Morning Routine

As everyone goes back to school—and even back to work after summer vacations—you may find that old routines aren’t working as well. As children get older, they will need adjustment. Or, maybe everyone forgot what the old routines were and you’re all frantically wondering how to fit it all in every morning before you all move off in your various directions.

The elements every family needs to balance are:

  • food,
  • grooming and cleaning,
  • passing along information, and,
  • at the best of times, just being together.

Food includes both feeding yourselves a meal and preparing for later meals. Speed is not necessarily essential. The keys to making meals go smoothly are advanced planning and actually understanding what your family members like or are willing to eat without much fuss. In my family, this means variety since we get stubborn about eating the same things over and over.

Grooming and cleaning at best means keeping people and house in order, but in many people’s realities it means just barely getting people ready in time and leaving the house to itself.

Passing along information might be “Honey, don’t forget to stop at the store before you come home,” or it might be more like, “Uh, Mama, I forgot to tell you that I need my project ready by today.”

I know the just being together part is going well when any two members of my family are focused on one another (for four people to focus on one another, that usually takes my effort and planning). For my kids, this happens when they spontaneously, without adult suggestion, sit down to play chess or board games or when they go outside and play together. My husband and I find our days work better if we’ve talked over breakfast rather than just reading the paper to one another (yes, we still have a newspaper that arrives at our door each morning). When the pairing is one child and one parent, it usually means someone had a question and a conversation or project followed.

This is how my family currently makes our mornings work.

Get up. As long as my husband listens to the alarm, he’s fine. When he sleeps through it, he ends up not having enough time to get everything ready before he has to leave the house. Oversleeping is usually related to going to bed later than he expected. Don’t think that you are going to successfully steal time. In our experience, stealing time is usually not successful. Whether or not my children get up early depends on the night before. Everyone is happier when we all sit down together in the morning, but if that means having a tired, grumpy child to take care of all day, I’m willing to let go of the ideal. Between late-night band practice and ballet, we do have several days a week when it’s better to let children sleep a little longer. When they sleep in, though, they miss their father. It’s a balance.

Take the dog out. Our dog is quite good at telling us what she wants and needs. I’m sure she doesn’t play as much tug or fetch as she would like, but she gets a lot of attention, plenty of food, and time outside to follow her very sensitive nose. We try to be as sensitive and attachment about her as we are with the rest of the family. So, the dog’s needs have to be met within the routine. The dog has a routine, too. Immediately after going out, she has a nap on my daughter’s bed.

Get clean. This is so predictable that I don’t even think about it much, but I realize my children need to be made conscious of this step, especially as they get older and their need to bathe increases. Make sure you leave enough time to keep yourself not just barely clean but also fingernails trimmed, teeth really brushed, and hair combed. I add the last one for my son, whose hair is halfway down his back. He likes the idea of long hair, but the cleaning and combing of long hair are not really part of his own personal routine. Now that he’s suffered through a hot summer long enough to give his hair to Locks of Love, he’s ready to have it shaved, and so am I. Keeping his hair clean and un-matted has been our adventure.

Eat. We generally choose between cooked breakfast and cereal, with occasional fresh bread. We usually save pancakes and other meals that take longer to prepare for weekends or holidays. What makes the meal work for us is eating together—and always adding cut fruit.

Fix food. For those who won’t be home for lunch, we pack lunch. It helps if we thought about this well in advance. When putting away dinner the night before, we can easily put leftovers in lunch-sized containers. Without advanced planning, it’s probably a sandwich for lunch.

House. In order to keep the house from becoming an issue, we try to do small chores often. Maybe this means opening (and discarding) mail then taking recycling out to the garage. Maybe this means folding laundry, then distributing it to each room. This keeps us from having to live in a mess then spend one long day cleaning back to a livable level.

Once my husband is out of the house, my children and I have a routine that works well for us.

  • Eat (if we haven’t already)
  • Clean. Right after breakfast, we each do one substantial cleaning job each.
  • Dog run. Our dog is young and active. As a trainer told us, a tired dog is a good dog. She needs to run full speed, so this happens right after breakfast and cleaning.
  • School. We spend 2-3 hours on school early. Details of what we cover depend on day of the week. I don’t mind improvisation, but my children have requested to know what is coming in advance.
  • Smoothies. Mid-morning smoothie gives us an activity as well as a nutritional boost.

My children have both told me how much happier they are when we follow our basic routine. We have a lot of flexibility, but we always try to cover the basics. When we drop any one part of this, we don’t feel right. Even when we do everything, we have to be aware enough of everyone’s needs that we can adjust. The way to make sure any routine actually works for you is to provide feedback and adjustment to the routine. Rigidly following a routine that isn’t working for some of all of your family members will not help—at least not in the long run.

If you are ready to find the morning routine that works for your family, start by asking what is working and what isn’t. You may not have to make drastic changes. Just anticipate the consequences of a late night or skipped breakfast and be disciplined enough to avoid those consequences.

DIY Back-to-School Supplies: Re-used Notepad

DIY Reused Notepad finishedDo you get that back-to-school feeling when you buy school supplies. It’s a dangerous feeling. I get it every time I go to an office supply store, which is why I have entirely too many paper products. I’m trying to help my children have that excitement about the beginning of school without tying it to buying.

I asked my children what supplies they need for school this year. We narrowed it down to 3-ring binders (which we have chosen from those we already had on the shelf), pencils (bought new), rulers (hard-edged metal rulers that will last a lifetime), and note paper. We write a lot of notes.

DIY Reused Notepad cutting paperRather than buy new notepads, I keep a pile of paper that is printed on one side to write notes. My son likes to write small notes to me, so we decided to make our own do-it-yourself re-used notepad.


