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.

Parents magazine's January 2012 issue

When to Get the Best Deals on Your Family’s Purchases

Parents magazine's January 2012 issue

Parents magazine's January 2012 issue

A helpful article in Parents magazine breaks down the best time of the year for your family’s purchases.

If I don’t get a vacuum soon, we might drown in dust. An older house full of hard wood floors means I’m constantly sweeping and vacuuming floors and rugs. But according to Parents magazine, I need to wait until May for a new vacuum. A helpful article in the January 2012 issue breaks down the best time of the year for your family’s purchases. With newer models of everything from televisions to grills being released at different times through the year, you can plan your purchases to save the most money.

This is one of those articles I’m tearing out and filing away for future reference. Before you buy something for your home or family, check out this list:

January: If you can afford anything right after the holidays, the beginning of the new year is a good time for big deals on items like luggage, sports equipment, exercise equipment (New Year’s resolutions!) and linens. New furniture styles hit the floor in February, so many retailers put stuff on sale to clear space.

February: Get great deals on televisions leading up to the Super Bowl. Cameras and camcorders are deeply discounted after newer models are released in January. And you’ll start seeing markdowns on winter clothes as spring items hit stores. If you’re able to guess on coat and boot sizes for kids, now is a great time to stock up for next winter.

March: Even if it’s too cold to cook outside, consider buying a grill now since retailers are trying to unload last year’s model before the grilling season really heats up.

April: Save your cash this month! Since retailers know that tax rebates are arriving in mailboxes, they’re less likely to put many things on sale.

May: Here’s when I can get my much-needed vacuum for a good price!

June: If your dad is handy, you’re in luck. Tools go on sale just in time for Father’s Day.

July: If you didn’t redecorate earlier in the year, you have another chance in July. The year’s second set of models arrives this month and deep discounts take effect on older selections.

August: Back-to-school season is a great time to purchase computers and small appliances (think dorm rooms!) like toasters and microwaves. You can also get great deals on summer clothes for next year.

September: If you need a new car, this is the best time to look. Dealers are ready to clear the way for newer models. And as the weather changes, stores start discounting lawn mowers and patio furniture to make way for leaf and snow blowers.

October: If you don’t mind floor models, now’s a great time to buy big appliances like washers, dryers and refrigerators. Newer models are about to be released and stores start putting floor models on sale. Who cares about a little dent here or there if it means big savings?

November: Televisions are on sale again just as football season kicks into high gear.

December: This is the best time of year to find deals on toys, which is great considering this is when most families purchase the most!

The Weight-Loss Tool You’ve Likely Never Thought About

Family Circle magazine's January 2012 issue

Family Circle magazine's January 2012 issue

Family Circle magazine offers New Year’s resolution assistance by reviewing websites designed to help those looking to lose weight, save money, or both.

I’d love to know the number of New Year’s resolutions lists that begin with “Lose weight.” It’s a goal for most of us for 2012, and the January 2012 Family Circle┬áhad a great article on how make sure you stick to this year’s promises.

We use our computers for every other area of our life; why not for weight loss? Today there are several online social networking groups that help like-minded goal setters who are trying to lose weight. And if you don’t want all your Facebook friends following your every pound, you can even register anonymously for most of them.

Family Circle’s tech writer Christina Tynan-Wood tried a few out before jumping in. The spark she got from making it public was just the thing she needed to tip the scales (pun intended). “Within days, my own previously private nutrition and exercise goals had become part of my public (but still anonymous) online identity,” she wrote in the article. “And when I stepped on the wireless scale, I got to hold myself accountable–my small success was instantly posted to my virtual profile. Backtracking now will cause my online identity to lose.”

I know lots of people who’ve had great success with Weight Watchers, mainly because of the weekly weigh-in meetings. You’re more likely to stick to your goals if you have someone monitoring them. I’m not the type to join an in-person Weight Watchers group, but I can totally see myself participating in one of these online networks.

Family Circle recommends as one of the social networking weight-loss sites that can help people stay motivated.

If saving money is more important than losing weight in 2012, there are online tools to help you there too. The article mentions a service from called Goals and Budgets that helps you keep track of spending in relation to savings goals. It even sends a text message to you instantly when you exceed certain budgets. Eek! The guilt I’d feel in the Target parking lot.

