Get one, give one: making donations at Christmas

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We have tried really hard to avoid being too consumerist over the holidays. We attempt to limit the kids' toys, and try really hard to focus on experiences over things. For example, this Christmas, a bulk of our children's presents involve tickets to see some Broadway shows throughout the coming year.

However, there will be some new toys and new clothes under the tree this Christmas. A couple of the kids still have Big Ideas about Santa and have made their requests. Each child has a couple items that they have been asking for all year, and Christmas is also the time that I tend to replenish their wardrobes. Each kid has some new clothing, new shoes, and new pajamas coming, and some toys I won't mention until they've been opened.

One of the rules that we have instituted about getting new things is that when a new item arrives, we pull an old item out and donate it. So, if one of the girls gets a new dress, a dress they no longer wear is put out into our donation box. This holds true for Christmas as well. In the days leading up to Christmas we have a massive clean-out g to make room for any new toys.

My kids are not always keen on giving up their current toys, but in addition to their excitement over receiving something new, we are trying to instill in them a value about donating things that are still in good condition, and that could bless another child. When we are filling our donation box, I really press the kids to consider parting with things that still hold some appeal. It's not about just getting rid of stuff we don't want anymore, or things that are in disrepair. It is about making a sacrifice and thinking about our belongings and what things we own that may be passed on to someone else to enjoy.

One of the benefits of donating at Savers is that, in addition to the donations being available for others to buy at a price much lower than retail, donations made at Savers go to benefit the community and support a local nonprofit partner such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Epilepsy Foundation.

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This holiday season, three lucky givers will have the chance to win when they share how they’re #GiftingBack to their community during the holidays. Just show how you give back to your community by sharing a photo, a story or both on the “Gifting Back” contest tab located on the Savers Facebook page, or by using the hashtag #GiftingBack on Instagram or Twitter by January 3rd for the chance to win a $1,000 Visa Gift Card. To spread the cheer event further, Savers will donate $1,000 to the nonprofit of your choice! Two runners up will receive $500 Visa gift cards and Savers will donate $500 to the nonprofit of their choice. Learn more about the contest here.

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How to get kids to help clean

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This post is sponsored by The Honest Company 

My kids are  just turning the corner where their ability to help me clean almost matches their ability to make a mess. They are gaining more autonomy and responsibility, and with the exception of my 5-year-old, I can finally enlist the three older kids to help me out in getting the house back to baseline.  It’s a nice place to be, after several years of feeling like a maid to a four-man wrecking crew.
Getting my kids to help with cleaning still involves a bit of cattle-prodding, but here are some of the ways that I get them involved:


Use a chore chart.  We use craft sticks as our chore chart. We have a reward system where the kids have an opportunity to earn craft sticks based on their behavior each day.  I have found it to be the best motivator for good behavior, but recently we added a jar for chores each day.  They choose two chores, and must finish them before they get to watch tv.





Reserve screen time privileges as a reward for cleaning.  I’m not totally Amish about television and computer time.  My kids know their way around an iPad and have probably seen every Phineas and Ferb episode known to man.  However, we do have one very golden rule in this house when it comes to screen time: clean before screen.  Honestly, my husband and I are the same way.  We never sit down to watch television in the evening until we’ve recovered the house, so it feels natural that we are training the kids in this, too.

Have cleaning tools that kids can use within their reach.  We keep most of our cleaning supplies in a closet, and it includes a spray mop, a small dust pan and hand-held broom.  The kids love to use the “grown-up” cleaning tools, and are usually fighting over whose turn it is to mop and sweep. I try to buy cleaning supplies that are safe and non-toxic for the kids, and I'm a big fan of The Honest Company for their vigilance about the latest science regarding chemicals and health. While most manufacturers only assess toxicity through the lens of major and immediate impact, I love that the The Honest Company takes full consideration any potential long-term effects and a wide spectrum of potential health impacts including cancer or neurological risks. This makes me feel comfortable handing over the cleaning products. And it doesn't hurt that I can buy it at my local Target.

Set a timer. My kids aren’t always thrilled to clean, and sometimes they can really drag their feet about it.  When I’m struggling to get them to pick up their rooms, I’ll often set a timer with the rule that once the timer goes off, any clothes or toys left on the floor will be given to Goodwill.  Dramatic?  Yes, it is . . . and it’s a bummer when a kid stalls out and you have to actually follow through on it.  I’m always careful to set the timer with ample time, but I am here to testify, it ony takes a few times of seeing toys given away to get kids to move at hyper-speed at a mention of the dreaded Timer.

Turn on the music. Whether we are doing a big clean before watching a show, or having the kids put away their laundry, it always helps when we put on some music.  For some reason, this seems to really diminish the whining, and dare I say?  They even seem to enjoy it if Justin Bieber is involved.


