If you are on this page, you are the editor of a regional publication. In addition to these stories, I am available for assignment. I am particularly interested in covering homeschooling, young entrepreneurs, homesteading/gardening, money-saving, and health related topics. If you want to reach me, my email address is carol@caroljalexander; or you can call me at (540) 333-6898.
17 Ideas for Using Mason Jars–I get a charge out of up-cycling, re-purposing, or otherwise finding a use for things that most folks send to the landfill. From old socks to appliance cords to twist ties, I can find a use for it. Even food scraps go into a soup or casserole, are fed to the animals, or added to the compost bin. At our place, very little is left for the trash heap. Mason jars are handy to have around, even if you don’t can food in them. Following are 17 ways to use these versatile containers—or any other jars you save.–1,137 words.
17 Things to Do with Pumpkins–It’s that time of year when pumpkins reign. If you want to get past the usual jack-o-lantern carving and tackle some other pumpkin activities, you’ve come to the right place. Just read on for art, cooking, and learning activities your kids will enjoy.–534 words.
25 Ways to Say I Love You— According to marriage and family life expert Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, people understand emotional messages from others in five different ways. He calls these ways love languages. He maintains that for your spouse to pick up those emotional messages, you must speak his love language. The five love languages that Chapman discusses are: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. To help you get started on your marriage maintenance activities for the new year, I’ve listed five ways to show your spouse that you love him or her for each of those five love languages. Of course you are free to choose ideas from any section of this list; because if you are speaking the right love language on a regular basis, the other things you do to show affection will just be icing on the cake.—1,338 words.
25 Ways to Make Your Summer Memorable–Summer is the time for making memories, relaxing, and having fun with the family. If you want to encourage your kids from spending too much time watching television, walking the mall, or surfing the World Wide Web, you need an arsenal of things to entice them. That’s what we have here for you—125 things, ideas, activities, projects, trips, and more. More than enough to keep the gang busy for the entire summer—and beyond.—887 words, this article also has a 28-day version for every day in February.
Affordable Family Fitness–Someone told me recently that he doesn’t pay for his morning cup of coffee because he fills his travel mug for free at the gym each day before heading to the office. “Oh,” I thought, “You’re pinching on your coffee so you can pay for your gym membership.” My son says the gym membership keeps him accountable. “Since I’m spending all that money, Mom, I’m gonna go.”“Maybe,” I thought, “But can’t your wife keep you accountable? You don’t have to pay her every month.”According to StatisticBrain.com the national average for a gym membership is $55 per month. That’s over $600 per year. But if you want to spend some time together as a family, and get exercise at the same time, there are cheaper alternatives.—636 words.
Build a Tree House, Make a Memory–Remember the lazy days of summer when you were a kid? Where did you spend your time? I went to an old, hollowed out tree in the woods behind our place with my book and my lunch almost every single day. But most families do not own acres of woods—including us; so, my boys have a tree house. They spend hours in that tree house every day, weather permitting. If they aren’t swinging from the rope, they are sword fighting with homemade swords, or planning their next canoe trip with dad. Building a tree house does not need to be a monumental (or expensive) building project. Think of it as making a memory with your kids and providing a place for them to make their own memories for years to come.–803 words with 201-word sidebar.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day for Less–I counsel young people in love to schedule their weddings on any day but Valentine’s Day. Why? Because when money is tight, it’s a hard thing to celebrate your wedding anniversary on the most expensive night of the year. After all, when reminding your partner she is loved, some things have come to be expected—flowers, dinner, and chocolate for example. But after many years of celebrating our wedding anniversary on February 14th, my husband and I have found a few tricks to expressing our love and devotion for less.—656 words.
Create Your Own Fast Food–Does it feel like you live in the car shuffling kids from play practice to sporting event to sleepover? With all this shuffling, what’s happened to your family meal table? That’s exactly the question Melodie M. Davis asks in her book, Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime. In her study of the evolution of family mealtime, she discovers that it changes with our changing culture; but despite the changing culture, we as parents must keep mealtime as glue for holding the family together and a center point in our lives. Not only is typical fast food unhealthy, it is expensive. If you knew that you could have supper on the table before the kids unloaded the groceries from the car, wouldn’t you want to give it a try? Here are a few ways to consider.-–802 words with 97-word sidebar.
