Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Category: Practical Moms Unite (page 1 of 10)

5 Good Reasons to Declutter, Plus a Decluttering Challenge

I’m happy to introduce Amy Harke-Moore, who wrote this post for us today! She also guest posted around Christmas last year, with this very wise post.  Today, she has some great advice for reasons to declutter.  Plus, she is hosting a declutter challenge on her blog. Details following this motivating post!

Unless you’ve been living sequestered in an ancient mountain village and currently go by the name of Brother Paul, you can probably relate to having too much stuff. It’s a modern dilemma, to be sure, and for some of us our collection of material goods has reached the scary point. Where do you even start? Much easier to shut the door and forget about it, right? But I propose a different idea.  Instead of letting the overwhelm paralyze you, take courage. Here are five good reasons to motivate you to declutter.

  • Feel lighter. Don’t underestimate this! I had always heard this from the decluttering crowd, but it wasn’t until I actually took a challenge and got rid of over five hundred items in two weeks that I really understand the truth of the statement. I felt like I’d just lost twenty-five pounds on a crash diet. I probably did lose that much weight—just not off my person. Every item you own, however small, carries some burden, responsibility, or weight to it. Lessening your load can be life-changing!
  • Sell your items for quick cash. If you’re like me, you have clothes you bought and never wore and gifts you never took out of the box. Why not take those barely—if at all—used items and turn them into a profit? Have an old movie collection? Sell it on Craig’s List. Toys your children have outgrown and no longer care about? Take them to the consignment store. Or hold an old-fashioned garage sale. Just be careful you don’t spend the money on more stuff.
  • Give your items away to charity. Want to feel even better about getting rid of stuff? Take a box of items to Good Will or to a church with a donation center or one of those boxes you see in parking lots where you can drop off quality used items. You’ll have the satisfaction of helping others who might have been through a traumatic event like a house fire or losing a job.
  • Eliminate things to dust, clean, wash, and store. You can’t dust what you don’t have. You don’t have to find places for items you no longer own. The fewer things you have to take care of, the more time you free up from cleaning, storing, and worrying about those possessions. And the wide open space will make you feel like you have room to breathe.
  • Make room for what really matters. So maybe the spare bedroom has become the catchall place, but you’ve dreamed of having an art studio. Or maybe you’d like a dedicated place to work out. Decluttering can get you back in touch with your passion. You’re using the space in an uplifting, positive way instead of storing items that, in many cases, are no longer useful to you. You’re investing in something that brings you joy or challenges you rather than stuff.

So there you have it. Five good reasons to declutter. Are you motivated yet? Join me for a 7-day decluttering challenge running September 24 – 30 at A Rural Girl Writes. You just might get rid of a few things and have fun in the process!   Click here to find out more and join!  Margo says: “I just did and am ready to tackle my basement!”

Also, while you are here,  don’t forget to enter the photo caption contest and win prizes! It’s fun! It’s easy. It goes until September 30, 2018. 



4 Tips To Help You Take Better Care of Your Skin

As I get older, I am, of course, starting to care more about my skin. Isn’t that how it always is? Oh, to be a carefree youth!  What I appreciate about this contributed article are the facts that I never really considered before about taking care of your skin–I especially liked the first point about hard and soft water. Plus, once again, this post shows us that we are what we eat (and drink)! 

Most of us want to have smooth and soft skin no matter what age we are.  You may spend a lot of money on healthcare and beauty products, but you may not have to invest in expensive creams and lotions. The main reason for this is because most of us have the ability to have healthy skin naturally, and these tips can lead to long-lasting results.

Consider your Water

When you wash your face, you will see that soft water doesn’t really remove soap very well. It can leave some residue on your skin, and it can also make it much harder for you to have clear skin. If your water is soft, then you need to use any facial cleansers you have sparingly. A pure soap will actually work better. Hard water, however, doesn’t allow you to lather up as easily, and this can encourage you to use even more cleanser. When you do this, you may find that your skin dries out, and you may even find that it damages your skin. You can help to minimize this damage by using gentle and non-soap-based formulas that are not designed to lather up. It also helps to know the quality of water in your area so that you can make the best decision.

