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.

March 2012 Parents magazine

How to Avoid Clothing Wars With Your Kids

Parents magazine March 2012Gone are the days of sweet dresses with Mary Janes. If your tween-ager is asserting her independence through her wardrobe, here’s how to make it work.

I fear what it will be like when she’s eight. My three-year-old has such a strong opinion about her clothes now, and I’ve been told it only gets worse. My first child was a precious baby boy, so when my daughter was born, I was so excited about shopping for little girl clothes. I’ve never been that into pink or bows, but there are so many more choices for little girls than guys. For a while, it was fun. And then one day last summer, my little one decided one day that she’d never wear a dress again. Her brother, who’s 18  months older than she is, hung the moon in her eyes. And if he was wearing shorts–she was too.

An article in the March 2012 issue of Parents magazine proves helpful to anyone who, like me, negotiates every morning with a strong-willed fashion critic. More than anything, the experts reaffirmed what I already knew: It’s not about the clothes as much as the independence.

“Kids are establishing their own identity and separating from you, and this is a safe, easy way to start asserting their autonomy,” says Susan Stiffelman, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “Parenting Without Power Struggles.”

Here were some of her tips on avoiding a style showdown:

Choose a store together: I’m still in the stage of making all the purchasing decisions while my daughter gets to choose her outfit each morning. But older kids want a say in what you buy. So before you go shopping, agree on the stores you both like. If either of you dislikes most of the clothes at a particular shop, it’s best to just avoid it, according to this article. While you’re shopping, try to be hands-off, letting her make decisions on her own.

Set a clean-clothes rule: Some kids like to find an outfit and stick with it, which makes getting dressed easy in the morning–even if a little less than clean. To avoid the overwearing issue, make a rule that pants and shirts must be washed after each wear. The article also advises giving in a little. If your little boy loves a navy T-shirt, then pick your battles. Buy him a few extra and be glad that’s your biggest issue at the moment.

Decide what’s appropriate: It doesn’t matter how many times I see it; my mouth drops when I see clothes at the store in a size 2T that would be more appropriate for prostitutes. It isn’t our imagination. The article points to a recent Kenyon University study that found almost 30 percent of clothes sold for girls had sexy traits like sheer fabric or a revealing cut. This is a slippery slope for girls. If you give in to your third grader, the argument will be even more difficult when she’s a ninth grader. Decide what’s appropriate for your family and stick to it.

Family Fun magazine March 2012

3 Creative Hometown Outings for Your Family

Family Fun magazine March 2012You don’t have to plan a trip to Disney World to have fun together as a family. Open up the world to your kids by exploring fun, low-cost adventures close to home.

We went spelunking a few Saturdays ago. There’s a state park with caverns about a 30-minute drive from our house, so we packed a picnic and headed down to check it out. I have to admit–my husband was more game than I was. I was a little worried about bats and claustrophobia. And I really wanted to work on the weeds that are overtaking our backyard. But he insisted the kids would love it, and he was totally right. It was one of the most fun Saturdays we’ve had as a family in a while–and it was practically free.

For me, it’s easy to fall into thinking that there’s nothing to do in my small hometown. But an article in the March 2012 issue of Family Fun magazine (and my trip to the caves) has me thinking otherwise. You don’t have to plan a trip to Disney World to have fun together as a family. As the article suggests, tons of low-cost adventures can be had close to home.

Here are a few ideas from the magazine’s readers for your next outing:

Take a Behind-the-Scenes Tour: There’s a world of information just behind the scenes of places you visit on a regular basis. One reader has taught her kids the motto “ask politely and you shall receive.” That truth has earned them trips back to the kitchen at their local bagel shop to see how the process works. At the grocery store, the produce manager showed them the fruit storage area when her 7-year-old asked about clementines. One idea in the magazine my kids would love: Visit your local dump for a special tour. It’s also a great way to teach about the need for conservation and recycling.

Become Local Experts: When I visit a new city, I seek out guides written by locals. After all, they know the best spots, right? Become that kind of expert for your hometown. One Family Fun reader in Illinois put together a guide of 50 parks with her kids. After each visit, they documented the highs and lows in a notebook. Then they would refer to their experiences when planning new trips to parks. Experts don’t have to be so organized. I loved one reader’s idea of finding “secret spots” with your kids–the special rock shaped like a bench behind the library or the booth in the back of the coffee shop where it’s fun to act silly. By naming these places together, you create fun memories for your kids.

Make Exploration a Game: Everyone loves a good challenge, so turn typical outings into a game for your family. One family featured in the magazine “visited China” by stopping at their local Chinese gardens, cooking Chinese food that night at home and doing a Chinese-inspired craft. For younger kids, I like the idea of posting an alphabet chart that you fill with photos associated with each letter–you and your child at the ice cream parlor for “I” or at a car show for “C.”

In the end, there are tons of adventures to be had, and while you might have to reach deep into your imagination, you won’t have to reach that far into your pockets.

