Helping Families Sparkle in 2018

It is wild to think that in 2004 I started this crusade with Samantha the founder of the Sparkle foundation. I was 26 years old and want to help make a difference. I helped her with 2 families by donating gifts and wrapping presents. Now, fast forward to 2018 here we are.

The Sparkle Foundation, located in the received 107 nominations this year for single mothers needing assistance over the holiday season. The Sparkle board worked tirelessly to narrow the list down to 50, 50 women we knew we could make a difference for. We’ve taken their stories and shared them with you this year. Some of the stories will hit home. Some of the stories will move you, and some of the stories will leave you in tears. We share these stories, for I firmly believe that it is important to know who you are assisting and why.

These 50 women have beat incredible odds illness, financial difficulties, all struggling to raise children on their own. If you’re looking for a way to give back to the community this holiday season I encourage you to check out the DreamLists. Hear the stories of women that are just like many of us, or someone you know.

I always say living a life of purpose is what it’s all about and being a part of something bigger than yourself is what drives a person. Be a part of changing someone’s life this holiday season, whether it be with a pair of socks, toys for their children, tires for a mother’s car or the gift of food to put a holiday meal on a table.

Sparkle is a recognize 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the IRS. The biggest thing that sets us aside from other charities is that 100% of every dollar, 100% of every gift, and 100% of every volunteer hour goes to the families that need it the most.

Be a part of the Sparkle, for it is a part of you.

Visit:  http://funguyinspections.com/contact-us-sparkle-now-holiday-gift-drive/

http://www.sparklenow.org/holiday-gift-drive-2018/

(if you plan to donate money – please indicate that this is for the Los Angeles area

Sincerely,

Robert

 

10 TIPS & TRICKS FOR A HARMONIOUS THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday responsible for bringing family and friends to the table year after year. Young and old alike come together to share delicious, mouth watering food and express gratitude for everyday blessings and triumphs. A beautiful holiday, sure, but a beautiful holiday that will do some temporary damage to your pristine home kitchen. Eek!

Preparing a massive Thanksgiving feast for hoards of family members and friends alike is an overwhelming idea to many. Even if many of us are experienced Thanksgiving hosts and hostesses, the task of shopping, preparing, cooking, and cleaning an enormous meal in ones own house is an exhausting task for anyone to fathom. Although its never an easy feat to prepare an enormous meal by hand, there are a few organizational tips, tricks, and hacks that will make your holiday prep a little easier this year.

Want to simplify your mealtime preparation this holiday? These Thanksgiving tips & tricks will make difficult kitchen tasks a pinch. Bon appetit!

At the store:

1.) Split up your supermarket trips

An entire feast’s worth of grocery bags is a lot for anyone to carry, and if you try to buy all of your Thanksgiving supplies in one trip you’re bound to forget an ingredient, or come across supermarket shelves so bare you’d think the apocalypse was here. Plan your time and split your shopping trips up, which will save you the pressure of trying to cram everything in the trunk in one trip.

2.) Make a thorough list

Plan your Thanksgiving dinner menu in advance, then making a detailed list of what you’ll need to pick up. Divide your list into perishables (milk, produce, eggs) and nonperishables (spices, canned goods, flour). Buy your nonperishables first, then return for the turkey, dairy, and vegetables a few days before you start cooking your feast.

Kitchen prep

3.) Prioritize your refrigerator

Sure you can fit it all in the fridge, but can you successfully shut the door? Empty your refrigerator of everything that isn’t essential, like jars of jelly, salad dressings, or anything expired. Plan ahead that you’ll need the extra space, and try to use up as much leftover food as possible in both the freezer and refrigerator.

4.) Designate a place for dry/extra storage

Because refrigerator space is precious on Thanksgiving, anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated should be stored in a cool, dry place. Store hearty produce like potatoes, apples, and cranberries in the basement, garage, or trunk of the car. Any food that needs to stay chilled? Use a beach cooler filled with frozen ice packs to store the turkey, casseroles, or any other food that needs to stay cool. An iced cooler stored in a low temperature location should keep your food fresh for at least 24 hours.

