Archive for the ‘It’s The Holidays Already?’ Category

Our Most Popular Posts: Disneyland, Bullying, Girls’ Sexy Costumes… And Some Truly Obnoxious Commercials

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

It’s always interesting to look at the stats for Parent Talk Today to see the list of the most-popular posts. (If you ever want to check out the current popular posts, just look in the right sidebar.)

As we head into 2011, here are the most-popular posts:

For 2011, what would you like to see us talk about here? This is YOUR place to discuss parenting issues, from pregnancy through college. I’d love to have your suggestions. Thanks for all your support!

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

This is my last post before the holidays and I just had to include this photo. My son, Matthew Benjamin Sena, was born Dec. 22, 1995 and we brought him home from the hospital on Christmas Day.

The photo was taken the following Christmas, when Matt turned one. I love the look on his sweet face.

Happy 15th birthday, Matt. I love you more than I can express.

And happy holidays to all our wonderful Parent Talk Today readers. Your support and enthusiasm for this blog, for the past three and a half years, means so much to me.

We have built a terrific, supportive community here through your comments, and we can all benefit from that. I know I sure do. You are a wise and funny group and I appreciate you!

Wishing you and your family a terrific 2011. Happy New Year!

This Year, Give Experiences — Not Things

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Does your sister really need another scarf or bracelet? Instead, buy movie tickets for a fun girls’ night out and spring for the popcorn.

Want to include the nieces and nephews along with your own gang at home and not break the bank? Make a gift of a movie night at your house and go all out with movie-style candy, popcorn, soda — maybe even hot dogs.

When you buy the goodies yourself and serve them at home you can treat everyone for dimes on the dollar compared with those insane movie-theater prices. (Plus, you can plan this event for January, after the craziness of the holidays is over.)

Even more fun… Make everyone a star and show old family movies as the “previews” before the show.

Heifer International — A Gift From the Heart

Monday, December 20th, 2010

My family and I started giving gifts from Heifer International ( a few years ago, and it has been a great experience. In your loved one’s honor, you can give the gift of a share of a sheep, a flock of baby chicks or a goat that will provide income and food for a needy family.

Kids love to help pick out the gift. You can donate as little or as much as you like by buying shares of an animal or a flock, too, so this gift idea works even for young kids who want to contribute some of their own money. The organization provides beautiful gift cards to give to your recipients.

Check out this wonderful organization and choose a gift with your children. Is there a better way to add true meaning to the holidays than by helping someone else?

A Gift That Teaches Kids the Art of Giving

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Psst. Don’t tell my son, Matt, but I just ordered a Kiva card for him for Christmas.

Sure, he’ll get a favorite DVD, and some other stuff he’s been wanting. But it’s all just, you know, stuff.

With a Kiva card he can learn about other people in other parts of the world (or right here in the U.S.) and he can help them, in a small way, achieve their dreams by making a micro loan with his $50 card. Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.

I learned about this organization through Craig Newmark of craigslist. He has worked with Kiva and recommends them highly, and has made loans himself.

Kiva was born of the following beliefs:

  • People are by nature generous, and will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way.
  • The poor are highly motivated and can be very successful when given an opportunity.
  • By connecting people we can create relationships beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another.

Kiva promotes:

  • Dignity: Kiva encourages partnership relationships as opposed to benefactor relationships. Partnership relationships are characterized by mutual dignity and respect.
  • Accountability: Loans encourage more accountability than donations where repayment is not expected.
  • Transparency: The Kiva website is an open platform where communication can flow freely around the world.

So far, Kiva has facilitated over $100 million in loans.

Looking for a great gift idea for a tween or teen? Consider Kiva.

Wordless Wednesday: My Favorite Christmas Gift (Back in the Day!)

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

What to Expect When Your College Freshman Comes Home For The Holidays

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I don’t normally share press-release information here. But as a journalist, I receive a lot of good information for parents and I thought this info, from Butler University, was well worth sharing.

If you have a freshman who’s away at college for the first time, you may be a bit nervous about how things will go when he or she comes home for the holidays. These tips will help. Thanks to Mr. Johnson and Butler for the good advice!

After three-plus months of living at school, your college freshman has gotten used to being on his or her own. And you’ve become accustomed to a quieter house. But now he/she’s coming home for the holidays, and your household routine is about to be disrupted.

Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs at Butler University, says parents need to be prepared to navigate those waters. “Their student is going to have a stronger desire for independence,” he said. “He or she has had several months to figure out how late they want to stay in bed, how long they want to stay up at night and how late they stay out. Parents are going to see a changed individual as it relates to those daily habits. They should also notice more maturity, and more introspection, perhaps.”