We are still in the beginning stages of having our kids help with cleaning.  I’d love to hear from other parents.  What are your tip sand tricks for getting kids motivated to clean?

This post is sponsored by The Honest Company The Honest Company is offering $10 off of $40 with the code RATM10OFF40. Code applies to first-time orders only, one per customer. Code valid for U.S. and Canadian residents only. Expires 12/31/2014.

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What adoptive parents will want to know about the new ANNIE movie

I saw a screening of the new Annie movie last week, and since it opens this week, I wanted to give a head's up to other families touched by adoption. Most of us are familiar with the Annie story, and that it revolves heavily around her orphan status, her search for her birth family, and relationship with a new father figure.

This movie followed the same plotlines, but there were aspects of the retelling that may be more poignant for adopted children. The adoption/abandonment themes were heavy-handed. In this story Annie is abandoned at age 4 - not as an infant. She remembers her abandonment and her birth parents. She subsequently moves through several foster homes, an experience that has been shared by the other girls in her foster home. The girls in the home have wistful conversations about their desire for a family, and recount the way they've been passed around in the system. They also have conversations about aging out of the age that adoptive parents want to adopt children. "No one wants to adopt a teenager."

Mrs. Hannigan is a neglectful foster mother and much of the silly humor of Carol Burnett's story is lost in this rendition. Mrs. Hannigan is no longer a goofy comic caricature . . . she's a mean, desperate, sad, and resentful woman who lets the kids know that she's only in it for the paycheck. Children who have been neglected or verbally abused may be triggered by this portrayal.

The movie touches on themes of birth records and very heavy fantasy about birth family. When she sings "The Sun Will Come Out" there is a dream sequence where Annie is imagining herself in a family and walking down the street seeing happy families together. The song was emotional to watch, and honestly, I wasn't expecting it to be quite so dark. During this song, she looks at a photo of herself as an abandoned 4-year-old, which no doubt would resonate with children adopted at an older age.

Initially, Annie is simply a commodity in the movie, and she realizes it. Her foster mother is using her for a paycheck, and Mr. Stacks is using her for good PR. She is cognizant of the fact that she is not really loved, and speaks up about it.

Annie is so consumed with finding her birth family that she visits the spot she was abandoned on a weekly basis. She struggles with loyalties towards her birth family and her growing affection for her new father figure.

Comparisons to the original Annie are inevitable, and I thought this new adaption was considerably more gritty. It felt like more of a drama than a comedy . . . so much so that the movie seemed to be having an identity crisis. It seemed tentative about being a full-scale musical and many of the musical numbers that served to buffer the emotional content had been removed, or replaced with more emotional numbers. It was not the syrupy musical that the original was. 

The acting also intensified the themes. Quvenzhan√© Wallis gave an amazing performance but there was an emotional complexity to her characterization of Annie . . . she was not the happy-go-lucky Annie of previous versions. There was a melancholy about her performance that was true to the story, but that heightened the drama. Still, her character was a very positive portrayal of a young woman whose bravery, tenacity, and determination help her rise above her circumstances.

The movie provoked a long discussion afterwards with my adopted children. My 9-year-old said, "It was a really good message about adoption, and that adopted kids should be treated the same way as other kids." 

Ultimately my kids felt it was adoption-positive and enjoyed the movie, but as a parent I was a bit surprised at how heavy it was. It's not a movie I would have on repeat play at home the way I might with other musicals.

Adoptive parents who are parenting kids who spent time in foster care, who were adopted at an older age, or who experienced abandonment may want to preview the movie first. All adoptive parents should leave time and space after the movie to process, as it's likely to bring up a variety of feelings for our kids.

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What I want you to know about adopting an older child

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Kathryn Fishman-Weaver

There are many crazy things you hear as transracial adoptive parents. For us, one of the more common sentiments is: “Wow, you adopted an older child--that must have been so hard.”

This is my response.

You know what is also hard? Birthing a child. I was in labor with our daughter for 24 hours. You know what is also hard? Breastfeeding, not to mention, finding a time or place to pump at work. How about potty training? We’re still open to suggestions on that one.

I say this not to compare our challenges for there is no value in that competition. Instead, I aim to highlight that whether you build your family biologically, adoptively, through stepfamilies, or any other way, that most of our challenges in child raising are common.

You know what is also hard? Helping your child with long division; comforting a child in the middle of the night after he’s had a nightmare; tending to gruesome wounds from bike crashes or high fevers from flu. But aren't all of these things immeasurably worthwhile?

You know what else is hard? Parenting, as it should be.

My hope in writing this, is that you will recognize that the challenges perceived in older child adoption are not dissimilar to the challenges that cut across all parenting adventures. To love and nurture a child is a challenge. To do it well, whether you start at conception, birth, or nine-years-old, requires you to be up for that challenge (often quite literally, at two in the morning). With great challenges come great rewards.

