Author Archives: Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae

About Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.

First Day of School_featured

5 Ways to Ease First-Day-of-School Fears

Easing First Day of School FearsBlogger and kindergartner mom Shannon McRae shares simple tips for taking the stress out of the start of a new school year, especially for first-timers or younger students.

My oldest starts kindergarten this year, so the first day of school has been marked on our calendar for months. Sometimes I’m not sure who’s more nervous—the kindergartner or his mama! Whether jittery about riding the school bus, making new friends, or even (and I remember this one) wondering if you’ve chosen the right “first day” outfit, the start of school can be stressful for kids.

Family Fun magazine had some great tips for helping ease those first-day-of-school fears. Find their ideas (and some of ours) below—and then go enjoy the last days of freedom:

1. Carry a Keepsake. This idea was sweet and seems like it’d work for any age. One reader mom found a heart-shaped rock on the playground, took it home and painted it. She gave it to her daughter on the first day of school to keep in her pocket as a reminder that her mom loved her no matter where she was. The little girl carried the rock in her pocket for the first few days. But after she felt more comfortable at school, she moved the rock from her pocket to her backpack. If sending a rock makes you nervous, a simple note or sticker would work the same.

2. Write to the Teacher. My 5-year-old is a little shy and takes a while to open up to people he doesn’t know. That’s why I loved this tip about helping your child write a note to his or her new teacher. The mom who submitted the idea said that in her little boy’s letter, he tells his new teacher things he likes to do and his favorite parts about school. “This makes him feel that he’s broken the ice, and it helps his teacher get to know my sweet, slow-to-warm-up boy a little faster,” writes Marilee Duggan Haynes.

3. Ease Bus Worries. The protective mom in me feels nervous thinking about my child riding home on a bus. Karen Freeman in West Chester, Ohio, came up with a creative way to help her daughter remember her stop on the way home. She cut out a traced hand and wrote her daughter’s school on the thumb. She numbered the fingers, reminding her to get off at the 4th stop. I also like the idea of making sure your child knows someone else on the bus so that it doesn’t seem so unfamiliar.

4. Read a Book. When my little boy started preschool, his teacher sent a copy of the book The Kissing Hand before the first day of school. The story follows Chester Raccoon as he prepares to leave his mom for the first day of school. His mom tells him about a family secret called the Kissing Hand so that he’ll know she’s always with him when he’s scared or alone. For my kids, stories are a great way to talk about things that make them nervous.

5. Start a Countdown Calendar. For younger kids who don’t have a strong concept about time yet, a countdown calendar can help them feel more informed about the approaching Big Day. Simple construction paper chains or tear-off calendars are a good visual to prepare kids for the exciting school year ahead.

Southern Living collage_featured

Growing Up With Southern Living Magazine

Southern Living magazine subscriptionA Southern Living magazine subscription is akin to a rite of passage for women in the South. Blogger Shannon McRae recounts her changing attitude toward her mother’s magazine.

Any child who grows up in the Deep South can pretty much be guaranteed two things: that you’ll learn and use “sir” and “ma’am” and that your mom will subscribe to Southern Living magazine.

For as long as I can remember, my mom has had a subscription to the ubiquitous Southern culture magazine. There was always a stack of back issues on our living room coffee table, in a basket beside my mom’s side of the bed or stuck between the cookbooks in a cabinet above the oven.

My parents are computer savvy now, so I don’t think my mom saves as many issues anymore since she can easily look up a favorite recipe or idea online. But stuffed in the drawers of the bedside table in the guest room, I bet you could easily find an issue from the ’80s.

It’d be hard to guess how many Southern Living-inspired meals I was served during my childhood. I grew up before anyone worried about low-fat and low-carb, and my mom used generous amounts of butter in a normal Tuesday night dinner.

We feasted on the magazine’s holiday-themed desserts and summer-inspired salads. In fact, Southern Living recipes are so much a part of my family’s culture that I recently confused one for my grandmother’s original recipe. I was searching for a particular potato casserole recipe—one that had a cornflake topping (Gourmet? No. Delicious? Yes).

“Do you have Nanny’s recipe for potato casserole?” I asked my mom. She couldn’t remember one my grandmother had made, and after a few more details from me, said, “Oh, that’s not Nanny’s. That’s a recipe I found in Southern Living years ago.”

