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  • My School Lunch Strategy


    Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I am feeling a lot better about it than I did last year, when I really didn’t know what I was in for. Packing my son’s snack and lunch is still a big consideration for me, though.

    One thing I learned last year is that my son doesn’t care for the school’s offerings. He’ll gladly eat the breakfast cereal and coffee cake, but has an intense dislike of the other options, including the pizza, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese and so on. I can’t complain, as I like to think he’s got a discerning palate thanks to the food he enjoys at home. The flip side, of course, is that I have to pack him lunch every day.

    This year, I know to pack a small snack because he has only 20 minutes to scarf something down, use the bathroom, and play. And his biggest priority on that list is going to be play, while his teacher’s biggest priority will be the bathroom visit. So my biggest priority – the snack – will have to be something quick and desirable, like an applesauce pouch or cookie. I’m anxious for the weather to cool down so I can do some baking.

    Unfortunately, my son rarely ate any lunch-type things I packed last year – he didn’t like the sandwiches, hot foods were untouched, and no matter how much I experimented, he just didn’t want to eat much. Apparently this is actually normal for some kids.

    So I’m resigned to packing something that looks more like a substantial snack than a lunch. My standbys are cereal-type bars (yay for the Kashi deal at CVS this week!), crackers (especially pre-packaged ones with peanut butter for the protein), single-serve cartons of organic milk, and fruit puree pouches. I serve him a fairly substantial lunch-like snack after school to make up for his lack of “real” food at school, and he eats a good dinner. The fact that he’s healthy and a healthy weight makes it easier for me to accept this regimen, although my acceptance was a long time coming.

    Did I mention I’m looking forward to cooler weather? I’m looking forward to experimenting with little finger foods that I can pack for him that are healthier than what I just described – and that’s as much for me as for him. 🙂

    Adjusting to Kindergarten: Desperate for a Routine


    Today is the last day of our first week of kindergarten, and I am desperate to get into a routine. Because once I have a routine for school, then I can create a routine for myself. This first week has really been about adjusting to kindergarten and definitely not about me adjusting to not working.

    I am trying to get the timing down for our morning routine – when my son should eat breakfast so that he’s not hungry well before morning snack time at school, how long it takes me to pack his snack and lunch, how long it takes to put on sunscreen, how long it takes us to walk to school, etc.

    The biggest adjustment I have had to make is in packing snack and lunch. I packed his lunch every day for preschool (see my previous bento posts here), but after the first day, when he came home with half his lunch still in his lunch box, I remembered something I’d read over at Lunch in a Box last year: kindergartners have a lot less time to eat than preschoolers.

    Back in preschool, lunch was a leisurely affair. Since most of the older kids don’t need naps, lunch time often lasted an hour. The kids all ate at their own pace, and it was a fun, relaxing time – especially during the summer, when the class ate outside. They could even be noisy, since they didn’t have to worry about waking the younger kids who were sleeping.

    Now, though, the kinder kids seem to get forty-five minutes to eat and use the bathroom. (I’m not clear on whether there’s any play time during this period.) My son came home on Wednesday with his container of fruit untouched, so I decided to try something different yesterday: I packed his fruit in his snack instead. And he ate it.

    I’m packing smaller lunches now, and trying to think of foods that he can eat quickly while avoiding foods that take more time, like anything that requires assembly (such as homemade “Lunchable”-style kits). I need to pick up a small thermos that can keep foods warm, so I can pack some chicken nuggets, pizza and pasta. He’s been pretty hungry in the afternoon when he gets home from school, so I think I will increase the size of his morning snack next week (he’s always been able to finish the snack).

    Homework starts next week, and that will probably require another adjustment. I am hoping to tackle homework together right after his snack so that it’s done by dinner time. Is it too much to hope that by the end of next week, I’ll be feeling settled in? 🙂

    Guest Post: Is Your Credit Card Causing You To Sleep on the Couch? Handling Money in a Relationship


    This is a guest post from Jonathan at Master Your Card, where you can learn how to make your credit card debt history. Check out his post on How to use the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to your advantage.