Decorating Tips from Top Interior Designers–You will never see my house featured in the pages of this magazine, or any magazine for that matter. It’s comfortable, lived in, and not what folks expect to see when reading a lifestyle publication. Every Christmas season my kids tire of me saying, “Help me clean; you can’t decorate a dirty house.” You see, my best decorating tip is to clean first, decorate later. And since my house is, um, not so often tidy, I rarely get to the decorating phase.-–751 words
Family Friendly Holiday Drink Recipes–Nothing speaks holiday like mulled cider, gingerbread, and candy cane. Whether you are chilling with the family or having friends over for an evening of holiday cheer, you want something seasonal to serve. Add a big bowl of popcorn or a plate of cookies and you are ready for games, storytelling, or just good conversation.–Four recipes–610 words
Finding Lessons in a Seed Catalog–I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. Perusing seed catalogs on a cold winter night while a fire burns on the hearth beats reading the newest, best-selling novel any day. But dreaming of dirt running through my fingers is not the only reason I enjoy them so much. I also enjoy finding all the parent/child projects hidden between their pages.—844 words with 65-word sidebar.
Five Building Blocks for The Teen Job Hunt–“Don’t cha think he should’ve taken off his shades, Mom?” asked my teen one evening about a young man who came into his place of employment looking for a job. Even though this restaurant was not hiring, the manager took the time to speak with him; and the boy failed to remove his sunglasses during that interview. I don’t think he intended to remain anonymous. I think his parents just failed to teach him job-hunting skills. With summer close at hand, let’s look at a few ways to help our teens find a summer job—despite the competition.—907 words.
Five Money Saving Vacation Tips–Often, when times are tight, the first thing to go is the family vacation. With food and fuel prices rising like a hot air balloon, many families are forgoing this yearly ritual and banking the money instead. But by implementing a few unconventional ideas, you can enjoy a time of holiday without going into debt or spending all your savings.—591 words.
Five Ways to Encourage Your Young Artist–Whenever one of my children shows more than a passing interest in something, I like to encourage him to continue. When my oldest son wanted to learn blacksmithing, we found an apprenticeship program for him. When our daughter started reading cookbooks for pleasure, we enrolled her in cake decorating classes; because you never know when a childhood hobby will become a future vocation. Now, my sixth child spends hours drawing, coloring, and creating works of art in all forms. To encourage him in this interest, I’ve done five things that have made a difference.—581 words.
Five Ways to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner–Families thrive on gathering for the holidays—especially Thanksgiving. But the expense of serving a traditional Thanksgiving feast for the entire clan can be cost-prohibitive for some folks. With grocery prices rising like the morning sun, moms often struggle enough to feed the family every day—not to mention a turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the other trimmings. If it’s your turn to have the tribe to your house, but you find yourself wanting to trim the trimmings, here are five ways to help lighten the load on your holiday budget.—570 words.
Five Ways to Save on Easter Dinner–Families thrive on gathering for the holidays—especially Easter. But the expense of serving a traditional Easter feast for the entire clan can be cost-prohibitive for some folks. With grocery prices rising like the morning sun, moms often struggle enough to feed the family every day—not to mention a ham, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, and all the other trimmings. If it’s your turn to have the tribe to your house, but you find yourself wanting to trim the trimmings, here are five ways to help lighten the load on your holiday budget.—569 words.
Five Ways for Mom to Make Money–Few women look forward to returning to work after having a baby. Financially, some don’t have a choice. Yet others have enough wiggle room in their income to start earning money from home. Here are five proven ways for stay-at-home moms to help contribute to the family budget.—784 words.
Forty Ways to Grow a Green Kid–Living a green life isn’t just for adults. The next generation can be trained from a young age to be good stewards of the earth and to live a sustainable lifestyle. But what exactly can a preschooler do? Or a 12 year old? Read on for 40 ways that you can encourage your child to not only reduce, re-use, and recycle; but to enjoy it. Are your recycle bins in the garage or the side of the house? A preschooler can run that plastic jug or aluminum can out there for you. To encourage him in this chore, take the aluminum cans to the scrap yard and let him keep the money you get for them.–1,052 words.
