Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BUG OUT! Praying Mantis

Living near woodlands, we meet lots of lil' buggers out here. My skin has definitely thickened as I've taken a more scientific approach to sharing space with larger insects and arachnids. 

Every once in awhile, I'll stumble upon a praying mantis, the most captivating insect I've observed. Because they are noticeably watching ME watching them, I'm entranced. We will stare at one another intently for quite some time. I'll move from one side of her body to the other, observing her turn her head to follow my gaze. They can turn their heads up to 180 degrees! So impressive.

Here's a beauty we followed for a bit alongside our friends' pond. 
This mantis is a beautiful bright green to blend with the grass.
So you know me, ever the nerd at heart, I did a bit of homework to learn more about these fascinating insects. Most people know that the praying mantis is named for its common front leg position, which often resembles praying hands.  Because I'm always interested in the meaning in a name, I learned that "mantis" is actually from the greek word "prophet". Praying prophet? Um...cool!
Check out the gams on this girl! Whoo whee!
So we've all heard the stories of the, uh...unique mating rituals of the praying mantis. Yikes. The things they do for love. These beauties are clearly designed for fierceness. According to National Geographic's data on this creature, mantis legs are deadly weapons. They are accessorized with spikes, which they use to impale their prey. Daaaaaang! Now that's some medieval killin' right there!
Climbing my deck chair to get a better view of the lunch menu.
And the brutal stories go on and on. It seems the praying mantis also channels a bit of Hannibal Lecter when the mood is right. It's true that females will devour their suitors during or after mating, but the praying mantis has been known to turn cannibal, well...just for the taste of it. Man. You'd think they were just squabbling over a grasshopper, but really, Molly Mantis just wanted a bite of Mikey Mantis' abdomen. Gads.
Legs ready to grab something yummy.
But despite the sordid tales, this insect is amazing. It can change colors (from bright green to brown) to blend in with its surrounding environment. In these photos, the mantis on my deck changed to a brown color to blend into the chair and surrounding wood. Clever girl!
And while you're looking at them, rest assured that they are indeed looking back at you. The praying mantis' 2 compound eyes and three simple eyes between are keen in the daylight, so they do most of their hunting when the lighting is good. In ideal conditions, they can detect movement from up to 60 feet away and they can see in color.

Look at that FORM!
They are patient and efficient hunters. After carefully stalking their prey, they wait, completely motionless, for the precise moment of attack. And what an attack it will be...
What are YOU lookin' at?
Not messing around, the praying mantis will stab its victim with its lightning fast front legs and will promptly behead the captive to quell any struggling. Now, with some some peace and quiet, the mantis can enjoy a delicious treat.
Ugh. Paparazzi! I'll have better luck catching my lunch in a more private setting.
Despite common rumors, the praying mantis is not an endangered insect, but PLEASE do NOT harm them when you meet. I have learned that these insects have no known negative impact on the ecosystem whatsoever. In fact, many people keep these gorgeous creatures as pets! They can live up to one year and seem relatively easy to care for and observe. If you do choose to take on a praying mantis, please use common sense, do your homework and handle with care. 

These exquisite creatures have certainly intrigued me this season, and my children and I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their lifestyle and behavior. I bow down to the praying prophets and have utmost respect for their patience and efficiency. And when the boys misbehave, the ladies in the mantis world send a pretty clear reminder of what a girl can do if she's irritable. Good to remember sometimes, huh? No wonder these dudes are prayin'!

P.S. Do you LOVE bugs as much as we do? One of our totally awesome friends makes totally awesome BUG TEES and counting flashcards to go with her total awesomeness. Check them out on Etsy at Creature Crawlers

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pokeweed in August- A Follow Up

It's follow up time! In June, I wrote about young pokeweed that was just beginning to thrive here. Now, in August, it's much easier to observe the mature fruit of this troublesome plant. If you're just learning to spot these nasty invaders, here are some current photographs to help you hone in your identification eyes.