Menu prep


5.) Create a prep list

A organized prep list lays out (in order) all of the tasks you need to accomplish two days prior to your Thanksgiving feast.

    • Identify what can be made a day ahead of time. Recipes like pies and gratins can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.
    • Identify which dishes will take the longest to make on Thanksgiving day, then prioritize your recipes and allow yourself with a little extra time with each one.
    • Look at cooking temperatures and see what dishes can go into the oven simultaneously. Use your smartphone or timers to set alarms to keep track of both the dishes in the oven and on the stovetop.

6.) Organize recipes

Nothing is worse than rifling through recipes when you’ve got hot food on the stove and six other things to do. If you make copies of your recipes in advance, you can then stick them on appliances with magnets, or tape them onto the cabinets at eye level. This will not only save precious counter space, but you can slip the recipes into plastic sleeves and file them away for next year.

Thanksgiving Feast

7.) Designate your help

Although many of your Thanksgiving guests genuinely want to help you put together a beautiful meal, the old saying holds true that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. To keep a busy kitchen from feeling too crowded, try to move as many activities out of the kitchen as possible. Set up a drink station in the living room, or a small prep table outside of the kitchen for extra work space.

8.) Time to Eat

Although you’ve planned your meal timing perfectly, there are a few helpful tricks to keep some tricky food items hot.

    • Keep your gravy piping hot? A thermos will do the trick just fine.
    • A cooler will retain heat, and can hold stacked foil dishes or covered pots.
    • microwave oven is insulated, and can be used as a resting place to keep a hot dish warm for a half an hour.
  • A Crock-Pot will keep your mashed potatoes, rice, or stuffing warm (you can even set it to low for longer periods or time).

The Finale


9.) Something sweet

Although you and your guests are ready for your famous pecan pie, it’s impossible to clear the dishes and serve dessert at the same time. Taking a coffee break between courses is the perfect way to give time to clear the table after dinner. Create a dessert station in the dining room with plates, forks, and coffee cups. Press the brew button when you (and your helpful guests) are clearing the table, and have the cream and sugar bowls ready in the refrigerator ahead of time. Your coffee will be ready and the table will be clear, making it the perfect time to present the dessert.

10.) The dreaded cleanup 

Dinner is finished and your want nothing more than to put on your house slippers and spend quality time with your guests, but you dread the mountain of pots and pans waiting for you in the kitchen. After dinner, fill big pots with soapy water and use them for soaking utensils and plates. The cooler can also be used for soaking larger items, and as long as everything is immersed your cleanup can be put off until you’re up to it. Set up a lined garbage can ahead of time so food scraps can go directly into the trash, and voila! Your mountain of dishes is a problem for tomorrow.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month is observed annually in October. This month is dedicated to reminding Americans to take a look at their home and see how they can improve the quality of the air they breathe. While outside air pollution gets a lot of attention, it’s the air inside our homes that can be even more dangerous. Most people spend nearly 80% of their time indoors, so the quality of the air we breathe is very important.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor Air Quality refers to the air quality within buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of the occupants in the building. Studies conducted by the EPA show that indoor air can be 3 – 5 times more contaminated than outdoor air. This spike in air pollution may be due to modern day building practices. In an effort to be more energy efficient, today’s homes are built airtight with more insulation.

On the flipside, these less drafty homes no longer have natural ventilation to bring in fresh air. Everyday living provides an ongoing source for airborne contaminants like dirt, dust, and dander. These pollutants become trapped in your home due to poor ventilation and get recirculated by your air ducts.

Why is Indoor Air Quality Important?

Breathing quality indoor air is critical for good health. Common complaints related to poor indoor air quality include headaches, fatigue, nausea or irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Some people, including children, seniors and those with asthma and allergies may be more sensitive to indoor air pollutants, and their symptoms tend to be more serious.

What Contributes to Indoor Air Quality?

  • Chemicals
  • Mold
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Pets
  • Poor ventilation
  • Particulates (from dirt and dust tracked in from outdoors)

How Can Air Duct Cleaning Improve your Indoor Air?

