Jan 182011

Empowering moms for success – while making lunches kid’s will eat.

Click Link Below for Lunch & Snack Ideas:

Kid’s Lunch Ideas

I’ve received a lot of tips, tricks and ideas over the years, regarding school lunches and thought I’d share them with you.  Too often, I was the ill-prepared mom who couldn’t find 2 pieces of bread the morning of, to make a simple sandwich.

Providing a variety of healthy meals your kids will actually eat – is not easy.  At the beginning of the week, the kids and I collaborate on menu ideas:  criteria is based on healthy, tasty, do-able lunches.

I typically marinade and grill all my chicken on Sunday afternoon, and place them in sealed containers.  I’ll go ahead and cut part of the chicken into stripes or nuggets, for the kids lunches and set them aside in different zip locks, for the week.

I wash all the fruit and divide them into zip lock bags also.  I do the same with cookies / crackers – making the vanilla wafers with peanut butter, cutting the cheese, and dividing them into enough zip locks to handle 4 kids for the week.

I also make lunches for the little ones who stay at home.  This way, when they’re hungry, they just go pick up their lunch box out of the fridge and no one misses a beat.  If we’re running errands, I just grab their lunches and they can eat on the way.

After school, my older kids read the menu and grab the pre-made lunches already divided up – and place them in their lunch box.

It’s not easy being a mom.  Let’s stick together girls.  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Here’s to empowering moms for success – and lunches kid’s will eat.  : )

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Dec 032010

People call or send emails weekly, asking questions about raising kids and I have to say, having 4 does NOT make me an expert, rather a person who’s probably failed many more times than not, doing the wrong thing, more than the average person.  So hey, if you can learn from my mistakes, that’s even better.

I’ve had more opportunities to fail.  Don’t you feel better ALREADY?  And probably apologized way more times than you’ll ever have to, and am always reminding myself that Practice makes Progress.  It’s called Life – and we’re on this crazy journey together.

1) What’s it like to have 4 kids?

The same as having 2 or 3, it’s just exponential with each child.  I have friends who have many more than me, and some with learning disabilities, so I, by no means, have it as hard or feel as frustrated as some moms who really have to kick it in gear when they don’t always feel like it.  To you, I salute your determination.

For us, it’s Crazy and Loud and everyone’s always hungry . . . there’s a ton of laundry.  But I don’t think about it too often.  Mostly because there’s no time.  I spend my days repeating myself and very seldom do I finish a complete sentence, thought or phrase without interruption.  Whether you have 2, 4, 6 or 8, you still have to make dinner, crank up the washer and drive kids around, so – GREAT JOB MOMS!  You deserve to make your own treasure box full of goodies. (www.dancepartyforone.blogspot.com)

2) Friends ask:  Was it hard having 4 kids?

No.  The answer is an Epidural.  That seemed like the easy part, until my epidural didn’t work once, for about 30 minutes, and I heard something in the room that sounded like a wolf howling.  I know, it scared me too.  But when the epidural works, it’s like the Disney Slogan:  It’s a Magical Day!

3) What sort of responsibilities do you give your kids?

Around our house, if 6 people make one mess, it’s gridlock, so everyone is responsible for cleaning up and putting back what they take out.  The kids (no matter the age) help in some capacity with the dishes, the laundry, cleaning their room and feeding the dog.  OK, Max gets jibbed some days, but for the most part, he’s fed daily.  We’re a team – and that means everyone has a role to play for the success of our family.  It’s all for One and One for All.

4) How do you instill a sense of community in your children’s lives?

We can easily become selfish and live in a world that is “ALL ABOUT ME”  It’s important that the kids see it as “WE” not Me.  We’re a community and have to help one another.  I show them pictures of the kids we sponsor in Africa and have them give a percentage of the money they earn through household responsibilities, to purchase items to give as gifts through Samaritan’s Purse.  They get so excited to use their own money to purchase fun items for other children.

5) How do you discipline your kids?

Every child is different. But this is what typically works for us: If the kids get into big fights and the one at fault is unwilling to apologize, I will randomly allow the offended party to decide the punishment.  i.e. the offender goes to bed 15 minutes earlier than everyone else.  That usually does the trick.  Next time, they’ll treat others as they would like to be treated.

If they breach a virtue (i.e. lie, cheat, steal) or disrespect mom, (rolling of the eyes/ slamming the door) it’s immediate corporal punishment.  They already know the rules, so they should consider that, their fair warning.