How to Exercise When You're Short on Time

How to Exercise When You’re Short on Time

Family Circle February 2012When life gets busy, exercise tends to get dropped from the docket. But with these tips from Family Circle, you’ll be out of breath–not time.

I’ve yet to meet a parent who had extra time to himself or herself during the day. If your days are like mine (and I’m sure they are), I’m on the go from morning to night. The only “me” time comes before my kids get up or after they go to sleep. Exercising is always on my daily to-do list, but it’s definitely the item I skip when time is tight.

An article I read in the February 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine, however, gave me the perfect motivation to fit a workout into my routine, even when my days are busy. “Break your training into three 10-minutes sessions throughout the day,” says Andrea Metcalf, a certified personal trainer and the author of “Naked Fitness.”

Metcalf offered a few ideas for routines, some of which allow your kids to join in:

Bend and stretch walking. Alternate with 20 lunges followed by 40 strides. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Jump rope for one minute. Stop and twirl the rope in a figure eight pattern for one minute. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Run or walk upstairs for 10 minutes. If you’re able, take two at a time on the way up and down.

Bust a move. Turn on your favorite dance music and shake it out for 10 minutes. (My kids would love this one!)

Bike it. Ride a stationary bike for three minutes. Continue pedaling and raise your arms to create letters: T (arms out the side), U (overhead press), V (arms extended), W (arms up with elbows close to the ribs). Lower arms and continue pedaling for two minutes.

Jack and jog. Jog for two minutes. Stop and do 10 jumping jacks. Continue alternating until you reach 10 minutes.

Ten-minute exercise circuits sound like the perfect solution to my no-time-to-work-out excuse. They can be done in my driveway while the baby is napping, or in my den while the older two work on their watercolors. Now, if only I could work out a way to shower and dress in 10 minutes too!

Tame Your Toddler's Tantrum Without Having One of Your Own

Tame Your Toddler’s Tantrums Without Having One of Your Own

Parents magazine February 2012 cover

Parents magazine Feb. 2012

Best-selling author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” Dr. Harvey Karp offers his best discipline techniques for those hard-to-tame toddler years.

When my first child was colicky, I relied heavily on tips from Dr. Harvey Karp, best-selling author of the blockbuster DVD and book “The Happiest Baby On The Block” (Remember those five S’s?). Thankfully that stage of infant fussiness is behind my family. But now we’ve moved into a period that–dare I say it?–is even more trying: toddlerhood. I never knew two people under three feet tall would be able to push my buttons with such skill.

I know I don’t always have the best responses when they whine, fuss or demand something ridiculous, but after reading an article in the February 2012 issue of Parents magazine, I have a few more tips on how to handle the meltdowns. In the article “Is Your Toddler Driving You Crazy?” Dr. Karp asked three families to shoot home video footage documenting behavioral challenges. Then, he gave parents tips on their responses and ideas on how to curb future incidents without becoming too negative.

The discipline mistake: Instantly giving in to whining.
What parent of a young child hasn’t been at fault for this mistake? Whining grates on my nerves so much that, at some points in the day, I’d do next to anything to get my children to stop it–including giving in to their requests. But that, Dr. Karp says, is the wrong move. It only teaches them to whine more.

Instead, use your voice to let your child know you understand what she wants and how she feels. When she’s quieted down, Dr. Karp suggests a technique called “putting her on hold.” After you’ve started helping her solve whatever problem she was whining about, stop in the middle of it, hold up a finger and say, “Wait one second, one second!” Turn and pretend to busy yourself for five or so seconds before turning back to help. That, Dr. Karp says, will teach patience.

Another tip to stop whining before it starts is to offer choices whenever possible: “Do you want to wear the red or yellow shirt?” or “Do you want an apple or a banana?”

The discipline mistake: Expecting too much too soon.
All the advice in this section concentrates on rewarding as much as you reprimand. If you’re having trouble with your child obeying a certain rule, start praising him for rules he does follow. Sticker charts or checkmarks on his hand for times he does what he’s supposed to are also helpful. Dr. Karp explains a technique he calls “gossiping,” which is loudly whispering your praise to someone else (another parent or sibling) while pretending you don’t want your child to hear.

The discipline mistake: Not making your child feel heard.
As adults we understand consequences (the iPod will break if you drop it on the floor). But rather than constantly being a parent who drones on about rules and says “no” to every request, try combining loving acknowledgment with firm boundaries. After all, we all know what it feels like to be in a losing position. Dr. Karp suggests using “toddler-ese” which is simple, heartfelt language that acknowledges you understand some of your child’s emotions.

Family Fun magazine February 2012 cover

How to Get Your Kids to Enjoy Cleaning Up

Family Fun magazine February 2012

Family Fun magazine Feb. 2012

Turn the chore of cleaning into a fun game with three great tips from Family Fun magazine.