Here, you can see a 7-foot tall pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) covered in berries. Note the purple hue in the stem.
Large pokeweed
The berries are beautiful, but toxic. If there are wee ones hangin' around, it would be best to remove any pokeweed on your property so children aren't tempted to sample these colorful berries. In case of accidental ingestion, you can read about pokeweed poisoning here.
Mature pokeweed berries are deep purple in color.
Berries are attached to a pinkish/purple stem on the plant. The pokeweed stalk can also have a purple tinge.
Once you learn to identify pokeweed, you'll begin to notice this native vegetation popping up everywhere. If you have interest, Iowa State University provides a brief but thorough overview of this pesky plant.
This mature pokeweed stands 7 feet tall.
So get that pokeweed outta there! In my original post, I detailed our method of removal, but if you're short on time or would prefer to avoid handling the toxic roots, you can consider professional eradication.

The mature pokeweed plant is so lush and tantalizing, it seems a bit of a shame to have to evict such an aesthetic wonder. But this dangerous beauty can pose a serious threat to humans if mishandled, so sadly, on our property, it just has to go.

All of these photographs were taken on local hikes, so to gain confidence in positively identifying this plant, look closely. Spend a moment to let the image sink in and make an effort to identify pokeweed on your own next adventure in the woods. It's exciting to learn about the plants that are native to our region and wise to have information about the effects they might have on pets and humans.

If you'd like to review some of the original, young pokeweed shots I posted in June, you can view them here. As always, if you have any questions, comments or interesting new links, please feel free to post.

Get out there and enjoy the rest of the season safely!
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Monday, August 20, 2012

Raising Readers

Bust out your spectacles! Lately, we have been so excited to see our 3-year-old actually reading by herself! She reads ME her bedtime stories now, and we can hear her reading to her stuffed animals and our family dog long after we've said, "good night".

Disclaimer: I'm no expert on this. My degree is in secondary English education, so teaching my wee ones to read is a trial and error system. I do, however, utilize many of the strategies I was trained to use with ESL students and reluctant readers. With great joy, I can report that we have had much success sparking the desire to read in our daughters.
teaching reading
Create your own labels to help early readers connect words with specific objects.
When my eldest was about 9-months-old, I began creating labels for many common household objects. When I'd turn on the lights, I'd point to the word and clearly enunciate it. Then I'd use her hand to move the switch up and down while repeating the word to help create a connection.
create labels
Keep related literature accessible wherever you can.
Wherever we keep adult literature, I have added kiddie lit as well. I have placed books next to our youngest daughter's potty so that she can read about bath/potty time in the bathroom, again, making a connection to the words. 

I also firmly believe that interweaving the sense of touch helps my1-year-old make a tangible association with words. We were given My First Touch 'n Feel Flash Cards and have used them constantly to help teach our girls to read. Physically holding flashcards gives children an active role in the learning process. Using a manipulative like this empowers them to see reading as a game and creates a positive association.
Use flashcards as an early reading game!
You can also find tons of great flashcards in dollar stores. We snagged Playshool First Words Flashcards there.

Lisa Dejohn's Alphabet Animal Flashcards are, without a doubt, the most beautiful, durable and inspiring cards we own. If you need a lovely gift for a birthday party, grab some at Anthropologie. Once you get your own, consider framing the first letter of a child's name. These cards are THAT good. Trust me.
teaching reading
Lisa Dejohn's Alphabet Animal Flashcards are wonderful!
Munchkin Bath Letters and Numbers have made every bath time a learning experience in our home. Our 15-month-old just likes to play with the letters, but our eldest spells out messages now and leaves them on the wall for her dad to find when he takes his shower. So cute.