Carelessness, not listening . . . like throwing balls in the house and breaking things, equates to more chores beyond their regular day to day responsibilities, or taking away games, television, DS.  When we take away one of the big 3, they tend to “turn their ears on” quicker.

6) How do you stop your kids from waking up at 5:30am on the weekends?

There are no cartoons before 8:30am and each child has an electronic clock in his/her room.  They have to sleep or play in their room until they see 8 3 0.  Otherwise, the first task of the day is a chore, such as folding towels or cleaning the playroom.  This usually does the trick and we all get to sleep-in on the weekends.

7)  How do you do everything?

Who says I do.  Between sports, homework, chores, music lessons and life in general, we’ve eaten cereal for dinner on occasion. 85% of the time, the kids take healthy lunches to school.  The other 15%, they eat in the cafeteria.   There comes a time when “the list” becomes too long, the plates need extra spinning and you have to let go of something.  Give yourself permission to Surrender.

There’s no guideline that says we have to raise our kids a certain way.  Make it fun, adventurous, outside the box.  Eat dinner at the park, have the kids make their own lunch for a change.  No one is going to die.  You just need a break to recoup, re-strategize and re-define your goals.  As I’ve heard it said before:  Do your Best and Forget All the Rest.

8) Do you feel guilty doing fun things for yourself?

Absolutely Not!  You should feel guilty if you DON’T.  As the CEO of my Household, it’s important to take care of me; be a good example of a well-rounded, happy person, engaged in outside events, hobbies, social activities, tennis, date night, spa day, healthy activities that inspire you to be a better mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend.

You want the kids to see that life can be fun after childhood, and if it’s not:  you might need to re-access.  It’s not just about paying bills, cleaning the house and running kids from here to there.  Don’t be a martyr. Life is what you make it: Now get out there and make it FULL, FUN & FABULOUS!

 Posted by at 1:32 pm
Nov 042010

When I was 5 years old, my birthday landed on Easter. There was an Easter Egg Hunt at my uncle Jerry’s and the prize was a Golden Egg.  My heart was racing with excitement as I gazed every nook and cranny of the yard, looking for the prize.  And suddenly it appeared, as if my uncle wanted Me to find it on my birthday  As he presented me with the Prize, out came his wallet and a $5 bill.

You would have thought Publisher’s Clearing House had shown up to my door with a big check.  Stephanie Pletka, you are the winner of. . . drum roll please, $5 Dollars!  Ta Da!  I saw confetti, in my mind, that day.

I took that golden egg (eh hem – boiled egg dipped in gold) to bed with me.  I carried it around in a little tin bucket all week. Till one day, high on the shelf, I discovered that in the middle of the night, ants had made their way up the wall, like a little army, and had destroyed my perfect golden egg.  That egg represented my happiness and just like that:  It was gone!

Webster’s defines happiness as a state of well being or contentment.  They didn’t say anything about a golden egg.

Often times, we carry our happiness around like it’s this fragile object that can be taken away at any moment.  Hello, my name is Surface Happy, a “fly by the seat of my pants” friend.  It’s that (Wear it on your Sleeve) shallow happiness.  With one blow of a horn, talking to a jerky customer service rep or the kids scraping paint off your new car with THEIR bike handles. . . Everything goes to Hell in a Hand Basket.  The minute someone bumps your Happy, BAM, Happiness leaves the building and Crazy takes its place.

Don’t allow those individual circumstances to define your day.  Happy needs deeper roots, like an oak tree planted firmly along a rushing stream.  Don’t let instances beyond your control steal your happiness.

With all the places we go and the things we do, we’re constantly in-and-out of nice and not-so-nice moments.  The kids make you breakfast (ah, how sweet) a parent calls you out on something (ah, I’m a sucky mom).

Of course, we’re gonna feel it in the moment, but we can’t allow those instances to determine the path of our day, or who we are as a person.  We can’t carry the load of those who were mean or rude to us, on our back to the next situation.  We have to isolate it in a box and see it for what it is.  Learn to quickly slosh off the junk and Embrace a sturdier, hardier, healthier, deep rooted happy that can’t easily be bumped, destroyed or stolen.

Your Happiness is no golden egg, rather an Oak Tree not easily moved.  Walk in deep rooted Happy today and when there’s a bump in the road, see it as just that, a bump.  If you can hold on to “Your Happy in Life”, you’ll feel as though Publisher’s Clearing House made YOU the winner, and you may even see Confetti in your mind.  Ta Da!