It usually starts bothering me around dinnertime. The mess of toys that my children have slowly strewn about our house throughout the day reaches its peak in the evening. If you walked into my otherwise fairly neat house at the end of the day, you’d likely find a partially constructed tent in the dining room, an abandoned Lego tower in the den and every matchbox car we own lined up carefully down the hallway. I know I should get my preschoolers to put away one toy before getting out the next, but their games often involve a little bit of everything all at once.

On many evenings, I have them clean up on the way to their baths. But I have to admit that on some days I’m so eager for them to get to bed that I’d rather put away wooden blocks in peace myself after they’re asleep. Still, I know I need to do a better job of involving them in the cleanup, and an article in the February 2012 issue of Family Fun magazine gave me some great ideas. I love that each tip is from a real mom who’s tried it on her own kids.

Here are a few that we will be trying at our house:

  1. Shine Your Light. Heidi Lee of Coronado, Calif., plays flashlight tag with her kids to get them to pick up their rooms quickly. She turns out all the lights and shines a flashlight on a particular item that needs to be put away. Her kids love racing around the room to grab what’s been tagged. “My 6-year-old has even cleaned up his sister’s things, just so that he could play the game,” she says.
  2. Start the Clock. This one works better with kids who understand the concept of time. Cristin Frank of Williamsville, N.Y., assigns each child  few tasks and then asks them to guess how long it will take them to do the job well. She sets different timers and they race to see who can finish their jobs closest to their estimated times. “While the kids are working, they’re focused on the clock, not on the fact that they’re doing chores,” she says. My preschoolers don’t understand time yet, but they thrive on competition. I might try setting different timers and seeing who finishes first, emphasizing doing the job well. I have visions of every dollhouse piece being shoved into the oven of the toy kitchen just to be done “first.”
  3. Make it a Mystery. Heather Tomasello of Land O’Lakes, Fla., has created a brilliant game called “cleaning fortunes and cookies.” She writes different tasks on slips of paper, such as “put away toys” or “clean windows.” Then her kids each choose a slip at random and complete the tasks they’re given. Some slips say “Mystery! Ask mom.” For those jobs, Tomasello requires something funny like dusting while walking backwards. “The word ‘mystery’ makes these slips the most popular,” she says. If you reuse the slips each time (only including tasks that need to be done that day) you can quickly implement the game when it’s needed. The cookie part comes in the end: “After all the cleaning fortunes are done, we enjoy a cookie together,” says this creative mom.
Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 6

How to Make Kiwi Magazine’s Dessert Pizza

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

Get your kids in the kitchen to create this simply sweet recipe from Kiwi magazine’s Next Great Young Chef contest.

We love pizza at our house. And we love dessert. So dessert pizza? The perfect combination. When I saw a simple recipe for the yummy dish in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Kiwi magazine, I knew my kids would love it. What’s even better–the dessert was a winner in the magazine’s annual Next Great Young Chef contest, which meant my preschoolers could easily help create it in our kitchen.

I love cooking with my kids because it’s a great way to include them in something I have to do (like make dinner). Plus you can teach a lot about numbers and counting and measuring if you follow a recipe. The dessert pizza was definitely one of the more simple recipes featured, and since it was from Kiwi magazine, I knew it was going to be healthy–well, as healthy as a sugary dessert can be.

We topped our pizza with strawberries like the magazine suggested. But we talked about how any fruit would work. Check out the full recipe below.

Liam’s Dessert Pizza
Ten-year-old Liam created this recipe after a dessert pizza he ordered at a restaurant didn’t impress him. “It was overly sweet, processed and salty,” says the Browntown, Wis., aspiring chef. “I liked the idea of a dessert pizza, but I knew it could taste better.”

Our family agrees! When we made the pizza, we planned on taking half of it to our neighbors. But 24 hours later, we’d eaten the entire thing! So good!

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 1

Assemble ingredients. I liked this recipe because most of the things are staples you probably already have. Kiwi's version called for all specific organic brands.


For the cookie crust:
3/4 cup salted butter, cut into small cubes, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Certified Organic Powered Sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract

For the topping:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Certified Organic Powered Sugar
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced


Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease pizza pan or baking sheet with butter.

Step 2: Make pizza crust. In a large bowl or stand mixer, add the powdered sugar, cocoa, flour and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add cubed butter to the dry ingredients and use a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers to mix until the mixture forms lumps about the size of peas. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for about 1 minute, until a stiff dough forms. You may need to knead the dough lightly with your hands after using the beater to bring it together.

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 2

Combine dry ingredients with butter to make the crust.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 14-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Place on the pizza pan or baking sheet, and use your fingers to curl the edges in slightly. Bake for 15 minutes or until the surface is firm to the touch and the edges are crisp. Allow to cool completely.

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 3

Bake for 15 minutes or until firm.

Step 3: Make the pizza topping. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until fluffy, about two to three minutes.

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 4

Use a stand or hand mixer to make the simple cream cheese topping.

Step 4: Spread the cream cheese pizza topping on the cooled cookie crust with a spatula. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top. Cut into 12 wedges and serve.

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 5

Spread on the pizza and top with any fruit.

Kiwi magazine dessert pizza step 6