Always Drink Green Tea

If your complexion is blotchy or red, then you may have inflamed skin. If you want to avoid all of this, then green tea is a fantastic option. Green tea can help you to stop the collagen destruction that often leads to wrinkles, and it can even help to cleanse your body of any toxins as well. When you do drink green tea, you have to make sure that you are steeping the tea bag enough in order to get the full benefits.  If you are using a tea bag, seep for about 3 minutes. Any longer than that, and you may find the tea to be bitter. 

Avoid Stress

Easier said than done, right? Stress can take its toll on your body, and this does include your skin. When you are stressed, you may have more acne, and you may even find that you have more cortisol in the body as well. This can make your skin much oilier, and it can even decrease your body’s own natural ability when it comes to fighting off any bacteria as well. If you want to avoid this, then you need to try and limit the stress you are under. If you can do this, then you will most likely see a huge improvement in your skin. If you want some additional help, check out youngevity products.

Your Diet

If your diet is full of fatty foods , then there is a high chance that you are causing yourself way more issues than you need. Fatty foods can make your skin much more prone to oiliness, and that can cause you to have a bad complexion as well. If you want to avoid this, then try and eat a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables.

And don’t forget, no matter what your age, sunscreen is vital for good skin care. Of course, that could be a post all by itself.


Tips For Buying Your Teenagers Their First Car

(contributed post)

It can be a tough thing to accept when you realize that your kid is slowly becoming an adult. One of the biggest milestones, in their eyes, is finally being able to drive. They’ve passed their test, got their license, and given you puppy dog eyes as they begged for a car. Of course, buying your kids their first car is a big deal. There’s a lot to be considered when you buy yourself a new vehicle, so you’re probably going to put in ten times as much thought when it comes to your child (even if they’re no longer a “child”). In this article, we’ll talk about some of the things you might want to consider doing when buying your kid the first car.

Weigh up insurance options.

The first thing to weigh up is the cost of insurance. It differs based on age and experience, so you can’t base this on your own policy; the cost will, most likely, be very different for your teen. They’re a first-time driver, and they’re young. You’re going to have to do some digging to make sure you get a fair quote for them. You might want to check out a site such as cheapautoinsurance.co for a comparison of the most popular auto insurance providers out there. This is a good way to find the cheapest and most suitable policy for your kid.

Suggest an additional driving course.

Even if your teenagers have passed their driving test, you might need a little more reassurance before you buy them a car. After all, driving independently is very different to driving with an instructor sitting in the passenger seat. Obviously, letting your kids drive you around is a good way to get a first-hand perspective and weigh up their abilities. But you could take this one step further, as mentioned previously on this blog, by getting them involved with a program that’ll help reinforce the importance of safe driving.

Essentially, you need to make sure that your teenager appreciates the importance of sitting behind a wheel. Even if they’re driving their friends around, they can’t let distractions get in the way. It’s important that they know not to use their phone or simply that they shouldn’t drive recklessly just to impress their buddies. We’ve all been that age; it’s easy to do silly things, so you really need to make sure your teen knows how to drive responsibly before you even think of buying them a car.

Choose a reliable car.

This goes without saying for anyone buying a car, but it’s particularly important to choose a safe car for a first-time driver. They’re nervous and inexperienced, so they need a vehicle that’ll provide them with protection on the road in the event of an accident, even if it’s a minor bump. Big and heavy cars are well-suited to younger drivers. As explained over at blog.allstate.com, it’s not just that they provide better protection; statistics have shown that teen drivers are less likely to crash heavier cars. And as mentioned over at bankrate.com, you should also think about the safety features that come with a specific car; if the crash test results are good, then it’s worth considering.

This is one of the biggest purchases of their lives, and if you decide that they are not just going to get the “hand-me” down car, then the links above will help you make some important decisions. Even if they do get an older car, they will still need the insurance and safety driving skills. Best of all–good luck. And those of you that have been through this, let us know what other tips you’ve discovered along the way!


