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Family Activities

May 11, 2021

Go See "Young@Heart"!

Young_at_heartWhat a wonderful Mother's Day gift I received! Randy and Matt took me to see "Young@Heart," and it felt like a full-body workout. I laughed, I cried and I was glad I wasn't watching it at home in the den. This felt more like a community event.

The theater was packed with people ages 10 to 80, and we were all so involved in the movie, everyone was silent. (When's the last time that happened at the movies?) OK, we were silent when we weren't laughing or stomping our feet. But there were a lot of silent tears, too. Check out the trailer. Then grab your kids (over about age 10), grab your parents and GO!

May 09, 2021

Cast Away the Clutter!

I love my husband dearly, but I have to admit that we have certain subjects where we don’t see eye to eye. The storage room off the garage, for example. I’ve (almost) stopped nagging him about the fact that it should be condemned and I’ve (almost) resigned myself to just not opening the door.

I want to take an entire Saturday and tackle this monster. Randy takes one look and wants to immediately grab the T.V. remote. But there’s middle ground here — and hope — according to the organizing experts I consulted. Like the old advice about eating an elephant, you just have to do these things one bite at a time.

Start with small, well-defined tasks and don’t get sidetracked, suggests Kim Taylor, owner of The 25th Hour in Manhattan Beach, California. If it's a closet, just organize the closet, not the entire room. If it's catching up on phone calls, make them all at once — and don’t start filing recipes or rearranging furniture half-way through the task. (OK, so Randy and I can start by clearing the old paint cans out of the metal cabinet in the storage room and taking them to the hazardous-waste drop-off station. Baby steps…)

Here are some terrific resources to help us tackle that stack of mail on the dining-room table, that pile of outgrown clothes in our kids’ closets — and even a storage room filled with who-the-heck-knows-what:

°    At flylady.net, professional organizer Marla Cilley knows what it’s like to suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). She’ll take you —  with her own brand of homespun humor — through the process of organizing and cleaning your home. She also has some fun organizing tools, including her book, Sink Reflections (Bantam; $14.95 plus shipping), available on her site.

°    Visit getorganizednow.com for great tips and to subscribe to professional organizer Maria Gracia’s free e-mail newsletter. (I save her newsletters in an e-mail folder for quick reference. Her holiday tips alone will make your life easier.) Gracia’s monthly checklists will help you stay on top of seasonal tasks around the house, such as putting up storm windows, cleaning gutters and getting the family car ready for hot- or cold-weather driving. Her book, Finally Organized, Finally Free For The Home, is available in print ($24.95 + shipping) or in a digital PDF version ($19.95) at the website.

°    The National Association of Professional Organizers can help you locate an organizer in your area. Just enter your ZIP code here.

Check out these other great tips from Gracia, Cilley, Taylor and Jeannie VandeWeg, a professional organizer and owner of All Squared Away Organizing in Sebastopol, California:

°    Stop keeping things “just in case.” Do you really need all those hair clips and those old issues of Newsweek? With the exception of certain seasonal or formal clothing, seasonal sports equipment, etc., if you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it.   

°    Double up. Double-hanging closet rods quickly expand the available space for young children’s smaller clothes — and make them more reachable. Add hanging baskets and boxes for socks, hair accessories, etc. Clear, plastic hanging shoe holders are great for holding accessories.

°    Grab your label maker. Large plastic containers with multiple pull-out drawers are inexpensive and great for storing loads of small toys and doo-dads. For younger kids, attach photos of dolls, Legos, etc. to the drawers to show where items belong.

°    Create a “wall-of-fame” bulletin board for kids’ artwork and stories. Every week, add new artwork and store favorite older pieces in a notebook with sheet protectors. Send the rest to family and friends. Kids can help address the envelopes. A fun added touch: Current offers kid-friendly address labels at great prices: www.currentlabels.com.

°    Designate a “morning-launch-pad” spot. Here’s where everyone places backpacks, keys, cell phones, DVDs to be returned, gym bag, outgoing mail, etc. It can be a large basket by the front door, a bench with a cubbyhole for each family member, etc.

°    Create an emergency station. The utility closet is a great place to store flashlights, candles, matches, batteries and a fire extinguisher. Keep the smaller supplies in a covered box and mount the fire extinguisher on the wall.

°    Too many toys? At the start of each new season, rotate younger children’s toys to keep them fresh and interesting. Donate gently used clothes and toys to a donation center or children’s shelter. Let your child help choose the items and help deliver them.

°    Create “kid-paper central.” Purchase a magnetic, vertical file holder with a section for each child. Attach it to the fridge and remind kids to put all school papers in their file each day. If space permits, different-colored 9-x-12-inch “in” baskets on the kitchen counter work well, too. In the summer, use the files for notices from camp, swim team or other kids’ programs.

°    Make bathroom sharing easier. Assign a favorite color for each child, and use colored baskets to separate combs, brushes, etc. This system works with everything from toothbrushes to towels.

°    Reduce morning bathroom traffic. Stagger wake-up and/or shower times and set up a separate area (with a small vanity table, mirror, etc.) in the bedroom for styling hair and applying make-up.