As a teenager, I remember occasionally flipping through the magazine during moments of extreme boredom and swearing that I’d never be interested in what variety of daffodil bulbs to plant in my front yard bed. But then, as it’s bound to happen, I slowly started becoming more like my mother.

I remember the first time I cooked a real dinner for four girls when we were all single. And the time I planted petunias in the tiny plat of dirt right outside my first condo. Suddenly I could see how it’d be useful to know a little more about cooking, gardening and interesting towns just a few hours’ drive away from me.

My style today is a bit more modern than my parents’, and bulgar is a staple in my pantry. Because of that, Southern Living isn’t the homemaker’s handbook to me that it was to women of my mother’s generation. But even though I love Dwell and Eating Well, I will always identify with Southern Living.

When I lived in the Northeast for a few years, I always picked up a copy when I saw it in a bookstore. It was like running into someone in New York City who used the word “y’all.” It felt familiar.

And last spring when it was time to plant the pots on my front porch, I turned to the magazine that I knew could tell me just what to do. And then I called my mom to see if she’d read it, too.

For a limited time, subscribe to Southern Living magazine and get 13 issues for just $10.


Easter '06

KIWI Magazine Suggests Natural Ways to Dye Easter Eggs

Natural Dyes for Easter EggsWould you prefer to stay away from artificial dyes to color your Easter eggs this year? If you’ve got beets, blueberries, curry powder—and patient kids—on hand, you can.

My family loves eating boiled, dyed Easter eggs after the hunts are over, but I always feel a little weird when I peel the shell and find the egg has turned a funny shade of green or blue.

Am I really going to go to the trouble to buy organic, cage-free eggs, stick them in some unknown chemical dye and then happily feed them to my family?

KIWI magazine had a great way to create do-it-yourself colored eggs that are free from all the artificial dyes.

The magazine cautions that this process takes longer than dissolving a tablet in some vinegar. But if you have some older (and patient) kids, the results are gorgeous and very natural-looking.

The eggs must soak in the dyes five to 15 minutes (depending on how deep you want the color to be). Have kids attach stickers before submerging the eggs and then peel them off after to reveal white patterns underneath.

Here are a few natural ways to achieve egg colors:

Pink: Bring one 15-ounce jar of beets to a boil in 1 cup of water. Simmer for five minutes. Pour through a colander into a bowl to retain liquid. Cool and stir in 1 teaspoon of vinegar.

Yellow: Bring 1 tablespoon of turmeric or curry powder to a boil in 2 cups of water. Simmer five minutes. Cool.

Blue: Bring 2 cups frozen blueberries to a boil in 2 cups of water. Simmer for five minutes. Pour through a colander into a bowl to retain liquid. Cool and stir in 1 teaspoon of vinegar.



Ladies, Show Your Heart Some Love During Heart Health Month

Heart Health MonthWith Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we’ve got hearts on the brain. Women, here are some practical tips to boost your heart health and lengthen your life.

If you’re like me, you spend lots of time worrying about your children’s health while barely giving yourself a second thought. But as the American Heart Association celebrates its annual Go Red for Women Campaign this month, it made me stop and think about myself.

Nearly five times as many women die of heart attacks than of breast cancer, according to the National Coalition for Women with Heart disease. And heart-related disease is also the leading cause of death for women in the United States. With this in mind, I found Parenting Early Years magazine extremely helpful with their quick tips on keeping your ticker strong:

Be smart about the pill. If your contraception plan involves birth-control pills, make sure you know the risks. If you smoke, have high blood pressure or a history of blood clotting, the pill can increase complications.

Get moving. Do anything that gets your heart rate up for at least 95 minutes a week. Don’t feel like you have to be running laps to get good results. Climbing stairs and pushing strollers counts, too.

Calm down. Stress raises blood pressure, so identify those difficult times of the day (hello witching hour!) and find ways to breathe more deeply.

Limit alcohol. Before you raise a glass of red wine in the name of heart health, consider this: Grape juice has the same perks. And having more than one glass of wine a day can raise your blood pressure.