To keep order – and structure – Johnson recommends that parents maintain rules their student would be used to and expects to come back to. Like curfew.

“But you don’t want to go to an extreme – being too strict or saying I don’t care,” he said. “Loosen the rules, but don’t get rid of them. Even though they want more independence, there has to be a pragmatic approach. It’s only been a few months they’ve been away. They continue to need structure.”

Johnson said parents also should make the most of this time to ask a lot of questions about what’s happening in their student’s life in four broad areas: day to day living; finances; health; and the future.

Day to day: He recommends asking: How are classes going? Tell me about faculty members. Talk to me about your grades, your friends, your activities. “You want to make sure they’re engaged in the campus community,” he said. “Because that’s really what’s going to keep them there: How did they make a connection and have they found that niche in their first semester?”

Finances: Your student is also starting to develop life skills, so you should ask: How are you managing your money? What major expenses are you expecting when you return to school? Are you considering options for earning additional funds such as student work or an off-campus job to off-set college expenses?

Health: Are they taking care of themselves? Eating right? Exercising? Studying late in the residence hall or library? “Get into well-being issues to make sure they’re taking care of themselves,” Johnson suggested.

The future: Ask: What’s coming up? How are your grades? What are you doing next semester? What are your spring break plans? What are your summer plans? Work? Internship? Coming home? “They need to start working on that as soon as they get back to school in January,” he said.

“During their first semester, students do a lot of testing of the waters, and they have probably learned some valuable lessons,” Johnson said. “Whether they’ll tell parents that right away, probably not. That’s the reason for the probing questions. Through that reflection and those conversations, that’s where you’ll hear the maturity. If you’re just looking at physical changes, those won’t be as apparent. It’ll be in the conversations and the probing of their experiences.”

But, Johnson cautioned, don’t expect answers in the first 24 hours.

“They’re probably going to sleep,” he said. “Give them time to acclimate to the room they used for 18 years.”

Happy Thanksgiving From the Sena Family!

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Dear Readers — I’ll be taking some time off from the blog this next week to spend time with my family. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving week with your family as well!

I’ll see you back here after the holiday with lots of great stuff to share. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Celebrating the Holidays at Disneyland!

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

We’re all huge Disneyland fans in our family, and I can tell you, the only thing more fun than spending a day at The Magic Kingdom (and California Adventure — I have to have my Soarin’ Over California fix!) is exploring the parks during the holidays.

(By the way, as you can see, I have no problem looking as ridiculous as possible when it comes to either Disneyland or the holidays…)

Well, there is one thing that’s even more fun — going with my brother, Lee, who hasn’t been to Disneyland since he was a kid, and my sis-in-law, Anya, our 6-year-old nephew, Christian, and our 18-month-old niece, Valentina, who have NEVER been there! Seeing all the Disney magic through the eyes of young kids is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Now, in case you didn’t know, Team Sena has been in the World Series spirit, big time. And what better place to celebrate the Giants’ big win than at our favorite place?

(See those shirts on my husband, Randy, and my son, Matt, above?) Apparently we weren’t alone. It was fun to walk around the park and see how many families were wearing their Giants gear after the big win. (And the guys had to pick the ORANGE tea cup, of course.)

So what did we do to celebrate the big win? At Disney’s Holiday Mom Blogger Event,

we created, with the help of Disney’s wonderf

ul camera crew and Disney ambassador Danielle DuBois (who is a total sweetie — and so knowledgeable about all things Disney), a fun video:

After that, Matt (who is such a Disney fan he asks for “behind the scenes” books about Disneyland for Christmas) interviewed Danielle about the Holidays at Disneyland Resort:

Of course, actually visiting attractions like the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World was the best part. They’re both completely decked out for the holidays — along with Main Street (amazing Christmas tree!), New Orleans Square and, well, everywhere else! Check out this video:

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle looks SO gorgeous and magical at night, and it was fun to see the kids’ eyes light up when they saw the fireworks over the castle. (And did I mention the SNOW that follows the fireworks? Christian ran to catch the snow as it fell. Very cool.)

And the Disneyland holiday parade, featuring Santa, of course, is a fantasy come true, with wooden soldiers, all your favorite characters and more.

Matt is 14, so he’s into Space Mountain, Indiana Jones and the Haunted Mansion. He pays so much attention to the Haunted Mansion, and how it differs between the “regular” version and the Haunted Holiday version, that he can tell you what items in the mansion got moved each year and what replaced them! Impressive.