°    Color-code the family calendar. Choose a calendar with big squares and place it in a busy family area, like the kitchen. Attach different-colored pens (one color for each family member) with string or dental floss. Each person can see their activities at a glance — and the family carpool organizer can see what each day’s schedule holds.

°    Save the date. Stash birthday-party invitations, tickets for the school play and other date-related items in a tickler file by date or in a wall calendar containing a pocket for each month.

°    Switch to online bill paying. Many banks now offer this service at no extra charge. You’ll save time, postage and headaches. And at tax time, you can print out a record of all deductible expenses. (We’ve been doing this for two years now, and I’ll never go back!)

°    Purge old files. Sorting through just 10 files per day makes this task manageable. Shred and recycle unneeded items. And don’t forget computer files. Just 15 minutes spent purging old computer files frees up valuable hard-drive space.

°    Invite the “house fairy” into your home. This most-welcome guest leaves little thank-you notes for kids for a job well done and leaves behind everything from stickers or small treats (for younger kids) to notes telling older kids they’ve earned a movie rental or a music download. (Spouses like to be visited by the house fairy, too...)

°    Create family rewards. After spending the afternoon cleaning the garage, organizing closets or collecting toys for donation, your team deserves a reward. Take everyone for ice cream or rent a movie and snuggle on the couch. Don’t forget the popcorn!

May 07, 2021

Hey Kids, Let's Have a Poetry Jam!

What’s the secret for firing up grade-school kids and making them eager to read and write poetry? Just ask Jill Corcoran, an award-winning poet and mother of three who runs art-music-poetry workshops at elementary schools in Southern California.

“The workshops have been amazing,” says Corcoran. “The kids go from looking at me like I am a space alien, to slowly participating in the workshop, to boldly sharing ideas, to creating poetry with confidence and pride. It’s a fantastic, dizzying writing session that culminates in a coffeehouse-like poetry jam.”

Here are Corcoran’s tips for creating a one-hour workshop that teachers (or parent volunteers) can do in their own classrooms:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop

Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape

1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.

2. Give each student an 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons.

3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel.

4. Give each student a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil and have the students form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.

5.  At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.

6.  The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.

7.  With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)

8.  Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

May 01, 2021

So What's YOUR Most Embarrassing Moment?

We parents have all had our foot-in-mouth-disease moments, right? But who's willing to share them with the world?

Cynthia Jenkins (AKA Sugar Mama), that's who. Over at sugarmamablog.com, Jenkins has a hoot of a post today about a particular phone call that didn't go quite as planned. Check it out. And if you're feeling brave, share your own embarrassing moments with us in Comments. (Hey, you can be anonymous! Go for it.)

March 27, 2022

All Hail The Anti-Princess Reading List!

For little girls, Cinderella and Snow White may be the ultimate storybook characters. And these princesses certainly have their place in a child's world — up to a point.

For parents who want their daughters to grow up looking for a bit more from life than a prince to rescue them, there's the "Anti-Princess Reading List" (click on it under "browse by category") over at a wonderful website I just discovered: mommytrackd.com.

Just looking at the titles brought me back to some of the heroines I loved as a girl: Nancy Drew, Pippi Longstocking, Harriet the Spy. These gals solve crimes, wear what they please (and it rarely includes taffeta), and have marvelous adventures.

I'm not suggesting an all-or-nothing approach here. After all, who says a kid can't wear her Princess Jasmine costume while reading a story about a girl taking first place at the school science fair?

March 24, 2022

Why We're Hooked on HBO's "John Adams"

Thanks to his wonderful fifth-grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Stelter, my now-12-year-old son Matt is completely jazzed about anything having to do with the American Revolution.

I'll confess, my fifth-grade social studies teacher didn't inspire such enthusiasm, and (while I've never shared this with Matt) I had always equated American history with "Read chapter 6. We'll have a test on Friday." But now Matt's enthusiasm is inspiring my own.

Mrs. Stelter made the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the battles that followed, come alive for her students. Matt would come home from school last year talking endlessly, and in great and gory detail, about what hardships the soldiers endured in their fight for liberty. (Mrs. Stelter knew how to throw in just enough yucky stuff to keep the boys enthralled.)

It was Matt who first started talking about HBO's new series, "John Adams." We started watching it as a family the other night and we're hooked. Starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, the series sucks you in from the first five minutes. (Executive producer Tom Hanks read David McCullough's Pulitzer-prize-winning book by the same name and decided this mini-series had to be made. Thanks, Mr. Hanks.) HBO also offers a free teacher's guide and a student's guide on the website, which you can download as a PDF file.

The series is definitely not for young kids. It's appropriately rated TV-14, and I think it's probably fine for mature middle schoolers. (Randy and I are pretty careful about Matt's exposure to movies and T.V., and we don't let him watch most other shows rated TV-14 just yet. But we happily made an exception for this one.) There have been two pretty hairy scenes so far — one showing a man being tarred and feathered and another showing Abigail Adams and her children being vaccinated for smallpox. (I didn't know how it was done back then. Yikes. Let's just say I'm happy to be alive in 2008.)

