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November 2007

November 29, 2021

Can Springsteen Lead Kids to Steinbeck?

Discussing song lyrics in the classroom helps kids connect with traditional literature, says a former high school English teacher turned literacy researcher at the University of Arkansas. Christian Z. Goering now hosts a Web site for teachers to share links between literature and lyrics.

Goering presented his work at the recent annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in a paper titled (gotta love this) “Springsteen, Steinbeck and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash: Connecting Music to Literature.”

But he's not suggesting replacing literature with popular culture in high school classrooms. “What I am suggesting is that we pair pieces of classic literature with contemporary music, allowing some of the natural, thematic connections to come to the surface and allowing our students to see these connections and the relevance to their own lives,” Goering says.

Music lyrics can be an especially effective hook, given the importance of music to teens. Goering cites a survey that asked which form of entertainment teenagers would take to a desert island.

Lyrics can serve as a bridge for students, Goering noted, from material that may be familiar or easily understood to classic literature that may be more difficult or challenging. For example, “California Sky,” by the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, takes listeners from “out in Oklahoma where the hard winds blow” on a cross-country journey that can open up a discussion of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

“It is the process of reading one text while thinking of others that truly makes literature relevant to students’ lives,” Goering said.

Head on over to the site and click on the LitTunes Connections Database. Talk about a great way to start some interesting discussions with your kid!

November 28, 2021

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

I'm happy to welcome guest blogger Leah Ingram today. Leah is a magazine journalist and author as well as a blogger on The Lean Green Family. Be sure to check out her blog!

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It shouldn't come as any surprise that this year is going to be the greenest Christmas (and Hanukkah) of all time--at least for the folks on my "nice" list. My mission in nearly everything I do and buy this holiday season is to have green in mind, which hopefully won't cost me a lot of green.

For starters I'm still searching the Internet for the best recycled paper holiday cards. (If you know of a website, please let me know.) Hallmark stores sell recycled paper greetings, but only in single cards, not the boxed kind for the holidays, though you can order (PRODUCT) RED recycled cards for the holidays from Worse-case scenario: I print my family newsletter on recycled paper, send it in a recycled envelope, and skip the cards altogether (though I don't think my family newsletter will go over well with my clients).

As far as holiday wrapping goes, I don't plan to use it this year. Instead, I'm going to hit my local Wal-Mart this week, and stock up on their $1 reusable bags that say "Paper or Plastic? Neither" (pictured at left). These bags will become my default packaging for holiday gifts.

With regard to the gifts, I'm going for items in the simplest packaging, such as CDs, DVDs and video games, which come in containers that double as storage vessels. Also, I found some cool recycled rubber doormats on which are right in my price range. And, as I'd blogged earlier, I am doing the lion's share of my shopping via the Internet to save fuel (though the family and I did spend this past Sunday at the mall, and we will be one of those crazies up at 5:00 a.m. and in line on black Friday).

Continue reading "Dreaming of a Green Christmas" »

November 27, 2021

Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts

Tired of giving apple stationery, apple earrings and “#1 teacher” sweatshirts to your children’s teachers every holiday season? Imagine how the teachers feel! Here are some parent- and teacher-tested gift ideas that will really make the grade.

°    Think Outside The Classroom. “I like giving something that conveys that you know the teacher is human, too — not just a teacher,” says Las Vegas, Nevada mom Joy Hall. Think sports memorabilia (if you know the teacher’s favorite team), an addition to a favorite collection of bears, dolls, snow globes… The list can be endless if you or your child just happen to listen up when the teacher mentions favorite hobbies and activities.

°    Consider a Gift For the Classroom. As school budgets are increasingly cut, teachers are often asked to supply certain classroom items. So when her child was in kindergarten, Dorothy Foltz-Gray of Knoxville, Tennessee asked what classroom game the kids needed. “The teacher responded as if I were a saint!” she says. Another time, she gave a monetary gift, again to be used for classroom supplies. Jennifer Vena of Manhattan Beach, California gives goody bags full of classroom supplies — dry-erase markers, paper clips, post-its, overhead markers, etc. With many teachers spending their own money on these items, this is a welcome gift.