Fun Pumpkin Activities to do with the Kids– It’s that time of year again when pumpkins reign. If you want to get past the usual jack-o-lantern carving and tackle some other pumpkin activities, you’ve come to the right place. Just read on for art, cooking, and learning activities your kids will enjoy.—608 words.
Gifts for Grandma– For many years I have made homemade gifts with my children for their grandmothers. I always wanted the gifts to be something that went with their home décor and that they would use and cherish–not your typical ice-cream stick picture frame or soup can pencil cup. Here are a few gift ideas that even the youngest child can make for a parent, grandparent or teacher:–800 words.
Gifts for Grandparents– For many years I have made homemade gifts with my children for their grandparents. I always wanted the gifts to be something that went with their home décor and that they would use and cherish–not your typical ice-cream stick picture frame or soup can pencil cup. Here are a few gift ideas that even the youngest child can make for a parent, grandparent or teacher:–800 words. (This is essentially the same piece as Gifts for Grandmas, except written for either grandparent or older loved one.)
Harvest Your Own Pumpkin-Spice Latte–This is the time of year when just the word pumpkin makes people swoon. Everything from pumpkin lattes to pumpkin muffins to pumpkin soup invades our Facebook feeds and dominates our Pinterest boards. If you’ve found yourself pinning some of those recipes to your own boards to try someday, read on for detailed instructions on how you can process your own pumpkin instead of relying on the canned variety.–502 words.
How to Pay Less for a College Education—In 2011, college seniors graduated with an average college loan debt of nearly $27,000, up 5% from the previous year. Unfortunately, this increase occurred when the unemployment rate of recent college grads also increased to 8.8%. In light of these statistics, and the fact that a semester of college can cost more than a parent makes in a year, it is time to look for help. Following are five ways to cut that school bill down without taking out student loans.—922 words, 105-word sidebar.
How to Plan a Homeschool Graduation— Your child studied hard for four years and now the time is drawing to a close. You would like to recognize him for his efforts, but you don’t belong to a group that hosts a graduation for its members. What do you do? We’ve graduated three of our six children from homeschool and we’ve handled each experience differently. Fortunately, when homeschooling, you can tailor everything you do to the needs and preferences of each child—including a high school graduation. Here are some ideas to help you put together a memorable commencement event for your graduate.—860 words with a 20 word sidebar.
How to Save on Haircuts– As a young professional, I took the maxim “dress for success” seriously. I chose classic business attire without following fashion trends. I wore a modest amount of make-up, and simple pieces of jewelry. Nothing about my appearance screamed, “Look at me.” However, when expecting my first child, a time when fluctuating hormones drive women to do things even they don’t understand, I continually obsessed over my hair. Feeling quite unkempt up there, I frequently shed tears about my bedraggled appearance to my husband. A man to dote on his wife and take charge, he immediately took matters in hand.…My husband was right—professional help was what this young, pregnant professional woman needed. I left that salon with a new look, renewed confidence in my appearance, and roughly $48 poorer—and that was 23 years ago.…Today, after decades of one income and many more babies, I cannot imagine spending $48 on a haircut.—597 words,
How to Buy a Mattress for You and Your Child–One of the most important purchases you will ever make is a new mattress. After all, you spend at least 25% of your life in bed. If you have not bought a new mattress in the last ten years, now is the time. A professional in the mattress industry recently offered me the following tips for making this significant decision for both you and your child.–968 words.
Keep the Home Fires Burning: Creating a Beautiful Hearth for Practically Nothing–We just finished painting our living room. With winter fast approaching and temperatures dropping every night, our woodstove sat on a hand-truck in the corner. The hearth was not yet built and we ran out of money for this remodeling job….To create your own beautiful hearth for practically nothing, follow these steps.—662 words.