Air duct cleaning is a great way to address the air quality inside your home. Professional air duct cleaning can provide an evaluation of your home’s ducts. Through everyday occupancy, your home’s ducts can become clogged with dirt, dust and pet hair. When air can’t circulate through a system or when filters are especially dirty, they can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.

NADCA recommends having your air ducts inspected once a year and cleaned as needed. When it comes time to hire an air duct cleaning company, be sure to hire a NADCA-certified technician. This will ensure the job is done according to industry standards.

 

101 Back-to-School Tips for Kids and Parents

As summer comes to an end and back-to-school season begins, it can be hard to get back into a regular schedule  both for kids and adults.

To help you out, we asked Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent,” and Christina Nichols, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, to share their thoughts on how parents can get a jump on the school year. In response, they gave us 101 tips that parents can use to ease their kids back into school, while also managing their own stress.

The trick here is to plan ahead. Read through this list and identify some strategies that you think could help you and your family stay organized and on top of things. Then, test these different approaches as a family so you can figure out which ones work for you, and which ones don’t.

Finally, make sure that you include your entire child care crew in your plans, too. No matter whether you have a babysitter, a nanny, a tutor, or all of the above, they’ll be able to help you keep your kiddo on track for the first day of school. Plus, they’ll be able to take some tasks off of your plate  which means that you can enter the school year with a little more of your sanity intact.