And I’m happy to report that we took Christian to the Haunted Mansion (with a bit of a warning up front about the scary part at the beginning), and he LOVED it. (Thanks to the folks at Disneyland, by the way, for providing some of the great pics, here. It’s so much fun to add them to the shots my family took so you can see more cool stuff. Guests aren’t permitted to take flash pictures in the Haunted Mansion, so it’s fun to get to share this photo.)

Now, I like all the attractions, but what really made my socks go up and down this year was a particular treat you can only get at a certain time of year…

Over at Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square, Chef Martha L. Sigala creates the most mouth-watering Mickey Mouse cinnamon beignets with an incredible eggnog sauce. Forget the calories. (Hey, you’ll burn ‘em off walking around the parks, right?) You can’t miss these beignets.

And Chef Sigala has even been kind enough to share her recipe for the beignets (although you’ll want to go to Cafe Orleans to have them with that fabulous eggnog sauce, trust me):

You’ll want to spend plenty of time in New Orleans Square this time of year. Little Valentina loves any kind of live music, and this is a great place to take a break, enjoy a meal (we recommend the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which Christian scarfed up), and listen to the music.

And New Orleans Square is decorated SO beautifully for the holidays. It’s a don’t-miss “land” for me this time of year.

All the lights and ornaments will dazzle the little ones, too. It was such a treat to see all the babies’ and toddlers’ eyes light up as their parents strolled through this area of the park.

Not to be outdone, California Adventure is in the holiday spirit as well, and Santa is busy greeting kids over at the Paradise Pier Boardwalk.

Speaking as a mom who’s always on the lookout for the perfect Christmas-card photo, I know you can just picture the wonderful shot you’ll have of your child on Santa’s lap in this beautiful setting. I love the Victorian style of Santa’s coat and vest. (Well done, Mrs. Claus!)

Our family has certain “musts” when we visit Disneyland, and that includes the Enchanted Tiki Room. No, the birds and flowers
aren’t decked out in holiday finery, but when you’re with a toddler who makes bird noises whenever she sees any bird, how can you resist?

Even the waiting area outside the entrance is fun, with flowers, water and even fire attractions to entertain you while you wait for the doors to open. Here’s Valentina waiting, with her Uncle Randy, for the show to begin. Yep. She’s lovin’ life.

Of course, there’s plenty to do for teens, too. (Just ask Matt, AKA “Mr. Fast Pass.” His record on Space Mountain in one day — so far, anyway: five times.) And as you can see, the Disney characters are happy to pose for those great shots with kids of all ages. Here’s Matt and Goofy. (It’s now Matt’s Facebook photo.)

Speaking of photos… Here’s something really cool to look forward to in the new year:

In 2011 (starting around late January), Disney guests will become the stars of a nightly spectacular when photos taken in the park during the day become larger-than-life projections, right in the park. At Disneyland, the façade of “It’s a Small World” will be the canvas for the show. (At Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the guest photos will be projected on Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom.)

In both locations, Disney PhotoPass photographers will capture guests’ memories during the day, and as many as 500 photos will be used in each location every day. The nighttime show will use the latest in high- intensity projection technology to create vivid visuals.

The company also has launched a website for sharing and viewing memories, and it’s available now. Upload your photos, videos and text memories at You can even categorize your memories by theme, emotion and location.

The website (also available soon in Spanish and French) has a simple-to-use interface for uploading, viewing and searching Disney memories. The functionality also will be part of the Disney Parks pages on Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. Check it out, then upload your family’s memories!

At the end of our day, souvenirs in hand (gotta get that Disneyland tree ornament each year), great family holiday  memories in our heads — and tons of great photos in our camera — we headed home with tired feet, snoozing kids and happy hearts…

…and visions of Mickey Mouse Beignets with Eggnog Sauce dancing in our heads.

Try ColorSplash on the iPhone for Photo Fun

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

I got my iPhone yesterday, and I’m like a kid at Christmas. Almost jumped up and down (OK, maybe I actually did a little) when the FedEx guy showed up.

One of my favorite apps, already, is ColorSplash. It allows you to turn a color photo into black-and-white and then add back just a touch of color to any part of the photo you choose.

Speaking of a kid at Christmas, here’s one of my favorite photos of my niece, after I had some fun with it with ColorSplash.

If you’re a busy parent with an iPhone, I’d love to know what apps you use to save time, stay organized and have fun! Please share your recommendations in comments.