Let’s Have a Harvest Party–Nothing initiates fall more than a harvest party. With a crisp in the air, pumpkins along the walk, and a washtub full of apples to bob for, your friends will know that you understand the meaning of the season. If you long to have friends and family over for an autumn gathering, here are some suggestions to make it a memorable affair.–644 words.
Living with Adult Kids, Peaceably–According to the Office of National Statistics, 3.3 million 20-34 year olds lived with their parents in 2013. The number of young adults living with their parents has increased 25% since 1996, despite the fact that the number of people in that age group has remained the same. What does that mean for parents? Delayed empty nest, increased financial burden at a time when parents look forward to a little extra cash, and possibly stress in the family dynamics.—900 words.
*Long Distance Grandparenting— In the classic children’s story, Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the parting of the Charles Ingalls family from the rest of the clan. “Grandma and all the aunts hugged and kissed them and hugged and kissed them again, saying good-by.” Such was the scene when our family left a major metropolis 13 years ago and headed for the rural countryside—leaving Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins, 1,000 miles behind. …Fostering a long distance relationship between children and adults takes effort—on all sides. But it can be done. Here are some ideas proven to work for other families:–Have 700, 1200, and 1600 word versions with a possible 90 word sidebar.
Manners Made Easy–We’ve all been there. You call a local business to enquire for a particular product and the employee on the line gives you the impression she would rather eat worms than answer your questions. Or, you’ve checked out at the grocery and the cashier spent the entire time texting a friend. No smile, no “hello,” no “have a nice day.” “Children who exhibit good manners stand out among the rest,” said Susan Teter, Certified Manners Coach from New Market, Virginia Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, so do those with bad manners.—741 words with 127 word sidebar.
Networking for the Homeschooling Family–“Wow, I could never do that,” say most people when I tell them that I homeschool my children. Questioning them generally reveals that a lot of parents feel inadequate to home educate. They think that if they don’t have a college degree, or if they never took algebra, or if they cannot speak a foreign language, than they are ill-equipped to teach these things to their kids….Perhaps you’ve gotten up the courage to take the plunge, remove your children from a conventional school setting, and homeschool them; but you have no clue where to begin. Following are a few ideas to get you going.–805 words, 101-word sidebar.
No Time for TV— Shea stared at Mr. Bowman with a look that said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Mr. Bowman continued to talk about something he’d seen on television. “But, sir,” Shea said to his lawn customer, “We don’t have a television.” “Don’t have a television?” he asked in disbelief. “Oh, I get it,” his wife joined in, “That’s how you have the time to do all the things you do!” Exactly.—992 word essay with 100 word sidebar about National Turn off Your TV Week.
Quench Your Summer Thirst, Naturally–Nothing beats the summer heat like a glass of something cold on ice. But typical iced-tea contains caffeine, Kool-Aid has artificial coloring and other chemicals, and lemonade powders are no better. Sodas are loaded with caffeine, high fructose corn syrup, and phosphoric acid. What’s a mother to do when the kids coming running for something cold? Serve a natural alternative, of course. Try the following recipes for drinks or freeze in molds for an alternative frozen treat.–876 words.
Read Around the Fire and Learn Something, Too–With snow falling gently outside and the fire crackling on the hearth, our family loves to curl up with a good book and read. And since the farm chores are all buried in snow, we can truly get lost in another world. But reading is not all we do; we learn in the process. Whether you are a homeschooling family or not, the following activities can help you get the most out of your literature.—656 words.
Saving on the Baby Budget–Nothing brings joy to a couple’s life more than finding out they are expecting their first child. But after a few months of basking in the glow, they generally begin to realize that having a baby can cost a lot of money—especially if they cave to the pressure of loading up on baby gear. I can think of three key areas to save on the baby budget. Let me share them with you here.—661 words.
Secrets to Longevity–After a trying day as a homeschooling mom, I flopped down across my bed and cried. “I feel awful,” I said to myself. “If I feel this bad at 30, how am I going to feel when I’m 60?” Today, over 20 years later, I feel much better. Babies growing up, better sleep and exercise made a world of difference. At 30, I couldn’t imagine wanting to live to be 100. But today, at 54, there’s so much I still want to do. So, I’m looking for the secret.—641 words.