Here are a few of the sites the magazine reviewed and recommends: Diet plans, online and mobile tracking tools and inspiration. Use a wireless scale for weigh-ins and you’ll never be able to cheat. Budget and track your money and be held accountable with text messages when you blow it. Use a game-type system to help improve your credit rating.

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

3 Types of Parenting Co-ops to Help Accomplish More (and Save Money)

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

Looking for ways keeping your family and home running smoothly? Forget hiring people to help; other parents might just be your best option.

There are never enough hours in the day to complete my to-do list. My friends and I often joke about what we could accomplish if we had a cook, housekeeper, chauffeur and personal assistant. Turns out, you don’t have to live in Hollywood to afford such help. An article in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of KIWI magazine highlights groups of parents across the country who are getting help from people who really know what they’re doing: other parents.

The article offered three ways to partner with other parents to get more done and save money at the same time.

Shopping: Getting to the grocery store is always on my agenda. And the days when I have all three kids in tow make those trips even more fun! One mom in Tower City, Penn., organized a shopping group among several families. Since they lived in a rural area, the parents had a tough time finding a decent grocery store. So each week, one family collected everyone’s lists and traveled two hours to shop at the nearest Whole Foods. It saved time and gas and allowed them to eat the kind of food they wanted.

Babysitting: Good babysitters are like gold among my friends. But even if you’re lucky enough to find one you and your kids like, affording them on a regular basis is a different story. Lots of parents arrange babysitting exchanges so they take advantage of a night out without having to watch the clock. The key is finding families with like-minded parenting philosophies, says the article.

Meal prep: Most families I know would prefer a home-cooked meal over one in a restaurant any night of the week. But with busy schedules it’s hard to carve out time to cook. A group of moms in Minnesota have developed a system that makes it easier. They cook and deliver meals for everyone else one night a week and are rewarded with no-work dinners three nights a week. They meet every few months to decide on entrees so they’re not eating the same meals too frequently. And it also helps them plan side dishes to prepare. The moms in the group say they like the setup not only for the time it saves, but it also exposes their families to food they might not have tried before.

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

3 Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve With Your Family

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

KIWI magazine's January 2012 issue

Skipping a New Year’s Eve night out on the town for an evening on the couch with the family? Try some of these ideas to make your celebrations more special.

New Year’s Eve never ranked up there as one of my favorite holidays. And now that I’m a parent, it has lost even more of its appeal. Why get dressed up for an overpriced night, pay a babysitter to stay past midnight and feel exhausted the next day when my kids wake up with the sun? If you’re like us and planning to spend the last night of the year at home with the kids, KIWI magazine offers these ideas for making it a special time.

  1. A jar full of memories. Don’t let 2011 slip away without remembering all the fun your family had over the past 12 months. During the last days of December, place a jar and several colorful pieces of scrap paper on your kitchen counter and encourage family members to write down their favorite memories of their year (flying a kite on a windy day, a fun trip to the beach). On New Year’s Eve, sit down with the family and read everyone’s memories. Though the article didn’t mention it, I think it’d be fun to put them in an envelope and save them each year.
  2. Movies and popcorn. Invite another family over for a movie night. KIWI suggest some titles that both kids and adults would enjoy like “Toy Story 3,” “Tangled” or “Kung Fu Panda 2.” I loved their idea of setting up a popcorn bar with lots of toppings from which the guests can pick.
  3. New Year’s Day, unplugged. Here’s a new way to ring in the new year: Go screenless. Decide as a family to turn off all computers, smart phones, iPads and TVs on New Year’s Day and enjoy the time together with some old-fashioned family fun. Go for a walk together, play games, bake cookies. Let every family member choose something he or she would like to do. I’d love to adopt this tradition. My husband, however, might need a little more convincing, especially given the day’s typical college football lineup.
Family Circle magazine's December 2011 issue

5 Tips for Keeping Your Family Healthy All Winter

Family Circle magazine's December 2011 issue

Family Circle magazine's December 2011 issue

Family Circle magazine offers strategies to keep your family free of colds and flu all season.