How to Prevent Your Credit from Spiraling Out of Control

This is a companion article to “Tips for Making the Right Choices to Become Financially Stable ” , which was published right before this one. This post focuses more on using credit responsibly. I have been preaching for years now that we need more personal finance/credit classes in high school! Anyway, some good tips below in this contributed post. Please add any tips you have in the comments.  

If you are a single parent, chances are that you will need to rely on your own resources to provide for your kids and manage everything yourself. This can be challenging, especially if you have just gone through a divorce or separation, and you have to learn how to manage your own money and do things you never had to. Many people let their money troubles escalate because they simply ignore their commitments. Below you will find a few tips on how to avoid getting into financial trouble.

Keep a Strict Budget

The first thing you will need to do when starting a new life is to look through your current budget and create a new one with your lifestyle in mind. List all your income and outgoings, and make sure that you have money left over for emergencies. A strict budget will mean that you will not splash out on eating out or vacations when you know that you can’t afford the costs and running up your credit cards. This way, you can also save money for emergencies.

Avoid Impulse Shopping

If you would like to make the most out of your money, never go out shopping hungry or without a list. It only takes a couple of minutes to sit down and look through your kitchen storage and fridge to see what you really need. This way, you will buy the things you need and not the ones that you feel like you want at the time. The same applies to clothes shopping; list the things you are missing from your wardrobe and search for deals, instead of looking for inspirations.

Move Your Payment Dates

In case you have credit outstanding, you can get in touch with the companies to move your payment date, so you can ensure that you are not falling behind. If you moved houses or changed jobs, chances are that you might not be able to make the payments on the same date. Instead of trying to juggle money about and stressing, you can solve the problem with one phone call.

Seek Affordable Solutions

It is also crucial that you compare the different credit offers and find out exactly how much they cost each month. Before taking out a personal loan or a credit card, consider short term solutions that will be easier to pay off and generally cheaper. If you have bad credit, you will have to look for bad credit loans with affordable monthly repayments, instead of maxing out all your cards and going into the red.  

Make Extra Payments When You Can

It might also be a good idea to pay off your debt on credit cards as soon as possible. If you would like to become debt-free, you will have to make additional payments, so you can clear your credit faster.

If you want to control your money instead of it controlling your life, make sure that you take charge of your accounts, expenses, and budget–and maybe consider cutting up those credit cards.


Tips For Making the Right Choices to Become Financially Stable

(contributed post)

Sometimes we need to take the time to make the right choices when it comes to being financially stable. Often life can take over, and we can end up forgetting about different things, or certainly just swiping the debit card and letting our bills be paid each month without another thought. But, then comes the issue, because really we can become trapped by our circumstances and not really aware of how much we are spending, how much we have left in our bank account, or most importantly how better off we could be if we made a few different choices and paid a bit more attention.

Sometimes the opportunity for more income is fixed. You may not be able to earn more than what you do right now, but does that mean you really need to trapped by your circumstances? Are there other things you could do? The answer is yes. Below are some choices you could make and/or some changes to your habits , and you may find that these can make all of the difference when it comes to your financial stability.

Thinking about the future

One of the first things you can do when it comes to making good decisions for your financial stability is take a moment to think about the future. At some stage, we will retire from our jobs, and a regular wage will be no more. Yet many of us don’t really think about what we will do to sustain our current lifestyles. How much money does it take to do all the things we plan to do in retirement, like travel and spend time with the family? This is when making some good choices now can help secure your financial future. Contributing to a pension separate to what you might get from the government is a great way to ensure you can afford things when you hit retirement. Pensions are something that you need to consider heavily before investing. Speaking to a financial advisor can help with that.

If you don’t already have a property or are on the property ladder in some way, then the sooner you do it, the better. This can be a great way to secure your financial future as property prices tend to either stabilize or rise over time, which helps you to develop and increase equity. This also helps as you move on in life and need more space or need to live in different areas. Remember: mortgage rates can change and sometimes you need to remortgage and change your deal to ensure you are getting the best rate.