*Taking Your Child to the Emergency Room–One hot August afternoon, I had just flopped down on my bed in front of the fan to rest for a few minutes when I heard it—one of those screams that tell you something is grossly wrong. Jay’s voice followed, “Johnny!” I looked out my bedroom window to see five-year-old Johnny running, Jay’s long legs overtaking him as he scooped him up and brought him into the house, a trail of blood following…In 23 years as a mother, with six children, this was not my only visit to an emergency department. With everything from birth trauma to Johnny’s hands, to just plain ol’ stitches, our family has seen it. Yet the scenario never gets old. No parent, whether it’s the first visit or the 10th, is ever emotionally prepared for a trip to the emergency department with a child. But there are some things you can do before anything happens that will make the experience less stressful.—1,709 words.
Taking Care of Self when a Child is in the Hospital–When the doctor said, “Your son needs surgery. Check into the hospital at nine o’clock on Friday morning,” my head started spinning. I was calculating all the things I would need to remember to make his stay as comfortable and glitch-free as possible. I made sure I had the correct paperwork, a list of his medications, and directions for finding my way around the hospital. I also made sure I threw something to occupy myself into the bag, but I never gave any thought to my needs or comfort. Big mistake. From hunger and thirst to upset stomach, I experienced a wide array of issues that could have been easily remedied had I been better prepared. If you need to accompany a child or loved one to the hospital, here are a few things to remember.—719 words.
*Taking Your Allergies to School–The most common food allergies in children are milk, egg, peanut, soy, and wheat. Most children outgrow allergies to milk, egg, soy, and wheat by the age of ten. Not so for peanuts. Only 15-20% of children outgrow peanut, tree nut, or shellfish allergies; and reactions to these foods account for most allergy-related deaths. Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Virginia Scott Commins, MD, PhD, is currently performing a clinical trial involving peanut-allergic individuals. He said that the symptoms from peanut reactions are not necessarily severe. They can vary from itching around the mouth and lips, to hives, gastro-intestinal upsets, to anaphylaxis. But just because your child has never had a severe reaction, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.—Have a 1,064 and 1,461-word versions with two optional sidebars. Also have a Canadian version.
Thirty Ways to Save the Family Budget–Every parent, at some time or another, finds herself in need of a little more cash. Whether you want to save for a special trip, or have come short on the monthly budget; whether the need is immediate or just a desire to scale back over the long term, I have the ideas for you. Before you sacrifice family time by taking a second job or starting a business venture, try a few of these cost-cutting tips. In just a few months, you are bound to see the cash flow freer.–804 words.
Three Ways to Organize a Family in a Small Home–When we purchased our first home, friends commented on its small size. “We don’t intend to stay forever,” my husband replied. “In three years, we’ll sell and move up.” Three years came and went and we still lived in our little cottage. We never intended to stay for nine years, and we certainly never meant to live in 600 square feet with four children, but we did. Living in a small space with children, and keeping your sanity, requires organization. Besides the old maxim “A place for everything and everything in its place,” let me share with you the top three ways that I made that happen.—922 words.
Tips for Winter Survival– Winter weather includes its own set of circumstances for which most parts of the world must prepare. Nothing spells disaster like frozen water pipes, getting your vehicle stuck in the snow, or losing power. For a simple checklist of winter preparedness tips, continue reading.843 words.
Tips to Surviving a Winter Storm with Small Children– Every August brings talk of the relief a parent feels when the kids go back to school. At the office, the checkout line, or on Facebook, moms moan that finally they can keep the house clean; finally, some peace and quiet; finally, time to oneself. But school time doesn’t help the mom of toddlers, homeschooling parents, or those house-bound during a winter storm. These moms need something a little more creative than a big, yellow bus pulling up to the door. They need…664 words.