Here’s to Making Every Moment Count!

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
Sep 152010

When I was 5 years old, I fell off the top of a bunk bed, dreaming that I could roll forever.  It was a vivid dream of white puffy clouds, until I got a 1/2 roll and Boom, off I went.  My head karate chopped the side of the bed  . . . and I won a round trip ticket to the ER.

From that day on, I became quiet familiar with the Emergency Room, acquiring stitches many more times, before moving out of the “clumsy, oops I did it again” stage of my life.

From reaching up to place a bird in its nest and falling 10 feet, to slashing my ankle in a stain glass shop, it seemed as though I had a scarlet thread of “oppsie daisies” running through my life.

Some accidents involved selfless acts, others involved adventure; and while the memories of those days are vague, the scars still remain.  Sometimes we need those scars to remind us of tough days gone by.  Some people suffer from disease, loss of a job, a child, a home or loss of themselves.

You look at a scar and know there’s a story.  It’s easy to complain.  Complaints seem to jump out at every opportunity and like a ball rolling down a hill, it has its own momentum, taking little effort to sustain:  the kids are driving you crazy, the dishes and laundry are mounting a war, your budget isn’t big enough, the car isn’t clean enough.  We wished we had a grocery delivery service, an errand boy, a nanny, a better job, a bigger house, more time, more money, a date night, someone who thinks I’m right – and the list goes on.

We all suffer hardships and unpleasantries, some more than others for sure . . . I read a blog the other day of a woman who had just had a baby.  She wrote a Top 10 List of all the things she loves about having a newborn.  And also admitted, she could write a list equally as long, listing all the tough – how did this happen, what have I done, this hurts, why won’t they sleep, wha wha wha moments, but she chose not to.

Turn your face toward the goodness, the hopefulness.  Lift up your eyes and count the blessings.  Write them down, shout ’em from the roof top; however you’re reminded, do it.  Look at the weight you’ve lost, not the weight that remains; be thankful for the car you drive, not wishing for something you don’t; embrace the moments you have with your family; live life to the fullest.  The living room is messy, but you have a house full of happy kids.  In the Race of Life, we can choose to focus on the moans and groans, and heavy breathing to the finish line, or we can be thankful that WE’RE BREATHING!

Life on this earth will bring heartache, you can count on it.  I’ve never met anyone who’s truly lived, that didn’t bare a scar.  What is your view from the front porch looking’ in?  Will you look at the scar and view hardship or what you gained through the experience.  You’re alive . . . every day, hour and minute, you can have a do-over to make this life, Something Beautiful.

A Word to the Wise: If you find yourself on a bunk bed, dreaming you can roll forever . . . Don’t Do It!

Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14)

 Posted by at 9:52 pm
Sep 092010

Growing up, my Dad always said:  There’s a Hard Way and an Easy Way.  For whatever reason, I chose the hard one- and ended up with a few more beats, bumps and bruises along the way.

Probably like you, our kids wake up for school in the dark.  I’m not a morning person.  I would much rather see the sun Set than the sun Rise; and I’m a firm believer it’s not truly daytime, when the moon is still up at 6am.

I’m always asking moms how they handle morning routines, after school snacks and endless laundry.  There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel.  I’d rather copy it.

Does this sound familiar?  I would get up 30 minutes before the kids woke up, commence to make lunches and realize we’re out of bread.  Hmmm . . . there’s no cereal for breakfast and only 3 mis-matched socks in the laundry basket.  I was spinning my wheels, trying to re-configure Plan A with Plan C about the time the kids were waking up.

“Mom!  said child #1:  Where’s the socks . . . One is crying, I don’t want to take a frozen burrito to school – there’s no microwave.”  Child #3 is still sleeping, after I’ve run up the stairs twice to wake him and Child #2 is upset because he wanted cereal, instead of last night’s pork chop for breakfast.    Poor kids, what a mess.  If only I were organized!

I have 3 boys in school:  Pre-k, 1st & 3rd.  I know what it’s like to bribe, fight, cry and whine my way through morning rush hour to get them to brush their teeth, eat breakfast and get dressed in the morning.  Then one day, after dreading the morning routine, I decided enough was enough.  I’m the boss of this joint and I’m not gonna take it anymore. If there was going to be a Revolt, it was coming from me!