Looking at what leaves your account right now

It is all well and good thinking about the future; and this is important, but you also need to take the time to ensure that you make the most of your situation as it stands right now. One of the first things you could do would be to check your bank account. Grab your most recent bank statement and start highlighting what comes in and what leaves your account each month. Knowing what debits you have regularly leaving your account will help you to be more in tune with your current financial situation. You may find that taking time to look over these expenses will highlight things you may not even need to spend money on moving forward. Canceling things and actually freeing up money is quite liberating. Knowing what you spend means that you could also take the time to research whether or not you are getting the best possible deals for those monthly bills we have no choice but to pay out for. Energy and insurance providers may not always be giving you the best deal, as often the best rates are saved for new customers. Switching providers can save you a fair bit each month. Regularly checking your deals can really ensure that you only pay what is necessary.

Could you bring the cost down of everyday spending?

The next thing you may want to think about would be bringing down the cost of everyday spending. Your food, for example, can be such a big expenditure each week. But often making changes to the way you do things can make the biggest of differences. For example, meal planning and writing a list is proven to save money. A small investment of your time can ensure you only buy what you need. Therefore, only spending on the food that you need as well as helping you to avoid wasting food that you bought and didn’t get round to using. Things, like coupons and discount codes, can also really help you reduce the costs. Applying these simple processes to your everyday spending can really help boost your income.

Is debt strangling your bank balance?

Debt can also be a big outgoing expense you have each month; so if you place some focus on paying it off, you may find that you start to see massive improvement. You could try and see how you get on by focusing on your debts that cost the most in interest, and trying to get them paid off. It could be that a consolidation loan or card would be an ideal way to help give you a plan, but checking your credit history is an ideal place to start. You could read this review about a potential service to try. Debt payments can be a big amount that leaves your account each month; and once it is paid off, you will see a big amount of your income available to use for other things.

Could you use your spare time to boost your disposable income?

Finally, maybe there are ways that you can boost your income–that could be selling unwanted things online on websites like eBay. Or perhaps using your spare time more wisely and filling out online surveys or performing mystery shops. It could be a great way to get more money without any massive infringement on your life.

Do you have any tips you use?


Tips for Surviving Life as a New Single: From Self-Care to Online Dating

(contributed post)

Life as a newly single person can be rather daunting in today’s society. Every day, lots of people find themselves coming out of relationships and having to navigate the world of singledom once more. It is natural for this to be nerve-wracking, especially if you have spent a long time in a relationship in the past.

However, people make changes to their lives every day, and you can make the right kind of changes right now. When you become single again, it’s the perfect time to think about doing some things (maybe you’ve been neglecting) that make you happy and feel peaceful. There are a lot of things that can change while you’re living a single life, especially if you were married and had children with your ex-spouse. Of course, it is important to deal with these changes, and not ignore them. Here are a few tips for navigating life solo once again.

Single Parenting Will Be a Challenge

There is no denying that being a single parent is a challenge, and you will want to consider ways of easing the burden a little. Having to look after your kids alone can be very tiring and stressful, but routine and organization, along with communication and fun, can help with these daily stressors. Of course, you also realize how hard a divorce will be for your children as well, so reach out to other divorced parents you know for tips and/or even sharing in childcare. Spending time together as a family, just having fun or being silly, can also help your children feel safe and secure in your home.

Self-Care is Essential

So many newly single people don’t take the time to make sure they are looking after themselves effectively. You have to give some time to self-care, and to making sure your physical and mental well-being is a priority. If you were married and splitting up, using divorce mediation , instead of attorneys, can be helpful for your mental well-being, as it can ease the burden of a stressful process. Focus on yourself and how you can improve the way you are moving forward: eating healthy and regular meals, getting enough exercise (family walks?), and sleeping well will also help with self-care. 

Time to Tackle Your Finances

Now that you are single again, your financial priorities may have shifted, and it is time to think about how you can stay on top of your finances. There are plenty of techniques that will allow you to thrive as a single income household, and you can take some time to look at how to implement the ones that work for you and/or your family. Prioritizing your spending is also important, and look at trying to cut costs wherever you possibly can is also helpful.

Back in the Dating Game?

Getting back into the dating game might seem like something that’s on the bottom of your list of interests right now, but you will feel the urge sooner or later. There are plenty of ways you can get back on the dating saddle, and online dating is going to be one of the best ways you can do this. With a lot of different sites to choose from (see the link just above), you may find one that works for you, and you can start setting up some dates.