Treating Daughters Special— Most people, at some point in their lives, feel left out. Perhaps you were always the last picked for teams in PE class; or the only kid at camp with a teddy bear in your suitcase. Well, imagine being the only girl in a large family of boys. Maria Sanchez is the only girl of twelve children. With many boys in the house, the uniform is denim, the table talk is trucks, and the TV is set on ESPN. “A girl needs to feel good about being a girl,” says Maria’s mom, Cherie Sanchez of Virginia, “especially when she’s surrounded by eleven brothers.” So in that kind of setting, how does one help an only daughter feel good about herself? If you are asking yourself this question, take a look at the following ideas from mothers of only one daughter.—900 words.
Twenty Things to do with Holiday Leftovers– Do you love the traditional turkey or ham dinner for the holidays but loathe the idea of eating it for days on end? Here are 20 creative ideas for using up those leftovers before you reach the point of tossing them out.—742 words.
What I’ve Learned Mothering Boys–Before having children, I dreamed of tea parties with my daughters, braiding hair and making dresses. Never did it occur to me that I might not have daughters (plural). I do have one, but she has five brothers. Oh, we have done all the mother/daughter things I always dreamed of. But there is so much more than that in life. I found myself talking with a girlfriend this morning about my 16-year-old Shea replacing the recoil pad on his rifle when it hit me “Do you know what a recoil pad is?” I asked.—928 words.
What Children Can Learn from Gardening–Growing up in the woods we never had a garden; but my Granny did. I remember her flowers better than her vegetables. She planted a very large piece of land with rows and rows of irises. Each one was given a name. She used the names of each of her eight grandchildren, her daughters, her closest friends; but after that, I don’t know where the other names came from. I cannot remember a time in my life when not surrounded with growing things. As an adult, I absolutely adore my garden and I’ve taught my children the same. Each of them began their gardening careers on the sidelines in a playpen. From there, they not only learned gardening but math, language, science, home economics, and more—all while growing our food. You don’t have to be a homeschooling parent to appreciate lessons from life. It is so rewarding to watch our kids “get it” while doing something as simple as planting corn. You see that “aha” expression and ask, and he replies, “Now I know why eight times four is 32.”—1,051 words.
What Children Can Learn from Playing Cards– A deck of cards makes a small, inexpensive stocking stuffer for any kid. Since December 28th is National Card Playing Day, pop one into your child’s stocking and learn a few new games. It’s a great way for a family to have fun and keep up academic skills during the holiday break from school. When my son struggled to add long columns of numbers, I taught him to play Rummy 500 and had him keep score. He enjoyed it so much, we played Rummy every evening for an entire summer. I’ve been using card games for learning ever since. They can teach, or reinforce, from the most basic skill of matching to complex logical thinking. Let me share with you a few games we enjoy.—862 words.
When Your Children Have No Grandparents—My father passed away the day before my oldest child’s sixth birthday. We moved 1,200 miles away from our extended family three years later. Consequently, my children never had a Grandpa with whom to play catch, go fishing, or do other grandfatherly things. But they do have ‘grandfathers’ in their lives.—529 words.
Working at Home with Little People— Sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop, I finally hit “print” for the article I’ve been struggling with for days. But nothing happens. Then, the message appears: “The printer is out of paper.” “Not again,” I mumble as I hoof it to the next room, tripping over my six year old sprawled on the floor with crayons and paper spread about. “Like my pictures, Mommy?” That’s where my paper went, again. Many moms wait until the day their child gets on the school bus for the first time before they begin a home business. I’ve never had that option—I’ve homeschooled my children for the last 17 years. Consequently, I’ve learned a lot of ways to work alongside them. So whether you have pre-schoolers or homeschoolers, by implementing the following ideas your career need not wait another day.—1,150 words.
You Can Afford to Homeschool–In 18 years of homeschooling, we’ve probably spent less than $1,000. I’m not counting things like school supplies or field trips; because those are things I would spend money on anyway. But for specific school curriculum, we’ve spent less in our entire homeschooling career than we spent on one year of our oldest child’s private school tuition. For a one-income family with six children, that is a substantial savings…Some folks, however, need a little more structure than our family. But after seeing the prices of curriculum in the catalogs they decide they cannot afford it after all. If this describes you, follow along as I share eight ways to homeschool with little or no money.—779 words with 72-word sidebar.
*This article was assigned by an editor and is now available for reprint.