°    Make it Personal. “Have your child make something that shows how much the teacher is appreciated,” suggests Hall. Including a photo is a wonderful touch, she adds, and it will help the teacher to remember your child when she looks at the gift in years to come. A personal letter of appreciation, along with a drawing from your child, is something many teachers say they read over and over again — and keep forever.

Continue reading "Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts" »

November 25, 2021

Holiday Family Photo Tips: Part 2

Yesterday, we talked about ways to include yourself in your family's holiday photos. But of course — let’s admit it — much of the time you’ll still be the one taking those family photos. And in her gem of a book, Mom’s Little Book of Photo Tips, author Lisa Bearnson offers the non-technical photography ideas we've all been looking for. The suggestions here can be used right away, with any camera. Just thumbing through the book got my creative juices flowing. Here are some tips to get you started (and they'll work both at the holidays and all year long):

°    Get great group shots. To add symmetry to your shot, try having your group pop up over a fence or peek out from behind a big tree. Or give everyone something similar (and fun) to wear, such as sports gear, pajamas or Santa hats. Another nice look: Have your subjects wear the same fabric and color, such a blue denim with white shirts.

°     Try black and white. Every baby deserves a roll of black and white film, Bearnson says. It evens out skin tones and gives portraits a timeless feel. When shooting black-and-white film, use natural light and move in close to baby’s face to avoid distracting details. (This photo shows Matthew, now age 11, at one day old.)

°    Look up.
Shooting upward in the outdoors often means you can place your child against a clear winter sky — a beautiful, bright-blue backdrop unhampered by clutter on the ground. Be sure to position your subject to minimize squinty eyes and dark shadows. And try putting your camera on the ground below your child and pressing the shutter. (Don’t bend over the camera, though, or you’ll get in the shot.)

°    Surround your child’s face.
Jumping into a ball pit full of colorful balls, enjoying a bubble bath, making a snow fort... In a child’s life, there are many opportunities for total immersion. When you see your child’s face popping up through a pile of balls, snow or bubbles, grab your camera and get in close. Use a zoom if you have one. And remember, water and snow have reflective properties that brighten photos.

November 24, 2021

Try These Tips For Holiday Family Photo Fun

Ah, it's almost December, when we all want to preserve those special holiday times with our families, whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah or preparing a Kwanza feast. Time for Mom (AKA the Official Family Photographer) to grab the camera! (I love this shot of my sweetie, Randy, taken back when he was two, and I'm so thankful that his mom kept it all these years.)

But will there be any holiday photos of YOU for your family to enjoy years from now? If you’re a mom, I dare you to take this challenge: Write the names of each of your immediate family members on a piece of paper, grab 100 holiday photos from the past few years and count how many times each person appears in them.

“I’ll bet your children are in 90 percent of the photos, your husband in 50 percent, and you — well, you’ll be lucky to be in 10 percent of them,” says Lisa Bearnson, founding editor of Creating Keepsakes scrapbooking magazine and co-author, with Siobhan McGowan, of Mom’s Little Book of Photo Tips (Creating Keepsakes Books).

Let’s admit it: Taking pictures of your kids is great fun, especially at the holidays. But it’s important for you to get in the picture, too. Years from now, your children — and grandchildren — will treasure the photos that show your personality, your love for your family — and all those wacky hair styles from decades past. Here are some tips for keeping yourself in the action during those holiday family-photo shoots.

Continue reading "Try These Tips For Holiday Family Photo Fun" »

November 14, 2021

Putting Heart in Your Family’s Holidays

While the holidays may inspire thoughts of volunteering your family's time to help others, your ever-expanding to-do list may keep you from actually checking the newspaper for volunteer opportunities or picking up the phone. But don’t wait until next year. Right now, there are dozens of kid-friendly volunteer opportunities available — right near your home.

When I visited the Web site for VolunteerMatch, a national non-profit organization, I simply typed in my ZIP code, chose how far I was willing to travel, and found a whopping 192 volunteer opportunities — all within 10 miles of my front door. Volunteers in my home town can read stories to homeless children in a family housing shelter, raise funds for wildlife conservation, deliver hot meals to house-bound seniors, create encouraging cards for people with life-threatening illnesses (something even younger children can help with) and much more.

