are lots of ways to bring a baby into the world these days. But one thing remains, and you can surely can see it in this melt-your-heart picture of Sloan and her son, Scott: Women are making these decisions based primarily on something that mothers have had in common through the ages: love.

March 19, 2022

Kids' Solo Travel Made Easier

How did parents ever survive without the Internet? Just think how often we take it for granted these days.

Need a recipe for homemade clay? Google it. Want to know the symptoms of fifth disease? It's all there. Need the lyrics to a Led Zeppelin song to win a bet with your teenager? The Web is your not-so-secret weapon.

So of course I knew right where to go when Randy and I decided that our son, Matt, would be taking his first solo flight (as an "unaccompanied minor," to use the airlines' terminology).

After talking with the airline and scoping everything out, I relied on Google to dig up some additional tips. The best ones I found were at www.travelwithyourkids.com, including:

°   If possible, select early-morning flights. These are delayed less often and, if there is a problem, the airline still has the whole day to sort things out and still deliver your child.

°    Make sure the person picking up your child at the other end has proper photo ID. If the airline is doing its job, they won’t release your child to a person without ID no matter how loudly your kid shouts “Grandma! Grandma!”

Will I still worry a little until Matt's safely back home? Sure. But Delta Airlines couldn't have been more helpful in answering my basic questions. And Google and travelwithyourkids.com helped me answer those questions I didn't even know I had. Gotta love the Web.

March 13, 2022

Money, Sex & Kids

It has been a hoot carrying around a copy of the new book Money, Sex and Kids (Adams Media; $14.95) by Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. for the past week or so. If I'm reading it in the orthodontist's waiting room, for instance, people take a look at the cover and you just know they're wondering, "Hmm. I wonder what her problem is: money, sex or kids?"

Actually, reading the book is a good way to help head off potential problems with all three. For instance, Tessina offers down-to-earth tips on how to resolve fights constructively — and lovingly (it’s possible!).

She's is a psychotherapist in private practice and she isn’t afraid to tackle these three biggies in most marriages. Her tips for understanding each other better during an argument make a lot of sense:

°    Seek first to understand.
°    Pay attention to how your words are landing.
°    Focus on the solution.
°    Separate emotion from solution.
°    Don’t beat dead horses.
°    Be nice.

Come to think of it, doing those things in marriage seems like pretty good preventive medicine, too.

March 11, 2022

Guest Post: Let Them Be Girls!

Today I'm jazzed to share with you a guest post from Juliana LeRoy, an award-winning writer and editor at Family-Life magazine in northern California. LeRoy also blogs over at at www.mamabear.pnn.com. I love what she has to say about shopping for clothes for young girls.

It seems to me there is a massive disconnect between what people want and what we have to choose from in the marketplace. Like the ridiculous clothing choices available for girls, when everyone is so against the objectifying of them.

In 2005 Abercrombie & Fitch put out tee shirts with phrases across the front that were demeaning to girls, including, “Who needs brains when you’ve got these?” A group of girls in Pittsburgh decided to take the company to task by “girlcotting” the stores — their version of boycotting — and they made their voices heard. Abercrombie & Fitch removed the offending shirts.

Mothers Acting Up is a group that has taken “girlcotting” to another level and made it an active way to support companies that are aligned with their values. They promote companies that have fair trade
agreements, or commitments to offering a living wage. The idea is to draw attention to good things and make them more visible.

My daughter, Megan, is eight, and she is tall and slim. Her sense of style is emerging, but she mostly wears clothes that you can move in: leggings because she’s too skinny for most pants, and she’s too busy for
skirts. She doesn’t wear tees with slogans on them, unless they say something about one of the Girl Scout camps she’s gone to, or have a school mascot on them. She’s active, and she’s feminine, and loves to feel extra pretty when the occasion calls for it.

When Megan needed a dress for a father-daughter dance, I was sure I’d be able to find something cute and fun and suitable for a third grader in no time at all. We wanted it to be fancy enough for her to feel really dressed up and special, but not too fancy. You know, something girly and pretty and sweet. Not smocking and pinafores, but not Christina Aguilera, either.

I looked online for a girl’s size 7 for Megan, and in some local department stores. It was too late for the holiday dresses, and the Easter dresses weren’t in yet. What I found was slinky materials, skimpy necklines and arms, high hemlines. The dresses were miniatures of the adult sizes, with bold prints and bright colors. They were cute, but not for the ages the sizes were for. I was puzzled and frustrated. What nine year old needs to dress like Britney out on the town? What seven year old needs to show off cleavage?

The dress we finally chose was a pretty blue shiny material, which Megan loved, and it was very simple, which I loved. It was more adult than I originally wanted, but it wasn’t a complete sell-out.

Other moms I’ve talked to have run into the same trouble looking for sixth-grade or eighth-grade graduation dresses. “We had to look all over for a dress that didn’t have spaghetti straps, or no straps at all,” one mom said. “The school has a dress code, and finding something that was dressy enough without being ridiculous was hard.”

“Last year my daughter graduated from 6th grade,” says one mom. “We went to every department and dress store, Mervyns, Macy’s JC Penney, Gottschalks, Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, second-hand stores  and bridal stores. Everything was sheer, strapless, super short, tight fitting, plunging necklines and/or backless — for a 12 year old?! I don’t think I’d let my daughter wear most of these styles to prom. I think they make girls look hookers. We finally found a dress at a bridal shop, paid too much, and had to sew on straps besides. Isn’t there anybody out there that has decent dresses?”

Today’s girls and teenagers want to feel cute, and want to be fashionable. Why can’t the clothing choices be appropriate and cute? Why does everything have to be low-cut, tight, revealing or provocative? To answer that it doesn’t, two major department stores have recently introduced more modest clothing lines, aiming at the vast market of girls, teens and women who believe confidence and intelligence is sexier than any amount of skin showing: Macy’s Shade line and Nordstrom’s Modern and Modest line.