HBO shows lots of repeats of each episode, so it's not too late to catch up if you haven't started watching it. (There's also an episode guide, with a synopsis of each show, on their website.) And if you don't have HBO? Not to worry. This seven-part series is sure to be available, not too far down the road, on DVD. Either way, if you have older kids, check it out. Heck, if you have NO kids, check it out. It's terrific.

P.S. Here's Matt as Thomas Jefferson last year during a production of "Walk Through the American Revolution," put on by Mrs. Stelter's class in conjunction with a terrific company, California Weekly Explorer, Inc. (Don't ask how many cotton balls I glued to that backward baseball cap!)

March 05, 2022

"Dude, Let's Go Play Guitar Hero at the Library"

Libraries in southeastern Michigan are crying "uncle" it seems, when it comes to attracting young people. Hey, who needs books?

Video-game events at public libraries there are drawing crowds of teens, including about 100 kids who compete monthly at "Guitar Hero" at the Rochester Hills Public Library.

"Getting teens to come to the library is right up there with getting them to go to church: It's not exactly the first place they want to go," Christine Lind Hage, library director, told the Detroit Free Press for a recent story. So she stocked the shelves with 1,823 games, about 1,300 of which are checked out daily.

OK, so if I follow that logic, I'll stock my fridge with lots of junk food because it might make the kitchen more appealing to my pre-teen son and his buddies, right? I guess the kids who are checking out all those video games might stumble on a book or two while they're there. But this effort seems a bit misguided to me.

March 04, 2022

Kids and ATVs — What Are We Thinking?

I've been writing my kids' health column, "Health Notes," for more than a decade, and every year, I receive the same sad statistics on kids and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Too many kids are dying here. Enough already!

More than 100 children died in ATV accidents in 2006 (the most current data available), according to the CPSC. An additional estimated 146,600 people were treated in emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries. More than a quarter of those were kids.

Pennsylvania has had the highest number of reported ATV deaths since 1982, followed by California, West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky. Every state had at least one death related to ATVs. Most of the deaths and injuries to children are the result of kids riding adult-size ATVs.

In more than 75 percent of the incidents where the vehicle’s speed could be determined, it appeared that the ATVs were going too fast for conditions. In nearly 60 percent of the deaths, riders were not wearing helmets. That's just plain nuts. For younger riders, ages 6 to 11, about 30 percent of the ATV accidents involved collisions and at least 27 percent involved ATVs that rolled over.

Let's get real. These things aren't toys. They require proper instruction, helmet use, adult supervision and the proper size ATV for the child. Young kids simply can't handle adult-sized ATVs safely. The CPSC — and emergency-room docs — can only ring the warning bell. It's up to parents to do the rest.

February 07, 2022

Guest Blog: Our Get-Fat-Tuesday Family Tradition

Here's a fun post from first-time guest blogger Ellen Cajka, who knows all about healthy eating (and when to not worry about it) AND raising teenagers. I love her "Get Fat Tuesday" family tradition.

Mardi Gras, otherwise known as "Fat Tuesday," was a lot of fun at our house this year. No, we didn't have a wild costume party, partake in alcohol or even "earn" multi-colored beads.

My 14-year-old daughter, Taylor, and I planned our own version of Fat Tuesday — and boy did we do it up right! We called it "Get Fat Tuesday." Taylor is giving up fast food for Lent, and I am giving up sweets. No small task! So we decided to go out with a bang.

We ordered  three different kinds of takeout: pizza, Taco Bell and El Pollo Loco. And we finished the evening off with 31 Flavors ice cream and had two scoops each. I was planning on having a hot fudge sundae, but after a piece of pizza, 3/4 of a cheese quesadilla, some Nachos Bell Grande, chicken and mashed potatoes, a sundae suddenly didn't sound all that appetizing.

We had fun planning and it certainly felt sinful enjoying all those forbidden foods. Sweets are my nemesis, and any teen would struggle to go just a week without pizza or a burger. It's going to be LONG 40 days and 40 nights.

But hey, maybe the Easter Bunny will bring me some chocolate.

February 05, 2022

Blog of the Week: Big Fun With the Traveling Mamas

Thanks to CajunMama, MountainMama, MudslideMama and DesertMama over at travelingmamas.com, I now know what king cake is all about at Mardi Gras. I know how to (try to, anyway) avoid nasty germs on an airplane. I learned that you can no longer take a snow globe in your carry-on bag on a flight. And I've picked up all sorts of cool tips about different Washington D.C. monuments, which will come in handy when we take our family there one of these days.

These four moms blog about great — and not-so-great — places to go with your kids, they share travel-industry news and they recommend new must-have items for traveling with kids. And they're a hoot!

Today's post, from MountainMama, is a Q & A with Traveling Mama Extraordinaire Nancy Sathre-Vogel. In 2006 and into 2007, she and her husband John and their two then-eight-year-old sons bicycled across the country, from their home in Idaho west to Washington, south to Mazatlan, and all the way to Connecticut, over the course of 12 months and 9,300 miles. Wow!

Check out the interview and learn about their upcoming adventures. You may be inspired to plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip of your own...


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