So, while we may not stop worrying about the health of our children, let’s be sure to take the necessary precautions to preserve our own health. And in the end, our children will be glad we did!


Eco-Friendly Products_featured

KIWI Magazine Offers 3 Ways to Go Green in the New Year

Eco-Friendly ProductsPlanning on turning a new leaf this year as a family? Going green can be accomplished in big and small ways, using these eco-friendly product suggestions from KIWI magazine.

If one of your family’s New Year’s resolutions is to live a greener life, then KIWI magazine offers some great ideas to get more earth-friendly in ways that you might not have considered yet.

Get Cozy. Snuggling up next to a warm fireplace feels great in the cold months, but did you know that the crackling flames cause serious indoor and outdoor pollution? Instead, try burning chemical-free Enviro-Logs, which provide a healthier, low-emission fire. Made from waxed cardboard boxes, the logs burn cleaner than wood. And once you’re fire is finished, simply sweep the ashes into a sealed metal container and put them in your trash or compost bin.

Get Clean. Need another reason to use green cleaning products? A recent Boston University study might be all the proof you need. Researchers found that exposure to conventional household cleaners and air fresheners may double the risk of breast cancer. “Many chemicals used in cleaners can disrupt the endocrine system by affecting the natural balance of hormones in the body,” says study author Ami Zota, a doctor of science in environmental health. Researchers asked nearly 800 women who had breast cancer between 1988 and 1995–plus 720 who’d never had it–what type of cleaners they used. Those who used air fresheners more than seven times a year, mold and mildew cleaners weekly and all-purpose surface cleaners daily were twice as likely to develop breast cancer than those who reported low usage.

Get on the Road. You can go green all you want, but if you’re still driving a gas-guzzler you’ll never really reduce your carbon footprint. This month’s KIWI magazine issue features a full-page article on four different options available–two are electric only and two are gas vehicles with fabulous fuel efficiency. After reading the details, I want a new Nissan Leaf, a zero-emission, 100 percent electric vehicle that can drive 100 miles of errands before you need to plug it in.


Saving Money on Presents

5 Ways to Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season

It’s tempting to justify splurging on gifts during the holidays, but a few tips will keep you from paying for your Christmas spending well into next year.

It’s the most wonderful time of year for retailers. As soon as we clear our Thanksgiving plates the race begins to gather gifts for all our family and friends.

During the year, I do a pretty good job of being practical with my purchases. But something about the holidays makes even the most frugal shopper push his or her limits.

Add kids to the equation–and the teacher gifts, holiday parties and the “Can I ask Santa for that??” demands–and you can easily end up with a pile of debt by New Year’s Day.

Family Circle magazine has some good tips on how to stay within your budget this season. First step, create a budget. Here were a few of my favorite tips from the article:

  1. Don’t procrastinate. I love online shopping. It means I don’t have to drag three kids to a store. But if you plan to make many online purchases, you can’t wait until the last minute. You hate to find the perfect gift for your in-laws and then realize you have pay $25 in express shipping to get it here on time.
  2. Use cash. You’ll spend more if you use credit cards than if you carry cash. When it’s gone, you’re done!
  3. You don’t have to spend the same on each kid. That’s a shocking thought for most parents. Even though my brother and I are in our 30s, my mom still takes painstaking steps to make sure the gifts for us (and our spouses) are equitable. I went through the same exercise for my toddlers last year, even down to counting the items in their stockings–something they’d never do themselves. The article suggests that parents worry about it a lot more than kids. And as long as everyone gets things that work for them, who cares?
  4. Buy in bulk. This was a great tip that I’d never thought of. The small gifts are the ones that really add up during the holidays. You need a little something for your child’s teacher, your hair stylist, the neighbors. Rather than buying lots of individual gifts, the article suggests looking for items in groups. Fill a set of ceramic bowls with baked goods or buy a set of candles and split it among teachers.
  5. Get crafty. My sister-in-law is so good about making gifts for everyone. I know it takes her hours longer than it would to buy something at the mall, but that’s what makes it so special. Mary Hunt, author of “Debt-Proof the Holidays,” told Family Circle editors, “In surveys we ask people if they prefer purchased gifts or something homemade, and homemade always comes out ahead.”

What are your tips for saving cash and sticking to a budget during the holidays?