Our eldest was given subscriptions to Highlights magazine and Wild Animal Baby for her birthday last year, and she goes bonkers over every issue. She can read most of these magazines by herself now. Simply astounding! These magazine are so easy to toss into diaper bags, place in the car and bring along whenever you travel. We also love books that have text in both English and Spanish for early language acquisition.
Highlights & Wild Animal Baby are exciting and engaging magazines for young readers.
Leap Frog makes Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set, which captivates both of our daughters constantly. When kiddos pop a letter in the slot, the machine clearly pronounces each sound and sings the ABC song.  It's also a lifesaver if you're making dinner and need to keep the kids nearby but out of harm's way while you cook.
teaching reading
Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set is ideal for manipulation and letter pronunciation.
Because our daughters love puzzles, I often take the pieces and write the word of each image alongside of its place. As a starting point, I will ask one of my girls to place the picture of the grasshopper next to the word. As their skills mature, I have written the word on the BACK of each piece. Later in reading development, I can flip the pieces and ask if one of my kids can read the word on the back to identify the picture on the front.
label puzzle pieces
Write the word next to, and on the back of, puzzle pieces for additional challenges.
We love art in this house. I have found glittery letters and doorknob signs at our local dollar store. We use these to create name tags for different rooms in the house. I can teach spelling and reading by helping my girls sound out the letters for their names and the names of friends. We make doorknob tags to give as gifts often.

Let them see YOU reading! My husband and I read constantly, and we are sure to let our girls SEE us enjoying literature. Our house is full of books, so we encourage our daughters to flip through our reading materials and their own daily.
Make books accessible and important in your home.
We place books of various genres in baskets in every room the girls frequent. We want them to pick them up as often as possible, so we make them accessible and prominent in our house.
book baskets
Book baskets beckon kids to grab ahold to investigate what's inside.
We keep another book basket directly adjacent to our 1-year-old's crib. She pulls small board books into her bed to flip through as she falls asleep or to keep her busy when she wakes up from napping. 
book basket
Consider keeping a book basket with board books next to the crib.
Bookshelves can be too tall for shorties and can be a falling hazard in a young child's room, so we have used wooden crates to store literature for our 3-year-old. She loves heading over to her little library to choose stories every night. As her reading is advancing, I'm starting to read more poetry to get her into predicting rhyming words and rhythm. Shel Silverstein is my favorite author of all time, so if you haven't checked out his books, oh PLEASE do!
low book shelf
Low-level bookshelves are a great alternative to taller options.
We have had the MOST success teaching our 3-year-old to read by leaving her notes every night. To catch up on this process, check out my earlier post on Learning to Read Love Letters.

And now that we have laid a solid foundation for reading, our daughter is very inspired to start WRITING! We have a large, laminated piece of notebook paper for her to practice on for fun. Using Crayola Dry Erase Crayons, she experiments with writing regularly in an artistic, creative way!

Teaching reading has been such a natural, enjoyable process in our home, and I can't tell you how pleased we are with the results. We hope our daughters grow to love literature as much as we do and know that they're on the right path. 

As always, if you have any questions or great new ideas to share, please feel free to post them here. We hope YOUR summer reading was spectacular!  
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours
P.S. "Like" From My Hearth to Yours on Facebook here for news, updates and reader tips

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Through a Different Lens: Introducing My Camera

I'm an admitted photo junkie. Take me to a restaurant with old photos on the wall, and the server has to hunt me down to take my order. I'm off gazing, in a reverie, at the images of days past, of what once was- a moment frozen in time. I'm hooked.
Many of my favorite memories are triggered by photographs that are burned into my brain.When I take my last breath, I imagine scenes from my life will pass in front of my eyes, in a rapid-fire slideshow of  moments I've captured through a lens- moments that have been taped to my locker, framed on the mantle, set as my screensavers and tucked inside my wallet.
Saw this gorgeous grasshopper this weekend. It's wonderful to really SEE him!
So I take pictures...countless pictures to help me remember to look twice at some of the moments I never want to forget.

The time had come. Enough of this point-and-shoot biz. With two lil' beauties who change so much every day, and my inner ar-teeeeeest beckoning, we decided it was time to take the plunge and invest in a snazzy SLR camera.
I think I'm asking for picture frames for Christmas this year.
Now, we're a frugal family and don't make major purchases without serious research. Fortunately, we have a camera-savvy buddy who owns a Nikon that takes SLAMMIN' pics. He guided us toward the Nikon D-5100. My husband found the best price at B&H Photo, we took the bait and, well---bliss. Just bliss.