  1. Set your kids’ sleep schedules back to “School Time” two weeks before the first day.
  2. Get your kids involved in programs that they can do after school to keep them active.
  3. Visit cultural attractions like museums to shift their brains into “Scholar” mode.
  4. Hire an after-school sitter to help care for your kids while you’re at work.
  5. Encourage your kids to read at least one book before the school year begins.
  6. Reacquaint your kids with the calendar schedule they’ll use to manage their activities.
  7. Try apps like iHomework or MyHomeWork to help your kids organize assignments.
  8. Let kids choose a planner or scheduling tool that they’re excited to use.
  9. Set up weekly meetings to review your kids’ schedules for the week(s) ahead.
  10. Create a family calendar that tracks everyone’s activities and commitments.
  11. Refresh your rules about screen time for the school year. What’s allowed and when?
  12. Establish a set “Family Time,” whether it’s during dinner or before bed.
  13. Give kids a specific day to when they can choose all the activities you do together.
  14. Determine how long it takes them to do assignments to help with time management.
  15. Use an egg timer to get your kids used to focusing for specific periods of time.
  16. Teach your kids to prioritize their assignments by making to-do lists with deadlines.
  17. Give your kids a short break after each assignment they finish, such as a short walk.
  18. Set a regular alarm each day that signals the start of homework time.
  19. Discuss what your kids can expect on the first day so they feel more prepared.
  20. Visit the school with your kids so they can get familiar with their new environments.
  21. Arrange playdates with two or three of your kids’ friends to rebuild existing social ties.
  22. Ask teachers for class rosters so you can arrange playdates with new classmates too.
  23. Get the lists of school supplies, books and technology your kids will need.
  24. Inventory last year’s school supplies before going out to buy more.
  25. Include your kids in back-to-school shopping by letting them pick out their items.
  26. Make a plan for organizing those supplies  and keeping them that way.
  27. Create a dedicated space for your kids to store their school supplies and technology.
  28. Establish a specific space like the family office as the official “homework area.”
  29. Remove distractions like TVs and video game consoles from homework areas.
  30. Repurpose and relabel plastic tubs to organize all school supplies.
  31. Help your kids develop a filing system for organizing their documents for each class.
  32. Set  and enforce  regular weekday and weekend bedtimes.
  33. Set  and enforce  regular weekday and weekend wake-up calls.
  34. Keep track of existing extracurricular activities to prevent over-scheduling.
  35. Have your kids set realistic goals for the new year, such as reading 30 books.
  36. Help your kids prioritize their activities by tying them to their year’s goals.
  37. Create a list of fun after-school activities and games to keep your kids entertained.
  38. Touch base with teachers early on to troubleshoot any issues your kids may be having. Here are 20 questions you can ask.
  39. Create an after-school schedule that allows time for snack, relaxation, play and study.
  40. Establish regular bedtime routines for elementary school kids and preschoolers.
  41. Carve out blocks of fun time for your kids, whether it’s through sports or playdates.
  42. Hire a tutor, babysitter or homework helper to help you navigate homework time.
  43. Model good behavior by doing your own work/projects while your kids do homework.
  44. Encourage your kids to lay out their school clothes the night before.
  45. Use this printable checklist to establish a regular morning routine.
  46. Have your kids pack their school bags before they go to sleep that night.
  47. Have your kids also pack their gym bags the night before and leave them by the door.
  48. If your kids bring their own lunch, pack their lunch boxes before going to bed.
  49. Establish rules for where they should put lunchboxes, etc. when they come home.
  50. Revamp your home organization setup to be more kid-friendly. For example, low hooks make it easy for younger children to hang up coats!
  51. Go through your kids’ schoolwork once a month to toss the things you don’t want.
  52. File or scan assignments that you want to keep.
  53. Create an inbox for kids to leave things that need your attention, like permission slips.
  54. Designate a plastic tub as a put-away bin for anything that’s out of its place.
  55. Set a time each week to sync up individual calendars with the family calendar.
  56. Inventory your kids’ wardrobes and toss/donate things they’ve outgrown.
  57. Create a list and budget for back-to-school shopping.
  58. Let your child choose their clothes, shoes and other items they’ll need.
  59. Go through their wardrobes every 2-3 months to get rid of things that no longer fit.
  60. Set up a laundry system that makes it easy to sort and wash everyone’s clothes.
  61. Make homework caddies that can be used to carry school supplies through the house.
  62. Buy bulk packaged snacks like bags of grapes that can be easily added to lunches.
  63. Discuss the different pros and cons of bringing versus buying school lunches.
  64. Get copies of school menus in advance to discuss lunch choices.
  65. Get your kids involved in creating and preparing their daily lunch menus.
  66. Buy reusable sports bottles to increase their water consumption during the day.
  67. Keep a small emergency allowance in your kids’ bags, just in case.
  68. Organize lunch ingredients in one part of the fridge so you can make fast lunches.
  69. Purchase lunch boxes or reusable bags to help save the environment.
  70. Make a week’s worth of sandwiches on Sunday, wrap in tinfoil, and freeze. Unthaw them the night before.
  71. Use sticky notes to flag important items in kids’ that they should pay attention to.
  72. Plan supervised study dates when kids work together on projects or homework.
  73. Have a backup transportation mode planned in case your kids miss the bus.
  74. Set your clocks forward 10 minutes. This makes it easier to be on time.
  75. Schedule blocks of time to check in with each child to see how things are going.
  76. Hire a housekeeper to help with cleaning and know things off your to-do lists.
  77. Schedule at least one 30-minute block in your calendar each day for “you time.”
  78. Create a rewards system for when they meet goals like helping around the house.
  79. Shop for school supplies and clothes early. Avoid the rush.
  80. Use positive phrasing, such as “You can go outside after your homework is done,” rather than “You’re not going outside until this is finished.”
  81. Make sure your kids (and you!) have an effective wake-up alarm that works for them.
  82. Set an alarm or notification 30 minutes before bedtime.
  83. Remove things like mobile devices from kids’ bedrooms to focus them on sleeping.
  84. Use night lights, white sound machines and fans for kids who can’t get to sleep.
  85. Keep a single, easy-access file for vaccination records and other important papers.
  86. Set up the breakfast table before you go to bed.
  87. Map out a bathroom schedule to avoid family fights for bathroom time.
  88. Replace old backpacks with ones that are sturdy, ergonomic and kid-friendly.
  89. Keep a running list of supplies, clothing and food that need to be bought each week.
  90. Use a see-and-store toy rack to make it easier for kids to stay organized.
  91. Set up a hanging organizer with five boxes for clothes for each day of the week.
  92. Dedicate a rack in the garage, basement or entry way for sports equipment.
  93. Create a regular pet care schedule that outlines who does what and when.
  94. Schedule study blocks on the weekends before big tests, mid-terms and finals.
  95. Use under-the-bed storage for off-season clothes and toys that aren’t regularly used.
  96. Give everyone a shower caddy to keep bathroom supplies organized.
  97. Have a playdate caddy ready to go, with an extra set of clothes, games and toys.
  98. Figure out different ways you can be involved in the classroom this school year.
  99. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings about returning to school. Make sure to hit on these 5 Back-to-School Worries.
  100. Do something fun to diffuse this stressful time of year for all of you.
  101. Take a breath!