Imagine if we didn’t do things simply because they were hard: there would be no more engineering, medicine, marriage, K-12 teaching, or most certainly parenting. 

Are there challenges unique to older child adoption? Foster care adoption? Transracial adoption? Of course. Are there challenges unique to parenting a child with down syndrome? To parenting twins? To parenting an introvert? Of course. All children are unique, therefore all parenting experiences have some of their own unique challenges. But mostly, I believe we’re all working towards the same goals with our children: meeting basic needs for sustenance, instilling values of compassion and perseverance, and reassuring our babies (of all ages) that they are loved unconditionally. 

Our son, James was eight when he came to live with us through domestic foster care adoption. He was nine when the adoption was finalized, although it was finalized in our hearts long before. The 2012 Children’s Bureau report on the Administration for Children and Families says that there are 101,719 children in foster care classified as waiting to be adopted. Of those, 87% are children two years-old or older, 45% are eight years-old or older, just as our son was.

Please, don’t dismiss foster care adoption in general, or older child adoption specifically, just because it is hard. 

Source(s): The 2012 The AFCARS Report 

Kathryn Fishman-Weaver is a high school teacher, PhD student, and mother of two. She writes frequently on education and parenting issues. You can keep up with her family on their daily blog: Our Chateau (

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Strategies for getting the best family photos

This post was sponsored by Invisalignclear aligners, which straightens teeth without traditional wires and brackets giving teens the confidence to live life to the fullest while improving their smile. The clear aligners are also imperceptible in photos . . . a great way to keep your teen’s smile looking natural in family photos.

I love having portraits of our whole family together. In our everyday lives, I’m usually the one behind the camera, and it’s rare to get all four kids in a picture, so it’s nice to get a photo with everyone together once a year. I love looking back at our yearly photos – it’s like a snapshot of that age and stage. We send out holiday photo cards every year so that’s my motivator (and reminder) to get new photos taken every year.

What I don't love: taking the family portrait.  Oh my word, with four kids it is a lot of work.  But the pay-off is worth it. Here are a few of our strategies for getting the best holiday photo:

Hire a professional

Getting a good Christmas photo is one of those holiday tasks that can incite fear and dread into the heart of even the bravest of parents. I have spent countless hours in a portrait studio with my children, pulling my hair out and seriously biting my tongue so that I don't scream at the barely-15-year-old employee to TAKE THE FREAKING SHOT and WHO CARES IF HIS KNEES ARE NOT CROSSED, HE JUST SMILED.  And then explaining, as they enter into their sale pitch, why I would not like a collage of my kids with a Diego frame, or a photoshopped version of Jafta's head gazing down at India as she plays on a snowy meadow. Some highlights of my first two not cooperating over the years:  

2006 (with screaming newborn)

2006 (Jafta attempts to eat his sister)

2007 (older brother tries to physically restrain the toddler to stay in the shot)

I’m not sure why it took me so many years to clue into the fact that hiring a photographer is so much easier and with such better results. Studios are tough because they don't shoot rapidly enough to catch the kids in action, and then the space is so small that the kids are always running out of the camera range.  A few years ago, I promised myself we would never go to another studio, and that I would always hire a photographer to meet us in a natural setting.  This improved our family photos dramatically.

family closeup


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Photos by Drew B. 

Get active and playful.
It’s unrealistic for kids to sit in a pose for any length of time, and it usually looks staged and unnatural. We’ve had great photographers who give us direction and know how to be playful with the kids. Having us walk together, or run together, or do a bear hug . . . all of these get great shots while the kids have natural smiles. IMG_6791copy copy
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Go at magic hour
There’s nothing more unflattering in a photo than bad lighting and dark overhead shadows. The hour just before sunset is perfect because the sun is warm and glowing. It’s like a natural lightbox.

Tell bad jokes
Research and memorize some cheesy jokes that you can share during the shoot. Even if it’s just some knock-knock jokes. This will keep everyone smiling.

Don’t be too matchy-matchy
White shirts and khakis are so 1992. Just say no.  

Pick coordinating colors and patterns
I try to choose timely colors paired with on-trend clothing, and usually pick 3 colors that will be the foundation. I try to keep colors coordinated while mixing prints and solids. Trying to coordinate these outfits for six people can be a challenge, but it’s one I enjoy.

best family shot 2012

Did you know that Pantone picks colors for each year, culling from fashion and graphic design to determine what colors are hot for each season? It’s a really good way to get color palette inspiration. Here’s Pantone’s picks for 2014:

Pantone’s Discovery- Fall/Winter 2014/2015 Palette

Bribe your kids
I’m not above bribing my kids for good photos. Let’s be honest . . . it’s probably not any kids’ favorite thing to do. One strategy we’ve done is to promise a skittle for each smile. At the end of the shoot, the photographer scrolls through the photos and we count the smiles. It’s a good motivator.

Do you have any other tips for good family photos?

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