What do you think? Are the choices out there in keeping with your values and sensibilities? Are you comfortable with the styles and examples we are being sold? Why or why not? Where’s the best place to find cute dresses for young ladies?

March 08, 2022

Can't Say No to Your Kids? Here's Help

In response to my Feb. 27 post, "Are You Crazy Busy?" Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of 13 parenting and relationship books, including The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It — and Stop People-Pleasing Forever got in touch and offered to share these tips, from her wonderful book, with the rest of us:

When something needs to be done, you’re the one to do it. It often feels as if you’re the only reliable person you know. The trouble is: Everyone else thinks that way, too. Especially your children.

Children have no trouble saying no. But it’s a word you avoid because it sets your guilt meter running, particularly where your children are concerned. You don’t want to disappoint them or make them unhappy. When you say yes to your children’s every want and whim, you wind up saying no to yourself, being overwhelmed and exhausted. You can’t be a happy, effective parent if you always function on overload.

At times, it seems a child’s needs involve you in different and demanding ways every waking minute. You have every right to say no to a child who asks to stay up later or eat more candy than you think is healthy, just as you do to an adult child who seeks dollars to start a seemingly risky venture.

NO Teaches Life Lessons

In some situations, no is the obvious answer, but what happens when your child asks to add another extracurricular activity to her already-full schedule? You’re proud of her initiative and want her to excel, but at the same time, your brain calculates the extra costs, both monetary and physical, that will result if you give permission.

When faced with the decision to add another activity to your child’s crowded schedule, grant a privilege or buy the latest electronic gizmo, listen to your gut feeling and ask yourself these questions: Can you afford to invest the time or money? What will it take away from other children in your family? From your job? How much stress or pressure will it add to your life?

By calling up a no when you need it, you gain a bit of deserved time for yourself, and equally important, no prepares your child for the “real” world. Parental no’s teach children how to cope with disappointment, how to argue, how to strike a balance between work and play, time management and task prioritization — essential experiences that aren’t always taught in school. When children grow up learning these concepts, they are more likely to be successful in their academics, relationships and, later on, in their careers.

10 Tips for Saying NO

In The Book of NO I point out that you have certain rights. Among them: Using no to get your life in control and to be in control of it; requesting details before committing; refusing anyone, including your children, who insists on an immediate answer. Exercising your “no” rights will change how you think when your children’s requests seem excessive, unnecessary or impossible to meet given your other commitments.

In our culture of “yes parenting,” here are suggestions and reminders to make saying no to your children easier:

•    Don't get in the habit of putting your children's wants and wishes before yours.
•    Forget about keeping up with the Joneses (one of the reasons many parents say yes).
•    Think about what’s really involved (in terms of time, money, health, pressure — yours and theirs).
•    Children get over disappointment far better and faster than parents do.
•    Don’t say yes to avoid confrontation.
•    Appropriate use of NO teaches important life lessons.
•    Saying NO helps instill your beliefs and values.
•    Remember, it is your parental right to say NO.
•    Park your guilt. As adults, your children will find something other than your refusals to fault you for.
•    Your children may even thank you for teaching them how to say no.

Thanks, Dr. Newman! For more on how to say NO to your children, friends, family and at work, visit www.thebookofno.com.

March 06, 2022

Cell Phone in the Washing Machine - Arg!

Talk about timing...

So I'm sitting here working on a magazine article on kids and cell phones, and I decide to take a break from the home office and switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. (OK, and maybe grab some Triscuits and cheese... If there are downsides to working from a home office, like the constant reminder of dirty laundry, there ought to be upsides, like snacks. Right?)

Perfect time to discover that my 12-year-old son left his cell phone in his pants pocket and it went through the wash cycle. &*^())#$#^!

I knew I wasn’t alone with this problem when I Googled “cell phone in washing machine” and up popped 332,000 results. That seemed a bit overwhelming, so I decided to go straight to our service provider, who suggested removing the battery and letting the phone dry out for a few days. Sometimes that does the trick, they said — but often it doesn’t.

Unfortunately phones that are damaged by liquid aren’t covered by most manufacturers’ warranties. So this may be an expensive lesson for one young man regarding always emptying his pockets at night. (But his dad’s wallet went through the laundry — again — two weeks ago, so this may be a genetic problem we’re dealing with here!)

Hey, anything for a good article-sidebar idea, right?

Has this happened at your house? If so, did the phone ever come back to life?


February 27, 2022

Are You Crazy Busy?

It happened again the other day. I was at the grocery store and ran into a mom I know from my son's school. "How are you?" I asked. "Just crazy busy!" she said, before launching into a laundry list of all the things she had on her plate that day.

All parents, it seems — and especially moms —  have a similar mental list. Grocery shopping, work, laundry, dentist appointments, carpool, baseball practice, piano lessons... It's enough to make us pooped before lunch.

That's why, when I heard about it, I had to pick up a copy of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. Hallowell is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of The Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, MA. An expert on attention deficit disorder, he discusses how all of us — whether we have ADD or not —  can deal with "the rush, the gush, the worry, and the blather (which also includes clutter)."

I'm finding the book to be fascinating and really helpful. Hallowell lives in the real world and doesn't think we should toss the BlackBerry out with the bath water. But he does help us determine what really counts in life — and shows us how to focus on that.

Hallowell also has started a blog to discuss ADD and other issues, including those raised in this book. Check it out here.

Are you feeling crazy busy these days? What ways have you found to slow down and focus on the important things in your life? I'd love to hear your tips.

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