Someone in our household has had a sniffly nose or cough for at least a month now, and we’re not really into flu season yet. Short of bathing everyone in Lysol every evening, I’m not sure how to maintain a germ-free family (which includes two preschoolers who seem to be constant carriers). I’m going to follow these tips from the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine on staying well during the cold months.

  1. Get regular exercise. If I’m searching for a reason to get out of bed on a cold, dark morning to exercise, here’s a great one. Research shows that people who exercise at least 20 minutes five days a week suffer from as half as many colds as those who only work out one or two days a week.
  2. Keep your hands off. Be aware of how often you touch your face, and try not to at all. Yael Halaas, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist in New York City, says even a quick eye rub can transmit cold germs easily.
  3. Cut the sugar. Fight colds and lose weight at the same time! A diet low in refined sugars strengthens the immune system and could potentially protect the body from colds and flu.
  4. Sleep tight. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep at night. A Carnegie Melon University study found that you’re three times more likely to catch a cold if you’re unrested.
  5. Wash up. Mom always told you to wash your hands, and she was right. Handwashing is the single most important preventative measure you can take. And if your kids are like mine and always complain the water is too warm, good news: A lukewarm rinse kills just as much bacteria.
Stack of children's books

5 Ways to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read

Stack of children's booksYou can’t force a kid to read, but there are some steps you can take to push him or her in the right direction.

When my first child was just a few weeks old, I strapped him in the Baby Bjorn and walked a few blocks to my local bookstore. I was determined to raise a child who loved to read as much as I do. I hadn’t been in the children’s section of a bookstore in years, and it was fun to see my old favorite like Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary were still around. I bought a few board books and went home–imagining the mother/child book clubs we’d join in future years.

I was pushing it with the 8-week-old, sure. But as the months passed and my little boy reached the age where books should have begun to appeal to him–they didn’t. We had lots of books with big pictures and simple words, and yet, he could care less. I wanted nothing more than a little guy who’d curl up in my lap for story time. But after a page or two, he’d lose interest and run away.

Four-and-a-half years later, I’m happy to report that he loves to read. We’ve read Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?” so often that I could recite it in my sleep. And a trip to the library is a real treat in our house.

Here are a few tips I learned along the way to encourage a love of literature among toddlers.

  1. Start early and stick to it. Reading to infants seems pointless when they can barely hold their heads up, but babies begin learning language development the moment they arrive in this world. I heard once that babies love to look at books with photos of other babies’ faces. I have no idea the scientific reasoning behind this, but I know it was true for my oldest two. When my first child became mobile, reading was low on his priority list. But I’d keep reading even as he crawled away. He could listen and toddle at the same time, right?
  2. Make time for it. I’m home with my kids most all day long, and some days I really look forward to bed time. So many nights I’m tempted to brush their teeth, kiss their heads and escape downstairs for some me time. But repetition is key to developing good habits. Most nights we make time for at least one or two books before tucking kids into bed. It’s good bonding time, and it helps them calm down. I admit that when I see my 3-year-old girl bringing me “Clifford the Big Red Dog’s Christmas Present” for the 19th night in a row, I want to scream. But I know the day will come–sooner than I can believe–when we can delve into chapter books together. And then after that, she’ll be reading to herself and won’t need my help.
  3. Keep lots of books around. I try to keep books in several places throughout the house, and it thrills me when I pass the den and see my little boy sitting in front of the shelf flipping through one on his own.
  4. Set a good example. Kids learn from parents’ example, so I try to let my kids see me reading. I had an interesting discussion recently with friends about how iPads and Kindles affect that modeling. I read about one mom who said she was going to give up her electronic reader so her kids could see her engaged in books. It’s a worthwhile thought.
  5. Visit the library. My toddlers love going to the library, and we try to make it every few weeks. Honestly I think they like the train table in the children’s section more than they like the books, but whatever gets them there! At our local library, kids can get their own cards at age 4. My little guy was so excited that we took a picture of him on his “get his own card” day. My hope is that if they go often enough as kids, when they’re adults they’ll seek out libraries on their own.

What about you? What are some ways you encourage reading among your preschoolers?