    Ah, love. It makes the world go round, it puts that spring in our step – and it can come to a screeching halt at the sound of a credit card plunking on a retail counter. Money is a major headache for couples. It’s the thing that causes those all-out fights and those seething little comments that last for days. Luckily, there are ways to avoid the biggest money relationship blunders so that you can avoid sleeping on that lumpy couch again.

    Tell me lies, baby

    You know lying is never a good idea, and lying about money is no different. There is no point in pretending you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth if you’ve just been scraping by and no point in hiding money while claiming you’re broke. You don’t have to tell your partner what you’re worth down to the last penny but you should not be pretending to be something you’re not.

    The spender and the scrimper

    Welcome to the third circle of hell. Is there any worse mismatch than the spouse who loves to shop and the partner who considers every penny? If you’re addicted to shopping and your partner has a fetish for savings – or vice versa – you can expect a lot of conflict. The spender tends to see the scrimper as an ungenerous tightwad and the scrimper tends to see the spender as a frivolous dolt who will drive both parties into debt. A first solution here is to separate expenses and accounts – that way, the spender will feel less judged and the scrimper will feel more in control of his or her money. Understanding and lots of talking will go a long way towards soothing out some hard feelings. This is also one of those situations where a third party may be needed – ideally a professional who has counseled couples in similar predicaments.

    The Siamese twins

    Everything has been going so well for three months that you decide to move in together. And if you’re living together you need a joint account and maybe some joint credit cards to take care of shared living expenses, right? Not so fast, lovebug. Just because your expenses are shared that does not mean you money is, too. It’s likely best to maintain separate accounts for at least a little while. Each person can pay half the rent with their checks and half of the bills online. It’s a good way to test money compatibility before linking your financial futures together. And look out for shared debt – including credit cards. If your honey bunny turns out to be not quite the person you thought they were, you are still responsible for the debt. You don’t want to end up with a broken heart and a wrecked credit rating.

    The money fight

    Maybe you are financially compatible. Maybe you agree about most things. You still need to learn how to fight fair about money, because money disagreements will happen. He will wish you brought home more of the bacon or she will wonder why you never splurge on special dinners or gifts. So learn to fight in a way that doesn’t wreck everything. If you disagree work it out calmly and in private, without slinging around terms like “bimbo” or “tightwad.” That hurts as much as that bad sofa.

    Legal Advice for Boomers: What to ask your doctor


    I recently reviewed a book full of practical and legal advice for Baby Boomers and their loved ones called Alive and Kicking. I learned a lot from the book, and the authors were kind enough to send me some columns to use as guest posts. Here’s the last one.

    Questions to Ask Your Doctor

    It’s flu season. Your spouse wakes up with the classic signs: fever, cough, aches and pains. What do you conclude?


    You’re not alone. Most probably, your doctor would too. “A lot of that going around.” Both of you might be wrong.

    In a terrific new book, How Doctors Think, Dr. Jerome Groopan warns that doctors often misdiagnose, perhaps 1 out of 10 times, perhaps slightly more. Like the rest of us, they tend to jump to conclusions. To make sure they haven’t, Dr. Groopan recommends we ask three questions:

    1. What else could it be? (“Well, now that you mention it, it could be . . .”)
    2. Is there anything in the exam or tests that doesn’t fit? (“Well, now that you mention it, your fever isn’t typical.”)
    3. Is it possible I have more than one problem? (“Well, now that you mention it, sometimes folks get the flu because they are already sick with . . .”)

    A good friend, Dr. Jack Boyer, suggests a fourth question: Have you considered whether I want to get the treatment or not?

    This question shifts focus from sickness to treatment, a treatment which may be routine, proscribed without much thought: what are its costs and benefits?

    Of course, it is easy for me (and probably Dr. Groopan) to sit safely behind our computers urging you to be brave, urging you, recalling the 60’s, to “Question Authority!”