With all this preparation, your kids will be in great shape. If you’re relaxed and calm, they’ll head off to school feeling excited and ready to get to work.

 

Liz Alton is a freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, business and technology. To learn more about her work, check out her website.

100 Summer Fun Ideas for Kids and Parents

Ideas for Summer Activities for Children

However, parents, you know what they say about all work and no play, right? So don’t let the kids have all the fun. Try out a least a few of these 100 ideas for kids and parents to do together. Bookmark this page and come back throughout the summer for inspiration.

  1. Pick your own…whatever. Find a farm with blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, flowers, etc., and get picking.
  2. Play outside in the rain. Smell the rain on the pavement; splash in puddles; make mud pies.
  3. Make your own rain. Douse everyone with the hose or sprinkler.
  4. Cook out…frequently. Go beyond the burgers. Try veggies or fish. The kids might like them more if they come off the grill!
  5. Make “smores.” Chocolate + marshmallow + graham cracker = summer
  6. Camp out. First-timers, try backyard camping.
  7. Camp in. Put the sleeping bags on the floor and have a family slumber party.
  8. Stargaze. Invite friends and make a party of it.
  9. Catch lightning bugs. And then watch them flicker away into the night.
  10. Rearrange the furniture. Give the kid’s graph paper and have them draw out a plan first.
  11. Take family naps together. Parents can snooze too!
  12. Make your own pizza. Try this kid-friendly recipe.
  13. Invite friends over for a game night. Have a kids’ games table and an adult one too.
  14. Go to the demolition derby. And expect to see some major crashes
  15. See an air show. And hope for no crashes.
  16. Stop to smell the flowers. (Go to a botanical garden.)
  17. Talk to the animals. (Go to the zoo.)
  18. Get wet. (Go to a water park.)
  19. Have a puzzle race. Use 100-piece puzzles and see who finishes first.
  20. Play a card game. Maybe crazy eights, spoons or poker. Take your pick.
  21. Play a board game. Candyland, chess or Monopoly, depending on age and inclination.
  22. Make good use of nearby parks. Go to your local park’s website, print the schedule of activities and tape it to the refrigerator.
  23. Pack a picnicAnd plop down to eat it just about anywhere, at a free concert, in a state park or in your own backyard.
  24. Start the back-to-school shopping early. The farther from the start of school the more fun kids think it is.
  25. Get the summer homework doneNot exactly fun, but you’ll be happy to get it out of the way.
  26. Experiment with new hairdos. Let the kids try out not-permanent colors or braids. Or maybe a spiked look.
  27. Dig in the sand at the beach. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the ocean, lake or bay.
  28. Set a goal and complete a home project. Find ways to let the kids help.
  29. Take an early morning bird walk. 
  30. Grow vegetables. And then eat them.
  31. Grow flowers. And then arrange them.
  32. Let the kids cook dinner. In fact, make a tradition of it.
  33. Host the kids’ friends for a sleepover. And then maybe your kids will be invited next—giving you a free evening.
  34. Go to a nearby museum that you’ve never been to before.
  35. Go to your favorite local museum…again.
  36. Go to a carnival or county fair. Eat cotton candy, fried dough or something really bad once this summer.
  37. Decorate your walkways with chalk. 
  38. Take a hike. Choose a route near your house or take a drive to a more distant park.
  39. Plant a butterfly garden. Watch the butterflies flutter by.
  40. Make fresh lemonadeMaybe even sell it at a lemonade stand!
  41. Take a road trip to a nearby city. Spend the night if you can or just make it a day trip.
  42. Show the kids science is fun. Try these experiments.
  43. Go to a matinee. Find a bargain movie houses and pay less.
  44. Go to the drive-in. If there isn’t one nearby, look for one near your vacation spot. Every kid should go to the drive-in at least once!