And just like that, the Pletka family went through boot camp 101.  Like a captain in the Army, I put them in a single file line and we marched from upstairs to downstairs, acting out the way I wanted “Morning Routine” to look like. The baby followed along with her blankie dragging behind.  No more whining . . . no more crying . . . no more “I don’t wanna wear that.”  Nope, nada, nein, not gonna happen.

I lined them up one by one and asked:  Are you potty trained?  Yes Mom!  Do you know where the spoons are located?  Yes Mom.  Do you know how to pour Milk? And the list went on.  Just like the movie Dodgeball, in a scruffy, old, cynical voice he said:  If you can Dodge a Wrench, you can Dodge a Ball . . . My theory was:  If you can pour milk, you can feed yourself!

And this is how it went down: I began placing cereal in a bowl with a spoon in it, the night before.  All they have to do is pour the milk and eat.

In the evenings, when we make lunches for the kids, I lay out their clothes, socks, shoes, back packs, lunch boxes, the whole enchilada, to make this portion of the day, run like a well-oiled machine.  If a pair of socks or one shoe is missing, it can be a deal breaker – put a glitch in the morning, maybe miss the bus and everyone’s in a bad mood.  If Jr.’s shoes are outside under the trampoline, you’re up the creek.

We placed alarm clocks in each room, so they go off at the same time, or pretty darn close.  They come running down the stairs, trying to pass each other along the way.  It sounds like a herd of animals running on their heels, beating and thumping all the way down.  This, in turn, becomes my alarm clock.

While one is eating breakfast, the other brushes his teeth and yet another is putting on his clothes.  They circulate through the 3 step process with minutes to spare.  Life is much better, now that we have a system in place.  They feel a little more independent, I’m relinquished of my role as drill sergeant and am realizing these little guys are growing up fast and I need to freeze frame all the moments.

Life has changed.  We sleep a 1/2 an hour longer, lunches are pre-made at night, outfits are pre-approved and the kids are much happier.

I’m amazed at how children can step up and make it happen, when we raise the bar and increase our expectations of them. There’s a Hard Way and an Easy Way, both with the same destination, but how you get there, can make ya or break ya.  Enjoy Your Life!

Proverbs 22:6  Train up a child in the way he should go, so when he’s old, he will not depart from it.

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Feb 182010


Has your life’s Exclamation Point . . . become an Exasperation Point?  The highlights of life can be sabotaged by discontentment, discouragement and frustration.  Sometimes we have to re-arrange the way we do things, in order to boost the energy we need to catapult us to greatness.

When I worked in PR, everyday was crazy, exciting, unpredictable and full of “pats” on the back or “kicks” in the butt; one way or the other, you knew where you stood.  Raising children is a little different.  Often times, nothing too exciting happens during the day – from teaching them Math and having late night talks, to throwing in some “moral character” with a splash of discipline and fun activities.  I’ve worn the heels, gone from suits to sweats and am now somewhere in the middle.

On any given day, I find myself researching a new business venture, catching up on 6 loads of laundry, emailing friends to plan girl’s night out, having a conference call with other moms to discuss a class party, while thinking about how I’m gonna cook chicken for the 3rd time this week, when it occurred to me:  Is this my life?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy, the deep kind of happy that a few bad days or set of circumstances can’t steal.

But my life needed a tune up, like a musical instrument or attitude adjustment.  I love my husband; he’s very supportive, loving and fun to be around, and as a bonus, he’s good looking.  I have a small core of really good friends.  I have 4 kids that are loud, fun and interesting.  My life is full, but I knew with the tools and resources I had, things could be better.  I laid on the bed one day and just explained to John how I felt.

WITHOUT fear or threat that perhaps he had not provided a good life for us, he did a little research (another great quality of his – thoughtfulness) and by morning handed me a book, that has taken me on quiet an interesting journey, to fine-tune my happiness from mediocre to deep contentment, where people want to know why you’re smiling.   My quest began with:  The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Rubin.

I’ve heard it said:  When a student is ready to learn, the teacher will appear.  Happiness is a state of mind.  Per Webster’s dictionary, happiness is a state of well being, a feeling of contentment, joy, satisfaction or pleasure.

I felt this, but not to its full capacity.  My mom is always reminding me that my calling here on this earth (no matter what position I hold in or outside the home) is to invest in the hearts of my children.  It’s not about recognition, fighting for a position on the corporate ladder, the need to feel appreciated by the outside world or add another gold star to my collection, but it’s about devoting your time and energy into raising healthy, Godly, well adjusted children that will go into the world with confidence, knowledge, and a sense of community.