Continue reading "Putting Heart in Your Family’s Holidays" »

November 12, 2021

Holiday Letters: How to Create One That Won't Get Tossed With the Fruitcake

The holidays officially kick into gear this month, with Thanksgiving just a week away. And that means it’s time to start thinking about holiday newsletters. We’ve all received them – the ones that brag about how Shane (the preschooler) is reading at the second-grade level, Billy got straight As (again), Ashlie got into Harvard and Sam made the law review.

But according to a recent article by Jeffrey Zaslow from “The Wall Street Journal Online,” there’s a risk you take when you send out such an annual family letter: Recipients might gather in small groups to read it aloud and laugh at you.

But don’t let this little tale scare you into sending a card just with “Happy Holidays” scribbled on it. Your family and friends really do want to hear about your family’s news – if you make your newsletter entertaining, says Elaine Floyd, author of “Creating Family Newsletters: 123 Ideas for Sharing Memorable Moments With Family and Friends” (EFG Inc.).

Want some tips for making this year’s newsletter a real keeper? Check out my article in OC Family magazine.

November 09, 2021

"Made in China" — Time for a Toy Boycott?

Like a whole bunch of steaming parents today, I'm angry.

Aqua Dots, a craft-bead kit for kids, has been yanked from U.S. stores because the coating on the beads, which causes the beads to stick to each other when water is added, contains a chemical that can turn toxic. Children who swallow the beads can become comatose, develop respiratory depression or have seizures. A number of kids have been hospitalized after playing with the beads.

Apparently the company in China that makes Aqua Dots decided to switch out the glue on the product, substituting a (less-expensive, of course) substance that can kill when ingested. Gotta love their concern for kids.

The parade of Chinese-made toys that have been recalled due to safety issues has become a huge, scary issue for parents of young kids. And with the holidays on the way, I have to agree with Meredith Vieira, who, on the Today Show yesterday, suggested that parents might want to just stop buying toys made in China. In fact, Vieira's off-hand suggestion, at the end of a news piece on the recall, seemed more helpful than that from a Bush-administration rep who said something to the effect of "We recommend buying toys from someone you trust."

How is a parent supposed to know which major toy manufacturers to trust when even Mattel, whom parents have trusted for years, has ended up on the wrong end of the stick, more than once lately, when it comes to inadvertently selling toys that contain dangerous amounts of lead?

I guess President Bush is telling us we're on our own on this one. So who can blame the woman who came into a Southern California store yesterday and told the clerk, "I just want to look at toys that aren't made in China."

Good idea. If our leaders can't protect us any more than they have been from toys containing lead and other toxic substances, I guess we'll just have to look out for our own families — and vote with our wallet this holiday season.


November 07, 2021

Superbugs: How to Protect Your Family From MRSA

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm a journalist who often writes about kids' health issues. But I rarely post an entire article as a blog post. I think this new one, however, is important enough to share in its entirety. MRSA is in the news constantly right now, and while experts say parents don't need to freak out, there are important things you can do — and that you can teach your children to do — to help avoid these superbugs.

Copyright 2007 Kathy Sena

Superbugs: How to Protect Your Family From MRSA

By Kathy Sena

If you’re like most parents, recent news reports about temporary school closings, and even deaths, from so-called “superbugs” have probably left you feeling a bit unnerved — and concerned about how to keep your child safe, whether at daycare, school or the football locker room. Here’s the info you need to protect your family.


Several decades ago, a new strain of staph bacteria showed up in hospitals. It was resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to zap it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Named methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), it was one of the first germs to defeat all but the most powerful drugs.

About 30 percent of the population carries regular staph bacteria on their skin or in their nose, according to Gregory Moran, M.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA School of Medicine in Los Angeles and a physician with the emergency-medicine and the infectious-diseases departments at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. About 1 percent of the population carries the MRSA bacteria, he says.

Continue reading "Superbugs: How to Protect Your Family From MRSA" »

November 02, 2021

Save $$$ With

I just discovered a terrific website,, that offers Web coupons for all sorts of great companies, including Disney, LeapFrog, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. and Snapfish.

We're talking deals like 20 percent off on your holiday photo-card order or a free box of chocolates with any teddy bear purchase.

And how adorable is this Thanksgiving bear? The bear and a (free!) box of chocolates would make a fun hostess gift this Thanksgiving. also offers great deals for parents, and features coupons on stuff guys like.

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