So here she is. Ain't she purdy? Total bummer I couldn't use THIS camera to take pics of, um, THIS camera. It's almost painful for me to use anything else to shoot photos at this point.

She's so lovely.
But before you get too enamored, there are three, only three, downsides to owning one of these babies. 

1. Unless you're fortunate enough to make me jealous, the cost of a Nikon D-5100 is no joke. Don't get me wrong, it is undoubtedly worth every penny, but you probably shouldn't consider a camera like this unless you're serious about photography, about challenging yourself to experiment with settings and aperture, and about taking very good care of your things. This is not a camera for someone who is accident prone. I mean, we're dealing with a seriously impressive piece of equipment here, so it needs to be treated with care. No tossing it across the room so your buddy can take a quick shot of Justin Beiber, you know?

2. If you're used to using a small, portable, point-and-shoot camera or your cell phone's camera to capture your memories, you might have a hard time adjusting to a beast like this. This camera is divine, but it is heavy and bulky. I carry this beautiful baby with me whenever I feel a photo op is in the air, but it can definitely be cumbersome and awkward on long hikes or if I'm trying to multitask. Also, when I have the strap around my neck with the camera dangling around my belly, if I lean over and one of my kids or my beastly dog is in the way, well...momentum takes over and plows the cam into their heads. Ish. Remember to always keep your lens cap on when not shooting photos or you might end up with nose prints on the glass.
Our Beast-Dog, lookin' sharp.
3. You will NEVER be able to stomach using any other camera again. Every time you see something inspiring, you'll die a little inside if you don't have access to this equipment. 
Here you can see the lens the camera came with
Our Nikon D-5100 came with an adjustable AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5 lens, which is great if you're used to zooming in on your subjects. If I'm trying to shoot a far off bird's nest, for example, I'd use this lens. It's a perfect "standard" for the camera.
AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5 lens
But we learned about the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens and decided to up the ante. I'm so glad we did.
Camera with no lens. She's waiting for the 50mm. She's no fool. 
Shooting with this lens is SO. MUCH. FUN! There are countless effects I never knew were possible before I gained access to such an impressive mechanism. Right now, I am particularly enjoying the ability to experiment with aperture; you can really guide and control the focal point of each frame. Awesome!
AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G 

Nikon D-5100
Ready to go.
The controls are relatively easy to use, but of course, if you crave a camera like this, you should be willing to put in some time to learn about all it can do. I believe I will ALWAYS be learning about the possibilities now.
Easy to use the controls with a little practice
This sublime creation can also take HD video, so it's no problem switching back and forth from photo to video at birthday parties, sporting events or whatever wonder you wish to remember. It's also incredibly easy to save your data. I simply pop the memory card out of the camera and slip it right into my laptop. Boom. Pics are uploaded in an instant. Prepare yourselves though. You. Will. Take. A. LOT. Of. Photos. Make sure you have enough storage space available.
And what scintillating photographs you will take...
Who knew the flowers on our deck could be so intriguing!
Owning this camera will change the way you see the world. It has really made me appreciate the art that is in EVERYTHING.
This sneaky seagull was scoping out my daughter's pizza. Look at the curvature in that wing. Man.
Suddenly every expression stands out in the most inspiring way.

Because I use the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G for 95% of my shots, I had to get used to physically moving my body to get the frame I desired. I had been accustomed to using zoom to close in on focal points, but with a little practice, it's a smooth transition.
Check out THAT dude. Gads.
Seriously, it's hard to get a BAD shot with this camera.

Typically, when I'm snapping pics, I use the "no flash" setting or, if it's not too bright, I play with the aperture to create striking visual effect with a close subject. 
Now I'm a DOG person, but I love this shot, too. Notice how the background is blurred. Here, I was playing with the camera's aperture in the "A" setting on the control panel. 
If you love the art of photography and want to make the move to open yourself up to learning more about what SLR cameras can do, then start doing your research today. I'm kicking myself that I didn't invest in one of these cameras years ago.
This camera makes even my boring BREAKFAST look amazing! 
If you have any questions about this camera or these lenses...then shoot! Oh, don't you just love a good pun? Also, don't hesitate to put me on assignment. I'm inspired to learn more about this camera every day, and it's so refreshing to see the world through a different lens.