    It is always a good idea to take someone with you, not only to ask to the difficult questions, but to actually hear what the doctor says – often patients are so emotionally involved that they really don’t hear what’s said. If you can’t get someone to go with you, when it comes to the difficult questions, blame me:

    “Doc, I know you are absolutely correct in your diagnosis but a column I’ve read tells me I should feel guilty if I don’t ask you . . .”

    Many of us feel we are imposing on our doctor’s time. Our job is to quickly state our compliant (“Sore throat, doc”) and then sit back and answer questions – and, of course, to breathe deeply and, perhaps, cough. In most office visits, doctors start asking questions in the first 18 seconds of the visit. The best advice Dr. Groopan received in his medical training:

    “If you listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

    The best advice you might receive:

    “You are not wasting your doctors’ time; you are telling them the diagnosis.”

    What we have to say matters. Don’t just state your complaint and sit back and let your doctor do the driving. Insist on disclosing all your symptoms even if they seem trivial. Even if they are embarrassing. (I could give examples but fear the wrath of my editor.) Remember this: doctors have heard it all before and they come to cure you, not judge you.

    “Am I dying?” “Is my mother dying?” There will come a time, and you know it, when these questions will be very much on our minds. Yet we shudder at the very idea of asking them. Don’t expect your doctors to volunteer the information. In A Death Foretold, Dr. Nicholas Christakis tells us that doctors shy away from terminal prognosis. Why? There are many reasons. For one, it tends to undercut their sense of professional competence, their belief that they can cure most anything. Further, many doctors are as uncomfortable with the idea of death as are the rest of us. And they fear making self-fulfilling prophecies. In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a character is told that another died after his doctors have given him only weeks to live.

    “He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians.”

    So there you have it. Patients and their families don’t ask about death and doctors don’t volunteer. The result?

    “The great majority of American die in institutions rather than at home as many would prefer; most die in pain being in the care of health providers; many die alone; and many have deaths that are financially devastating for their families.”

    So writes Dr. Christakis.

    “Am I dying?” “Is my mother dying?” You will need to know. As long as everyone is in denial, intensive care treatment continues. Doctors will not terminate it on their own. Living Wills indicating that treatment should not be continued are generally ineffective unless that decision is supported by members of the family. But that won’t happen as long as family and physicians don’t discuss death.

    Avoiding a bad death is not our only concern. We want a good death, a natural death, not in an hospital among strangers, but at home surrounded by family and friends. Hospice care can do that. It provides medical help (doctors, nurses, and pain medications) as well as grief counseling for patient and family. Medicare picks up almost all of the costs, not only in the last days or weeks of life, but for the last six months of life.

    How do you get this wonderful care for your mother? For yourself? It may be difficult and you may not want to know, but all you have to do is ask.

    Kenney Hegland is a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona and has taught at Harvard and UCLA. Robert Fleming in one of the nation’s leading elder law lawyers. Visit their website at www.legaladviceforboomers.com.

    Legal Advice for Boomers: Tips for raising grandchildren


    I recently reviewed a book full of practical and legal advice for Baby Boomers and their loved ones called Alive and Kicking. I learned a lot from the book, and the authors were kind enough to send me some columns to use as guest posts. This one is about raising grandchildren.

    Raising Grandchildren

    After all the years, after all the alarm clocks, after all our work, it has become our time, our time to be that quiet person, sitting with our sleepy grandchildren, whispering “Hush.”

    Well, maybe not.

    Many grandparents not only put their grandchildren to bed, they wake them in the morning, feed them, get them off to school, and, as the years go by, stay up late, fretting until they come home.

    The US Census Bureau reports that more than six million children (that is, about one in 12 of all children) are being raised by relatives other than their parents. Of that number about 3/4 are being cared for by grandparents. If that’s you, read on.

    First, support groups. The AARP’s “Grandparent Information Center” offers information on raising grandkids. Email: gic@aarp.org or phone 1-888-OUR-AARP. Another source of help: Generations United: www.gu.org.

    Second, financial help. If you are retired and your grandchildren are under 18 (or older if disabled), they may be entitled to Social Security benefits, particularly if you have adopted them. If you are having difficultly making ends meet, contact your local welfare office or Area Agency on Aging. Don’t overlook the possibility of claiming your grandchildren who are living with you as dependents on your income taxes.