  • 40 sheets of paper
  • paper cutter
  • liquid glue (Elmer’s)
  • newspaper

DIY Reused Notepad cutting paper

  1. Make sure all paper is blank on one side
  2. Cut paper into 4 or 6 pieces per sheet
  3. Tap paper to make one side very smooth
  4. Hold the paper tightly to keep that side smooth
  5. Spread out the newspaper
  6. Squeeze glue onto the smooth side
  7. Spread the glue evenly with your finger
  8. Fan the papers just a bit so the glue goes between the pages a bit
  9. Hold the papers for a couple of minutes until the glue stops running
  10. Set the notepad on the newspaper and let dry overnight

DIY Reused Notepad stack of paperNow, we have a re-used notepad that keeps all of the scratch paper together in one pad. We’re still thinking about how to repurpose old supplies to make the rest.

Sunny Side Up: Quick, Nutritious Breakfast

Egg in PanThis is the week my daughter discovered her new favorite food: eggs sunny side up. We have local eggs delivered with our local milk, and we’re currently facing an abundance of eggs in our refrigerator.

“Would you like eggs and toast for breakfast?”

“No, Mama. I don’t want scrambled eggs again.”

I think fast, because I know I need to sell the eggs. My husband has convinced them that soft-boiled eggs with toast fingers is a special treat, but I was looking for a quick breakfast that day.

“How about quick eggs that you can dip your toast into?”

Skeptical, they went along. Only a couple of minutes later, I served them hot, soft eggs and toast.

“These are eggs sunny side up.”

I think eating eggs sunny side up is a bit like eating some kind of cookies. Everyone has their own right way. Now that my kids have eaten the same kind of eggs three times in one week (no, I’m not kidding), they each have their own sunnyside groove.

My son went with the traditional dipping of toast fingers.

My daughter, though, puts hers whole on one slice of toast, carefully nibbles around the edge to the center, then pops the whole yolk in one bite.

I cut up peach while the eggs were cooking (I’m pushing the peaches this week, too).

That was two eggs two ways for two children, and we have a nutritious breakfast in about four minutes.

Egg on toast Egg with fingers

Babywearing for Pick Up and Drop Off

Hotslings kangaroo hold
“Mommy, help me.”

Which one do you help first? Everyone who has had to juggle a toddler and a baby at the same time knows that if you can keep the stuff to a minimum and the process simple, you can focus on the children. When your toddler needs to tell you all about the school day even before it has begun, you can really listen because babywearing during pick up and drop off will make everything much simpler.

When you need your hands free quickly to help with car seat buckles, to hold a hand walking into class, and to give your toddler a hug big enough to make it through the day, take the easy way.

  • Choose a pouch sling or a simple ring sling. Hotslings pouch looks great, feels great, and takes only a minute to get the baby comfortably adjusted.
  • Put the sling on before you leave the house. With a pouch sling, you have no bulk to worry about, and you can cut down on the time spent adjusting on the other end.
  • Pick up the baby first when you arrive. Leave the child most likely to escape until last.
  • Wear your baby facing out. A kangaroo hold works well. It isn’t just that your baby wants to see what is going on in the world. Everyone at school will want to see and talk to the baby as well.
  • Then unbuckle your toddler. Once the baby is set and secure, you can focus on the needs of your child going into or coming out of school.

On the way back in to the car, take care of your toddler first. Once the toddler is buckled in, you can slip the baby into his or her seat and not have to worry about unbuckling and taking off a baby carrier. Just slip yourself into the seat. Smooth sailing.

5-Minute Lunch Box

Time to leave for school and you don’t have the lunch box ready? You need 5-minute lunches.

The key to making your quickie lunch preparation work is to keep ingredients on hand. Know what your child will eat. While you are pulling things together, keep a balance between proteins, fruits and vegetables, and grains.

Leftover Salad

  • Start with rice or pasta
  • Add protein: diced meat or beans
  • Add cheese: squares, shredded, or feta chunks
  • Add vegetables: diced zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, avocado
  • Add salad dressing (keep it vinegar and oil based if the lunch won’t be refrigerated)


  • Savory: black beans, refried beans, guacamole, salsa, hummus, eggplant, spinach, cream cheese, pesto
  • Sweet: yogurt, applesauce, cream cheese
  • Dippers: fruit or cut vegetables, crackers, or tortilla chips
  • Bonus for the 6-minute lunch: cut the fruits or veg or cheese into shapes


  • The dips above can be spreads as well.
  • Spread on crackers or simple cookies, like vanilla wafers or graham crackers
  • If the spread will soften the crackers or cookies, keep them separate and add a celery stick for spreading.

Fruit and veg

  • Easiest: grapes, blueberries, orange slices (my son asked me to add that one)
  • Half fruit cut: apple cut to show the 5-pointed star, kiwi. Colorful and interesting.
  • Cut veggies: not just carrots and celery but broccoli, zucchini, and mushrooms
  • No time to cut veggies for 4-minute lunch: peas in a pod


  • Use different bread
  • Tortillas are very easy. Try peanut butter spirals: spread nearly to edge, roll up tightly, then cut into ½” slices. Spirals!

Trail mix

  • Nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, wasabi peas
  • Raisins, craisins
  • Chocolate chips


  • Frozen juice or frozen yogurt. Just keep a few in the freezer.

When you clear dinner, pack anything appropriate into small containers that you can easily put into a lunch box.

Especially if lunches aren’t refrigerated, be sure to add a frozen gel pack to keep food cool and out of the bacteria danger zone.