Happy shopping! Christmas is right around the corner. I hope you've been REALLY good…
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Monday, August 13, 2012

The 5 Disgusting Habits of Highly Effective Parents

Don't have kids? This post comes with the disclaimer that it carries an 85% effectiveness as holistic birth control. You were warned...

Got a few? Then I'm certain you've mastered all five of these habits and can surely add to my list of-

The 5 Disgusting Habits of Highly Effective Parents

1. The Chewed Food Pass- The wee one starts gnawing on a banana. Junior gets a bit overzealous and mashes a monster bite into his mouth, gagging and giggling simultaneously. Wide eyed and adrenaline charged, you pat the little hoarder on the back and then hold your free hand under pre-expulsion mouth for the pass off. Result? Saliva-mushed banana blob right in the palm of your hand. Three points.

*Sidenote- As gluttons grow older, prepare for the "There. I Tried Your Dinner. Are You Satisfied? Take THIS! Pass" and the "I'm Finished With This Sticky Candy. There's No Trash Can Anywhere. Now Hold Out Your Hand Pass". Daily weight-training is recommended for lightning fast receiving maneuvers.

2. The Thumb Lick- While buckling Little Miss into her carseat, you notice lunch remnants- oh...behind her ear, under her chin, above her eyebrows and in the crease of her neck. Yeah, we know you rubbed her down with a cloth for about 5 minutes after she ate. But still.

So what to do? You've felt your abs tighten and brow furl when you've watched OTHER parents deliver the quick Thumb Lick maneuver in the past, but with shifty eyes, you know you have to go for it now. Seriously. What are you gonna do, right? With a tilted head, you slop a dose of saliva on your probably filthy thumb and smear the leftovers off (or into the pores of) Pigpen's face. Voila. Life is beautiful.

3.The Skid Scrub- Because sometimes, wiping arse just isn't enough. Be it cloth diapers, hybrids or big kid underwear, a little butt wiping, the poo drop off at Porcelain Station and this party is just getting started, baby! Prepare for the Residue Rhumba.
Photo Credit
Nothing spells sophistication like grabbing skivvies and doing the scrub. A classy addition to any afternoon- rubbing two sides of poo-smeared cotton together while scalding hot water singes off the top layer of the skin on your hands. A little soap added in and it's an aromatherapy oxymoron to the max.

 *Bonus- for added interior design flair, hang soaking wet undies of assorted designs ALL over your
  bathroom. An optical delight that the whole family can enjoy...

4. The Booger Grab- It's there, staring right at you. You know your kid is cute and all, but it's hard to focus on those baby blues when it looks like there's a tree branch popping out of that left nostril. It bends. It buckles. It shifts with each passing breeze. This child is in need of some serious emergency face-scaping.
Get this book. It will bring you such joy. 
Quick! Before his little girlfriend toddles over, you prepare for extraction. Block boogerface's body with yours, grab offending snot wad, yank it outta there and pray to Dr. Spock that there's not a mucus trail attached to the tail end. Hand sanitizer, anyone?

5. The Sniff Test- Sweet Pea runs by and you catch the whiff. Like a bloodhound on a scent trail, you're somehow compelled to find the source, however horrific it might be. This situation requires immediate attention, lest you want to suffer that awkward moment when a happily childless friend raises the eyebrow, lowers her cocked head and gives you the nod to indicate you'd better freshen this communal air...and fast.

But there are at least 3 maniac banshees running amok in this mix. Which one is the offender? You rationalize that you're only responsible for the ones carrying your DNA, so you grab tot...and bust out The Sniff Test.

Apropos? Pffffffft! Let's be frank here. There are two other options in determining if you're on doodie...um, I mean duty. You can grab the lil' stinker and peek in there, utilizing multiple senses of sight AND smell, or if you're slightly deranged, you can add a third sense to the mix and do a finger test. But really, when poo is involved, can't we just rely on STINK alone?

