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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Smarty Mom: Summer Riley

By Katie M

It's Smarty Mom Saturday, and I am excited to introduce the Triad’s first Smarty Mom: Summer Riley. Summer was one of the first moms I met in Winston-Salem nearly three years ago, and she was outgoing – and brave enough – to start a weekly playgroup at her house – a group that still meets to this day (for the most part).

Summer and her college sweetheart, Mike, have four beautiful children - fraternal twins Hannah and Connor, both 4, Andrew who will turn two on Christmas Day, and Rachel who just joined their family a few months ago. Summer is not only one of the Smartiest Moms I know, she is also one of the craftiest and most creative moms I know, no doubt. As a former elementary school teacher, she always has fun projects to share with the kids as well as with other moms. Summer also runs a weekly preschool for a small group of children under the age of two in her home, co-coaches a high school track team with her husband, and finds the time to keep an entertaining blog herself at

Although this Smarty Mom stays busy to say the least, she always finds the time to share something funny, witty, or up-beat. So, it’s my pleasure to introduce Summer.

How do you manage to juggle a busy household while managing two part-time positions and still find time to be creative?
Honestly, I think the secret to juggling a lot of tasks is to determine what it is you are controlling for on a particular day. Priorities set the agenda in our house. I am apt to forgo household chores such as scrubbing the floors to make a new flannel board the kids will enjoy. A very wise woman once told me, “Your kids will probably not remember if your house was clean, or your hair perfectly coiffed, or the laundry always folded, but they will remember if you put the things they valued first, they will remember being loved, and having fun.”

What Smarty tips do you have for moms hoping to work either part-time or full-time?
The most important thing for any mom to remember is that what works for Susie Q perfect next door, may not work for you, and if it doesn't work for you it's not going to work for your kids either. I also highly recommend having a great friend who also has kids, preferably the same age as yours. So when you have the day where you let them watch TV all day in their pajamas, feed them hotdogs whole in front of the TV with juice from a sippy cup and break every other "rule" of proper parenting, you can confess to them and they will laugh with you and tell you everybody has days like that - and they will mean it.

What are the funniest things your children have ever said to you?
There are a ton of things the kids have said that have caused me to nearly pee my pants, and a few that are only funny in hindsight. When I was hugely pregnant with Andrew, Hannah had been watching my growing belly with interest. I had advised her when it got really big it would be time for Andrew to come out. Watching me step out of the shower one day she said, "Mommy are you sure there's not another baby in your buns, because it's getting big too."

What is your favorite family activity?
The best thing about our house is our playroom. It is 500-square feet with a bathroom, art supplies, music supplies, every toy the kids own, and no TV. I adore being in there with the kids and my husband and making a gigantic mess. One Saturday, I helped Hannah build a bed for her American Girl Doll, while my husband used the leftover foam from a mattress, and at Connor's behest, made a fantastic Alligator puppet. (Which I use now whenever we sing about the monkeys teasing Mr. Alligator). So I guess my favorite activity is just "hanging out" in our space with our kids.

Favorite “mommy time” activity?
We have a time called "quiet time" at our house. This is a mandatory period I invoke when I know the kids should take a nap or when I know I should take a nap. I use this "quiet time" where the kids are required to stay in their rooms and do some "quiet time" activities (draw, read, write, play Leapster, sleep) so I can (please don't laugh) check email, eat candy, and read gossip on the Internet. Occasionally I use this precious time to work on craft projects. I only use this time to do chores if my in-laws are coming to visit.

Favorite place to eat out with the whole family?
Hannah and Connor learned to say, "Welcome to Moe's" when they were 12-months old. You have to love a restaurant that offers a kids meal for 99 cents, and actually has food I don't feel guilty about feeding them. Aside from the super casual atmosphere, on family night they have a magician who also does balloon animals, and seriously they have the best music mix for kids and parents.

Favorite place to eat without the children?
Nobles. Nobles. Nobles. Everything on their menu is fantastic, the dress is classy but casual so you have a reason to put yourself together if you like. And it’s near enough to everything where you can get a movie, a drink, or pick up diapers on the way home.