There is a lot to think about when you find yourself freshly single once again. Life will go in a different direction to what you might be used to, and it is important to be adaptable. You and your kids are going to be impacted by this, of course, but with planning, thinking smart, and being easy on yourself, you can make this transition work for your family. It’s not impossible! In fact, as Meryl Streep says, “Start by starting.” 


Tips for Better Sleep for the Whole Family

Thank you to Julia Merrill at BefriendYourDoc.org for this important guest post about getting enough sleep. All parents know how hard this can sometimes be. 

Sleep is an integral part of your family’s health, and the problems sleep deprivation causes go beyond yawning all day and feeling fatigued. Without enough rest at night, the human body is at risk for a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, weight gain, pre-diabetes, and more.

However, some health problems can be prevented with the right tools. For instance, turning on an appropriately sized air purifier in children’s rooms removes allergens from the room to reduce asthma symptoms. And for many adults, the right mattress can make all the difference in the world. However, many of the problems can only be prevented with quality shut-eye.

Your Family’s Best Sleep Routine

First of all, you have to get your family on a constant sleep routine, especially if you have kids. Children thrive on routines, which help eliminate anxiety because children have an idea of what comes next. A steady schedule will also help you save time and feel less stressed, as well. Your family’s particular routine should be personal and based on each individual’s sleep requirements — children of different ages need certain hours (What a great sleep chart at that link!) that vary based on how the body naturally falls asleep and wakes. With that being said, feel free to use these great bedtime rituals to help inspire your own routine.

  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before it’s time for sleep. That means no television, video games, or tablets that can distract little ones from what needs to be done.
  • Dim lights and turn on some soothing classical music. Turn the thermostat down to somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees F, which is the optimal sleep temperature.
  • Have children take a warm bath both to get clean and to slightly raise body temperature. Once they step into their cool room for bedtime, their body temperature dips, which makes them feel drowsy and ready to sleep.
  • Whether or not they take a bath, make washing faces, brushing teeth, and combing hair as a part of their routine.
  • Pick out pajamas and get dressed. Make sure children’s pajamas are comfortable, breathable, and flame-resistant.
  • Little ones who are particularly active may enjoy a bedtime yoga routine that gets all the wiggles out before they hit the sack (you may enjoy this, as well!).
  • Read before bed — it relieves stress, improves cognitive function, and encourages children to grow into more empathetic people.
  • Finally, always say “I love you” before it’s time for light’s out.

Bedtime Tips for Grown-ups

Most children have a pretty easy time getting enough sleep; it’s the grown-ups that most likely suffer from sleep disorders or wake up with aches and pains. Mattresses should be replaced every seven to ten years; but even if yours is younger, it may need a replacement if you wake up with a sore back or limbs. These days, people love the convenience of buying mattresses online. It saves time and the product is shipped right to your door.

If you want to buy a new mattress via the web, make sure you do diligent research, look over reviews, and purchase a model that has exceptional trial, warranty, and return policies in case it is not the right fit. There are various types of mattresses available, including memory foam, gel, pillow top, innerspring, latex, and more. If you are unsure what kind you prefer, go to a local mattress store to get a feel for what each type offers.

Beyond a great mattress, many adults find it helpful to sip a wind-down beverage as soon as kids are asleep. Different types of herbal teas have anti-anxiety benefits and can even help muscles relax. Also consider flavored magnesium drinks that have the same sleep benefits.

A good night’s sleep means a healthy tomorrow for your family. A steady bedtime routine signals to little ones that it is time to rest and instills healthy habits they can carry with them into adulthood. If your own sleep is suffering, a new mattress may be the key to reducing tossing and turning. Furthermore, a soothing bedtime drink such as sleepytime tea or a magnesium supplement may be just what you need to fall asleep quickly.