But in order to do this, Mama needs to be happy!  And if Mama ain’t happy, well . . . you get the gist.  The first category in the Happiness Project is:  To Boost Your Energy.  To be honest, I’ve never been so tired in my entire life.  Before kids, I trained for a marathon, raced in triathlons and had endless energy.  Now, it’s a different story.

The happiness project

“The Happiness Project” lists 4 things that are needed to “Boost Your Energy:

1) Go to Sleep Earlier

2) Exercise Better

3) Toss, Restore and Organize

4) Tackle a Nagging Task Early

I don’t know about you, but all my life, I’ve gone to bed late, put exercise on my “To Do” List (and rarely crossed it off).  I allow that pesky task to haunt me all day (hoping it will just go away – of course it gets bigger and steals my joy).

It’s like a perfect storm – just as the kids are saying “Mom I’m Hungry (after they just ate) you open the closet – and out springs jackets, scarves and a skate board into the floor, about the time the door bell rings and unexpected company has arrived.  Yikes.  You feel conquered, overwhelmed and under pressure.  Then comes the guilt . . . I’m a terrible mom, how will my kids turn out . . . whaaa whaaaa whaaaa!

1st Month’s Challenge

Challenge 1) Sleep Earlier:

I began going to bed earlier.  Can you say:  Hard.  I starred at the ceiling and noticed all the blinking lights in the room, from the phone to the clock to my lap top, it was like the “Vegas Strip.”  Some people count sheep:  I was counting loads of laundry.  Your body has to be reprogrammed.  But with my next challenge, sleep came earlier and sleep came easier.

Challenge 2) Exercise Better:

I’ve never liked waking up early.  My dad always said “the Sunrise is so Beautiful.” I figure the Sunset looks much like the Sunrise, so I’m ok with that.  But, in order to exercise better, I began taking the kids to school, so I could just keep going – head downstairs and begin working out.  The first week, I didn’t like it.  I felt angry, tired.  The “Work Out” guy’s voice on the DVD annoyed me. But then I created my favorite playlist on my ipod, for better motivation.  Now that I’ve created this routine, I enjoy the time for me.  Plus, when 6:30am rolls around, my eyes just pop open.  Your body gets use to what it knows, getting up and working out.

Challenge 3) Toss, Restore and Organize:

My bedroom closet had become  “Central Station” for things that didn’t have a name, a home or description.  Honestly, I found things I should have taken a picture of and tried to figure out its name on Google.

I had a hard time letting go of comfortable underwear – the kind your mom says you NEVER want to be wearing if you end up in the Emergency Room.  It was hard giving away those red shoes you’ve never worn, but are waiting to find that fantastic dress to match it.

I found parts to toys I didn’t know we had, books I’ve never read,  snack wrappers, gifts that had never been given. . . . and the list goes on.  It took 3 days to cleanse my closet, but in the process , it cleansed my mind.  I found 10 incredible outfits to choose from vs. dredging through piles and baskets of wrinkled things, to discover one sock, jeans I couldn’t wear or a bad concert t-shirt.  Difficulties like this, make your head hurt, especially when you’re in a hurry and need to be somewhere 10 minutes ago.

Challenge 4) Tackle a Nagging Task Early:

Between emails I needed to write, bills that needed to be paid, a conversation that needed to be had or a mess that needed to be cleaned, it haunted my thoughts all day.  It drove me crazy.  Now, I wake up, conquer the the task and feel good about the VICTORY, early on.

Motherhood is NOT easy.  Have you ever spun so many plates or juggled so many schedules?

Probably not, but it’s also Fulfilling and Fun.  Your cup is not full, it’s Overflowing. And if someone came in right now and said:  “I’ll take your place if you’re not happy”  We would karate chop them into a million pieces.  It’s ok to complain, but it’s most important to jump back on the saddle.  Lord willing, this position is for many years to come, thus we need to find that Deep Happiness and Contentment, so when we’re teaching our kids “Life’s Lessons” we’ll find ourselves – Whistling While We Work.

Wanna Boost Your Energy?  Start with you!  You are the family’s “Hub of Communication” the CEO of your household.  Take charge . . . GIRLS!  In cleaning those closets and exercising for you, you’ll feel Accomplished, Organized and Victorious.  Rid your life of Exasperation Points and Make them Exclamation Points to your Happiness! You are More than Conquerors.

Scripture:  Phil 4: 11-13

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

 Posted by at 5:52 pm