  45. Watch family movies. Kids can’t get enough of themselves on the big screen.
  46. Read a chapter book aloud. Or even go on and read a whole series together.
  47. Listen to a classic as an audiobook. Or try these newer audiobooks.
  48. Teach the kids a game you haven’t played since you were a kid.
  49. Meet friends at the playground. Not groundbreaking, but always popular nonetheless.
  50. Visit a historic house. Kids will be amazed at what the old-timers lived without.
  51. Make ice cream. We use this recipe with great success.
  52. Use bikes as a mode of transit. Show the kids the way to the store or a friend’s.
  53. Take bike rides for fun. Either leave from your own house or drive to biking trails.
  54. Go fishing. In many states, kids can drop a line in without a license.
  55. Paddle a kayak or a canoe. Or if you’re really adventurous try white water rafting.
  56. Jump rope. Chant these jump rope rhymes.
  57. Press summer flowers. Make a pressed flower picture.
  58. String beads. Beading for kids can be as simple or complex as you choose.
  59. Blow bubbles. Make your own!
  60. Play miniature golf. Can you make the last hole-in-one for a free game?
  61. Eat at the counter of a diner. And let the kids spin on the stools.
  62. Find a new place to play. Easy idea: Clear out the basement or garage. Complicated idea: Build a tree house.
  63. Build a Lego castle. Clear off a table and make it a family project.
  64. Master a new skill together. Learn to juggle, play harmonica, do the hula hoop, etc.
  65. Teach the grandparents to use Skype. And show off your new skill.
  66. Build a fort. Try pillows in the living room or cardboard boxes in the yard.
  67. Make fairy houses. Use moss, bark, and leaves in a dwelling fit for Thumbelina.
  68. Write/illustrate a comic book. Make it a group effort or let everyone do their own.
  69. Build your brain. These brainteaser games can help.
  70. Find a free concert near you.
  71. Fly a kite.
  72. Run in the yard. Kickball, wiffleball, Frisbee, and the tag will keep you moving.
  73. Visit a local farmers market. And feast on the fruits and veggies of the season.
  74. Create art with beach items. Check out these seashell crafts
  75. Have breakfast in bed. Take turns being the server and the served.
  76. Play with clay. Then bake your creations to make them permanent.
  77. Make play dough creations. Then rip them up and do it again.
  78. Make paper airplanes. See whose goes the farthest.
  79. Join a summer reading clubParents can list all their books read over the summer too, but I doubt you’ll get a prize.
  80. Keep a sketch diary.
  81. Write in a journal. At the end of the summer share selections with each other about the highlights of the season.
  82. Teach the kids to skip stones.
  83. Make photo gifts online. Grandma will love them.
  84. Take lessons together. Cooking, yoga, tennis, music, etc.
  85. Play croquet on the lawn. And try bocci too.
  86. Set up a badminton net. You could use it for volleyball too.
  87. Play HORSE. With little ones, set up a mini basketball net next to the real one.
  88. Create a treasure hunt for kidsDo it on your own property or around town.
  89. Erect a bird feeder. And then watch the show from your window.
  90. Join a Junior Ranger program. Both national parks and many state parks have them.
  91. See a dramatic performance together. Doesn’t matter if it’s a puppet show in the park or a touring Broadway show.
  92. Put on your own dramatic performance. Write a script, sew costumes or just do a little improv.
  93. Play charades. Turn all that drama into a game.
  94. Make music. Either make your own instruments or play traditional ones.
  95. Break out the family movies. And the popcorn too!
  96. Have a garage sale. Kids can earn spending money by selling their old stuff.
  97. Go to a flea market or garage sale. And they can spend that money they just earned. (See if the kids are better negotiators than you.)
  98. Climb trees together. Of course, only if the kids are big enough, and you are brave enough.
  99. Get a book of riddlesSee if you can stump each other, then write your own.
  100. Keep your kitchen cool. Make no-bake cookies.