Favorite place to get a good deal on kids clothes?
I shop consignment sales (of course I force myself to make a list of what the kids actually need before I go in there because I am very easily distracted.) But by far, the items I have purchased and loved the most have come from Strasburg's after-season-clearance and customer appreciation sales. There is nothing better in my mind than getting a $150 dress for $20. I cannot even allow myself to finger the items on their full-price rack (although because I sew I know they are actually worth that much) but when their clearance items go 50% off the lowest price, I buy ahead, and I buy coordinated items for all the kids.

What’s the Smartiest way you save money?
Several people will get a huge kick out of this. Costco. I love Costco. I love that I can buy in bulk and save, save, save, and I love that my membership pays me back 2%. I know there are coupon clippers and better deals to be had if I am willing to read the paper every Wednesday and highlight where I am supposed to buy paper towels that week. Instead I have a stable of recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner that cook up with minimal prep all made with ingredients from Costco. They are quick, they are easy, and the prices are great.

Best piece of baby/kid gear?
By far the best new baby item is the Baby Bjorn (although a close second would be the Boppy). I encourage every new mommy to get a Bjorn because you can securely strap that screaming infant to your chest and do whatever you like: exercise, tailgate, cure cancer. Your hands are free, and eventually the baby falls asleep and you can slip them in their motion-induced coma right into their bed. By the time I had Andrew I had figured out how to nurse him hands-free and surreptitiously while coaching the pole vault. (All it took was some careful positioning, and an oversized button-down shirt.)

Favorite park?
We don't go to it as often as I'd like because it is more than five minutes away, but I love Triad Park (and so do the kids). We tend to go there a lot in the summer when we are training the cross country kids because there is a great trail, but all of the play areas are PRISTINE and the bathrooms - are you ready for this - are AIR CONDITIONED. I think it has four or five different kids play areas, they are all handicap accessible, and it has a lot of climbing walls, slides etc. Also, all of the under parts (sorry that sounds a little dirty) of the play areas are made of that fabulous solid springy surface stuff so nothing gets in their shoes, and no dirt on their clothes. Who could ask for more?

Favorite birthday party venue?
This is a toughie, on the whole I am opposed to birthday extravaganzas, and after having birthed a few children myself I think it makes a little more sense to give the mother a nice spa day to celebrate her surviving the whole process. I am a fan of the low-key birthday. Our kids get to ask for one present from us (this year they wanted umbrellas) and a cake of their choice which I make with my own two loving hands. (This year it was a Hello Kitty, and a Dinosaur covered volcano). We make a point to celebrate our family and our kids everyday. The day they were born is, in many ways, no more or less special to us because we dreamed these kids long before we ever had them.

Mini-van or SUV?
When it was just the twins I thought, "Who would ever want a mini-van?” We have a fabulous 4-Runner and look at us we are so cool and hip! The addition of Andrew, and hefting his little “punkin” seat over the toddler in the booster seat took years off my life. I got to the point where I was glaring at mini-van moms on the road out of sheer jealousy. "Stop taunting me" I would scream in my head when they refused to change out of my lane (they were everywhere). Good grief, I don't think I could part with my 11 cup holders, various seat configurations and room!! Oh the glorious space for storing all those little distractions that you need when you take a car trip with the kids.

I could not live without…
My husband, (I know super cheese). I met him when I was only 18 - if you can believe that - and knew from the first minute I saw him that I needed him forever (even though he was wearing socks with Birkenstock's). He is a major component in my successes, an excellent teammate and honestly the best friend I could hope for.

What do you like best about raising a family in the Triad?
Coming from Southern California (Orange County), I am delighted to be raising a family in a community. Whether it’s the proximity to the "south,” or just the nature of a city that is not too big or too small, I feel like people are connected here. This isn't to say I let my kids play in the front yard unattended, but I am delighted by who we meet when we go for a walk. Living in the Triad gives us access to affordable housing, great schools, a myriad of activities that are engaging, educational and entertaining for the adults, but also the ability to play in your own front yard. What more could be desired by a single-income family with four small kids?

Thanks, Summer for your Smarty answers!

Do you know a mom who goes above and beyond the call of duty for others, someone who does incredible work for her family and a charitable organization, runs a company and a marathon, or is just simply living the daily grit of motherhood?! Then send along your “Smarty Momination” to for a future Smarty Mom profile!


Anonymous said...

Finally got a chance to check out your blog. I love it!

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