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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?

February 06, 2022

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January 15, 2022

These Wacky Note Cards Make Saying "Thank You" Fun

Last month we talked about how to make thank-you notes more fun for kids to write. Well, I just came across a website that has the most adorable personalized stationery I've seen in a long time.

The cards aren't cheap: $35 for 25 notes plus envelopes. But they're darned cute for thank-you notes to grandparents and other special people.

Fabulousstationery.com was advertised in Blueprint magazine, which is part of Martha Stewart's empire. Not being a big Martha fan myself, I had never picked up the magazine before. But when you're bored in the doctor's-office waiting room...

I was surprised by how many articles caught my eye. And the ads aren't all for matching shrimp forks! Check out these cute notecards. It's not too late to write those holiday thank you notes!

December 13, 2021

Sick of Video Games? Get the Kids Hooked on Something Better

"Mom, can I do PlayStation?" It's a phrase I hear all too often, even though we limit "screen time" at our house. Of course, I don't completely despise video games (although they do seem to suck the brain cells from my 11-year-old son's skull, right before my eyes). That black box comes in handy when Mom and Dad are in need of a privilege to take away when a certain kid crosses the line.

Sure, Matt spends plenty of time doing homework, hanging with friends and playing sports, too. But what I've been wanting, this holiday season, is a gift that will replace video games when Matt wants to noodle around with something electronic around the house. Something educational and also fun. (That will be just between us. Dare I use the words "educational" and "fun" in the same sentence? Not around Matt, who'€™s sure he gets enough education at school.)

DIGITAL MUSIC MAKING TO THE RESCUE

Finally, I've found the answer: Creating and recording music on our home computer. Specifically, using GarageBand (approx. $99 as part of the iLife '08 Family Pack), which we have installed on our Mac. You can also find similar software for Windows, such as Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (approx. $100) M-Audio Pro Tools (approx. $249), Sony ACID Pro (approx. $40), etc.

Matt has been taking piano lessons since first grade, but he was never able to combine his love of music with his love of pushing buttons and messing with games and all things digital. Until now.

Chris "Sharpie" Sharp, 37, of Midland, Texas, knows just a little bit about this whole digital-music thing — on a somewhat grander scale. As the monitor engineer for Rob Thomas on his recent solo tour and for the upcoming Matchbox Twenty tour this January through March (he's also worked with Nickelback, Usher, Evanescence and others), this guy understands music and the digital world. (If, like me, you need a definition of what a monitor engineer does, Sharp is the guy off to the side of the stage who mixes the sound that the band hears in their earpieces while they're playing.) I couldn't think of a better-qualified person to ask about all this electronic stuff because he is not only musically and technically savvy — he's also a devoted dad.

GEARING UP

Sharp and his wife, Rinda, 32, have two kids, 15-year-old daughter Destinie and 15-year-old son C.J., so he knows all about the allure of video games. But he thinks my husband and I might be onto something by deciding to get Matt a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller to use with GarageBand. 

This keyboard-like device (prices start at around $200) doesn'€™t record sound waves like a tape recorder does. It digitally encodes the start of a note, its pitch, length, volume and musical attributes, such as vibrato. As a result, MIDI music files take up a lot less space than digitized sound files. (So there might actually be some room left on the computer for Matt's book reports...) Soon Matt will be able to write and record his own songs and send MP3 files to his friends.

Using a MIDI controller with computer software like GarageBand can open up a whole new world of creativity for a kid, Sharp says. And today's digital technology means that you don't need an entire board, like the monster board he uses on tour, to record your own music. A kid can do it at home. Pretty cool.

GOING FISHING


While he agrees that many parents can barely tolerate the video games that their kids crave, music is something where we can meet our kids halfway, Sharp notes. "Music speaks to each person," he says, adding that he tries to share in the types of music that interest his kids while also subtly sharing his favorite music with them. (And in his line of work, he's definitely on the "hip-dad" side of things, which helps.) "It's sort of like fishing. You can't force your kids to be interested in a certain thing, but you can try different types of bait." So you'll hear hip hop, rock, Tejano and other types of music around the Sharp home.

Sounds like good advice. And while my husband and I love to share our favorite music with Matt, and we love to learn about what he likes, we're looking forward to hearing him make and record some fun music of his own very soon. Because with today's technology, a kid's desire to play with electronic stuff and push buttons can be satisfied while he's also learning about computers, music and all things digital.

Take that, Dragon Ball Z!

December 06, 2021

Enough With the Baby Advice Already!

When I was pregnant, I was sometimes floored by the nerve of the strangers who offered unsolicited advice. I was told how to do everything "correctly" from breastfeeding to Lamaze to epidurals. Seems everyone knew the best way to do everything and insisted on sharing it with me — while standing in line at Target.

I mean, really, do I need to hear about what to do about sore nipples when I'm minding my own business, buying laundry detergent?

Apparently I'm not alone in thinking "hey, butt out!" Now pregnant women can express how they feel with a new line of hip maternity t-shirts called Mommy Trends. The stretchy t-shirts ($36) sport lines such as "Big & Beautiful," but the best seller is a shirt that says "No Unsolocited Baby Advice."

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 Hallmark.com. 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 Target.com 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 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 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.

 


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