What to watch for when witnessing The Sniff Test in action? Note sniffer's face when result is determined. You'll see one of two reactions.

OPTION 1- Sniffs. Smiles. Sighs relief. Releases tot. Shrugs. "Not mine!" Resumes normalcy while observing other parents scramble.

OPTION 2/NUMBER 2-Sniffs. Tightly closes eyes. Quickly jerks head to the left. Holds tot forward with outstretched arms. Intense face scrunching ensues. Parent and child disappear promptly.

So when you see a parent utilizing The Sniff Test, don't scoff. Really, they're just efficiently solving a problem. Here's to hoping it was someone else's kid who dropped the deuce.

*Sidenote- Never feel guilty about tricking older siblings into performing The Sniff Test. Encourage it; perhaps the task even warrants a title- Official Sniff Test Patrol Officer? Yeah. I like that.

And there you have it. Mmmm hmmmm. It ain't easy being a highly effective parent, no siree! There are days when I envision a fully suited Hazmat crew hosing me off before bed. We warriors live in a world of slime, snot, slobber, poo and grime but we are, undoubtedly, filthy rich in love. Believe it or not, those funky little buggers are worth the extra soap.

***Of course, this blog was written for entertainment purposes only, because if we can't laugh about the nastiness...well we'd all just break down and cry. :)

Know a habit I've forgotten?
Got some tricks for the older gross-ies?
Add them to the list!
I'd like to start my training early so I'm game ready when the time comes.
XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What if...

Oh, the what ifs...

What if I had chosen to attend a different college? I never would have met my family of friends, my husband- never would have found our home. Almost every facet of my life today would be drastically altered.

What if Titanic hadn't sped up that night? Maybe it could have dodged that iceberg and made history with a successful voyage across the Atlantic.
Photo Credit
What if she had taken the loan I offered for her rent and stayed here to continue school? Would she still be alive today, be-bopping around town with her shining green eyes and singsong voices?

But, man. There's no going back.
Do you do this to yourselves as well?

There are so many times when I feel compelled to wonder what might have happened if one choice, one moment in time was somehow flipped. I suppose, anyone with a shred of imagination considers the infinite possibilities from time to time.

For me, maybe it started back in the days when I'd get lost reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books. Oh, come on. You were reading them, too. What a brilliant concept...creating the framework of a story that gives the reader control to choose.
Photo Credit
When I originally discovered these stories, I'd do as I was told- make my choice and then "turn to page 53" to learn my fate. But after a few lessons were learned, you know...after I fell into a volcano, got lost in deep space and savagely attacked by Sasquatch- like any crafty lil' devil, I wised up.

After the ole' side glance to make sure I was alone, DUH, I'd weigh my options- and I'd cheat. Of COURSE I was gonna check to see which choice was better. Pffft! I'd check page 16 to see if I'd find Atlantis there or if that was the path leading to the gargantuan evil octopus. And then I'd shrewdly turn to page 77 for the happier ending. Obviously, right?!?

If only the non-fiction of our own lives came with options. Be there are no magic wands in real life, and once you turn the page here, you're stuck in the plot.

There are times when it's thrilling to imagine "what ifs"-

What if we win the Mega Millions tonight? (See? I'm doing it right now, envisioning a yacht with all my friends and family onboard, traveling the world in style. Yeah. I've hit up this particular "what if" before.)
Photo Credit
There are times when the "what ifs" are absurd. What if there's some creepy smiling psycho lurking behind that curtain right now. (Don't pretend you haven't run up the stairs because you thought someone was behind you, too.)
Photo Credit
And there are times when the "what ifs" can shake you down through the marrow in your bones. What if that phone call is bad news?

Oh, I'm a big fan of a healthy imagination, but there are some times when it's wise to close the book on the "what ifs" and accept the page we've turned to. There are other chapters to read, countless books on the shelves, new characters to meet and so many more adventures to choose.