Tips For Finding a Hobby Your Child Enjoys

The picture above is of my daughter at our local library reading to the dogs in the Love on a Leash program. I thought this was a great photo to go with this contributed post because it covers two hobbies–a love/interest in animals and reading. I agree with everything this post says about finding hobbies for your children that they enjoy. I think that is the key–that they enjoy. Also, in my family, we try very hard (although it is not always successful) to not sign up for too many activities at a time because we also need time at home as a family. 

Just like adults have interests and hobbies, so do kids. What are some hobbies you can help your child explore and decide whether or not they are right for them?   If you want to see your child’s eyes light up, it’s the extracurriculars that they are involved in that often excite them and can even lead to an early career path. Of course, there are plenty of children who find joy in mathematics and science; but if you ask most children if they want to sit and learn in the classroom, or go out and play in the sunshine, it’s a no-brainer.

Activities outside the classroom are what help to shape their personalities and their interests, with their physical and emotional health being nurtured by the hobbies they choose. As a parent, you want to have well-rounded children who are secure and happy. One of the best ways that you can do this is to encourage them to get involved in activities they like. Hobbies are the way that children can dip a toe into activities and figure out what they love the most.

Finding the right hobby could take some time. Some children don’t realize, for example, that they have a love of collectibles until they start taking an interest in location magnets, badges, figurines, or even rare coins, like the ones that you can find on this link. Collecting has been a hobby that goes back for years, and it isn’t a limited one when you can basically collect everything and anything.

You can teach your children how to find a hobby that they love by doing the activities with them and helping them to spread their wings. Here are some ideas:


One popular hobby that parents encourage in their children is music. Instruments, singing, and even dance are all ways to explore music. By exposing children to music from an early age, you can encourage a love of expression. They can learn which instruments they may want to learn to play; and if you yourself have a talent for an instrument, you can get them involved that way. Not only does music bring you closer together in this case, it helps your children to learn how to read music and understand it on a whole new level. Always encourage enrolling in music and singing lessons from a very young age if you can, as a talent for playing an instrument can be invaluable as they get older.


When it comes to hobbies, crafts are probably up in the top five that children love to do. Anything involving glitter, paint, chalks, crayons, pastels and charcoal are all messy but all very expressionist. You can encourage your children to go wild and embrace the mini artist within. If you want to go one step further, think about enrolling your child into sewing classes. It’s a bit of a lost art in schools at the moment where textiles are concerned, but the talent to be able to repair their own clothes doesn’t just encourage them to learn a skill. It teaches them the value of repairing before replacing, which can feed into their rest of their lives. There is nothing that limits craft projects for children, because you can choose to buy supplies or head out into nature and learn rubbing with charcoal and rocks or finding different colors in leaves to then put together for an autumn collage. This hobby can really help your children to be creative and expressive.


Schools across the country are big on sports, and for good reason. Sports teams help to foster a sense of community, teamwork, and togetherness; and the skills that children learn in sports can stay with them their entire lives. To continue to play the sport that they want once in junior high or high school, they have to keep their grades up, which is an incentive . Children who are encouraged to play sports often live very healthy lives, and prefer to be outside on their bikes and in nature than cooped up indoors doing nothing. The friendships that are fostered while on a sports team can last for an entire childhood, cementing memories when they’ve grown up.


It’s not a hobby that most think of now that we live in an age of digital books, rather than paperback, but there is a huge base for those who enjoy the smell of a new tome, or cracking the spine of a new story. Sitting with your child and reading with them creates a strong bond, especially where you are then able to discuss the story with them and help them to learn about the characters. You are encouraging them to have an imagination when you are encouraging them to read. You also help your child to develop their vocabulary and their language. There’s nothing more exciting than knowing you have a child with a creative and reflective imagination, who uses their hobby of reading to make up their own stories and have fun doing it.

Hobbies can change the way that your children think.  Watch your children grow and develop, simply by encouraging new hobbies within them.

What hobbies do your children and grandchildren enjoy? 