    What are the legal concerns?

    Housing. Some “adult” communities prohibit kids. Best to try to work things out with whoever is in charge, hopefully not Darth Vader. If you are threatened with eviction or other legal action, a good lawyer may, by careful reading, find that the documents do not, after all, apply to your situation – these insights are known by your bitterly disappointed adversary as “loopholes.” (Never do anything simply because an adversary tells you that the law requires it; always check with a lawyer: if there are no loopholes, there may be nitpicks or at least a good quibble.)

    Custody. Physical custody does not equal legal custody. Not having legal custody can lead to problems — doctors may insist on a parent’s consent to a medical treatment, and school and welfare officials might also require it. If the child’s stay with you is to be temporary, say over the summer or until the parents can relocate, then a Parental Power of Attorney should suffice in most states. Signed by the parent (better yet, notarized – bells and whistles always help), it will give you power to act in the parent’s stead in relation to medical and educational decisions. Even a letter, signed by one parent, is better than nothing.

    Things become much more complicated if your grandchildren are living with you more or less permanently.

    Sally, 22 and unwed, leaves her six-month-old baby with her parents “until she can work things out.” She has an irregular work history, a minor drug problem, and a scuzzy boyfriend. Two weeks ago she went out for a pack of cigarettes; other than one collect phone call from Oklahoma, she hasn’t been heard from since.

    Our advice: adopt.

    Unless you have legal custody, Sally can reappear, years later, and pick up the child, insisting “This time I will make a go of it.” Children need love and permanence. A general Power of Attorney does not guarantee permanence. It can always be revoked by the parent – or even by the other parent. Without legal custody, both you and the children will be hostage to the whims of the parents.(If you adopt your grandchild, it need not be forever. If the parents gets their act together, you can return physical custody to them.)

    You’ll need legal help here. However, having seen the tremendous heartbreak that can flow from leaving things up in the air, we strongly advise that you get legal custody of the children: the cost will be well worth it, both for you and your grandchildren.

    If you adopt, you have all the rights and obligations of a parent, including the legal duty to support the child. (But you are probably already supporting the child – it has been our experience that young, unwed moms, with drug problems and scuzzy boyfriends, living somewhere in Oklahoma, don’t contribute much financial support anyhow.)

    Inheritance. If you die without a will, your children, not your grandchildren, will get what you have. If you want to leave your grandchildren money, there are a host of problems (giving money to minors can create problems) and a host of alternatives such as trusts. Again a trip to your lawyer is advised.

    Kenney Hegland is a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona and has taught at Harvard and UCLA. Robert Fleming in one of the nation’s leading elder law lawyers. Visit their website at www.legaladviceforboomers.com.

    PSA: Take your child to Disneyland before his/her third birthday


    Note: This post is intended primarily for Southern California residents.

    Children under three get into Disneyland for free. Alex’s third birthday is a couple of months away, so we are planning on taking him for the first time before then. We were hoping for one of the really good “local resident” deals that Disneyland occasionally has, but so far there doesn’t seem to be one. The best deal I can find is the “2fer”, which gives you admission to both Disneyland and California Adventure on different days. We’re not really interested in making two trips to Anaheim in the next couple of months so this deal doesn’t really do anything for us.

    Regular admission is $66 per person (3 to 9 year olds are $56). There seem to be deals if you want to stay more than one day, but of course that doesn’t apply to us. I’ve checked Auto Club (a.k.a. AAA) as well as some other locations and simply can’t find any discounts. I have a friend who works for Disney so I may call her for help.

    If we end up paying full price, the total will be $132 for tickets for Marc and me, plus $11 for parking. That’s just for admission and doesn’t include anything we buy inside the park. We can afford this, but I do not understand how a family of four can afford to go more than once every couple of years! Although if we lived closer, I’m sure we’d consider getting annual passes with parking.

    Most importantly, though, I’m looking forward to seeing the look on Alex’s face when we get to Disneyland!