So "what if" we spent a little more time living in the NOW, in the chapter that is bookmarked especially for us? I do love a good mystery, but instead of flipping pages to find my fate, I'm opting to write this story... choosing the ultimate adventure of living in the moment.
Photo Credit

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Keychain Survival Guide

As I push a grocery cart, loaded up with two kids, five reusable bags full of weekly grub and 30 lbs. of dog food, I can breathe easier knowing I won't have to dig through the abyss in my purse to find my car keys. It's the little things, right?

In these MOMents, time is of the essence. After a few years of practice, I've developed a lil' keychain system for effective time management and convenience.

The most essential tool for functionality is a simple carabiner. Whenever I'm going shopping with my kids or running quick errands, instead of dumping my keychain into my purse, I either clip it onto a belt loop, the stroller or the strap of my purse for immediate access.

The carabiner connects all!
My blood pressure SERIOUSLY rises when I have my 1-year-old in one arm, shopping bags around my wrist, my eldest daughter holding my other hand and keys to find somewhere in the bottom of my purse. It's not a classy scene. Using a carabiner clip drastically reduces the stress of loading up the crew. So simple. So effective.
Keep car keys on one ring and house keys on another for quick separation.
The carabiner is also useful for the annual auto inspection or when I need to trade cars with my husband for the day. I keep my car keys on one loop and the house keys on a separate ring. When I need to part with only my car keys, it takes one quick second to clip just that set off the carabiner. This definitely saves me time...and saves my fingernails from the horrific struggle of weaving keys in and out of that awful loop. 
Car keys on the left,  other keys on the right
Also, simple, relatively weightless and invaluable? Ponytail holders! Now, of course, I'm a gal with two daughters, so obviously it's always important to have access to ties to keep our crazy hair out of our eyes, but they serve a dual purpose on a keychain. 
Slap a few ponytail holders, or a rubber band, on your keychain so you can slip keys around your wrist in a pinch!
Because I hate coordinating separates when it comes to fashion, I wear a lot of dresses. No belt loops! There are also plenty of times when I'm hanging out with friends without a purse. No strap! In these instances, there is nothing to clip the carabiner to. When these situations arise, I can easily slip that ponytail holder around my wrist to keep my keys close at hand (pun intended) and completely accessible. 

The Photon Light is definitely a brilliant invention. We've given these little lifesavers to all our family members for Christmas. Whenever we're walking from the car to an entrance in poor lighting, already with keys in hand, we just give a gentle squeeze and have a perfectly convenient flashlight to light the path.
Photon lights rock! Mine is red for better night vision, but they come in many colors.
Finding your way through a dim movie theater or looking for dropped objects under your car seats? No problem. These lights are super tiny, lightweight and efficient, so they don't add unnecessary bulk to our keychains. They come in different colors and even have a switch that keeps the light on without you having to manually hold down the button. In an emergency, these waterproof lights could also be used to signal for help. LOVE these!
Like a good Girl Scout (Oh, who am I kidding? I never made it past Brownies), for over 15 years I have carried a small Swiss Army Knife on my keychain.
Everyone needs a Swiss Army knife keychain!
I use this baby to open packages, cut tags, remove stray threads and even unscrew flathead screws! I'd be lost without this tool.
A million uses for such a tiny tool
How annoying is it when you're trying to get into your house and can't find the right key to open the door? I use a cover on our main entry key so that I am not stuck, swearing, out in the rain. I found these totally goofy key covers and would love to give them out as gifts this year. My favorite is the guitar keycap. I wonder who's getting that one.
Place a keycap on the house key you use most.
Lastly, I hit up my husband's keyring to show you his Craftsman 4 Way Screwdriver. I actually steal his keys to use this tool frequently. If you've got a do-it-yourselfer in your inner circle, he/she might like one of these clever devices.
This Craftsman 4 Way Screwdriver gets used constantly in our home.
Nowadays out here, with two wily kiddos and the beast dog, when we're out and about, we're striving for happy days and graceful gliding. Having these tiny tools at our fingertips really helps avoid everyday hiccups when we're on the go. Who doesn't love simple tricks that make the day run a little smoother?

Any fun, useful tools on YOUR keychains? Drop a line and tell me what I'm missing.
Happy road-tripping!