Teach a Child To Read and Open Up Her World

I am so very honored to have children’s author Fiona Ingram on my blog today with her WOW! Women On Writing blog tour for her latest book,  The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. This is a middle-grade adventure book that is part of a series, but this book can also be read as a standalone. In this book, Adam, Justin, and Kim  are hunted by their old enemy and readers will wonder if they can survive long enough to find the Third Stone of Power. With only a young boy, Tukum, as their guide, the kids make their way through the dense and dangerous jungle to find the lost city of stone gods, where the Stone of Power might be located. River rafting on a crocodile-infested river and evading predators are just part of this hazardous task. Of course, their old adversary Dr. Khalid is close behind as the kids press on. But he is not the worst of their problems. This time, Adam will clash with a terrible enemy who adopts the persona of an evil Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, and is keen to revive the ancient tradition of human sacrifice. Adam, Justin, and Tukum must play a dreadful ball game of life and death. Will Dr. Khalid find the third Stone of Power before they do?

The post below will give you a good glimpse into Fiona and her writing.  This is a beautiful post about how she taught a young girl to read, and this  young girl became someone very special to her. At the end of the post, you will easily see why she titled it–“The Rainbow Child and Her Paper Mom.” 

The Rainbow Child and Her Paper Mom by Fiona Ingram

Anyone who has read some of my articles will know that one of my passions in being a children’s author is child literacy. I can’t imagine any author not being concerned with literacy. Literacy is a skill that must be learned, and this simple skill can deliver a child from a life of drudgery to a life filled with opportunity. It all starts at home, where children should grow up surrounded by books, and with parents encouraging them to read and discover the wonderful world of books. That’s in an ideal world, of course.

The truth is that in many places around the world, “at home’”for thousands of children offers no source of education when their parents are either still illiterate, or simply do not have the skills to assist their children with homework. Poverty also means that food comes before books. When South Africa (my home country) achieved democracy, Nelson Mandela called the country a “rainbow nation.” Sadly, there aren’t many pots of gold at the end of the rainbow for a lot of children there. But one little girl, my rainbow child, has found her pot of gold. Here is the story of the rainbow child and her paper mom. I hope it will inspire others to help children read.

I never imagined myself as a mother. Growing up with four brothers, three of them younger than me, meant I had my fair share of bottles, diapers, homework, bedtime stories and all the things big sisters do. My studies and career came first for a long time and the men I dated weren’t interested in having kids. Then the biggest drawback of all: I never felt “grown-up enough” to take on the responsibility of my own child. The year I went overseas with my two nephews, the year that inspired my first children’s book, (The Secret of the Sacred Scarab) I suddenly had this desire to adopt a child. Not give birth, please note, but adopt some little mite who needed a home. Two weeks in Egypt with my nephews aged 10 and 12 were enough to rid me of any maternal feelings and make me decide to just stick to being a good aunt. I had changed my mind about children.

About three months after this trip, I had a visit from a domestic worker who had worked for me a few years back—she had a problem. She arrived with her daughter Mabel, now aged eleven. I remembered Mabel as an enchanting child aged six, all arms and legs and a big smile. But I got married, Josephine left my employ, and we didn’t see each other for another five years. Josephine came straight to the point and asked me to foster Mabel, so she could get a better education.

Thinking for the briefest of nano-seconds that nothing would change, I said yes. Of course, everything changed. Mabel had already failed Grade 2, was advised to repeat Grade 4, and was basically illiterate. How is that possible, I asked myself? I began the slow and often painful task of teaching her all over again, supplemented by many extra lessons. It was not easy. Mabel was scoring only 19% for English at school. Opening the doors into the wonderful world of books seemed insurmountable because she simply did not understand the connection between the written and spoken word. What to do? Begin at the beginning seemed a good idea. Mabel baulked at first, never having had to apply her mind or develop motivation. She’d been told so many times she was a failure (stupid)—what else was there to look forward to? I rose to the challenge and, happily for her, so did Mabel.

I started off with my old favorites and Mabel loved them. Although we grew up poor (five children to feed, clothe, and educate), my parents always had books in the house. And then of course, there were the books we inherited from my grandparents. My very old copy of The Wind in the Willows, with those simple yet beautiful illustrations, is still on my bookshelf. Ratty and Mole were my heroes (and still are!). Other old friends are The Secret Garden, with exquisite color plates; The Water Babies; Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series; my collection of the Lucy Fitch Perkins’ Twins series, with her poignant stories of children of all eras and places around the world. I particularly loved Anne of Avonlea, The Little Princess, and many others.

I began with the Twins’ series. Suddenly, the words were not frightening because Mabel was hearing about places and people she’d never imagined. She’d lean over my shoulder, breathing down my neck as I read, my finger tracing the words as I sounded them out. The pages began to surrender the magical words, and she found them enchanting! Fired with success, we moved on to the rest of the library, slowly devouring my children’s classic book collection in very tiny bite-sized pieces. I was still doing most of the reading.

One day, Mabel decided she’d help with the words and began reading to me. It was still incredibly slow, but I began to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We got movies of books, watched them, and then read the books, just in case the moviemakers had left out some important bits. We expanded our repertoire book by book. I found other ways to sneak words into her day, not just when we were doing serious reading. She read recipes with me when we baked; she read the instructions on the packaging to me while we prepared dinner; she read advertisements to me when we shopped. Suddenly words were a constant part of her life.

Mabel also began to show her imaginative side at school. Her poems and creative writing pieces began to change, reflecting more color, bigger words, more complex themes and emotions. Her first big word was “camouflage.” Sounds silly, but for Mabel it was a breakthrough! We still laugh about it. In all her subjects, her marks began to inch up. The final moment of success came when she turned to my mother and said, “Gran, will you buy me a book?”

My mother nearly fell off her chair and replied, “You can have as many as you like, darling.”

Mabel grinned. “Oh, then can you buy me all the Twilight books please?”

Mabel has developed more serious reading habits since Edward and Bella (phew!), listing Angela’s Ashes, To Kill a Mockingbird, and (Mary Shelley’s) Frankenstein, among her ‘fave books. I adopted Mabel in 2009 at the specific request of both her parents, thus becoming her “paper mom,’”her mom on paper as she describes it. Mabel is in regular contact with her biological family and considers herself fortunate to have two families!

Isn’t Fiona amazing? Don’t forget to check out her middle-grade book series! Find everything you need to know on her website here. 



4 Clear Signs Your Teenager is Ready for a Car

(contributed post)

You’ve been sitting in the passenger seat while you supervise your teenager driving for months now, and you suddenly notice how well they’re driving without you needing to guide too much anymore. It’s a big step and a big deal for this to be recognized because it means that the time you’ve spent teaching them and the test that they passed means that yes, they can comfortably drive their own car.

It can be difficult to let go of your teenager and let them drive on their own, particularly when you know the need for an accident attorney is high among teenagers due to the accident rates in cars. Car crashes are a number one killer of teenagers, and it’s important that your teenager is truly ready to take the wheel before you purchase a car for them to use. So, here below you’ll find four clear signs that your teenagers are ready to take the wheel of their own vehicle and go the distance as a safe driver.

They Have A Licence. Obvious? Yes, but it’s more than that. A licence doesn’t make a good driver, but there are plenty of support courses that a young driver can take to make sure that they are great on the road and know that they are doing well with their technique while they drive.

They Commit To Safe Driving. Teenagers of all ages need to commit to learning the rules of the road, and they also need to have it drummed in to them that they are responsible for more than just themselves when they choose to drive. There is this program  that can help your teenager understand the importance of their commitment to being safe drivers on the road.

You’ve Communicated. As a parent, you want your teenagers to be as safe as possible. Make conversation about their driving skills and strategies, not lecture them about what to do in certain situations. Talk to them, not at them, and celebrate their accomplishments while they learn their way.

They Ditch Their Cell Phones. If there is one lesson you can teach your teenager, it’s putting their cell down when they drive. Tell them to put it in the trunk of the car before they climb into the driving seat. This way, there is no temptation to answer a text or take a selfie or Snapchat their car journey. There is no feasible reason for cell phones to be in their hands while they’re driving, and this is one of the most important lessons you could impart on your teenager.

Your teenager needs to have their freedom, sure, but you need to make sure that you are setting them out onto the road with the right knowledge and the right smarts to be behind the wheel. You don’t want to send your child out into the road if they don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves. Be proud they’ve reached this point in their maturity: you’ve done well!

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